Well well well. It's official. Today I turn 33. Sometimes I find celebrating my birthday to be difficult. I mean, it's not like I've accomplished anything. People say "congratulations" to me and I think "For what? Staying alive? Hooray, I'm still alive. Yay me." I'm the same when someone compliments my hair or teeth. I'm always like, "Thanks! I grew 'em myself!" It's not like I worked for any of this. I'm just lucky. I don't mean to be snarky. Maybe I'm just not great at being the centre of attention.
Anyway, it's also the site's birthday. It's 8. If this site is like a baby then I'd say it's been a neglected one. Oh well, with any luck, I'll do better with an actual human.
Speaking of which, the old ladies can't stop bugging me about popping one out. Last month, I was hideously ill (see my last blog post) and my mother decided I was hiding a pregnancy. Everyone is so fucking eager. It's annoying, of course, and often rude (I mean, would YOU make obnoxiously loud assumptions on the state of someone's reproductive health in public*? No? Oh, you must be a normal person not addled by lust for a grandchild.) I try to ignore it while comforting myself by mentioning our interest in adoption. It's fun to watch their little faces crumble. Maybe that's mean. I dunno. I think it's no meaner than harassing me about having a baby, frankly. The aged need to mind their own damn beeswax.
ANYWAY. Nothing much is new, blog friends. For vague reasons (Bad for the environment! Too much electricity! Wanna feel superior to everyone!) Nate and I have never caved in to having air conditioning before, going so far as to lend our window unit (provided by our sweetheart of a landlord) to a neighbour a couple of years ago, but our resolve has faltered. I spent all of yesterday with a humidity migraine. Couldn't take it anymore. The window unit is now rattling away in our bedroom. God bless technology, I say.
I'm getting old, but at least I'm doing so in comfort.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.
Here, I share with you a Hoops and Yoyo video of the sort I used to send people before I learned that ecards were gross. YOU GUYS! IT'S HOOPS AND YOYO.
I am officially the worst.
*P.S. I initially wrote "pubic" here by accident. Thanks to Ivan for catching the mistake.
P.P.S. I actually like e-cards. :)
So last night at dinner, my silly wedding website
came up. (Remember that? The one I put up when Nate and I decided to get married even though we sort of hate weddings? IT WAS/IS HILARIOUS. EVERYONE* THINKS SO.) But not my father. When it was mentioned last night, he was quick to insist: "I've never seen it. I don't look at ANY of your websites."
Now, this is not a surprise. It's not true, but it's not a surprise. My parents have historically been terrible about (admitting to) reading my writing or supporting my work in any way. Or rather, that's what they want me to believe. When I wrote for newspapers, even those that were readily available in their city for free,
the folks enjoyed the pretence that they couldn't be bothered to have a look. I say pretence because I know for a fact that they DO read my writing. Not always regularly or often, but they do**.
Now, if we were to pretend that I've only been writing for the last year or two, the insistence that they don't read my work would make a little more sense. A specific post I wrote caused a bunch of family upset awhile back, and Pops (in particular) felt caught in the middle of it all. He initially expressed support for the piece in question, saying it was truthful and fair, and encouraging me not to take it down. He even vowed not to attend an upcoming family wedding in order to support me. Sadly, pressure from the other side and general awfulness won out and when the chips were down, he caved and deflected. Ever since, the idea that he doesn't read my writing has been trotted out more often and with renewed force.
But, as I said, he's NEVER wanted to admit to reading my work, so that whole silly family business doesn't explain much.
It's an interesting conceit and I think about it sometimes.
Why do we do this? Why do we pretended we don't care things we do care about? (I say "we" because I know I've done this and I'm guessing you have too.) Why feign boredom and disinterest in something we are actually deeply invested in?
It's a power thing, right? It's about demonstrating that something is beneath you in order to look and feel like a superior person? Search
"I don't care" and a shit load of "inspirational" images that express this idea come up.
But why does it work? Does it work? When we pretend not to care what are we hoping to win?
Like I said, I've participated in this sort of behaviour myself. I've feigned indifference and felt superior doing it. I've slapped my blase attitude across other people's faces. And looking back on those moments, I now find myself groping for the comfort that used to come from feeling that I "won." I can't seem to get there.
I know for a fact that many who pretend not to care about me -- to be indifferent to my work and the things I write and the things I say -- not only care, but care a lot. They care so much they read my site religiously. And I suppose I'm the same way. When I've pretended not to care, I failed to convince. I didn't win because I wasn't fooling anybody. That's ALWAYS the case.
When you feel the need to insist that you're "indifferent" everybody knows you're full of it.
The more I think about it, the more I've come to think that the idea that you'll be happier if you care less is just a big fat lie anyway. Not caring is deeply unsatisfying. It's a failure of feeling, not a mastering. It's empty. We think not caring will prove our superiority, that it will insulate us and protect us from hurt, but feelings don't actually work that way.
In real life, not caring drains experiences of meaning. You may get some numbness out of the deal, some buffering of unpleasantness, but when you're numb, you don't get to enjoy happiness either. And when you're just PRETENDING to be indifferent, the results are even worse. You don't even get numbness. There are really no benefits at all.
The true truth is that I care. I care about everything****. When someone refuses to admit to reading or supporting my writing, it hurts my feelings because I care. When I get a nice comment from one of you people, I feel good about it because I care. I've tried to care less, or to care about certain things and people more than others, but that hasn't really worked for me. I haven't been successful at care management. Historically, I've been pretty hard on myself as a result, but I think it's time to look at it in a different way. Sure, caring means that some things feel like poop on a bun for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it also means that other things feel the opposite.*****
Best of all, if (let's just say) I feel shitty about something and I write about it, I immediately start to feel better. I have agency. Lemons into lemonade and all that.
So anyway, my point is this: I care and I know you do too. And it's okay.
*Everyone who is normal and reasonable, that is.
**For the millionth time, people... please try to understand what an IP address is. I seeeeeeeee yoooooouuuuuu.
***Alicia Florrick is the best.
****Bit of an exaggeration. There are some things I really don't care much about (mostly things I haven't thought much about), but that's not really what I'm talking about here.
*****What is the opposite of "poop on a bun for breakfast, lunch and dinnner?" I don't know, but it must be something good!
P.S. OMG, you guys! If you scrolled down past all those silly unumbered footnotes, you came to this post script! This is your reward! Thank you so much for sticking with me. All I really wanted to add was that, despite everything I said above, it IS important not to care too much about some things. Specifically, stupid things. Specifically, stupid things said by stupid strangers and/or things said on Twitter. (Oh, how I've been there.) Here are some amusing videos from Jimmy Kimmel that may drive this point home. (Thanks to Em McWawa for telling me about this.)
