Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: When it comes roaring back.

When I learned that Robin Williams had committed suicide, a wave of rage rushed through my brain, flooding away any possibility of rational thought or discourse. I was angry--the kind of angry that leaves you shaking inarticulately, wiping away the useless tears that are clearly rivers of rage themselves, serving no purpose other than to make you a snotty, incensed mess.

Now, a day later, the anger remains. I do not feel true sadness at his loss--for me, I didn't know Robin Williams personally, so I haven't earned that right. I do not feel actual grief, either, although it could be argued that the rage is a close cousin to that emotion. No. What I feel, and what I imagine I'll continue to feel, is a tsunami of anger that has finally found its target and is keeping it in its crosshairs.

I'm talking about depression--that goddamn, pointless, terrifying condition/disease/disorder that those who've experienced before want to avoid ever meeting again at all costs.

Depression, severe, seemingly unremitting depression is akin to horror. Think of Edvard Munch's The Scream. Better yet, don't just think about it, go look at it (pictures abound, thanks to google). Look at that image for two minutes, three. Turn off any background noise and just stare. Breathe in what you see, imprint it in your mind. How does that image make you feel? Is there even a tinge of despair connected to what you see? If so, multiply that momentary feeling by hours, then days, then weeks and months. Now you have a taste of depression.

When in the midst of it, seconds tick by like water dripping from a leaky faucet, each miniscule moment in time suddenly lengthened and highlighted, as if to taunt you. This will never be over. You are stuck in this horror. No one else can touch you the way this new horror touches you. Regardless of medication/psychotherapy/exercise/the kindness of others, you will be locked in this endless, mundane hell forever. This will never be done.

And then, if you're lucky, this horror spits you back out to normal life once more. Perhaps you return to "normal" more resilient than before and eager to embrace the world, but more than likely you have developed a somewhat cautious, not quite so trusting, do-I-need-to-look-over-my-shoulder? mentality. More than likely, you have attempted to shore up your renewed mental health by continuing to utilize the resources that helped you return to normal (or almost normal) in the first place--therapy check-ins, a maintenance dose of psychotropic medication, regular exercise, sleep, a proper diet, and above all, life balance.

If you're like many of us, the do-I-need-to-look-over-my-shoulder? mentality may eventually ebb, at least a bit. Like a new mother, you may eventually forget the extreme pain of labour, and begin to put your focus where it should be--on living your life.

Unfortunately, when it comes to depression, what seems to have receded into your past like an almost forgotten nightmare often comes roaring back. For at least 50% of us, following a first depressive episode, it comes roaring back.

Goddamn it to hell. Fuck. No, please, please, please, please, I'm begging. Please, no.

But there it is, and there you are, stuck once again in The Scream, locked in those thoughts that keep spiraling, telling you that This will never be over. You are stuck in this horror. No one else can touch you the way this new horror touches you. This will never be done.

Once again, you attempt to pool whatever personal strength you still possess to fight this invisible, all pervasive foe. Once again, you pull out the big guns, and if you're lucky, they work, at least well enough to make the monster under your bed slip away once more.

After this second episode, the do-I-need-to-look-over-my-shoulder? mentality may never go away. You are not stupid or naive. You were tricked once, but it'll take a lot more to be tricked again. And, if you're like the majority of those who've experienced at least two depressive episodes, you'll someday get sucked into another, and perhaps yet another.

Goddamn it to hell. Fuck. No, please, please, please, please, I'm begging. Please, no.

Some are lucky and achieve lifetime remission. Some are not so lucky, and yet somehow shore up enough resilience to keep fighting, when their foe appears once more, knowing (even if it's just a wisp of knowledge), that The Scream will eventually leave again, and knowing that it's often a matter of waiting to see who blinks first.

But then.

But then there are those whose cup of resilience has become bone dry, those who have been forced on this merry-go-round too many times, and just cannot take one more ride when they're pushed to the front of the line. They just cannot. Whether the horror they've witnessed is worse than mine has ever been, I do not know. Whether they truly believe that this time the merry-go-round will never stop unless they make it stop, I do not know.

What I do know is that I'm still here and a beloved, genius performer of our generation is not. What I do know is that those who have never experienced the horror of depression cannot truly understand what it means to be locked within that Munch painting. What I do know is that, likely so many others who experience mood disorders, I'm left sitting here with the rivers of rage flowing uselessly down my face, knowing all too well that my anger serves no other purpose than continuing to make me a snotty, incensed mess. Depression be damned.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


It isn't exactly a conscious thing, this trying to pass. If truth be told, it's probably something you've always done, a something that parents/teachers/camp counselors drummed into your head, their words playing a staccato rhythm against your brain.

