the ship has turned

I try not to complain too much in this space, but if you know me in person (ahem, Duchessers on the opening weekday shift), you've heard me air more than a few grievances over the last two-and-a-half years.  It has been really hard. By 'it', I mean all of it, or what has seemed like all of it. And by 'hard' I mean nigh on unbearable.

There has been the (naively unexpected) struggle to stand up under the weight of adult responsibilities. Owning, keeping, and renting a house is, it turns out, more than we signed up for. When mushrooms started growing out of the baseboards in my study last spring, I thought that I might have finally reached the end of my rope. Then the rain in August happened; we left in the middle of the night and over four months later returned home. I lost most of my garden last year. I almost lost my most important person. There has been the battle to keep our relationship healthy, alive, existent--and I spent much of the winter battling against Tim rather than for him. I did damage that terrifies me. There has been a five-year history of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression to start recovering from, and redeeming, and this has seemed like a doomed project. In January I wrote: the more I notice my problems, the more I delve into my own mind, the harder it is to act normal. I feel like I am giving body to a latent, restless ghost of craziness which has just been waiting in my head for me to fully incarnate it. There's been the daily pressure of living on a low income. There's been the daily impossible decision to try to produce creative work when I could be earning money instead. There's been this incredibly long, drawn-out quest for a bachelor's degree, and a point last August when I thought I'd decided I wouldn't finish it. There have been fucking long winters. There have been hopes and plans buried alternately under clutter, under snow, under raw sewage, under red tape, under the covers, under pages of lists, under my own hands.

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On Tuesday morning, Tim and I had just returned from the mountains. Tim's parents, who had been keeping Simpkin for us, were supposed to be delivering him home any minute. Tim sat down at his desk, looked at his screen and said, "Lizzie, you are really, really not going to like this". I knew instantly. A window screen had come off in the night; Simpkin was gone; they'd only just noticed. Tim's mum came to pick us up so we could search and call for him.

Is is my temperament, or the sympathy-enabling super-connectivity of the world, or a human penchant for rehearsing grief that made it familiar? I felt I could have been the one reading the email to Tim. I knew it all. I knew that within days I would be at a vet or the SPCA to identify a piece of roadkill that had once been the sweet, brave cat I once adopted. I would not have been surprised to see a bloody, furry lump on the side of the street in St. Albert where Tim's parents live.

Except that right now, Simpkin is asleep on our bed and has been all day.

When we got to St. Albert, we were out of the car and calling. I looked under cars, tried to look through the planks into neighbors' backyards, looked under bushes and porches. I circled the block. It started to get hot and I started to feel sick. There was a forecast for temperatures above 30 C. We searched the overgrown backyard again. The shed. The room downstairs with the open window in case he came back. Then I sat on the front steps and cried. Tim brought me water and made Simpkin an entry in a missing pets database. We decided to print off a poster with a picture Tim's sister had taken before Simpkin disappeared, then go home. The printer wasn't working. We ate bowls of Vector cereal and Tim went downstairs to try to print from the desktop computer. I went back outside. I looked under the shed again. Tim came out, holding a printed sheet. "I  don't know if this is any good--he looks black." I heard something and called, interrupting Tim. I heard it again. I called. Tim said, "I think it's a bird, but try again." A sad, cracking quack more than a meow. We thrashed aside raspberry canes. I went around to check the other side of the patch, and when I ran back Tim was holding a spitting, hissing Simpkin aloft. I ran inside for the crate while Tim pinned him down--Tim's mum had been watching from the window and was already handing it to me at the door of the bathroom. We let Simpkin into the crate and took him inside to recover. My anger and muteness toward Tim's mum had disappeared. Everything could be good again. We brought him home, cleaned his ears, sprayed him with water for heat exhaustion. Here he is. He is fine.

"I'm so glad I went back outside. He might have died of exposure--it was so hot and those bushes are so thick."

"Yes. It would have been sad to find a little cat skeleton out there in the winter when the foliage died back."

I almost howled at the thought.

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Of course, I was convinced that we had not only lost Simpkin, we were once again being made calamity's bitch. But I think there has been a change.

