smitten

Wrapping a lead blanket around myself (For David-Benjamin Tomlinson)

Scene: Last Saturday at the Spur festival’s Literary Cabaret. 

I am standing at the Arts and Letters club, and a writer I have just met (but already hugged three times) is tapping against my cleavage and insisting “Your heart is trying to talk to you! It’s saying beep beep beep beep I have a message for you!”

Then his hand becomes a manic spider, dancing just above my freshly-shaved head. “You are all up here in your brain. You are ignoring your heart.” He returns his fingertip to my chest, and taps out a few more “beep beep beeps” for emphasis. He then looks at me sternly, says “Okay?” a few times, gives me a final hug and swoops away.

His name is David-Benjamin Tomlinson, and a few hours earlier I watched in tears as he performed a monologue about having a complicated and unattractive reaction to his best friend having a baby. It was vulnerable and hilarious and open-hearted, which is how I would describe all of my favourite art.

I loved it, but even while listening to it, I was making mental edits. At one point, he decides he is going to win this little girl over with a dance party. And as he talks about this dance party, it seems like he has won her over. I feel like my heart is being cracked open.

But then his piece continued for another two segments, and during those segments I was thinking “No. Now it is messy. Now I know that one action didn’t solve everything. Now I can’t write my own happy ending.” When the piece eventually did wrap up, though, I had to admit it was stronger that way. It had more of an impact on me, because it was more realistic.

I love other people’s realities. I tell everyone to be brave and genuine and vulnerable. I tell them that it is a gift to their community to show trust in this way. I tell them to be a role model for imperfect people doing their best. But in all honesty, I feel like the realistic version of me is embarrassing, so I’ve been hiding it away. I worry that if I paint myself in a realistic light, it will be clear that I can be impatient and avoidant and petty and untrustworthy.

I spent a few recent years in the fight of my life, trying to keep feeling like I was loveable while facing a lot of evidence to the contrary. And by some metrics my plan was successful; I survived with my sense of worthiness intact. Except now I feel like the only way I can maintain that feeling is to wrap the emotional equivalent of one of those lead blankets around myself, to keep out X-ray eyes.

This is the fear that I try to explain to David-Benjamin after his performance. Except it is humiliating to articulate. So I start sentences about not wanting to seem imperfect and then trail off, avoiding the eyes of someone who has just told an audience of strangers that he hated his best friend’s baby.

Right? Right.

But the truth is, this epiphany won’t last. This is not my tidy happy ending. This is not the point where I reassure all of you that they will only get generous and open-hearted writing from me for now on. I don’t have that in me.

All I am able to do is admit to everyone that I am scared. I’m scared that my self-preservation became self-desctruction, and that in my flailing determination to look after myself when I was left at sea, I doubled down on some of my worst qualities. And I’m scared that the very nature of these qualities is what makes them hardest to process in public.

My impatience means that I don’t want to start over in finding my voice and audience. My pettiness means that I don’t really feel I should have to. My avoidance means that I don’t want to dig through myself to do this work. And my untrustworthiness means that I don’t feel like anything I would write would be believable even to myself.

I guess believing myself is what David-Benjamin was trying to tell me to do, with his beep beep beeps on my chest. To reassure myself that I am a reliable narrator. To stop gaslighting myself, for crying out loud.

The truth is, I can’t make any promises. I can’t even promise to do my best because I don’t even know what my best is. But I want to thank everyone who encourages me to keep trying, and who tells me my voice is valuable and that I don’t have to be perfect.

And I want to thank David-Benjamin, for being a shining example of the value of authentic connection.

smitten

I’ve never been one for playing it cool.

shelter

Guest post – The Year I Met Autism

A close friend of mine recently found out that her son is on the Autism Spectrum. She’s struggling with navigating talking about this in online spaces, because his privacy means a lot to her. And while she knows that there is no shame in the diagnosis, she’s only too aware that not everyone else is there yet. So she has asked me to post this anonymously in my blog, on World Autism Awareness Day. Please read, share, and be kind.

shelter

“What did you do today?”

It was the question I asked my son every night when he returned home from daycare, or “school” as we called it. Each night, without fail, he would repeat the same answer verbatim, “I played with cars with Josh”. Or there would be silence. I’m not sure what was worse.

“What did you do today?” we would ask over and over, until finally we just stopped because the answer frustrated us so much.

