Colony of Losers- Fuck Stigma and Mental Illness, I'm like 25

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Grief Contests

Posted on | August 11, 2014 | No Comments

A Huffington post article described Evan Rachel Wood’s tweet “Genie, you’re free.” as the most heartbeaking tweet about Robin William’s death.

I don’t know if I find it poignant. I saw a very similar message from a friend earlier. I think it’s sort of cliche that when a celebrity dies we attach a quote from a movie they made as an expression of their personality and our knowledge of them. Yet we don’t actually know what he was going through. A lot of suicidal thought is a chemical sensation and it passes. That many of us experience and feel pass us by. Where much of our life remains beautiful and worth living. To say having bipolar disorder and drug addiction makes life no longer beautiful or worth having is to minimize the beauty of the lives of people who live with those pains as we all live with pain. So to say he is free, is to say he is in a better place, is to say that a terrifically bad and conceivably long mood is not worth suffering through to live isn’t poignant to me. It’s a minimization of the pain his family goes through, and ultimately it is clever because he was in that movie and that is a line in that movie and because it is a line in a Disney movie it must somehow be a truth worth clutching to in a time where death needs an instant response rather than a moment of silence. When someone dies we have an automatic response. When Mike Meyers has a child we say, “Yeah baby.” When an actor dies we quote a movie they were in. When a musician dies we quote a song lyric. Automatic responses are the actions of robots. When I told a few people at a cofee shop that Robyn Williams had died they responded automatically, “I never liked his movies” and “he probably killed himself because he wasn’t famous anymore”. This is obviously different but just as automatic of a response. This Huffington post article displays our societies desire to respond instantly, and declares Evan Rachel Wood the winner of the grief contest. It’s pretty fucked that we do this everytime a celebrity dies.

Love is Helpless

Posted on | April 30, 2014 | No Comments

To be in love is to be helpless.You can’t feel it without being vulnerable. And it’s going to hurt. A lot.

Our ego is meant to protect us.  It tells you whatever you need to hear to be safe from pain. It’s interesting to note the delusional hatred that spews from your mind in the name of this sense of security. It’s a little like your heart is America and your ego is the Patriot Act.

You’re willing to destroy a lot of things in the name of world peace and the pursuit of a happiness without pain. Since you want something impossible you ask for something impossible from yourself to deserve it.

You ask yourself why you can’t be loved. You create detailed portraits of the things that lack in you. If you’re meticulous you create pie charts and venn diagrams. You dream of ways to fill in those perceived holes. You diet, you drink to pretend to lose your inhibitions, you self-destruct because it’s seems like you won’t have to take the test if you’re in pieces.

To love you have to embrace a wider world that you can’t control. The more people you love the more you have to willingly surrender your imagined power over chaos. The more you love the more life can hurt you.

Many of us search out people we define as more broken in an attempt to heal them to heal ourselves. So that we can imagine the love we receive to be similar to the love we give. That love can be help and as such achieved by the correct actions.

Yet condescension can always be sensed in these attempts to help, and also a fear. That love is deserved and can be lost at any moment. If we don’t follow the advice. If we aren’t what we are expected to be. And this love is a brittle love, founded out a barter system of checks and balances and the King James bible. Did you know that only 144,000 people were supposed to go to heaven and they were all celibate Jews?  Unless you are a celibate Jew  you should pretty much give up on being perfect. And you wonder if they got to heaven because they refused to fall in love. But you aren’t so lucky.

You’re like me.

You love more than you’d like to.

You know enough hell to hold hands.

I ask you to remember those moments you felt most loved.

Were you at your strongest?

When you loved with the most intensity had the person just composed a poem? Had they just thrown you a surprise party? Did they give you a valued internal organ? Or were there tears in their eyes and you held them and didn’t have anything to say. But you held them anyway. Even though you were helpless, even though it made you hurt.

Who hasn’t killed love by trying to control it?

I can’t be the only one of us who went mad with jealousy. Who let my thoughts become bogged down with how I would hold down to this marvelous feeling, who became so submerged inside of the maelstrom that I wanted to control the feelings of the person I loved most in the world.

I can’t be the only one who tried to make people love me and was astounded when the effort failed.

And haven’t we all watch love die in the very same clutch of grasping fingers doing our very own imitation of Mice and Men.

I also can’t be the only one who lost my love for myself in an attempt to control my mind. Who wanted to only think happy thoughts and hated myself for feeling badly. I can’t be the only who tried to heal myself when I only had to love myself.

I repeat love is helpless.

It can’t be the answer to your problems because your problems will continue even if you find true love.  You can’t hold love like it’s the reason you’re happy because it doesn’t always make you happy.  I can’t always make anyone happy and I wouldn’t want to if I could.

You have problems and I won’t always know how to solve them. I will look at them with you and express my desire for you to be safe. I will not lie to you when you ask me to. Most of the important questions we ask ourselves don’t have easy answers or we would have already found them. We’ve been looking for them long enough.

The measure of closeness to a lover and a best friend is whether they have seen you at your most vulnerable. Did they try to fix you or love you without asking you to change? We ask if people were there when you needed them. We don’t ask if your friends saved your life. Merely if they were there.

It’s human to want to help.  It’s only necessary that you were there.

The more you fall in love the more aware you become of your vulnerability.

They could break your heart. You have given them permission to.

They see you naked and they could laugh at you! They know your secrets and they could tell them! You’ve given them your love and they didn’t provide you with a receipt! They know what your bodily fluids look like and the weird noises you make when you are really happy.

You forget that you’re more like everyone else than you’re special. More carbon copy than a signature in distinctive cursive. Everyone looks at their body and wonders if they’re ugly. We don’t have a lot of experience in seeing ordinary naked bodies. We see porn and movie stars, the people we have sex with and maybe some old men at the gym. We don’t live at a nude beach so we don’t realize the wide varieties of naked there are. We also don’t get to see too many people nakedly vulnerable because we live in a world where it is appropriate to dress up your feelings. It’s why it always feel like you’re dating a crazy person because eventually they can’t pretend they are sane because you’re watching them for too long.

Everyone farts when they shouldn’t and feels the tickle of an awkward laugh at a funeral and wants to shout bomb in an airport.

It’s okay.

Get comfy. Sometimes you will have great sex, sometimes you will have shitty sex. Sometimes you will be loving and sometimes you will be an asshole. If you let someone see your flaws they start really loving you because they can share their own flaws. They can stop performing.

You will break their heart and they will break yours.

I don’t mean to say that everyone that loves you will leave you. I mean they will hurt you. Because they’ll suffer and you’ll watch. They will make you suffer and they will watch. The world will make them suffer and you won’t be able to stop it. To love someone is to want to take their pain and be unable to. To love someone means you get to feel their pain and you’re willing to do so.

To be willing to feel pain on behalf of someone you love is a magic trick that somehow bridges the space between us.

It’s what people mean when they say they can feel you in their heart. And you can feel them in yours.

The times in my life that were least painful also had the least pleasure. Connection means magnifying your ability to feel multiplied by the number of people you truly love.

It means that you will go to funerals and you’ll cry your eyes out. If you’re really lucky you’ll get to go to a lot of funerals of people you care about. Yes, that is the definition of winning the lottery.

It means that your heart will sometimes sit in your stomach when you listen to their voice over the phone. You’ll sit next to their hospital bed and you won’t be a Doctor and there won’t be a cure for everything and you’ll be there even if it hurts.

You won’t be able to protect that feeling and keep it locked in a safe. Even one you bury in your chest. Sometimes your pain won’t fit in the neat compartments that we call civilized behavior and you’ll cry over commercials and when you talk to the people you love on the phone you won’t be able to make jokes.

And it’s okay.

You don’t have to solve their problems. You don’t even have to solve your own. You just have to be with there for them without  making the prequisite of your love their ability to change to become whatever you think they should be.

When you are inside your head you don’t have to solve all of your problems before you are willing to feel your own pain and want yourself to be happy. You don’t have to help.

Love is helpless.

All you have to do is be there.

Hockey Fans

Posted on | April 29, 2014 | No Comments

The sandwich had fried chicken and onions. The side order was fries. There was some type of mayo based spicy sauce.  I may or may not go back. I was not strongly affected one way or the other.

What I might remember, if only because I’m currently writing it down, was the face of the counter man as he watched the hockey game. It was as if he was suddenly not at work at all.

I wondered where he was. Should I ask him? Would that be considered intrusive? Should I just overthink it? Yeah. That’s exactly what I should do.

Was he standing on the ice, pretending he was one of those highly paid players? I didn’t think so.

