Shannon has written on the web since 1998 when you could make a grilled cheese sandwich before your page loaded. At http://www.truthfully.ca she writes about vulnerability, courage, and mental health. At http://republicofquality.com she has the entire web on a spreadsheet. Before content strategy, she spent nine years teaching small humans.
my year with female authors
In 2014, Anne Thériault challenged men to read more books by women.
Men aren’t encouraged to read books by women because on some level we don’t believe that those books were written for men. And yet no one ever questions why women would read books by men. It’s just taken as a given that books by men are the gold standard, and that everyone, no matter what their gender, should read them. -Anne Thériault
It made me take note of where I spend my literary money and time. Thanks to Good Reads, I can see that female authors took up a good chunk of space on my 2014 list. So while it wasn't a huge leap for me to dedicate 2015 to creative women, it was a satisfying one.
Guys, don’t be that guy. Read (and review, if that’s your bag!) books by women. If you consider yourself to be in any way an advocate for gender equality, then let that equality extend to the media you consume. Because women’s voices won’t get any louder if men aren’t helping to amplify them. -Anne Thériault
Of the books I read this year, here are my five faves.
Meet You There by Jessica Wallace
I dig a book that goes behind the scenes with its characters. One that zooms in on the layers and tough work of being human with other humans.
Meet You There is about fucking up, moving through trauma, fucking up a little more, self-forgiveness, and boundary setting. It's about finding a way to let our pain and uncertainty shape us without taking over.
This book was a big, fat hug. It reminded me to choose compassion and kindness over judgment. That our stories connect us and make us human. And that showing up for the people I love is the best and often only thing I can offer.
I almost never read a book more than once. I'll be reading this for a third time in 2016 for sure-zies.
The Rewind Files by Claire Willett
OMG this book is the funnest.
Badass, sassy, loveable, smart-as-hell female lead, anti-racism, familial bonds, friendship, time travel, un-boring history lessons, and brilliant writing. What else could a reader ask for? A good giggle? All the feels? Check and check!
Seriously. Read it before it hits theatres. Because it will, you guys.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
From my Good Reads review:
White friends, put Kindred by Octavia Butler on your reading list. I can't put it down. It's teaching me, breaking my heart, and making me a better ally.
I'm not normally a sci-fi fan, but this is the second time travel book on this tiny list of mine. It's the second time travel book that might make it into my fave books of all time.
Kindred takes us (and the main character) back in time to life in the antebellum South. It's an uncomfortable, educational, important read. Heart and eye opening. Send it to the front of your list. Start it today. It will change you.
I need more Octavia Butler in my life. We all do.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
OMG A THIRD TIME TRAVEL BOOK. I guess I am into sci-fi. Trippy. I may need to re-write my bio on all the socials.
This book planted a warm fire in my heart that grew and grew and grew and still burns. Rainbow Rowell is masterful at character development and dialogue. Her books are all beautifully paced (I've read them all and you should, too), fun, relatable, and emotionally rewarding. If you've been in any kind of relationship, this book will make your heart sing ballads.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Ohai again, Rainbow.
Oh my sweet young people finding your way and falling in love. How my heart remembers and aches and cheers for you.
My 13-year-old daughter read this first. And now we're both goonie for school bus romance. "A touching tale of two misfits who find where they fit is together."
More wonderfully relatable characters that stay with you, on-point dialogue, and true-to-life circumstance. This is a writer who remembers what it's like to be a teenager, you guys.
Yes. Just, yes.
tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed
Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
Untamed State by Roxanne Gay
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
In the Woods (and the whole series) by Tana French
the perfect ten
September 11, 2012
You’re ten. TEN. I may seem to be handling it well, but it’s making my brain hurt. Growing kids mark the passage of time like a brick to the face. Growing kids and movie release dates. After watching “Back to the Future” this summer and remembering it was made in 1985, I started researching retirement homes for your dad and I.
I’ve never written you a birthday letter, and I can’t guarantee I’ll ever do it again. I’m not the most organized or consistent of mothers. But I can make you smile when you're mad, do that thing with my nose, and outdo Beaker. It’s not like you lost out completely.