Not that they were alone in their drumming. After all, an argument can be made that we all start out as squawking, uncivilized little beasts who require modeling and shaping in order to fit in with the teeming, well-mannered majority. Looked at in this way, could it be true that we all learn to "pass", at least at first?

And so, like your fellow little wild things, you learned by rote that please and thank you were the magic words and that brushing your teeth, washing your hands, saying your prayers, finishing your chores, and doing your homework were activities that needed to be done because that's just what people do

Were such pedagogic lessons such a far cry from the less common admonishments you also received on a regular basis, such as the necessity of lowering your voice, calming down, and at least trying to be less impulsive/dramatic/hysterical/theatrical/maudlin?

All of this instruction was important, all of this was necessary, to help beat the wildness out of you (as if you were a dusty rug hung up on the line).

For many of your once uncivilized peers, such didactics worked wonders. But alas, for you (yes, you), some wildness remained, albeit hidden beneath a carefully stitched veneer of appropriate social behaviour.

Put simply, you eventually learned to pass.

So now.

So now, without even needing time to blink, you understand the importance of slowing down your speech in front of others so that your words don't come tumbling out, one on top of the other, as if your thoughts were permanently locked in a washing machine's spin cycle.

So now, if ever asked, you can explain without hesitation why sobbing in the corners of lavatory stalls is not considered de rigueur ("Back in a minute! I just need to go freshen up!"), and why the proper response to "How are you?" is not a blank-eyed, slack-jawed stare, but rather some chirpy version of Hail Fellow, Well Met.

Further, thanks to all the molding and the drumming and the shaping, your wild-beast-self now knows why staying up until 4 am each night for a week at a time is considered abnormal (bad word, bad word), why food is meant to be eaten, and why oxygen is meant to be breathed. All of this (and so much more) you understand.

Let it be said that memorization comes easily for you. Let it be said that mimicry comes even easier.


But there's also an insistent, less socially acceptable truth you've learned across the decades, a truth that crawls up into your ear just before sleep steals you away, to whisper what you've always known:

Passing is not the same as living.

For you, living is too messy to be written within the lines of an etiquette book, too mucky to place on your grandparents' spotless living room couch, where you were expected to sit (ankles crossed), for what seemed like an eternity.


For you, living is akin to flying one day, dive-bombing the next. Living is like leaping into a mud pit and either tossing the muck around with glee, or hoping it will pull you down for a time, into its viscous darkness. Living, for you, may be hour after hour of twirling with abandon across a wet grass, the moon your spotlight, or rocking beneath the covers, head on bony knees.

Living, for you, is a process filled with emotions that have their volume turned up, with colours that can hurt the eyes, and with thoughts that can hurt the soul.

Living is an exhausting, fulfilling, leaden, feather-light, terrifying, joyful, and transcendent mess that is diametrically opposed to passing.

And yet.

And yet, such living does not fit into your loved ones' definitions of living, which tend toward a more acceptable, balanced, civilized, gentle experience of life.

And so.

And so you take them. You take those nine pills (spread out in appropriate intervals across the day, of course). You take those nine damn pills that bring you down from the clouds or up from the mud pit and you pass.

You pass not only because that is what was drummed into you since babyhood, but because you know that at its core, your type of living, no matter how mystical or alluring, no matter how real or authentic, is a life that can only include one. And that, for you, is ultimately not living at all.

And so you pass. Each day, with sticky pill residue still stuck in your throat, you pass.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


I love to write short-stories, the darker the better. The aspects of ourselves that we try so desperately to hide from others are what interest me the most, with the frailties and the secrets that are just under the surface of our "Hail fellow, well met" world pulling me in. 

Here is a short-story I wrote a few years ago. It was long-listed for the 2011 Vanderbilt-Exile Short Fiction Award.


There are few worlds smaller for two people to be stuffed into than the one shared by twins. From conception on you are given the keys to a tiny space, a cosy place, scarcely bigger than two fists. Ruefully you remember how often you balked at that space, attempting time and again to shrug off Jillie’s suffocating hold and find some footing on your own (and no one can deny that she did hold on too tight). In recent years the space had felt even smaller, true, it had become tighter, more cramped, with feet accidentally stepped on and elbows shoved in awkward places. But still cosy at least some of the time, still fine, still with enough oxygen for two as long as each person paced their breath. What you did not anticipate, what you never could have expected, is that it would be Jillie (Jillie!) who would finally refuse to share.