What I saw in his face wasn’t fantasy but the reality of being a fan.  There is something both nostalgic and child like pure in that face, something much more than fantasy fulfillment.  Maybe he was in the stands yelling like crazy when a goal happened at the last minute, his voice one in twenty thousand shouting the same thing, heart beating like crazy in happiness that what he wanted actually happened. Maybe he can feel his pulse on the sticks as they slap into the puck and races past the goalie glove. Maybe he was exactly where he stood but with all of the other people watching the same thing from different places.

It’s been a long time since I was a sports fan.

I remember hockey wars against the neighbours on Beech Street back in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There was no clock counting down from one period to the next. The games were to ten and you had to stop when a car came racing down the street. Grabbing the net in your hands and bringing it back when they turned a corner and left you to play for another few minutes. We didn’t have a referee because none of the kids wanted to sit out a whole game. We usually played at least three games because we didn’t have anything else to do and what could be better than playing hockey? Rivalries were fierce but rarely become fist fights. We resolved our tension by expressing a few words we had recently learned.

I remember when those games ended and we’d won that I felt like an Olympian. With no one to tell besides your parents. With no one to know what miracles you had accomplished by pushing one leg in front of the other and somehow managing to avoid a tennis ball to your testicles. Fantasyizing about the top right corner of the net and your razor like precision that ended the game and the curse words you shouted into the summer sky because you were untouchable. You could say whatever you wanted. Because you were good and you didn’t need anyone else to tell you.

Maybe he is thinking of when his dad used to take him to local hockey games and that strange feeling that he had been accepted into the adult company of heroes. Finding their seats. That sense of disbelief that you were actually here. That strange surety as you looked at the bench that one day you’d sit there. And you’d race onto the ice when the coach gave you the signal.

I collected the cards. I watched Sports Desk at eight in the morning. I was part of hockey pools and I may have even won one. At some point I stopped caring about hockey and sports in general. I still went to the games. Because they were something I did with my father and my childhood best friend Jordi. Jordi and I played hockey in all those heroic games on Beech. We knew what it was like to be champions together.  I remember in Grade 7 yammering on about a girl I liked. Jordi nodding his head as I high speed rambled, trying to make as many jokes as possible because I liked the sound of his laugh. He told me I didn’t have to make him laugh to be his friend. This was a profound moment for me.

Eventually I stopped watching the game.  I would plot what I would eat during the intermissions between periods. Work on the plot of a new book I was thinking about. Drinking in the energy of the crowd. And then there would be that moment. When the game was close and the Halifax Citadels were on a power play and you could feel everyone’s breath stuck in their throats. Like maybe it would be our time. Maybe we’d actually win one. If we missed the adults would swear like children. If we scored we’d scream like we’d just walked into our own surprise party. People would hug in the stands. Either way hypothetically rational people would paint their faces and chests to sport our colors.

It was the insanity we shared.  That yearning to be a part of Halifax. To hug a stranger. To ride the energy of 20,000 people all hoping for the best. To be part of something.

Like how I was part of Beech Street and my friends were from around the corner. Like I was part of Grade 4 at Sir Charles Tupper when we would play tag football and Willie Fyles would throw it into the end zone and I would catch it and celebrate for much longer than would be considered polite. I remember when my fascination with hockey became about NHL 94. When we had our own league in first year university and I was the master of left rights. When I would battle Matt Stasyna for Super Nintendo supremacy and he became my best friend in best of seven series I would rarely win.

There is this inherent desire to come together and be a part of the place you live. This happens more sporadically as you get older. People, like myself, jump on the bandwagon when the Stanley Cup is in sight for a Canadian team. We come together when tragedy hits our city and we can’t bear to be alone. We spend a lot of time pretending we are nowhere on Subways leading us away from work back to our small enclave of friends. Where we work and we drink and we talk about TV shows. The world gets smaller as you get older. Doors open and we figure out how to close them. We aren’t as brave as adults as we were as children. We stop seeing the people on our block as extended family. We stop talking to strangers.

There is something about a sports fan that feels different from any other type of fan. They want their team to do well, they pray for it, they live a part of every day for it. When a TV show sucks we stop watching it. When the Toronto Maple Leafs suck they hope they’ll do better. We curse the screens and luck and life and we watch the next game with our hearts in our throats like children.

Who remember what it was like to play on the street and grab the net when the cars were coming . To scream in stadiums with adults and children celebrating something as meaningful and meaningless as a goal for the home team.

So I wait for my unmemorable chicken sandwich, while reading my copy of the Master and the Margarita. I fold over a page where they talk about love jumping out at a couple like a murderer with a knife and remind myself to read it to my girlfriend over the phone. To pass the time I talk about sports with the counter man. About that feeling that lets him leave work. And I feel like I’m a part of something. As small as waiting for a sandwich and large as being in Toronto.

Just talking to a stranger. Like I used to do obsessively as a child. Like an explorer. Finding all friendship that could be had on the horizon.

I don’t need to be funny or make the counter man laugh.

I only need to remember I’m a part of something.

 

 

They Play Music While They Work

Posted on | April 27, 2014 | No Comments

One of the most difficult things to admit yourself is that reality is a consensual hallucination.

Mainly because I’m not entirely certain what that means and the phrase has been buzzing through my brain for the last few days and I wanted to write it down and see if it made sense to you. I think it’s about how we all secretly believe in an objective reality and try to confirm this when we pretend our taste is a moral arbiter.  If we don’t get along with someone they are a bad person. If we don’t like enjoy our meal the food was bad. We forget that all of our experience passes through a filter colored by memory, fear and preconception. Not even naked is naked as we all have our own ideas of what is a good body and a bad body, what is a good object and a bad object and are somewhat aware of the possibility that the physical world is a test preparing us for a Paradise that is schools out for summer or the realization that all is an illusion and we reject it and climb in consciousness.

This tastes bad. This tastes good.

Yeah.

Reality is a consensual hallucination. That tastes good in my mind. I’m smart. They’ll know it.  Heady rush of ego. Slight erection. Speak more. Tell them about the music they play while they work. No. Tell them about this whole consensual hallucination thing because it feels neat to talk about.

Day to day life is a head trip without an instruction manual on how you get out of the vehicle while it’s moving so damn quickly. Your mood is chemicals falling through your brain like ink blots out your eyes and into the world. Your experience informs every speck of color that passes in front of those eyes that forget they’re tripping on chemical highs and lows and you pretend you are seeing what is not what you think it is.  People lost their virginity on September 11th. A terrorist was tortured to death on someone’s wedding day, let loose their last scream as the happy couple said I do and realized for the first time how much love they had allowed into their life. Your trip is your trip and sometimes it feels like you’re David after the dentist and you are always going to be this high or low. And then you see the insurance salesman do a little head shake to James Brown and you notice he’s typing to the time signature of the song.

There is a set of spinning cylinders, hypnotically turning, making it difficult to count the amount of circles which are actually turning. You can close your eyes and feel the spinning with your ears, because that’s what all those circles spinning do, they create music.  The words, “Baby take my hand,” plays as I watch the hand of the record player stab deeply into the first circle, as the needle rides grooves and sounds are created.  You can feel it in your chest. Sometimes in the space beneath your eyelids when you are feeling emotional and music hits your brain like an acid trip transforming where you are into what you’re listening to. And it feels like the song was put on just for you.

At the coffee shop I like going to they play music most of the time. One of the cooks will put on a song with a little smile and say something like,” I want to introduce you to a friend of mine.”  As I type this someone dances at a cook preparing a sandwich. A customer does a little shuffle back and forth, the type you feel in your feet and unreasonably make its way to your hips. A man enjoying his first beer of the day taps his thumb into his index finger.  “Just relax and watch me work,” plays.

You could see what they are doing as working in a coffee shop. Or you could see it as hanging out with friends listening to records. Some of the friends are strangers but that is easy to fix.  If someone dances even a little bit in your presence they are your friend. “It’s called the Boogaloo. I may not do the dance but what are you.”

I have to go outside when I receive a phone call about work. My job involves getting into the nitty gritty of Tax Applications for films and when I have to discuss numbers with an accountant I can’t do it inside. The music is simply too loud. My boss thinks I live at a dance party. But when I’m taking line item numbers and final cost reports the sun is on my face and the music quickly fades into the background. Sometimes when I hang up I sit down, close my eyes and focus on the feeling of heat on my eyelids. How I can feel my breath escaping my lips. And for a few minutes I let go of all the chunky clatter of the thoughts in my head.

