Tagged: Thoughts

I've been blogging a long time

- by Alyson Shane


(A portrait of a lady on her blog with a mug promoting her blog)

and it's weird to think about how much of my life has been chronicled here over the years. I started this iteration of this blog 13 years ago and if I go into my blog backend I can see posts that I wrote when I lived in other places, loved other people, and was 

a different person in so many ways.

I've been publishing online since 2000 but jumped around to different hosting platforms as they came and went

at first I had a LiveJournal
then a DeadJournal
then I was on Blogger.com
then I was on WordPress

and now because I'm married to a software developer I use his custom CMS called Elefant and he maintains it for me 

which is a huge relief because HTML and CSS were never my strong suit.

The other day I was talking to a student and mentioned that I've been blogging all this time and she said 

"why? How do you still find stuff to talk about after all these years?"

and I said Well, I write about my life and I keep livin' it, so I keep writing.

How much I blog has ebbed and flowed over the years

there was a time when I blogged every single day and that was hard because sometimes it was a struggle to pull a thought or a story or a post out of the humdrum of day-to-day life

but it was rewarding because I got much, much better at my craft and found my voice in a new way because when you really think about it

this blog is an ongoing piece of art made of my words and thoughts

pixels on a screen organized into dates and timestamps that give me a sense of place and time and offer this strange little window in the things I was thinking, feeling, going through in that moment.

The posts on this blog feel like 

puzzle pieces of my heart
of my soul
of myself 

that I've worked on for years and years

creating a larger image that grows with me

a map of myself that I discover as I explore it in real-time.

Of course people have made fun of me for blogging over the years, rolled their eyes when I pulled out my camera to take a picture of dinner

(this was before iPhones and Instagram)

I've had people treat my blog like it isn't art
tell me it isn't "real" writing
or that it's not a serious form of self-expression

but yr art isn't for other people so it's cool if they don't understand it

or get jealous or petty when the thing you love to do and have done with love for years opens up opportunities for you.

Being known as a writer is why I have my company, why I've gotten speaking gigs and teaching jobs and been on committees and panels and been a spokesperson for causes I believe in

because Alyson Circa 2000 needed a place to put her feelings and stuck with it

despite dry spells
despite feeling dumb
despite feeling nervous, embarrassed, ashamed

this ever-evolving piece of art is something that never fails to make me

so happy.


 

I feel good lately

- by Alyson Shane


the window's open and I'm in a beam of sunlight drinking a coffee my man made for me and listening to Qveen Herby 

last night I knocked out two pages in my art journal, one about some sad stuff and another about some feel-good shit

I made cardboard rollers and stamps and listened to Conan's podcast and giggled over dumb texts and jokes with friends.

The thing about being in a dark place for a long time is that you don't realize how low and sad you are until you start to pull out of it.

If you'd asked me in February I'd have said I was at my lowest in a long time, and I was, but now that I'm moving on from unhealthy relationships, patterns, and beliefs about myself I'm realizing that

no, I was doing badly for a long time before then.

In 2019 a thing happened — someone I cared about and trusted and was trying to help made fun of me behind my back on a secret Instagram account that several of my friends followed.

Probably unsurprisingly, that fucked with my head. I started to doubt if the people I surrounded myself with

liked me
cared about me
were laughing at me behind my back
thought I was

like that.

I lost myself in the worry and fear and anxiety of not knowing where I stood with people. 

I slowly spiralled into a dark place where I doubted my ability to write, create, imagine

I stopped dressing up, felt guilty about wearing makeup and leaning into expressing myself

I tried to dim my light because it seemed to overwhelm people around me

and yet it never seemed to make a difference. I kept feeling like an outcast, a second-rate friend, and unimportant to the people I loved.

(If I post on social media that I'm struggling and you're my "friend" and you don't reach out are you even a friend? 

How do I interpret getting messages of love and support from strangers when the people I used to hold closest to my heart avoid asking me how I'm doing?)

