Tag Archives: writing

An Open Letter to David Gilmour

25 Sep

Dear David Gilmour,

As a woman writer I’d like to say thank you.

No, honestly, thank you.

Thank you for being privileged enough, culturally tone-deaf enough, and even just plain stupid enough to say that you don’t love women writers enough to teach their works in your class. Thank you for saying what so many other male professors think but are afraid to admit. Thank you for opening up this huge fucking can of worms that most people are happy enough to pretend doesn’t even exist.

Seriously, thank you for reminding me that, as a writer who happens to be female, I will always be a woman first and a writer second.

Oh and thank you especially for throwing in that little racial comment about how you also don’t love Chinese writers, because you might as well shit all the beds while you’re at it, right?

But thank you. Thank you for proving how very unequal the world is when it comes to female writers and queer writers and trans writers and any writer whose skin isn’t lily-fucking-white. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and showing the dark, misogynist, racist underbelly of academia. Because when people like you pull shit like this, everyone is finally forced to pull their collective heads out of the sand and accept how very biased the academic world is.

Look, I’m not here to tell you what literature you should love or not love. None of us can help which writers resonate with us while others, though we can admit that they are technically proficient, brilliant with language, and certainly not without talent, fail to move us. We like who we like. I get that.

What I don’t get is how very little self-reflection there seems to be in your discussion of which writers you love and why. Have you ever wondered why you might possess such a bias against female writers, Canadian writers, and (apparently) Chinese writers? Have you considered what influence your own professors and their prejudices have had on you and how they have warped your perspective and taste? Have you thought about the fact that your own relative privilege means that without serious thought and introspection it’s going to be a real fucking challenge for you to understand the context and nuance of writers who don’t fit the mold of cis-gender white male?

And maybe what I really want to know is if you were ever up for that particular challenge, and if the answer to that question is yes, then I need to know when the fuck you got so literarily lazy that you could no longer stretch yourself enough to inhabit a skin that didn’t resemble your own. Because that’s what the best literature does, right? It takes us completely outside of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a completely different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us. Hopefully it makes us better people. I don’t understand how you could ever become a better person if you only ever read books with protagonists whose take on the world is, ultimately, not so very unlike your own.

I also want to tell you that as a professor, your first responsibility is to your students, not yourself. Like a good book, a good professor should change a student. The best teachers that I’ve had in my life have been the ones who’ve taken me out of myself and made me see the world in an entirely different way. Passion for what you teach is, of course, incredibly important and can’t be discounted, but so, too, is the ability to extend yourself beyond your own petty likes and dislikes in order to give your students a well-rounded view of literature. How can you possibly be doing that when every year you devote all of your time to re-hashing all of your favourite books? How can you open someone else’s eyes when you refuse to do anything but perpetuate your own biases? And honestly, if you can’t challenge yourself when it comes to how and what you read, how can you ever challenge anyone else?

Finally, I want to ask you how, as someone who is a writer who also happens to be female, I am supposed to process this. When you say that you “teach only the best,” what should I take away from that? Am I supposed to just sadly shake my head and assume that my vagina* prevents me from ever writing anything interesting or good? Am I supposed to laugh in a world-weary way and say, “well, that’s just one man’s opinion,” as if your opinion isn’t symptomatic of a much larger problem within academia? Or am I supposed to think that you are somehow trying to throw down the gauntlet, as if you could maybe bully women into writing something that you love?

Because the thing is, I’ve got my own fucking gauntlet to throw down.

I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you – I fucking dare you – to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed.

I’ll even put together a top-notch reading list, if you like.

In return, I will let you teach me to love one of the books on your curriculum. I live in Toronto; I can easily audit one of your classes. Prove to me that you’re a decent professor, and that the books that you teach will, in fact, change me the way that the best literature can and should.

I’m totally up for this if you are.

Sincerely,

Anne Thériault

Photo on 2013-09-25 at 4.18 PM

*Not all female writers have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are female. However, since in my case my sex aligns with my societally-expected gender, and because I love the word vagina, I’m gonna run with this.