Ever since you can remember, Jillie was the weaker one, the twin who would give up on games or contests whenever the going got tough. Whether it was Snakes and Ladders, hopscotch, or later on, grabbing the attention of a coveted boy, Jillie would often walk away in the middle of the competition, not willing to stick it out until the end. Despite knowing that your twin typically forfeited any game, despite expecting it, each time she simply gave up you felt furious. Why did she have to act this way? Why couldn’t she actually let there be a true winner for once? After all, who wants to keep winning by default only?

As you got older, you began to suspect that Jillie’s tendency to give up early was less about caring which twin won or lost and more about trying to protect your sameness at all costs. While you kept coming up with contest after contest to try and showcase your differences to the world, Jillie would make sure to bow out before a true winner or loser could be declared, as what points to being different more than having one person end up on top, with the other underneath?

Knowing that Jillie could always be counted on to say uncle before things got out of control meant something else, too. It meant that you could let your reckless, wild side run unchecked, with nothing off-limits. Convince Jillie that you both compete in a strip-poker game with the boys’ floor on a Saturday night in the dorm? Check. Agree to go against each other for round after round of tequila shots? Check. Anything and everything was a possibility, as long as there was Jillie to step on the brakes.

Put in that context, who could blame you for the whole dieting thing? After all, it was just meant to be one more attempt of yours to show the world that you and Jillie actually weren’t the same person residing in two identical bodies. Having gained at least two thirds of the dreaded Freshman Fifteen during your first semester at university, you made it your New Year’s resolution to start January right by losing weight, a decision you announced during a floor meeting over giant bottles of Mountain Dew and boxes of double cheese pizza. A new year, a new you! A few of the other girls nodded their heads at the idea, but it was only your roommate who actually put her piece of pizza down and tossed her own hat into the ring. Unfortunately for you, your roommate was Jillie, the mirror image you were so desperately trying to distinguish yourself from, if only by losing the donut that had started to grow around your middle. And so it began.

The diet started innocently enough. After spending an entire afternoon reading up on nutrition, vitamins, and the food pyramid, you decided to draw up a meal plan for you and Jillie to follow. The plan was well-rounded and included the right portions of grains, fruits, proteins, and vegetables, with even a daily allowance made for a small treat. Less fried foods, more salads. Less take-out and more stir-fries from the wok lady in the cafeteria. You were so proud of the plan that you had it laminated and then stuck it to the bulletin board above your bed.

For the first two weeks Jillie dutifully followed you each morning into the cafeteria and poured a bowl of dry, high fibre cereal identical to yours from the cereal station, before also grabbing a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk. As always, you waited until Jillie had sat down before grabbing a chair yourself, making sure to sit at the same table but always with a few friends in between you. You weren’t clones, after all!

After the third week, something changed, but not in the way you expected. While it was true that Jillie stopped following your carefully laminated diet, it was not in order to go back to scarfing down pancakes or Pop-Tarts each morning. No. Instead, she beat you at your own game, filling her tray with one small orange and one black coffee, but nothing else. No Shreddies, no Raisin Bran, no small carton of milk, nothing with any heft to it at all. And for lunch it was more of the same. Rather than order a well-balanced veggies and cheese sandwich on multigrain bread from the sandwich lady, she ordered one piece of rye toast, unbuttered, and another small black coffee. Where were the fruits and vegetables? Where were the sources of protein? And why was Jillie so hell-bent on losing weight when it was your damn idea in the first place? You tried to ignore your sister as she picked apart her measly slice of toast and scattered the crumbs around her plate, concentrating instead on the fact that you knew what you were doing, that extreme diets didn’t work, and that it was gradual change in the long term that made the difference. As Jillie held her mug of black coffee but didn’t so much as sip it, you took a giant bite of your sandwich in defiance. The food pyramid! The food pyramid, dammit!