P.P.S. Just kidding.
I slept late today. I sleep late most every day lately. That's what these past few weeks have been about.
I'm not exhausted. I'm not even particularly tired. I wake naturally around 8 am every day and it's already completely light out and instead of thinking, "Hooray! I'm awake! It's time to meet the day!" I think "No. No no no no no no no no no no no" in the manner of that internet cat. Remember that cat?
I screw my eyes shut and press down into my pillows and I try to force myself to go back to sleep because sleep is such a nice place. I like it there. The days, by contrast, are daunting.
I don't want to call this depression because in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad. I do get up eventually, and I go about my day and I try to get things done (never as many things as I hope to, but that's another story). Things are fine. I'm just a bit bummed. Worried, you might say.
I'm working on my shop as much as I can. You know my shop? Will & Bequeath
, my little vintage retail business? Yeah, that. But I'm worried about it.
The things people tell you about starting your own business are true. It's a shit load of work. There's always more you could be doing, more you should be doing, and if, like me, you have no employees and have to do everything yourself, and if, like me, you tend to set overly-high standards, every day is like a mountain you keep failing to successfully climb.
Even though my shop is small, a huge amont goes in to the listing of each item for sale. For each individual item, I have to do the following:
6) Photo Edit
7) Describe in Charming Copy
8) List for Sale Online Using My SUPER Powered Web Design Skills (Not)
9) Promote on Social Media
and if the item sells...
12) ShipPlus, you know, there's all the other crap that goes along with the day to day running of the business - maintaining the website, doing the accounting/paperwork, answering emails, trying to come up with and run promotions, being nice to all the people who have questions, regardless of if the questions are silly, etc. (etc. etc. etc.). Sometimes the load feels a bit ridiculous.All that said, I love the shop. The shop makes me happy. It's still very small-time and I've made an effort not to invest too much money into it, because I want it to grow slowly and be sustainable and reasonable and considering all that, it's basically a success. It's making money. Just a little and I'm not paying myself for my time or anything, but I'm in the black.
That's right, kids, I basically have a successful venture on my hands! HOORAY, right!?
You'd think so. But in my family, there are no hoorays. Nathan is wonderfully supportive, of course. He helps me haul things home, he models menswear, he takes packages to the post office when I'm feeling grouchy or tired. And always, ALWAYS, he congratulates me when the shop does well. He's excited about every sale. Complimentary about every find. He always wants to celebrate. He's forever telling me how great I am. He's sweet that way. The sweetest, basically.
My biological family, on the other hand, specifically my parents, is essentially completely shitty to me, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In regards to the store, they've had exactly one thing to say: "It's not a real job. Why don't you get a real job?"
That's it. No kind words about how the photos look. No congratulations on unexpected sales. No kudos about anything whatsoever. Certainly none of the help or support a normal family might provide in a situation like this. Just criticism. Constant, insulting criticism.
But who cares if my parents are less than supportive right? Who cares what they think? I try not to, I promise. They've always been like this, they're never going to stop being like this. Abuse in the form of a lifetime of agressions and micro-aggressions is a fun family fact ranging back generations and I'm not stupid so I know this is the way it is, the way it was and the way it always will be. Yet, for some reason, some combination of socialization and biology, I do care. I can't seem to stop caring, try as I might. And as a result, every single time they needle me about how worthless or unsuccessful or lazy I am (or, historically, about my looks, natch), I feel like absolute shit.
When my company closed and I was laid off last year and my father declared "Good! Now maybe you'll get a real job" I felt like shit. When my mother calls to ask what I do all day (which she does, practically every week) I feel like shit. I don't want to feel like shit, I just can't seem to help it. It sucks. It's shitty.
And I worry about what this negativity has done and continues to do to me.
“Emotional abuse is like brainwashing. It systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in his or her perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under guise of “guidance” or teaching, the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient loses all sense of self and all remnants of personal value. The primary effects of emotional abuse are depression, lack of motivation, confusion, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, low self-esteem, feelings of failure or worthlessness, feelings of hopelessness, self-blame, and self-destructiveness.” - Beverly Engle
That's bad, right? SERIOUSLY bad? And I can feel it happening. Or maybe it's already happened, I don't know. I don't think I've lost all sense of self or anything. Not yet. My self-esteem is definitely in the pooper, though. It's just that nobody's flushed yet. (That was, like, the best toilet reference I've ever written.)
On some occasions, I'm effectively able to shake all this crap off, but not always. Sometimes, the familial negativity seeps in. That's what happened most recently. That's why I've been spending the last few weeks sleeping and not updating the store in any meaningful way. My father repeated, several times over the course of an evening, that I didn't have a job. Nothing new there. Nothing I hadn't heard before. Yet it infected me. His mean little needling crawled inside and settled in and started whispering at me and ever since I've been thinking stuff like this:
Maybe I'm stupid to do this. The store will probably fail. I'm basically worthless, so everything I do is likely to be worthless too. I should probably get some sort of 'real' job. They're probably right about that. It would be safer. If I was smart and not so full of myself, that's what I would do. And if I hate the job, so what? Hating jobs is part of life. I should be grateful to have a job at all considering who I am. I'm completely full of garbage. I'm a garbage person.
I'm not exaggerating. This is exactly how I think when I've been effectively infected. I've been trying to turn it off. (Lots of sleep helps with that, actually.) And I think, I think, it might finally be fading and I might be able to get back to work. I've done a few blog posts and have managed to photograph a bunch of new stuff for the store which will be posted in the coming days. So that's good, right? I'm coming out of it. I wish it hadn't happened at all, but hey. Things happen.
Look - I even wrote about it! That's a healing thing, right? RIGHT. Riiiiiiight.
Anyway, that's what's going on in garbage town.
Love you guys. Sorry for overusing references to poop in this post. Crap and shit are just such descriptive words!
Well, here we are in February of 2013 and I have yet to write anything new for the year. Actually, that’s not really true. I’ve written lots of new things, just nothing for the blog. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, or haven’t been thinking about it. I have. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but hesitating, for various reasons.
The thing is, this blog has evolved a lot. When I first started out blogging, in 2005, I was writing mostly about pithy work stuff. I was so self-conscious. Every post was a name-droppy mess. One week I wrote about interviewing Feist at the Vancouver Folk Festival. Another time, I talked about working a junket for the movie Crash and interviewing Paul Haggis (at the Four Seasons… I believe I made sure to include that oh-so-scintillating fact). This is embarrassing for a lot of reasons. First off, being a name-dropper is inherently gross. (If you’re someone who does it, stop immediately.) Besides that, it just seems … sad. I was sad.
