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Living the Post-Apocalyptic

“If we jump back two or three years,” I told my therapist, “there was so much I was afraid of losing. But after all the changes last year, there’s nothing to be scared of anymore. The apocalypse already happened.”

“Well,” she said. “You’re a science fiction [sic] writer. What do you do, in a post-apocalyptic world?”

I thought. “You rebuild.”

“The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum,” by John Martin (1822). http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00793

This has been an ongoing theme for the better part of a year. Chapters closing, change, regeneration, rebirth. Maybe it’s silly, but I thought the intense period of transition was pretty much done.

After all, I changed jobs, I changed apartments, I changed a lot of relationships. What else was left?

I forgot about rebuilding.

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So I left my therapist’s office thinking about living in the post-apocalypse. Maybe that sounds dire, but I think it’s actually quite apt.

What is an apocalypse, anyway?

Etymologically speaking, it’s a revelation (as in, “The Book of…”). The word apocalypse derives from the Greek apokaluptein, or “uncover.” In that sense, I suppose, it’s a cutting to the truth of things, a stripping away of the false and outmoded to some insight underneath.

More generally, it’s a passing of an age—the cessation of a certain way of life. Apocalypse might be the twilight of the gods or the elves sailing into the west, and it’s also a lot of very big life changes hitting very close together.

So—what do you do, in a post-apocalyptic world?

“Rain, Steam, and Speed – the Great Western Railway,” by J.M.W. Turner (1844).

You rebuild.

I forgot about (or failed to acknowledge) the work that comes after change.

See, here’s the thing. Let’s say you go through A Time. And you survive. Because of course you do—you’re tougher and more resilient than you know.

“Well!” you say. “That sucked, but it’s over. Things will get easy now.”

Except you need to rebuild, and rebuilding is still transition. Imagine everything at equilibrium—the old world, the caterpillar. Then comes dissolution and discomfort—an asteroid, the darkness of the cocoon.

Equilibrium doesn’t return immediately after that. There’s carving out a new homestead from the rubble; there’s the vulnerable butterfly drying its wings before it can fly.

And that’s okay, that’s all part of the process. It just means it takes longer than you think to reach a “new normal.” There’s a descent and then an ascent. The pause when the dust settles isn’t the end; it’s a beginning.

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But I was a little surprised to hear my own words.

There’s nothing to be scared of, anymore.

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What can you do, when you’re no longer scared?

Post-apocalypse is also post-revelation, post-insight, post-truth. Last year, I learned so, so much. As I’ve said elsewhere, I feel like I’ve spent the last eight years becoming. Now that I’m this person, what next?

How do you live a post-apocalyptic life?

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I’m still chewing all this over, obviously. But in the short term, it’s been a good reminder to be more patient with myself—even as I feel like I’m underachieving in a lot of ways. But maybe I’ve applied too narrow a scope to “achievement.”

Surviving is tough. It takes a lot of energy.

But there’s nothing to be scared of, anymore. There’s only rebuilding. There’s only the work.

And if the former things are passed away—if we’re making all things new—then why not build the most beautiful and the best that you can?

“Sower of the Systems,” George Frederic Watts (1902). Watts Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sower-of-the-systems-13347

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

We keep it honest here. This week is “Ashes” from Deadpool 2. Yep. That Deadpool. Like most people in the comment section, I listened to it expecting a quick chuckle…but it’s actually really good?

Plus, the whole refrain of “let beauty come out of ashes” resonates right now for obvious reasons.

The Boy on the Train

I wasn’t going to make this a thing, but I’m still processing it…and writing is the way I process, so here we are.

Yesterday morning, I was on the subway heading to work. And let’s be honest: things haven’t been great for a bit. Everything is kind of A Lot right now, I’m not sleeping well, my anxiety is flaring, huge upheavals are happening. And yes, I’m getting help for those things.

But, context: I’m miserable.

“Autumn Evening,” Eilif Peterssen (1878)

So about halfway to work, a young man gets on the train and sits across from me. He’s maybe a few years younger than me. “That’s a cool jacket,” I think, and then lapse back into sadness.

A few stops later, I look up and notice that he’s crying. Silent tears course down his cheeks.

Uh-oh.

I pretend engrossment in my phone, because public emotion is awkward and I want to give him privacy. After all, I am also miserable. If I started crying right then, I’d want everyone to ignore me until I could regain control.

But then silent tears turn to that thin weeping you do when your heart’s really broken.

Shit shit shitshitshit

My heart’s hammering. We’re almost at my stop. The moment’s poised on the edge: it’s going to tip one way or the other, but which?

I look left. I look right. I take a deep breath.

And I go and sit—not beside the guy, but near him. “Hey, man. Is there anything I can do?”

