Tag Archives: i suck

On Friendship (Or, How To Over-Think Everything)

13 Jun

This past Sunday I took Theo to the park, hoping to score a little mother-and-son quality time. We went to the “Secret Park”, so-called because of the way it’s tucked behind our local high level pumping station, an Art Deco monstrosity that’s designed to fit in with the rest of the gorgeous early 20th century architecture in our neighbourhood (rich people: even their municipal pumping stations are pretty). My plan was for Theo and I to spend the morning chilling out on the climber, engaging in some witty banter and maybe taking turns pushing each other on the swings.

I hadn’t counted on my toddler totally ditching me for a new-found friend.

This other kid was already at the Secret Park when we got there, running around like a madman, waving a huge stick in the air and screaming. Theo was immediately entranced. He watched, shyly, as this boy tore around the grassy slopes, and I could tell that he wanted to join in but wasn’t quite sure how to achieve that. I suggested that we could go play on the climber or on the swings, thinking that doing some park-type stuff might make him feel a little more at ease and thus help put him into the right frame of mind to make friends. He shook his head, though, his eyes never leaving the other boy. Finally, still not looking at me, he said with a great deal of seriousness,

“I need a stick.”

So I found him a stick, and that was all it took for him to feel comfortable enough to start playing with the other boy (whose name, it turned out, was Duncan). Once Theo had that stick in his hand, he and Duncan were running around shrieking delightedly together. Then they played in the sand doing something at once precise and elaborate and yet totally mystifying with a plastic cup and a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a chilli pepper. Then they buried Duncan’s extensive collection of dinky cars, then dug them all up again and started racing them up and down the trunk of a nearby tree.

Insta-best-friends.

I was hella jealous.

I’ve been thinking about how that situation would have played out had it involved myself and some other adult who just happened to be doing something that I found incredibly intriguing. Would I have been able to just jump right in and befriend them, without even so much as an introduction? Oh, fuck, no. Here’s how it would have gone if I’d been in Theo’s place:

Anne’s internal monologue: Whoa, that person seems amazing. I really want to run around and wave sticks with her! But probably she’s way better at waving sticks than me. I mean, I guess I could ask her to teach me, but isn’t that a little pathetic? And anyway, I’m sure that she has more than enough friends. I’m sure that she doesn’t want to talk to me. Maybe if I google “how to wave sticks and scream” I could just do it by myself? Maybe it’ll turn out that I’m really great at it? Maybe if I do it awesomely enough, she’ll come over and try to make friends with me? Do I even really want to make friends with her, though? I mean, she seems great now, but she’s probably not as awesome as she seems. I have a lot of great friends – I don’t need this not-as-awesome-as-she-seems stick waver!

Anne (out loud): Guhhh nice stick!

At what age does the ability to instantly click with someone over something like screaming and waving sticks end? At what age do all these stupid, tangled thoughts take over and prevent people (and by people I mean me) from taking any kind of initiative from befriending others? My kid is (currently, at least) the kind of person who can just jump right in and assume that his awesomeness will be evident enough that he can make friends with anyone he wants to. Or, going even further, he doesn’t even bother to wonder about the state of his awesomeness. He just does his thing and goes from there. And I’m kind of jealous. I fucking want that personality trait so badly, like, you don’t even know.

I really, really want to be the type of person who sees someone cool and is like, “Hey, let’s hang out sometime.” But I’m not, and I never have been.

Instead, I am the type of person who, when I went camping as a little kid, would get my father to visit the campsites of families with kids and act as a sort of friendship matchmaker.

I am the type of person who daily descends into the bottomless black hole of saying too much and then trying to correct that by saying even more.

I am the type of person who goes out for dinner with a writer that she particularly admires and brings cue cards full of things to say in case the conversation lags.

I really, really want to be the kind of person who says, fuck cue cards, but you guys? I actually love cue cards. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with loving cue cards, except that maybe it’s a problem when you come to depend on them as a sort of social crutch.

I don’t want to be the type of person who, in the middle of a nice dinner, whips out a list of interesting conversation topics, but what the fuck else am I supposed to do? Think thoughts and say words in real time? As Barney Stinson would say: please. Putting my thoughts down in a blog post is fairly easy, because I can edit and then re-edit until I’m sure that I’ve got it right. But having an actual, un-plannable, give-and-take conversation with another person is a different beast entirely.

I mean, seriously, how does anyone ever figure out the right thing to say? Because this must be something that other people are capable of doing, unless everyone else has somehow learned to be extremely stealthy with their cue cards. And how do people not only manage to say the right thing, but also avoid saying exactly the wrong thing? And how do you come to accept that it’s not actually a binary, that there is a wide gulf between right and wrong, a deep valley full of conversational material that’s perfectly fine, but for whatever reason isn’t particularly scintillating or thought-provoking.

And that’s just the basics of general small talk. That’s just beginner’s stuff. What about all the crap that comes later, once you’ve managed to become friends with someone and actually establish some kind of relationship? Then comes the really tricky stuff – carefully cultivating that relationship, making sure that you make time for that person, learning how to deal with any conflict that arises with them.

Ugh, conflict. Oh, conflict. My old nemesis.

On Sunday, I watched my kid get into an argument with Duncan over who got to hold which car. It didn’t quite come to blows, but there were definitely angry words and hurt feelings involved. Then, miraculously, two minutes later they were firm friends again, discussing the various merits of blue race cars versus red race cars as if nothing at all had happened. Meanwhile, when I get into a fight with someone, I end up spending days, sometimes even weeks, treading and retreading the same mental ground over and over and over again. I I spend ages trying to figure out what I could have done differently, as if I’m ever going to be presented with the exact same set of circumstances at some point in the future. Worst of all, I need an incredibly amount of reassurance that yes, I am a still good, yes, I am still loved.

