she writes.

"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” - Toni Morrison

Tough Scenes: Writing Through It After Writing Through It

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The main character in a novel I’m working on goes through a lot of the same stuff I went through as a kid and young adult.

I never considered how I would feel, doing this. I had a story I wanted to tell, and abuse, depression, isolation and alcoholism were going to be supporting characters. But it’s obvious now why, after every time I sat down to write, I would feel exhausted, cry easily, want to crawl into my apartment and hide.

It wasn’t clear at first, but I realized that if I was going to continue, I would need to do something to help take care of my brain. If I didn’t, I’d probably continue feeling so bad that writing would become associated with pain, and eventually I’d quit.

A few weeks into working on the book, I came across a blog post by Erin Pavlina on how to create a new story about your life. It seemed (and was) perfect as a tactic to use after I had written a tough chapter or scene. I was having a hard time emotionally telling this story, so of course storytelling would be the answer (a little sarcasm with a smile).

Reading that post by Erin also helped me figure out the stories I already had playing in my mind.

If I was telling myself things like: “That could happen again,” “I’ll never get past it,” or “I’ve been through so much I can’t do it anymore,” of course a tough scene would be hard to write, and not just because it would trigger memories. It would trigger those same thoughts.

Giving myself a moment to breathe and come back to the present has become kind of a short form of storytelling. It started to become clear in my mind that I was writing a story. That ‘I’m writing a story’ then became part of the story I was / am telling myself, and it’s helped me frame those painful experiences.

For a while though, I was very interested in different techniques to change the stories we tell ourselves:

Then there are things that have nothing to do with writing, like practicing dance move the young kids are doing or belting out Adele, that can help change the energy.

If you’re also using painful experiences for your writing, do you feel exhausted after getting it all down? How do you deal?

From Personal Experience: Writing a Character Who Gives Off Bad Vibes

sitwithme_header

I’m writing my first book. It started with an idea I had, one that I wanted to explore. I was curious about what people do when they have to figure shit out on their own. Not how to make more money, or tell someone a secret.

I wanted to write a story about someone who has to figure out what to do when their life’s purpose becomes a big, fat question mark.

hashtag no bad vibes slash good vibes only

The book I’m writing features a character who gets to a really bad place in life.

She’s depressed, but to the outside world she’s a bitch, to some people she gives off “bad vibes”.

I’ve seen this ‘#nobadvibes’ (this one might be nsfw?) or ‘#goodvibesonly’ business on Instagram, and as much as I get that, I wonder if what people consider “bad vibes” are actually something else.

I feel like sometimes what people see is depression, anxiety, fear, etc. showing up as anger, rage, pettiness, meanness… or bad vibes.

Sometimes people who give off bad vibes are just extremely sensitive, and they’re using whatever they can to protect that part of themselves because if they didn’t, they’d end up home at the end of the day in pieces.

Tupac Shakur quote: "I'm very sensitive--that's why I'm so harsh, 'cause I'm so sensitive."

Other times, long term confusion, hurt and disappointment build up and can weigh someone down. This is what happens to the main character in the book I’m working on. In short, she doesn’t know how to deal.

She goes to the self-help gurus, but Oprah and Dr. Phil can only go so far. Beyond that there’s no one around to tell her what to do with all her shit. She goes to anger as a way to protect herself, and as a way to lash out.

From Personal Experience

The reason I went there with this character is because I know what it’s like. The only thing that sets me apart from my character is I’ve grown to become very conscious and self-conscious.

I touched on what goes on in an earlier post about self-care, but when I’m not feeling great, it’s very easy to feel like life is unfair. It sounds juvenile and ridiculous, but I’ve constructed my stories and they are easy for me to believe.

Seeing that “good vibes only” line thrown about on social media sometimes made me feel that self-consciousness even more. Maybe that’s me being hyper-sensitive, but *shrug*.

Writing about someone who has experiences similar to mine has given me a chance to take a step back and really look my own issues from a different perspective.

Sure it’s aired out my own shit, but it’s also made me more compassionate towards myself and other people. Sometimes when I see someone who seems angry, I wonder if they’re dealing with something really difficult.

You can sit with me even if you're in a bad mood.

Iyanla Vanzant Voice: “You Have to Do the Work!”

I’m working on being aware, admitting what my problem(s) is / are, creating and telling myself new stories about my past and experiences, and practicing self-care.

It’s not a perfect process. The hardest thing is remembering to do these things. More often, I’ll start ranting in my head about someone getting too close while I’m waiting for the bus before realizing: oh wait, I’m really angry about {insert issue here}.

What I have noticed is that lately I can more quickly point out what the real issue is. Used to be that I would just start getting pissy and that attitude would last the whole day, or at least an hour.

