I have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters -George A. Romero
Losing George last week was pretty devastating, I must say, but revisiting his films and reading interviews really got me thinking about zombies, monsters, and scary shit in the context of my own life. You see, I'm in the process of walking through hell. It's been a long walk, and it's nowhere near over. It all began because I had developed a habit of running. Running away from everything, even myself.
When I was a kid, maybe 8 years old, I was winning a race, but faked an injury near the end to ensure that I would not win. I'm sure that seems really weird and maybe even stupid. The part that bothers me the most is that it hasn't stopped happening. Self-sabotage. I guess that's what it is, but it goes beyond that. It's about fear. Fear of failure and fear of success. I kind of remember being in that moment; I recall running pretty fast and having a fair lead, and all these people, mostly kids, screaming. I was supposed to run through this specific area at the end and panicked a bit because I couldn't seem to figure it out. I don't think it was all that hard, but I was so afraid of making a mistake. That's part of it, and the other part was me being super awkward about the idea of winning something. I had very little experience with success and I honestly think I was too overwhelmed to cope. In the end, I let a runner pass, then another, and I consciously decided to come in third. Third is respectable, and didn't really warrant as much attention. I want to give myself credit for finishing the race, and also not hate on my behaviour, but I still shake my head when it comes to mind and think what the fuck?!
I brought that race up in a recent counselling session and, frankly, my therapist didn't seem all that surprised. I suppose that's because she's been given a small window into my past and has somehow found a way to piece things together. I never learned how to handle success or failure, or really much of anything useful when I was a child, and it's not so easy to teach yourself that stuff as an adult. Having said that, it's not impossible. The scary part is that you have to stop running. You must turn around and face the monsters because they are not going anywhere. They will continue to pursue, just like in the movies, and if you want to survive you're going to have to fight. After all, what character in a horror movie actually escapes by running alone? What happens, though, when you turn around, baseball bat clenched in hand (or machete or whatever) in preparation for the bloody battle, and you just see yourself?
That image also surfaced in a counselling session. My therapist likes to use scary analogies due to my love of horror. She's the best. Anyway, she told me to picture myself running away as fast as I can from the scariest monster imaginable but I begin to grow tired and lose speed. Eventually it becomes apparent that I cannot outrun this monster, so I decide to turn around and fight. When I turn around, I realize that it's actually just me as a child. I'm a mess, covered in dirt and blood, and I'm crying. As easy as it is to get pissed off at the childhood me--to yell at her, even push her down and maybe run away again--that won't stop her from crying, from chasing, from needing my help. As difficult, annoying and painful as it is, the only way to make her go away is to show her some love. To reach out my hand and say come on, let's go. It'll be OK.
Because it will be. Sometimes we become so accustomed to the darkness that we forget there's light. We become so preoccupied with the monsters that we aren't able to see that often those monsters are just us. That's what I always loved about Romero's zombies, the fact that they were so interchangeable with the living, and sometimes not nearly as scary. The ending to Night of the Living Dead immediately comes to mind. George Romero once said that, "if you can change one thing, everything will change." I am currently going through some pretty big changes and feeling incredibly thrown and lost and uncertain and scared and a lot of other things, too. I wanted to share this in hopes that I can reach even one person who feels equally displaced and confused, to tell them that somehow everything will be alright. I suppose maybe I'm also writing this to tell myself the same thing. To convince myself that I will emerge from the darkness and that I will be able to recognize myself, even if the me I see is a child covered in dirt, blood and tears.
I dedicate this post to George, and to anyone else who's running, fighting or hiding. Remember that you are not alone, even if you're only in the company of monsters.
This photo was taken at the edge of Ross Bay Cemetery, my favourite place to escape to on a hot summer's evening. It's quiet and tranquil and people, for the most part, wear clothing there.
That's my biggest pet peeve about summer, other than the heat--nakedness. Shirtless men and naked feet irk me endlessly. Even worse are the countless shirtless shoe-less men who stare at you like you're supposed to acknowledge the fact that they're there. Believe me, I know. I'm just trying to pretend that I don't.
It seems that, for most people, summer is the greatest time of year. The time when they have the most energy and the most fun. For me, it's when I have the most frequent bouts of anxiety and the most difficult time picking an outfit. Also, it's a time of longing for those cold dark days when I get cozy in blankets and watch episodes of one of my favourite childhood television shows, The Little Vampire. Of course I can watch it now, but Rudiger just seems all wrong in the summer. He deserves the darkness, as do I. I'm such a goth kid at heart.