And when I go back inside the music is playing. Like emotions blasted through a speaker, and I can feel myself falling into the experience of another person. Not just the artists blasting their soul into our ear drums, but the counter person who decided to introduce us to someone new or an old friend they’ve been missing. Sometimes the music is sad, about loss, about the desire to hit your head into a wall and bust out of your 9-5 existence, how family ties you down, how you can’t remember the last time you lived. There is something special about listening to Jeff Buckley’s Hallejuah in a restaurant full of strangers in the knowledge that everyone is remembering the last time they felt gratitude in grief or wept without shame at a funeral.

Sometimes you laugh because the music that is playing is saying I’m black and I’m proud say it loud even though no one in this restaurant is black.

Life is a consensual hallucination.

Until the music plays.

And you take someone else’s trip.

 

 

Down the Up Escalator

Posted on | April 27, 2014 | No Comments

So there he was.

At the end of a difficult journey pointing at the monster he conquered in the greatest confusion, drunk, stuttering, trying to explain what he had just been through. He was on the Eastbound platform, I was on the Westbound side. The people next to me were discussing a documentary they had recently seen. I was trying to determine why he was pointing at the escalator demanding an explanation.

Who was this modern Don Quixote?

The explanation is simple. He was drunk, not paying attention and had tried to walk down an up escalator.

Let’s rewind the evening just a little bit.

He had a few drinks. Maybe a few more than a few drinks.  Taxis are expensive and he had spent his money on fine local beer, maybe scotch maybe secret Portugese whisky stolen from a pirate ship, something to kill the thirst and make a Saturday evening feel alive. So he was going to take the subway home. Probably he wanted a Sandwich or a slice of pizza or a bucket of water he could drop down his gullet and magically transport himself to asleep. All he had to was get home. Maybe he licked his lips because he bought a whole pizza from Greco and would feast in his underwear while watching Sports Highlights, wiping pizza sauce on his thighs in the full knowledge that he could shower and become presentable before he once more fell under the eyes of the world. Yes, feasting on pizza while ingesting sports statistics can feel like a blurry eyed heaven when you have properly celebrated a Saturday.

He deserved it. He deserved it very much.

Now he remembers to get himself a transfer. Because you have to pick that up at the station where you pay your fare. He doesn’t exactly know why that is besides that the TTC have a policy and they sometimes reinforce it despite the fact that you can only get a transfer from inside a station and it makes no difference to anybody whether you get it at the same station where you leave provided you leave the station and don’t use it for re-entry.  But he has it in his sweaty palms like a golden ticket.

Home! Home to a whole pizza! To the news of whether his beloved raptors have dribbled the ball to their full potential. To hockey scores! To the most adorable errors anyone has ever made while being paid for hitting a ball with a stick or throwing it through a hoop!  If only he had gone to the bathroom at the bar. Or did he? How many times must a man use the bathroom after he has had a few drinks? And why is he thirsty? A glass of water would make him feel like a king. As he contemplates sleeping he notices that there is a west and an eastbound platform. He always takes the Eastbound to get home. But what if this time he is already East and must go West? Why does he wonder about this everytime he gets on the Subway? Why can’t he just trust himself?

So this time he debates the question with unexpected thoroughness.I am here, and home is there and how may I bridge the gap? I must go East.

And he picks the correct platform. He is on his way. And then he notices that the stairs have decided to fight him. What is he to do but fight back?  For each step he takes he is forced back another. It’s like standing still but more nauseauting. If his stomach surrenders he may cover a stranger in vomit.

What has his beloved Rob Ford made of this city of his youth?  What gravy must needs be taken off the train?  Only forty steps and he can relax. He just needs to take them. In this life nothing is given to you. You have to take it for yourself. What’s more he is a good person, who drank good local beer and has supported Toronto’s economy!  He is a patriot and he will not take this lying down. He will run at the stairs and accept the hell that may come.

At no point does it occur to him that if he stops struggling he will be taken up to the top of the escalator and he can change his mind and make a different decision. He fights because he is a fighter and you can’t lay down and take it when the bastards try to do you in!  So he is bounding the stairs. Jumping them two at a time. Feeling his feet slide off the stairs, balanced ever so precariously. He bangs his aged hips into the escalator’s side. Between grit teeth he mutters the same word three times, “FORD! FORD! FORD!” The hipsters walking past him aren’t laughing. They are listening to their music packets and bobbing their heads like he is a monkey in a zoo. I will have fuck your mothers, he thinks. Yes I will fuck them in a way they like but not as much as I like it!  I will pleasure them if I can get off this infernal contraption! I will try that method where I growl like a lion as we tussle in the sheets! They will see the beast in me, hipsters!  I will send them E cards and eventually break their hearts and you will no longer have a stepfather!  I will abandon my responsibilities to you!  Your mothers will be so heartbroken they will only eat cereal because they have no energy left to anything else. They will not be able to drive you to Thrift Shops!  I will make them listen to Macklemore until you no longer like it! Help  me! Avoid your fate!

Will our hero die on this cursed escalator to hell?

No.

He is a human. We made it to the fucking moon. We dodge bullets on battlefields. We invented cars that can deliver whole pizzas to your home in less than an hour or your money back and we also had something to do with satellites that convey sports statistics.

He finally makes it.  No one has noticed his two minute long struggle. His legs are tired. He is panting. Pointing. Wanting an explanation as to how his beloved Ford could have allowed this moment to happen.

And I understand.

Or I understand in the way I understand things.

Which is I make them about my emotional development and that rotten little smile we get when we learn that we aren’t alone in making fools of ourselves. I understand what it feels like to get on the wrong escalator. For me it is more metaphorical.

I require myself to be happy. Or at the very least well balanced and sane. For me that means knowing what I need to do to get to a place where my worries become background noise, where I’m not fighting myself for every step forward and being pushed back by the relentless tide of my thoughts. Usually I can accomplish this. Due to circumstances beyond my control I’m finding this a little more difficult lately.

It’s nothing by prewar standards. I sleep. I feel intense connection to people I love. I don’t hate myself.

It’s just that it’s quite a lot of pain and I’d prefer to get the fuck off the escalator because I’d be much more happy consuming a pizza and reading about TV shows. Ask the clay how it feels being on the lathe.  The clay has no idea its being made into art. Instead it simply asks why are you hurting me? Why are you running your sweaty palms down my flesh, breaking me, moulding me into what you want!

I have to stop with this metaphor.

I know little about clay working.

I think there might be a heat source. But that might have nothing to do with the lathe. That might involve a kiln. In Grade 9 I got the flu and puked during this particular class of Home Ec.

So back to the escalator and my desire to return home to consume cheesy poofs, pizza and the American dream.

With pain, you have to let it carry you for a while. Until the waves have finished crashing against your heart and your stomach. Because you can’t go down an up escalator. You look like a fool as you question Rob Ford and his latest decisions and why people make fun of him for being fat rather than for being stupid and who are you to comment on Ford when you are attempting to make your way down an up escalator while cursing all those that fail to understand the nobility of your decision to run away from being in pain to lessen the imagined burden you have on onlookers.

There is a difference between bravery and stupidity. And it’s hard to give credit to the poor man and his never give up attitude when if he had given up he wouldn’t have injured himself and he would have been able to eat pizza in his underwear to his heart’s content, if he had only let the stairs carry him up to the top and used his legs for the tough journey down.

In our modern era we expect life to make itself convenient to our immediate desires.

Mine is to be over this shit already.

Part of it is a guilt that comes with grief. You can’t really figure out how you are responsible. But you know that you can’t control the world. And you have some idea that you can control yourself. That you should at least be able to grasp onto the workable mechanisms in your brain and feel as you would like to. You don’t think it will be easy but there has to be a certain set of steps that will get you passed this in a reasonable time frame. If I exercise, or if I make amends for things I believe I might have done wrong, or if I give to charity, pray to God, I can cut this pain into pieces, put these ashes in my hand, take a deep inward breath and push them into the ocean where I’ll never see them again.

Unfortunately you have to go up before you can go down. I apologize for the strange mixing of metaphors, trains of thoughts and subway stations but you have to understand that the weight of your pain can pull you down into your stomach but also be the very height of your experience, the magic upon which the mundane pivots.And you have to feel it in all of it’s hurt before you can make a plan to get past it.

Your ups and downs don’t exist on an absolute scale and our two category system of good and bad involves a lot of making a fool of yourself in the hopes of heroism.

There’s always time to eat pizza in your underwear. You can do it in victory and defeat.

I will do it tonight.