Tips For Writers

14 Sep

Write because you have something to say.

Write because you’ve always wanted to.

Write because you only just realized that you might die next week, or tomorrow, or five minutes from now, and you want to leave something behind for posterity.

Write because you have a secret fire burning inside of you and the only way that you can fan the flames is by sharing your thoughts with someone else.

Write because you’re bored and don’t have anything better to do.

Write for yourself.

Write for other someone else, or maybe everyone else.

Write because you love seeing your stats counter surge every time you post something. Write because nothing satisfies you quite so much as seeing others share what you’ve written. Write because you like the attention; there’s nothing wrong with liking the attention.

Write because it fills the emptiness in your heart or your soul or your pancreas or wherever your particular emptiness happens to be.

Write because nothing will ever fill that emptiness, and you want to find a way to connect with someone, anyone who might understand.

Write because your tenth grade English teacher told you that you had potential.

Write because your ex told you that your characters were dull and your dialogue stilted, as it’s a well-known fact that there’s nothing better in life than proving someone else wrong.

Write because you have a calling for it, you were born for it, because it’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do for your entire life.

Write because you only just decided yesterday that it might be neat to try to stringing a few pretty words together.

Write because even though your imagery might be clichéd and your metaphors weak and your reasoning best described as childish and unsound, you still have a noted talent fur cussing and it’s a scientifically-proven fact that a well-placed f bomb can make or break a paragraph.

Write a thousand words every day.

Write ten words every day, even if those words are nothing more than, “I hope you have a good at school, honey.”

Write one word every day. Today’s word is perigee; tomorrow’s will be sesquipedalian.

Write a book so strange and obscure that no major publisher will ever touch it.

Write something because you know that it will be commercially-viable.

Write serious fiction.

Write romance novels.

Write an epic fantasy series that’s actually a thinly-disguised takedown of your toxic workplace, starring your awful cubicle mate as vile R’hakhnae, the Insect Queen.

Write a review of the movie you saw last night.

Write a grocery list.

Write anything and everything, if writing is what you want to do. Don’t listen to people who want to peddle some kind of elite ideal of what it means to write; don’t buy into the idea that you can only refer to yourself as a writer if you’ve been published in the New Yorker or you have a stack of rejection letters a foot deep or you frequently stay up all night weeping softly into a glass of scotch because you can’t arrange exactly the right words in exactly the right order to say exactly whatever it is you want to stay. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re only a writer if you’ve spent a decade or more suffering for your art, starving in a garret in London or maybe Paris. Try to steer clear of the folks who will want to tell you that only one particular genre or style is real writing.

Write.

Just write.

In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say please write, because I promise you that there’s someone out there who’s dying to hear what you have to say, someone whose life might be changed by whatever sentiment you’re about to commit to paper or screen or cardboard-back-of-the-cereal-box. Write because you are the only person who has lived your particular life, and this has shaped your thoughts in such a way that you are the only one on this planet capable of expressing a thought in your own particular way.

Write because no other person who came before you or who will come after to you will ever, ever be able to do it in quite the same way that you can.

Write  because if you don’t tell that story, the one that’s been slowly burning inside of you for the past year, the one that sits like a lump in your throat that never goes away or plays incessantly in the back of your head like a bad song with a good hook, will never be told if you don’t tell it.

Write because you’re the only one who can do this and we’re all counting on you.

Write because.

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Intersectionality and Art

10 Sep

My friend Audra asked the following question on her Facebook a little over a week ago:

“Which do you think is worse: intentionally only ever buying art* made by women, or accidentally only ever buying art made by men?”

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think that either is worse, because I don’t think that either of those things are bad or wrong, necessarily. But I do think that it’s super important to look at how and why we consume media. I also think it’s necessary every once in a while to take a long hard look at the media choices we’re making, and ask ourselves whether or not we are making conscious decisions about the type of artists that we are supporting and promoting.