He jerks upright, scrubbing his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“No, no,” I say lamely. “It’s just…I wasn’t sure, if it were me, would I want a stranger to reach out or leave me alone? So I needed to ask. That’s all.”

He hesitates a moment, then blurts, “I’m going to the cemetery.”

And so we have Dead Fathers Club: Subway Edition. Blowing past my stop, we talk about death, grief, and fathers all the way to his. “It may never be okay,” I tell him. “But it does get easier.”

He nods. “That’s why I’m alone, this time.”

Then we reach his stop. We say goodbye. He goes his way and I catch a train south to get back on mine.

And for all the sadness, I’m glad I was able to be of service; I’m glad he found the kindness he needed in that moment. But I think it helped me just as much as it helped him. I needed the connection too. I needed to remember that humans are Neat and we really do Try Our Best and that even two random strangers on a train can lighten each other’s burden. I needed to crawl free from my sadness and remember that this life is all about service and love.

But it’s strange: it’s both a beautiful thing that happened, but also I don’t want to make it a big thing. I didn’t do anything special. This isn’t at all about me.

The reason I’m writing this is…I just want us to remember to be kind. I want us to remember that even in the depths of our own darkness, we can still offer light. And I want us to remember that Being Human sometimes means being very, very sad, and also lifting each other up, as we are able.

Thank you, Guy with Cool Jacket. I hope you find peace and healing.

I love this painting, but I’ve searched high and low and cannot find the artist’s name. If you know it, please send it my way so I can link properly!

Be kind. Be well.

That’s all.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

“Soon Ah Will Be Done” is another spiritual that has a jaunty tune and a heartbreaking historical context.

About the lack of posts…

I’m sorry. I was consistent for a really long time. 

So here’s the thing. I’m really busy. I’m really stressed. I’m sorting through some not-very-fun life things.

Thus, I do not have two spare brain cells to rub together. Don’t worry, I’m Doing Okay. Like I said, just busy. Just tired. And in the grand scheme of things, I love this blog, but there are very few immediate consequences to not doing it. Right now, my energy needs to go elsewhere. 

And that’s Okay. 

Slowly, surely, I’m convincing myself that it’s okay to not do everything. Every bird needs to roost eventually.

I’m also trying very hard to appreciate the little joys right now. Like this chair I bought. Look at this chair!

I saw this chair at my church’s rummage sale and fell head-over-heels in love. It’s a little thing with slim lines, probably late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
And it has a Green Man!!!

Look! Look look look! It’s a Green Man (disgorging type), right there! Also called “foliate heads,” these guys show up in a lot of Medieval English cathedrals. They’re probably a pre-Christian fertility symbol and I absolutely love them.

“How much is that chair?” I asked breathlessly.

“A toonie?”

I rummaged through my pockets. “I have a dollar and fifteen cents.”

“Done.”

After considerable logistical planning, it’s now in my kitchen and it brings me joy every time I sit on it, or catch sight of the motif. And that, honestly, helps immensely. When a lot is crashing down, the smallest joys make the biggest difference.

And I think I once again wrote a blog post by accident. There is probably a lesson there, too. 😉

Anon, 

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

A long time ago, I learned the Irish variant of “Loch Lomond,” which is titled “Red is the Rose.” The Scottish version has very similar lyrics of grief and loss. I particularly like this arrangement, though: it’s got the grief and loss, but the “dai dat” harmony running throughout suggests a marching-on and hopefulness.

Which I kinda need right now.

State of the KT

This was another hard week, at least in terms of my feeling like an effective human being. And so in lieu of a real post, here’s a quick State of the KT.

Six Stories, Doing Its Best: Rewrite’s trucking along, albeit with a tough knot to untie in the middle.

Apex Magazine Podcast: Both episodes recorded and scored, awaiting intro and show notes from me.

Auditions for Six Stories, Shouted by Day: The first round happened this past weekend, callbacks are this coming weekend. That is a blog post in itself, pals.

March Break Tomfoolery: DONE.

Beer Magic Novel: Currently sitting at 81k. Expecting this draft to hit 105k. Scrambling to finish before my Smoky Writers’ retreat.

Smoky Prep: I have gathered a collection of short story ideas and plots that will be interesting to explore through the week. I really want to do shorts again because I know if I don’t write them at Smoky, I likely cannot think about them until April.

Choice of Games: Removed from my February worrying. It’ll be tight, but I have a plan.

OAC Grant Application: IN. SUBMITTED. OUT OF OUR HANDS.

Mysterious Contract: Trucking along. In all honesty, it’s been a nice palate cleanser.

Gangway! Theatre Co. Shenanigans: I feel guilty that I’ve been less present than I would like, but Blythe seems fairly blithe about it all. (It’s funny, because it’s a pun.)

Henry Wallis, “Chatterton” (1856).

