Category: Writer’s Desk

all about writing, words, fiction, writing projects

For Sonya by Hayley Humphrey (a guest post)

It is so hard to find a beginning to a piece I don’t want to write, something that I wish there was no need to write. There are so many things that I want and need to say.

I have no wish to say goodbye, I simply wish to honour a dear friend and pay tribute to her.

I was lucky to find Sonya early on in my Twitter journey, she had an energy and humour that were impossible to resist. I had found a kindred spirit and she led me to so many more kindred spirits. We had a #tribe. For the first time In my life I belonged to a tribe of the most creative,loving people from all classes, backgrounds,genders. We were people who didn’t just use Twitter to sell or promote, but to chat, to empathize, to laugh and joke and post silly pictures. I saw Sonya as our #tribe leader, the Mother Earth of us.

I loved Sonya’s art, her humorous animals, her illustrations of people. Sorry Jennie, but I will always picture you wearing Crocs and carrying a bumbag. Sonya did some brilliant drawings of some her tribe. She had offered to draw me but I felt self conscious about how I would look, that and fearful of understanding the technology involved to get a picture of me to her. So I never took her up on her offer. I so wish I had. I wanted her to draw me as a small, deaf Super Hero, delivering hugs anywhere they were needed. I’m sorry Sonya I wasn’t brave enough to trust your pencil.

I had this fantasy that we would meet up in the flesh one day and now I have to let the dream go.

I see Sonya as having presented to us a colourful kaleidoscope of art, of hilarious tweets, funny photos, when on the other end of her kaleidoscope, was a pain and depression that could block out the light and the laughter.

I do not see it as a weakness that she could not stay with us, depression is a strong enemy to fight. It tells you lies, presents you with a reality that is dark, lonely and incredibly painful, sometimes even the best medicine, the best of love from those close is not enough to stop the darkness, to let the light back in.

But I do not want to remember Sonya with the sorrow and regret. I loved her too much for that.

I will remember the joy that she gave me and the rest of the #tribe. I’ll remember reading the threads of tweets between her and Niko, the pun bating. There had been many occasions when I would cry with laughter at the threads of tweets between her and Niko and others too, and then could not explain to hubby what I was laughing about.

I will remember the stories and photos of Fat Cat and Fang. I will remember her love of Beyoncé, of science, of fast cars, and dinosaurs.

When my Writers Block was getting me down we would discuss how to tame my sucky muse. We tried out varying scenarios but the best one was to tie my muse to the chair and tell her ‘shut up and write’

I am not saying goodbye as I believe that the people we have lost live on inside us. Without Sonya it is like all the colour has been removed from the world and all is grey, the colour will come back, but not for a while.

Losing Sonya made me think how terribly sad it is that we wait until somebody has left us to tell them just how amazing they are, how important they are to you. So in Sonya’s memory tell your family and friends that they are wonderful, give help and support to these battling with depression. And me I will forever imagine my muse tied to a chair, in Sonya’s memory.

In my forever novel, I am writing about my version of heaven. In my heaven everyone has their own piece of heaven that is filled with what ever they want in it.

I am imagining Sonya, driving a fast car, Fat Cat in the passenger seat. Running alongside the car are several dinosaurs. And Sonya is telling Fat Cat ‘See Fat Cat no feathers on the dinosaurs’

Goodnight my friend, thank you for your love and friendship. I will miss you and I will train my muse in your memory.

My love always

Hayley X

Letter to Sonya

I’ve been putting off writing to you, writing about you, letting myself access my feelings about your sudden exit stage right. I’ve skirted my grief, I’ve tried talking to you about this big-ass elephant in the room with my eyes closed as though I might be able to find your spirit if I concentrate hard enough and then hold hard to your collar-bone or your writing wrist, or any part of you I have never even seen in person.

I’m afraid that if I don’t say everything I know about you/knew about you that I’ll vomit it up in my sleep and choke to death on it. The most important thing anyone needs to know about you is that you have a bigger hard-on for Beyonce than Jay Z. Haha. Just kidding, Jay Z’s was just a little bit bigger than yours. You love cheese (though I always secretly suspected you loved it less than I do), pizza, salsa, chips, but talking about any other food bored you. Or at least you said it did until this year you started to get kind of excited about cooking new things. You ridiculed me for my use of cloth napkins and we almost came to fisticuffs over it. But mostly that was because you ganged up on me with that guy who shall not be named and Jennie too. I only minded because I’m an awkward git who doesn’t always follow the joke and I wasn’t sure how to be cool in a situation that obviously called for being cool when I’m just not that cool.