I’ve written a lot about parenting since you arrived on set. Most of it focuses on how overwhelmed I sometimes feel. I don’t always like parenting as much we've been led to believe a person should, but I'm not sorry you’re in my life. I love you. And boy do I like you. You’re my favourite.
When you were little, your dad and I went to a church-planting bootcamp. (True story.) There were about ten other young couples, all of us candidates to start baby churches. On our first night together, we were led through various getting-to-know-you activities. One was sharing two truths and a lie. Our job was to spot the lie.
“Parenting overwhelms me,” was one of my truths. Almost everyone picked it as my lie. I remember feeling disbelief followed by shame. I was certain every other parent in the room would respond to my truth with head nods and chest-pounds in solidarity. All these years later and that memory still gives me scrunchy face.
I spend unhealthy amounts of time keeping pace with high-functioning types. While the average person practices a little positive self-talk here and some shrugging off there, I'm hiding under the talbe because I misread a friend's glance.
There are times it’s impossible to believe I possess anything worth offering beyond a fermenting junkyard swollen with anxiety. You know on airplanes how they ask parents in to put on their masks before their child's in an emergency? It like my plane is in perpetual a nosedive and I’m stuck in a time loop putting on my mask, putting on my mask, putting on my mask.
I wonder how to offer you goodness when you orbit a broken axis.
Best birthday letter everrrrr!
I fight a lot of gross in my head. There’s a troll on duty that doesn’t sleep. I’m looking into having her terminated, but there’s resistance and paperwork and I lost my pen.
But you. Emma.
You make every healthy thought and habit and action worth the fight. You are hope and joy and love rolled into summer-bronzed skin and bouncy blonde hair. You remind me that not everything has to be complicated and that other things always will be.
You show me how to sit with happiness and have delicious slow bites of gooey donuty goodness. You challenge me to focus on being me, worry less about appraisal, and say what I mean. Because these are things I want for you.
You show me how to celebrate people. Since toddling you greeted everyone like a moonstruck groupie with smiles, giggles, and running hugs. Even with encounters separated only by minutes. My Little Goldfish, you are a party. People have always said that about you: Emma is a party! And it’s the truest.
You remind me not to vilify my tender heart. You feel the world as deeply as your mama, and I didn’t see beauty in that until you happened. We ride joy and sorrow full bodied, you and I. We get deep in the trenches of hurt and healing.
My angst with parenting is because I'm desperate to do this right. And because I fear I won’t. When I look at you, there is no denying your wonder. It fills a room. All of the rooms. And every space in my heart. You help me believe I’m doing at least some things right. Maybe enough that you'll be okay.
I love you, Emma Kristy Fisher. You’re the most beautiful part of my world. You lock light into place. You're the perfect ten. Happy Birthday.
Originally published on Truthfully.
You're projecting. Don't be a dick.
The day before my first drink, Sally Bodenhammer snuck a flask into the girls' locker room and passed it around. I stayed outside the circle, peeling off my sweaty gym strip, watching. Someone tried to hand the flask back to me. I shook my head. Shocker, Sally sneered.
Mrs. Felk was my favourite teacher. The thought of her walking into the locker room mid-guzzle was enough to keep my lips off that flask.
I wondered if Mrs. Felk had ever been in the teacher's lounge when my art teacher, Mr. Dash, was trashing me.
"Piper Crest? Stuck up? I don't see that, Corey."
"Eh. She's like the rest of the French Immersion snots when they find themselves in a mostly-English class. She thinks she's better."
"Corey. You're projecting. Don't be a dick. And PS, your fly is open."
She spins on her non-marking heel and disappears. Take that, asshole.
I made an excuse about needing to get to science and hand in an overdue assignment. I could tell by Sally's smirk that none of the girls believed me and would say so the minute I left. Fuck them.
Danny Stilleto said Justin Derby is mad at me. Mad at me? We don't even talk, Danny. Mad at me for what? I asked. I think you know, Piper. He made his voice deeper to deliver that last doozie and then walked away. Jesus. That sat in my gut like Cheeseburger Regret for the rest of the day. Teenagers are such assholes.
I couldn't stop imagining the taste of alcohol. When Mr. Starb called on me in Social, I had to pretend I hadn't heard. I wondered how long the girls stayed in that circle, if they missed 4th period, if they actually got drunk. I wondered if Mrs. Felk walked in, mentally purging her list of faves, clearing space on her top shelf. Choose me. See me. Know me.