Today my grandparents on my mum's side stopped by to tell me that they are distributing some of the proceeds from the sale of their house in town. Later in the week I will be receiving several thousand dollars. First I thought: This is the beginning of the end. They are sharing out portions of their estate. On the heels of my premature feelings of fear and grief and (already) denial: an inappropriate, wild sense of relief. Something good has happened. And I thought: This is the beginning. The ship is beginning to turn. After this torturous year, someone has come to my rescue. Someone is easing this weight on me. Now things are possible. 

(It is characteristic of my grandparents to come to my rescue.) The money means that I can pay off my student loan and my credit card and still have enough left over to cover my next semester of tuition--because I am going back to school in September. If I get my usual grant from the government, most of the year's tuition will be paid for. I can almost certainly graduate without debt.

For now, I am reeling. I am tempted to chastise myself for these past months of bitterness and despair, but I mostly just want to share the good--fantastic, lovely, iridescent, delicious--news. Thanks for sticking with me. Sailing on.

xx Lizzie

picking things up and putting them down

A print that Liam made for me from a set of photos he shot at the end of last summer. I'm deadlifting 215 pounds. 
It's taken me way too long to get around to the subject of lifting, at least on this blog. If we're friends on facebook, you've probably already noticed me bragging and rhapsodizing--I believe my last related status was "I swear lifting is going to save my life".

Our barbell is set up in the garage. When we finally moved back home after New Year, I was a mess and all I wanted to do was start baking bread and lifting again. I made it out a few times during a false spring in January, but it was April before it warmed up enough for me to get back to any kind of schedule. I don't think I can bear another winter off; luckily, I'm going back to university in September to finish my undergraduate degree and utilize the hell out of my gym privileges.

55 pounds. Overhead press is a bitch. 

The prophetic piece of drywall leaning against the wall in front of the cage.

fancy lifting shoes
I try to go out every other day. I wear shorts or leggings and a t-shirt, canvas shoes or Vibrams. (There was one day in January that I found myself working out in a jersey dress. I went with it.)  I bring a water bottle and sometimes coffee. I unlock the garage, hit the industrial-sized power switch, hard, and squeeze past Tim's bicycle into the half of the garage which does not comprise Tim's workshop, where the barbell keeps the lawnmower and the miscellany company. I put down my drink and my keys and start loading up the bar for deadlifting. I can do all of this even when I can't concentrate on anything else. I can almost always drag myself to the garage and pick up the first plate. Then I'm fine.

garage view

cage
Deadlifting. Always 135 pounds to start. That's the bar with one big plate on each end--it's the lowest weight that puts the bar at a good height to squat behind, grasp, and stand up with. When I started last summer, this was my working weight. Today, if everything goes well, I'll move up through sets of 165, 195, 205, and 215 pounds. And I'll enjoy it--though deadlifting is unquestionably the hardest part, and once I'm done, the other lifts seem less daunting in comparison. Rows: 85 x 5 x 3. Low squats: 85 x 8 x 3. Overhead press: 55 x 5 x 3. Bench press: 65 x 8 x 3.

I have a long way to go (and if I have my way, if I get my hopes up, a very long way to go), but it was with a bit of shock that I realized, late last summer, that I'm pretty good at this. It fits me. I like it. It was with considerably more shock that I realized, yesterday, that at some point I must have rescinded my life-long official superpower wish--invisibility (a classic female)--for strength. I want to be strong. I want to be seen. (That picture that Liam took is my favorite photograph of me, ever.)

plates and tea cup
On the side, I'm working on being able to do pull-ups and chin-ups and handstands. I'm trying to eat properly. I'm biking everywhere and, forgive me, but I have a killer tan. I'm living in a pair of rather short shorts. Oh this summer is delicious.

ETA: Naturally, I have a lifting crush. This is her.


medieval sleeping

I'm up at 2:30 am to drink fennel tea and knit. It's been a long week and I have a few things to say:

This introversion thing is real. I realize this when I wake up at midnight in order to sit alone not-talking.