Anyway, after I left that line of work and went back to school to do my MA in Toronto, the blog started to evolve into something more confessional. And okay, that was fine. I like memoir and confessional writing. Always have, despite the fact that the writing scene (literary and less-so) turns a collective nose up at this sort of thing. But my posts were often vague. I can see, looking back, how my posts were a bit like long Facebook status updates where I shared enough to let people know something was going on, but not so much that they would actually know what that something was. I was (and often am) too self-conscious to tell the complete truth about anything. (Again, more on that later.) But on occasion I’d write a post that was truer than others and the response would mushroom. When I wrote that post about high school
for example, about how I felt bullied by the girls in my social group … holy crap. People responded. A lot. In fact, though that post went up a full two years ago, I still get comments on it. (I recently had to close the comments section because I didn’t feel like moderating anymore.) In the same vein, I wrote a post about my grandmother’s death about a year ago that, as many regular readers know, caused quite a stir. I took that one down to appease family members who thought it was unfair (and evidently, that I was a horrible, disgusting person for writing it, if you’re to believe the bilious comments they left), but despite that, as with the high school piece, I still get positive feedback. People get in touch to say they loved the piece, and that they wish I’d left it up. Others write to tell me about their own complicated family relationships and the way the older people in their lives have inspired a mix of love and frustration.
(Sidenote: My own family doesn’t appear to have forgiven me, despite the fact that I took that post down. This has been hard to come to terms with. I try to comfort myself with the idea that I told the truth. My mother-in-law gave me a book for Christmas that addresses this very issue. In her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
? Jeanette Winterson writes "Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself." Maybe this is true. I know many members of my own family would interject here that they are
and that I should just shut up
or some such thing. So anyway. I guess I’ll shut up about that.)
Anyway, back to the mainline. Truth-telling, especially about difficult subjects, seems to be what people respond to, at least in my case. Never was this more apparent than in the response to the post I wrote near the end of 2010 called The weight
. In that piece, I talked pretty frankly about my body obsession and weight cycling and again, people responded. HUGELY. The post was picked up by several other sites, including at least one from overseas written entirely in a Scandanavian language I don’t know. (So I have no idea what anybody said about it, but they sure seemed to say a lot.) In the States, the blog was found by an organization (HealthyPlace
) that focuses on mental health issues and I was invited to speak on one of their podcasts about eating disorders. The comments flooded in, both on the post itself and privately, via email. People wrote to tell me about their own feelings on similar issues. Many people wrote to tell me about their eating disorders. Some just wrote to say hi and to say that the piece made them feel less isolated. (That was nice.)
And ultimately, thanks to the comments and the feedback, I came to see that The weight
was probably the most important thing I’d ever written to date, not because of the feedback itself, but because the feedback gave me perspective. And here’s the big thing that came out of that: I finally faced the fact that I myself have an eating disorder.
Yep. I have an Eating Disorder (ED). And there’s more!
I’ve HAD this disorder for about 20 years. And I didn’t even know it.
Now, to be fair, I knew the way I ate and exercised was (sometimes) questionable, but at the same time, my “disordered behaviours” (this is the way we talk in recovery) all felt relatively normal. I was just dieting. I didn’t have Anorexia because hey, I ate (most of the time). And I didn’t have Bulimia because I didn’t really purge (most of the time). As for those periods of crazy exercise, well, that was just being healthy
. No pain no gain, right? Sigh.
Basically, like a lot of people, I thought Anorexia and Bulimia were all there was. (I bet many of you think that right now, in fact. Nobody tells us about the dangers of sub-clinical disordered eating in general, not to mention Orthorexia, or Anorexia Athletica, or what I have: Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
. It’s a real thing – a clinically recognized eating disorder with defined diagnostic criteria. EDNOS is, I believe, the most commonly diagnosed ED out there. And before 2012, I’d never even heard of it. Just one more thing to write in the “society is totally fucked up” column.
Anyway. The good news is, I’m getting better. Without going into too much detail about that part of things, I can say that I’m officially “in recovery” and have been for a while. It’s going okay. But EDs, from what I’ve leaned, can be a lot like substance abuse issues in that relapse is always a possibility, and of course, I have shitty days where I hate myself and I am really REALLY tempted to do the things I used to do to “fix” my body, but for the most part, I resist. I’m trucking along. I’m lucky. I’m a “middle class” person who often passes as “white” living in a big city with a lot of resources designed for and made available specifically for people like me. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am. (People can and do die from EDs like mine. Or they lead really sad lives chained to their disorders forever.) I’m getting better.
I’m also fat. Have you noticed? People do. Just last week, I had the pleasure of a longish conversation with a stranger who wanted to know when I was “due.” (I said March, by the way, because it just felt so much easier that saying, “Actually, I’m just fat.” *) I get comments about my “still” pretty face. I am faced with friends who are obsessed with their own bodies who look at me and clearly think (sometimes even say) “What HAPPENED?” They’re obviously terrified that whatever it is might happen to them. Others are fond of chastising me for identifying my body as fat at all. “Oh, Jen, you’re not fat!” they exclaim, with so much speed it’s obvious that fat is the worst thing they think a person could be. (I do this too. I can't help it. We all do. We're all trying to be nice.) The thing is, I'm trying to get comfortable with the notion of fat as fine and to let go of the constantly repeated idea that fat = disgusting, lazy, greedy, ugly, etc. etc. etc. ** but people think that way, even though many don't realize it. It makes a lot of folks uncomfortable when you challenge that. It’s all pretty ridiculous. Fat really scares people. (And the truth is, while I’m fat, I’m not even especially fat. I can’t even imagine the absolute horror show of abuse and shame heaped on people who are fatter than I am. It’s truly terrifying and extremely unjust, but that’s another topic and this blog is already long enough as it is. ***) All I’m really trying to say is that since taking real steps to recover, all this body-talk has made social interactions hard. Or rather, harder than they used to be.
Supportive or not, fat-positive or not, kind or not, other people are “triggers” for me. (There’s that recovery language again.) And this might mean that in the last year, I’ve started seeing less of you. Or maybe I deleted you from Facebook or something. This brings us to the second big mental health revelation in this post:
In addition to my super fun ED, I also have pretty pronounced Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Hooray!
As with my ED, I’ve had it for a long time, but my diagnosis is pretty recent. I spent most of my 20s fighting this because when combined with my naturally introverted nature I was seen as “anti-social” and “no fun.” I was embarrassed by my desire to be alone or to spend time with friends one-on-one instead of at parties, so I worked hard to hide that. (Note here that being introverted is not the same as being shy. And neither of those things is the same as Social Anxiety Disorder. There’s lots of literature if you want to read up to better understand the differences.) Anyway, like I said, I worked hard to hide both my natural introversion (which is really no big deal, not an illness or even a problem, and which I’ve learned to accept) and my anxiety (which IS a big deal and can be debilitating ) and I got really good at it. People comment all the time on how gregarious I seem, how good I am at talking to strangers, how confident I am (especially on 5+ drinks). What can I say? When I seem gregarious, I’m really wishing I was dead! Ha ha! Fooled you!