For a long time I turned those bad feelings in on myself

(this is my pattern)

but lately those bad feelings have been slipping away though words, paper clippings, layers of paint and stitched-together ideas

laughs and good chats with friends, long hugs, tearful candid conversations

working out, eating better, drinking more water and less alcohol, doing yoga and sitting with my body

listening to podcasts and reading books about philosophy, mindfulness, and creative self-expression

watching movies and comedy specials that make my face hurt from laughing.

Maybe this is just the natural evolution of moving past something

shedding the skin of the sad, small, struggling person I was allowing myself to become

stepping out into something brighter, fuller, more me?

I couldn't tell you; I've never gone through something this dark and bad and hard before

but I feel like I'm moving past it

coming through slaughter

holding my treasured people close and laughing and smiling and leaning into the good parts of life

more than I have in a long, long time.


 

It's so hard to turn away sometimes

- by Alyson Shane

As far as news consumption goes I guess you could say I obsess a little bit, but I'm a wonky person who likes to be well-informed and finds politics and rhetoric interesting and important and so I listen to multiple podcasts, like

Up First
What a Day
The New York Times Daily
The NPR Politics Podcast
Pod Save America
Pod Save the World
America Dissected
FiveThirtyEight Politics

just to name a few

and every day I read articles from the New York Times, the CBC, The National Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Los Angeles Times

just to name a few

and as a Canadian who attended a Black Lives Matter protest that was 20,000 people strong and managed to go off peacefully and without a hitch being bombarded by media coverage of how badly things are going in America is

horrifying, to say the least

and this morning on NPR I heard about the 52-year old Navy vet named who showed up and was beaten by police for

literally just standing there
trying to talk to the officers

and that was scary and awful but then I came across a video of what happened on my Twitter feed and I wasn't prepared for what I saw



you don't have to watch the whole interview (though you should) but at least watch the part that starts around 1:00 where a federal officer just WAILS on him for several seconds before they douse HIS FACE in pepper spray

and yes I've read news reports and listened to pundits talk about it but somehow still wasn't prepared to see it play out on camera, and as I scrolled through the Portland news in my feed and watched videos of federal agents in riot gear shoving people and beating them up and barrelling into groups of moms peacefully protesting, tears started rolling down my face and I became a big, blubbering mess

because I'm terrified for the people in Portland and Chicago and Detroit and for

all of America, really

because this is what the slide into fascism looks like.

Being Canadian and watching this go down just south of the border is complicated because, on one hand, thank god that's not happening in my city, in my country, thank god I don't have to put on a helmet and a mask every night and go out and march until the morning light just to get police to stop killing black people

but on the other hand I can't do anything. All I can do is sit in front of my screen and cry and get upset and blog and hope against hope that things turn out ok in America

but I'm not holding my breath.


 

I first heard Beirut at a street festival

- by admin


I was standing in a back lane eating the tiniest radishes that I'd bought from a girl who grew them in her backyard and looking at hand-made soaps and someone started playing it on a boombox that they were carrying around with them like it was the 90's.

That summer I was living in my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Roslyn Manor and the next time I heard it was while drinking sangria in my claw-foot tub trying to fight off the sticky summer air.

My apartment overlooked a narrow courtyard and the apartment across the way was playing it with the windows open.

We all had our windows open that summer.

In the still-warm days of early fall I went camping at Grand Beach with a huge group of girls that I barely knew and in the evening we made spaghetti squash over the campfire and drank wine out of a bag and the next day we went to the nude beach and danced with nothing but sand on our bodies.

While we were dancing it came on the iPhone playlist we were listening to and I sang along through my wine-induced haze and ate cherries from the a picnic basket that also got covered in sand once the wind began to pick up.

I was single, then, and the autumn days were long and beautiful and the nights were longer and even more beautiful and as the winter came and I found myself in love and at the start of something new I heard it one last time at a bakery sharing a slice of key lime pie and drinking coffee.

We watched scattered snowflakes and I felt as though I was closing one book and opening another.

Hearing this song again today for the first time in years it's hard not to feel that way again.

Funny what music can stir in yr heart.

Tags: Music Thoughts

 

I try to rest a bit on Sundays

- by Alyson Shane


This morning I was having a dream about being in school, or on a campus of some sort. My dreams are typically pretty vivid and have been positive and adventurous recently, which I've enjoyed. 