Too many days have gone by without my being able to do this. My balance is off. I ache. I am confused and helpless. I can't see myself or anyone else. By the time I finished work yesterday, I was hardly functioning. Introverts are in vogue at the moment, but it is still a tiny bit socially unacceptable to announce that you feel strung out and unhinged and hungover from too much social interaction, especially if you work in customer service. Well, I feel all of those things. Sometimes I resent the fact that so much of social energy is used up by my job and not with my friends. Sometimes going for coffee is the last thing I want to do. Sometimes a party is a house-sized hell. Sometimes I find it difficult to live with my own partner. Sometimes I find it difficult to live with my cat.

Solitude is not a luxury for me. Coming to this 3:00 am conclusion feels surprisingly rebellious. I am under enormous pressure to ignore my need for time alone, for personal work, for self-direction, for slow, for quiet. Even I have measured my level of mental health by my ability to cope cheerfully with social situations--and of course, being able to "cope cheerfully" is a necessary skill, something that makes my life easier. It's a mistake, however, for me to set the bar there, where I'm merely coping and not thriving.

On the cusp of three days off, a defiant list before bed.

To Do:

- spend a whole day reading
- walk in the cemetery
- take a weekend off from email, facebook
- binge-knit a sweater
- write on a non-project (i.e. do the work from which projects emerge)
- plan another solo trip
- plan a smaller dinner party
- make a new zine because I love to, not because it is a good career move
- protect my little routines
- do a fast day (for the first time in ages and ages)
- bake sourdough bread



(if you're curious about the post's title)

On returning to a house you expected not to return to

In January, we moved back into our house instead of moving to Germany. The plan fizzed out in November or December and it was my fault. Everyone here knows almost exactly what went on between the end of summer and Christmas: the drama, the sex, the ugliness between Tim and I that started to affect everyone around us. Forgive me, but I am not prepared to write all of that. Looking back, less than two months later, I already feel that I became unhinged in a completely characteristic, devastating, and embarrassing way; there is a sense of tragic inevitability about everything that went wrong, even as I complained (to everyone), bewildered and raging. I don't know what to say.

I do know that it would be a cop-out for me to write it off as a passing bout of craziness. Since I have been back here, basking in privacy and normalcy, there have been uncomfortable daily doses of self-realization. (Maybe moving to Germany was a way to try and run away. If I've managed to come back to myself, it's been to find a charming house that is falling down.) I have been thinking about my own anxiety, fear, anger, mental health. I've been examining memories of myself and my parents. I have seen patterns emerging in the events of the past 6 or 7 years--ways I have continually sabotaged myself and others, mistakes I keep making, ways I have of thinking about the world as an enemy, ways I have of thinking of my own life as something terrible that happens to me, my life as something I must make up or apologize for. 

I like to call myself a writer, and the stories I like to tell myself are profoundly unhelpful, even damning. 

That sense of tragedy, for instance, is a double-edged sword. Do my own personality, habits, habits of thought cause a set of predictable problems? Yes. Is it productive to view myself as a plane flying futile and unstoppable into a tower? No. Tim and I were talking this morning about family- and self-narratives. It is so important to take on the role of a wise and and wry and hopeful storyteller in relation to your own life. It is so hard to do that. I tend to sing the songs of disappointment, helplessness and thwarted expectations. When I became an atheist, I threw away the convenient (often hopeful, comforting, and stabilizing) narrative of liberal Christianity and cobbling together a replacement has been a discouraging business. (Interestingly: I have realized that the process of reading and writing itself constitutes what comes closest to a religious rite for me, and that literature grounds me the same way that Christianity used to.)

I would like to stop living in a post-modern crisis mode which I recite into existence. I started by trying to deal with the panic attacks--I've mostly stopped having them, and now I am taking L-theanine for anxiety. Every morning, Tim weighs me out a dose on a cute little drug scale and mixes into a shot glass of water. For the first time in five years, I don't feel at all times like a hunted antelope. Other changes are coming. I am writing again, and with any luck, I'll soon be able to share some poetry and at least one short story. I hope to start adding content to my Tumblr project this week. It's good to return.