This last one has been killing me lately. I’ve realized that a huge part of it is because when you take up residence in anxiety-town, you lose any ability to trust your own senses. So you end up feeling like you have to sort of crowdsource your thoughts and feelings, constantly asking, “Is this okay? Is this a normal reaction? Am I right to respond this way or am I going overboard? Do you still love me? Is it okay for me to love myself?” And yes, sometimes this way of coping is super helpful, but sometimes it can be totally toxic as well. Even when all of your neurons are misfiring in exactly the right way to make you feel like you are a terrible person, it’s dangerous to think that someone else can give you an accurate read on what you’re doing or how you should feel about yourself. On top of that, you might not get the answer that you want, and at the end of the day constantly demanding feedback and reassurance can make you feel pretty pathetic.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure, to be honest. Lately I’ve been making a lot of checklists for myself (for whatever reason I find list-making to be very soothing). After a couple of days of trying to unsnarl this mess in my head that I call my brain, I now have a bunch of easily-accessible documents that I can refer to whenever I start to doubt any given situation. These lists are full of reminders about all of the empirical evidence that I have that yes, people do love me, and yes, there is value in the things that I say and do. I’ve also made lists that help me to remember that conflict isn’t the end of the world (even if it sometimes feels that way), and that it’s totally possible to have a horrible fight with someone and then move past it and maybe not exactly forget that it ever happened but also not let it be what defines your relationship from that moment forward.

All of this is to say: I really want to be the kid who one minute is screaming about how it’s my fucking turn to hold the red car, and then the next minute is fine. I want to be the kid who jumps right in without a single thought. I want to be that goddamn kid who runs around waving a stick and screaming without first having to google how and why I should do this so as to prevent myself from looking like an idiot.

Because that kid? That kid seems really fucking rad.

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Maybe You Dance

3 Jun

I spend a lot of time thinking about intolerance and the various things that I do to combat it. I mean, that’s what a lot of this blog is supposed to be, right? I’m trying, in my own small way, to fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other isms and phobias that people, even nice people, even good people, throw at each other. And I think that I do an okay job for the most part, but it’s easy to fight this battle online, isn’t it? I mean, comparatively. Sure, the relative anonymity of the internet tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, and I’ve been told all kinds of awful things, some of which have hurt pretty badly. I’ve been told that I’m a waste of oxygen, that I should kill myself, and there have been a whole litany of comments, tweets and even entire blog posts by other people dedicated to what a terrible mother I am, and yeah, that sucks, but still.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate on the internet very rarely results in physical violence.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate in the real world is much more likely to result in broken bones, a smashed up face or even worse.

And I’m not saying that online threats or mean comments aren’t scary, because they definitely are, but also when it all gets to be too overwhelming I can just shut off my computer and walk away. But raising my voice publicly, in the middle of, say, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots, doesn’t afford me that same luxury.

There was, in fact, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots last night. And maybe this is a fairly normal occurrence – what do I know, I’m in bed by ten most nights, and when I do go out it’s to one of the genteel pubs in my genteel neighbourhood. And probably these guys are really super nice guys in real life, not the kind of guys to yell “faggots!” at a bunch of guys just because their band isn’t playing whatever kind of music it is they want to hear. I mean, unless they’re out late at night and it’s someone’s birthday and they’re all drunk, belligerent and three seconds away from a brawl with any given person that they encounter on the cramped dance floor.

So what do you do? What exactly do you do if you’re in this bar, and you hear people yelling the word faggot, and you’re sure that saying something, anything will result in getting punched in the face? What do you do if that’s your friend, or at the very least the friend of your friend, on stage, playing his bespectacled, skinny jean-clad heart out? Seriously, what the fuck do you do?

If you’re me, apparently you sit there grimacing and whispering to the girl next to you, demanding to know where the fuck all these terrible drunk dudes came from. If you’re me, you hunker down in your seat, and hope they don’t come anywhere near you. If you’re me, you hope that if they do make their way over to you, they somehow manage to keep their hands to themselves.

If you’re me, you die a little inside when you think about how you’re totally not standing up for what you believe in, and you hate yourself for being a coward.

And if you’re my friend Nathan, you get up and dance.

You get up, you stand dead centre in front of the stage, and you fucking dance to the spastic beat of the music.

For reasons that I can’t fully articulate, what happened last night was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. There was just something really lovely about seeing my friend standing there, trying to figure out how to move to the pseudo-eighties synthesizer amazingness coming from the stage. And as weird as this sounds, there was something both aggressive and earnestly affectionate about his body language as he danced – aggressive towards all the assholes behind him who were now demanding that the band play Wonderwall, and affectionate towards his friends onstage, who were trying their best to ignore what was going on. And Nathan just stood there, as steady and unmovable as a rock. And it was really, really nice.

And I got up and joined him, and so did a few other people, and the drunk assholes slowly backed off.

Afterwards, Nathan said to me, “I just didn’t want Drew to have to look out and have to see all those douchebags. I wanted there to be at least one friendly face out there.”

I’m glad he had the instinct to get up and dance, because I definitely didn’t. Maybe I only know how to fight with words, and when I feel like I can’t do that, I’m at a total loss. Or maybe I should be more willing to risk my personal safety for the stuff that I believe in. Regardless, I’m glad that he got up, because I think that it was the best thing that anyone could have done in that situation.

And, in the future, I really want to be able to remember that there are other ways of fighting intolerance besides my usual bag of tricks. Sometimes you can do it by standing there alone and, with great purpose and love, just fucking dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

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On Self-Loathing

27 May

I hate myself.

I say those three words in conjunction with each other on a fairly regular basis. Most of the time, I’m joking – if I’ve screwed up while trying to do something easy, for example, I’ll roll my eyes, laugh and say oh God, I hate myself. Sometimes I say it in a half-kidding, half-serious way, like if I’m really frustrated with a situation that I feel is somehow my fault. Sometimes, though, I really, really mean it. Oh fuck do I ever mean it.

I hate every little thing about myself, but what I hate the most is how annoying I am. I hate the grating sound of my voice, the way I start to cry, publicly, when I’m too worked up or angry, and I especially hate what a goddamn Pandora’s Box my stupid heart is. The minute I open it, everything awful flies out. Worst of all, once that happens, I can’t seem to stop talking about all of the awfulness. It’s like there’s another me, standing there watching myself go on and on and on about  everything, and I can see the glazed, irritated look on the other person’s face, but I can’t seem to stop. By that point, I’m annoying even myself, but I just keep on going, digging myself in deeper, thinking that the words that got me into this mess will somehow get me out of it.

I hate how often I look to other people for reassurance.

I hate how insecure I am about myself.