And so we go. It is entirely possible that I have bitten off more than I can chew, and as I’m looking at the calendar…the Mysterious Contract wraps just after Easter. I think I shall take the week between that and dayjobbery resuming to have a real, long, actual rest.

Onwards…

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I like Ralph Vaughan Williams’ work. He went around collecting and adapting folksongs from around the British Isles – some of his output is sacred, some secular. This is a secular piece, one of those classic “I will love you until the seas boil and the rocks melt” kind of songs. But it is very soothing and lilting and lovely.

Two Lessons

It’s been a hard week for writing. Don’t get me wrong: lots of writing is happening. But there are so many different projects going on, I struggled to steal a few hours to write a short story. And then, when I finally sat down at my computer, the words wouldn’t come. I wrestled it like Jacob with the angel, eked out 1500 words, decided they were terrible, started again and got 1400…

And I’m back to square one.

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” Alexander Louis Leloir (1865).

But I also think I have sorted out what’s wrong with the story. You see, I had to remind myself of two major lessons this past week…

Go smaller

This is a lesson I’ve been learning from my dive into CanLit. Alice Munro does this incredibly well. A woman goes to meet a man in Stratford, and it’s devastating. A young girl kissed a pilot decades ago, and your heart breaks. They’re plots that loop back upon themselves, layering in backstory and inferences. And these small, mundane tragedies, once magnified, become absolutely epic.

Similarly, I finished Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel yesterday. In simplest terms, an old woman flees into the woods and remembers her life.

You guys, I cried so much.

Narrowed focus. Details that catch and tear like fish-hooks. These are stories that dive deeper and closer, spiralling like a Mandelbrot set.

That’s what I want to explore. For now, anyway.

You can only write your stories.

Of course, when the thread of the story snapped, I threw myself into a tailspin. Obviously, the problem was me. My story doesn’t have the gut-wrenching emotion of Keri Hulme. Or the intellectual depth of Theodora Goss. Or the hypnotic quality of Cat Valente. Or the weirdness of Kelly Link, or the sheer storytelling oomph of Kij Johnson, or the beautiful cruelty/cruel beauty of Aimee Bender.

Of course it doesn’t. I’m not those writers.

I’m KT Bryski. Whatever I write has to come from me. In the end, it has to be my voice, my heart, my story.

And I thought: what did I write, before the stress and tension took hold? What did I write before I was afraid? What did I write when no one was watching?

I went back to one of my few pre-Stonecoast short stories: “After the Winds,” in When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Guess what I found?

A northern village.

Pseudo-sibling angst.

The yearning for home.

Motifs of breaking free, healing, and finding one’s place.

It was all there. Those are the things that constitute the heart of me. While I’d do some things differently now, it was good to see that, really—I know who I am. I know what matters to me. It’s all there inside: I just need to trust it.

And so I’d add…

Keep Going.

Liz Hand’s words are always applicable.

Go smaller.

Tell your stories.

Keep going.

We got this.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

“Vale Decem” from Doctor Who, because the following line from “The End of Time” popped into my head:

This song is ending, but the story never ends.

This is a transitional time. Some songs are ending, which is painful and exhausting. But the story—the story never ends. Also, add an extra 10 points to this piece for an ethereal countertenor.

Under Pressure

Okay, pals, let’s have some real talk. I wasn’t going to post this, but I think I need to get it out, and I can’t think of a better forum.

So.

This hermitage.

I doubt it caused any ripples, but I have been spending the last two weeks sitting quietly by myself. Basically, I got overwhelmed, and my response to being overwhelmed is to withdraw and shut up. The root wasn’t deadlines or workloads or anything. It was this immense pressure that I put on myself:

WRITE ALL THE THINGS. APPLY FOR ALL THE THINGS. LAUNCH ALL THE THINGS.

For obvious reasons (chiefly, I’m not a perpetual motion machine), I couldn’t.

And then I felt awful.

And then I went away to sit by myself.

 

I love this painting, but I’ve searched high and low and cannot find the artist’s name. If you know it, please send it my way so I can link properly!

 
Honestly, the worst part has been feeling like I’ve been letting people down. My creative partner. My mentors. My friends. I’ve joked that my creative ventures are predicated on making certain people proud…but deep down, it’s not really a joke, is it?

Rationally, I know—I know—the need for external validation is deadly. The drive has to come from inside. At the end of the day, the internal engine is the only one upon which you can rely.

But it’s hard. Giving this some good, solid thought, I don’t have a problem with motivation. I’ll write ‘til the cows come home, because that’s all I know how to do.

But the fear of disappointing people is my Achilles’ heel. Not living up to potential.  Being a flash in the pan. “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?” is both my inspiration and my nightmare.

Yes, I know. This is an insane amount of pressure to put on one’s self.

So.

What does one do?