I learned that sometimes when you get an idea or a joke in your head you’re like a gangling puppy who gets so excited you trip over your front paws and overwhelm people with your enthusiasm to the point that people push back. I was so happy to find I wasn’t the only grown-up who does that. For all you could sometimes accidentally bite harder than people expected, you were wickedly funny most of the time while still being the kindest person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I would read along with your conversations with others on Twitter and laugh out loud but not take part myself because I knew I couldn’t keep up and would ruin the jokes. Your humor was infectious and light and it was like a shot of morphine in a dark terrible world.

You loved SEX. SEX is good. Remember when we took part in that writers’ talk about sex in novels with other writer friends? That’s the first time I started getting to know you. I’m pretty sure when you heard me talk like sex is nice and all but not earth shattering you were stunned into disbelief. We were that different over the things that didn’t matter so much.

You love exercise, fitness, physical activity of all kinds, ACTION.

You loved those things. You loved animals more than most humans and this is something we always had in common. You could hear the world outside you, you couldn’t shut it out, and so much of the time it was torture. For me too. There have been few people in my life who could hear it all the way I could so finding out you heard all the pain in the world like I do made you a kindred spirit. I know that hearing one story about an abused animal could make you want to mother the whole world as strongly as you wanted to shut it the fuck down. Neither of us could do much more than witness and testify, which, honestly is much too religious sounding for either of us.

You were one of the kindest and most fierce women I’ve ever known. You lifted other women up all the time, every day. You reached into the darkness and lifted scared and weeping souls up into the light as though it was as ordinary as making a grilled cheese sandwich. Your reach has been long, your bright influence has been felt across a universe of unstable stars.

You had no patience for a multitude of stupidities. I loved that about you.

We loved all the animals, even the awkward ones. Even the snarly ones. The furless, patchy, greedy, toothy, grumpy, fluffy, little, enormous, clumbsy, graceful, and feral ones. There was no such thing as an unlovable non-human animal.

You loved cars. Fast cars. Vintage ones. Red ones. Porche ones. Whatever.

You loved unstintingly, without shade, without pause. The people you loved knew they were loved.

I know you loved me. I know you understood me and still loved me. You wouldn’t let me remain silent very long. Mother hen, reeling your flock in to check for fox damage. You were one of the best defenses against overwhelming despair of the magnitude that could lead to suicide.

So here we are. I know how hard you’ve tried hanging onto your meat-cage in the last couple of years. I know how fucking hard it’s been and I know that it’s your husband and daughters who’ve ultimately kept you hanging on even though you might not have even let them know quite how bad things have gotten in your mind and your heart. I know the people you most desperately wanted to protect, you held back the tides for the most. They might have preferred the flood.

I thought you’d made it past the brimstone burning at your heart. I thought you’d gotten past the gatekeeper of hope.

I can’t think of anything I might have done or said differently and yet I want to go back and do things differently.

I know that there was nothing anyone could have done in the moment you signed off. Not the power of God or the Devil would have had any effect in that moment. Not your family, not your friends. I believe you were overcome by the ugly noise of the world we live in. Maybe there was a different better medication you could have taken, maybe there were different choices all of us could have made all along the way, but I don’t think it would have mattered in the moment you said “ENOUGH”.

I can’t lie, Sonya, part of me is jealous. It’s not what I’m supposed to feel, but part of me knows that the ugliness can’t reach you now. Just like with my brother. I don’t believe in heaven or hell but the one thing I’m sure of is that the torture of everyday life goes quiet when you leave the shell of your body behind. I believe you’re at peace now. I’m not coddling myself with this belief. I’m not trying to fit a crown of kittens onto my misshapen head so that I can feel better about you being gone. Nothing’s really going to make me feel better about you being gone. A life of abuse and torture melts away when there’s no corporeal body left to hurt. The slights and torments of seeing with eyes that can be poked out, of hearing with ears that can be ruptured, and feeling with skin that can be burnt to bone can’t reach you where you are now and for that I’m thankful. You were too full of the world’s pain to bear any more.

Your love was bigger than you could hold onto with your small frame. You filled rooms with it, you filled pages with it, you filled silence with it. No one could fill the empty spaces it left in you fast enough. We were all running fast with your heart trying to stitch the holes up with thread but it kept breaking and breaking and breaking apart in the eye of needles too small for our fingers to find in the dark.

Now that I’ve started writing to you I don’t want to stop because it will feel too much like a real goodbye. I can’t do that, can’t say goodbye to you.

There are a lot of people who don’t understand what kind of strong bonds can be made between people online. We know better how bonds between introverts actually thrive when we get to control the flow of conversation, walking away when we need to, coming back when we’re ready. We conduct what I think can legitimately be called endless threads of conversation. There’s no real beginning or ending. We just pick up the thread when we need to or want to and let it drop when we’re feeling raw and edgy.

You have been like a spirit sister to me. You find me when I’m lost, tease me when I’m too serious, inspire me to move forward when I’m at low ebb, and make me laugh hard just because that’s the best thing any of us on earth can do.