I hate how no one can fix this but me, but for some reason I seem to keep asking the people who love me to put me back together.

I’ll believe anything about myself, so long as it’s bad. I can hear a thousand nice things about the way I look, or how smart I am, or how great my writing is, but the moment someone criticizes me, I assume that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

I sometimes think that one day I’ll go in for surgery and they’ll cut me open and there won’t be anything inside of me, nothing at all, just a black pit of self-loathing that goes on and on and on.

I sometimes think that I don’t believe in good things anymore, just things, regular, plain old things, each with their own unique capacity to hurt.

I sometimes think about myself and I feel sick. Actually, physically sick, like, the type of thing where you taste bile at the back of your throat.

The hardest part about all of this is the tendency to purposefully, if subconsciously, damage everything positive in my life. Because I know that I don’t deserve anything that makes me happy, so I set little traps, miniature emotional minefields for myself and other people to ensure that I stay miserable. And then I stupidly act surprised when these tactics work.

God, I hate myself so much.

And before you ask, yes, I see a therapist. I’ve seen a string of them. They always want to talk about stuff that happened when I was a kid, or how I feel about my parents, or when this all started. And I answer these questions as honestly as I can, but those answers never get me anywhere. It makes no difference knowing how or why you got somewhere when you know that you can’t go back by the way you came, and all the ways forward seem blocked

Part of it is probably that it’s easier to hate myself than anyone else. If someone else hurts me or upsets me, it’s so much easier to turn all of my bad feelings inward. That sounds counterintuitive, I know, but think about it this way: if I’m angry at someone else, then I have to use up all kinds of mental and emotional energy being upset with them, plus I have to take all this time explaining to them why what they did hurt me, and on top of that I may not even be in the right anyway. In fact, I’m really bad with conflict, so if I try to argue with someone about who was right and who was wrong in any given situation, I will invariably end up feeling like everything was my fault. So it’s much less complicated to assume that everything bad that happens is because of me, and leave it at that.

If I were a different person, I would probably try to kill the way I feel about myself with drinking or drugs. I would go out and do self-destructive things, I would lose control, I would, for even just a few minutes, feel completely different. But I’m not that type of person – for one thing, I’m terrified of not being in control of myself. For another, I have a kid, which isn’t really conducive to that type of lifestyle. So instead I sit at home and seethe with anger at myself, anger at how stupid I am and anger at my inability to change. I sit and make a list of all the ways that I’m toxic to other people, all the ways that I’m unintentionally hurtful, all the ways that I keep fucking up.

And then I go to bed and I don’t sleep and in the morning, when I get up, I’m still my own stupid self.

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What It’s Like To Live Here, Part III

20 May

Your stupid, treacherous heart is like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, naked and quivering on your chest. Except that whereas Christ’s heart rests on his fully clothed breast, your bare skin has been cut and neatly pinned back, your torso resembling nothing so much as a biology class dissection. The muscle and sinew of your heart are gone, too. All that remains in the well of your chest is a tangle of glistening arteries and blood vessels, and a bundle of nerves, jangling and raw.

You talk and talk and talk as if you can’t stop. Words keep tumbling from your mouth, hard and fast, and you wince whenever they hit the ground. Everything sounds wrong, but by the time you’ve said it, it’s too late. You can’t ever call it back.

You feel as if you’re living underwater. People try to speak to you, but their words are warped, distorted beyond recognition. They might have meant something once, but it’s impossible to say, now, what their original shape might have been.

There is a grooved track inside your mind, and all of your favourite fears and worries follow it round and round and round. At night they gain momentum, and even though you’re tired, so goddamn tired, you can’t sleep. The racket in your brain never stops.

You try to explain what it feels like. You try to make people understand that this, this gibbering, twitching creature, isn’t really you. Everything you say falls short of what you mean, and you realize that every single word you know is completely insufficient. You wonder if this would be any easier in another language, if the Germans have a word for waking up to the raw, grey dread that’s become your norm.

You start to cry. You hate yourself for crying. Is there anyone that you will ever hate more than yourself?

You sit. You stand. You pace. You chew your nails. You check your email five times, and then once more for good luck. You put on your shoes. You walk across the street. You buy a pack of Belmonts. You strike a match, but your hand is shaking so badly that you can’t light your stupid cigarette. You wonder if people walking by think you’re some kind of junkie, and laugh because nothing could be further from the truth. You finally manage to light the damn thing, inhale deeply, and then immediately stub it out on the sidewalk beside you. You walk home. You take off your shoes. You sit. You feel as if you’ve accomplished something, even though all you’ve done is blow twelve bucks on something you’ll never use. But maybe the action itself was the accomplishment. Maybe it’s enough that you kept yourself busy, gave yourself some sort of direction, even for just five minutes. Maybe that was worth every penny you spent.

You lie in bed under your heavy down blanket, even though it’s still early in the afternoon and hot as hell outside. Your mouth is a cavernous desert; you couldn’t swallow even if you wanted to. A feeling of doom hangs over you, so palpable that you’re sure you could reach up and touch it. You listen to your neighbour downstairs playing twangy, plaintive songs on his guitar. You make a list of all the ways that you’ve wasted your life.

The telephone rings, over and over and over again. You don’t even consider answering it. There isn’t a single person in the world right now whose voice you want to hear.

You ride it out, like a bad bout of malaria. Anxious tremors wrack your body the way that fever chills might. Your bones seem as if they’re made of glass, and you can feel them clinking, gently, achingly, every time you move. Everything hurts. But still, somehow, you know that there’s a life on the other side of this. There is, of course, always the possibility that this time the disease is going to kill you, this time you won’t make it out alive, but still. It hasn’t yet. And that thought cheers you up, because in spite of everything, the odds are on your side. You feel almost optimistic.

The bundle of nerves in your chest, the ones that have replaced your heart, twitch and quiver. You know that it’s not safe to leave them exposed like this, but you don’t know how to protect them. They’ve always been like this, stripped down, bare, too painful to be of any real use. But they’re yours and, somehow, you wouldn’t have them any other way.

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May Day (M’Aidez)

3 May

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in my time. Too much, probably. Especially during my formative years. As a kid I read a lot of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books, the earliest of which are so very English and charming and achingly nostalgic that I spent far, far too much time daydreaming about what it would be like to live in Tudor London, wear a kirtle and spend my days working on a sampler.