It was one of the things that made me know something was wrong. He would repeat what I referred to as a “bank of phrases”, each one used to get him through the routines of the day. And he relied on those daily routines, so much so that disaster would strike if we deviated from one task for even a minute.

“It’s time for my bath, you need to go home now,” he told his little cousins at a family reunion with my brothers two summers back. How adorable, everyone thought.

Then there was the intense focus on a singular interest. Months spent talking about nothing else except for his favourite movie. Nothing. Else. On the beach in Florida where the sun was shining and the waves crashing around us, “does Woody wear a cowboy hat? Yes. Woody wears a cowboy hat.”

“You’d think that he spent 24 hours a day watching this movie,” I told my mother. “He speaks of nothing else.”

And while there were hugs and cuddles, there were never any “I love yous”. I can count on one finger the number of times my son has told me he loves me.  He does though, I know this. And I love him, which is why I fought to find out what was wrong with my boy.

It’s Autism. That’s what’s “wrong”. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We’ve been processing this information for the past three months, and maybe I’ll get to a better place but right now it still really sucks. To be brutally honest, I never thought I would have to give more than a fleeting thought to International Autism Awareness Day. This was my sweet boy. My first born who had such a vast vocabulary at 18 months.  My baby who never wanted to leave my side, the gift life gave me that made me feel such pure happiness. I never thought we would meet autism. This caped monster that came in the night to steal all our hopes and dreams that we had for our son.

Autism means speech therapy, behavioural therapy, delaying his entrance into school so he can take part in intensive early intervention and managing the well-meaning but sometimes super awkward encounters with friends and family when telling them the news.

Writing is therapy for me, which is why on International Autism Awareness Day I asked my good friend to let me take up some space on her blog. You might ask what I know about autism, considering my child was only diagnosed three months ago, but you underestimate me and the power of the Internet. Here are some things I’ve learned on our journey thus far, and some things you might benefit from learning on this day:

Shit is confusing

Autism is a health condition in which no one has any answers and yet everyone has all the answers. So far I’ve learned that autism is genetic. That it’s not genetic, it’s environmental. That it’s a combination of genetics and environmental. Vaccines cause autism, vaccines in no way cause autism so shut down your crazy. Tylenol while pregnant causes autism. Tylenol for babies causes autism. Being induced causes autism. C-Sections cause autism. Fucking Bounce sheets cause autism. There is no cure for autism. But Natural Doctors might have things that can rid your child of autistic tendencies. Gluten free. B12 shots in the ass. Stool samples. And if you don’t do these things you are basically just giving your kid more Bounce sheets to roll around in.

Seriously. Shit is confusing. Luckily, I have people sending me all the articles on autism that exist on the Internet so that I can spend the majority of my time banging my face against my keyboard.

The Spectrum is Vast

One important thing I’ve learned is that there is no way you can generalize those who have ASD. Every kid on the spectrum is different. There are some commonalities to be sure, but the symptoms and behaviours are across the board. For one thing, don’t ask me if my son has a “special talent” cause you heard that “kids with autism all have a thing they do well”. Take your Rain Man stigma and check it.

Pity is the worst

We have some incredible friends who have responded so well to the news about our son having ASD. We’ve also had some terribly awful reactions that kept me up all hours of the night. Our son doesn’t need your pity (besides for having me as a mother). What he needs is for you to give him a chance at a playdate even though he might not be the most outgoing kid in the daycare class. He needs for you to not exclude him from birthday parties, because that really hurts. Please remember that our kids learn from us, so just because little Johnny doesn’t want to invite the weird, quiet kid from class to his party doesn’t mean that you should accept that. You know better, and you should teach your kid to know better as well. Better than any therapy in the world is the social interaction kids with ASD get from playing with their peers. Don’t just talk a good game about diversity and acceptance. Practice it even once a month. Trust me, it’s life changing for these kids.

Support is key

I don’t know what we would have done without our family and friends the past few months. Taking care of our younger child while we shuttled our son from one appointment to the next. Listening to me cry for hours on the phone. Coming over with a bottle of wine and talking about nonsense to take my mind off of the new path we were facing. Inviting our family into your home for afternoon get togethers or suppers to make it clear that our son would never be treated any differently. Most importantly, thank you for saying something. What has hurt the most is the people we’ve told who have chosen to say nothing at all. Who feel it is best to pretend that nothing has changed in our lives. It has, things have really changed, and calling to see how we’re doing would be a really cool thing to do.