I’ve been trying to ease the pressure by reminding myself that this isn’t a race. If I keep working, then when it’s time, things will happen in their course.

That’s the most important thing, I think. To keep working. To set aside the expectation and the pressure and the fear of disappointment and just keep going.

Liz Hand’s advice: always applicable.

In many ways, to keep working is an act of faith. With no idea where the road goes, we set off.

I’m slowly venturing back into the world. And rest assured—I’m still working.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

One night this past week, I had beer and watched Moulin Rouge! and it was just what I needed. This song has been stuck in my head since.

Small Pleasures and Seeing Beauty

Happy Saturday. For a lovely, wonderful change, I am not at work today. Instead, I am holed up in my garret, which means that instead of slinging beer and/or performing, I will be attending to writing and/or related administrivia.

I actually finished the rough draft of a larger-ish project earlier this week. Now whilst I wait for feedback with bated breath, I’m returning to various grant application guidelines. Because I like my garret and paying rent is the honourable thing to do. However, application deadlines meant that this 20k project got pushed out in the span of about a week. I’ve written faster than that, for longer stretches, but I finished this piece absolutely exhausted. The past three nights have been all about Pokémon and reading other people’s words. For pleasure.

I’m wiped. And I’m not used to this level of post-project fatigue. Which tells me that I might be a) iron deficient, b) juggling too much, or c) out of the habit of writing like the wind for days on end. Or all of the above, which links to the perennial question of How I’m Doing.

So far this month, How I’m Doing is a spectrum ranging from Mostly Keeping It Together to Thrashing About Like A Grief-Beached Whale. Fortunately, since starting this project—i.e. since getting back into a writing discipline—it’s been more the Keeping It Together side of things. And getting back into a writing discipline reminded me of something else:

I love writing. I really do love it.

Funny how we can forget that, isn’t it? Sometimes, I think we get so bogged down with anxieties of publishing and contracts, theses and submissions, where your next meal is coming from and good God, I’m never getting this story placed, we lose sight of the sheer, unabashed joy of putting words on the page. You know, the reason we got into this in the first place…because it definitely wasn’t for fame and fortune. We’re wiser than that.

I had a similar epiphany at work. I was taking some laminated photos back to the mill—as one does, in my line of work—and I came the long way back, because it was a beautiful day, I had a few spare minutes, and why the hell not? Behind the mill, there’s a path that loops around the mill pond. Only a modest copse separates us from a busy intersection, but once you get on that path…the city seems to fall away. The rumble of cars fades, replaced by buzzing insects and chirruping birds. It smells like summer again.

You could be out somewhere in Prince Edward County. It’s incredible.

IMG_3693

So I’m walking along, enjoying all this beauty, and then as I emerged from the brush onto the bridge overlooking the pond, I startled the resident heron. He’s been around as long as I have, but I hadn’t seen him in ages. And—

Well, this.

FullSizeRender

Despite everything, I still love this place. It’s still home. Later, as I waited for a tour, I caught myself listening to the trees creaking in the wind. And smiling. It’s that kind of love which delights in the tiny, quirky, and idiosyncratic. Those miniscule beauties get so easily lost. As with writing, it’s good to pause every once in a while, to take the long way back and see them afresh.

How many times have I walked right past this channel? How often do I pause to remark that it's really cool?

How many times have I walked right past this channel? How often do I pause to remark that it’s really cool?

Now to the bookstore, to spend a forgotten gift card on fancy notebooks for another larger-ish project. Because it’s my day off, I have a gift card, and why the hell not?

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Something a little slower and more sedate this week: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. Translation: Pavane for a Dead Princess. (Again, I promise, I’m fine.) Actually, Ravel didn’t really have any particular dead princesses in mind when he wrote this: it was a nostalgic metaphor.

In any case, I’ve been listening to the orchestrated version, because I still have a weakness for horns after all these years. The piano version is excellent too, but oh, that haunting, hollow melody echoing from the rush of strings…. It reminds me of the final lines of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It’s the piece’s momentum that does it, despite the melancholy. Gentle and constantly moving forward. The piece made a lot more sense when I learned a pavane is a type of dance. Of course it is. Also worth noting: the absolutely ethereal, fantastical section starting around 3:40, when the strings shimmer and we finally pass the melody from the horns. And the ending could stand as a definition for “emotional closure.”

My Dad: Two Years On

Two years and one day ago, I tweeted the following picture:

ChristmasTree2012

I was so happy that night. Things were good at school, Christmas was coming, Hapax was out and I was clearly on my way in writing, and I was suffused with love and good will for the people at Black Creek, my coworkers truly becoming my friends.

Less than twenty-four hours after I posted this picture, my life shattered.