Having said all that, as I sit here in my jean shorts and sleeveless plaid shirt with my hair in pigtails, I cannot help but think about my favourite part of high school (other than skipping out, doing hot knives and binge watching Maury): line dancing! I remember me and my friends getting pumped to show off our moves in that gymnasium, amidst the "cool" kids standing around looking pissed off. It was probably the only time I actually went to gym class. I just discovered that the Duke Saloon has line dancing every other Saturday, so as soon as I kick this bug I've got, I'm dragging some of y'all out with me for a boot scootin' good time. Bring on the Brooks & Dunn, Billy Ray and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 'cause this closet hick needs to drink some bad whiskey with bad people and do some bad things (like dancing in public). Maybe the summer's got something for me after all. I will leave you with my favourite song to line dance to. If you went to high school with me, you will no doubt remember this one blaring in the gym. I think I'm going to make it my new summer anthem.
Last Saturday was a bastard, or so I thought.
That morning, I threw my back out to the point where I couldn't walk and could barely move. I was getting ready to go to the local market to meet up with friends and have a nice relaxing time. I bent down to pick up my purse and that's when it struck...unbelievable agony. Everything seized up. It was as though someone with a voodoo doll jabbed a big old pin right into my low back and another into my hips, simultaneously.
I tried to focus on my breathing and relax my muscles, but it wasn't working. I was done for. No fun. No friends. No market. Only pain.
The next two days consisted mostly of bed rest, painkillers, ice, heat, and gentle massage (thanks, James). I considered going to a doctor or the hospital, but realized that that would mean sitting or standing around for several hours, and that did not sound like a good plan.
While lying in bed, all sorts of thoughts and feelings flooded in. I was going to have a nice weekend. I was going to get out in nature, see friends, work on creative projects like writing and painting, and be productive. Now what?
I had to accept that there wasn't much I could do. I had to stay in bed, on a super hot weekend, no less. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I did, however, have one choice--how I would respond to the situation.
At the beginning of this year, I read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. If you haven't read it, I suggest that you do. In his book, Frankl (a Jewish psychologist) discusses his experience as a prisoner in concentration camps during WWII. What Frankl suggests is that we have the power to endure any suffering, as long as we find meaning within that suffering. Now, I'm not comparing my back injury to the Holocaust, but Frankl's message of changing one's perspective can certainly be applied to various circumstances.
Frankl wrote, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." Interestingly, I came across Man's Search for Meaning while going through some difficult health challenges. I had also been listening to various podcasts on self care, and was working on making changes in order to reduce stress and anxiety. I see now that, while I was taking in all of this information, I wasn't really listening.
One of my favourite podcasts, Anxiety Slayers, often discusses pain and anxiety and how resisting things only makes them persist. I've been ignoring chronic back pain for a long time, and look where it got me. This attitude of "sucking it up" and "pushing through" can lead to serious problems and, unfortunately, slowing down is often considered lazy. We actually feel guilty about taking a break sometimes. I'm beginning to wonder if that's what brought on the panic. Yes, there was the acute pain, but also the feeling of not being able to do things made me tense up and freak out!
When I finally began to accept my situation, the intense pain became white noise. It faded into the background a bit. Plus, I spent most of the weekend hopped up on painkillers and eating chips and pizza in bed while watching countless episodes of The Joy of Painting on Netflix. I wasn't painting, but I was watching Bob Ross paint, and that in itself is pretty awesome.
It's not just his paintings, though, Bob Ross offers all kinds of wisdom and insight about animals, nature, encouragement and simplicity--truly inspiring stuff. But it wasn't always that way.
A handsome young Ross
Although he became synonymous with painting beautiful landscapes and "happy trees," Bob Ross used to be a master sergeant in the Air Force. He was known for being a hard-ass. "I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it."
So even Bob Ross had to work on changing his attitude, and look what he did! He created a peaceful, gentle existence. A world where animals and trees are friends, and it's okay to be weird. A world where "there are no mistakes, only happy accidents."
I hope that all makes sense. I'm still working on my first cup of coffee and haven't taken my first painkiller. But, hey, I'm already writing, so the day can't be all that bad.
"The simple past is a verb tense indicating action that occurred in the past and which does not extend into the present."
"The present perfect is a grammatical combination of the present tense and the perfect aspect that is used to express a past event that has present consequences."
If only my past were so simple and my present, less... perfect...?
I've likely written something along these lines in an earlier post, so I apologize for any repetition, but lately my mind's been wrapped up in something that happened almost two years ago, and I'm trying to figure out which thread to pull. How to make it un-happen. Upon revisiting this shit storm, I've come to realize that this isn't the first disaster I've been perpetually trapped in.
