this passage through the flames

This one has been hit­ting me par­tic­u­lar­ly hard late­ly, a wind­ing, dis­so­nant pulse that nev­er fails to draw me to a dark and calm­ing place. Gojira’s albums are filled with aggres­sive, intense pas­sages that explore themes of trau­ma, mys­ti­cism, and death, but none of their songs feel as heavy as this, no doubt influ­enced by the pass­ing of the Duplantier matri­arch1. Yet through­out, as with most of Joseph’s lyrics, is a sense of hope and opti­mism in the face of the chaos that con­stant­ly threat­ens to drown us all.

I’m at a point in my life — again — where it’s good to know that music can still bring me to tears. I long believed SNRIs had robbed me of the abil­i­ty to cry in those small moments between life-chang­ing crises.

It’s a solace I glad­ly accept when sleep is a rose that rarely graces my gar­den nowa­days. Even when I stay up beyond the point of exhaus­tion, I begin to stir short­ly after pass­ing out with thoughts swim­ming in my head, anx­ious and ter­ri­fied before I real­ize I’m already awake again.

And when I can’t con­cen­trate on the things that used to bring me joy, when all I can do is sit in the black­ness of my room, drunk, stoned, and sedat­ed, I’ll take any com­fort I can get.

  1. Mother of broth­ers Joe and Mario Duplantier, the lead vocal­ist / rhythm gui­tarist and drum­mer. []

pana-vision

I chose to brave New Year’s alone this year. The tim­ing of my seda­tives worked out where the option of tak­ing one was avail­able, but I even­tu­al­ly decid­ed against it. Isolation was some­thing I need­ed to face head-on, when every­one else was cel­e­brat­ing with friends and loved ones. If I could make it through (rel­a­tive­ly) sober, I could sur­vive the great­est fear I’ve had since I was a child: aban­don­ment.

alfie

At the casu­al box­ing day gath­er­ing I had the plea­sure of meet­ing Alfie, Cristina’s dap­per res­cue mutt who deals with the same social anx­i­ety issues as I do. Maybe that’s why we got along so well.

Probably also the fact that we were both dosed up.

It did­n’t end up being any­thing spec­tac­u­lar. Just a night with a gen­er­ous three hour win­dow to catch up on Nolan’s lat­est work1 and some extra time to fin­ish a cam­paign in Halo’s Master Chief Collection2.

Normalcy end­ed up being a gift I did­n’t real­ize I need­ed. The approach of each hol­i­day sea­son has been a loom­ing spec­tre ever since I cut the pow­er cord off a stand­ing Ikea lamp and made a noose to hang myself from the ban­is­ter 10-ish years ago3, and the anniver­sary effect still hits me hard.

Being alone was a way to prove to myself that I’m not so help­less now, that I don’t have to be trapped in a past that still haunts me. I’ve come a long way since that fate­ful morn­ing, when I was inter­rupt­ed by two cops who would­n’t leave unless I agreed to let them dri­ve me to the hos­pi­tal. Developing a wider emo­tion­al vocab­u­lary, nur­tur­ing healthy rela­tion­ships instead of tox­ic ones, work­ing with a ther­a­pist every month, and con­sis­tent­ly step­ping out of my com­fort zone so I can learn and grow are all things that have giv­en me bet­ter tools and resources to sur­vive.

opening presents

A new set of match­ing paja­mas for the whole fam­i­ly each year is the kind of tra­di­tion I’ll nev­er get to have for myself, a fact that was much more painful for me to accept before I start­ed look­ing for ful­fill­ment in ways that don’t depend on oth­ers. Instead of feel­ing a tinge of sad­ness, I can now enjoy and appre­ci­ate expe­ri­ences like this.

Spending Christmas with Aaron and his fam­i­ly this year cer­tain­ly stayed any feel­ings of lone­li­ness.

When I told him how scared I was of being iso­lat­ed over the hol­i­days, he insist­ed I stay with them or risk dis­ap­point­ing the kids. It was a touch­ing threat, as well as a sign of how pro­tec­tive Aaron is of the peo­ple he cares about (and some­thing I would­n’t have noticed until Heather point­ed out).