I went to choir the next morning. This was December 16th, 2012. The Sandy Hook shooting had just happened, and part of the sermon reflected on the loss of so many lives, the pain their families now carried through the Advent season. I can’t even imagine, I remember thinking, my toes dangling off the back of the kneeler. I can’t even imagine what it would be like, losing someone so close to the holidays.

Less than twelve hours later, I knew.

My father died two years ago today. And honestly, that’s something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It’s been two years. My dad is dead. He’s been dead for two years. It doesn’t even make any sense that my dad—my vibrant, lively, healthy dad—is dead. But two years? Jesus Christ.

This may be a little trigger-y for a bit. If you want to scroll down, I will put a picture of a cat. Past that, it’s all hope and love again.

Ready?

Okay. So sometimes, I still need to talk about the horror of that night. Sometimes, I still need to tell the story again. This is, I’ve found, something that happens with grief. Friends and loved ones can be reluctant to bring up the event, in case it makes us sad. Well, guess what? We’re already sad, and talking it through, recapping it, putting it in order again, and again, and again, is the only way that we’re going to process it. Saying it out loud makes it real, but it also brings it out of our heads. It gives a bit of distance, so we can try to understand what the fuck happened.

Even two years later, I still need to tell the story sometimes.

So, around 9:00 pm on Sunday, December 16th, 2012, I was sitting at my kitchen table. A friend was over, doing some rough sketches of Serafine. Shortly, she and my other friend were going to watch Love Actually. I was trying to convince myself that I could totally take another night off studying for exams, because Love Actually was a Christmas tradition and I hadn’t seen it yet that year. Of course, I really needed to study, but—

My phone rang. It was my sister. She explained that she and Mom were coming to fetch me right now, and then we were all going to the hospital, because Dad had had an accident playing hockey.

I was not overly concerned at this point. It wouldn’t be the first time he got hurt. When I was small, he’d nearly lost an eye when he took a hockey stick to the face. Maybe he did lose it this time, I thought. Because I had been in hospitals before, I had the presence of mind to pack my bag with my textbooks and notes. After all, waiting for X-rays and CAT scans took a long time; I’d be able to study while he went through those.

As I tugged my boots on, I suddenly thought of my grandfather. During my first year of university, he’d driven himself to ER, promptly had a massive stroke, and died a week later. Wouldn’t it be awful, if—if—but no. I figured that maybe worst case scenario, Dad had taken a really bad blow to the head. Maybe really, really worst case, there’d be some brain damage, a bit of rehab. But that was super-worst-case. It couldn’t be that bad.

My mom and sister picked me up off the street, and we drove to the hospital. Traffic crawled. I remember the copper-orange of the streetlights. At one point, we crossed the foot of my friend Blythe’s street. I’d just been to her apartment for the first time, and I gazed up the street, wishing that Mom could just turn here, like I was just going to hang out with her.

My grandparents arrived at the same time we did. Some of Dad’s hockey team were already in the waiting room. I knew some of them—they all seemed very shaken. Memories fragment here. I don’t remember exactly what was said. I remember trying to shield my sister, dragging her over to a vending machine around the corner.

A man in scrubs led us into the labyrinth of emergency care behind the receptionist. He had blue scrubs, a long black ponytail. We passed curtained-off alcoves, cots and IVs flush to the wall. As we walked, a curious numbness settled over me. This is the scariest thing I have ever done, I thought. I remember thinking that, but also still hoping that later, the warm flush of relief would come. God, Dad, we were so scared, and for nothing—isn’t that funny?

The man in scrubs led us to a small, cream-coloured room. It had two brown, slippery couches, a shiny black coffee table holding a Kleenex box, and a cross on the wall. That’s when I knew that things were very, very bad. You don’t bring people into rooms with crosses if everything is going to be okay.

The man in scrubs explained that Dad had had a “cardiac event” and had gone down on the ice. Wonder of wonders, there had been a firefighter and a cardiac specialist on the opposing team. CPR had started right away, they’d used a defibrillator right away, and the ambulance had been called right away. Absolutely everything that could have been done had be done, as quickly as possible.

And they’d not yet been successful in resuscitating him.

I may or may not have been slightly aggressive with the doctor. I may or may not have been told to relax. Then we went to see him. Around yet another corner, there was yet another curtain, a sectioned-off portion of emergency. We went behind the curtain.

And I knew, the moment I saw him.

There was no resuscitating. Not anymore. We were long past that. It was disorienting—on the one hand, it was just Dad, lying on a gurney. On the other, he looked so old. Chalk-grey skin, shirtless, tubes going into his nose and mouth, electrodes on his chest. A technician furiously doing compressions. Dad’s mouth gaped open a little, and that’s what really struck me: the way his cheeks sagged inwards, the way there was absolutely no muscle control, everything was just limp. Lifeless. Two years later, and I still sometimes see it. The horror doesn’t lessen with time. You just don’t think about it, until you do, and suddenly, you’re back in that room, with the metallic smells and the beeping, and Dad’s cheeks collapsing on themselves.