I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience (because everyone’s mental health issues are different, even when they’re ostensibly the same), but in my case, my ED and my SAD are related, and from what I hear, this is often the case. In recovery support groups we talk a lot about how, for some people, the ED is a reaction to stress – a sort of maladaptive coping mechanism that, at least at one time, helped to relive anxiety and dial down the autonomic nervous system response. (Science talk! Woot woot!) This is probably why you’ll hear people who know nothing about Anorexia, for example, talk about how “it’s a control thing.” I assume they heard something along those lines from a high school gym teacher or a teen magazine. It’s not really that simple, but I digress. Certainly, in my case, my ED appears to be a symptom of my anxiety and I’m working on both things concurrently. And I tell you this to explain my rather strong feelings about what is and isn’t okay for me in social situations anymore, which is, I suppose the driving force behind this entire post.
I'm just out. I am out of patience for most of what constitutes “normal” conversation, particularly between women, but really just in general. Your “juice fast,” your New Year’s resolution to “get in shape,” your “jiggle wiggle,” your “cleanse,” your “awesome workouts,” your “Paleo-Atkins-MediFast-WeightWatchers-BiggestLoser-Homeopathic-GlutenFree-Whateverthefuck” – I can’t talk to you about any of that anymore. I can’t hear about it. I can’t take you moralizing about how “bad” you’re being for having that brownie, or how “good” you are for eating that salad. Personally, I can’t because I’m sick and I’m trying to get better and those kinds of conversations contribute to making me worse. Politically, I can’t because I’m just over it. I’m over women being expected to conversationally bond over shared self-hatred. I’m over hearing people congratulate each other for weight loss, even when the weight loss is a result of an illness, like a severe flu, Cancer or an ED. (When I was at my sickest and most engaged with my ED, people were ALWAYS congratulating me, telling me how good I looked, etc. “Good for you,” they’d say. Sometimes, I’d even tell people about my “diets” – I’d confess about how few calories I ate, or how I used to squirt dish soap on food I didn’t want to be tempted to eat (a little trick I learned from a weight-loss guide I ordered from the back of Seventeen magazine when I was 14. I remember the same trick shown on Sex and the City, by the way). People would just keep congratulating. The sentiment was this: Hmm… 500 calories a day? That sounds weird, but stick with it! It’s working! You may be killing yourself, but you look “good” and that’s all that matters!)
So I’m over it. I’m over the whole insane, sexist, scientifically unsound dialogue about health, weight and appearance.
Almost everything you believe about health and weight is probably wrong. Sorry. I know it might annoy you to hear that, but it’s true. It’s a hard fact for people to swallow in general, because most of us have been hearing lies about body appearance our whole lives and we’ve internalized those lies as “common sense.” (For example, “everyone knows” it’s healthier to be thin. Except it’s not. Scientifically speaking. But try to tell people this and then raise your shield because half the people listening are going to want to kill you. We’ve also been told the lie that being “healthy” is somehow the gold standard for personhood. Except, think about that. Do you really believe that someone is a better person who deserves better treatment because he or she is “healthy?” Isn’t that just a bit ableist? Does it really make a lot of sense?) It’s messed up, folks. That’s all there is to it. I’m not going to go into all the evidence and reasoning and science because there’s already a solid community of activists out there doing that and I’d just be paraphrasing them anyway (see footnotes for more on that), but I do want to point out how messed up it is, and how hurtful. And just FYI, hurtful things are stressful things. (And stress really IS unhealthy, physiologically and psychologically. I’m a perfect example of that whole problem at work.)
There are so many ways in which we all (or okay, maybe not all, but many of us) contribute to a completely fucked up culture of disordered eating and distorted body image and we’ve gotta quit it. Even things that seem on the surface to be “normal” and “nice” are really damaging. Even all that “Ooh, you look so great, I hate you” cutesy nonsense is a problem. All that talk talk talk about your gym schedule, etc. is a problem. **** And it’s a problem I’ve been part of. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not accusing you of anything terrible. I’m guilty too. But as I get better I understand more clearly than ever before that this whole conversation – the one that is about the way people look instead of about anything meaningful or important – needs to end. Period. We’re all trained to be judgmental about our bodies and the bodies of other people. I’m not saying that’s going to magically cease if we stop talking about it, but not talking about it is a nice first step. Keep that shit in your head and talk about anything else. There are so many other things that are more worthwhile.
It isn’t always easy, of course, to hold to all these new ideals as I start to get better and try to stay that way. And I make it harder for myself. Just recently, I appeared on a new show on MTV (hey, remember when I used to be on TV all the time?). Someone I used to know from my days on The After Show
invited me to be on this new series called Losing It
. It’s simple, really. You sit on a stool and tell the story of how you lost your virginity. Now why, WHY would a person like me agree to do this? Hello, I have an ANXIETY disorder. I am introverted. Doing a show that would be super exposing, both physically (me as a close-up talking head and torso) and emotionally (sex stories are pretty loaded for most people)? It sounded like a TERRIBLE idea
. And still, I agreed. I agreed because on some level, I believe that my anxiety disorder and my body image issues, etc., all of those things pale in comparison to the importance of telling the truth about things. I knew I would feel self-conscious and embarrassed and awkward telling my story and I knew waiting for it to air would generate a lot of unnecessary anxiety, but on a more rational level, I also know that I don’t really have anything to be embarrassed about. Not about my story, not about the way I look, not about how smart or articulate I am. There’s NOTHING wrong me with. So I did the show. And then I waited for it to air. Sweating
And then it did air and it was fine. I was fine. I came across as sort of funny, and charming enough. There’s nothing wrong with what I said or how I said it. And while my memory of what I was talking about is pretty dim, I still think I fairly represented the spirit of how I felt as a 17 year old, which was, I suppose the point. It was fine. Except… I looked so fat. Hideously fat, I thought, especially compared to the photo they showed of me at 17. And despite all my lofty goals and my political feelings about fat being fine, I freaked out a little. It didn’t help that I followed the online feedback about the show via Twitter. Most of it was complimentary. People love Losing It. The MTV audience (teens, mostly, I’m guessing) think it’s hilarious and that’s great. Almost ALL the comments online are positive. But I saw one (JUST ONE) comment about how some of the storytellers (like me) had obviously let themselves go. Look how unhealthy [read: fat] you’ve let yourselves get since high school, said some little Twitter twit. And because I’m crazy, that’s the comment that stuck. I felt ashamed and like I wanted to argue, “Um, actually, I’m fat because I’m overcoming an eating disorder, so SUCK ON THAT, you heartless bitch!” Seriously. This is the impulse I had to stifle, because really, whatever my issues, I don’t want to be overly-defensive. I don’t want to be that guy. That guy is a fun-sponge. *****
My point is that it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain my recovery in the world, the world being what it is. It’s hard enough for me to attend social events because of my anxiety to begin with, but pile on the fact that 99% of events include some form of weight, appearance, faux-health, diet and/or exercising conversation and it’s even harder. It makes me want to stay home 24/7. And stop reading books, watching TV and looking out the window too, because this body-lunacy, it’s everywhere. But of course, total isolation probably isn’t a good solution. Truth might be. Or it might help a bit, which is, I guess, why I’m writing this.
