Living Like Pat

Let us be elegant or die! – Little Women

It’s Pat is a film based on an SNL character.  Throughout the film, we never know if Pat is male or female.

Ever felt like that?

I don’t mean gender identification.  Even though this blog is only opinion (sometimes, very strong opinion), I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about gender identification.  If that’s something you’re struggling with, or looking for information, here’s somewhere you can start.

The damsel in distress.  The knight-errant.  From early on, literature portrayed women as those who needed to be rescued, and men can cut their teeth on bravery by saving them, and usually rewarded by that woman’s hand in marriage.  In just about every romance novel that formula remains the same.  Geez, even in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy (which I find many things wrong with), our “heroine” needs to be saved by the dashing “hero”, and that strengthens their “relationship”.

That’s what we’re taught.  How many women read those and swoon inwardly, then go to their happy day-dreaming place and imagine themselves in peril only to be rescued at the eleventh hour by whoever tops their fantasy?  I don’t think there’s any one of us who hasn’t had that daydream.

But why is that?  I can’t tell you how many times the “damsel in distress”, whatever distress it is, gets the attention of all who are around.  Women are taught they should appear weak and needy in order for men to know they are required and desired.

That’s pretty crappy for both parties.  It’s telling women they need to be rescued, and it’s telling men they need to be the rescuers.

That doesn’t work for me.  It never has.  In my earlier, less confident years, when all around me I was being bombarded with reasons I should be in a relationship, people asking me why I wasn’t, how lonely it must be, and – my favourite – stories of women in their 40’s and 50’s who were getting married for the first time, so there’s still a chance for me.  Congrats and all, but really?

So, all around me, twitterpation was in progress.  Because of how my mind worked, I tried to find (what I thought was) logical reasons to my pervasive singleness (impending spinster-hood?).  So  I looked to my friends.  It seemed to me that they were closer to the archetype of femininity than I was.  There weren’t birds braiding their hair or anything, but there were clear indicators, such as the meal cooker.  With the small exceptions, at that time in my life, it was the ladies who cooked for their partners.  While I *can* cook, I don’t.  In fact, I’m very proud of the fact I’m planning to pre-cook my lunch for the upcoming week, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve preferred going the easy way.  Back when I could eat salad, that’s pretty much what I lived on: chicken caesar salad, or if I was feeling very ambitious, taco salad.  Only on special occasions did I make lasagna.  5-7 years later, I can’t eat salad (I know!).  When I was doing the lifestyle challenge, I tried very hard to pre-cook, pre-plan and eat properly, but I’m sad to say, I’m back to my old habits.  Back when I was desperately trying to understand why I wasn’t in the same boat as my friends – paired up – I thought no small part of it was because I just wasn’t feminine enough.   I’d failed in my gender duty.  I also hate doing laundry, cleaning, dishes, everything that was taught to me by my mother on running a household.  I won’t even get into the species of weird that grows in my fridge on a regular basis (did you know cucumbers melt?  I didn’t know that.  I also didn’t know I even HAD cucumbers in the fridge.  That’s how infrequently I even go to the fridge).  Was/is there something wrong with me?

That’s the problem with comparisons.  Who decides the base model is the correct one?

But wait, there’s more.

I’m a fairly independent person.  If I want to do something, chances are I’m going to have to do it myself.  And you know?  It means I do a lot of things other people don’t, because they don’t want to do it themselves.  Independence is liberating.  It also makes me wonder if I’m painting myself in a corner.  Ever thought that?

I don’t need to be rescued.  I rarely find myself in the middle of the road with a car barreling toward me with no hope of escape.  I can’t think of the last time I was held hostage with the bad guys using me as a mouthpiece to the (probably single) negotiator.  I could use a glass of water though, if anyone’s offering.  Naw, it’s okay; I’ll get up and get it myself.

Men, you don’t need to rescue me.  You don’t have to prove yourself as masculine as I am feminine.

So is independence off-putting? Is strength a turn-off?  I mean, yesterday I carried a 25lb box of cat litter with my weak hand through the store, and I thought I looked boss.  Couldn’t have done that without breaking a sweat a few months ago.  Is that impressive, or unfeminine?

Are these labels: feminine and masculine the problem?  Why should I ooze femininity out of my pores just so masculinity will catch a whiff?