We asked how long they’d been doing this.

About forty minutes.

How long could they reasonably keep doing this?

They were about at the limit.

So, if his brain had been forty minutes without oxygen, then—

Um.

Then it was time to stop.

I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t touch him because I knew that he was already cooling, and I was too scared to feel it. And so, cowardly, I stood very close, wanting to touch him one last time, wanting to give one last hug. Someone asked if we wanted a chaplain. “He’s Catholic,” I said. “He needs Last Rites.”

Tears spilling from our eyes, we wandered the emergency department: making calls, trying to figure out next steps, reassuring the hockey team that it wasn’t their fault. I vaguely wondered what the other patients thought. Probably they knew that some lives had just been permanently changed. We’ve all been there. We never think we’ll be the people crying.

I wandered back just as a chaplain began the Lord’s Prayer. I collapsed next to my grandparents and said it too. I don’t think they realized I knew more than “Our Father.” I talked to a cop. I gave dates of birth, addresses. I agreed that yes, I was very young. I stayed with my sister, who was refusing to leave the body.

But then I looked over, and I saw that a rosy red flush was blooming along the underside of Dad’s cheeks. And that is another horrific detail that’s branded itself into my memory. See, for a scene in Hapax, I’d had to research what happens to the body shortly after death, and so I knew precisely what this was. Without the action of the heart to keep blood circulating, gravity will cause it to pool at the lowest points of the body. When a body is lying on its back, that’s the undersides of the arms, the legs, the face…

I was right, I thought.

And then I had to leave so that I could go vomit. I never saw my dad’s body again. (My choice, incidentally, to not stick around for the open-casket portion of the visitation later that week.)

We returned to my mom’s house. I had to send a bizarre text (“Sorry, I can’t study tomorrow. My dad died.”) and then I called my childhood best friend. Numb, shocked, broken, I didn’t want to go to bed, because I dreaded waking up—I didn’t want that moment of remembering what had happened the night before, feeling it fresh all over again.

I think I fell asleep around 5:00 am. I was up by 7:00. I emailed my registrar, asking to defer my exams on Wednesday. I emailed my bosses, asking not to be called that week. And then I called my friend Rachel-the-Anglican-Priest. I’d been in her office the week before, seeking counsel for stress and family tensions. Now I had to explain, “So…new developments…”

This whole thing was so bizarrely scripted.

As promised, the picture of the cat says that things get a little more hopeful from here.

CuteKitteh

My maternal grandmother and I went to the church around eleven to sort out funeral details. Although my Dad was technically Catholic (and while I still am, technically), they could do a very inclusive service. They could recommend a good funeral home. They could help us through this—it was going to be all right, I had a community at Grace Church that loved and supported me.

I had cried in the hospital, but it had been like the tears were seeping out slowly. My grandmother stepped outside of the office, and then, alone with Rachel, I sobbed for the first time. And when she told me that it was terrible, and unfair, and painful, but that they were all there for me, I believed her. For a while, I’d considered Grace a safe place—but here it was, when I needed it most, as a rock in my life.

Thank you, all of my family at Grace, for doing infinitely more than I could ask or imagine. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is love, God is there.

Around two o’clock, I was at loose ends. My sister had been swept away by her friends and Mom was huddled on the couch with all of the relatives. I paced aimlessly. What would make me feel best right now? I asked myself. Who do I need to be with?

The answer was undeniable, if somewhat surprising.

Blythe. Right now, I need Blythe. 

Sure, we were friends. Sure, we saw each other outside of work. But this was heavy stuff. Was it too heavy? I hesitated, looping the kitchen. The answer didn’t change. And so, I texted her, asking if I could come over and escape the madness for a bit. As I sent it, I figured that I’d get a responding text in a few hours, maybe.

She called me before I’d even slipped my phone back in my pocket.

My uncle drove me to her place. At that point, I’d actually only been to Blythe’s apartment one time, so I was a little uncertain as I directed him there. But, soon enough, I was standing outside her door. As I jabbed the doorbell, part of me wondered what on Earth I was doing. The rest was just too numb.

The door flew open. “Hi!” Blythe said. “Come on up!”

Turning, I waved to my uncle, then followed her up the narrow staircase. Maybe we made awkward small talk, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that Blythe went into the apartment ahead of me. I bent down to take off my boots. When I glanced up, she was standing in the middle of her kitchen, looking at me: not with apprehension, but compassion. Suddenly, absolute certainty rushed over me. This was the right place to be.