I was dreaming about sitting in a too-hot kiddie pool and talking to a boy named Eric that I went to high school with about politics when John slid back into bed and brought the cats with him. 

We lay there for a long time pressing our bodies together and talking while the cats crawled over us. We talked about the future and our hopes and dreams, and when it got too hot and uncomfortable to lie in bed together we untangled ourselves and went upstairs.

John makes coffee every morning, and this morning while he was catching up with his mom on the phone I went into the sun room to spend some time reading.

I've just started a new Haruki Murakami novel and I'm already halfway through.

Not that I'm bragging or anything; the intro and story are 101 pages total and I can usually read 50-100 words in a sitting, so having started it yesterday and finished it today is pretty standard for me.

But then again I've always read quickly.

I'm reading Wind/Pinball, which is a collection of two of Murakami's first stories. Hear the Wind Sing is the first one, and Pinball is the second.

I like Murakami's novels because even though they explore themes like relationships and loneliness and loss, on the surface nothing much ever happens.

At least, not in the traditional narrative sense.

Humans like to read stories that have a complete narrative arc. We like beginnings, middles, and ends that arrive at conclusions that make us feel like everything's resolved.

I read a book in university called The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell about this exact topic, and he says:

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It's usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.

I've read several of Murakami's novels now, including:

- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
- Kafka on the Shore

and my favourite Norwegian Wood

and can say that generally speaking the stories in his novels don't follow this arc.

Most of Murakami's stories are about a series of normal and benign things that happen to people (usually men) peppered with strange details, made-up references, or the occasional quote so striking that you have to go back and re-read it a few times.

Things happen, and characters explore their feelings and experiences, but his novels feel subdued and introspective and placid in a way that makes him inaccessible for a lot people, I think.

I'm the only person I know who has read any of his work, come to think of it.

Lately I've been trying to do as much of my reading in the sunroom as I can.

Our sunroom is walled-in, but has several large windows that we keep open spring, summer, and fall, but close when it gets too cold in the winter.

I like to work there, or sit and read, and listen to the sounds of the neighbourhood go by.

Today, after I finished reading Hear the Wind Sing, I sat in the sunroom in a beam of light, sipping the coffee John made for me and watching the neighbourhood come to life. A dog was barking down the street. Kids were playing in the front yard across the road.

In front of my house a man walked by pushing with stroller with a small baby tucked up inside of it. He had on sandals, jean shorts, a band tank top, Ray Bans, a man-bun, and was holding a coffee from a trendy little shop up the road.

His other child, a boy of one or two, toddled along ahead of the stroller, teetering on his newly-found legs and feet.

The dad watched after his older son, balancing the coffee cup on the handle of the stroller as he pulled the shade down over his infant's eyes, protecting his infant from the brightness and heat.

He couldn't have been any older than I am.

Watching him reminded me that in a few months I'll be married. Moving into the phase of life dedicated to homes and kids and parenting.

No more lazy Sundays spent sipping fancy coffee with whisky in it watching the neighbourhood come alive through a beam of sunlight in yr sunroom.

Nothing makes you feel older than being around other people.

In the story I was reading Murakami says: “all things pass. None of us can manage to hold on to anything. In that way, we live our lives."

I think he's right.

Tags: Books Thoughts

 

You can make money doing anything these days

- by Alyson Shane


I've been working for nearly 10 hours so to mellow I was sitting on the couch watching a video by my favourite ASMR artist

(look it up)

where she's walking around her studio showing people the process and setup she uses to create ASMR videos and I keep thinking

"This girl has 1.5 million subscribers and makes a living creating these videos"

which literally involve creating fake scenes and talking/whispering gently at people to help them relax, go to sleep, or just feel nice.

And yes, okay, it's not a perfect system and video creators have to work a crazy grind to beat the algorithm and generate enough ad revenue

but it's still kinda nuts that this is the thing she does to make money, don't you think?