Looking back, you don’t remember when exactly Jillie stopped following you down to the cafeteria for meals, you just know that she did. One day she was there, a few steps behind (always a few steps behind), and the next day she was not. When a few of your friends commented on her absence, you felt that familiar wave of irritation lap at you. Why did people always ask you about Jillie’s whereabouts? Why were you expected to be your sister’s keeper? After a few days of being a no-show, however, everyone stopped asking. Mid-terms were coming, so it became assumed that Jillie was just doing what many other over-conscientious students did, eating whatever she could on the sly, for fear that she would fall behind in her studying if she took actual breaks for meals.

Except that as far as you knew, she wasn’t. She wasn’t eating on the sly, unless drinking paper cup after paper cup of lukewarm black coffee from the dorm machine or nibbling on handfuls of Arrowroot Cookies like some overgrown baby counted. As January became February, you were pleased with the six pounds you had managed to lose by sensible eating and decided to splurge on frozen yoghurt sundaes with friends to celebrate. You didn’t bother inviting Jillie to come with you. By this point she refused to go anywhere with anyone, unless it was to attend her classes, and even those your teacher’s pet sister had begun skipping. When Reading Week veered its welcomed head, she refused to join you on a road-trip with some floor-mates to spend a few days in Montreal, insisting instead on remaining at the dorm in order to catch up on a few essays.

You returned from your trip actually eager to get back to your dorm room to share all of your experiences with Jillie. You hadn’t felt like this for a while, you hadn’t had a chance too. In the past, Jillie had held so closely onto your shadow that she never gave you time to miss her. Except this time you did. You missed her and it was a good feeling. It didn’t take long for your happy bubble to burst, however. Probably within thirty seconds of opening your door and stepping into the room. There your sister sat at her desk, a textbook lying open in front of her. While this was all typical, what was not typical was what she was doing. As you stood by the door, you watched as your sister silently ran her fingers through her hair and pulled out handful after handful of the stuff. Golden-brown threads, so much like your own but a bit longer, coming out of her scalp with no more effort than blades of grass pulled from the dirt. Jillie shook the strands free from her fingers and dumped them in the middle of her desk, before resuming the task once more. In front of her was a not-insignificant nest of hair, enough for a robin to lay her eggs in.

“Jillie? What the hell?” you finally asked, taking a few steps forward. It was only then that you realized how much hair your sister actually had lost, her shiny-pink scalp now visible all over her head. You put a hand to your own thick hair, and the difference made you panic.

At the sound of your voice, Jillie stopped the self-grooming. She moved her fingers away from her head and swept the collected hair into her palm, before dumping its contents into a waste basket. Clean-up done, she turned her attention to her textbook.

“Jillie? Have you lost it or something? What’s going on?”

She turned her head to look at you with your very own blue eyes. “Lost it? What do you mean?”

“Lost it, gone crazy, wacko, totally insane.” You noticed that your own fingers were now tugging at your head of hair and you pulled them away.

Jillie blinked at you, that familiar blink. “You mean the hair?” She shrugged. “I guess I’ve been stressed by exams and assignments, especially that one for Biology. Stress can cause hair loss.”

You looked at your twin, now ever-so-slightly not identical to you, with her shedding hair and what you noticed with growing alarm was her much skinnier frame, and you decided to shove down the doubt and to take her explanation at face value. And so you did, you took it, so shiny and polished, and offered it up to anyone who stopped you in the hall in the days to come.

“Is Jillie okay?’ they asked, eyes wide with concern. “Is she like…sick or something?”

You smiled politely to each and every one of them and shared the explanation. “She’s fine. It’s just stress.”

Just stress, you told your mother over the phone when she asked for the tenth time why your sister refused to return her calls or even send her an email. Just stress, you told Jillie’s boyfriend of three years when he drove all the way from your hometown one night and started banging on your dorm room door, demanding to see your twin in person. Just stress, you told yourself as you sat in each of her exams for her, attempting your best Jillie impersonation, all the while aware that in so doing you had just broken the one promise you had made to yourself years ago. You were not Jillie, you would never be Jillie. But it was all just stress, and stress would pass.

It was the last week of term and you found yourself sitting in front of your now skeletal sister, a box of donuts balanced on your lap. You grabbed a Walnut Crunch, Jillie’s favourite, and took a huge bite.

“Hmmm, this is delicious! Do you want one?” You held out the box to her, you held out all of you for her to grab onto, but she stuffed her hands into her oversized hoodie and shook her head.

“Just one?” you pleaded, pushing the box even closer. “Even just a bite?”


“Jillie, you won, okay? You won. Enough already!”