This point was driven home today as I took a short break from the enormous tome that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (because what better time to tackle this beast than on a 60-hour train trip across Canada?) to read Dave Egger’s introduction to the book. In this brief five-page preface, Eggers manages to name-check the fourteen following artists:

Thomas Pynchon

Elmore Leonard

Jonathan Franzen

William Gaddis

Saul Bellow

William S. Burroughs

Fred Exley

Marcel Proust

Stephin Merritt

Howard Finster

Sufjan Stevens

Jack Kerouac

William T. Vollmann

Michael Apted

You’ll note two uniting features about everyone mentioned this list – they are all white, and they are all men.

Now, I don’t think that Dave Eggers only reads books by white dudes. In fact, I happen to know that Eggers both reads and promotes books by all kinds of non-white-dude writers. But I can’t help noticing that when he’s talking about the crème de la crème, when he’s mentioning the artists to whom he’s comparing a book that he claims will, ultimately, leave you a better person, they are all. white. men. Every single last one of them.

And I don’t think that the exclusivity of this list is intentional; I don’t think that Eggers really thinks that men are better writers than women, or that white folks are better writers than people of colour. But what I do think is that it’s really, really easy to fall into the trap of only consuming art made by white men. I mean, it’s the status quo, right? You go into a bookstore and almost all the featured books are by men (although, being in Canada, I have to admit that they pretty much always include at least one Atwood because it’s the law or whatever). Only four women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; only one has ever won. If you’ve ever been in a comic book store, you know how hard you often have to dig to find something by a woman, let alone a woman of colour.

And it’s like, sometimes I just feel invisible, you know? I mean, I’m really just starting out and I haven’t even published my first book and in spite of that I have a fairly decent online following and I am super grateful for that and I’m luckier than a whole lot of people, but. BUT. I feel like I’m always going to be excluded when it comes to these types of lists. I’m never going to be allowed into the Old Boys’ Club (because then it wouldn’t be a boys’ club, duh), or if I am permitted to join in every once in a blue moon, I’ll be treated as a pet, a sweet little thing, a curiosity, and never, ever as a serious writer. And this exclusion won’t be malicious, and it won’t be intentional; it’ll just be because my name (or any other woman’s name) will never be the first (or even fourteenth) to spring to mind when a man is coming up with a list of his all-time favourite, greatest, most influential writers.

And that sucks.

So let’s take a moment to share our favourite not-white-dude artists, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll all come away with some new and exciting books, movies, paintings, sculptures, songs, television shows, etc, to check out.

Here’s my list:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Haim:

Margaux Williamson, Teenager Hamlet

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The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

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Ginger & Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter

* Any form of art or media, be it literature, visual art, film, music, television, etc.

You Are Worth It

4 Sep

I sometimes feel as if you’ve spent most of your life surrounded by people who told you over and over that you weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or trying hard enough. These people seem to flock to you, maybe because they know that, head bowed and ashamed, you’ll listen to what they say. Some of them might be kind-hearted, trying to push you or fix you with tough love, while others just want someone to hurt and humiliate. Whatever their motivation, I wish I’d been there when they said these things, so that I could have raised a ruckus, shouted them down, told them how very wrong they were.

The real kicker is that you blame yourself for listening to these people; you honestly believe that you should have known better, should have held your own. Having grown up in a world that loves to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on how no one can make anyone feel inferior without their consent, you think that it’s your fault that these spiteful words and ideas crawled under your skin and wove themselves into the fabric of your being. It’s not, though. It’s not your fault. No one could ever endure that much raw malice without starting to doubt their own self worth.

You tell yourself that you’re nothing but wasted potential, when in fact the exact opposite is true. All of your potential is still intact; you still have every possibility of achieving the things that you want to achieve. That’s not to say that it will be easy, or that it will happen right away – I’m not discounting your struggles, both past and present. But still. A sixty-four-year-old woman just swam from Cuba to Florida after trying to do so for thirty five years. There is no statute of limitation on dreams.