Either way, as I'm watching this video she starts talking about how she looks "deep into the eye of the camera" so she can create a more intimate experience for the viewer, and how before she creates her videos she'll meditate, or read messages from a "Gratitude Folder"

which is a folder she has filled with messages people have sent her thanking her for her videos, or saying kind things about them, or telling her about how her videos helped them through a really tough time

and it occurred to me

this woman making ASMR videos on YouTube for a living has probably touched more people's lives than a lot of us ever will.

Not only that, but she also clearly really enjoys what she does, and can see real-life examples of how her work has value and contributes to the world around her.

So maybe it's a grind and absolutely we need to push for fair treatment for creators, but it's still a living and people in startups and small businesses have to grind and hustle, too

so we can make money doing something we enjoy

and while it's a tough slog and sometimes feels unrewarding, for some of us it's the very best thing in the world

getting to do the thing we love for a living

and it's pretty cool that we live in a time where that's possible.

Tags: Thoughts

 

Enjoy what you got while you got it

- by Alyson Shane


One of the things I'm worst at is living in the present moment.

Which sounds hippy-dippy and something you'd interpret from a tarot card reading, maybe, but taking a few moments to really sink into what yr experiencing is a good thing to do from time to time.

Maybe that's what meditation is. I don't know because I've never really gotten past the point where everything is itchy and distracting.

When we were in Thailand I realized I was suffering from this problem because I was constantly feeling pressure to get out there and do something. 

John got a throat infection which kept him in bed for several days while we were in Koh Tao and I got really stressed because I felt like we were "wasting our vacation" relaxing at the AirBnB rather than being out and about 24/7.

This pressure, to be doing something all the time, is a leftover from my super-anxious days when I would judge myself for taking downtime, or for not filling every minute of every day with some task or to-do. 

I know that, but I'm not always great at recognizing it in the moment. Which can really suck because, okay, we were just hanging out at an AirBnB 

but we were also spending time in a new place on the other side of the planet, still getting street food and enjoying the warm weather even if we weren't hiking up to see wats every damn day.

What I should have been doing in that moment was soaking it up with my partner, not worrying about when we could get back to filling our vacation time with stuff.

Lesson learned, and luckily I figured that lesson out early enough on in our trip that I was able to chill out for the rest of it.

(Okay, most of it.)

And I'm glad I did because I was able to enjoy my vacation with my partner while I was there instead of glossing over it because I was busy thinking and worrying about who knows what. 

I need to bring more of that into my day-to-day because worrying about stuff removes me from enjoying what I have while I have it.

Being "fully present" means I can soak up the good, bad, and in-between feelings and create more vivid memories of things that are, in reality,

fleeting.

Because each new day runs the risk of being the last of something. 

It's scary to think about which is why I think most people don't, but it's true.

This could be the last day you see the person you love.

This could be the last day you talk to yr mom or dad or awkward great-uncle.

This could be the last day you walk into a job you've had for 20 years.

This could be the last day you eat at your fav sushi place before they close.

Nothing stays the same. 

Things Fall Apart. 

So enjoy what you got while you go it.


 

Valentine's Day tips from a serial monogamist

- by Alyson Shane

I've been in long term relationships for most of my life since I was a teen. Most of them were a couple of years each, usually with a six month to one-year break in between, but overall I've spent more of my life in a relationship than being single.

This means I've spent most of my Valentine's Days either in the throes of a relationship, or stinging from whatever happened that caused the previous one to end. But that doesn't mean I don't still love Valentine's Day.

People like to get upset about V-Day because it's a "made up holiday" (which it is) but, really, aren't they all? 

Valentine's Day is probably the most made-up of all, though personally I think if you can find someone who you love, and who loves you right back, then that's a cause for celebration. 

A lot of people go through life being really unhappy and unfulfilled and if you can find a little ray of love in your life, even for a little while, hang onto it for as long as it's healthy and good for you and celebrate that shit, yo.

Even if all you do is make dinner together or spend some time with one another or get down and dirrty on each other's business.

Last night I asked my Insta fam if they were doing anything for V-Day and I was surprised to hear that a lot of people refuse to, and do so on the principle of capitalism omg.

Which is funny to me because we buy into a lot of weird and dumb things that may or may not be related to capitalism and yet the one hill people seem willing to die on is the one that is explicitly dedicated to honouring and celebrating relationships with the people we love.