Sadly, telling the truth about any sort of mental health issue means living with stigma, which is definitely difficult. That’s the idea I struggled with when deciding whether or not to post this epic truth-spew. Sharing any of this opens the door to a huge amount of judgment and advice from the often-well-meaning, but totally-ignorant public. (And as a result, comments will probably be on moderation, FYI.) And I’m sure some of my more pleasant acquaintances are rubbing their hands with glee at my revelations. (Nice folks, those.) But still, I did it. I’m anxious, but I’m trying not to be ashamed.
Shame is the worst, guys. It’s awful and toxic and it contributed to me being sick for a really long time. I was ashamed of so much about myself, especially my repeated “failure” to “fix” my body. (A lot of people think body “fixing” is possible, by the way. It’s just diet and exercise, they shout. Calories in, calories out. ****** Bleh. It's not. Not for everyone. Not all of the time. And besides that, please please please BE QUIET and MIND YOUR BEESWAX.)
Shame made me a liar, too. ******* Before I was married, I lived with a past boyfriend for years and he had no idea that I was sick at all, let alone how sick I was. (To be fair, we had issues. I probably could have died in that apartment and it would have taken days for him to find me. We weren’t exactly caring toward one another.) But also, he didn’t know because I didn’t tell him. I was ashamed, so I lied. I even managed to lie to myself. That’s the power of shame for you.
I’m told, however, that truthfulness detoxifies shame in real, tangible ways. That’s something I’ve heard in recovery. Telling the truth is one of the things that works when you’re trying to get better. I guess that’s one of the reasons support groups are popular. Telling the truth reduces shame.
So here we are. ********
This week (February 3rd to 9th) is Eating Disorder Awareness Week here in Canada, by the way. So this is all pretty timely, wouldn’t you say? (I’m patting myself on the back right now, in fact.)
Hey, remember all those asterisks? Brace yourself. Here come the footnotes.
* There’s a whole movement to reclaim the word “fat” going on, though you might not have heard about it. So before you start up with the “oh, you’re not fat” comments, that I’m sure you mean to be kind, consider this sort of thing. I’m okay with the way I look. Or at least, I’m trying to be. Saying, “Oh, you’re not fat! Don’t be hard on yourself!” isn’t as helpful as you think it is. It would be more helpful to get your head around the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being fat in the first place. Don’t be afraid of fat OR of the word fat, if you can possibly help it. I know it's hard. It's hard for me too. We're trying to undo a lifetime worth of teaching here, people.
** You might think you aren't participating in this idea that fat people are gross, stupid, lazy, smelly, greedy, etc., but the next time you see a fat character on television or in the movies, pay attention. Is that character smart? Kind? Friendly? Or is that character drawn as evil, dumb, mean, etc.? This kind of repeated stereotyping is rarely challenged, but it's bigoted, plain and simple.
*** Want to learn about fat-activism, size-acceptance, fighting bigotry and/or HAES (Health at Every Size)? I suggest blogs/websites like The Fat Nutritionist and Dances With Fat. Or just get Googling. You have internet access, I know you do.
**** It’s totally cool if you love the gym. More power to you, gym-rat! Love boot-camp? That’s cool too. Talking about these interests and pleasures to like minded individuals who’ve agreed to participate in such conversations is fine. Constantly sharing (and thereby upsetting and even inadvertently shaming) other people for living differently, in real life, on social media, etc. is way. less. fine. Your experience is yours. Hooray! Applying your experience to anyone else, foisting it on anyone else? It's not nice. (I know you didn't mean to hurt anyone, but hey, now you know.)
***** A fun-sponge is someone who sucks all the fun out of social interactions. Do you have a fun-sponge in your social circle? Most of us do.
****** Hey, that rhymed!
******* Eating Disorders are incredibly easy to hide. Lots of mental health issues are. I can promise you, most of the time you CANNOT tell who is sick based on the way they look. Now that I'm in recovery, I know people with eating disorders who run the gamut: women, men, transgendered people, fat people, thin people, racially diverse people, sexually diverse people, socioeconomically diverse people, etc. You have no idea. It surprised me a lot when I started treatment, but it’s a fact. You can't tell. Don't want to hurt people by accident? Don't talk about bodies. Easy peasy!
******** FYI, I’m probably not going to be blogging about this sort of thing often. I don’t think this is going to become some sort of mental health/eating disorder blog. It’s probably just going to keep being what is was: rambling, sporadic and emo. And occasionally, true. Or as true as I can make it on any given day. Make of that whatever you will.
P.S. WEE UPDATE 05/02/2013: HealthyPlace, the org that had me speak on its podcast/radio show after I wrote my initial weight post invited me to participate in its Stand Up for Mental Health campaign. So, sure! Here are the buttons:
It’s hard to know what to say. I’ve had various posts kicking around in my brain for the past few weeks and yet, I haven’t written them. I’ve written other things instead. Non-public, “save it for your diary” type things. Pithy articles for publication elsewhere. And other things that I suppose could be posted here if I wasn’t such a chicken, but I am.
I’m afraid to write good stuff for the blog. Afriad. I'm a big chicken. That’s me.
It’s interesting to look at my stats and see that my most frequent site visitors seems to be the small handful of people who are waiting for an excuse to flip out at and about me. This is frightening. I admit it, okay? I am afraid of you guys. I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life. (That was the most vehement threat made toward me in the last year. That I’d be sued for something I’d written, not in the hopes of actually winning any sort of case, but simply to tangle me in something the threatener knew I couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t weather.)
You will be poor for the rest of your life. That was the threat.
It’s not being “poor” that scares me so much as the idea of a conflict that would be so long-lasting, so draining, and so utterly not worth it. I hate to fight. Conflict of any kind makes me sick to my stomach. I also hate not writing. Or rather, not writing the things I feel it's important for me to write. These are the things that keep me awake at night. In order to sleep, I write them anyway, then I burn the evidence. This is what I’ve been reduced to, and it’s unsatisfying and depressing, but also better than nothing, I suppose.