You think that no one notices when you get up to leave the room or slip away early from the party, but we do. We all do. We miss you when you’re gone; we miss your laughter, your warmth, your kindness. We miss your bad jokes. Most of all, though, we miss your steadiness, your solid, comforting presence. We miss you.

You want so badly to keep everyone else safe. You’re the quiet fixer, the person in the background making sure the show runs smoothly, but you’re also the first person to stand up and say something when others are threatened or in danger. You think nothing of disregarding your own safety or well-being if someone else needs your help. You are always there to help.

You are astonishingly loving and protective of so many people, without ever feeling as though you deserve any love or protection for yourself. You put yourself in the line of fire over and over again, though you would never let anyone else return the favour. You act as though you have a debt to pay to the universe, although you’re not quite sure why or how. You act as though the only way that you can justify taking up real estate on this planet is by living only for other people. But you don’t have any debt to pay, and you are just as worthy of our love as we are of yours.

You deserve everything good in this life, starting with a person-shaped space that you can occupy without feeling guilty or inadequate. You have so much worth, not just because of the wonderful things that you do, but because of who you are and the particular talents and skills that you possess. You are worthy because you are you – a person who always thinks of others first, who keeps their head down and uncomplainingly does their work, who delights in bringing a smile to someone else’s face. In room full of people, children and animals are drawn to you first because they know that they can trust you. We all trust you.

When we run into you on the street, or catch sight of you across a crowded bar, or watch you quietly, hesitantly slip in through the door, we are always so happy to see you. We are always so happy that you are here.

You deserve this, all of this.

You deserve our delight in you.

You are worth it.

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A Few Truths About Love

22 Aug

The truth about love is that there is a part of you that honestly believes that giving away all of your love will – no, must – result in receiving some kind of equal love back. If you didn’t believe this, your love would be impossible. How else could you justify all of the heartsick tears, the sleepless nights, the work and play that you’ve neglected?

The truth about love is that it’s not a physics equation. There is no law of conservation of love. Love can be created; love can be destroyed. The love that you put out into the world will not last forever, ricocheting between atoms, shifting shape as needed. A thoughtless heart can stop your love cold.

The truth about love is that someone can love you very much and still be careless or hurtful. Love is not a charm that protects you. Love is not magic. Love is not inherently good.

The truth about love is that your faith in it is misplaced; love is not a god or a system of belief or an altar at which you should kneel down and sacrifice. Love is a wild, dangerous force – exhilarating, yes, but also destructive. Loving someone else is like standing at the edge of the water in the middle of a hurricane; the waves that smash against the shore are mesmerizingly beautiful, but the threat of drowning is very real.

The truth about love is that it is a slippery beast. A slippery beast with teeth like razor blades.

The truth about love is that it is so bound up with regret that it seems impossible to separate the two. You regret the words you said, which you didn’t realize would come out so badly. You regret how vulnerable you let yourself be, how you cracked open your chest to reveal your still-beating heart. You regret all the chances you gave, the forgiveness you bled so freely. You regret the time not spent together, the days you sat side by side on the couch both engrossed in your laptops. You regret the time wasted arguing or sulking or spent in a state of deliberate misunderstanding. You regret the beginning, because it could only ever lead to this. You regret the ending, because of everything you’ll never get back. You try so hard not to regret everything in between, but you do. You do.

The truth about love is that so many of us have a hard time differentiating between love and habit.

The truth about love is that it’s not a panacea or a cure-all. You can have all the love in the world and still be just as broken as ever. Being in love will not fix you; after the first flush of romance you will find that you are in exactly the same place, except that now you have to worry about dragging someone else down with you.

The truth about love is that we talk about it as if it’s something we’re somehow owed, but really, it’s not. People deserve to be treated with decency and respect. People deserve basic necessities like food, shelter and clean water. People deserve to feel safe. No one deserves love.

The truth about love is that you would do it all again.

Vintage Photos of Hurricanes and Their Aftermath (4)

Your Life As A Play

18 Aug

You think that if you get all the window dressing right then everything will be fine.