 

 

 

 

The Art of Crying

Posted on | April 25, 2014 | No Comments

I’ve recently developed an emotional muscle called crying. It used to take me years to watch the right someone is dying romantic comedy to feel that spicy itchy tingle in my brain and ejaculate all over my face. Recently it’s been happening more often.  I don’t talk myself out of it. I just let it hit me and come out of me and I feel like my head isn’t so crowded. It feels strangely like taking myself into my own arms and holding myself without saying anything. Just letting the shaking happen, knowing I am there, that somehow I managed to open my heart to myself.

I remember about a year ago a friend of mine was going through a particularly tough time in his life. His idea of the future was gone and his life had changed in a few days in ways he couldn’t ignore. He was  breaking up after a long relationships and breaking up involves becoming involved in the stories you’ve told yourself and the various lies and truths that encompass a love past honeymoon.  I remember the feeling in my heart when he told me the story of the end the first time. I wanted him not to be in pain. I wanted his misery to end. Which is a beautiful feeling even when it hurts in your stomach. It’s the first futile impulse of love. To take all the hurt. To take the person in your arms and do whatever you can to make them feel better. Which ultimately is just showing that impulse. To show that they aren’t alone in their pain. And you know you can’t take it all away. That next person they become needs the rocket fuel of revelation that comes from all this pain. If you took it away they’d be empty and every stretch of good we get comes from our own walks through hell and you know this and it doesn’t matter to you like it doesn’t matter to them. And it’s next to impossible to give someone a solution to their problems. All you can really say is I’ve been lost too and I found my way back and I’m fucked up, and I have ups and downs and do things I regret and have less control over my life than I want but I know you. There is no reason to feel shame. This walk is part of the human condition and we all take it at different times in our life.

He did this thing I admire. He cried in front of me without embarrassment or explanation. I somehow managed to not say anything, to just watch, to let him feel it without trying to make him feel better. The end of a relationship is a time when we idealize what we use to have, when we live in what once was, riding feelings that no longer breath or blink. It’s a time of delusion.He looked head on into that storm and he cried. Like a man I wished I could be. He was so honest with everything that he felt. And it passed through him to become beautiful things. Like the friendship we had during that time. Like the new healthier relationship he entered afterwards. And we’d talk on the phone for hours a day until he didn’t need that anymore. And I got to be there for him in the realest way possible.

Sometimes we are terrified of letting the people in our lives suffer along with us. That we will do anything to keep them from feeling our pain. Yet some of the most precious moments in my life was the privelege of being there when I was needed. Of showing what my love meant.

I have never been good at being emotionally vulnerable. I often forget the privelege you offer someone when you’re in pain, when you rely on them when you need something you can’t give yourself yet.

Because being emotionally vulnerable involves admitting that you have flaws, that you make mistakes and you ask to be loved in spite of that. And my mental highs and lows have always been tied into an essential narcissism. This belief that through achievement I would find happiness. That for some reason love for me would be extremely conditional. That if I didn’t reach a certain standard I would be beneath love. So I strove to be perfect. And if you work hard enough you can make sure no one really knows you, and if they don’t know you they can’t love you and you are alone because you didn’t show was behind all that charm. When I was sick I was forced to understand that love wasn’t actually like that.

That sometimes you need your parents. Sometimes you need your friends to tell you that you’re a good person. You can’t do it all yourself. That being vulnerable isn’t being weak. It’s opening your heart to other people. It’s opening your heart to yourself. After the fire I thought I was fine. Shock can last a long time and you can focus on the things you can control so hard that you get hard on yourself and hard on the other people in your life who are going through their own problems.

I realized that the love I had towards myself needed to be much more similar to the love I have for other people. I don’t love them because they’re perfect, it’s because you know what it’s like to be weighed down and no one can lift all the weight themselves and there is something about them that connects to something in you. In someway knowing this person makes you better.  And when they let you see their pain, you realize that  life is hard for them and you love them and you want to make it easier. Think of how beautiful it is that there are people in the world who want you to not suffer.Who want you to be happy to the extent that they will take the part of your weight that they are allowed to carry.

I can remember moments in my own life when I saw how much I was loved.

There was my first panic attack that we thought was a heart problem. My dad was going 150 miles an hour through the streets of Halifax to get me to a hospital and I couldn’t breath in the backseat as my mother ran her hands through my hair. I knew they were scared. That my dad would act unreasonably to make sure I was okay because real love can make you go crazy. There was my girlfriend offering to come up to Toronto to help me clear out the house last Friday. There have been a lot of moments like that. Most of the real moments involve a time and place where I felt weak and needed to be reminded that the human condition isn’t a comic book.

That time with my friend is one of the most important times in my life. I was called onto be a friend and I was. I did what I could to ease his pain. This involved sleeping over at his house, talking to him on the phone ever day for months until he was able to carry the weight himself. I learned something about being a man and letting yourself have your feelings and not try to dull them with rationalizations or self help speeches. I wonder what could make a man cry like that. What would it be like to let it all go.

I know what it is. It’s the kindest you rarely allow yourself.

This morning I felt tears coming into my eyes when a different friend talked to me about his work with the Coast Guard and how long it took for him to get over losing someone on the job. This is a guy who makes his living doing cool guy shit. Who has a million and one stories about  places he has been and things he has seen. I love the stories he tells and I love when he stops telling those stories and shows his strength by admitting his feelings of weakness.

He talked about how he poured his guilt into his relationships and defined himself by what he viewed as his own failure. And he said that the most important thing had been to learn to love yourself. To treat yourself with the same compassion you give to other people. I can’t really describe why this felt so powerful to me.  He was telling me something I already knew. It wasn’t the words themselves. It was the feeling. That it was okay to be myself. That he loved me more when I needed him too.

He told me he loved me and a lot of people did and I just felt this well of gratitude in my chest. He said in life there isn’t closure. Each day you open your heart and you feel the damage and you go on anyway. You have to give up on the idea of things being the same. Of this feeling magically disappearing. The truth is that eventually you’ll feel it less and less but you’ll always feel it. And I know it’s true. Having anxiety no longer feels crippling. The things I did when I was sick don’t bother me. Some of them were embarrassing like being unable to get out of my bed and uncontrollably crying at a Chinese restaurant or struggling to sleep and needing my ex girlfriend to calm me down. Others were mistakes that made me a better person like when I learned that you can’t stop being jealous by telling yourself the feeling is beneath you or getting angry at yourself for having shitty thoughts. Like you can’t yell yourself into being calm and you aren’t alone in suffering. Everyone feels it.

It’s your admission ticket into the world’s circus.

And I sit in my favorite cafe and I watch. A cook apologize for fucking up an order. Two strangers sharing their names and telling a little bit of their story. I feel the weight of feet as they hit the ground and struggle to support a whole life’s history filled with good moments and bad. I remember what it was like when I was fat and didn’t like to look in the mirror. When I had to begin my story by telling people I had been sick because I felt like they deserved to know exactly what they were getting into. I ride the subway and see people reading advertisements because they are so exhausted they don’t want to be bothered with trying to connect. Staring into their phones waiting to hear good news.

And I remember how lucky I have been. I can feel my heart as it reached out to my friends and felt their pain and called it human, called it beautiful, called it a piece of myself that I would protect.

I rarely read these entries after I write them.

It isn’t really for the reader. It’s for myself. To remember how amazing it can be to live through hurt. To know that the time I fall down I have a record of picking myself up. Of opening my heart to myself when I needed to. Each day it gets a little easier. And the measurement needs to be written down. So I remember. That I have been in pain and I have been so incredibly happy that all of the pain added up to that pleasure I was luckily enough to feel.  Even the relationship with friends and lovers that ended gave me something and gave them something.  We aren’t alone even if we aren’t always together. We always love more than we remember.Things are always better than we imagine.

The tragedy isn’t that we die alone. It’s that sometimes we chose to live that way.

This a thank you to the people I love for letting me out of my head and into the world.

It’s a beautiful place even if the rain is falling onto concrete streets and I don’t know what path I’ll travel as my feet continue to move out of my bed and into the world.

For now the rain is falling.

It’s almost summer.

Soon I’ll get to see the things that grew in the wake of disaster.

 

 

Lynch, Lifeboats and Love

Posted on | April 22, 2014 | No Comments

I was watching the first episode of Twin Peaks, eating large chunks of dark chocolate infused with mint, and there was a moment of silence for Laura Palmer.

She’d been murdered. Wrapped in plastic.

This was followed by barroom brawls, a phone call where a father comforted his wife that her child was just fine and she was probably just out with her boyfriend and to stop worrying because there was no reason to, until he saw the cops coming to talk to him and he let the phone cord drop from his hand, and you could hear her mother screaming as she realized her baby was dead into a phone line where no one was listening and the assurances that everything would be okay had turned into silence where you can’t find words because you can’t say everything is okay, because everything is wrapped in plastic and all you ever needed is permanently outside of your grasp.