Maybe it's that people (ladies, I'm looking at you) put a lot of pressure on what should be a chill af day. 

I used to be this way when I was younger and a lot more insecure. Like if my man didn't go all out on V-Day he didn't "really love me" which is a bunch of baloney and something that (hopefully) most of us grow out of as we get older.

But in case you needed a reminder, here are some tips on how to handle your V-Day activities from someone who's been through a lot of them:

If you're single, that's cool. Be happy for other people who are in love and spend the day treating yourself like the king/queen you are. Have a bubble bath. Watch some trashy TV. Order in a pizza and get high and drink some box'o wine in your undies. 

(It's what most people blowing money in restaurants wish they were doing anyway.)

If your partner can't get (or afford) fancy restaurant reservations but you wanna go out, go to McDonalds and share a pack of McNuggets. 

Hell, go crazy and split a 20 pack together if you're really in it for the long haul.

If you want flowers then tell yr partner to get you a flowering plant. 

That way they won't blow a bunch of money on blooms that will start wilting right away and leave petals all over the floor and you can have something nice to decorate your place with for months or even years if you don't kill it.

(If you have a cat, make sure to check which plant varieties are safe for your furbaby.)

Unless your partner specifically asks for sweets, don't waste your money on boxes of chocolates. That's shit's played out and unoriginal.

Only plan big, elaborate dates if you know that's what your partner is into before planning it. 

Not everyone likes surprises and nothing ruins a special occasion faster that expectations that weren't met.

And if you want to bang on Valentine's Day follow the advice of sex columnist Dan Savage, who is way more well versed in these topics than I am. His advice, in a nutshell, is: before you fill up on wine and sweets and sleep-inducing carbs

fuck first.

Happy Valentine's Day, lovers!

Tags: Thoughts

 

I miss Thailand

- by Alyson Shane


We're home and I'm so jet-lagged that I feel sick. My sleeping pattern is all out of whack and I've been awake since 3:30AM this morning and am going to try and stay awake all day to reset my circadian rhythm.

But Thailand was worth every lost hour and every weird grumble in my insides.

We were there for nearly a month, and stayed in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Phuket, and Bangkok again before flying home. 

Bangkok was insane. It's big, bigger than I realized or can describe. The city, which houses 8.5 million people, stretches for miles and miles.

There was a smog warning when we were there and you could taste it in the air. Lots of people wore masks.

We saw Buddhist monks everywhere in their bright orange robes with their shaved heads. We saw a group of teenage monks filing into a 7-11 to buy popsicles to beat the heat which made me laugh.

The heat. My god.

+35C most days, humid, sticky and perfect. 

The best weather, food, and vibe were found in the northern city of Chiang Mai. 

We found the Cowboy Hat Lady, made famous in that episode of Parts Unknown and it probably comes as no surprise that the food completely lived up to the hype.

Almost everything we ate was made at a stall, cart, or cobbled-together shack on the side of the road (except some yakiniku and shabu-shabu that we ate while in Phuket).

I will deeply miss the food there.

Thai food (and Asian food in general) is so much more interesting and complex than North American food, I think. It's layered and spicy and every bite is different.

I discovered Prik Nam Pla, which is a condiment sauce made by pickling chilies in vinegar and fish sauce, sometimes with sugar to cut the tang. 

It can be kinda dull or spicy af, depending on where you are; everyone makes it, and everyone makes it a little differently.

Everyone in Thailand has "their recipe" for everything, which means there's a huge variety in how the same dish can turn out, and it's always good. I didn't eat a bad meal the entire time we were there.

The thing I will miss most about Thailand isn't the food, though. It's the people.

Everyone we met was so gracious, kind, and helpful. They seemed to appreciate that we tried to learn the language, which I'm sure we still butchered because Thai is a tonal language and is much more subtle than you realize while listening to it as a non-native speaker.

I'm going to miss saying (and lightly butchering) "sawasdee ka!" when greeting people, and giving a wai (a slight bow with hands pressed together) and saying "khob khun kha!" as thanks.