My grandfather died a few weeks ago, and of course, I dared not write about that. I wanted to, of course. I had a million things to say. In particular, I wanted to write about the contents of his desk. I didn’t plan on it, but having been the one to clean out the small, and seemingly worthless bits and bobs from his drawers, I noted something in particular. The man was exactly like me. I knew this already. He and I even talked about it on occasion, though not lately. Still, seeing the contents of his desk brought a sort of clarity about our similarities that hadn’t existed before.
I wanted to write about how he died with more staples than a person could ever reasonably expect to use in a lifetime, and how I had the very same utterly over-the-top number of staples in my own desk (the very same brand, in fact, in the very same box), and how, having combined his collection with my own, I now have twice as many, more than I will ever use, more than is reasonable by a long shot, and along with the staples, I also have more pins, even more miniature magnifying glasses, more rulers, more pencils and more little notes written to myself and destined to be forgotten.
I kept it all.
photo via (who knew you could sell this stuff?)
Even the notes, his notes, I kept. I combined them with my own small collection of notes containing similar sentiments: Instructions on how to be happy, how to stay calm, how to treat people. I expect these new notes will sit, along with my own, in my desk, for decades. I won’t throw them away, because I mean them to be reminders. I mean them to inspire. I will forget they are there, and periodically I will come across them and remember. They will never do what I hoped they would do or mean what I want them to mean, but I will never throw them away, because eventually, if I can keep them in mind, remember what they say, maybe they will. Eventually. It's important to be prepared. But even if they don’t, I can’t throw them away. I can’t. That’s just something true about me. Mild OCD, maybe. Probably. I don’t know. It’s just the way I am.
So I wanted to write about the desk as a metaphor for the man, and more importantly, about how in no other area were the similarities in our personalities more obvious. Perhaps you think that’s what I’ve done here, with a little bit of stylistic cheek, but I haven’t. I haven’t. This is not the piece I wanted to write. It’s not the piece I did write, in the middle of the night, a few weeks back. That piece, I burned over the kitchen sink.
This is a nothing piece. It’s not all sycophantic treacle, so it may well be as unpalatable as the one that was burned, but neither does it deal with what’s really important. It doesn’t really examine what it means to be a person who organizes and obsessed over minutiae, who is always ready, who guards against life and the unexpected with staples and pencils and tape. It doesn’t delve into the not-so-perfect aspects of a personality that make a person a person. Culturally speaking, the dead must be revered, I've learned this. So even though I would be talking about myself in addition to another person, I know such a piece would not allowed. Not unless I want to be poor for the rest of my life. And as a result, what I’ve written here is largely useless.
And this is a sad thing, both for me and for you.
Today I turn 32 and the blog turns 7.
Growing up, or I suppose, in my case, growing older, is a funny thing. The idea of it is a perpetual preoccupation. Google "growing up" and you get so many disparate things. Blog posts from kids saying they feel old at 17. Editorials from 55 year old women saying they've never felt so young. Poems by A. A. Milne. Clips from The Breakfast Club. Age and aging are perennial, if not constant topics of interest in North America, returning over and over again to haunt the zeitgeist of each subsequent generation.
This is not a "milestone" birthday for me and I didn't think much about it before this morning. Too much other stuff on my mind. My job is ending, as most of you already know. My boss has decided to close the company, so everyone on staff has been laid off. Officially, the business shuts its doors at the end of August, but I opted to check out at the end of July, which means just two more weeks before I'm officially unemployed, or officially a full-time shopmistress, depending on how you want to spin it.
For me, being forced to make a professional change has been a good thing. I would have coasted along for ages letting things lie had I not been forced to reevaluate. And psychologically, I think the lay off has been positive as well. It's helped stride toward the things I should have been doing all along -- sticking up for myself, for example, being less of a pushover, teaching people how to treat me. I've already blogged about these things. No need to go into them again.
It's all been going surprisingly well. There's been resistance, of course. When you suddenly change the rules of any relationship (in my case, by telling people in no uncertain terms what I will and won't tolerate), there's always some blow back. Those least willing to change are squirming about it all, fighting with everything they have at their disposal -- passive aggression, emotional punishments, manipulations, insults, guilt. I get that. It's like dealing with toddlers. When they don't like something, they fight. They fight with everything they have in their stubby little bodies. And it doesn't make sense to fight back. Rather, you simply have to teach them that no matter what they do, their circumstances aren't going to change. They can scream and kick and struggle all they want, but eventually, they're going to have to adapt. It's more difficult with adults, obviously. The tantrums are more subtle, more calculated, but the method for dealing with them is similar: stay calm and don't waver. Repeat yourself. Say, "This is the way it's going to be. Pound your little feet all you want, but this is the way it's going to be." I was anxious about the process before it began, but now that I'm in it, I see it's not as hard as I expected. It just takes patience.
So many people have told me to expect life changes in my 30s. People say this is the decade when you come into your own as an adult. I have no idea if this is true. My 20s were so traumatic, so filled with confusion and insecurity and change, I feel like life can only continue to settle down and improve, so maybe it's true. Maybe it's true for almost everyone. Those poor souls who are happiest in high school and/or their early twenties are few and far between, which is lucky all around.
Anyway. I suppose I'll just keep on keepin' on. Happy Birthday to me.
I feel like I've spent a lot of my life being a pushover. Someone asks me for something and no matter how I feel about it, I generally say yes because saying yes is easier than saying no.
Don't get me wrong -- this "don't say no" mentality has not resulted in me actually DOING an endless number of things I don't want to do. Rather, it's resulted in me being annoyed a lot of the time (and in some cases, in people becoming annoyed with me).
Let me explain.
First off, I have been known to say "maybe" to things when I really want to say no, which is something people catch on to after awhile. I also rely heavily on "excuses." My excuses are rarely untrue, but they are excuses nonetheless, and include the following:
I can't because ... I have a headache.
I can't because ... I am already committed to something else.
I can't because ... I will be out of town.
Excuses are wonderful things. They have often allowed me to say no without feeling like I was saying no. Saying "I can't" is so much better than saying "I won't" -- no guilt! When one of these excuses is given, the impression I hope to give is that I WOULD do the thing I'm being asked to do, that I WANT to do it, but that, through no fault of my own, I CAN'T. (So sorry!) For a crazy-face like me, who is ridiculous about saying no, this is wonderfully relaxing. Excuses mean I don't have to say no. Being unavailable is not my fault! No one can blame me, or be angry, or push back against my desires, because my answer is not about desires! Hurray! It's out of my hands!