I found myself focusing on the little Lynchian details rather than the actual picture of a town swept away by grief. Like how the light Agent Cooper used to examine Laura’s body kept flickering on and off, like a strobe light, like our own eyes close when they don’t want to see what is in front of them. Like how the police secretary uses all of her words, in the hopes that she will say exactly the right thing, even if it requires saying far more than is actually necessary, even if she can’t say the words the parents needed to hear which is that it was all mistake, no one dies, parents never lose their children and friends never have to say goodbye.

But it’s all in those small details.

It occurs to me there is actually something beautiful and life affirming about a murder in a small town. In a population of 50,000 it’s entirely possible for your tragedy to be the tragedy of a whole town, you don’t live under the common grinding goals that make your pain invisible, that let your agony disappear into the details of day to day life and your singular hope that your legs are strong enough that you can run from your problems. Everyone reacts differently. Some break immediately and go into hysterics. Others joined their friend in a bar fight because that’s what you have to do sometimes. The world rarely stops to acknowledge that it is no longer whole.

Lynch began with the plan that the murder would remain unsolved throughout the entirety of his series before caving into presssure from the network. There is something  profound in that idea.

Because the things that hurt us most deeply tend not to have a tidy solution. They sneak up on us while we are sitting in our rooms, eating dark chocolate, brushing salt and vinegar crumbs and watching Twin Peaks. While we are in university dreaming that we would live forever once we grasped the secret of the universe. Inside a rut of normalcy, ready to play a chaotic groove that would change everything.

The first question people ask when I tell them about the fire is what happened. It’s hard to explain how little it actually matters, how the chain of events doesn’t explain the outcomes, how little life is an experiment or explainable down to the atomic particles. That it’s a question for a story and not for real life. In fiction fire investigators would discover a Satanic cult. Or a nefarious landlord looking for insurance money in league with crooked politicians. And when they brought the criminal to jail they would bring the world back to harmony. Only stories tend to use victims as narrative devices and their family’s grief as a way to pump the audience up for some serious ass kicking. I don’t know what caused the fire. It might have been tea lights. According to the police it was human error whatever that is. According to the fire marshals, our landlord was at fault for not having a secondary exit to the basement apartment. He won’t be a landlord anymore. This doesn’t do much for me. Punching him in the face would do even less.

You ask what happened because you don’t want it to happen to you. Only I lack the magic to prevent it. I don’t know what happened or what will happen next. That sense of certain doesn’t exist for me anymore.

The tragedy of Laura Palmer’s death isn’t that someone committed murder. It’s that someone was murdered.

In this case fire killed a person I barely knew but happened to share a home with. I can’t really speak to what this is like for her family. I know that I can feel a strange rumbling in the back of my brain when Laura’s mother cries out through the phone line dropped by her husband as she realizes her child is dead. Someone had to make that call to my roommates mother.

When I watched Fruitvale Station I started crying and couldn’t stop. When the tears first came to my eyes I thought about squeezing them out. You know show my girlfriend what a sensitive guy I was. How disgusted I was that police shoot innocent black men because they are trained to be terrified.

Then the mother saw her child and started to break down and I felt this weight crash down on me and I was swept aside in the automatic tears that come when agony can no longer hide in your body. Where you’re just bawling and breathing and you aren’t humiliated, you aren’t anything besides that feeling coming crashing down from the top of your skull to the bottom of your toes and you’re body is shaking because it needs to live and it’s hard to do when you feel death this closely but that isn’t it. It’s how incredibly powerful the love a parent feels to a child actually is. And it’s vulnerable and it’s placed in this dangerous world where anything can happen. It seems so unfair that this much passion would be bound to temporality and accident. It’s so unfair. No child can ever love their parent enough to repay all the obsession and attention and pain on our behalf. Watching Twin Peaks and Fruitvale Station I can see that love reflected in those faces as grief, like a glass poured onto the ground for no reason.  Like trying to drink from it once you have shattered it on the street in rage. And it hurts to see something that beautiful break.

And you remember that love you’ve always been seeking. The one you won’t find in any relationship after that first one. Between you and your parents when your life was more important to them than their own. The only piece of unconditional love life ever gave you and for no reason connected to your character it was taken away. To know how intense it must be to feel it towards someone and to understand how that great gift could become a permanent knife in the stomach.

And it’s worse than the idea of dying. The idea of all the pain your death would cause to the people you love and knowing there is nothing you can do to prevent.

Because my fear  of death isn’t simply that it would be the end of life or a fade to black Sopranos style. That’s the death that people waste their time being scared of. For me it’s the things left undone, the lives that are tied to mine that will be dragged into those depths with me, like a parachute tied to an anchor in the ocean. The people that would hurt so bad they would lose months and maybe years of their life wishing they could hear me rant at them in a caffeine fuelled megalomania. Because my life is precious and it belongs to other people as much as it belongs to me.

My chest hurts when I think about how much time I spent laughing in that home. Where the ceilings fell and the walls are fire scorched cavities in the mouth of hell. Everything we are exists balanced perilously between laughter and tears, and that’s why crying sounds so much like laughing but upside down, where you laugh and you feel the possibilities of life expand and you cry and you feel them contract into that hole in your chest you wanted to make into safety deposit box to keep your most valuable possessions safe.

When you’re alive you learn the trick of building on fragile foundations and you fill in holes with the dirt you used to bury things and your keeps expanding in your chest until you feel like you’re going to explode with so much life and death contained inside, rising on tides of breath where you go out to sea and desperately seek the shore.

Your death is a tragedy other people live and fill in with pictures and the sound of your voice becomes an echo, and a voice on an answering machine that someone you love listens to until your phone is disconnected and messages on your Facebook wall you never get to read and words muttered in pray to make the pain stop .

You feel the pain most viscerally in the love you still have. In the voice of my mother when I call her with tears in my voice that say I’m so happy to be alive and be able to hear your voice even when it’s shaking, even when I want something a child wants which is to be told it’s all okay and I can return to your arms whenever you want because I’m alive even if I’m hurt and I’ll be alive as long as I can because I never want you to sound like Laura’s mother on the phone when you can’t call your child and hear I love you so much that I want to be told it’s okay because you used to read Narnia to me and told me the best stories when I was a kid back when I believed everything.

I shouldn’t eat a ton of dark chocolate before I go to sleep because it means I toss and turn and wonder why my heart is beating so fast. If this might be the first panic attack I have, and I couldn’t control it because I ate too much chocolate and felt too much pain when I was looking simply to be entertained and drift off into the satisfaction of closing a door to places I don’t want to go back to. I know this doesn’t end simply because I walked out that door and the stuff left inside that house that’s mine is to be thrown in a garbage dump as a new family builds a new life on top of it.

We couldn’t catch the villain. Emergency services arrived. They got my roommate out and they got her alive all caught by television cameras that weren’t there when she died. It was an accident and accidents can’t be held accountable.

I’m not over this pain.

That’s like walking on water and I gave up on being Jesus after my twelfth birthday when angels didn’t come. I’m not under it either. I’m simply treading water as friends come by in their boats and take me into their arms and remind me how much I’m loved. As my arms, tired from all the exertion, reach towards the shore and build bridges out of sand running through water running through my palms as I try to create something beautiful to remind the people that we were there, that we are still in other places that don’t feel quite like home. That we laughed in 189 Sheridan. That Hotel Internationale threw the best New Year’s party you’ve ever seen. Where people came together in defiance of language and geography and built families ontop of plane tickets that would eventually take them home and out of my life until I needed them to arrive in my Facebook with words like I love you and I’m here for you and I won’t abandon you even when you say you’re okay and you think you’re okay and as long as you need me I need you because that’s what love is.

Life like death isn’t really about you. It’s about the people your life touches and how they touch you and how the infinity of space time closes around you when you connect. The knowledge that when we fall off cliffs other people are going to grab onto usand pretend we are flying and drag us back up to the surface when we are diving and didn’t think of how far it was to hit the water.

Sometimes it’s screaming into phonelines when you can’t reach the person you want to. Sometimes it’s just listening when someone needs to talk real fast and say things they don’t really understand yet. It can take your breath away when you realize how small the distance is between you and the people that love you.

And all I want right now is to keep writing until the waves stop crashing. Until this feeling of terrible beauty passes and I can forget again. About mothers who post pictures on Facebook of their children after they died. And I’ll remember how much I love my mother and how little I want her to carry me in her chest all the time like a bullet from a gunfight. And think of all the kids who grow up and are so alive that we forget that people ever die.