I'm going to miss being immersed in the Buddhist culture. All the little spirit houses, monks, wats, and flowers everywhere.

I felt peaceful in the wats we visited. I liked taking my shoes off and covering my shoulders and my knees out of respect for their places of worship. It was such a simple, nice form of reverence. 

I've never been a religious person, but Buddhism is something I can think I could get behind.

We met the most amazing people, as usual. John and I have good luck that way.

Every time we go on vacation we wind up having nights that make us wake up the next day and say "can you believe we did that?!"

It's also way easier to power through a hangover when you know a spicy bowl of Tom Yum at the stall around the corner.

(Did I mention I'm going to miss the food?)

Obviously though, the best part about the trip was spending it with John.

I really lucked out in finding a guy I travel well with. He's so patient and outgoing and records every day of our trip in a book every time we go on vacation, which is the cutest thing.

He even glued Thai coins and kept all the transfer stickers they gave us to get on different planes and boats in the book too, omg.

At the end of our trip we got matching tattoos. Which sounds lame and dumb but hear me out:

We're getting married next year and neither of us want to wear wedding bands day-to-day, so we decided to get matching tattoos of the constellation "Ursa Majora", which is a nod to a deep and weird inside joke and our love of science and space. 

They're both in the same spot, below our hearts. Pointing us home.

I know it's cheesy but whatever. I love them.

I wish I could describe everything we saw and did in that amazing country. 

How green and lush and humid it is. How every back lane looked. How the sky looks from the beach on Koh Tao at night. What it feels like to be lulled to sleep on the Night Train to Chiang Mai. 

But there aren't enough words to explain it all. All I can do is hold onto the memories of the things I experienced as tightly as I can, and plan to make more of them as soon as I can.

I'll miss Thailand.

But I'm really gonna miss their food, though.


 

Fallen heroes

- by Alyson Shane


There comes a time in every person's life when they experience a fundamental shift in how they view their parents. A moment when the veneer is peeled away, revealing the flawed, real people our parents are underneath all the assumptions we make about them as their child.

In the most recent episode of Hidden Brain (a great NPR podcast I can't recommend enough) the host was interviewing a woman whose view of her father changed when she was twelve years old. 

Someone had called the house looking for her dad, and she answered the phone to say he wasn't around. She remembers that the caller sounded old; his voice shaky. He was upset. He said:

"Your father stole my life savings! Your father is a crook!"

Those few words fundamentally changed her relationship with her dad. She no longer saw him as a charismatic, charming artist. She saw him for who he really was: a liar, a con man, and - it seemed - a thief.

My moment of reckoning with my own father didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. I was going back through some old emails, looking for something I'd intended to reference at my next therapy session, I think, and I came across an email exchange from July of 2010. 

My dad was upset that I was quitting my government job to attend university. Over the course of several he emails made it clear that he was angry at my decision, and took issue with my reply, where I told him (in so many words) "I'm an adult and you need to respect my decisions and not speak to me so disrespectfully."

Seeing his response, which follows, shook me to my core:

Wow, in nut shell, write me off. You never contact me unless you want something from me.  You've forgotten my birthdays, never see me on father's day, etc.* You obviously are very self absorbed and unless I serve some purpose you have nothing to do with me. When was the last time you called to see how I was doing. Can't remember can you. How is my back, don't know do you. Don'care do you, typical.**

I include the text above because, until that moment, I hadn't been presented with an example of how my dad handled conflicts in our relationship. Sure, I had memories of angry emails, and of him hanging up on me when he got worked up, but I'd never been faced with real evidence of how my father treated me and spoke to me since we'd become estranged a few years earlier.

Until I rediscovered that email I'd been under the impression that I was in therapy largely due to my relationship with my mom. That it was her abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation of everyone around her that was the primary contributing factor to why I had severe anxiety and extremely low self-worth.

Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode, seeing those words changed how I viewed my father.

Until then I'd always viewed him as a tragic hero. A guy who got married too young, was tricked into having too many kids too young, and was trying to do the best he could in a marriage where his spouse would routinely brag to her kids that "your dad can never leave me because I'll take everything." 