So those are a few of the things I’ve learned that I felt important to share. Maybe next year I’ll have more insightful things to share about where we are with autism. Right now though, things are finally starting to feel ok. I can see my son again; I don’t look at him and see autism. I see his strengths, his character, and his drive. Those hopes and dreams we had for him are still there, but they are less vain. I want him to be happy. I want him to love his life and seek answers independently in order to satisfy his curiosity.  I don’t ever want him to change.

“What did I do today?” my son asked me at dinner last night after weeks of us not asking him the question. My husband and I turned to him, jaws dropped, before regaining our composure and engaging in the conversation. “What did you do today, buddy?” we asked. “I played smurfs with my friend and then I did craft,” he replied with a smile before following up with, “Do you like popcorn?”

It’s not one of those things you can put up on Facebook with a cute caption like, “Zoe is riding her bike!” or “Colin played his first hockey game!” but my son asking me if I liked popcorn and looking like he honestly gave a shit might be one of the best moments of my life.

That’s autism.

 

What do you do with the mad that you feel?

Ugh I am super angry about my blog for reasons I don’t feel like I can talk about. This space turned into mostly birthday posts, which I loved writing until one of them went traumatically badly. And then I got super avoidant about something I was previously excited by. So I’m trying to reclaim the space a little, even though looking at the design or thinking about the title makes me feel like I am going to throw up.

Okay weird, but just writing that I am angry made me feel a lot better.

creative commons photo by mirsasha

creative commons photo by mirsasha

Happy Birthday Jennie Worden!!

Today is the birthday of dancer, editor, singer, and megababe Jennie Worden.

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If I didn’t know Jennie, I honestly feel like I would be a different person. Here is a list of things of five things I have learned (or am trying to learn!) from Jennie.

1. Don’t try to read your friends’ minds. Jennie always asks people — when they are talking about problems — if they are looking for advice, a place to vent, or commiseration.  SO SMART! This helps the people I’m talking to do a bit of a check in with themselves if they need to, and eliminates the frustration of coming at a conversation from two different ways. I don’t do this as much as I could, but I’m trying to get in the habit. It really helps people feel listened to and supported.

2. Be fair-minded and honest. One of our mutual friends recently said to me “YAY JENNIE CLICKED TO LIKE MY FACEBOOK COMMENT!”, and we talked about how great it feels to get positive feedback from Jennie. And it’s not because she’s stingy with her kind words (more on that in a moment), but because she is careful with them. She doesn’t say things she doesn’t mean, and she’s great at making sure her own context isn’t skewing her reaction (or if it is, she says so).

3. Give/get friendly praise out of the blue. In Scattered Minds, Dr. Gabor Maté talks about parenting techniques in a way that I think apply to all relationships. This, especially, stood out to me: Being wanted and enjoyed is the greatest gift the child can receive. It is the basis of self-acceptance. Attention given at the request of the child is never satisfactory, it leaves the uncertainty that the parent is only responding to demands. The demands only escalate, without the emotional need underlying them ever being filled.  And, like, that is pretty heavy to put in a friend’s birthday blog post maybe, but Jennie is really wonderful at giving this type of love and affection to people without them having to ask for it first.

4. (Figure out if you can) Meet people where they are. It’s not only her own perspective and context that Jennie keeps in mind, it’s everyone’s.  Jennie is not a cookie cutter friend; you never feel like she needs you to be someone else. At the same time, Jennie is a really big proponent and practicer of boundaries. She insulates herself well from people who are toxic or are currently unwilling or unable to behave like adults. That ability to resist fruitless engagement is a thing of wonder to see.

5. Who you are is great. I was talking to another friend about how fantastic Jennie is (seriously, this is a common occurrence). She said: “Can you talk about how unafraid she is to be herself? That is one of the things I love about Jennie. She doesn’t give a shit what other people think about her being polyamorous or loving contra dancing or music not many of her friends are into. She isn’t shy about who she is, and that makes it easier to open up with her about who YOU are.” This is exactly right. Jennie is always herself with her friends, so we can be ourselves with her. Lovely!

I LOVE YOU JENNIE I HOPE YOUR DAY IS AS DELIGHTFUL AS YOU ARE!!

Floating on a starlit ceiling

You guys things are going really well for me.

I spent last winter doing a lot of hard work. I did a lot of journalling and reading and therapy and processing with my friends and family. I went on ADHD meds and I tried to change my patterns. I didn’t leave the house much, and I took a lot of cabs. I started dating Chris. I wrote in here a fair bit during that time, so I don’t need to rehash it all. I probably wore mostly pyjamas?