It’s been a cold, grey, miserable spring so far but then yesterday, May Day, the weather suddenly smartened up. The trees have finally put forth quivering, fragile, little buds, so tiny and compact that it’s hard to believe that they’ll ever unfurl enough to provide any kind of shade. The magnolias are starting to open their pinky-purple blossoms, and the bluebells, crocuses and daffodils are everywhere.

All of this gives me a funny sort of heartache, like I’m missing out on something that I’ve never known, and never will know.

Oh, I know that it’s ridiculous, and I’m thirty, and when am I ever going to grow the hell up, but you guys? I wish that May Day was still a thing. I want to go out before dawn and bring in the May. I want to sing madrigals as the sun is coming up. I want maypoles and morris dancers and May Queens and all of that stupid shit. I want bonfires, and the moon, and the cold, starry sky. I mean, we don’t even get to have stars anymore. At least not in the city, anyway.

I guess what I really want is some kind of communal way to celebrate the coming of spring. I want to be able to mark the passage of the year, from the barrenness of winter through the promise of spring and the fullness of summer to the dead lands of autumn and then all the way back to winter again. I want some way of measuring my life other than stingy little increments of twenty four hours, each hour chopped up and neatly ticked out in precise little seconds. I’m so tired of days – Mondays, workdays, weekdays, holidays, day, days, days. They seem so cold, so clinical, so entirely devoid of meaning.

I taught a late class tonight, and as I walked home the air was warm and heavy with the scent of fresh earth and flowers. Through open windows I could hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, sounds of happiness and comfort. The kids were all out tonight, smoking pot on park benches, their bored, drawling voices floating towards me on the breeze. Some of them were playing on the swings, their sneakers flashing as they swung in and out of the streetlights’ glow, always daring each other to further, faster, higher.

Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it should be. Nights like this make me feel as if something ought to be made out of them – a story, a song, a play. Otherwise, what purpose do they serve? Surely they don’t just exist for our enjoyment. Surely we’re meant to do something with them, meant to find a way to explain or celebrate their perfection.

I get so damn tired of feelings sometimes, the way they crash over you, threaten to drown you, and then slowly recede, leaving you wet and stinking and covered in seaweed. I think that in my next life I’m going to come back as a robot that’s incapable of feeling obligation or regret. I think that that would be nice.

Queen Guinevere's Maying by John Collier

Queen Guinevere’s Maying by John Collier

13 Ways To Survive A Hangover

12 Apr

1. Stay in bed. Hunker down under the covers. Read Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? and highlight the passages that you feel specifically apply to your life. Eat too many cookies. Let your cat lick your face clean, but stop her when she tries to groom your eyebrows.

2. Practice your humble-yet-flattered face in the mirror. Smile with genuine warmth, but look down bashfully. Shrug nonchalantly and say thank you, then quickly change the subject. Remind yourself that this is what you should be doing when people compliment you, instead of rolling your eyes and making a self-deprecating joke.

3. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t turn on the news. Don’t read any articles whose headlines contain the words government, statistics or attachment parenting

4. Make a list of potential titles for the memoir that you might someday write, e.g. My Heart Is An Autumn Garage, Everything Is Overrated, or The Blunder Years. Wonder why no one appreciates your clever Salinger references or your hilarious puns.

5. Write a letter to Simone de Beauvoir that begins,

Dear Simone, 

I wish you were still alive so that you could teach me to do my hair like yours. You always looked great.

Listen, I’m sorry Camus was such a dick to you, but let’s be honest, between him and Sartre, he was the better writer.

6. Look at pictures of baby otters:

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Or else this picture of a kitten cuddling a potato:

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7. Make a list of underused words that you love, and pledge to include them more often in your everyday vocabulary. These words might include bivouack, erstwhile, mawkish, hullaballoo, skullduggery, caterwaul, quotidian, skedaddle, peripatetic, zeitgeist.

8. Resist the urge to think about the future, dissect your failings or re-evaluate your life choices.

9. Invite your sister over. Drink fancy tea together. Watch Stand By Me and discuss what it would be like to a) live in 1950s America, b) have testicles, and c) discover a giant leech attached to said testicles.

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10. Allow yourself wallow in whatever form of misery you currently feel like indulging in, for example self-pity, hopelessness or despair. Sure, your pain is self-inflicted, wallowing won’t help anybody, and you should just buck up and do something productive, but let’s be honest: that’s not going to happen today. And giving yourself permission to feel like crap is better than being angry at yourself for feeling bad, and also still feeling bad.

11. Hide your favourite pants, which now smell of gin, olives and regret, at the bottom of the laundry basket so that you don’t have to gag every time you walk by them.

12. Read your old journals. Marvel that your twenty-year-old self wrote the following:

This is the kind of love where you can be sitting watching a movie with someone and look over at them only to find them looking back at you, and you know in that instant that they were going to say exactly what you were going to say, so that in the end no actual words have to be exchanged. Maybe it’s not the most exciting kind of love, but sometimes it’s all that we’ve got.

And this:

If you can’t make it good or beautiful, at least make it interesting.

And this:

I’m lonely here, and I’m not tough enough for this neighbourhood – its inhabitants can see right through my translucent skin to my uncertain heart.

13. Swear that you will never, ever drink again.

How To Be Loved

8 Apr

Is there anything worse than being offered nice, pat aphorisms instead of actual advice?

For example, when you don’t get into your post-secondary school of choice and suddenly everyone and their mother gives you some variation on the old everything happens for a reason theme.

Or when your high school best friend is a jerk to you again and, instead of sympathizing, your mother reminds you that a leopard never changes its spots. Like, great, Mom, I just wanted a hug and maybe some chocolate, not a biology lesson about large jungle cats.

Or else how, when you were a kid and you were feeling kind of bummed out about the fact that your birthday party or whatever had just ended and all of your friends had to go home, some asshole grownup decided to remind you that all good things must come to an end. Like, no shit, Sherlock, I didn’t think I’d managed to bend the time-space continuum in order to create some kind of eternal birthday party. The fact that I knew that it was going to end didn’t make saying goodbye to my friends any less sucky.