Sometimes I would be angry all day and end up in bed still angry but confused as to why. Lately I’ve been able preempt these “bad vibes” — I know when they’re more likely to come up and am able to mentally prepare myself.

I’m not at the place yet where I know what to do when I can recognize what’s going on, so I allow myself to be angry or do whatever I feel like. Other times I can get back on track. It continues to take work, but I can see some progress. And that’s encouraging.

Self-care: Between Imaginary & Real Racism* {Links + Resources}

Update 08/28/16: added a reference to the term ‘microaggression‘.

I’m just a woman who publishes blog posts inconsistently, but if someone were to look into it I bet Toronto would win the title of ‘Most Low-Key Racist City in the World’.

This is your cue: I’m going to use the ’n’ word in this post and if that bugs you, click away. Also, in case it’s not obvious, I am not a doctor. I’m just describing what I’ve observed and what’s worked for me. What’s working for me.

What Racism is Like in Toronto

Just because we’re all living here from our different parts of the world, doesn’t mean we’re holding hands singing about love and peace. Some people here don’t want to touch certain other people. In this city, people are racist in subtle ways, not so subtle ways, very subtle and very, very subtle ways.

None of this is new if you’re a person of colour (POC), or if you’re paying attention. As much as we’re hyper-aware of how other people behave, we have to be aware of what’s going on in our own minds. It’s too easy to spiral here, imagining you’re being treated differently because of the colour of your skin. Especially if you’re not taking care, or if you’re keeping these thoughts to yourself.

It’s too easy to spiral here, imagining you’re being treated differently because of the colour of your skin. Especially if you’re not taking care, or if you’re keeping these thoughts to yourself.

Most of the time it’s like this: we’re in one of Toronto’s bar / club venues that plays music so loud you can’t order your fancy special drink without losing your voice.

The waiter or barkeep will give us service that seems slightly different than those other tables, or other people got.

It’s noticed.

Or someone will make a comment that seems directed at us, but we can’t be sure. Or the bouncer will move the line ahead until they get to us.

And then afterwards, when we’re out of earshot, a caucus will happen about what may, or may not have been, the offending behaviour.

Did they do what they did, say what they said or treat us differently in any way because we were “the coloured section”?

Were we charged more?

Were they rude to just us?

Did we get bad service?

Did they or didn’t they?

The person at the bar could have been in a bad mood, completely unaware of what they were doing (or what they weren’t doing), or the person could have just been a loud talker.

Or it could be racism, most likely in the form of microaggressions.

But we can’t ask. Oh God, no. Because “OF COURSE NOT” would be the response. We’d get that “OMG, You’re crazy for even thinking that!”-*look* and told “absolutely not!”. There’s shock, horror, repeated apologies and clutched pearls.

Then there’s just out right racism. This year I was called a ‘nigger’ at least once. Maybe twice, but I’m not sure. Sometimes I imagine I’m being called a ‘nigger’, especially if I’m in mall or crowd. That imagining is worse than actually being called a nigger. Thinking I’m hearing it means my mind is already threatened, scared, on edge.

A person could go months, maybe years in this city without outright racism like that, most often it comes out of nowhere. This city may be the “most multicultural in the world”, but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s like saying the CN Tower is a tall building.

Regardless of where it falls on the spectrum, things like this can stay in the mind, maybe for an hour, maybe for the rest of the night.

What the Obama’s Would Do

Even typing these words, I want to go out and buy all the Tim Horton’s chocolate chunk cookies (which proves the point).

Some people can see behaviour like this and move beyond it. Not everyone is like that. Others internalize it. It feeds into their perception of the world as an angry, potentially dangerous place.

The people who can keep it moving, who don’t imagine they’re being called the ‘n’-word in a crowd, I see them like Michelle Obama-types.

Michelle Obama paying fools dust.
Michelle Obama paying dust.

The behaviour, if it happens, is noticed but that’s it. If it needs to be addressed, it’s addressed. But beyond that, it’s not discussed, it’s not analyzed and it’s definitely not shared.

I’ll let her say it:

Are you going to get angry or lash out? Or are you going to take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, lift up your head, and do what Barack Obama has always done — as he says, ‘When they go low, I go high.’ That’s the choice Barack and I have made. That’s what has kept us sane over the years. We simply do not allow space in our hearts, minds, or souls for darkness.

— Michelle Obama

This is not easy. I know being called a ‘nigger’ is not about me, but that doesn’t mean I understand all the time, that I don’t still have an initial reaction. I’m just willing to work on it.

It doesn’t matter if someone really is treating us differently because of our race, or the colour of our skin. That’s their problem. We need not make that our problem. If the behaviour needs to be checked, it’s checked. But I’m working on not having space in my mind for anything beyond that.

