“Every day takes figuring out all over again how to f***ing live.”

The above quote comes from the marvellous Deadwood, out of the mouth of the marvellous Calamity Jane.

And I’m really feeling it right now.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted much of anything. Life is like that. Peaks and valleys. Hills and troughs. I feel like this is a lesson I’ve figured out before. Subsequently forgotten. And then had to learn all over again.

I was remembering how elated I was a year ago, nine months ago, six months ago. I was in a huge writing groove. I was feeling especially prolific. I thought I’d finally figured it out.

I’ve been writing. A lot.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve neglected this blog… and a variety of other social (media) endeavours. I thought I’d finally learned the way around the block. I’d finally mastered the steps and now I was ready to dance (a cliched, but apt metaphor).

I worked. I worked and worked. I worked really hard.

But it didn’t work. And I didn’t realize it until I thought it was done and I took a look at the first page and went nope. I just knew it wasn’t right.

And then I felt like bashing my head against a wall because I knew something was wrong with it, but I had absolutely no idea what. I’d done everything right, I told myself. I learned my lessons. I figured out what I had to do and I did it. And I worked really fucking hard at it.

But it still wasn’t right.

This made no sense to me. How was I still failing at this novel that I have been turning over and over for five years now? I’d written other things that came out perfect the moment I vomited them onto the page.

Why was this one not working?!

Maybe it was fundamentally flawed somehow. Maybe it was the great impossible thing. Maybe I should just abandon it completely.

I thought of this as well, and it just as easily could have been the title of this post instead: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” (ST: TNG)

But I couldn’t drop this project. Other projects I’ve abandoned, yes, but this one is like a child. I would be like Dumbledore dropping baby Harry off at the Dursleys… but only after realizing he’s a squib and deciding that it’s probably best to sever all ties completely.

Anyway. This all caught me at a rough time.

Januarys are usually brutal, to be sure, but it’s been especially so as of late. I’ve been down a rabbit hole.

A rabbit hole is how I come to think of my mental isolation, the feeling of being more or less trapped in my own mind, like an invisible barrier keeps me alone with my own thoughts and other human beings are difficult to connect with.

A rabbit hole… a euphemistic trick perhaps, allowing me to frame in a palatable way what is probably some form of depression, anxiety, seasonal affectiveness disorder, some combination of the above, or something else altogether.

A rabbit hole can also happen when I am very deeply entrenched in writing something. The two very often coincide, but they are markedly different. The former is characterized by negativity and the latter by positivity.

The two coincide, but writing does not make me depressed. Rather, writing is often an outlet helping me cope. Writing is how I climb out of the rabbit hole. It is how I work through things.

I’ve found that something pushes me down a rabbit hole, but, like Alice, everything I encounter down there is some surreal version of things that have subconsciously been plaguing me for ages. Weeks, months, years, my whole life even.

Writing turns these surreal things over and lets me examine them. Sometimes it doesn’t help, but sometimes I can exorcise old ghosts. So, in a way, even though these rabbit holes are dark and difficult, I need them. They are a valuable part of who I am. They let me focus. They push me to work my way out.

But this recent rabbit hole – and I say this having just clawed my way out – was a doozy. Something pushed me down a rabbit hole in October (nothing too severe, but work stress and uncertainty, which always brings up a lot of anxiety), and there I lingered through the Christmas season, forcing myself through. It was okay; I was writing a lot. I could still see the thin circle of sky above.

And then, thinking I had just clawed my way out, I read that first page of a finished draft and thought nope.

And then Grandma died.

That almost sounds like a punchline. And perhaps I need it to be.

My grandmother had been dying of Alzheimer’s for over ten years. Alzheimer’s is strange because it does funny things to the grieving process. It takes someone aways from you long before they are physically gone. You can hear their voice and look in their eyes, but they don’t look back and see you.

I don’t want to go into details about my grandma yet, at least not now. I already spoke about her at the funeral, and that was the closest I could come with words for a while. I’m not good at putting frustrations and grief into literal words. I need to put it into a story. That’s what stories are for, after all. Grief and everything grief can represent.

Stress about work and money is one thing. Fear for the future is rational.

But grief is something entirely different. Grief is fear for the past. And that is irrational. It’s already over, isn’t it? We can’t change it.

But we can change it. And we do. We change it everything a memory slips or shifts. Every time a photograph passes into new hands. Every time a story gets another layer of embellishment.

We don’t just grieve for those dead, we grieve for the past we shared with them. We grieve for the time we can’t revisit. What does it feel like to know that your childhood is gone forever? How immense is that weight?

Grief is different every time. There’s no pattern we can fall back on. We figure it out all over again every time we go through it.

That was what I clawed my way out of this rabbit hole learning: if I want to grieve, if I want to write, I have to figure it out all over again every time. There’s no one learning process to this. There’s no end date or final exam. It all shifts beneath us. What works one day won’t work the next.

Every day takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live.