For me, though, the worst saying was always, always, “You can’t love someone until you learn to love yourself.”

Seriously, hearing that is like the auditory equivalent of biting tin foil.

First of all, it always seems to come up whenever one of two things happens:

a) You’re experiencing abnormally high amounts of self-loathing

(slight digression: define “abnormally”)

b) You’ve just had some kind of romantic experience that ended badly

I used to get so irritated when people told me that I couldn’t love anyone else until I loved myself. I mean, first of all, it’s demonstrably untrue. I’m a chronic self-loather, and I fall in love at the drop of a hat. Seriously, a dude just has to say something smart, or be nice to a small child, or stand so that the light is hitting him in just the right way, and I’m done. Gone. Smitten. Head over heels.

Second of all, whenever I would hear this, I would think great, thanks, you’re basically telling me that I’m going to be single for the rest of my life. I mean, sure, it would be nice not to hate myself, but self-love isn’t really something that I see happening for me anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, my therapist and I are working on it, but let’s be realistic here: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and those Ancient Romans had way more stick-to-itiveness than I do.

And you know what? I would even argue that it’s actually easier, in some cases, to love someone else when you don’t love yourself. Because what else are you going to do with all that pent up love and affection you’ve got stored away somewhere? And if that person doesn’t reciprocate, or treats you badly in any way, that just goes to show you that you weren’t really worth anything in the first place after all. The cycle perpetuates itself, and everybody wins. Except you, of course.

It’s also just kind of a weird, victim-blamey thing to say to someone. Like, maybe you could have love if you would stop feeling so shitty about yourself all the time. Just make a choice to be happy! Bootstraps, people. BOOTSTRAPS.

It wasn’t until I started dating Matt that I suddenly realized what this old saying actually meant. It’s not about being unable to love another person while you hate yourself because; it’s about how hard it is to be loved by someone else while you’re stuck in a deep pit of self-loathing.

Matt started using the L word (no, not lesbians) pretty early on in our relationship. And it made me uncomfortable, but it took me a while for me to figure out why, exactly, that was. I started feeling weird about him, started picking apart his behaviours, looking for something wrong with him. I called my friend Debbie, who had known him slightly longer than I had, and asked,

“What’s his deal? Is he some kind of weirdo or psychopath?”

“No,” she said, “he’s a totally nice guy, as far as I know. Why? Did he do something.”

“He keeps telling me he loves me.”

Debbie just laughed and said,

“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t it?”

It didn’t feel nice, though. It felt weird.

I don’t remember what triggered it, but sometime during our first summer together I had some kind of epiphany. I realized that I was trying to figure out what was wrong with Matt because there was a part of me, a fairly big part of me, that didn’t believe that a sincerely nice, normal human being could actually love me or want to be with me. I figured that anyone who said they loved me and meant it probably had bodies buried in the basement or wanted to have sex with their mother or actually thought that Atlas Shrugged was a good book.

But Matt is nice, and (mostly) normal. He wasn’t the one who was fucked up. I was.

To be depressed is to constantly have his very calm, very rational voice whispering in your ear, telling you how awful and worthless you are. It’s being trapped inside an airless glass room, watching everyone around you pile up success after success while you can barely button your shirt or tie your shoes. It’s knowing that you are not capable of doing anything, not one single thing, of value.

Depression is mistrusting every good thing that happens. Depression is realizing that, when things seem to be going your way for once, this is always the part of the movie when aliens attack and destroy the earth. Depression is the need to constantly be on the lookout for the secret trap door, for the ulterior motive, for whatever the catch might be.

Depression is the certainty that you’ve finally taken off the rose-coloured glasses are seeing yourself quite clearly for the first time.

Depression is being sickened by your own reflection.

So how can you ever trust a person who loves someone like you?

And I’ve been wondering, lately, if it’s ever, at any time, possible to be depressed and love yourself? If you are someone who is clinically, chronically depressed, does that mean that you’re stuck with self-loathing for the rest of your life? Are misery and self-love ever able to co-exist? Or are those states totally, fundamentally contradictory?

I guess what I’m really trying to get at here is this:

Will I ever like, maybe even love, myself?

And I try. I really do.

I make lists. I remind myself of all of the good things in my life. I try to view my successes in their own right, rather than seeing them as opportunities to fail even harder somewhere further on down the road. I give myself pep talks. When all else fails, I call my mom.

Being depressed means that I have a hard time accepting anything positive. Good news makes me feel sick to my stomach. Compliments make me deeply uncomfortable. Smiling makes my cheeks ache.

And, after eight years of being with Matt, accepting the fact that someone else loves me is still a struggle. I ask him, often, if he still loves me. I make him promise that he’ll never leave me. I bury my face in his chest and tell him to wrap his arms around me as tightly as he can.

Other times, when I’m in a real low, I don’t even want him near me. I don’t want to be touched, I don’t want to be held, I don’t want to be loved. His affection for me irritates me, sometimes even angers me. When I’ve reached rock bottom, all I want is to be totally and utterly alone. Preferably forever.

I’m hard to love.

And I have a hard time being loved.

Eight years in and I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m still waiting for the bodies in the basement to be discovered, or else for the Oedipus complex to be revealed.

Still.

I want to ask if this is going to get any easier, but I would guess that the truth is that it’s a process. You learn to stop the negative self-talk, and you learn to let other people get close to you. You learn to accept that good things happen, too, sometimes. You stop balking at the idea of happiness, that elusive state which somehow manages to simultaneously be the goal that you’ve spent the majority of your life chasing and also the thing that terrifies you the most.

You stop giving all of your love away and learn to keep some for yourself.

Maybe that’s the secret to being loved.

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On Writing Fiction

23 Mar

Let’s begin with the assumption that I am a fairly talented wordsmith.

Before I say anything especially important, I have a few small digressions to make:

Digression the first – why wordsmith? Why not wordwright, like playwright or shipwright? Wordsmith makes me think of blacksmiths hammering out cold, dead things like horseshoes and nails and old-fashioned hinges. Shipwrights make boats, the best of which have delicate wooden ribs, can slice through the cold saltwater like knives, and creak and groan like living things.

Maybe bookwright is the word I want. Think we could get that into the OED?