The Self-Care Connection

In my experience, reactions to racism can go from being like the Obama’s, to completely getting unwound. Being stressed, angry or hurt makes it even more important to take care so I don’t lose myself, regardless of what level of racism I’m looking at.

If I’m in upset, I’m more likely to turn whatever anger and hurt I’m feeling about something else completely, and imagine things. Or I’m more likely to think I’ve noticed something off.

I’ve learned this is one of the hundreds — maybe even thousands — of reasons why self-care is so important.

What Practicing Self-Care Looks Like

It’s not just about meditating and yoga. It’s practicing awareness: paying attention to how I feel and what I’m thinking, especially when I’m not good.

Sometimes (often) it’s acknowledging something simple like being hungry. Or my bladder. Sometimes it’s being hurt or upset. Knowing that I’m hurting about something is automatically a signal that I need to watch my thoughts even more carefully, be more determined about taking care of myself.

My self-care looks like this:

  • yoga (I’m a beginner)
  • laughing at myself when I realize I’m being ridiculous
  • ?? keeping ?? a ?? sense ?? of ?? humour
  • going vegan or vegetarian for a few days or weeks (taking baby steps)
  • only drinking socially
  • taking long walks
  • journaling
  • praying / talking to God
  • finding reasons to laugh (part of the reason why I’m on IG a lot)
  • drinking lots of water
  • positive self-talk
  • being aware of how I feel
  • being aware of what I’m thinking

And other stuff I might tell you about later / prefer to keep to myself. My rule when it comes to self-care is: do what you want. Be the only black person in the yoga class if you need to (or whatever your equivalent of that is). Put you and your health above feeling out of place, or feeling like you’re being watched, or feeling like you might say or do the wrong thing. Please and thank you.

Resources

4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible

Self Care For People of Color After Psychological Trauma (the infographic in this post inspired my own)

Check out the chapter ‘Building A Self-Care Guide’ from CAMH.

An infographic I created based on the info from CAMH. Feel free to save / download and share if you want:

Self-care for people of colour.

*Sometimes it’s not just a matter of taking care of yourself. Sometimes you need more than to eat or use the bathroom. Talking to someone is self-care too, though. So talk to someone if you need more support. Be unapologetic and determined about doing what you need to do.

Persistent Political Acts

In our house, it was safest to stay quiet. It wasn’t just about being seen and not heard. Sometimes it was safer to not be seen or heard.

Our education in keeping quiet is layered. It developed into ‘the voice’ [in replace of us developing our own].

It evolved with age, and follows us regardless of what we want to say or do out loud. It warns us against anything that might lead to standing out.

from salt. by nayyirah waheed @nayyirah.waheed
from salt. by nayyirah waheed @nayyirah.waheed

The first draft of a fiction book I’m working on is almost complete. I’ve started to dig into the world of new and emerging writers, looking at what’s being published now and what’s considered “good writing”. My ears and eyes are constantly scanning for what POCs are doing and saying. Like [here], the article ‘Diversity and Identity: A Panel Discussion on Race and Writing’ in Write Magazine.

Immediately on reading the first question from the interviewer: “All of you are what I would call politically active in one way or another.”, the voice in my head starts “You’re not politically active. you’re not politically anything…“.

And then when I’m just looking around the field, the voice always seems to have something to say:

“You’re not smart enough, you can’t write like those people write.”

“Only white people have the platform and the audience.”

“You haven’t done enough reading.”

“You’re too closed, you give off bad energy. You’re not part of the community.”

Etc., etc.

from salt. by nayyirah waheed @nayyirah.waheed
from salt. by nayyirah waheed @nayyirah.waheed

We have to be our own parents, life coaches, therapists and cheerleaders. We’re working on a new voice, one that does a cartwheel, lands on its knee and says things like “THEY DID IT, SO YOU CAN TOO!” in capital letters.

Refusing to feel ridiculous at being my own cheerleader is a political act.

Telling the voice “I am going to tell these stories and say this stuff and not listen to you, but thanks anyway for your opinion.” is a political act.

Liking my own posts, tweets and pictures is a political act.

We’re all political activists when we speak up, write and publish. It’s like what Carrianne Leung says in answer to that first question: “I think just the fact that we are here and we are writers, writers of colour and Aboriginal writers, is itself political… [U]ltimately it is all political. The stories themselves…”.

We have to be our own parents, life coaches, therapists and cheerleaders. We’re working on a new voice, one that does a cartwheel, lands on its knee and says things like “THEY DID IT, SO YOU CAN TOO!” in capital letters.

Sing anyway. Write anyway. Publish anyway. I encourage myself to say what I want to say, constantly in conversation with the voice. I do what I do before, after and during these conversations.

If loving ourselves is the most powerful revolution, these conversations we have are daily revolutions. Persistent political acts.