You confided in me and I cherished your trust because I know how hard it was for you to tell anyone what you were really feeling for fear you’d be a burden, cause pain to them, or scare them. I know the thought of hurting others emotionally caused you physical pain. There were times you knew you hurt someone without meaning to and it tortured you for days, sometimes weeks. And they never knew it, fucking idiots.

I was going to brave Texas and Texas weather, nail fashions, overabundance of cowboy boots, and dust to see you. If I could afford it I’d been flying down there now to say goodbye in person. It’s disgusting how money can be a hard barrier between friends in different states.

I was going to send you the seeds from the California poppy you saw a picture of from my yard (see above). I waited a month for seed pods to ripen and now they’re sitting on my desk going nowhere. In the last several months you’ve been photographing wildflowers and it hasn’t escaped my observation that they’re an apt analogy for people like you and me. Especially you. You bloomed hard and fierce and bright and got better and more beautiful after hard frosts and soil-cracking droughts. You rose up above the hard scrabble and opened your face to the world with a kind of fierce challenge. You shouted out over storms and through still mornings the same challenge every day that you were made of swords and meat and lean muscle (and probably pizza too), and that no one could get past you to hurt the ones you love the most.

And then, like a wildflower, you vanished from the landscape just as fast as you arrived in it.

“You are not awful and this is why I love you. (Feel free to engrave that on your urn)” were the last words you said to me. (<—-for anyone who knew Sonya this is pretty much an expression of UNDYING FRIENDSHIP. The only way that comment could have delivered more Sonya love is if she invited me to engrave that on a giant piece of cheese.)

I can’t be angry with you for leaving, but I’m gutted by your permanent absence. You made my daily life so much richer, so much better. Knowing you were out there holding your heart and soul up above the floodwaters gave me so much more courage than I had before, made me feel like I can do this impossible thing. And now I have to do the impossible without your example, without your laughter, without Fatcat and Fang. I might be just a little bit angry about that.

I love you Sonya.

Take Your Own Arrows

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I went to my first therapy intake in years the other day. All the hours of my life cried out to be seen and heard and accounted for. I’m never in therapy at my darkest moments so I come with some unintentional armor guarding my heart and my entrails. It takes so little to dent the anger-tempered metal.

It feels important to tell every psychologist that my dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and that though it filled me with doubt about the order of the universe I did it because I was too scared not to. The words always dry up in my throat because it’s ridiculous to tell anyone that I have, in true fact, vacuumed a lawn.

I know I could use a silent ear regarding Zeke’s death. I’m not sure what I can say when a thousand things are always trying to speak at once through me in a giant coagulating mess of noise. I miss him. I think the hardest thing is that I expected to die before him and yet, here I am. I would have taken every pain in his stead, but that’s not how life works. I have to take my own arrows, collect my own offal in pails arranged carefully under a thousand leaks in my body.

I believe our personal power and our greatest weaknesses always stem from the same source. The things that make us vulnerable also makes us strong. Perhaps I think of it in too simplified terms for some, but for me it comes down to the idea that light can’t exist without dark, that cold is meaningless without heat, and good has no context without bad. I even named my company after this concept; sugar and pith – the sweet and the bitter. I don’t believe in fairy tales because they’re obsessed with vanquishing the dark so that light can prevail, but morning is nothing without dusk. Fairy tales are incomplete stories, bastards of the truth which is ultimately more rewarding as well as devastating than fantasy.

I need a therapist to help me swim to the bubbling sunlit surface of water from a thousand feet deep in the alien darkness full of changelings and dancing muscles. Can therapists do that?

The greatest gift in my life has been the long slow discovery that I’m not alone in this dark.

It’s peopled with a thousand spirits kin to me. When I stop struggling to swim and let the waves tow me under I can hear all of them speaking with buoyancy at the same time; with joy and love and the fear stripped from them like it was nothing more than thin streams flooding porous tidal stones.

Can there be reconciliation for as many selves as I have been?

 

Heavy Objects Fall Like Feathers

20170116_152739 Heavy Objects Fall Like Feathers

I am the heavy object and I have been falling like a feather for almost five decades now, quietly, and not much seen. I think the ground is getting close. I think the ground looks very hard. I think this is why I’m so afraid of heights.

Would someone please put out a trampoline down there?

Or a really huge thick feather mattress?

Because it doesn’t look like I’m going to sprout wings of any kind.

My Bones Are Torched Clay

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There is much to say that’s unsayable because my tongue has been cut down with grief. There’s so much left to do that’s undoable because my limbs have been rendered numb. The nightmares mean everything and nothing, they continue as they’ve always done and I live it like I’ve always done, these two lives of mine.

I can’t breathe most days because my time has always been borrowed and I’m reaching into minutes I don’t own and can’t have. I see this life drifting sideways and I know it isn’t really mine, has never really been mine. Some graceful mistake has delivered me to this place and any moment now it dissolves into an acid bath of empty wishes.