Digression the second – I say “assumption” because, of course, talent is subjective. For instance, reading Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone made me want to claw my own eyes out, but I know a lot of smart, well-read people who sincerely enjoyed it.

No, but seriously, that book is terrible. It was so bad that it went past good and then all the way back to bad again.

Digression the third – I also say “assumption” because even after all the positive attention, all the accolades and kind words, I still don’t really know that it’s fact. And yes, I Am Not Your Wife was reposted to the The Believer‘s tumblr, Thought Catalog, The Frisky, and Huffington Post, and yes, those things are huge, but I still don’t feel especially talented. Maybe the problem is that those things are too huge, and it’s overwhelming.

Like, fuck. The Believer. Are you fucking kidding me right now? Their contributor’s list is basically a list of ALL OF MY FAVOURITE LIVING AUTHORS EVER. Being published in The Believer is a writer’s wet dream. And I somehow managed to get on their tumblr without even trying?

And for sure there’s a part of me that thinks that all this recognition is fantastic, and it’s only going to lead to better things, and blah blah optimism blah, but there’s another part of me, and admittedly much larger part of me, that thinks that this is all a fluke. That I’ll never write anything as smart or interesting or touching as I Am Not Your Wife, and now, at the age of 30, I’ve reached my peak of greatness, and now I’ll begin my slow decline.

In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, etc.

But enough digressing. What I really want to talk about is my love-hate relationship with writing fiction.

So.

Let’s begin with the assumption that I am a fairly talented wordsmith.

I am also someone who likes to write fiction.

And I guess that for a long time I thought that talent was all it took to write a good short story, or poem, or novel. I didn’t really think about writing being something that you would have to study or practice or learn. I thought that you were either talented, or you weren’t, and that determined whether or not you were going to succeed.

Then, in the summer of 2007, I took a creative writing class at the Humber School for Writers with Miriam Toews and she was fucking amazing. She had so many nice things to say about my writing, and even recommended me to the Humber School for Writers’ in-house literary agent, and I left that program feeling like a fucking rockstar.

Anyway, on one of the last days of the program, Miriam and I were having a serious writer-to-writer talk (because I was sure that I was a serious, for-real, grown-up writer) and she told me to forget taking classes and workshops, forget trying to learn the craft of writing, and to just go home and write. And this seemed like excellent advice, because she’d never taken a creative writing class in her life and she’d won the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. So clearly, she knew what she was talking about.

I took her advice, and I went home, and I wrote. I wrote like a motherfucker (digression the fourth: how does a motherfucker write?) and ended up producing a folder full of short stories and a novel.

And I couldn’t get a damn thing published. I mean, I came pretty close, but still. No cigar.

(Digression the fifth: when I was a kid my mother would always say “close, but no cigar.” This made me think that cigars were fantastic and wonderful and  possibly delicious, which, in turn, made me believe that if I could just get something right for a damn change, she would give me one and my life would be perfect)

After querying and re-querying every damn agent and publisher and literary magazine on the continent, I quit. I was done. I just couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore.

Now, when I say heartbreak, a lot of people think that I mean the pain of rejection – and that’s fair, because that’s part of what breaks my heart.

But the truth is that the bulk of my heartbreak comes from the thought that I’ve somehow failed my stories. Because it’s not the stories themselves that are the problem – in theory, they’re sound enough – it’s the wording, the structure, the believable setting and the fleshed out characters. In the hands of a better writer, these stories would have lived. But mine didn’t.

All my poor, innocent stories were all stillborn. I’d tried my damnedest to get them to live, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.

I fell in love with each one, and each time I had my stupid heart broken and my foolish hopes dashed.

And I get that it’s about practice. I get that you have to hone your craft, and that suffering for your art doesn’t mean starving somewhere in a cold garrett but instead the grim misery of grinding away at your craft day after day after day. I get that no one is successful right away.

But what happens to all of those stories that I wrote and loved? Are they just collateral damage in the fight to become a good writer? Do I forget about them? Pretend that they never existed? Delete from from my hard drive?

How can I keep giving my heart away, over and over again, to stories that will never see the light of day?

But I want to write fiction. And (perhaps more importantly) I feel happier when I’m writing fiction. So I’ve started that up again, and sometimes it feels amazing, and sometimes it feels terrifying, and mostly it feels like both things at once.

But the thought of trying to get my stuff published again, the thought of going through all that rejection again, scares me shitless.

It doesn’t help that I feel like I’m running out of time. Most of the people my age have Serious Grownup Careers that they’ve been building since their mid-20s, and meanwhile here I am without a single published (fictional) word to my name. How do I ever catch up?

And, I mean, never mind catching up, how on earth do I ever compete with everyone else, all the amazing writers and wannabe writers on the internet? What sets me apart from them? Most of the time, I think that the answer is “nothing” – I’m just another faceless, nameless word-o-phile floating in a sea of fellow literary junkies.

These past few years have been rough. I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances, all people my age, die within the last year or two. There was Artem, of course, who was only 27 when he died of cancer. Then, a few months ago, there was Ryan, who I’d gone to university with; he died in his sleep of unknown causes. Most recently there was a friend-of-a-friend who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 32.

I think I might be running out of time.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try to find a good writing class. I’m going to find someone who can help me iron out the plot and pacing issues that plague all of my writing. I’m going to grind away at this like I should’ve been doing all along. I’m going to do this. Because as much as I love Miriam and think that what she said was right for her, I’m not sure that it was right for me.

In light of that, if anyone has any recommendations for good creative writing programs, preferably in the GTA, but I’m willing to travel, I would love to hear about them.

And to anyone who writes fiction – I would love to hear about your experiences, be they failures, successes, or something in between. I would love your commiseration. I would love to hear how you keep yourself going.

Most of all, though, I want someone to tell me to keep going, that this is worth it, and that I’ll get somewhere eventually. Because right now it feels like I’m driving round and round in circles, and I’m in danger of running out of gas.

Anne Sexton, at her typewriter

Anne Sexton, at her typewriter

High School Reunions, Or The Time I Farted Publicly

15 Mar

My high school career started off, quite literally, with a bang.

A few weeks into ninth grade, I was lounging around in drama class, leaning nonchalantly on something or other, when (sorry, there’s no way to be delicate about this) I farted. Loudly.