We all have other things going for us.  Will I discount a relationship because the dude screams at spiders and we’re both burning the house down?  That actually sounds like a decent match to me.  Why should I think I’m defective because I’d rather buy a new set of dishes than wash the dirty ones?

It’s Pat?  No, it’s Kim, who likes getting her nails done, but wandered around a barn in flipflops without missing a beat.  Who hates shopping, but tries to find her perfect angle while capturing that selfie.  Who watches The Walking Dead, but voms when she sees someone spitting.  Who turned to the internet for assistance when she couldn’t figure out the vacuum, but calls her dad when the car makes a funny noise (who in turn tells her to read the manual…psh).  Kim, who doesn’t need to be rescued, just hanging around, who will maybe find someone who doesn’t need to be the rescuer, but if not, it’s cool too, because life is pretty rad as it is.

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Through the Fire

Let my burden be your burden, and yours be mine. – Ancient spell

I was talking to a good friend today who is walking to the precipice.  She is making one of those choices that, when the final answer is revealed, her life could very well be changed.  That is to go in the direction she wants to go.  I know what that’s like.  I’ve been there.  I was in a job I hated, but couldn’t go job searching because (as one of the reasons I hated it so), I didn’t get time off.  So I had to take a giant leap of faith and quit that job.  I was only able to do it because my roommate at the time so encouraged me to do so and assured me rent and other bills would soon be paid, and food would not be scarce.  Not everyone has an opportunity like that.  I quit my job, took some planned vacation, temped for a week or so, and had a permanent job that I enjoyed (and still enjoy) before the end of the month.  But I had support.  Most everyone I knew understood the job I quit was draining me, and the only thing that had kept me there for so long (almost 5 years) was the wonderful people and friends I had made along the way.

From that decision, other things opened up in my life.  I was able to take a course (my oft-mentioned, and nerdery-inducing Shakespeare course).  That was instrumental in my growth not only as an actor/person, but as a writer/director.  I became bolder, encouraged by my new bosses, and genuinely felt I could grow in my position and my skill, and that they would support it.

So did I go through fire?  Yes.  It was a hard decision, not knowing when I would find permanent work.  And when I did find this job, for the first half dozen months or more, I was only part time, so I had to supplement my income in other ways.

This was not the only event in my life that I “walked through fire”.  When previously encouraging roommate became not so encouraging, but harsh, and frightening, and everything else that caused me to lose sleep, get high blood pressure and everything else, I had to leave, but I didn’t know where I could go, etc.  But again, I had help.  My friends were so supportive, so encouraging, so empathetic, that when I felt the less safe at home, I at least had safety within my friends.

I’m not finished living, so I’m not finished these trial by fires.  They will keep popping up, and if I want to keep this pattern of growth, then I’ve got to walk through them.  But no one wants to walk through this fires alone.  And no one should.  There will be fires to walk through that are so personal, it’s hard for friends and family to understand, but they will still support you.

That is the benefit of living in community with people.  And I don’t mean “being active in your community” although I highly recommend that as well.  It means sharing your life with people.  Allowing other people to share their life with you.  I think some of us are in danger of losing this.  Social media brings us together in amazing, exciting ways, but it also lulls us into a false sense of togetherness sometimes.  We need to learn to straddle the line.

I know that when I next walk through the proverbial fire, my friends will be there walking beside, and behind me.  They know I will be there for them when it’s their turn.  It is a huge sense of relief, to know that in our hardest moments, the burden is made lighter by their efforts.  Growth does come from individual effort, but I believe some of the best growth comes when your friends and family are shouldering some of the burden.

To My Friend

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

-Shakespeare

This week, my best friend and I are travelling down different roads that are remarkably similar.  Her due date for her first gaffer is the end of the week.  My show – the first show being performed on a non-festival basis goes up on Friday.

After initial similarities, our lives have gone down separate paths.  She’s married, a homeowner, and very, very knocked up.  I’m unmarried, a renter, and an avowed non-breeder.  But as I take the time to think back over the 9 months, and marvel at the way our different journeys are ending on the same weekend, I see the cosmic humour.

Drowning Ophelia was being written while Friend’s gaffer was early in the gestational stage.  As it grew in her womb, so too grew Drowning Ophelia.  Its characters came alive, life breathed into them by the actors.