I’ve lost so many living houses full of ghosts. I’ve married them and released them into the nebula where they always belonged and mourned the silence they left behind. I chased shadows until flooded with the high-beams of souls larger than myself and, frozen, gave myself up to the cold lights.

I’ve knelt on Masada and felt the sting of ancient bees where the spirit meets hot dust and thin hope. The heat makes the thinnest proclamations of love and throws you to the mat of truth faster than flood. High up where the air is thin you can’t catch your breath for love or money, you learn to crawl close to the ancient mosaics until you collapse into the sleep of the damned.

My bones are torched clay. My call is cracked and heavy, but you can hear me in your reflection if your heart is open and your soul sits perfectly still. When we’re alone in this silence I swallow your heartbeat like air and my desperate hold on this body extends beyond light.

Wild Mint Pollination

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I’d like to think that blackberry jam makes all the heartbreak, the abuse, the horrible eviscerating misery of life worthwhile. I’d like to think that at the gate between life and death there’s always a piece of buttered toast slathered richly with blackberry jam full of the possessive spice of yellow-jacket sting, wild mint pollination reaching the palate as nothing more than a half expressed wish, all the perfume of papery blossoms crumpling under a hot sun, and that feral berry flavor that continually eludes cultivation.

I’ve hit the ultimate awkward and yet privileged age: the smack dab middle of life expectancy.

I can’t talk openly of the things that truly depress me because of the living, I can’t talk openly of the things that terrify me, because of the dead.

I like it when people don’t pretend they’re immortal. I like it when people recognize how their lives can go from scripted to river-sunk in a matter of minutes.

River-sunk is my spirit animal.

Save

When Self Care is the Hardest is When We Need it Most

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Cultivated purslane going to seed. I saved a bag of the seed. Hopefully it’ll grow true to the plant – not sure it will – this is what often stops me from saving seeds in my small garden, worries that the seed will not grow true. I don’t often plant hybrids, I do plant all OP (except for my beloved Sungold tomatoes, those are hybrids and might not even be OP) but I have a small garden space and often grow multiple varieties of a vegetable a year. Cross pollination in a small garden is a real issue. But I’ve decided to save a few seeds anyway. Purslane, red Orache, and summer squash this year.

I have not been taking good care of myself. For ten days we didn’t drink too much. Then we went right back to drinking lots of beer. I don’t exercise because of how much it always hurts my feet or something else. It’s always something. I have been eating way too much cheese. The only thing I do right any more is to drink lots of water. I also still eat a lot of produce, but this is largely cancelled out by all the cheese. I don’t sleep well (though I never do, so is that even worth reporting?) I’m depressed and anxious all the time without any breaks in it to come up for air. I wasn’t taking my meds regularly for a little while but at least I’ve really cracked down on that and for the last couple of weeks have been very consistent with taking them every day.

So little writing for all of 2016. This is the worst thing of all. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to the desk and be disciplined about writing no matter what. That’s why I’m here this morning. Earlier in the year I was working hard on my survey and by the summer time, when I started to actually sit down to write, all the energy I had was sucked up by work, which I quit, and then sucked up by trying to re-boot my business because Philip got laid off and I couldn’t find a job. No writing. Then I tried writing but it was all about my brother and grieving. Anyway, I got on a single track before he died and couldn’t get off it. Every time I sat down to write I would end up on the same track, saying the same things every single time. No matter where I started off, I’d end up in the same place. So I just stopped writing at all.

Yesterday I woke up really late and felt like garbage  because I stayed up ridiculously late and drank an insane amount of beer while watching Leonard Cohen videos on youtube. I was angry with myself and then I had a very rich, way too rich even for me breakfast that made me feel even shittier. So I got out into the garden. For over an hour. I pulled up all my tomato plants, the dying zinnias, the summer squash plants, and the woody rosemary that never recovered its last trim. I planted a baby rosemary in its place. I picked the first few ripe radishes which my mom said were almost too hot to eat. They aren’t a hot variety so it must have been the growing conditions. I also harvested a bunch of our everlasting spinach. I planted my boxwood plant in the side yard bed finally (I will be topiarying it), got our cape gooseberry planted too. I got completely covered with soil and for the first time in a long time I felt a little better.

Why is it so hard to get myself to do things I know are important to my mental health? Once out of the habit it’s so tough getting back into it. Yet when I do – I feel so much better. It’s creating the daily habit that has to happen. Once you do, it creates a momentum.