I mean, I hate the fact that I suffer from a lot of serious headaches, but at least they get me out of things, right?
This behaviour is, to put it mildly, fucked up.
In my own defense, I will say that my experiences with saying no haven't been all that positive, and this hasn't helped matters. I mean, you've read the blog, you know my family is seriously cray cray, so saying no to relatives (or, you know, having feelings of any kind) has never been easy. But even with friends, even with acquaintances, it's been difficult. I don't like conflict. Or arguing. Yet, I feel dragged into conflict-based interactions whenever I try to assert myself. This is why I find it so much easier to default to a position of "yes" or even better, "I wish I could, but ..."
Don't believe me? Take, for example, a version of this exchange, which is exaggerated, but which I promise you, takes place regularly in my life:
Pushy Pusherman: Hey Jen! Can you help me with this thing? It's a great idea, right?"
Jen: Um, no. I can't. Sorry.
PP: "Don't worry, it'll be easy."
Jen: "Yeah... but still, no."
PP: "But it's a great idea! What are your reservations? WHY won't you do what I want?"
Jen: "Oh, lots of reasons... [insert at least one or two gentle ones, but never the most important reason which is I DON'T WANT TO.]"
PP: Those aren't good reasons! It's a great idea! I want you to do it because ... [insert reasons that are primarily selfish and do not take into account the fact that I ALREADY SAID NO.]
PP: So, you'll do it right?
PP: I think you should Come on, do it.
PP: Keep an open mind. Let's brainstorm a way to make this work.
Jen: Sorry, but it just doesn't work for me, under any circumstances.
PP: I'm sure we can work this out. [Read: So I can get what I want. My feelings are more important than yours!]
Jen: Okay ... maybe. We'll see. [Or worse-still - "yes."]
Inevitably, I end up doing things I don't want to do because of conversations that are just like this one -- conversations in which my initial "no" is flat-out ignored.
I don't know how to deal with these sorts of interactions. They leave me feeling resentful and frustrated. WHY should I have to explain myself, I wonder? Why don't people listen to me? What is unclear about the word no? Why are my feelings not taken into account? Why is the onus on me to give a REASON for refusing to do someone a favour? Why is a simple no so rarely enough?
These questions keep me awake at night, and again -- that's fucked up. Because you KNOW Pushy Pusherman isn't lying awake at night. Pushy Pusherman is sleeping like a baby because Pushy Pusherman is an egomaniac who almost always gets what she/he wants.
I suppose it's partially my fault. I give in. But I wonder, is there something about me that bullies can sense, just by looking? Do they know that if they push, push again, and then push some more, I will cave? How do they know? There seems to be something magical and intangible about me that screams, "Don't respect my boundaries, just push! I will give in eventually because I hate arguments and I'm always willing to put my own wants and needs behind the wants and needs of someone who's willing to fight me."
It must be at least partially my fault. I've set a precedent. And I've done it consciously, because sometimes, I find myself reasoning, "Well, this person is willing to be incredibly pushy, so it must really matter to him/her. I'm NOT willing to be incredibly pushy, so it obviously doesn't matter that much to me. I should give in. I mean, if I am to believe this Pushy Pusherman attitude, this person cares A LOT. My attitude says that this request is not all that important to me. Ergo, what I want must objectively be less important than what they want. I should give in." And give in, I do.
And then the endless lending of stuff, doing of favours, attending of events and maintaining of relationships that I don't give a shit about exhausts me and I end up feeling resentful and grumpy and put upon. I start getting more stress headaches, which (at least) gets me out of things for awhile and allows me to have a break.
This is a bad cycle, stemming, I suppose, from a variety of bad attitudes. And I've heard all the criticisms and little nuggets of wisdom before, so don't bother telling me I have to "put myself first" or "fight for what I want" or "be tough." Thanks, but that sort of advice is unhelpful and misses the point. I don't want to FIGHT for what I want. I don't want to fight at all. I want people to respect that what I want is valuable, that when I say no, I have my reasons, and that my feelings are important. Why should I have to FIGHT for that? WHY???
And don't tell me that this is just how the world works, because it's not. I respect other people's desires. When someone says no to me, I say okay. Unless something seems really objectively important above and beyond their feelings, or unless I feel the person saying no doesn't have all the necessary information, as far as I'm concerned, no means no. You don't have to tell me twice. This is not hard. All it takes is simple common sense to determine when something is important enough to push for and when pushing would simply be selfishness and a complete unconsciousness of anyone else's feelings on my part. I do it all the time, but many (many) more people out there seem to think their every little desire is ALWAYS of paramount importance. And unless you regularly sledge-hammer-forward the idea that other people, you know, exist, their attitude is always "me me me." Where do these people come from? Who raises children to think of themselves as little centres of the universe? A lot of people, it would seem, because Pushy Pushermans abound.
But okay, I get it. I can't change other people, I can only change myself. So to begin with, what I'm wondering is this: How can I change that weird thing about me that seems to invite people to push into a thing that makes them instinctively understand that no means no. HOW?
Some progress has been made. A few years ago, when explaining to my friend Steve that I felt I couldn't stop hanging out with certain people (let's call them "friends") without offering a good explanation, he helped me understand that an explanation wasn't owed. "If you don't want to be friends with someone, don't be friends with them," he said. "If you don't want to argue about it, don't argue. The relationship isn't working for you, you've given [name redacted] notice that you wanted things to change, they've ignored you. What else can you do? Maybe they won't like it, but that's not your problem."
Finally, finally - something resonated. If I say no, and someone gets upset, that's not my problem. It's not even my fault! How they feel isn't more important than how I feel. And if I let the situation continue, I'm enabling them. I'm letting them continue to behave in the ways they have always behaved. I'm saying okay to a situation that works for them, but that does not work for me. I may choose to do that, and if so, fine, but it hardly makes sense to complain about it if I do, right? RIGHT.
This revelation came, as I said, a few years ago. And at the time I thought, "I'm finally growing up!" Alas, while I got up the nerve to "unfriend" people and change some relationships as a result, overall, I'm still a pushover. And worse, I still feel guilty and upset about how people have responded to me putting myself first. When they've been angry, I've felt terrible. When they've argued, I've been contrite. In other words, I thought I'd experienced a revelation, and I thought significant progress would result, but all I'd really taken was a baby step.
Luckily, baby steps continue, and get steadier in time. In the last while, I've been a little better about asserting myself. I've been better about setting boundaries. At work, I've actually said the words, "I think that's above my pay grade." BAM! It felt great!