The floral-patterned dress, the beat up cowboy boots, the vintage leather jacket.

The carefully tousled hair, the oversized sunglasses, exactly the right shade of peachy-pink lipstick.

The golden tan, the throaty laugh, the full smile.

The way the sun hits you from behind, so that you’re sweetly backlit in the late summer afternoon haze.

The books on your shelf. The distressed furniture. The tacky knick knacks you wouldn’t have been caught dead with five years ago.

The antique china tea set your grandmother gave you.

The mint green bike you bought second hand.

The midcentury modern buffet you found on the street on garbage day.

The smart, funny, handsome husband.

The smart, funny, precocious child.

The off-beat, artsy career.

The morning yoga classes you teach, the playlists you create timed perfectly with the flow of poses, the warm, sympathetic tone to your voice.

The afternoons you spend in coffee shops drafting up your novel, your screenplay, your heartwrenching poem.

Everyone who looks at you is envious. You can feel it when they size you up. You can tell how much they covet your life, all of it, every tiny detail.

You’re so good with details.

You’re so good at so many things.

You lucky, lucky girl.

It’s like creating a set for a play, isn’t it? A play about a life you’d like to live. You think that if everything is placed just so then it must follow that you will be happy. If the print on the table cloth is exactly right, if the soft cotton quilt that your grandmother gave you is just tattered and faded enough, then you will break the spell. You will finally feel alive.

It doesn’t work that way. Your things are just things. Your hair, makeup and clothing are part of an elaborate, time-consuming disguise. Your husband and child are not as perfect as they seem, because no one is perfect, but the tantrums, the arguments, the dull drag of day-to-day life never make it on to your Instagram account. The print on the table cloth is just slightly wrong.

The window dressing is just window dressing. Your heart is the reality, and it cracks in a way that can never be repaired. You will always be you, no matter what your life looks like, no matter how many best-sellers you write, no matter how envious anyone else might be.

You will always be you, living in this particular skin, on this particular planet, at this particular time in history.

You will always be you.

Talk about a life sentence.

Talk about a life sentence.

Talk about a life sentence.

Alice Summers in Paris

What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman

12 Aug

You will always be a woman first and a writer second.

When people refer to you, they will call you a “woman writer,” or “feminist writer,” or some other variation on that theme. There will always be some kind of qualifier added.

When your works are published, they will be included in women’s anthologies, or perhaps taught in women’s studies classes, or shelved in the “chick lit” sections of bookstores. This will feel simultaneously empowering and isolating. You know that this fact will guarantee that large segments of the population will choose never to read your work based solely on these classifications.

It will be thought that only other women can relate to your writing. When discussed by literary critics, your books will be described as works that all women should read; no one will ever call them works that everyone should read.

When a man says flattering things about your writing, you will always be left wondering whether it is your work that interests him, or the fact that you are young, conventionally attractive and female. Most frequently it will be the former, but still, you can never shake off the fear that you are not so much talented as you are naïve and pretty. You often feel as if you are only valuable in so much as men desire to fuck you.

Speaking of men desiring to fuck you, you must be very careful when interacting with male readers of your work, especially if those men are also writers. If you are married or in a committed relationship, mention this up front. Watch every word you say and make certain that none of them could ever be misconstrued as flirtatious. Do not ever behave in a way that might lead you to be accused of leading a man on – especially in situations where the man is in a position to promote your work. Remember that all of your motives will always be suspect.

Speaking of men, the first attributes used when describing you will be your relationships or lack thereof.

If you are married and/or have children, these things will become the focal point of any brief biographical sketch made of your life. Any other accomplishments must take a back seat to the fact that you have managed to find someone to put a ring on it and then convinced them to procreate with you. Your name will always be preceded by something like wife-and-mother-of-two, as if those titles are more important than any other that you might earn in this life.

If you are unmarried, you will be pitied. If you don’t have children, you will be pitied. People will wonder aloud what is wrong with you; it will be thought that your devotion to your career has left you lonely and barren. Your appearance will be dissected, your life choices examined as if under a microscope; perhaps the idea of medical infertility might be discussed. Anyone and everyone will have a theory about why and how you failed to produce children.