To make matters even worse, I immediately sat up and said in the most prim-old-lady way possible,

“Oh my goodness, excuse me.”

To say that I was mortified would be like saying … actually, I don’t even know what it would be like saying. I can’t even think of anything clever enough to explain how I wanted to stab myself in the eyes every time I had to go to school.

Up until then, I suspect that I’d already been teetering on the edge of “uncool”, but that one little (actually not so little) fart sealed the deal. I was banished to High School Loser Hell forever. Although there had only been about fifteen people in the class, within a few hours the whole school seemed to know. For weeks afterwards, people would come up behind me in the hallway and make farting noises. My face turned a permanent shade of red.

Imagine being a fourteen year old girl and having to live your life as the girl who farted in class.

My dreams of ever being prom queen or joining student council or even of ever having a boyfriend were all dashed in that moment.

I mean, comedic hyperbole, etc., and I actually did have one or two high school boyfriends, but still. It felt like the end of the world.

I’ve written before about how high school wasn’t exactly great for me. Which, whatever, it’s over and I’m a grown up and I don’t care anymore because my life is awesome now. Right? I mean, right?

Except for how I apparently do care and ended up throwing a little tantrum on Facebook about how I don’t want to go to the upcoming 25th anniversary/reunion of the arts program that I was in.

(Incidentally, this is a really good example of why I shouldn’t be on Facebook, because I just use it to vomit my feelings all over the internet)

Look. It’s not like I didn’t have any friends in high school. It’s not like there were never any good times, ever. It’s just that a lot of factors combined to make me feel like an unlovable weirdo social pariah and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get over that.

It wasn’t just the farting (oh God, I cringe every time I type that word, STILL, EVEN NOW, 16 YEARS LATER). It was everything. It was the fact that I was already socially awkward to begin with, and I had no idea how to dress, use makeup or make myself attractive in any way shape or form. It was the fact that I was depressed, and none of the adults around me seemed to have any fucking clue how to handle that. It was the fact that we were poor and I couldn’t afford to do half the things my classmates could.

I wish I didn’t have to use the word poor, because that sounds so, I don’t know, dramatic or self-pitying or something. And the truth is that compared to a lot of people, I had it pretty easy. But it still sucked. Part of it was that I didn’t really have a lot of experience being poor; up until midway through grade eight, we’d lived in a nice area of town, I’d had decently nice clothes, and I’d never had to miss out on anything due to lack of funds.

Then, when I was thirteen, my dad suddenly left, and my mother, sisters and I moved into low-income housing where things were, well, interesting to say the least. Our next-door neighbours (who, by the way, had a ten year old son) spent Christmas day drinking God-knows-what and then taking turns going outside to vomit on their front lawn. We regularly heard gunshots going off in other parts of our complex. Once, when I was in grade thirteen, I saw a man naked and stoned out of his mind lying on the front doorstep of the townhouse across from ours. He was begging his brother to let him in. Instead, the brother called the police, who came and beat the naked man while he screamed, Oh God, please stop.

And honestly, I swear, I’m not telling any of this to you to make you feel sorry for me. It’s just that I felt like my friends, with their intact families living in their mid-century bungalows in their nice, tree-filled neighbourhoods, maybe didn’t really get where I was coming from. Or maybe they did. What the hell do I know?

Anyway, we didn’t have any money, which sucked for a variety of reasons. My clothes were ugly and didn’t fit properly. I couldn’t afford to go on a lot of the field trips my classmates did. I had to miss out on a bunch of stuff because I always had to babysit.

Oh, and I was awkward, which has nothing to do with money, but I just want to mention it again, in case you forgot. And ugly. I had acne like it was going out of style (hint: it was never in style).

All of this was somehow manageable, though, until grade eleven, when I was hit, hard, with my first major depressive episode. I cried all the time. I started cutting (which is another fact that makes me wince with embarrassment, but I figure that since I’ve already told you about the farting I may as well go whole-hog with the unflinching honesty). My grades plummeted. I tried antidepressant after antidepressant, but none of them really worked. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I started napping during class. I lost the ability to concentrate.

And you know what? Almost none* of my teachers seemed to give a shit, or even seemed to have any kind of clue what to do with me. None of them offered me any kind of help or sympathy. One of them, in fact, tried to have me kicked out of the arts package because I wasn’t putting enough effort into school and extracurricular activities. She even scheduled a big meeting with the administration and made my mother attend, which was pretty much the opposite of what I needed right then.

And like, I get it, you know? These teachers were all tired and overworked, and here I was, yet another teenager who wouldn’t do her homework and just wanted to mope around all the time. And they were so used to seeing their students fucked up on pot or acid or heroin (NO BUT FOR REALS, I AM NOT KIDDING, THERE WERE KIDS AT MY SCHOOL WHO DID HEROIN), that maybe seeing me strung out on Paxil and Prozac didn’t seem that different. I wasn’t especially close to most of my teachers, and probably I didn’t really make it worth their time to care.

But weren’t they supposed to care? I mean, wasn’t that their job?

Or maybe they did. Maybe I misread everything and misunderstood their advances and offers of help because I was just too wrapped up in my own misery. Maybe they wanted to be kind to me but eventually got tired of me pushing everyone away.

I was a fucking treat to be around in those days, let me tell you.

The real kicker came in grade thirteen, when I couldn’t even afford the twenty bucks for a student card. The thing was, without a student card you couldn’t collect participation points. And you needed those points to win a White E, which was the participation award that my school gave out every year. You had to do a ton of extracurricular stuff to get a White E, and I’d been only one of, like, three to win one in grade nine. I’d received one every year since, and I knew that if I got one in grade thirteen I would receive a Silver E which was, like, a Big Deal at my school.

But because the school wouldn’t let me collect those points, I had no hope of winning one. And while in retrospect this seems like an especially stupid thing for me to care about, at the same time it also seems incredibly petty of my school to not be willing to just waive the fee for me or whatever.

So anyway, then high school ended, and if I’d had any bridges to burn I would’ve burned them, but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. I just hightailed it the hell out of Ontario and decided to start a new life in Halifax as an Especially Cool Person Who Does Not Pass Gas In Public. And by and large, I succeeded.