Mrs. Pollick told my mom during second-term parent-teacher interviews in grade 7 that I seem lonely and quiet. She said to tell me that her door is open if I needed a friendly ear. I didn't know she even knew my name. I waited two years too long to take her up on that offer and now she's gone. Probably transferred to a school with kids who don't suffer from oily hair and deforming acne. Where the halls have no flasks.
When I opened my eyes that morning, I knew I'd find a way to taste alcohol before the sun set. Everyone said they were leaving the house at the same time. It was meant to be. Dad was taking Kerby to physio and then a movie. Mom asked if I wanted to come to Safeway. "Mom. Do I ever want to come to Safeway?" I was already sweating, playing it cool. Like it was just another day for a well-behaved teenager to sass her parentals.
I remember slowly opening the liquor cabinet in case it creaked even though I was alone. I remember not knowing if I should start with rum or vodka or if there was a special way to drink either one. I settled on rum. It smelled better.
I'm currently taking a course on shorty story writing. This piece is from my most recent assignment on plot and drift. It's not full or polished, but I had fun writing it and thought you might have fun with the reading part.
feel afraid. write anyway. repeat.
I have this fear tape (DVD? Blue Ray?) that loops in my head. I've never found the off switch. Fear doesn't have an off switch, I'm learning. It's one of my permanent passengers.
Embracing fear as a companion will probably always feel hard, but it's maybe less exhausting than always fighting it. Every so often, when I remember, I ask Fear to pull over, shoo it to the passenger seat where it belongs, and plunk myself back behind the wheel where I belong.
Fear seems to show up in my creative life a lot. And by a lot I mean every damn second. I've been working on ways to be more firm with it. Less angry. More understanding. This involves the occasional love note.
Thanks for looking out for me. Writing is scary. It's true.
- I worry people are rolling their eyes at me.
- I worry they're bored.
- I worry there isn't a "they."
- I worry that the non-theys saying I write good are either skilled liars or have “Fifty Shades of Grey” on their “Literary Genius” list.
- I worry that online writing has changed so much since I joined the scene in 1998 that everything I publish should come in the form of thought-provoking essays when mostly I just want to remember the time the dog ate my Crocs and I wasn't sure if I should discipline him or respect his activism.
- I worry I’ll never stop comparing myself to other writers and that the answer might be to step out of the arena. Stop trying.
- I worry that I’ll worry about this stuff forever and get to the end of my life and realize I have more wrinkles than prose.
But, Fear. Darling. Honey. Not one of those things are threatening to my life. I cross my heart stick a needle in my eye promise no one will die even if every single bullet on that listicle up there is true.
Here are some reasons me and my small, sweet creative self are going to go ahead and write anyway:
- If I don't write, I'll forget. And the kids Emma may or may not have will miss out on the joy of knowing their mother had a pee-off with the family dog.
- I don’t need readers. An audience is delightful, but not necessary.
- I, Shanner-nanner, can be my own audience.
- No one is going to show up and beg me to write and I'll be really mad when that fully sinks in and I tally up all the time wasted on tantrums and hiding in corners.
- Writing makes me feel fantastic. Fuck perfection and social shares, Fear — LET'S WRITE A THING.
- Even when I write the stuff that's already been covered, no one pens with my particular whimsically-punctuated charm.
- Creating something from nothing is intoxicating.
I see you, Fear. I'm sorry if I've been unkind. Pass the keys, buckle up, have a sip of water. We've got words waiting.
Big, squishy love,
This is What Forgiveness Looks Like
The thing I most wish my mother (and the world) understood about my decision to cut her out of my life eleven years ago, is that it was a decision rooted in love, not hate. Love for my attentive daughter who was becoming increasingly aware of how long it took me to emotionally recover from phone calls and visits with my parents.
I didn’t want the Cirque du Scary, headlined by my mother and I, in the portfolio of my daughter’s childhood memories. I chose distance because when we’re together, I become the worst version of myself.
Can’t you just choose to act differently? Try harder?
I used to think so.
I just turned 40 and I’ve been seeing therapists since I was 19. I’m on medication for depression and anxiety. I’ve written through the anger. Cried out the hurt. Analyzed, mapped out, and charted the rejection — my mom’s and mine. I’ve done two residential self-help retreats — one was eight intense days specifically targeting the healing of childhood wounds.