A few years ago, I might have believed it was a ges­ture out of char­i­ty or pity. Now I’m con­fi­dent enough in my self-worth to know the invi­ta­tion was extend­ed because he gen­uine­ly enjoys my com­pa­ny and believes I’m a pos­i­tive influ­ence on his chil­dren (who have referred to me as “Uncle Jeff” ever since they could talk).

hand drawn Christmas cards

I col­lect my birth­day and Christmas cards, one of the few tan­gi­ble things I receive from the dwin­dling fam­i­ly I have left, and prob­a­bly a sign that there are lin­ger­ing inse­cu­ri­ties. Hand-drawn ones like these are par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial; I feel seen when some­one appre­ci­ates the meals I make them or my gam­ing abil­i­ties or sim­ply myself as a per­son.

To be loved by chil­dren and ani­mals — beings who are too inno­cent to have ulte­ri­or motives for express­ing such feel­ings — is some­thing I’ve come to cher­ish a great deal after a life­time of emo­tion­al manip­u­la­tion.

Being around four kids and five adults left me so wired that I had to leave a night ear­li­er than planned so as to avoid burn­ing myself out, even if years of unbear­able lone­li­ness meant I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to stay. It was com­fort­ing enough to see me through one of the most dif­fi­cult nights I’ve annu­al­ly come to dread.

When I thanked him after­wards, he told me it would mean a great deal to every­one if I joined them each year, but no pres­sure. Having a place to go, but more impor­tant­ly, know­ing it’s because my pres­ence would be val­ued instead of an oblig­a­tion due to rela­tion, has giv­en me a feel­ing of accep­tance and belong­ing I thought would be for­ev­er beyond my reach, and a sense of hope I believed was eter­nal­ly lost.

  1. Oppenheimer was the first of his films that was­n’t my thing, but as with Scorsese, Malick, Anderson, Tarantino, and Villeneuve’s oeu­vres, I’ll always be pay­ing atten­tion. []
  2. I’ve nev­er owned a Microsoft con­sole, so while some mechan­ics and lev­el designs are extreme­ly dat­ed, I’m still enjoy­ing my delve into the his­to­ry of such a huge cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non as the Halo series. []
  3. Dates and mem­o­ries tend to be very hazy around that time, espe­cial­ly when I try not to think about it too much. []

country feedback

My sin­gle-lens reflex used to be a con­stant com­pan­ion on my trips, some­thing I car­ried with me every­where so I could have visu­al records of my expe­ri­ences. Nowadays, my only inten­tion is sur­vival. Always try­ing to make sure I’m nev­er too hun­gry, tired, anx­ious, or sober, lest I have break­down in an unfa­mil­iar place. It leaves lit­tle room for com­fort, even less for any form of artis­tic expres­sion. Fortunately, I always have with me a smart­phone with a cam­era. It may not be able to give me the razor-thin depth-of-field that I favour, but it can cap­ture things in slow motion, which is great for cock­apoos who are born to fetch.

I thought I was sta­ble enough to make it a few hours in a house alone with one of her broth­ers, but the anx­i­ety attack I had while try­ing to fall asleep taught me oth­er­wise. Being in the pres­ence of a per­son with such a flat affect reminds me too much of the time in my life when I was so numb and bro­ken that noth­ing could pro­voke inter­est or emo­tion. Sometimes I’ll find him in a lounge chair for hours, legs reclined, com­plete­ly motion­less and silent and star­ing into space. Even though we’re all glad he’s home and no longer liv­ing on the streets, being around him can be a dis­com­fort­ing still-face exper­i­ment I’d rather not take part in.


Her mom knows how hard it is for me to leave the house, let alone trav­el to anoth­er town, so she always makes her con­tent­ment known when I show up at her door. The shelves in her house are adorned with pic­tures of cou­ples, fam­i­lies, chil­dren, records of a life rich with friend­ships and mem­o­ries. I’m hon­oured to be among them, for I can­not con­cede to being sig­nif­i­cant enough to take up such space in many oth­er homes.

She’s the clos­est I’ll ever have to a moth­er-in-law, and she gives me a hug and tells me she loves me for the first time as we leave. Heather will lat­er ask if I think it’s true, know­ing how hard it can be for me to process and accept love after so many bro­ken rela­tion­ships with sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple. I tell her I haven’t been giv­en a rea­son believe oth­er­wise.

the last blogger

I only knew Dooce through her infamy as the first per­son to suf­fer real-life con­se­quences for things she wrote online. It’s hard for me to be inter­est­ed in the life of any­one I don’t know per­son­al­ly (excep­tions made for peo­ple I feel inspired by or am crush­ing on), and the hand­ful of times in twen­ty years that I was curi­ous enough to vis­it her web­site, I was met with some enter­tain­ing writ­ing about mar­riage and moth­er­hood that I could­n’t give a fuck about.