 

The Cultural Exchange

My husband knows he married a Harry Potter enthusiast. And he, himself, long ago admitted that he once-upon-a-time had been something of a Star Trek fan. “When I was a kid,” he said with emphasis, as if awaiting judgment. But what judgment was I to pass? I was well into my twenties when I spent an entire semester solely on Harry Potter and class ideology. If the internet age has given anything to the western world, it’s the ability to admit to being a fan of Star Trek without fear of wedgies, swirlies or a state of general social outcast-ery.

Then it happened, by complete accident, that Husband had just begun reading the Harry Potter series when I noticed Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared on Netflix. Whether it was a new acquisition or whether it had been there all along, only to magically reveal itself when I truly needed it, I will never know. But alas: I started watching.

As we innocently and individually began our new pop culture treks journeys, we realized what was going on. Seven books = Seven seasons. We didn’t intend on this fortuitous exchange; it just happened. Surely something magical must be afoot? Because otherwise the only lesson to take from this is: if you’re not careful with your marriage, your individual subconsciousnesses grow together into one marital hive mind.

This all began a few weeks ago. Husband has since finished The Philosopher’s Stone, which means if we are going to keep pace, I should be done Season One. But, as he warned me, Season One is a bit of a slog. “Just wait for Riker’s beard to show up,” I was told. Yet, for someone who claimed Season One sucked, he sure can quote a lot of it. Not only that, he knows the name of every episode, all the characters’ names and histories, and fun trivia facts. He even admitted to have all the action figures as a child. The truth comes out.

But here’s the catch: I’m actually really liking it. Yes, even the routinely-mocked Season One. We bonded over laughing at Troi’s melodramatic outbursts. “This gets better?” I said with a grin on my face. I don’t mind camp and ridiculousness in my science fiction, as it turns out.

As we’ve pursued our new fictions, frequent questions have oft been asked of the other, more expert spouse. Our knowledge of the other’s fandom prior to the exchange has been patchy at best. By this, I mean we’ve both only seen the films. And those are NOT. THE. SAME. Husband’s seen the Harry Potter movies, and I’ve seen some of the Star Trek ones. Including the new ones. Ugh. Now I can understand Husband’s chagrin as he whined: “But they’re not Star Trek…”

I am also discovering that so much of ST: TNG is oddly familiar. Repressed memories are welling to the surface. My dad used to watch it occasionally, and I’m pretty sure now that I saw it a lot too. I have vague flashbacks of proclaiming Geordi LaForge my favourite character and sliding my plastic headband over my eyes. I’m sure my younger sister was unsuccessfully beamed up several times.

Our questions and predictions foisted upon the other have ranged from the bizarre and philosophical to the inanely naive. For instance, I pointed out that early in Season One, I totally got the vibe that we were leading up to a big Picard-is-Wesley’s-father reveal, for which I was sufficiently scoffed at. We’ve also discovered just how geeky the other spouse can be about their chosen fandom. We’ve been able to answer pretty much any question the other has thrown out, no matter how detailed. Fun Fact: Troi’s mother was played by Gene Roddenberry’s wife. (Go on, pretend you knew that. I’m sure you did. Honestly. No sarcasm here. I’m just new around these parts.)

Star Trek is something I’ve always suspected I would like, even as the adamant Star Wars fan I was a mere ten years ago. Bah, how foolish I seem now. Star Wars is over for me. I feel like I’ve aged out of Star Wars and into Star Trek. It’s a substance-over-style thing for me. These day, I actively look forward to roundtable discussions of geopolitics rather than shit blowing up. And the Prime Directive speaks strongly to the anthropology student in me. So why have I avoided Star Trek all these years? I can’t say with any certainty, but I feel a significant part of it is this feeling I have relating to genre. It’s not cognitive dissonance, but that’s the closest analogy I can think of.

I have always thought of myself a literary writer and reader. And I am. But there’s something I find so simply fascinating about science fiction. I read all genres really, but if I have to pick one: SF all the way. And more and more of the stories I want to tell are speculative fiction based: from space operas to dystopias to any number of magic realist spaces in between. Yet why does it feel like SF, or any genre really, is at odds with “proper literature”? It feels like I’ve spend so many years harbouring delusions of literary leanings, while consuming SF as a guilty pleasure, an indulgence, even. Like I’m on the Booker Prize diet and SF is my cheat day.

They’ve always felt at odds with each other, like there is a dreaded One Day looming when I will have to pick a side. I go to readings and art-related events and everyone talks about poetry and I feel like a fraud. Sure, I know of which they speak, and I can hold my own in literary discussions, but I can’t banish this dread in the back of my mind that Oh god, they’re going to discover I like genre fiction, and then I’ll be cast out on my ass!

It’s part of why I have two completed novels, one literary fiction, one science fiction, and I’ve been gripped by panic as to which one to try to publish first. Because whichever one it is: that will determine my career… forever.

I think now, at long last, that I know. Now, I could get into long explanations about the pretentiousness of much of the literary crowd, people believing their own hype, yada yada yada, but I think, at the end of it all, I can just stop taking myself so seriously. It’s science fiction for me all the way. Yes, I wrote a novel about pirates in space, and, you know what? It’s fucking awesome. I’ve even actually got an agent on the hook for it. (Truth.)

Thank you, Star Trek (and Husband). I might only be in the middle of your shitty first season, but I love you already.