And I’ve never stopped looking for answers.
When I look at that list, I don’t see a person who’s not trying. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and give her an A+. Her report card would read, “Shannon continues to apply herself fiercely to this assignment.”
I once shared a cab with three women en route to an after-conference party. The subject of families came up and one of the women mentioned the shit vacation she’d recently had with her parents. They hadn’t spoken in the two months since.
“I get that. I haven’t spoken to mine for nine years.” I offered. Another woman responded, “Two months is one thing, but nine years is extreme. You need to do something about that!”
Years ago, I was assigned a therapist who became obsessed with reconciliation the moment I mentioned estrangement during our first (and last) session. He said I had two choices: aim for reconciliation or find a way to remain indifferent to the situation.
I hoped he was wrong, I said, because for the sake of my mental health, I couldn’t be in a relationship with my mother and indifference isn’t my jam. "I'm not here to criticize you, but you're coming to me two years after not speaking to your mother. How is that not indifference?" He asked.
Indifference (noun): Lack of interest, concern, or sympathy.
The therapist asked if I would like to see my mom pay for what she'd done. How can a person both want revenge and remain apathetic, I wondered?
So why all the estrangement shame? Why isn’t my decision compassionately celebrated?
If it were a friend or partner instead of my mother, I’d be lauded as brave and aces with boundaries. Is it the sharing of blood? Is blood the thing that gives us license to indefinitely cause hurt?
In the movie "Parenthood," Keanu Reeves has a line that’s stayed with me since I saw it in the early ’90s. After his character shares with his girlfriend’s mother that his dad used to wake him up by flicking lit cigarettes at his head and demanding breakfast, he says, “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car — hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”
The great thing about family is that even when things get really shitty you stick together. But that’s also the dangerous thing about family. Sticking together is the expectation and can be the opposite of what you need to be okay. To feel safe. To respect yourself. To stop eating and breathing guilt and shame and hurt and loneliness.
My mom is most definitely not a “butt-reaming asshole.” She can be lovely. Growing up, she held my hair back when I puked, sat at the end of my bed while I talked about my day, and — my fave — called me her “Little Chicken.” She shuttled me across the city to my best friend’s house every weekend, made birthday cakes with money baked inside, and worried when I got home late.
But it wasn’t enough.
I have deep compassion for the ways my mom was hurt by her own family. If I could go back, I would scoop my little-girl mom into my arms and tell her she is loved and worthy and enough. Nobody did that for her and she was unable to stop her wounds from leaking into our relationship. She parented from her own unmet needs, as all parents inevitably do.
When my husband and I found out I was pregnant, he was a pastor. Our world was full of people who wanted to shower us with love and casseroles. My heart-shaped uterus meant a breech baby and a scheduled C-Section.
Knowing the exact day and time of Emma’s birth allowed us to make a pre-announcement. Because we suspected we’d be flooded with visitors from our church family, we decided to tell everyone — even our parents — no visitors on that first day. We wanted to create a bubble to enjoy and absorb this being we created.
My mom did not respond well. She didn’t care that my in-laws respected our request. She decided being a maternal grandparent gave her VIP access. We fought daily the week before the birth. It was hard to see her make it so personal, but I stood my ground.
The moment they pulled Emma from my belly, my heart rate dropped. People panicked and I thought, “I want my mom.” From beneath my oxygen mask, I asked my husband to call her. Later, when I woke in my hospital room, safe and stable, I expected to see my mom. I knew she’d be waiting to hear how I was and be relieved I’d changed my mind.
My husband shook his head. “Sorry, Babe. She said she made plans she can't shuffle.”
Even writing this now, almost 13 years later, it sounds like fiction. I can’t imagine being so tangled in my own hurt that I’d make my daughter’s — anyone’s — birth experience about me. Maybe it was ridiculous to ask people to stay away that first day? But we were a couple of idealistic kids.
Even so, you show up. You. Show. Up. That’s your job as a parent.
When my mom finally came, two days later, she made little eye contact, noted that my husband's parents got to see the baby first, and left in tears.