There’s children on the playgrounds. There’s my nieces in adorable pictures where they look costumed angels. My cousins are going to high school.  My friends are getting married and having kids. Every fiber of my being says the pain is worth the purchase price.One way or the other I lost my ticket and there isn’t much I can do about it.

There isn’t justice, a moral or a necessarily happy ending.The crime of why bad things happens to good people remains unsolved.  There is only life and you’re ability to see it. To not let it pass you by. To seize on the people you love and make them aware of how much your life revolves around them and how fast the world can spin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purgatory and Purgation

Posted on | April 21, 2014 | No Comments

It’s completely dark in here.

And it smells of smoke and there’s broken glass on the floor. And I’m alone and I’m taking more breaths than I need to especially when I don’t want to take any because there might be poison in there and I know what asbestos can do. I remember the last time I was in here with fire men and we were searching for my medication and they told me to take my vitamins and I was wearing two different pairs of shoes and laughing about taking my vitamins and wondering when things would get back to normal when my brain still hadn’t registered that things weren’t normal, when my downstairs neighbour had been saved and I hadn’t seen it on the news just with my eyes and didn’t realize she wasn’t going to make it, where my biggest concern was yelling at camera people and making jokes about how Alejandra stole my jacket and how I wanted the coat back because I thought it was funny to ask for it back because that is totally the wrong thing to do and it was cold outside and she was smaller than I was and I had on only my socks because when I heard Evan yelling I panicked and it was really cold outside and there was someone screaming in the alleyway and we couldn’t do anything beside scream and shatter glass and call 911 and wait and we waited and they came and then we made jokes about getting my vitamins before the detectives came into the TTC bus and looked like Mormons and we laughed with my neighbours who were on the weed and loved eachother and have a blog where he takes about what he’s learned from tantric sex and enjoys Chinese Medicine and I used to listen to his shamanic music on the deck and came to the conclusion he was a pretty nice guy and liked seeing him when I liked seeing him when I walked onto my deck during summer days which I had been doing for two years and a little more when they fire decided I’d wear the wrong shoes and search through blackened rooms for my vitamins and antidpressants.

And I’m standing there now.

Where no one has been for months. The bathroom on the second floor used to have a picture of a waterdroplet that would help when me when I overthought peeing and a mirror that looked like the Buddha where I’d watch myself taking a shit and Heidi, a girl from Lollipop Land put the Buddha there and I don’t know about the water droplet but whoever did it deserves my thanks and it survived the bathroom’s roof collapsing and the lines of smoke where I used to take showers and sing operas in languages that don’t exist. Where I stare without shaking. Still not ready to feel this yet. Life like one of those pictures you stare until you see something else, until you realize all the artistry it takes to make a picture you remember and you feel it in some place other than the surface of your eye.

I go outside and grab a flashlight from the landlord. He is awkward. This is unsurprising. He is trying to be a nice guy but it’s hard to do that when a situation thoroughly declares you are an asshole, not because you are evil but just because you let the wrong things slip past and you lost what was important and now it’s a long way away from when you didn’t have to live with those mistakes and you can’t be overly polite or jokey with your former tenant because he might take that the wrong way and punch you in the face. Because you can’t say you’re sorry for some things even if you want to.

I walk up the stairs that Clair fell down because she was a klutz and was annoyed no one saw her falling because she thinks like that are funny and we use to hang out in the kitchen but the roof collapsed and she lives in Australia and I can see Alejandra’s room through the cracks in the ceiling and I realize that if we’d been sleeping I’d be dead and the complaints I have collected wouldn’t mean shit and I would have only fallen in love once instead of twice and I’d be forgotten after people got sick of remembering me and I’d never have been able to turn 30. When I turned 30 I learned that we would be allowed into the house. A few days later I learned the insurance hadn’t come through and the landlord wouldn’t pay to have our things cleaned and if we wanted to go inside that was our choice.

And I got scared. I mean I have been scared for a long time. I think that is the mark of being an adult. The things that are both reasonable and unreasonable that terrify you into learning something about yourself and the world and the spaces in between. I mean the things that scare you always lurk behind a door you have difficulty opening or lurk in the shadows of rooms you are used to and you know they are there but you don’t want to see them so you look in another direction and when you see the shadow perched over your shoulder and you forget that small things cast large shadows, and big things can drink in your shadow until you forget you have a body and you don’t realize anything has a shadow.

I guess you could say the fire was a big thing.

So big I forget it was there.

Like why am I upset when I don’t feel guilty about what I did and I don’t regret moving into the house because it was one of the best experiences I ever had but for some reason it’s a struggle to access all those good memories even if I can talk about them and make it seem like I remember them, and how can I be upset when I feel so happy because I found someone I love that loves me and I feel lucky to be alive and I’ve felt worse than I feel now because the last time I was in this much pain I had anxiety and depression and couldn’t sleep or escape the inevitable conclusion that nothing was wrong but me. And I did all I could.

My roommate died for reasons larger and smaller than me. Fire code violations or candles, accidents, human error, whatever that means, but I sometimes look at her mother’s web page for her daughter and it makes my heart hurt and I check it out because I want to remember how badly things like this hurt because I don’t feel the hurt in an upfront way. I do it behind my back. I feel anxiety about things that aren’t related and I work and I work on finishing work for my job and giving feed back on the latest edit of the movie Lemonade and Lye, which happens to take place in the house which I’m standing in, that I used to live in before the fire.

Dan joins me. He directed the movie. His equipment is in my room. He told me he didn’t care about his equipment. He cared about me. That meant something.

Soon it will also be his girlfriend too and we’ll start packing away all the equipment which seems to be in good condition. My friend Lauren is coming to take me out for dinner and hold me if I lose my shit. I always take precautions. And my breathing starts to ease. There’s something about not being alone and it not being dark when I tear down the film blacks on the window and I realize the sun came out a few minutes after I began going through my room.

I start thinking about all of the little ironies involved in the last months of my life. About how the movie begins and ends with a suitcase being packed. And my new suitcase is what I’ll carry my remaining items out of the house with. Which won’t include the other suitcase because it smells like a campfire. And there was a picture of New York on the wall and it’s cracked maybe from the heat of the fire and I can tear a building off with my finger and let fall to the ground next to the broken glass. I use to meditate on the bed in my underwear and think of my problems and let them go and grab them when I was going to sleep like a warm blanket to remind me that I had survived my depression and I was more than my pain even if I could keep it as I fell asleep and let go of it when I woke up. And I remember we made a movie here and it was one of the happiest times of life hearing my words coming out of actors mouths when it sounded right and I knew I was doing what I was meant to do with my life and I made it myself with the help of my friends. And one of those friends is with me. Cleaning up the mess. And I watched that movie as I clutched my unresolved fears deep into my chest on friend’s couches and in new apartments that weren’t quite home.

My mind starts to slow. My hands are covered in ash but I can wash them. Not in the bathroom where I used to struggle to pee when I overthought the process and the kitchen where I ate yogurt barely exists as a room and I can see Alejandra’s room through the kitchen ceiling.

Only a few more times up and down the stairs. Where I fell once and Claire wasn’t there to see it.

Just a few more minutes.

Collecting my passport.  And the Nazi coin a friend gave me because they thought it would be funny to give a Nazi coin to a Jew because they found things like that funny.

I can go anywhere. I can go to New York. I can write in new rooms and my favorite coffee shops and in my girlfriend’s house in Ottawa where there is a couch where everything made sense because when I was in more pain than I thought imaginable I found her and we fell so deeply in love everything felt like it added up. I had to get sick and lose my mind to love myself like a person rather than like an idea or a story where I was a hero which meant all of my bad actions were unforgivable unlike the way I loved her where her mistakes added up to all the places she built an incredible person. It was in this house I let go of all the pain I accumulated at 25 that made sense at 29 and a half when I was sitting on her couch listening to breath and smelling her neck to remember that she was real and I was real and it was amazing that I got to be alive.

Since the fire I have been working hard to keep it together. Sometimes this meant writing until my hands hurt. Sometimes it meant calling her at midnight and talking until two in the morning just so I could remember the couch and how she smelled when I held her little body in my arms and addition added up to me being alive and in love.  Getting back the equipment and my passsport were the last thing I had to do.

I have this fantasy. It’s a mundane one for someone who has as big of an imagination as I do. You’d think I’d imagine happiness as fireworks and gunfights and balloons falling in their thousands and Hollywood premiers and saving the day and saying the most clever thing I could think of but that has nothing to do with my fantasy.