She hugged me. She badgered me into eating part of an apple. Gave me odd jobs to distract me. And while the two of us tend to have different accounts of these sorts of things, I think it was then that things changed between us. We were friends before, certainly, but supporting someone in so much pain and shock is an entirely different thing. When I needed someone, she was there without question. I honestly do not think I could have managed those first few months without her.

Thank you, my friend—thank you, and all of my love.

On Wednesday, I went to work. I remember running out of the car, throwing the door open before Mom had really stopped, and booking it through the village. Like Grace, this was my place of safety. This was home. In hindsight, it must have seemed bizarre. Here I was, roaming the village with a haunted expression, dodging crowds of schoolchildren. This was my workplace—why on Earth was I there?

Because I needed to be. And credit to my supervisors and coworkers, they let me do my thing. They let me wander bleakly, surround myself with the people and places I loved. Some people came to the visitation that night (for which I was profoundly grateful, I couldn’t have done that without them—walking into the funeral parlour and seeing the casket, it was heartbreakingly, crushingly real). There was a card, filled with love. My boss sent a handwritten note. I still have all of these things.

Here is the thing about death. For the most part, it doesn’t make sense. If this was a novel, my editor would never let me get away with it. “What? And then he dies? No, that’s stretching credibility too far.”

When death strikes like this, the normal rules cease operating. And so we cry in our friends’ offices. We crash other friends’ dinner parties. We walk around our workplace because reasons. And people, for the most part, are just as stunned as us. Unsure how to react, they do the best they can: opening their arms with love, drawing us close, holding us near.

When you are grieving, nothing makes sense. You worry you’re too sad. You worry you’re not sad enough. You worry about burdening your loved ones. And at the same time—you need, desperately need that human connection. You need to be able to tell the story, as often as it takes. You need to be vulnerable, to cry—and also, sometimes, you need to go skating and live normally for a few hours, away from the sadness.

And if a grieving person comes to you…ask them. Ask them if they need to describe what happened again. Ask them if they just want to sit. Know that they may think they’re fairly functional, but in several months’ time, they will realize that they really, really weren’t.

Love us. That’s all we need.

It saddens me that almost everything that is now important in my life—working full time, Stonecoast, the nice young man, beer, my writing family, my current friendships—happened after Dad died. My life now is completely different from my life two years ago. But that’s what happens.

We heal, but we don’t recover. I will never not be sad about my dad. Every December will be hard for me. The body remembers, longer and more vividly than the mind. The body remembers the fall of light, the weight of the wind, the pattern of the clouds overhead. We don’t get over the loss; we make it a part of us, growing into and around it.

When a writer loves you, you can never die. Dad’s fingerprints touch my work now, even if it’s his death bleeding through again, and again. In the Victorian Dark Fantasy, Sara’s grief plays out alongside my own. In short story after short story, I try to use words to build a ladder down into the abyss, using fiction to go where I can’t.

Two years on, and I am usually happy. Sometimes I am sad, but usually I am happy, and I miss my Dad more than all those words can say.

MovieNight

-KT

 

Alone by Myself in Solitude: an introvert’s trials

So, in order to get time off for Stonecoast this July, I traded a whole bunch of shifts at work…which has resulted in me working eleven days straight. Right before that, I worked ten days straight—I had a day off in between the two stretches. Plus, I write at night.

I shouldn’t complain. I know people who work more hours, longer stretches, more stressful jobs.

But darn it, I really just want to sit alone by myself for a day. In the dark. And silence. Without people. Alone.

Huzzah for introversion!

As most people know, introversion isn’t about shyness or anti-sociability. It’s about energy production. Introverts generate energy within themselves, and lose it during social interaction. Important caveat: the energy loss varies from person to person. Chilling with friends takes energy, but significantly less than dealing with irate customers or dozens of strangers at a party. By contrast, extroverts generate energy through social interaction, and lose it when they have to be alone.

So ideally, for an introvert, life should look something like this:

IntrovertGraph

And for an extrovert:

ExtrovertGraph

Energy loss more-or-less equals energy generation. For introverts, that means that they get enough alone time to balance out the social interaction (which, while fun, is expensive, energy-wise). Extroverts get enough people time to compensate for the times that they’re alone. Everyone is happy.

It doesn’t always work this way.

Sometimes, like at cons, the creative environment and awesomeness of seeing everyone face-to-face masks the energy loss. That’s why so many introverts collapse after conventions; we’ve been steadily losing energy all weekend, we just haven’t really noticed. Adrenaline does the same thing. We had a fairly busy weekend in the brewery recently—and man, I was flying.

Sample! Growler! Growler sample growler! RETURN GROWLER SAMPLEGROWLERSAMPLESAMPLE!

And then I went home and promptly crashed.