I spent the spring doing a lot of not really much at all. This period is super foggy when I think about it! I now think of this time as “keeping off of it”, like I had an injury that I was nursing (which I did, but it was my brain, which is hard to keep off of). I tried to keep journalling, I tried to move forward on all the plans that I had cooked up. But I sort of stalled completely and watched a lot of TV and had to be reminded to eat, and goofed around on the internet. I got really worried that I was wasting my stress leave. I found out that my landlord was moving by into my apartment and that I would have to leave. I refreshed Craigslist constantly, until Jairus saved by brain by setting up a script to email me whenever Craigslist ads were posted containing certain key phrases. I had three sundresses in rotation.

I also had the perfect idea (not being sarcastic) of shaving my head. The end result of this was not only that I look super cute, but also it helped me learn what an emergency is and ISN’T. One of the bigger game-changers of my LIFE. I didn’t know that I would ever learn this, because I didn’t know that everything wasn’t an emergency.

This summer I felt like I was walking out on wobbly legs, testing out new capabilities. Interestingly, my literal knee was super screwed up during this time. This was a big bummer because for the first time that I can remember, I started to feel able to leave the house! This is so huge that I am sort of embarrassed to talk about how huge it is! But I was recently having lunch with Jennie in the cafe under her work and I asked if she thought I was doing better than I had been before the stress leave. She replied “You’re here! You came out and hung out with me! I didn’t have to go to your house to see you, not that I mind your house!”

She’s completely right. Even in this city that I love, I still had a tiiiny radius that I felt comfortable travelling in, and would get knots in my stomach about the transitions between my house and wherever I was going. This is part of why I so often stall until I am running so late that I have to take a cab, because a cab comes to your door and takes you to the door of where you are going and that is as compressed as those distances can get. But then August 1st I moved into an adorable new apartment that is right on the subway line, and I bought a metropass to get me to rely on the TTC instead of cabs.

Chris helped with this a lot. He is a freelance writer and going for walks is one of the ways he percolates story ideas as well as one of the few times he feels comfortable taking a break from the freelance hustle. So I figured out that if I wanted to hang out with him, suggesting a walk was a good way to make this happen. The distances we’d walk would get longer, and so the city slowly got stitched together better in my head as one big safe place, rather than a bunch of discrete places with “HERE THERE BE TYGERS” in between.

This summer was great. I wore every bright colour and tried to find as many chances to put on my bathing suit as possible.

Now it is autumn. I am so happy! Not that it is autumn, because I miss the beach already, but because I feel so capable now. My relationships (physical and otherwise) are so solid. I am writing things (not a ton of things, but more than I was) which is hard but a relief. Most dramatic is the difference in my professional confidence, in that I have professional confidence again. It’s been a while.

To that end, Jairus and I have so much interesting client work on the go! I also have a fantastic steady contract with Chris, that Jairus helped us get. Finally, I have a few of my own clients who are only looking for social media help which means it’s all up to me. Scary! Amazing!

I’m really excited that Jairus and I have figured out how to work together in a way that makes both of us able to do our own best while learning from each other. I love working with him, and how proud we always are of each other. We also have worked through some non-work-related struggles we were having around communications and expectations and routine and we’re so solid and I feel really lucky that we are both always so willing to make concrete commitments and stick to them. He works so hard, and every time I’ve underestimated him I’ve been wrong.

Other great news is that I have seen a sports doctor about my knees, because it’s not good for me mentally if I am always scared that every step I take might end in my kneecap slipping to the side and twisting and hurting and auuugh. Here are two different diagnoses I have had about this problem, from two different GPs:

  1. I should have a tendon transplant in my right knee.
  2. There is nothing wrong with my knees.

… whaaaaat? Anyway, the sports doc is sending me for physio, and says it’s really good that I didn’t get surgery because that would have possibly made things worse. I was really scared to do so, but I asked him what the best case scenario was for me. He said (aieeee I get goosebumps thinking about this) “Oh, I think it can get more or less fixed with regular physio. You might have to keep doing the exercises for the rest of your life, and still brace it if it’s icy our or you are doing something really demanding, but I think we can get it 80% there”.

YOU GUYS NO ONE HAS EVER SAID MY KNEE CAN GET BETTER! It just has been screwed up since I was 14 and that is just my life! Imagine if it wasn’t my life anymore?? Yeah I can’t, either.