As this new child is being brought into the world, so too is Drowning Ophelia.  It will take its first breaths on Friday, its mother waiting with bated breath to see how it is received.

I will never have children, and I will never have my innards make room for a weird space invader-type thing for 9 months and eventually push something the size of a watermelon through a very small hole, but I will create life.  I will create legacy.

And that dear Friend, is just another of our similarities.

Breakthrough

Breakthru, these barriers of pain; Breakthru, yeah, to the sunshine from the rain. – Queen

I reached a breakthrough last night.  But first, some background:

I am proud to be the president and associate artistic director of a grassroots community theatre group in Alberta.  This theatre group has dedicated itself to performing original works, usually by its members.  I am also a playwright.  In addition to several sketches (favourites being Superman Rides the Bus, and #AmWriting), I’ve written some one-acts (Empty Spaces, Drowning Ophelia), and some full length plays (The Long Grass, The Courtship of Sarah Chandler).  I’ve also written a 12-episode web series, but that might only ever exist in script form.  This April, Drowning Ophelia will be performed.

Here’s why it’s so special:

I wrote this during a really hard time in my life.  Probably my hardest.  I was living with an alcoholic.  Not only was he an alcoholic, but he had untreated PTSD from a traumatic childhood.  At one time, I considered him my best friend.  It was hard to see him spiral down to what he had become and be powerless to stop it, or help him.  You see, he didn’t want help.  I have my theories as to why, but that’s neither here nor there.  When he drank, he was . . . terrifying.  He would mumble to invisible people, yell at those people and hit himself.  I would be cowering under my covers, my cat right beside me, afraid to fall asleep until he had calmed down.  I never thought he would bring me physical harm, but at 3:00 in the morning with the sounds of him yelling and hitting himself, logical thought flies out the window.  There were times I was afraid to look in the bathtub for fear of what I would find.  I wanted to leave, but the lease was in my name.  I could only go to another building owned by the same management company, and affordable-to-me places were few and far between.  I was also afraid that if I left, he would get even worse, since he would have no place to go, and perhaps die.  I wasn’t really telling my friends anything that was going on.  Sure, I’d mention he got drunk again, but I didn’t tell them how much it affected me.  Maybe they knew, maybe I’m excellent at dissembling.  I had all these feelings, emotions, and fears running through my head with no output.

So I wrote.  And from that, came Drowning Ophelia.  I have mentioned getting closer to the works of Shakespeare, and what that means to me as a writer.  Hamlet has always been a favourite of mine.  I thought of poor Ophelia, and how she’s portrayed.  She goes insane, and she kills herself.  But what made her go insane?  Who made her go insane?  I believe Hamlet did.  Here was a man who told her repeatedly he loved her, but when he faked his own insanity to catch a murderer, his first victim was Ophelia.  Hamlet killed Ophelia.  His emotional and mental abuse and manipulation took her over the edge. I used that story as the backbone (and eventual bookends) to my play.  In between sits a café.  Men and women are there, in various stages of the cycle of domestic abuse.  I play Sophie/Ophelia.

Sophie and Ophelia’s character calls for depth, and emotional vulnerability.  I am guilty of Chandlerizing emotion, or emotional roughhousing.  That is to say, I wouldn’t let myself too far down into the pit.  I still needed to be in control.  But that wasn’t fair.  Not to the characters I wrote, not to the other actors in this play who need to do the exact same thing.  So last night in rehearsal, I told them not to let me get away with it.  I told me not to let me get away with it.

And I felt her.  Sophie.  I felt her pain, her anger.  After all, her pain and her anger is my pain, my anger.  This is more than just a play for me.  This is an emotional release of the past year and a half.  This is awareness for those of us who find it easier to tell people they need to leave a damaging relationship than actually leave.

I am proud of this play. I’m proud of what it’s becoming.  I have dreams its message will be far-reaching, but for now, there will be three performances.  If you’re in the Alberta area, I hope you take a trip out to see this.  Theatre should provoke.  It should tell a story.  It should create change, and until we can say there is no man, woman, or child afraid of their partner/spouse/parent, we need to change.