Your twin looked up, her cheekbones smiling sharply at you but her eyes vacant. “Won? Won what?”

“You know, the weight loss thing. The diet. You were better at it than I was, okay? So you won. So fine. You can start eating, okay?”

Jillie stared at you, then grabbed a donut. You felt something in you loosen as she took a bite, then another. You felt something in you tighten once more as she stuffed almost an entire donut in her mouth at once, then reached for one more. Within a matter of minutes she had eaten half the box.

You again reached out to her, but she was already gone, running down the hallway to the bathroom as fast as her skinny legs could take her.

The summer was spent staying as far away from home as possible, as home had become a battleground. On one side was your sister, seemingly so fragile with her bird-bones, yet suddenly such a fierce competitor. On the other side stood your parents, bewildered and frightened by the child they no longer knew, thrown into a war that they would have never chosen. While you found yourself allying with your parents in their desire for Jillie to eat already, dammit, just eat, feeling your sister’s accusing gaze baring down on you at mealtime was just too much to take. So you spent more and more time with your high school friends, the ones who knew you from before, when you were part of Jillie-and-Jacqueline. While it was true that just a few months ago having people identify you as one half of a whole would have made you cringe, now you craved it. And, as June became July and July gave way to August, you found yourself time and again looking through the photo album from your early childhood, the one filled with pictures in which you couldn’t tell who was who, you and your sister being so indistinguishable.

It was September and you were both back at university, Jillie insisting on enrolling in her second year despite her increasingly emaciated appearance. You were roommates again, but this time you were living in a new residence. To your disbelief, everyone on your floor could instantly tell the two of you apart. Perhaps even more disorienting, it seemed that many of your new dorm-mates could not believe that you were sisters, let alone identical twins.

“Yes,” you found yourself repeating ad nauseam. “We are twins.”

In the early weeks of classes you found yourself willingly donning the role of your sister’s caretaker. You brought her Styrofoam bowls filled with clear broth from the cafeteria, a few packets of butter snuck into the liquid before Jillie drunk it. You sat next to her as she nibbled her Arrowroot Cookies, feeling a sense of relief at each half-biscuit consumed. You nagged at her to shower, you gently pinned up what was left of her hair into a somewhat stylish bun. And when she let you, you took her hand in your own, to try and still the trembling.

If you had your way, this was how it would be for the rest of the term, perhaps this was how it would be forever. Jillie straddling the line between existence and not, but at least never toppling over, with your ever-vigilant self by her side. But this wasn’t how life worked, this wasn’t how it was meant to be. And, as you lay in your bunk at night just listening (always just listening) for your sister’s next breath, you knew that neither of you could stay in this no-man’s land for much longer. It was a place meant for brief respite, not for permanent residency.

And then that day came, that day when Jillie went to a second year Biology class and fainted out of her chair and ended up in hospital. The first of many hospitalizations, it would turn out, as the years passed and you finished your Bachelor’s degree on your own and eventually found solace in your marriage (a new twin-ship, except with more room to breathe). And while you would continue to visit your sister, to stay in touch with your sister, you would remain aware that the world you once shared as two could no longer exist, as she has become locked in a competition in which a winner and a loser could never be declared. Stalemate.      


Friday, April 11, 2014



Still me with sepia.
Four-corner this grief
and make it stick.
Deftly, deftly
(with finger licked)
turn each page until
long ago and
once upon a time
render it mute.


Spike me with fever.
Burn it away,
from the outside in.
Minister me with
sips and spoons,
with wrapped necks
and garlic cloves.
Blind me with a cool cloth
until I no longer see
what I can no longer see.


Like a nursery curtain
let this day close.
Let bedtime spill us all
into the Land of Nod.
With flashlights
and fairy dust,
chase it out from
underneath the bed.
Rock it away,
lullaby it down,
into oblivion.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Hey, Twitter: A message from the 1 in 5 club.

Since our beginnings, mental illness has been a part of the human experience, with the USA and Canada reporting a lifetime prevalence rate for developing a mental illness as being 1 in 5. Put simply, a person need not cast their net wide in order to find someone who has struggled with such disorders as depression, anxiety, or psychosis. Whether we acknowledge it or not, mental illness is familiar to many of us, and along with it comes its all too frequent bedfellow: loneliness.

Enter Twitter, stage left.

At less than a decade old, Twitter is a social media giant, an online service whose numbers now register in the multimillions. For many, Twitter is used primarily for networking and platform-building. For others, Twitter is used for pleasure, such as meeting others who share similar interests.