It goes against everything I've been reading about "being mindful" and "being in the moment" and completely makes me feel like shit about myself for not being able to achieve this enlightened state of "awareness." Kinda scary that the mere act of being present in a given situation is often considered to be an enlightened condition.
Lately, even my dreams won't give it a rest. I could think about anything I want, but yet I'm haunted by the same apparitions that follow me in my waking life. It's so ridiculous that it's almost laughable. Almost. Like, I could be having sex with the devil, and I'm standing here in this kitchen having an argument with you?! Come on, mind!
In an anthropology class titled The Prehistory of Pacific Peoples, I learned of a civilization that purposed the past to be in front of us, the future behind. We can see what's happened, but cannot see what hasn't. Makes sense. This belief suggests that the past is always there. It cannot be erased or forgotten, but rather is there to remind us--to inform. What happens, though, when it's so present that it's blinding? What's it trying to tell you then? Deal with it?
Maybe that's part of the problem--trying to forget but not actually dealing with it. But, exactly how does one deal with something? What does it mean to "deal?" To confront? Get angry? I've pretty much done all that. In any case, I'm wondering if anyone out there has any suggestions, aside from having a partial lobotomy. Though, I admit, that idea is tempting.
Those of you who know me well don't have to ask what the hell I'm talking about but, for the rest of you, allow me to elaborate. Many years ago I developed a sort-of obsession with anorexia. Well, I suppose it extended to people with eating disorders in general. This obsession turned into a full-blown fear.
I grew up listening to the Carpenters. In fact, they're still one of my favourite bands. There is something very lovely and melancholy about their songs, and I have always adored Karen Carpenter's voice. I also happen to think that she was absolutely beautiful. Beautiful and terrifying.
I remember flipping through Carpenters LPs as a child and coming across certain pictures of Karen that made me feel like suddenly there was an apple inside my throat--my eyes would bug out, and I would close the album. Of course, since being afraid makes me excited, I would look again. At times I would hear a terrifying sound upon seeing the images--the kind of thumping organ sounds you hear in old black and white horror films. A few years later, The Karen Carpenter Story aired on television. Of course I watched it. It gave me chills. I remember having a hard time sleeping that night. For whatever reason, for me, the image of a person with an eating disorder had become as scary as the old guy in Poltergeist II!
Now, jump forward to my awkward teen years when, for godknowswhatreason, I start seeing people with eating disorders everywhere. It seemed that, for several months, I couldn't go a day without seeing someone near death from anorexia or bulimia. It freaked me out! Just to be clear, I am not being insensitive to people suffering from these conditions, as I understand how serious and awful they are. I'm simply stating what it was like for me to feel like I was being haunted by what seemed to be the living dead.
This haunting escalated when I was 18 years old, working in a department store. I knew a girl that worked there who often spoke of her battle with bulimia. She always seemed a healthy weight to me, so I never thought much of it. Months went by without seeing her at work, and I assumed that she quit, until one day I saw what appeared to be the zombie version of her walking down the hall--gaunt face, sunken eyes and jagged bones poking out from under her clothes. I ran into her a few days later in an elevator, and I couldn't look her in the eye. I noticed her eyes darting around as well, settling on the ground as she said hello. Her voice sounded more like Gollum, probably due to the lining of her throat being damaged from puking. It was sad, and also frightening.
Later that night, while home alone in my then apartment, I had a meltdown. I was gathering laundry when I hallucinated that girl hiding in my closet. I pictured her trying to eat my arm, then I burst into hysteric tears and started shaking. I called my mom to explain what had happened. She laughed at first, because my reaction was most certainly insane, then she talked me down from the ledge.
I never saw my ill coworker again, but I still think about her. I hope she's alive, but I honestly have my doubts.
I could go on with many other stories about various encounters with people with eating disorders, but I won't. I don't have the same fear I used to. It could be because I've gotten to know some people who have suffered from these conditions and I was more occupied with being a friend than being afraid during their struggles.
The reason I'm writing this post is because I recently saw someone that means a lot to me who is clearly wasting away, due to an eating disorder. She is one of the reasons I continue writing as she always encouraged me. Her praise lifted my confidence and I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to write for and with her. Unfortunately, I spotted her in the hospital, while waiting for someone else I care about. It wasn't the time or place to approach her, but I wanted to tell her how much her kindness and encouragement helped me. I hope she already knows, and I hope that she is able to find the help she needs.