My body is really craving greens and vegetables. More than I’ve been eating. The other night I roasted some cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots with some rosemary salt. I ate a big bowl of them with ketchup but no cheese. It was so good! Another dish I made is one I’ve been wanting to make for a while – I made pulau rice. My friend Rohini gave me some of her favorite packaged spice mix and told me two methods of making the rice and it turned out so well! I didn’t have any frozen peas which I really wished I’d had but it still turned out great with carrots, onions, and potatoes diced small. Then I made a palak paneer to go with the leftovers. I have made paneer before but didn’t feel like doing that and I don’t know where to buy paneer in my city (probably could get it at one of the Asian markets but I haven’t checked yet) so I ended up using this cubed feta I had in the fridge. I hadn’t used much of the feta before because it was really dry and kind of chewy. Good flavor, but not what I wanted for my salad or couscous. So I used it in the palak and it was so good! It was tangier than paneer, but texturally very similar. I used a garam masala blend I made from scratch last year but never used. So it was a little old but it was really tasty!

That’s the kind of cooking I’m craving. I can’t be attempting totally authentic Indian food or Greek food, necessarily, but doing my take on them is where it’s at. At least my spice blends were authentic. (The one I made was from my vegetarian Indian cookbook by Monisha Bharadwaj) I especially love spinach dishes. Palak paneer, spanikopita, and spinach quiche are a few favorites.

I can’t be on facebook as much as usual. I have way too many people I love on there to stop checking in and hanging out a little, but I’m skimming past political and ranting posts. I’m bypassing as many angry posts as possible. If I soak up any more of that I risk letting more passive suicidal thoughts to take root in my spirit and heart. I can’t afford it. If anyone thinks I’m a cop-out or don’t care about all the people hurting right now, all the scared people out there right now, all the abused and threatened people – then you don’t know me AT ALL. If there is anything in me to contribute to the world to make it a better place, to help people become safer – then I have to shut everything out for a while. Dead people can’t help make living people safer or heard or lift them up. That’s a fact.

Unless you’re religious, then I suppose you always turn to dead people to lift you up. But never the less, not even Jesus can vote or march or step in to literally give you a hand when you need one.

For mentally ill people to be of service to others, they have to take care of themselves and that often means shutting out the noise. That often means disengaging for long periods to recharge. Our batteries do not hold charges for very long.

I feel guilty so much of the time not being able to do more, needing to be in retreat mode so often. Honestly, when I’ve gotten myself to a better place, I don’t know that tackling political things is where I’m needed most anyway. I need to get back to my Suicide for Beginners book because those of us with serious depression and anxiety need intersectional support more than most people. We have a lot to offer others in empathy and action and support, but not when we don’t have enough of it ourselves. Depression and anxiety don’t give a shit about your gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, they hit people across all lines, across all borders both literal and figurative.

I have to keep acknowledging the guilt that I’m not stronger than I am and keep letting it go. I’m strong in ways that aren’t necessarily evident. But if I don’t take care of myself, that strength is inaccessible to everyone, including myself.

So, if you’re like me and struggle with serious depression and anxiety, please let me entreat you to do a little check – are you practicing good self care? Or have you been neglecting it like I have? What is the self care you need to practice? (Feel free to literally tell me in the comments) If you’re not practicing much self care at all, or worse, like I have been doing – you are being self destructive (even if mildly), how about doing one thing for yourself today that you know will help you feel better and stronger that you’ve been neglecting to do? Don’t worry about ALL THE THINGS you should be doing, how about just do ONE thing today that you haven’t been doing?

Today I got up, grabbed my cup of coffee, and headed upstairs to my computer to write a post. A post that isn’t about death, or politics, or the hatred that’s consuming the world. I wrote about the thing I did yesterday that made me feel so much better for a little while. And in doing so, I have (today) done something else that I’ve neglected for so long I don’t even recognize myself anymore – I wrote a post before doing anything else. No matter what else I do today (or don’t do), I will have done something today that I need to do every day.

About the writing – I believe that all writers (and I believe this is true of all artists) sometimes must go through fallow periods. Periods of time when they aren’t writing but are just experiencing life. You have to recharge your writing brain. It used to be that I would write at least a blog post or a journal entry every single day even if I wasn’t writing poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. It was a discipline that kept my writing muscles flexed. But regardless of whether or not you continue to write little journal entries, there are periods of time where you must let ideas germinate, or invite new ones in by going out and doing things and getting out of your head. Just as fields must lie fallow to rest in order to regenerate and be able to support more demanding plants in a later season or year.

But I have lain fallow long enough. It is now unhealthy for me to continue to eschew the writing. I have to find my way back. But I can only think about today or I’ll crumble. Today I wrote.

How To Grieve For Me When I Die

Union Station

Here’s a handy guide on how to confidently grieve for me when I die:

What stories are you allowed to tell or not tell?

Tell the stories you remember of me as honestly as you remember them. Share any bits and pieces of my life in photographs that you want to, that intrigue you or inspired you, or even that weirded you out. I do not care. I will be dead and will have no opinion on such matters. Don’t lie about my faults or pretend I was a better friend or sister or mother than I was. If you do I will definitely have opinions about it and stick around to haunt you miserably. Only the truth will set my spirit free.