Also I have started taking harmonica lessons from Catriona Sturton over Skype, and I am starting to figure out music and harmonies to the point where even after one lesson I was able to improvise a bit when I joined Jesse at a House Concert he played in Ottawa last month. It’s like finding a whole other room in my house that I didn’t know was there!

Fashion-wise, I found a pair of these jeans at Value Village and whoa they fit perfectly and I’m so excited about that because I have pretty much worn skirts and dresses for years but pants are warmer than skirts and dresses and if I’m gonna keep going outside and for walks, I don’t want to start getting avoidant because I don’t want to be freezing. So my long-term goal is to get a bunch of different colours of them and wear them all fall/winter with warm colourful sweaters so that’s my projected winter wardrobe. Right now I am still wearing dresses and skirts and colourful tights as often as the weather allows. I might grow my hair back long enough so I can dye it bright fall colours (like an inch maybe?) but I dunno.

You guys I don’t know how to express how thankful I am for all of the love and patience and cheerleading I’ve been getting from my amazing community of online and offline pals. I feel so lucky and so relieved to finally maybe be a less anxious person. It’s not like I am never upset now, but I feel like it’s now proportional. And manageable. Things are still hard, but now I have skills and perspective and new patterns that make me able to take it all on. I love this momentum.

I love this picture because I am not posing for it (I am watching Chris and Jairus try on werewolf hats), but I can tell when I look at it that I am relaxed and delighted and looking forward to something.

I love this picture because I am not posing (I am watching Chris and Jairus try on werewolf hats), and I like seeing myself just naturally being relaxed and delighted and looking forward to something.

The man.

Hot ladies adore Ryan Hughes

The man.

Clearly someone was told “point at someone super handsome”

Today is the 37th birthday of total genius hunk Ryan Hughes.

You might only recognize him from this deleted scene from FUBAR 2 … or a morbidly funny play you once saw … or some sex dreams you’ve had recently. That’s fine. Not everyone can know someone this amazing in real life. But some of us lucky ones do know him when he is offscreen and offstage, and we want to celebrate him.

So in honour of his birthday, here are some genuine words about genuine Ryan from genuine babes.

Eden

Eden: “Hottest dance coach EVER.  Everything else I could say about Ryan would make the internet explode into flames and then everyone would be SO MAD AT ME. Oh also I’m in court right now.  He should definitely be made aware of that.

ryanhughes-anna

Anna: “Ryan Hughes is a man who loves musicals, and cupcakes and Kate Bush. That’s right, a total catch! His karaoke stylings are downright intimidating. I have never heard a better version of Mr. Cellophane. Ryan’s attitudes, politics and feminist leanings and the sexiest! Also, my heart kinda skipped a beat when I discovered he knew all about Naturopathy. What a dreamboat.”

ryanhughes-gaia

Gaia: “I’ve always thought Ryan is one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met – a perfect and endlessly appealing combination of tall, dark, talented, and brainy.
But more than that, Ryan is one of the kindest men I’ve ever known. He has offered me so much support through dark and difficult periods of my life. He’s made me laugh when I hadn’t cracked a smile for days. He’s offered me important insight, sharing his own experience and calling me out on my own bullshit in the most tender, caring way. He’s one of the reasons I know in my gut I’m loveable, even at my worst.

There aren’t many people on the planet with Ryan’s generosity of spirit and nobility of heart. I feel lucky to know him and smart to love him and very very happy he was born.

(And in this picture, that’s his tie I’m wearing – and it makes me feel ultra sexy.)”

ryanhughes-cat

Cat: “Ryan Hughes is a sexy fifties dad combined with a sexy ice cream man. To quote the esteemed Salt N Pepa, “Can I get a scoop? Baby take a ride in my coupe*”

He’s also smart and nice and funny and stuff.

*I do not have a coupe”

ryanhughes-jennie

Jennie: “A date with Ryan can involve knitting. Or cats. Or bowling with your roommate and your other boyfriend who has just come up from Boston, and everything is cool. Or seeing a play that reaches down into your heart and pulls your feelings up from your guts, and knowing that you’re not the only one crying. It can involve fireworks on a windy rooftop, or cupcakes (sometimes both at the same time!) or a long ramble around the city discovering weird street art and dissing the pigeons. It can involve curry and cake decorating and dissing playwrights. It can involve doing the Charleston. 