And WAY WAY more importantly, this happened: To a person who regularly says hurtful things to me, over the phone I said, "You know what? These things are hurtful. If you continue to say these things, and refuse to apologize, I'm not going to spend time with you anymore. Simple." Shockingly (although, why should I be shocked?) this has not gone over all that well. Hurty Hurtfulson told me to "let it go" and to "just stop being angry" etc., but wonderfully, happily, I didn't let her make me angry and I didn't give in! I calmly (okay, relatively calmly - my voice was shaking a bit) restated my position, which was this: "I'm not angry. I'm hurt. You are saying hurtful things. Stop or the consequence will be no contact with me." When she tried to argue again, cut her off, saying "Sorry, but this is the way it is. Deal with it." And then I hung up. And it felt GREAT. Great great great!!! It felt great to name my terms and be calm about enforcing them. Why didn't I do this sooner? Why wasn't I able to?
The experience was so positive, I've managed to keep the ball rolling. To those who regularly borrow things from me, I've started setting conditions -- simple, basic conditions, but never-before-verbalized. For example: "If you borrow something, I want it returned in the same condition it was in when you took it." In other words, if something was clean when borrowed, I want it clean when it's returned. (Simple request, right? But soooo hard for me to make. And you would not believe how often I get stuff back that is dirty.) As with Hurty Hurfulson, The Borrowers are pushing back. It's a new day and I suppose they're just not used to me setting terms, but instead of giving in when said Borrowers have presented reasons why they might not be able to meet my terms, I've been able to say "Sorry, but these are the conditions. You can borrow it, but I want it back the way I want it back. If you can't handle that, you can't borrow it. Simple." And I haven't felt panicked, which has been my default sensation in situations like this for years. If The Borrowers don't comply, and I have to say no in future as a result, that's cool. I think I feel okay with that.
So does this mean I'm finally growing up? Have I FINALLY fundamentally begun to understand what I can control and what I can't? Are my emotions finally catching up with my rational brain?
Want to ask for something or do something? That's up to you. If I feel like saying no or not putting up with it for any reason, that's up to me. You feel angry about that? Again, that's up to you. Letting your anger change my behaviour? That's up to me. It's. So. Simple.
I don't want to let the ball stop rolling on my new-found confidence in these matters, so any advice would be helpful. How do I keep saying no and keep feeling cool when people push back? Don't let me drop the ball on this one, blog-friends. This is a major step in my mental/emotional development.
That moment when you tell your (loving, not-at-ALL-abusive) family that you might lose your job and one of them says, with no trace of humour, black or any other colour, "Good. Now you can get a real job."
Because at some point, it all becomes funny. And predictable. And predicability can yield satisfaction, particularly when there is little else to enjoy in a relationship.
I often ask my niece and nephew about their dreams. I don't know why. They're just little kids (4 and 2 years old, respectively). Most of the time, Kat (the older one) tells me she can't remember her dreams. (The little one, James, who is relatively new to the business of conversation, just blows raspberries and laughs.)
But last summer, Kat had a nightmare. And I've been thinking about it ever since.
She said she dreamt of a "little alien guy in a shell" with "one eye and a little horn" (to demonstrate, she curled a finger up by her forehead). She said the dream was scary because the alien was a "bad guy."
Katherine's been having bad (or at least unsettling) dreams for her entire life, I think. When she was just a couple of months old, she'd often cry out from her crib, and whimper in her sleep. I always wondered about this. What could such a little baby be dreaming about that might make her so upset? A shortage of breast milk? An especially dirty diaper?
I've always suffered from nightmares. I generally have a couple a week. I can't really remember a time when I didn't have them, so it's not so bad any more. I'm used to it. Sometimes, I even enjoy it. But Kat is still a little girl. And I worry about her. I don't like the idea of her having bad dreams.
So, with her birthday coming up, and the dream still in my mind months later, I wrote Katherine a little story. My friend Patty did some drawings to go with it.
I scanned the whole thing into my computer and am having it printed as a book for a present.
It's not a great tale or anything. I use far too many commas, as is my wont. The rhymes are forced and sometimes awkward. But Katherine is only 4. I have a feeling she's going to like it.
Having a niece and nephew is great, by the way. None of the work of parenthood, and all of the fun. Basically the best thing ever. I know that makes me sound baby crazy, and maybe I am (a little), but seriously. Cuteness abounds.
If you want to check out the book, I've included a preview below, or visit the self-publishing site I used to lay it out and have it bound: Blurb
I've always loved Halloween. Always. Even when I was a little girl, and my parents made me wear my winter coat and a cowbell over my costume, I loved it.
I even loved the cowbell.
For my very first year of Trick-or-treating, my Dad fashioned bunny costumes for us, complete with tin-foil ears (as shown). We used my mother's eyebrow pencil to draw on whiskers and rouged our cheeks with lipstick. He seems bothered by this effort now. Thinks he did a bad job. He's become an advocate of the "store-bought" costume.
But I loved my bunny ears. I don't remember feeling that I was missing anything.
Regardless of the friendships I forged at school, Trick-or-treating was always a neighbourhood activity. I tended to troll for candy with a small pack of boys from my street, like Peter (seen above, in the early 1980s, dressed in a sort of Hobo-clown costume that put our bunny ears to shame).
As we got older, he (and the other boy I palled around with -- Dennis) would run ahead, trying to hit as many houses as possible, while I was left struggling with my costume or adjusting my mask and calling, "wait up!" But I didn't care. I still loved every part of it.
Halloween was magical. More exciting than Christmas.
I "made" my costume every year, sometimes using my allowance to buy components from the drug store. My parents didn't have the time (or inclination) to help us out with this sort of thing, so the resulting costumes were often strange, but I think we were lucky. Halloween was about having fun, being creative, and learning self-reliance. It wasn't a fashion show.
This is not to say I didn't wish for the perfect store-bought costume. I did. And at school, when I compared my odd efforts to those of the girls who'd dressed as cheerleaders, punk rockers and princesses, I was embarrassed. But a little embarrassment can be good for you, don't you think? In retrospect, I'm glad I was who I was, and glad that my parents generally left me to my own devices. (And that my mother let me do what I wanted with her scarves and old maternity clothes.)
Sometimes I wonder what it would have felt like to have been a "princess" for a day. I wonder if it would have been as wonderful as I imagined? To head off to school with confidence, feeling that no one could possibly make fun of me in my perfect, store-bought costume? That might have been nice. And I understand parents who'd want to give their kids that kind of peace of mind. School is a battlefield. And kids who conform are generally safest in the wild world of institutionalized education.
This year, Nathan went as Jim Henson and I went (in keeping with tradition) as ... something odd. And it was kind of scary and kind of funny. In other words, everything Halloween should be. But as usual, I felt a bit anxious about my costume. Was it too weird?
Was I too weird?
And then I remembered... I'm grown up. There's no such thing.
Happy Halloween, everyone.