The idea of my dad as a tragic hero was the prevailing impression I'd gotten from talking to our family, and the impression I developed as I became the target of my mom's anger as a teenager and my dad tried, again and again, to stand up to how she treated me.

Until I read that email I'd assumed that my dad was, at worst, a cowardly hero. 

Someone who tried and failed to do the right thing. A man who got stuck in a bad situation and was trying to make the best of it because he didn't have the willpower to man up and leave.

I remembered my dad as someone funny and kind. With a temper, sure, but as someone who was more likely to start crying during an argument than to hurl insults and lash out angrily. 

Despite everything that had happened, the teenage years spent largely in the counsellor's office because I was to distressed with my home life to go to class; his inability to convince my mom to let me move home so I could attend university and not sink into debt; and even the estrangement because he refused to have a relationship with me where my mom wasn't physically present... I still saw my dad as a hero. 

Maybe a tragic, or cowardly one, but a hero nonetheless. Because he did the best he could to be supportive and to help me become a happy, well-adjusted person. 

At least, that's what I'd told myself and fully believed until I discovered this series of emails.

The last time I communicated with my father was earlier this year. My mom had decided to run for school trustee in the recent civic election and my dad was struggling with the basics of setting up a website, social media profiles, etc. - so he reached out to me.

"Not as my dad, but as a potential client."

I don't want to go deep into my feelings on this issue, but suffice it to say that my mom is about as unqualified to hold public office as they come, and I had no interest in helping her. 

So I wrote him back.

I wrote long email explaining how I felt, reiterated the situation that had caused us to become estranged in the first place, and laid out the things that needed to happen for me to feel comfortable re-engaging in a relationship again.

I ran it past John and a few people whose opinions I respect, who told me I sounded reasonable. Firm, but reasonable. 

My dad, for what it's worth, never wrote back.

What I've learned in the years since I found those emails is the ugly truth that every child eventually discovers about their parents: that they aren't perfect, and they're just as capable of being petty and mean and immature as anyone else.

I obsessed over the 2010 emails for a while. I read them and re-read them, almost unable to comprehend that the person I had believed in and loved unconditionally could also be the same person accusing me of not caring about them and being self-centered because I pushed back and asked for respect and boundaries. 

I brought the emails to therapy and I cried like I was in mourning. 

Which I suppose I was, in a way. I was mourning the loss of the idea of my father. The loss of the idea that he was the person who always believed in me and stood up for me, and who respected me and wanted me to be happy.

As kids, we idolize our parents. We look up to them. We believe them to be infallible, and when the ugly truth of who our parents really are comes crashing down on us it's our responsibility to grapple with those feelings. 

It becomes our job, as their children and as adults, to make sense of the contradiction between who we believed they were, and the person our parents really are.

Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode I had to come to terms with the fact that my dad, like most people and most parents, was not who I believed him to be. 

In the episode, the daughter eventually reunites with her father, though their relationship is strained. They only talk by phone, and after her dad suffers a fall and winds up in an assisted living facility, she visits him only once before he dies.

During their last meeting he tells her "I'm sorry for all the things I've done" and the daughter is left wishing she'd asked her dad: "what things? What were you sorry for?" before he died.

When she recalls this to the host, she sounds distressed. Like there's something nagging at her; something unresolved lurking beneath the surface. She's struggling with the fact that her dad is gone forever, and all she's left with are the remnants of who she thought he was, who he turned out to be, and a series of items and leftovers from his life that she must piece together to start to fill in the blanks.

I know these feelings. My dad is middle-aged; his health has never been great. He has back problems and high blood pressure and high cholesterol and drinks and smokes too much. I'm acutely aware that he could have a heart attack or a stroke at any time, leaving me with only the scraps of his life to glue and stitch together to create an image of who he really was.

Sometimes, when I find myself becoming consumed with this looming reality, I feel an urge to pick up the phone and say:

"What are you sorry for, Dad?"

But maybe I don't want to hear his answer after all.

*I forgot one birthday/Father's Day when I was 16 and not living at home because of conflicts with my mom. 

** What my dad stated here is also untrue; I regularly called and emailed him, and we went out for lunch together every so often right up until we stopped speaking.


 

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