It happened shortly after I emerged into the sunshine. A little bit after we packed my remaining items and the film equipment in Dan’s car. After I entered my new house which I got because 6 weeks without a home was too much. After I laid down my suitcase in my room, and I put my clothes in the washer.

It is a shower. Where I didn’t have to do anything else. Where all I had to do was be myself and let myself feel this. Not just luck. But pain. Such intense pain. Where you didn’t make a choice and life changed around you and somehow you were still alive to make the changes you wanted and become the person you wanted to be. Which wasn’t a hero. Which wasn’t a victim.  Which was simply a person who didn’t have anything left to do to be worth loving. Who could relax and not be an ideal.

Under the hot shower my hands wipe free of ash.

Taking a deep breath I go with my friend Lauren to get a bite to eat.

A fire engine rolls down my street. Slowly. Like it’s going to stop at my new house and a laugh creeps from my stomach into my throat. I turn the corner and watch it slowly inch past my house on the way to some other Emergency.

And I’m okay.

All I have to do is feel this.

And I’m alive.

And there’s nothing left to do but live.

The Chairs On The Deck

Posted on | April 6, 2014 | No Comments

There is something about the chairs on the deck which bother me.

Maybe because they are the only piece of the house which seemingly has no idea that things have changed. Not that chairs have thought or objects can experience recognition but clearly the windows have been boarded up, that gigantic blue metal box wasn’t there before and the police caution tape is only left at the scene of crimes or tragedy. Yet the chairs on the deck look exactly the same.

What’s more they didn’t belong on the deck in the first place!  We had wooden deck chairs that were slowly eroded away by a million conversations and cigarette breaks and eventually they had to be thrown off the deck onto our concrete front  lawn lest someone foolishly assume they were still practical sitting devices.Then we brought out the kitchen chairs because we needed some place to sit.

And there they remain. Waiting for us to come back and have a seat.

It’s not just the chairs that look wrong. There are garbage bags behind the blue cage and caution tape. I think it’s the last round of garbage from November, placed outside shortly before the fire.  For six months no one has thought to pick it up. And there is some broken electronic device strewn across the concrete where I smashed the chairs for public safety.

I remember last year when the winter broke and the first false summer came. When you could pretend there wouldn’t be a snow storm in a week.

Clare and I were drinking coffee. We were probably making fun of eachother as that was the basis of our relationship. That and tea at 4 in the morning.  And we started playing this weird game, where there was one place on the deck that was placed directly in the sunlight and we didn’t want to sit there. At a certain point in the day sitting in that chair meant you were going to be temporarily blinded and most definitely sun burnt. We were aware that this time of the day was coming and I had purposefully chosen the chair that wouldn’t get me blinded.

Clare was also aware of this. Her campaign to change this began with an innocuous request. She got me to move my feet slightly down the railing, where I rested my feet when I was sitting on the deck, most likely with a laptop perched on my legs. So I moved. And then I was asked to move a little more and I did. By the end of  a half hour period she had moved directly into the path of the sun.

It was a few months later that we said goodbye in the parking lot. We had become best friends and knew we would likely fade from eachother’s life completely. We hugged, felt emotional and moved onto different lives. This is what happens when you travel. This is what happens when your home is a hotel and everyone comes from a different country and different people sit on the deck every six months to a year unless you’re Mike Kimber and you have difficulty saying goodbye to meaningful places.You make a best friend and they never hold the same place in your life again because most people aren’t good at staying in touch and I’m especially bad at it. But you have that time and it means the world.

When I’m in Halifax I swing by 2533 Beech Street to look at a different deck. I lived there for eighteen years and when I see it I remember lost times.  As you get older you forget your childhood. You don’t mean to, it just happens. Key events survive because they became stories and you talk about them enough that some semblance of memory continues. 2533 Beech used to be red and white. Now it’s blue and white and I have to say it looks stupid. Mainly because it doesn’t look the same. I can still remember the lessons I learned there. Like don’t trust your brother. He didn’t really poison you. He just made you think he poisoned you. And of course people aren’t really being murdered in your house. You’re six years old and your brothers friends came up with a very clever idea. But eventually you learn lessons your parents and siblings can’t teach you. You start letting the shitty parts of yourself go.

Most of these lessons have happened in the last five years. Manic love to mature love. Halifax to Toronto. 25 to 30. Inconsiderate nice guy to someone with a vague conception of how important the things that don’t matter to you can matter to other people. The realization that life isn’t just doing what you want, it actively involves realizing how your life impacts the people in it.

And many of those lessons came at 189 Sheridan. When I arrived in Toronto I was clinging to the past. All of my writing was based in the last time I fell in love and my heart hadn’t really moved on. I was writing about my mental breakdown and trying to make some sort of career as a mental health advocate. My whole life was based around reliving the first time I really lived. When I moved into Sheridan I felt like I was a shitty roommate, Toronto didn’t feel like my home and my real life was back in Halifax.

Then I was playing late night hockey in the schoolyard next door with Heidi, Loic, Kevin, Mayumi and Alex. We didn’t have enough sticks and we had too much alcohol. Heidi was playing like it was soccer as we didn’t have a stick she could use and I was acutely conscious of not hitting her with the stick. And despite the rum and cokes I was pretty good at it. I could remember those days in front of 2533 playing with my childhood best friends, pretending it was the Stanley Cup.

And it felt like I was in the right place. The right place to go to karaoke at the Abbey with my old roommate Jennica and the Midnight Beefeaters. And I was at a New Years party at my house where I was the only one from Canada. And I was on a great adventure. And on Christmas break Heidi’s visa ran out and she went back to Lollipop Land. And within four months the first family was gone and Evan moved in.

Evan and Alex were both personal trainers and my first real conversation with Evan was on my birthday as we ate the cake Mayumi made for me. We had nothing in common. He was into sports and I was into reading and I had little suspicion he would become like a little brother to me. Evan was there for eighteen months. I watched him grow from a child to a man in that time.And somehow he got me into basketball. And yelling. Evan and I are both very loud. We once had a competition to see who’s voice would carry the longest from the deck. It was a tie. Both of us could make ourselves heard to the end of the next block.

And new people moved in.  There was Pedro from Spain and his girlfriend and his dreams of being an architect. Carolina and her love of fashion and dancing.  Marketa and her beer.  Kotsy and his hilarious policy of drinking three beers and passing it out with the door still open. Our Rwandan roommate who liked to eat eggs and was only seen in brief moments when he left the house.   Then Clare moved in and it was three months before she opened the door and became my friend. Matthew, the American and his quickly leaving due to hating the fuck out of the place and his attempt to give our landlord a heart attack through sheer aggression.

And then Alejandra moved in. Our first real conversation was on the deck. She learned that I was working on a documentary about biological weapons and wanted to talk about science. She knew far more about it than I did. And at the end of the conversation she went inside because she had forgotten something important about the make up of DNA and wanted to remember it.She liked to knit on the deck. Marketa liked to yell at kids during Canada Day celebrations when they laughed and blew up fire works to celebrate their patriotism.

Nino and I also became friends on the deck. We talked about trying to make it in art and how much longer it took to reach financial security and how we wanted to make our living doing what we loved.  Then Nicola moved in, in an attempt to leave Italy and find a country where he could love as he wished and started a campaign to stay in Canada. He had this bizarre love of asking if he could ask a question before he asked it. And playing psychological games that involved four questions and somehow told our future. Charlotte and Nicola got into fights on the deck about burlesque and politics. And then Alessandro arrived amidst the worst rain Toronto has seen in a decade and when I met him his hair wasn’t properly geled and that would be the last time that happened.

So much of what the house was happened on that deck. Sitting in the chairs I would eventually smash and the kitchen chairs that didn’t belong. And unlike many memories I can’t let go of them. Because the house burned down and we didn’t get to leave the deck when we wanted to. Like a lost love that moved on before you did. And it was on the same stretch of sidewalk where I said goodbye to Clare that I’d say goodbye to the house and the one who roommate who didn’t escape the fire.

I don’t think I can let those deck chairs go. Mainly because they remain in a state of permanent stasis. Like they are waiting to be edged out of sunlight when this winter finally breaks. Like I could sit down on one, close my eyes and my entire life would be different. Where three hundred of my books lay sprawled out in a room that still looks like a film set. In the kitchen where I had my first date with the girl I loved.

Now it’s been a little less than six months since the fire.

Tomorrow is Nino’s last night.  He gets on a plane and he goes back to Germany and we’ll have some beer and burgers and he’ll always be a good friend of mine. Because he was there the night we walked away from that house. Because of the conversations we had on that deck.