The last time would have been a few years ago; I tend to check up on a few blog­gers every so often when I’m won­der­ing how the land­scape has evolved1. As one of the few who were pop­u­lar enough to make a liv­ing off the wit­ty rev­e­la­tions of per­son­al details, she eas­i­ly made the list. That’s why it was so dis­con­cert­ing to find that some months there was a sin­gle post, and the post was a list of spon­sored links to things peo­ple could buy. It was espe­cial­ly strange to find her dis­cussing diges­tive issues while a giant ban­ner would fight for my atten­tion under­neath: “And for any­one who may be expe­ri­enc­ing what I am, ButcherBox is run­ning a spe­cial pro­mo­tion through the end of the month where new mem­bers receive ground beef in every box for the life­time of their sub­scrip­tion.”

How much of her writ­ing was gen­uine? How do I trust the words of a per­son who seems to be cap­i­tal­iz­ing on her mis­for­tune?

Perhaps that’s why I was­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly moved when I found out she com­mit­ted sui­cide two months ago. It felt like I nev­er knew who she tru­ly was beneath the curse words and prod­ucts being hawked. I also have a hard time empathiz­ing with any­one who would describe preg­nan­cy as an “end­less trove of con­tent”. For me, that kind of mind­set reeked too much of melo­dra­ma, which I find dis­taste­ful enough to avoid in real life.

It glads my heart when I stum­ble across anoth­er online diary nowa­days. A gen­uine one, of course, not updates from a com­pa­ny or a cook­ing blog that’s stuffed with pho­tos to pad the time some­one stays on the page before the recipe is found. No one enter­tains the same audi­ence as they used to, and I much pre­fer that to the kind of inter­ac­tive “con­fes­sion­al” Dooce had, or the social media influ­encers of today.

I’m remind­ed of how for­tu­nate I am to still have this lit­tle cor­ner of the web to express myself, a place where I’m not behold­en to any read­ers for a source of income. So often I find myself too bro­ken to get out of bed, too strung out to pur­sue my projects, too busy to find 15 min­utes to work on a lick. And dur­ing the stretch­es of time when I’m recov­er­ing and there’s noth­ing note­wor­thy to talk about, I’m relieved I don’t have to man­u­fac­ture expe­ri­ences to keep any­one’s atten­tion. I still get mail ask­ing if there are any spots for adver­tis­ing or avail­abil­i­ty for spon­sored posts, and they all get prompt­ly get filed away in the trash.

  1. Also a good way for me to keep abreast on the lat­est web tech­nolo­gies. []

blood simple

Byron died.

It was sud­den and com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed; one after­noon we noticed that he kept to him­self, curl­ing up in dark spots that he was­n’t known to fre­quent. We knew there was a prob­lem when he would­n’t eat, then he passed away at the vet that day. That was almost three years ago, but I haven’t had the strength to prop­er­ly eulo­gize him. It’s too painful when I already spend my days either cry­ing or cried out.

Byron in a ball of yarn

I did­n’t even have a chance to say bye.

That’s why these drafts keep pil­ing up. I miss writ­ing as much as I miss the hairy lit­tle com­pan­ion who would jump on my lap for atten­tion every morn­ing, but tak­ing the ener­gy to cre­ate feels so mean­ing­less when I bare­ly have the spoons to cook for two peo­ple and keep a clean house. I don’t even know if I’ll be alive in anoth­er year. The jury’s still out, and I’ve decid­ed they can take their time for now instead of rush­ing towards a ver­dict.

It’s also why I’ve been on a reg­u­lar dose of seda­tives since last win­ter. I used to have to lie down for blood tests1, while vac­ci­na­tions were total­ly fine. After all, there’s noth­ing being drawn, no crim­son essence I can see rush­ing from my body into lit­tle vials. But when I almost passed out, then vom­it­ed, at a clin­ic for a boost­er shot last year, I knew mind­ful­ness tech­niques and breath­ing exer­cis­es could do only so much.

Continue read­ing “blood sim­ple”…

  1. I’d get so light-head­ed that I’d faint. []