A date with Ryan is never boring, and never scary, unless maybe you go to a haunted house, but I don’t know, because we never did that. So never scary. 
 
Dating Ryan is like all that stuff with the added awesomeness of knowing that there will be more, and smooches, and cuddles, and great back-rubs, and hanging out watching crap explode on TV and never being judged for that. It’s knowing someone will listen to your ridiculous theories and challenge you on them, and never roll his eyes when you’re irredeemably nerdy or when your theories are half-baked. Dating Ryan is something I’ve never regretted, not even for an instant. Because there’s no downside.

Being Ryan’s friend is knowing that one really smart, caring, razor-witted has your back every single day, and being unendingly grateful that you’ve hoodwinked him into thinking you’re worth it.”

Emilie

Emilie: “Ryan Hughes: Raconteur, Actor, Birthday Boy. He’ll seduce you with homemade fudge and Hedwig and the Angry Inch on VHS and it will be a magical time you’ll treasure forever.”

ryanhughes-morgan
Morgan: “Every time I have to say goodbye to Ryan, I cry. Maybe it’s because we live so far apart that we see each other far too rarely. Or Maybe it’s because he’s kind, and fun, and makes me feel like the most interesting person in the world.

I’ve loved Ryan since the first moment I saw him on stage in a dress and men’s loafers. And in the time I’ve gotten to know him, he’s only become more fascinating. I think part of the reason is that he has impeccable taste. In his art, in his clothes and in the people he cares about. 

He is the finest cuddler and a delightful conversationalist. He believes in honesty, but also in tact. He’s considerate and selfless. He loves learning new things, and sharing the things he’s learned to do. 

I love his fudge. I love his veggie butter chicken. I loved listening to him strum his guitar and watch him build his paper cameras.

I love buying him gifts, because he’s always so appreciative. I love getting gifts from him, because of the thought he puts into them. They’re always such loving surprises, and I think that’s what being a friend of Ryan is like–a constant parade of loving surprises.

I love you babe. You’re still my favourite.”

ryanhughes-annie

Annie: “RYAN HUGHES: quite possibly the best quality individual the internet has ever cast in my path (thanks, internet! sorry, other quality individuals out there!) RYAN HUGHES: name always in all-caps, like a  marquee of Awesome scrolling through the dull landscape of life. RYAN HUGHES: mad dramaturgical prowess, rivaled only by the ability to satirize stupidity like a sexy god. RYAN HUGHES, who books gigs like a magical ninja. A magical acting ninja. You know, one those ninjas who act…. magically. RYAN HUGHES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CALL ME K.”

Anne

Anne: “Ryan is the perfect combination of everything I adore in a person, in that he’s a cynical curmudgeon who secretly has a heart of gold. I mean, I guess that was a secret until I wrote it just now. Looks like the cat’s out of the bag. Sorry, Ryan.

Seriously, though, Ryan is the person who will read and (intelligently!) critique anything that I send him. He’s the person who, when I needed head shots for my career as a Celebrity Feminist Blogger, spent an evening pouring wine down my throat and taking my picture, then accepted only a delicious sushi dinner as payment. Ryan is the person who will sit there and listen to me talk my face off about, well, whatever I want, and then offer witty, trenchant social commentary on everything that I’ve said. 
 
Speaking of being a Celebrity Feminist Blogger, Ryan was the one who came up with that title. IS THERE ANYTHING HE CAN’T DO? Ryan is just the best.

At one point not long after meeting him I remember saying something that I felt was horribly awkward and when I tried to apologize profusely, Ryan was like, “Relax, Thériault. We’re going to be friends and nothing you can do will fuck that up.” And that was maybe one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.”

Marilla

Marilla: “Ryan Hughes is a totally hot piece of ass. I objectify him continually. He just has that effect on me. Maybe it’s his geeky glasses, his razor-sharp wit or his exceptional writing skill. Or maybe it’s just his ass. I simply don’t know. But as a married woman I find him ridiculously distracting. Thanks, Ryan. Thanks a lot.”

Me

Me: “I don’t want to brag, but the first person I got it on with in 2013 was Ryan Hughes.

Obviously I do want to brag, let’s be serious. Because in addition to being completely handsome, Ryan is also a fantastic person.