If you write about yourself, about your life and your feelings, your writing will be called confessional. The word will be said with a sneer; it is not meant as a compliment.

If you write about issues larger than yourself, your work will always be touted as a feminist perspective or a woman’s perspective on the subject; you can never have a thought or opinion without it being viewed by the rest of the world as being coloured by your gender.

If you write about the discrimination and inequality that women face, and don’t immediately follow up with a list of double standards imposed on men, you will be accused of misandry. If you discuss violence against women without adding in that yes, sometimes women can be violent towards men, you will be accused of misrepresenting the facts. If you don’t qualify every discussion about women’s issues with the fact that, yes, men have issues specific to them, then you don’t believe in equality.

You will find yourself inhabiting a scarcity mindset. If another woman achieves fame or success by writing on the same subjects as you, you will assume that all praise and recognition have been used up. Having grown up fed on a media diet of cartoons, books, video games and sitcoms featuring only one or two token female characters, you will truly believe that there is room for only one woman at the top of any given field. This will lead to intense feelings of jealousy any time another woman succeeds; this will lead to the desire to tear other women and their work down, in order to make room for yourself. Should you experience any kind of success, you will find yourself the target of the same type of fear and envy. You will become the subject of take downs by other women who see you as an obstacle standing in their way.

You will quickly learn that being seen as someone who embraces the middle ground, someone who constantly qualifies all of their beliefs with statements like, but I can understand the other side of the argument, will be greatly beneficial to your popularity as a writer. Seeing issues as black and white will earn you the label of “extremist,” and cause others to distance themselves from your work. As a woman, you will constantly need to tone it down, bite your tongue, and above all else present yourself as being sweet and unthreatening. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that constantly equivocating will lead others, especially women, to dismiss you as wishy washy. You will be accused of backtracking. Men will tell you that they do not enjoy your writing because it is lacking in bombast and ego. You have to come across as firm, uncompromising, certain in your beliefs. You have to approach writing with a take-no-prisoners mentality. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that when you challenge the glaring inequalities in the old boys’ club of the literary world, you will be branded as angry. People will insinuate, or outright say, that any obstacles that you might face are evidence of your lack of talent and commitment, rather than a systemic and deeply ingrained misogyny. You will be called paranoid and crazy, accused of engaging in victimology; no one will want to acknowledge how very sad and frustrated it makes you that you have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.

You will quickly learn that you cannot ever, ever win.

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Ten Lies Depression Tells You

7 Aug

1. You are a bad person who deserves bad things.

2. You are unhappy because you are lazy or lacking in willpower. Happiness is a choice, a choice that you have failed to make. Somehow, somewhere over the course of your lifetime, when faced with some metaphysical fork in the road, you chose the wrong path. You brought this curse down on yourself.

3. Your sadness is the baseline by which the rest of your life should be measured. This sadnesss is your norm, and any other emotions, especially positive ones, are exceptions to the rule. Yes of course there will be good times, of course there will be flashes of joy; you will certainly, on occasion, experience the pleasure of a good book or a ripe juicy peach,  However, those experiences will be few and far between. Your bad days will always outnumber the good.

4. Your family and friends do not love you. Your family are people who feel obligated to spend time with you because as luck would have it you share a similar genetic makeup. Your friends are people that you somehow tricked into thinking that you, as a person, have some kind of value, and now they don’t know how to extricate themselves from your pathetic, needy grasp. No one spends time with you because they enjoy it; they do it out of a sense of duty, a feeling of pity. Whenever you leave a room everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

5. Your family and friends do not want to hear about how sad you are. No matter how sympathetic they may seem, no matter how sincerely they might ask how you are feeling, remember that it’s all an act. The more that you open yourself up to them, the more you pour your heart out, the more resentful of you they become. Do not fall into the trap of sharing your feelings; do not give into the temptation to draw back the curtain and, like a tawdry magician, reveal your grotesque sadness. Your sadness is a choice, remember? This burden is yours to bear alone.