What To Do When Coworkers Touch Your Hair and You’re Not Ready to Quit / Complain Yet.

It’s weird that this and this happened in the time I was working on this post… *pregnant pause* Hopefully calling out this behaviour will both embarrass the people who do this kind of shit, and help get us all to a point where curly, kinky, braided, textured, etc. hair isn’t considered “exotic”, “unprofessional” or “different”.

Yep, happened to me.

Not once, not twice, but thrice.

There was some irony there, in that the first person to do it was black. It was at a company activity / event (axe throwing), and we were kind of surrounded by people. Maybe others noticed, maybe they didn’t.

I ducked and swatted his hand away (probably good that I didn’t have an axe). Mumbled something like ‘Don’t touch my hair’ with my eyes to the ground and my face hot.

I didn’t know if other people saw, but I didn’t want any eyes on me regardless. The place was tiny – 50 or so people squeezed in a room that was probably more suited to 15. And I was still on probation at the job, so even though we hadn’t even started throwing axes I was already sweating.

He started to apologize, but I just wanted the thing over as quickly as possible.

The second and third time it happened was at another company outing (I eventually stopped going to those), the Christmas party. Number two was a member of the sales team. Number three was the company’s CEO / co-founder.

As much as I wished I had the chance to slap hands away, I didn’t see either coming. And for months afterwards, I was in a fog of “WAHT THE FUCK” as I started to think about the many stinky onion-like layers of privilege and power at play in the situation.

layers

If I had seen either hand coming at me, would I have had a chance to duck and swat? Looking at the circumstances, I could play devil’s advocate and think “ok, we’ve all been drinking and are getting chatty…”

But no.

I had been very careful about keeping a thick, heavy professional distance between myself and co-workers, and I was proud of that distance.

In short, if any of these men (I’ll get back to this) had asked me: “Hey! Can I touch your hair?” I would have said “Hell No, not now not never. You absolutely – in bold and italics – cannot touch my hair. It bears repeating…”, etc etc.

But these men thought this was okay. And the truth was (here it is, it came to me and I felt like throwing up) drunk or not, this idea that it would be ok to touch my hair was probably because I’m a woman, and because I was ‘underneath’: a worker, an employee, junior.

Then you’ve got the other things you need if you’re going to touch a co-workers hair: lack of respect. Lack of broughtupsey. Being overfamiliar and undereducated.

Also being black. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have touched my hair if I was white.

So what was I supposed to do with all this?

I could look through the university political science books I kept and find all the words to describe intersections of privilege, power and race, but where would that leave me?

Not in a position to leave the company, I had to come to some decisions about how to deal with these situations, at least in my mind if I couldn’t quit on the spot, because thinking about this was crazy-making behaviour.

Instead of doing more thinking about how wrong this shit was, I came up with some steps to move forward. I have not taken them, but based on advice from people / my experience, they make the most sense:

  1. Separate what happened from what you do. Until you find the next place you’re going to work, you need to keep your head together by putting what happened in it’s place and moving forward. The last thing you want is to start going crazy and have issues start showing up in your life and at work.
  2. Speak on it + write about it. Put it in your diary, tell your manager, vent with your friends, take it out in the gym. Explain to the people who touched your hair how you feel and what the issue is. Do whatever you can to get what’s going on in your mind out of your mind.
  3. Forget it. Unless you plan on writing a blog post about what happened, promptly remove it from your mind. If shit like that continues to happen, you will have a record (see step two) of what happened before and can plan your next move.

The truth is, there’s a limit to how much this affects me: I’m still the person I was before these things happened, and I’m still me now that it’s happened. The same thing goes for this or anything else that happens in life, for any person. And the limit isn’t determined by anything other than choice. I can choose to get real upset and discombobulated, or not.

I’m not bleeding out, I don’t have any broken bones, I’m not in need of some milk.

And I’m much more than hair and skin and everything else.

We have these ideas floating around, one’s we’re all familiar with but don’t really talk about. That we’re all spiritual beings having human experiences. That nothing that happens to our physical bodies can hurt or damage who we really are on a spiritual level. And that life is a dream, a play, and in our physical bodies we’re bouncing around, experiencing what it’s like here in the physical to experience the dream – to create new experiences from our ideas – and to play our parts or pick different parts to play and play with others. Play the daughter, then play the mother, then play the grandmother. Play the employee, the freelancer, the owner of the company; switch roles only to start it all over again.

If that’s true, we’re playing at privilege and power. We’ve made up the idea that a CEO touching an employee’s hair means something. I had to remember that I was playing at being in a position of not having power, and that what I was playing at wasn’t the real me.

So there it is: getting your hair touched by a coworker is fucked up bullshit, but there’s a way to deal without losing your head. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

A big shoutout to @YawBo for creating the awesome gif I featured on Twitter!