No, but really, even share the stories that make me look pathetic?

Some people will remember terrible things about me. That’s okay, I have never pretended there aren’t terrible things about me to say. I peed on a bus once. At one time in my life that was a shameful secret that only my friend Carrie knew. There were circumstances, but it’s still a horrible memory. One day I started telling that story out loud to people and I’m not ashamed any more. It happened. Life is ugly. Life is complicated. Life is a big shit-pile of problems with a tiny soupcon of happiness to make you think it’s all worthwhile. A lot of life is funny if you have a dark sense of humor.

Don’t let anyone censor the way you grieve for me, and if you’re not grieving but are really happy I’m dead then what the fuck are you doing reading this anyway you asshole? I probably hated you too, so fuck off.

To sum it up:

When I die I don’t want to ever be talked about untruthfully to preserve some sense of dignity I never had while I was living. If you would have said something about me when I was a alive, then it’s probably okay to say it when I’m dead. Even if you would have said it to someone else rather than to my face, when I’m dead I won’t have a face so, samesies.

What about all my earthly possessions?

The idea of my family going through all my clothes piece by piece kind of creeps me out. I know they’ll need to do it. But it still creeps me out. So no one need wonder how I would feel about it if I were still alive. Philip and Max are my heirs and all decisions about my things are theirs and only theirs to make and though I know Philip is an incredibly generous person and will most likely let you have things of mine as mementos (and I’m fine with this, up to a point) if he decides to burn all my shit on the top of a mountain, everyone else will just have to deal with it. Hopefully he’ll remember he needs a permit for that. But I won’t have to worry about it because I’ll be dead.

Also – I will dislike it if people get too attached to my possessions or attach too much importance to them as a proxy for memories of me. I’m gone, hopefully not coming back, my things are not me. My things are just things. Okay? You can hold on to some of my things, but don’t attach too much importance to them is all I’m saying.

Corporeal disposal is such a nuisance!

I want to be cremated the cheapest way possible OR I want to be buried naturally with no chemicals in one of those nature preserves where it’s legal to do so but only IF we (haha) can afford it.

I do NOT want my family viewing me unless it’s necessary for identification purposes like if I was murdered or befell something terrible making this necessary. I will be dead and looking worse than my worst hair and skin day while I was alive. That’s the only vanity I claim in being dead.

If any part of my dead body is healthy enough to donate – DONATE MY HEALTHY PARTS before burning the rest. But, you know, good luck with that.

How about a big-ass funeral parade with a giant portrait of myself done up in bright carnations set up in the back seat of a Cadillac all holding up traffic!?

No thanks for a big funeral procession. When I was younger I did fancy something really cinematic because it was more fun to imagine than a simple cremation and a shabby gathering in a rec center afterwards to eat pre-made grocery store cheese plates.

I don’t care about a memorial. I will not feel uncherished if there is no memorial. But if you feel you have to have a memorial and you make it the least bit fancy, then I insist that there be kittens present. Also, if there is a memorial, please come fully clothed. And NO camel toes. Seriously. I’m also very clear about this:

ABSOLUTELY NO MOOSE NUTS

(The blessing of dead people is that they have no opinions and it’s best not to imagine what they would think or feel because if they actually could tell you, you might find it annoying or even burdensome)

What to do with my writing and photographic legacy (such as it is):

Do not publish anything of mine that was unfinished or in a first draft state or in a notebook. You can take and share pictures of anything I’ve scribbled but do not formally publish anything like that.

(As I’m writing this I have the full intention of burning all my early notebooks and diaries because they depress the shit out of me, so if for some reason I still haven’t done that, bear in mind that it’s Philip’s fault they still exist and if you really want to do me a favor, burn them without looking at them. However, if you don’t do this, just don’t fucking publish anything from them officially. Such tedious and depressing crap! And those poems about Jesus will really shock most people who knew me.)

What I leave unfinished must be left unfinished. You can reprint anything I’ve printed or that was finished and is awesome. My family may make money off of me posthumously with my full blessing, but, you know, good luck with that.

You can make really inappropriate jokes about me, my death, any services going on in honor of my death, or literally anything. It will undoubtedly be way more interesting than anything else being said. But nothing of a sexual nature or I will definitely stick around long enough to learn how to fling a lamp at you from beyond the grave.

Don’t anyone say I’m going to heaven or any of that bullshit when you know for a fact I don’t believe that shit exists and if I’m wrong and it does exist? I AM NOT HEAVEN MATERIAL AND YOU KNOW IT. But seriously, life on earth is pretty hellish so I figure I’ve already done my time and am ready to fully not exist on any plane. If I have to get reincarnated though? I want to come back as a chunk of mineral buried deep in the earth’s crust.