Then I moved back to Ontario and joined Facebook and had to face all of my demons former classmates and mostly it was fine. I mean, actually it was all fine, and everyone is super nice and lovely now and no one has made fart noises within my hearing or anything like that. And some of the people I knew in high school are now my closest friends, and I don’t know what I would do without them. And I no longer dread visiting Kitchener because I’m afraid that I’ll run into someone I used to know only to have them point at me and say, “That was the girl we all laughed at in high school!”

But that still doesn’t mean that I’m able to look back fondly on my high school days, you know? And I definitely have a hard time celebrating the administration of a program that didn’t really want to lift a finger to help me when I was at my nadir. I get that lots of people found the program inspiring and life-changing and blah blah blah, but mostly it just made me feel like I was a talentless hack who was going nowhere in the arts world.

Mostly I’m just super jealous of everyone that had a good time in high school. Mostly I don’t want to go to this reunion because I don’t want to hear everyone else’s largely positive interpretations of events that were miserable and embarrassing for me. Mostly I’m just incredibly embarrassed that I’m fucking thirty and I’m still so insecure.

Fuck, you guys, I don’t know. High school fucking sucked, and the shitty part is that it sucked to a greater or lesser degree for everyone, so it’s not even like I get to be alone and special in my pain. I just happen to be the loudest about it, apparently.

Maybe we can just use this as an opportunity to wallow in our collective former misery together?

Maybe that’s the point of high school reunions, after all.

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*There were a few that cared. My grade ninth and tenth grade English teachers come to mind. In particular, my grade thirteen English teacher, gets my undying thanks for the kindness he showed me then and still shows me today. Apparently I did well, at least, with English teachers, hah.

On Facebook and Validation

27 Feb

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

Or rather, I deactivated it, because deleting is way more of a hassle and I’ll probably end up reactivating my account eventually. And can I just take a second to tell you how crazy hard it was to get myself off that motherfucker? It took me approximately ten years to find the “deactivate” section, and THEN they make you fill out this thing about why you’re leaving and blah blah blah, like, seriously, Zuckerberg? Everyone and their grandmothers are on Facebook. You can relax about the OCCASIONAL PERSON quitting your site.

But anyway. I digress.

I deactivated my account because I wasn’t really happy about how I was using Facebook. I felt like too often I was using it to seek attention or validation, and that felt really unhealthy. I feel like I have an OK relationship with Facebook when I’m in a good space mentally, but when I’m depressed I tend to make posts that are basically begging my friends to reassure me that they love me, that I’m a good person, that I’m doing a good job. And I don’t want to be that guy, you know?

But this is where it gets fucking tricky, because by posting this, aren’t I kind of, sort of being that guy? Aren’t I using this as a way of asking you for validation that I’m not constantly looking for validation? Or at least validation that this is just how we do it in the 21st century and everyone else (and their grandmothers) use Facebook for the same thing?

Let me tell you a little story.

One time, my ex-boyfriend and I were at the same Hallowe’en party, and then ended up going out to the same club. I was still in love with him and he knew it, but he went ahead and kissed me on the dance floor anyway. He was dressed as The Incredible Hulk and when he kissed me he got green paint on my face, and my best friend dragged me into the bathroom and yelled, WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING KISSING YOU AND GETTING GREEN PAINT ON YOUR FACE? THAT IS FUCKING UNACCEPTABLE.

So I tried to ask him why he’d kissed me, but instead he turned around and walked out of the bar. So I followed him, because I was angry, and hurt, and felt stupid and used. I chased him down the street, yelling his name and telling him to turn around and talk to me RIGHT NOW. And eventually he did, and we ended up sitting together on someone’s stoop in the middle of Halifax’s North End. It was midnight and really fucking cold outside, but I didn’t have a coat because I’d been in such a hurry to catch him and chew him out. So I sat there, trying to explain how hurt I was without actually admitting that I still wanted to be with him, and I was so cold that I started shivering. So he put his arms around me, and pulled me close, and I started crying.

We were both really drunk, and really young, and really serious. So we decided we were having this big adult conversation about ourselves and our relationship and our treatment of each other. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re sitting on some random North End stoop dressed as The Incredible Hulk and Jackie O on a freezing cold late-October night. That’s what grownups do. Right?

Anyway, at some point I said, “Tell me something that you know about me. Something true.”

And he looked at me and said, “Anne needs to stop relying on other people’s opinions of her.”

And I was actually shocked by how true and accurate that was. Like, even though he was a dick to me on the regular, he still knew me, somehow. And, weirdly, he still cared about me.

I guess I was also shocked because I’d thought that my need for other people’s validation was something that I’d managed to hide fairly well. But it became clear to me that if even my emotionally-stunted ex-boyfriend could see it, then everyone could see it.

And in that moment I felt exposed for the fraud I was: not the loud, brash, ass-kicking lady that I pretended to be, but a scared, lonely, kid with poor self-esteem.

I’ve worked hard in the year since then to have more faith in myself, to not let other people’s ideas shape who or what I am. I’ve tried to grow a thicker skin, tried not to care about what other people say, tried to learn how to stand my ground. And to some degree, I think I’ve been successful. I’ve at least become better at presenting myself as someone who is all of those things.

But when things get tough, I don’t feel like someone who has a strong core. I feel like someone who has layers and layers of gauze bandages wrapped around her midsection, and when you go to unwind them, it turns out that there’s nothing there, like, literally nothing. Just a giant, gaping hole that goes all the way through me. And then maybe all of my internal organs fall out and I get blood and guts on your nice new shoes and I’m crying for you to love me, please love me, and even though I can tell that you’re disgusted, I can’t stop.

So anyway, that’s what Facebook has been feeling like lately. Like I’m a big old vivisected loser who needs you to tell her over and over that she’s fine, she’s good, she’s lovely. And I don’t want to be that loser anymore. And I don’t want to drive you all away with my nonsense.

Thus: Facebook deactivation.

We can still interact here and on Twitter, and I’m happy to give you my email address so long as you promise that you’re not a creeper who wants to send me pictures of his dick. I’ll still be around. It’ll be fun, I promise!

Now if you excuse me, I have to go talk to my cats and make sure that they still think that I’m a worthy owner who feeds them on time and gives them enough cuddles.

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