6. Your friends and family deserve better than you. Everyone deserves better than you

7. In order to make up for your unhappiness, it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone around you is happy. If you can manage to maintain a near-constant veneer of kindness, helpfulness and sincere interest in others, then that will make your presence more tolerable. Your amiability, though entirely inadequate, is the best apology that you can make for your existence.

8. Everything is your fault.

If you plan a picnic and it rains, it’s your fault. You should have been more thorough when you checked the weather. You should have learned to be an amateur meteorologist so that you could better read the clouds. You should have packed a canopy. If you go out for dinner, for your once-in-a-blue-moon, hire-a-babysitter-and-wear-a-nice-dress date and the food or service or conversation is anything less than exceptional, it’s your fault. You should have read more restaurant reviews, should have asked friends for more recommendations, should have prepared cue cards with talking points. If someone is unkind to you, it’s your fault. You should have smiled more, been more gracious, tried harder to be whatever it was that they needed in that moment.

Everything is your fault.

9. There is no cure for your sadness, no effective treatment, no way of managing your symptoms. There are, of course, doctors and pills and various therapies that help other people, but you’ve tried all these things and they don’t work for you. Nothing will ever work for you.

10. You will feel this way forever.

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21 Quotes from Sylvia Plath

31 Jul

1. “Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

2. “God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of ‘parties’ with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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3. “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”

The Bell Jar

With Ted Hughes

With Ted Hughes

4. “Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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5. “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence. I knew perfectly well the cars were making a noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for the good it did me.”

The Bell Jar

Syvia Plath

6. “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.”

Draft of letter to Richard Sassoon

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7. “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

The Bell Jar

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8. “With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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9. “I like people too much or not at all. I’ve got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

As a child, with her brother Warren

As a child, with her brother Warren

10. “I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.”

The Bell Jar

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11. “We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.”

Lesbos

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12. “Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

13. ” I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.”

Elm

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14. “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

The Bell Jar

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15. “I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.”

Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950 – 1963

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16. “If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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17. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

The Bell Jar

With Frieda and Nicholas

With Frieda and Nicholas

18. “To annihilate the world by annihilation of oneself is the deluded height of desperate egoism. The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Self- portrait

Self- portrait

19. “What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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20. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

The Bell Jar

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21. “But everybody has exactly the same smiling frightened face, with the look that says: ‘I’m important. If you only get to know me you will see how important I am. Look into my eyes. Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.’”

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose

30 Jun

It’s been a crazy week, eh, internet? I mean, between Wendy Davis’ filibuster  and the American supreme court repealing DOMA, it’s been pretty exciting all up in here!

And it’s Pride in Toronto right now!

And tomorrow is Canada Day!

Meanwhile, I’m working all weekend, and have spent the last several days alternating between being screamed at by my toddler and struggling to find the motivation to finish my book, since my deadline is July 15th. I mean, in case you were wondering why I haven’t been posting much and also have maybe noticed how incredibly shitty I’ve become at replying to comments. Sorry guys, I kind of suck right now.

Basically my life write now - trying to finish my book while doing my best not to drown

Basically my life write now – trying to finish my book while doing my best not to drown

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about the book on here or not. Probably not. I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion, which is a problem, I guess, when you’re a young, unknown whippersnapper of a writer. Like, when people ask me what my book’s about, I just sort of mumble incoherently and then change the subject. Mind you, I’ve never actually published a book, so I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I’m pretty sure that that’s not how you get people interested in what you’re writing.

Anyway. This book. It’s going to be an e-book, published through Thought Catalog, and will be sold both on their website and on Amazon. The first draft is mostly done, which is kind of bad news, because that means that editing comes next, and editing my own work mostly makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I’m pretty excited about it, though. It even has a title – My Heart is an Autumn Garage. That’s a Salinger reference, specifically a reference to a line from Franny & Zooey, so right away you know that it’s going to be an awesome book.