Lastly, how to best honor my memory when I’m gone:

Shed light into the dark every chance you get. Be as honest with yourself and with others as you can. Cultivate kindness and empathy. Be as generous a person as you can. Except with your avocados, obviously, hoard those motherfuckers with razor-wire. Cultivate forgiveness for others*. And forgive yourself for being human because that’s something you can’t change in this lifetime. Those are the things I care most about, that I’m working on all the time.

I feel confident now that you all have perfect clarity about how to deal with my death when it happens and can avoid any awkward discussions about what I would or would not want. You may reference this at any time unless Philip lets this domain name lapse. I highly suggest you all come up with your own guidelines on how you want people to grieve for you.

*I’m working on this AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to allow a person to stay in your life who’s hurt you or done wrong by you, it’s about recognizing fallibility and not letting past bad deeds done to you eat away at your heart and your spirit. It’s about letting go. It’s hard and it’s very important. Sometimes it takes a lot of time.

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Jaded Drunk at a Dry Wedding

when no one's coming

I’ve been a bruised piece of shit for the last few days. Vulnerable like a snail chained to a trail of salt. Part of me sits back and watches the Angelina show like a jaded drunk at a dry wedding, while part of me brings my own salt shaker to the party.

There is deep shame in this whole experience. I spend all my up time shouting to outsiders to fuck off with their shaming tactics, to fuck off with all their bullshit put-downs and their sly references to our lifetime ticket to the short bus, and I spend all my low time proving that I’ll never quite get up off the floor of my shredded naugahyde seat on the post-apocalyptic bus to hell.

I keep trying to write what it’s like to be mentally ill for people who aren’t and I’m a broken record that never reaches the chorus, that never manages to wheeze out the punchline. It’s impossible, this thing I carry in my head, in my body, in my spirit. It’s got the cumbersome painful body of John Merrick and the beautiful poetry of shut-in Emily Dickinson.

Whatever I am, the truth of it is always convoluted and polluted by how much I try to hide, by how much I reveal at my most vulnerable moments. I’m all contrasts. Truth delivered in brutal late-night beer-brave bullet-points only to be rescinded 12 hours later by the harsh remembrance of my place in the hierarchy of humans and their inability to digest the deeply bitter spiritual revelations that constitute the air I breathe.

The Dark Side of the Survey Results

kitten in a cup

One of the hardest things about logging the Suicide for Beginners survey results are the mean things some respondents have said to ME. I know the survey was hard for a lot of people to take. I know it asked a lot of deeply personal questions about the darkest part of people’s lives. I felt it was necessary. If we are ever going to get other people to understand what it’s like to live with mental illness, if we are ever going to get people to stop stigmatizing us – I believe we have got to talk about the toughest and darkest parts of it. Some people really hated that I did this. They painted me as the enemy. And it hurt. There were a number of respondents who lashed out at me but this one that I read last night was one of the most horrible things to have someone from my own community say to me:

I find it interesting that in the first part of this survey you’ve asked IF the respondents have suicidal thoughts or ideation, and now you’re assuming that we do, and that it’s a serious desire. PS, the title of this survey is actually pretty shitty. It’s like you’re encouraging depressed people to think about or plan a suicide attempt. You kind of suck, and when I say kind of, I don’t mean that. I mean you seriously suck and if even one person harms themselves because of this, you’ll be at least partly responsible.

First of all, there was no assumption involved.  I never asked IF respondents have ever struggled with suicidal ideation. I asked HOW OFTEN with the possible answer of never. It is a fact the majority of people who have suffered from serious chronic depression do, at one point or another, struggle with suicidal ideation or passive suicidal ideation. So the entire survey is skewed more to people who’ve experienced it than not. But if you’ve never experienced suicidal ideation then the question WHO KNOWS YOU THINK ABOUT KILLING YOURSELF? is not applicable and instead of excoriating me in the comments box one could easily say “not applicable” (as a number of respondents did).

Out of 529 respondents (so far logged) only 29 of them have never experienced suicidal ideation of any kind. You let those numbers sit with you for a few minutes.

Second of all, if you thought the title of my survey and of my book is pretty shitty, you could easily have chosen not to take it as this survey (like most surveys are) was 100% voluntary. This particular respondent, ironically, gave incredibly long responses to most of the open ended questions. For thinking I suck so bad, they clearly wanted to be heard and counted (which was the point of this survey)

So FUCK YOU for being such a mean-ass unsupportive member of our community.

I was seriously tempted to discard this respondent’s survey altogether. But this survey isn’t just about ME. It isn’t just about YOU either. It’s about hearing from as large a swath of our community as I could and attempting to represent many voices and many experiences when I write my book about depression because one of the huge things people don’t understand about depression is that those of us who have it experience it in many individual and different ways. We aren’t all the same, we don’t all agree with each other about how to eradicate the stigma, or what the most effective treatments are. To help people truly understand what depression IS they need to do two things simultaneously: understand that no two people’s experience of it is exactly the same while understanding what the most universal problems are that we experience as a community so that those things can be addressed.