Self-promotion, platform-building, and amusement are not the only ways Twitter is being utilized, however.

Remember that 1 in 5 statistic? Throw it into a pot with the multimillion users of Twitter, then stir. What you'll have is a recipe for emotional connection, an elixir which helps ward off loneliness that is par for the course for many sufferers of mental illness.

This I know well, not because of my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but because of something that doesn't come with an embossed diploma--my diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder.

As a member of the 1 in 5 club, what has been most debilitating is the intense loneliness I often feel. Yes, I have a family whom I love. Yes, I have friends who care deeply for me. And yet, too often I have felt horribly, irrevocably alone.

Enter Twitter, once again.

When I joined Twitter, it was to build a platform of sorts and to meet other writers. Then came depression, and with it, a black hole of loneliness. While friends and family supported me in every way they could, I often felt they did not truly "get" it. Not only that, the energy required in contacting them often felt like...too much.

And so, like many before me, I turned to Twitter as a way to connect with others who are living through similar experiences and who can often give me support (and whose support I can often return) in a way that those not in the 1 in 5 club simply cannot.

Through Twitter, strangers have transformed into friends, friends who are as dependable as those I care for in the "real" world. Through Twitter, and the help of my "followers", I've often been able to pull myself out of even the most weighty loneliness, to recognize there are others (so many others), just like me. Through Twitter, I have felt less stigmatized, less ashamed.

Perhaps most importantly, through Twitter and the conduit of connection it provides, I have time and again witnessed fragile lives being saved, purely through the support and caring of others who have reached out to help from within Twitter's ever-expanding universe. I don't believe it's hyperbole to state that Twitter has been a lifesaver to many in the 1 in 5 club, a flotation device that is usually within reach, when needed.

And yet.

And yet Twitter has not evolved as quickly as its uses have. Despite seeming still so shiny and new, Twitter continues to enforce regulations and practices that may have fit the platform building/social networking model quite well, but which may have devastating repercussions for many of its more vulnerable members.

Specifically, I'm referring to what I believe to be Twitter's overenthusiastic use of its one-size-fits-all Suspension policy, typically due to a "violation of Twitter rules".

Twitter is quite transparent with regard to its rules and regulations for appropriate conduct on their site (see https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules). For this I applaud them.

Many of these rules are incredibly straightforward. One is not permitted, for example, to impersonate another individual, or to "post direct, specific threats of violence against others". Again, I applaud Twitter for such parameters of conduct.

Other rules are more perplexing and confusing, however, such as being suspended for "repeatedly" following or unfollowing people, posting "multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #, trending, or popular topic", or for having updates that "consist mainly of links, and not personal updates". Despite being fairly intelligent, and despite multiple readings of said rules, I continue to be bewildered by their meaning. Multiple unrelated updates? Too many links? What?!?

More disturbingly, in the past few months alone, I've known several members of the 1 in 5 club who have been suspended by Twitter for what more than likely fall into the perplexing reasons camp, rather than the clearly abusive one. These people are not "trolls". These are not individuals who spew off as much hate as they can cram into 140 characters. These are not people who gleefully post pornography.


These "suspended" Twitterites are often vulnerable individuals who depend on the daily support and emotional connection that Twitter affords them. These are people who may struggle with significant depression, anxiety, or psychosis, to name a few illnesses. These are people who may not feel well enough to reach out to those in the "real" world or may not even have actual supports that exist offline.

For many individuals, Twitter may be their primary lifeline. When this is the case, having their account inexplicably suspended could be devastating, confirmation of their self-perceived lack of worth.

Those of you who experience a mental illness yourselves know what I'm saying. Hell, those of you who have seen the film "Gravity" know what I'm saying. Connection to others is vital, like oxygen to one's spirit. Being deprived of it (or "suspended") for infractions that may not even make sense to the person involved, may even, in extreme cases, prove disastrous.

Again, I'm not talking about "trolls" or individuals who use Twitter to spread hate speech or bigotry. I'm talking about the 1 in 5 who reach out and who may not even realize they've broken one of the more obscure "rules".

I'm talking about people like many of you. People like me.