I wish we had spent the last six months on the deck with him complaining about how cold he was and me raving drunk on medium roast coffee. I love that neighborhood. I loved that house.

I want to sit on those deck chairs.

Some places you don’t get to go back. Some places you never forget.

Someplaces will always be home.

Cellphones

Posted on | April 2, 2014 | 2 Comments

It’s so easy to be clever while you’re complaining. Sound exasperated. Word your complaints in a way that induces laughter and head nodding. There are so many reasons to look at the world and say no. To look at the world and ask for your piece of it. To crave the applause when it gets cold outside and you don’t want to leave your covers.

You spend your day watching people complain about their personal lives via some current event they have become particularly attached to. When someone dies you have to say something because silence isn’t something that is respected. In this world everyone needs to have their input on everything. We are all connected. Part of respect was knowing the degree to which we are connected. When my house burnt down 300 people wrote on my wall. Some of them made me cry. Some of them said words like OMG condolences.

My dad told me it didn’t matter if they used emotions or knew me. Strangers offered me a place on their couch. All the people offering to help me made my parents cry. They got an inkling of what sort of son they had. And I realized I made mistakes but I lived with a lot more love than I ever imagined.

And it’s easy to see the world as some sort of involuntary daisy chain connected by hands holding cellphones and eyes avoiding contact.

This story isn’t about that.

I was talking myself into being irritated on the bus. It was crowded. All I could hear was a man yelling into his phone pardon me, pardon and about dozen people ignoring him checking for text messages.  And I felt it in my chest. That isolation. That feeling that humanity turned a corner and all we found was a mirror on the otherside. That desire to push him on the bus and cackle like Dennis Hopper in Speed.

Only I want to talk about my phone. It’s the worst on the market. It’s also better than my last phone which was recently discontinued as they no longer wanted to make a charger for it.That was the previous worst phone on the market.

Let’s take a step back. Go to Facebook.

It was October 28th, 2013 and I checked my Facebook private messages.  I check it so often one girl I dated referred to it as my girlfriend. This time it was a letter from the ether from a girl I liked about a million years ago. At that point she had an actual boyfriend. I found this out when I asked for a kiss and was told that she had a boyfriend and a cold. At some point I met her again and told her that one day she would break up with her boyfriend and we would have some fun. I was drunk. it was one of the best things I have ever said when I was drunk.

And I got her message and I felt like a door was opening. Not wide. Just enough that I could put my foot in.

She didn’t live in my city. There is something relaxing in hoping for something totally impossible. Because you can’t get it. It doesn’t hurt to hope.

I did all the wrong things because that’s what I like to do on a date. It had been seven years since I asked for a kiss. It was about seven seconds before I kissed her. I don’t think we’d said hello. It was mostly tongue on teeth.  I’m not one for patience. And this sort of forward behavior may have confused my intentions somewhat.

I made her dinner in my cramped second floor kitchen. I still lived at Sheridan Avenue. It was a few weeks before the fire. A few years ago I found  a Craigs List add for the place. I signed the lease and suspected I was in for a brief foray into hell. I mean what else could happen when you live with strangers?

Most of these strangers left my life when they were deported. When they were in my life they were some of the bestfriends I’ve ever had. People I never would have met if not for a Craig’s List add. Who wouldn’t have been able to come here before airlines made flights affordable. Before modern technology invited them into my life. There are memories in that house that a fire couldn’t burn away. There was the New Years where foreign exchange students danced the Macarana and we had representatives from almost every country in the world. There were hockey sticks for midnight games in the dead of winter. A thousand conversations on the deck. There were friendships that made a shithole a home.

The dinner wasn’t great. But it had steak. My customary salad made of good ingredients so it had to be good. I was embarrassed as I did the dishes because I’m not particularly good at doing dishes. It was November 8th or 9th and it had just started to get cold.We went for a long walk, kissed in a park and wished that it was a little more convenient to go on a second date. We both realized that the second date probably wasn’t going to happen.

It was freezing cold. She liked the outdoors and my forward behavior of kissing her in the first seven seconds led her to the wise choice of not watching a movie in my bedroom. I walked her back to the place she was staying and I walked home.

On the way home I talked to my friend about how nice the date had been. How I regretted that it was going nowhere. Two days later I got a text message on a phone so terrible it no longer exists. She wanted meet her at the trainstation before she went to Ottawa. I was hungover from a karaoke night that involved a birthday party where a baby had been invited.

I went. It was gross. We held hands and kissed and it felt like we had been dating for years. I would go into details but you would vomit. And I said I’d visit her. I don’t know why I said this. It was unrealistic. Impossible. Exactly what I wanted.

We emailed. I wrote a couple of the emails drunk and they were filled with spelling mistakes taking away from my selling point of being an articulate writer with wild hair and a gorgeous beard. She wrote me back. Recommended a weirdly awesome movie she wanted me to watch. The type of small talk that makes the world feel big.

Friends told me about their success with long distance relationships.

And then 10 days later my house was on fire.

Completely in shock, in the most horrifying moments of my life, I sent her a text message. I wanted her to know I was safe.

She had a dream about a fire. We talked at eight in the morning outside the Starbucks when I hadn’t done any sleeping and my clothes smelled like fire. I don’t really remember what I said. I know I didn’t cry even if I wanted to.

For the next month we talked on the phone. Most of the time it was a safe place to go when nothing felt safe. When I didn’t have a home. When every day I’d recieve a phone call or an email and things would get worse. When I found out Alisha died I left a phone message on her machine.

I’m shit at breaking bad news. It always sounds like a joke. I think I just said that she was dead without explaining who, repeated myself and hung up.

She called me back while I was out getting new Blundstones as I lost my footwear and pretty much all of my belongings in the fire. Somehow she made me feel better. I think it was a combination of her being glad to hear from me and the fact that we laughed even when I felt so hurt that I could barely feel a thing.

I’d seen her twice in seven years and I lived for the moments I got to talk to her on my shitty phone. Just before bed. In someone’s else’s house. Usually with some variety of shitty news and a lot of fast coffee talk.

Now I see her for about a week every month.We travel by airplane, we travel by train but mostly we talk on the phone. People talk about long distance relationships like they talk about cellphones. A way to be with someone without being with them.

One day I broke my charger and tried desperately to get a replacement. Because I didn’t want to go for a night without hearing her voice and making her laugh. Hating Android phones I got another shitty phone, the cheapest they had at Future Shop.

Without my shitty phone and it’s unlimited long distance plan we wouldn’t be able to talk. And our conversations are great. The type that feel like home. And I texted her when my life fell apart. And I call her when I want to tell her I love her before she goes to sleep on nights she has to be up early.

And the first time I told her I loved her I did it on the phone. She had a stopover in Toronto and there was a snowstorm. It seemed unlikely that I’d get to see her and the idea that I loved her had been dancing in my brain too long. I had to say it. She didn’t. She is the type who likes to write letters and say things in person. And the plane landed and she was in Toronto for a couple days. And she said it.

And I watch people on the bus checking their text messages and not talking to eachother. Desperately trying to find an outlet in a coffee shop. And I don’t hate them. Maybe they are just waiting to get a message like the one that ended up in my Facebook on October 28th, 2013.  Maybe we connect in different ways than we did when we were kids. Maybe a generation won’t know how to spell and will tell us their feelings using emoticons. Maybe that angry post on my feed is just a desperate desire for some thought or feeling that will point them in the direction of the next place they can feel safe. But we are all trying to find something. And sometimes it isn’t located in the most convenient place. Sometimes the people you love and need don’t live on your block.

It’s so easy to get lost.

To post selfies and pretend that all that matters in the world is what people think of you.

And you can forget how much love there is in the world just waiting to happen between strangers. How far they will go for you because that’s people’s natural inclination.  We want to love eachother. And sometimes we wait for the love to arrive instead of sending it blasting into the world. Strangers offered me their couch.

Without my phone I wouldn’t be able to call her and say I’m on her doorstep, come kiss the bearded man.

We don’t connect the way we used to.

Maybe that isn’t always a bad thing.

Because without my phone I wouldn’t be in love.

It’s the shittiest phone on the market.

And it lets me hear her laugh.

It works.

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  • About

    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on twitter.com/colonyoflosersand twitter.com/quimbo. If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

    Really obvious disclaimer:
    I’m not a trained psychologist. Just a fellow traveler. If you need help seek it from the professionals. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a help locator. You can find crisis resources provided by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. If you are in the states check here. It will give you services by zip code. I’d also recommend checking out Mindyourmind.ca. I think they do great work and have been a help to me personally.

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