Since Balticon, however, my own graph has looked more like this:

SadIntrovertGraph

It’s out of sync. My alone time isn’t enough to pay for the energy I’m spending on work, writing, and various other things. Think of a bank account. If my paycheque is suddenly slashed from $500 to $100/month (I’m using round numbers, bear with me), I’ll go into debt if I keep trying to pay my $200/month rent (again, I am pulling these numbers from the air).

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, your energy source is just as important as food and water. Extroverts need people. Introverts need solitude. Force them to go too long without their generator of choice, and bad things happen.

All of which explains my own exhaustion and irritability. Yeah, I’ll own up to that—I’m trying very, very hard, and I feel terrible after snapping at people, but it happens.

Oh hai. I see you there. Trying to take my precious, precious energy.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Oh hai. I see you there.
(Wikimedia Commons)

But what can we do? After all, at some point, every one of us will go through stretches like this.

Setting boundaries and limits helps, I think. I am protecting my few off-days. Communication, as well: explaining to people that you love them, AND ALSO need to sit alone by yourself in such solitude that you cannot even sense the presence of another human being.

And of course, knowing yourself and maybe planning for those stretches. For me, some of these extra shifts were unexpected; I’m trying to roll with it, but having strategies in place—carving out time with/without people, allowing yourself breaks, getting enough sleep and such, which I admit I struggle with—might have made this easier.

Ah well. Only a few more days. And then—

This:

-KT

Cool Thing of the Week

Apparently, I’m getting a reputation as a lush! My ten-year-old self would be horrified. Two people sent me the same link to 18th century drink recipes—I raise my eyebrow at the ones with egg and cream, but some of them actually look quite good!

Of Dead Laptops and Back-ups

So, my laptop died.

It was never quite the same after I mailed it home from New Zealand. For a while, I had one consistently good USB port, one which was dodgy, and one dead. Then the other day, I noticed that my laptop wasn’t charging…even though it was plugged in.

Unplugging, re-plugging, and all sorts of fiddling did nothing. To make matters even more fun (whee!), I’m currently in Virginia on a three-week interning spin with my dear friends Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. So, a bit far from home.

Fortunately, Pip and Tee are wonderful people. They drove me to Best Buy and waited while the Geek Squad determined that they might be able to ship my laptop back to Canada, where Future Shop might be able to possibly replace the power port to maybe extend my laptop’s life another couple of weeks.

And then they patted my shoulder as I coughed up the money for a new laptop.

There is never a good time, but this could have been better (oh hai, MFA tuition). But the most striking part of this whole experience was transferring the files from the old machine to this new one. The issue wasn’t one of space (again, wonderful friends that Pip and Tee are, I had the use of all the external drives I could ask for).

No, the main issue was time. Once that battery goes, the old machine’s done.

(And yes, I know about pulling hard drives…but I’m in Virginia. I’m not sure how or if I can get the old laptop home.)

So it was like standing in a burning house, wondering, “What do I save? What do I grab first? What can I leave behind?” All the while knowing that every second of indecision brings you closer to that final shutdown.

It’s probably the historian in me, but I like having links to my own past. Detailed records, a personal archive that is there, even if I rarely dip into it. Maybe it’s a security thing, knowing that I can always reconstruct things if necessary.

Obviously, getting the writing to safety is always top priority when things get squirrelly, which is why I’m actually pretty good about backing things up.

Pictures and music vied for second place. A 2011 family trip to Costa Rica, the last we took before my dad died. My New Zealand photos. Even just images for Black Creek and this blog – more a matter of convenience and posterity, but still.

iTunes is fine, so I grabbed whatever extra stock music and sound effects I could. Luckily, I pulled the raw Hapax files ages ago (they were large and numerous), precisely because of this fear of, “What if I need to go back in one day?”

That’s a fear I face now, with the videos. I got the final cuts of all my Black Creek videos, but very little raw footage or sound files. I can’t see why I would ever need to rebuild those videos from scratch, but if ever someone asked, I probably couldn’t. That worries me, even though it’s completely irrational. Again, I blame my historian streak.

But at the end of the day, the important things are really the things that are me. The writing, the music, the photos. Most other things can be found again, edited again. Music is challenging to replace; writing and photos can be almost impossible.

Which is why I will give the customary “Back your stuff up” speech. When my laptop died, I already had the entirety of my fiction backed up elsewhere. I did go back for a few university essays, but the writing was safe.

Most of my photos are on Facebook (though there are always strays). I’ve used Google Drive more and more lately; it holds the music for the kids’ opera, the videos, and a few other random documents. I have my own intern Dropbox now.

It’s easier than ever to protect your data. Yes, emergencies happen. Yes, the unforeseen is…well, unforeseen. But if you can take any steps to mitigate potential disaster (knowing it’s not always possible)…then please, save yourself the heartache later.

Here are some photos that I would have been sad to lose.

KT

069

Dad tanned. I do not.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I do like the furballs...

And I do love the furballs…