If rules and regulations have not been followed, could other strategies not be used first to alert the person in question that they have stepped over a line? A warning, perhaps, or an investigation began prior to a "Suspension"? In situations in which one Twitterite has lodged a (possibly quite legitimate) complaint against another, could not the complainant be reminded about the use of "Blocking", and could Twitter not significantly strengthen the Blocking tool, so that users do not feel harassed or threatened?

My final question for the multimillion users out there is this: Does Twitter have a responsibility to revisit its rules and regulations, given that it is being increasingly used as an online self-help/support group of sorts by members of the 1 in 5 club, even if that was not the service's intent?

From a legal perspective, I highly doubt it.

But does it have an ethical responsibility? A moral one?

Think of five people. Imagine that one of them finds hope in connections they've made online. Imagine that connection being cut off, like a light switch, leaving a highly vulnerable person sitting in the dark. Hold that image for a while. Ponder it, feel it. Therein lies your answer.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Old Pails (some poems)

As a writer, I'm a poet first. This poet-me is burrowed deep inside and is probably the closest to the core of who I am (but who can ever truly get to their core?). I thought I'd post a few poems I wrote a while ago. I hope you enjoy them.


Part One 

Remind me there’s beauty
in what’s broken.

The crisp break of
orange and yellow,
crimson and brown,
holdouts from a season,
crunching underfoot.

Remind me there’s beauty
in what’s broken.

The wail and moan from a piper—
can there be a more mournful sound?
Listen as it rents this silence in two,
my breath caught between each note.

Remind me there’s beauty
in what’s broken.

The sky burst open, raining down the dark.
A slice of moon, its other side lost.

Remind me there’s beauty
in what’s broken.

A battered pail,
filled with pebble and shell.
An offering too bountiful
from such small hands.

Remind me there’s beauty
in what’s broken.

Remind me.
Remind me.
Remind me.

Part Two

A small world gone tighter.
Each space,
each soft and easy place,
squeezed and pulled
between the rolls.

A black hole or a manhole—
how to choose?
Better to have all of it absorbed,
with no reflection known,
or to stumble and trip,
fumble and flip,
a pratfall of broken bones?

A leaf in a stream drifts and floats,
a Maggie Tulliver for the botany set.
Going forward, always forward,
drowning in the movement.

The sun, when setting,
is perfect.
Can that not be enough?
I hold that colour,
in another space, true,
and wait for the
next light to come.

Part Three 

Here's a quick tip--

Counting coins and
stacking chairs and
flicking on the lights
before the show is
even over,
is not bearing witness.

Covering your ears
to hide the grooves
my words have etched
with their endless, concentric circles,
is not bearing witness.

From wall to wall darting,
from watch to window jumping,
flitting, flitting, flitting,
like a jacked up butterfly,
is not bearing witness.

Using your death row shuffle
to discreetly drop behind,
when all that remains is
just around the corner
(right over there!),
is not bearing witness.


Taking your hands to
spackle, patch, and  prettify,
rather than to gather, cup, and carry,
when I offer up the broken bits
(oh so timorously),
is not bearing witness.

Part Four 

Slippers whisper across the floor.
A soft sound,
a barely-there sound.
Who needs noise to make
a cup of tea?

But now is not the time for words.

Blow into a balloon
all of that hot, heavy air.
Get the loudness out.

Watch your lost words grow.
Watch the noise go soft and round,
the sound like slippers on the floor.

Do you remember?

Not in a month of Sundays,
you whispered as I bit your ear,
skin still so ripe, pulse tattooing
its beat against my cheek.

Not until hell freezes over and pigs fly,
you later promised,
skin a loose rice paper,
a flimsy cover for what lay beneath.

Still these offerings up to me,
still from that same battered pail.

And still, I believed you. 


Thursday, February 20, 2014

This is what it feels like...

We’d been sparring a bit all day. Not that it was so unusual, the sparring. Once the sunrise-hued haze had worn off our courtship, the almost forgotten roles of big brother and little sister were revealed, having lain dormant just a few layers within. To think a ten-year gap between us would never be used as a shovel to dig up the very roots our personalities had grown from had been na├»ve, ingenuous, even.

So we’d been sparring. Nothing to write home about, mind you. Just little squabbles and bickers either made under the breath, with arms crossed, or, more theatrically, with head turned, whispered into the air itself, gestures that collectively made up the vocabulary of our intimate language much better than any words could ever do.

So, yes, the sparring. It had happened on and off, as it had the day before, and as it invariably would the day after. Little tiffs long-marrieds engage in, if only to make sure they still have a partner to play with in the ring.