So I logged this person’s answers with everyone else’s in my spread-sheets while actually kind of wanting to hurt myself after reading her comments. So this brings me to the part where she suggests that the title of my book and my survey are so triggering that if anyone hurts themselves because of this title I’ll be partly responsible.

I do not take responsibility for anyone else’s actions, EVER. That’s the kind of thing people say when they want to shame or guilt someone about something, and it works on a lot of humans. Especially emotionally and mentally vulnerable human beings. The title of my project may make someone curious and think “What the fuck is this?”, but anyone who takes a few minutes to find out what this project is all about will know IMMEDIATELY that it isn’t a guidebook for killing yourself.

The only way I’d feel at all responsible for someone harming themselves is if I told them what shitty person they were, because telling people they’re shitty human beings is mean. If you don’t like something someone has said or done, you can tell them without being a huge sphincter about it.

So, to this person who told me how much I seriously suck: do you take responsibility for making me want to hurt myself? Did you stop and think for even one tiny second that the person you made those comments to still struggles with the urge to self harm every time someone is an asshole to them? So yeah, for a half an hour after reading your comments I wanted to hurt myself because I’m trying my damnedest to help bring light and understanding to our community and you just shit all over me like I’m a fucking toilet.

But I don’t actually hold you responsible for making me want to self harm. The truth is, a lot of things make me want to hurt myself, not just assholes. Whether I do it or not is a fight between me and my mental illness. If my mental illness wins, then it still isn’t your fault. I mean, you’re still a jerk, but you don’t control my actions. Sometimes I don’t have control them either – because depression is a bigger asshole than you. Something I think we can both agree on.

This person is definitely NOT the only person who hurled mean comments at me personally, as the person asking them questions they didn’t like. The “gifts of mental illness” question elicited quite a few negative responses. At least 10 respondents said variations of this theme:

THERE ARE NO GIFTS OF BEING MENTALLY ILL, GO FUCK YOURSELF.

I understand. I seriously do. I almost didn’t include that question on the survey because it’s a tough one to swallow for many people – even just to contemplate it. I’m very thankful I listened to my gut on this one and left it in the survey. The biggest surprise was how many respondents were able to list at least one gift of being mentally ill. Many named multiple gifts and some of them were incredible, funny, and cool. You have to be at a certain point with your own journey with mental illness to see past the hateful pain of it to the extraordinary benefits. You have to be really secure in the idea that to admit to benefits doesn’t erase the horrible aspects of it. They co-exist.

The problem with being a person with mental illness giving a survey on mental illness to other mentally ill people and asking them to be honest and share raw and very private things is that they lash out at me and I have a very hard time not taking it into my heart as a personal assault. I have so little defense against people telling me to fuck myself when I’m putting myself out there all the time to reach out to others in our community. It hurts. I know that ultimately it’s NOT really about me, rationally I know this. It’s not my first lap around this lake of hell fire, but it still hurts.

So this is the other reason why logging the survey results has taken so long and I’ve had to take so many breaks from it. It physically hurts me to read all this pain, to take it in, to attempt to quantify it, to be the moderator and researcher while also being the subject of the research. It’s deeply personal and I’m a sufferer so I can’t ever step outside of the answers and pain.

So why do it? Why stick with it?

I’m so glad you asked me this.

Because I’m tired of doctors and scientists who don’t actually have mental illness themselves telling my community who we are and what kind of pain we should or shouldn’t experience. I’m tired of outsiders explaining us to everyone else. The only people who can properly explain what it’s like to have any kind of mental illness are those who experience it. I want doctors and scientists to keep working at coming up with medical information – but they need to listen to us too. The patients. They need to believe us and not treat us like crusty little growths sitting in their offices who don’t know anything about our own experiences.

We need to be heard. Not just one or two of us. Our whole community needs to be heard – both our individuality and our universal struggles.

Depression is a serious killer and people keep telling us who we are instead of letting us tell them who we are. They need to shut the fuck up and listen. That’s why I need to do this even though it’s really hard and even though people in my own community are telling me I’m a piece of shit.

The good thing is, and the thing that keeps me coming back to the spreadsheets, is that a definite majority of the people who took the survey understand what I’m trying to do and appreciate the chance to be part of it. It reaffirms that I’m on the right track.

Something else that’s really bothered me a lot are the respondents who, in the section where I ask them what they would say to someone struggling hard not to kill themselves, have laid on a thick blanket of bullshit about how you shouldn’t kill yourself because of all the pain and devastation you’ll cause other people, that at your worst moment you should be living for the sake of other people’s comfort.

I have a huge problem with anyone suggesting that your pain is nothing compared to the pain of others. But I don’t have time to go into this now. I have to go eat some breakfast, clean up some kitten poop, and then log some more surveys in.