Drowning Ophelia Poster

Things I Wish I Knew

“I don’t like to be labeled as lonely just because I am alone.” – Delta Burke

There are a lot of magazine and internet articles that like to discuss the “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married.”  People in my age bracket seem to eat it up.  They either read it prior to them taking “the next big step” and take notes, so that they too will have a great marriage; or read it after the wedding and smugly think, “I know that and I do it well.” This isn’t going to be one of those blog posts from a single person telling everyone how they should live their married lives.  Although, because the Snark lives in me, I would like to point out there should be a moratorium on people giving marriage advice until they’ve been married at least 5 years.  This is, instead a post about The Things I Wish I Knew Before I Felt Like a Complete Loser for Being Single.

Singleness is not a crime.

The Hammurabic code, the 10 Commandments, even Draco say nothing about the lawlessness of singleness.  No matter what society throws your way, it is okay.  I grew up in the church.  “Be fruitful and multiply” is a big deal.  I was once told I could not be a part of a small group because I was single.  I was put with the college kids. This was 5 years ago, years after my college days.  They effectively placed me at the kid’s table.  ‘Sure’, you say, ‘that’s Church.  They’re weird about people being paired off.’  While it’s true, not a lot of Church Society knows how to handle single people over the age of 25, regular society is no better.  Even most of the girls in Sex and the City ended up in a marriage.  Robin Scherbatsky and Barney Stinson the I-don’t-want-to-get-married-queen and –king are getting married.  Generally, single people are portrayed as wanderers who don’t know what they want to do in life, and while they say they’re happy, we know they are not until that handsome man sweeps them off their feet.

Marriage does not always “complete you.”

Blame Jerry Maguire. I know I do.  You do not need another person to “complete you”.  It is reminiscent of the Greek mythology of soulmates.  To sum up: everyone had a partner they were attached to, but a bad dude separated them and they are forever searching for the person to make them complete.  To quote Shirley Bennett, “that’s nice”.  I have a lot of things in my life which “complete” me.  And while I’m getting on the tangent, if a person “completes” you, once you find said person, you’re done?  Like, you can just sit around with your hands down your pants and not work toward anything because you found that special person?  Shut up, Jerry Maguire.

You can have kids without getting married.

I don’t want kids.  And I’m going to stop you before you say, “you might change your mind; I did.” That’s insulting.  That means you don’t think I am wise enough to know what my options are.  I know I can change my mind.  I know kids can be a miracle.  I know I’ll probably forget the pain of my hoo-hah being ripped apart.  I don’t care.  I. Don’t. Want. Kids.  But for those of you who desperately want children, but fear your time is running out because you are still single, who cares?  There are people in my life that didn’t let the fact they hadn’t a husband stop them from reaching their dream of having children.  My aunt adopted babies from China.  Other people foster.  In fact, if I’m rich enough when I’m a wee bit older, I would not be opposed to a Neon Rider type deal.  How awesome would that be?  I don’t to trivialize people’s dreams, but if having a child is that important to you, there are ways around not having a man.  Perhaps you are worried you won’t leave a legacy.  There are ways to leave a legacy that isn’t children.  For me, it’s my writing.  Find out what it could be for you.

Saying these things doesn’t make you anti-marriage, bitter, and “just upset because you don’t have anyone right now, and you’ll change your mind once you meet the right man.”

This one took me a loooong time to learn.  I’m not anti-marriage.  Some of my best friends are married.  I kid.  Marriage is great.  You have someone to take care of you when you’re sick, someone to talk to about your day, someone to say your cooking is awesome.  Guess what?  I have friends who take care of me when I’m sick.  I have friends to talk to about my day.  I tell myself my cooking is awesome and my friends ask about recipes.  All those things I just mentioned are not exclusive to marriage.  I’m sorry if you are single, and don’t have a good friend group.  Send me a message, we’ll be friends. (For serious).  I’m not upset I don’t have anyone right now.  If I change my mind once I meet the right man, I’m not meeting the right man.  I have no intention of changing how I feel just so I can get married.  How many women have said, “I do” to the wrong person because they wanted to get married?  I can’t do that to myself, and if my friends are as awesome as I know they are, they wouldn’t let me do it either.

If you are single, embrace it.  This may sound cliché and tripe, but I know what is being thrown at you in literature, film, television, marketing campaigns, you name it.  Don’t let anyone let you feel ashamed for who you are.

If you are one who is single now, but wants to be married, I wish you luck.  I hope you find the man/woman who does not complete you, but shares your journey with you.

If you are one who is single now and forever more, stay strong.  Have kids if you want to, but be proud.

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