Here are only some of the totally nice things he has done for me:

  • Always warned me if he thought any of the things he was acting in would be triggering, and given me unreserved permission to skip them.
  • Listened to me talk about a small rotating list of anxieties for nearly 10 years without ever seeming impatient with me.
  • Written last minute jokes for Bill Nighy, in order to save me from the lack of sense of humour rampant in the NGO-industrial-complex.
  • Watched the entire restored version of the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born with me, because I wanted his impression of one scene in context.
  • Always let me know he was happy to hang out with me even if I was skittish and anxious and there was cat hair everywhere.

I love you, Ryan. Happy birthday!

p.s. This post is going to do amazing things for your SEO.”

The Secret is … it’s garbage

Perfect.

I love this photo from the Canada Archives. I have decided this woman is on a road trip. She might not know her exact destination, but I bet she has a route partly mapped out.

It has been just over seven months since I had a full time job. In January, my doctor agreed with me that I needed a break, and in May those closest to me agreed that I shouldn’t go back. Resigning felt really confrontational, but once I had written then letter I was giddy with relief (and possibly panic).

Sometimes I feel like I could have used these seven months “better”. For the first half I was reading a ton and journalling a lot and just pushing myself really hard to set new habits and patterns. Then I kind of hit a wall with all of that and I spent the next half kind of … percolating? In some ways I feel like I did things in the wrong order. Like if I had a physical injury, probably for the first little while I’d have to stay off of it, and then I’d start with physio and rehab. But brains aren’t kneecaps, right?

It actually was once I thought about the phrase “staying off of it” that I felt a bit better about the fact that I haven’t been my most introspective every day.  When you are building muscle, the time between workouts is crucial too, right?

I said on Facebook recently that when my life is going well I feel lucky, but when it is going poorly I feel like I’ve fucked up.  Jesse replied to say “i don’t know that i ever really have that kind of big picture assessment of my life in mind, to say if it’s going well or poorly.”

I think this is true of SO MANY PEOPLE, and I think this is why folks get scammed by stuff like The Secret. It has this wizardry to it, in that it forces you to think in specifics like “I want to live in a house that has a pool” or “I want to have a relationship with my sister where we can text often” (I do happen to want both of these!)

Forming this intent does two things, neither magic: It gives you something tangible to work towards, and it gives you a picture of success that you will recognize when you see it. But for people who have never done either before (which, judging by the book’s sales = most people), it seems to them like things suddenly start happening once you want them. Because of the Power of Attraction, or some garbage.

For me, it is nearly impossible to feel stable without having some kind of idea of where I am trying to get to. How can I navigate towards something without knowing what it is, and how can I recognize it when I have found it? I need landmarks and destinations. That isn’t to say that there are no happy accidents, but I feel like without metrics of what “happy” is, how do I make sure that I recognize those?

So here are some of the questions I ask myself to assess if my life is going well or not:

  1. Do I brush my teeth before I checking email? (to figure out if I am being compulsive about the internet)
  2. If I feel panicked can I calm myself down? (that is, can I recognize perceived danger vs. real danger?)
  3. If I disagree with someone, am I afraid to tell them? (not to say it’s always worth it, it’s good to know)
  4. Am I hungry/thirsty for hours? (useful to gauge how checked-in with my body I am)
  5. Do I have a project I am excited about? (do I feel creative/optimistic/engaged?)
  6. Is my house tidy? (If it’s messy, I am avoiding something or too harried)
  7. Have I gone out today? (I need to be comfortable with uncertainty and transition)
  8. When did I last do an activity like reading or knitting? (where external validation is not the goal)
  9. Have I seen friends recently? (I need to participate in my community)
  10. Am I writing? (more than anything, writing is proof I am feeling comfortable with vulnerability)

I like most of the answers to most of those questions right now. Which makes me feel a lot better about all the hours I’ve spent knitting and watching hospital dramas in the last few months. I think I must have needed that time. Because now I feel really stable  and loved and stoked, pretty much all of the time. And when I don’t, it’s not a total catastrophe, because I can draw on all of that to solve whatever I need to.

I also keep a Pinterest board called “Daydreams”, where I collect images that make me feel aspirational. Looking at it is a good reminder of what I want in my life: cozy homes, beautiful outdoor adventures, moving my body, spending time with people I love. That is all happening for me right now! If making a list of questions like the one I did above feels too daunting, this is another good way to get some landmarks. If you do either a list of questions, or some kind of collection of images, I wanna see it!

tl:dr – Don’t by The Secret, it is toxic poison and will rob you of your agency.