I wish I could pull that card when at a friend's (or acquaintance's) place and they bring out a board game. Recently, while hanging out chatting with two of my favourite people, I discovered that I'm not alone.
The three of us agreed that it's like suddenly the atmosphere changes, and you're forced to take part in some organized "fun" created, no doubt, because the host is worried that nobody's having any fun in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking people who enjoy board games (I happen to like a few myself) but don't put that on unsuspecting guests. Have a board game night if you're so inclined, that way all attending will show up knowing what they're in for. Personally, I would likely decline.
Although I have some fond memories of sitting around with family and friends, getting immersed in a variety of games, I prefer, as I always have, to play alone. See, I tend to view the whole "hey everyone, let's stop conversing and gather around to play" scenario as equal to cheerleaders in sports. I like sports, and I cheer, but I don't need people jumping around trying to create cheers and making sure that I'm cheering.
Then comes the anxiety of the whole situation. Here I am, presumably surrounded by people I don't know and/or kinda know, playing against them or with them, trying to win. It's like gym class all over again. And, even worse, is when you're forced into playing a game that you're not familiar with. Now you have to learn the rules and make goddamn sure you play by them, or Johnny so-and-so might call you out in front of everyone, creating a bigger scene than the game itself. And, if you think it's alright to decline to play, think again. Most people are followers, and won't tolerate someone not wanting to participate. You will be ostracized.
I remember feeling this way even with my own family. As a child, I would begrudgingly agree to participate in playing a board game, then often get discouraged or change my mind half way through, much to my family's disapproval. Being called a whiner, baby, or quitter didn't help matters. I don't believe that I was truly any of those things, but rather that I just wasn't having very much fun.
I am a personable introvert. I can be kind and even entertaining when hanging out with others, but I generally prefer to entertain myself. Often I make plans with people just to get them off my back--so they'll leave me alone and stop bugging me to go out. I actually enjoy being by myself. I know some people cannot relate to this as much. That's the other thing, I generally can't relate to most people, so social situations can suck, given that I have to work so hard at pretending to like people and act like I'm having fun. On the contrary, I enjoy hanging out in small groups with people I really like. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to happen too often.
You're all thinking I'm a bitch now, aren't you?
"I don't suppose anybody ever deliberately listens to a watch or a clock. You don't have to. You can be oblivious to the sound for a long while, then in a second of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn't hear" (William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury)
I used the above quote in an essay I wrote for an American Lit class, as it pertains to the character Quentin Compson's inability to escape his past-- the way that time and the past can sneak up and consume. Much like Quentin I, too, have a problem with evading the ticking clock of days gone by, but now it appears that I am running from an actual ticking clock--time itself.
This idea became fully realized once I noticed that I seem to have difficulty relaxing and enjoying my weekends. Why is this? I love having days off and time to myself. The thing is, I am a slave to the clock. I almost accidentally left out the "l" there, which would have been hilarious and potentially misleading. Anyway, my point is that I'm time's bitch. Rarely do I ever evade the death grip that it has on me or, rather, that I allow it to have. About a month ago, I started forcing myself to not check the time while writing in my journal (I always put the date and time at the top of the page, because I'm an OG). What I discovered, and almost immediately, is that I go crazy not knowing what time it is. It sucks! I don't want to be so rigid, and certainly don't want to be ruled by such an annoying human construction.
I'd love to put things on pause--have a Zack Morris "time out." It seems like a great idea to take down your clocks (if you actually own clocks) and put your phones away (yeah right), but the thing is, we operate according to time. I think most of us are probably unconscious of the fact that we're always on the clock. It's so ingrained that we hardly even realize what being on the clock does to us. For me, being a naturally anxious person, the movement of time--the ticking--creates a heightened state of urgency. I constantly feel like I'm losing a race. Being aware of time super-charges my anxiety; my chest gets tight and my pulse grows stronger, becoming harder to ignore. On the other hand, being unaware of time makes me feel panicked. Although, that would prove that I'm not really unaware so much as that I just don't know what time it is. So, yeah, there is it. I allow myself to be consumed by time. I rarely even hear the actual ticking of a clock, but I don't have to; it's there, waiting to pounce and devour.
This metaphor of time as predator is quite real to me, as I constantly feel the munching--teeth shredding through and snagging on thoughts and ideas, often making it impossible to enjoy the process of doing anything. If only I could become one of those characters that turns the hunter into the hunted. But, then again, that idea's pretty played out, isn't it?
I'm finally doing it--pulling my insides out and splattering them around for all to see. Here we go!