So what’s this mystery book about? Welllll, it’s about the time that I was hospitalized for depression back in 2003, and all the crazy hijinks and hilarious misadventures that ensued! That is, if by crazy hijinks and hilarious misadventures I mean “possibly the worst, most frightening thing that has ever happened to me.”

Writing this book has been both a weirdly nostalgic experience and super anxiety-inducing. The former because even though the summer and fall of 2003 were a really fucking terrible time in my life, it was neat cracking open my old journals and reading all the weird little details about my life back then. And yeah, a lot of what I wrote was heartbroken and angry, but there were a few things that made me smile –  for example, a pros and cons list that I wrote of reasons why I should or should not kill myself (spoiler alert: I didn’t, even though there was only one item on the “should not” list). That list, by the way, was made with complete earnestness, and there really shouldn’t be anything funny about it, but somehow it feels pretty damn good to read it ten years after the fact and be able to laugh.

Writing this has also brought up a bunch of anxiety because, to be honest, I actually thought that I’d changed a lot since 2003. Like, I’d somehow become  an entirely different person or something. But, of course, even though my circumstances have altered since then, my actual core self is pretty damn similar. Reading those old journals reminded me that I still have all the same old insecurities and fears as ever, and sure, maybe I’m better at coping with them now, but my coping abilities feel fragile and feeble at best, and it seems like it wouldn’t take much to bring me right back to where I was.

And speaking of being right back where I was, that’s sort of what I’ve been doing while writing this book, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve been working really hard to get into the headspace I was in ten years ago, those good old days when Halifax seemed like a mean, grey trap and suicide felt like the only way out. By and large I’ve been pretty successful at recapturing those feelings (thanks Past Self for all your extremely detail-oriented journal entries – way to look out for Future Self!), and while I do think slipping back into how I felt and thought in those days will make the book much stronger and more immediate, it hasn’t exactly felt great for my present-day self. It’s hard not to read pages and pages of hopelessness, regret, and suicidal ideation without starting to think, hmmmm, maybe she has a point.

So that’s basically where I am these days. There’s been a lot of writing and self-reflection over the past few weeks, and a healthy dose of change, too. These have, in the long run, all been good things, I think, but they’ve also been kind of wearing on me, and I haven’t exactly been the most fun person to be around. I also feel that I never have enough hours in the day, although somehow I always magically have enough time to refresh Facebook obsessively or check my email fifty times, so I dunno. I’d better get my shit together soon, though, because it’s summer and I fucking love summer. First of all, it’s my birthday in a little over a month. Second of all, summer. And if you’re one of those assholes who hates summer and will spend the next two months complaining about how hot it is, well, you know where the door is.

In other news, I will be in Chicago at the end of July speaking at the BlogHer conference on the topic of “Mental Health in the Online Space.” I’ve never been to Chicago, so I am pretty stoked! I know all about how their hospitals work, though, based on my obsessive teenage watching of both ER and Chicago Hope.

Hey, Dr. Carter?

Call me, okay?

Also, my friend Audra started a blog called Enthusiasm Makes the Difference. I asked her if it was going to be a blog about blow jobs, because I feel like that is a scenario where enthusiasm really can mean the difference between a great blow job and just a so-so blow job, but she said that it was only going to be about oral sex sometimes. Anyway, she is a great writer and you should probably check her out!

Oh, and if you want to read some advice that I gave Sheila Heti about change and decision-making, you can check that out here.

In conclusion, I will leave you with my favourite scene from The Royal Tenenbaums, which I have been watching this week in the name of RESEARCH. Because the fact is that only ten days before I was planning on killing myself, Elliott Smith committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest. And I can’t think of Elliott Smith without remembering the part in the Royal Tenenbaums when Luke Wilson’s character slashes his wrists while Smith’s Needle In The Hay plays on the soundtrack. And oh frig, you guys, this scene gets me every time. There’s just so much feeling, but it’s so quiet and lovely and happy-sad. Oh man.