The ice creams I’d bought for the little boys were too big, much too big, and this close to supper, too! The small trinkets you’d purchased for them on a whim were ridiculously expensive, given their cheap makeup—just look at this plastic and how quickly it will break—just look!

And yet, amidst the sparring and the bickering, the fallings-out and the squabbling, there were also moments of fallings-in, of leaning against one another, of letting the big brother/little sister sink back under the layers, in order to allow the husband and wife to re-emerge. And it was then, hand cupped in hand, that we watched as the small boys we’d created also squabbled, bickered, sparred, and then leaned in.

So overall, it was a good day, a normal day.

And then I suggested a little detour, just a small one, to show the boys where I’d once lived, another lifetime ago, a single mother with two young kids. Perhaps we’d even drive by my older children’s former school, to remind my little ones there’d been a time in which Mommy’s family had yet to grow from three to six.

“It’ll be fun,” I said to you. “I just want to show the boys the old school, and the home their big brother and sister lived in with me. They’ll like it!”

And with that, the big brother leapt on stage, pushing the husband-you back into the shadows. “Gee, I wonder why you’d want to drive by your old neighbourhood?” you said.  “Could it be you want to relive your life before you met me?”

In your voice I could hear the teasing, the jocularity. Without even turning towards you, I could tell you were merely being playful, trying to draw me into the tease.

And yet.

“I wanna see the old school,” said one little boy.

“I wanna see the old house,” said the other. “Where’s the old house?”

And so I drove, hands in proper position on the steering wheel, fingers locked tightly. Why did you not see how white my knuckles were becoming? Why did you not see?

“Tell me I’m wrong,” you said, your words still light, a big brother trying to provoke his much younger sister. “Tell me you don’t want to relive those golden years as a single mom with no husband to bicker with!”

I said nothing. I kept driving, white knuckles and half-breaths. I kept driving, but then I became confused and almost passed by the school without saying a thing. The point of this detour was now lost on me. The point of almost anything was now equally lost.

In the passenger side, there was teasing, but a low tide type of teasing, barely there.  In the backseat, there was yelping and asking and more yelping, but that too, faded like water flowing away.

I kept driving until I saw it. There. The old house, that snug little semi in which I’d stuffed my former self and my elder two children into for so many years. The old house, the last place where most of my days were spent with my mood’s weight spread evenly between two pans, the balance scale not arbitrarily jerking from up to down, from high to low. It was there that I last felt such steadiness, taken for granted as much as good health invariably seems to be until it’s gone. There the house stood, right there, just a hundred feet away.

What I didn’t expect were the waves, but yet they still came, washing away the big brother and the little sister with their briny grief. That’s when I stopped the car and cried. That’s when I cried and I sobbed and I sobbed and I cried, oblivious to the little boys in the back seat who had merely wanted to see where Mommy used to live and did not appreciate this sudden eruption.

“Honey?” A pat on the shoulder from the passenger seat, and then, more gently, a soft rub on the back. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I was only joking.”

But the waves kept coming, the high tide, with its sorrow and its sadness, it just kept coming. Yet so did the gentle rubbing and the gentle words. Yet so did the loving.
I tried to compose myself, but the best I could do was guard my eyes from that snug little semi, just a hundred feet away.

More rubbing, more gentle words, more loving. Then seatbelts unbuckled, drivers switched, and that long ride back to Now, to a spacious corner house in another town, filled with drafty old rooms and multiple children. And all through that long ride back to Now, there was still yelping from the backseat, still a husband/big brother/husband sitting next to me, and still flashes of surprising tenderness, melting like snow on my tongue.

My eyes remained guarded during that long ride back, back to a mood that in the Now remains unpredictable, unreliable, a riptide in what I had come to assume (goddammit) would be a sea of relative calm.

So I kept my head turned, but not for the benefit of whispers. This time, the air around my lips stayed empty, for what words could ever explain this grief of brine to a man who can switch from sparring partner to teaser to lover in three easy steps, all the while remaining under sunny skies? How to explain to someone whose scale does not move up and down, whose mood does not resemble those whirling carousel horses each yelping boy adores? How to explain what’s irrevocably lost when to you I’m still here, right here, my flesh still whole?

Yet even with head turned and eyes guarded, I could still sense that moment when the snug little semi had been just a hundred feet away. A hundred feet—the distance between then and now, between whole and broken, the length of a universe.