I have a million stories like this. There’s no one thing I can point to and say “that was the end of us.” The end is the culmination of years of emotional neglect and abuse — a pile with more bad memories than good.
She did her best for me the way I’m doing my best for Emma. But it turns out that sometimes our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes our best leaves our little people wondering about the stability of their worlds, ashamed of the anger growing hot in their bellies, afraid these feelings about their own parents make them monsters.
And sometimes our best means we give our little people enough strength and courage to recognize and end destructive relationships.
My mom deserves forgiveness. I one hundred percent believe that and I forgive her. I forgive her, I forgive her, I forgive her. But forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to remain in a relationship with her and allow her to keep hurting me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean sacrificing myself to please someone or an entire culture of someones.
I worry a lot that letting go of my mom means I’ll inevitably lose Emma. ''Grandchildren learn how to treat their parents by the ways in which they see their parents treat the grandparents,'' says Dr. Matti Gershenfeld. ''If you're estranged from your parents, the odds are your children will become estranged from you once they become adults. That's the model they're learning.''
Maybe? Or maybe I’m modeling radical self-love. The kind that allows a person to care for themselves by doing one of the most painful things imaginable. And instead of feeling shame and self-loathing, my daughter might know how brave she is.
It’s what I hope for myself one day.
Headspace is my New Favourite App
I tried meditation about six years ago after reading The Mindful Way Through Depression. But it felt clunky, I decided I was a meditation dud, and gave up.
In January, a friend mentioned the Headspace app. Headspace was created by Andy Puddicombe "to bring meditation to the masses in a way that would cut the airy-fairyness out of it." (Nilufer Atik, The Telegraph)
IMMA GO AHEAD AND SAY YOU NAILED IT, ANDY.
I completed the free intro pack and lickety-split became an evangelist. I signed up for a year membership and made my way through the Foundation Pack, excited to unlock the rest of the Headspace library.
I began to notice some fun changes.
- My squirrel brain slowed long enough to absorb entire conversations, podcasts, and lectures.
- I could recap said conversations, podcasts, and lectures in detail (my recaps used to sound something like: "So this woman—or man?—who worked for a big important organization—or maybe a startup?—did a thing and then some stuff happened—or maybe stuff happened and then he/she did a thing?— that changed lives and woah. Cool, right?")
- I realized I'd never really been present during my massages. I was always lost to all the chatter in my head. Massage is kind of amazing without Captain Anxio-brain busy spinning webs and making lists.
And then I one-two-skipped-a-few and almost jumped.
After my close call with the wrong side of a bridge, I decided meditation, like my anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds, needs to be part of my routine.
Nearly jumping from a bridge shone some sobering clarity on what staying alive looks like for me. It looks like routine and vigilance and radical self-care. I don't get to relax when it comes to my mental health. Hope it just works itself out.
Which, to be frank, is a bummer. Depression comes with an American-sized serving of fatigue. The energy involved in that level of vigilance makes me instinctively reach for my pyjamas and a few months in bed.
But Headspace is something I look forward to. It's time for me to heal and build emotional and mental strength. With zero pressure and zero judgement.
Anxiety. I see you.
I had a therapist call me "sticky." "You feel everything, Shannon and it all sticks to you. You're sticky!" Yaaaaaaas! Because I ruminate. I grab onto a thought, hold tight, and ride that sucker twisty-town down to the bottom.
My anxiety is the command post for my mental-health-related quirks—that stickiness. Understanding this has been like discovering where that smell in the kitchen is coming from. Instead of selling the house, I can get to work chucking and scrubbing everything covered in potato slime.
When I finished the Foundation Pack and unlocked the full Headspace library, I went straight for The Anxiety Pack. I was so excited to tackle my anxiety that I briefly considered smashing through the entire 30-session pack in one sitting. (Zen, right?)
You may call me Teflon.
The Anxiety Pack introduces the practice of "noting." Noting is a quiet, huggable beast. You definitely want Noting on your team. Noting has meant that thoughts—the kind that typically latch onto and hatch bigger, scarier thoughts and pin me to dark corners for days and months—make an appearance, get a pat on the hiney, and slide on by.
I used to believe that the only way through sadness was through it. I believed I had to allow myself to feel it. Sit with it. Coddle it. Anything less would be a form of denial and stifling to my growth.
I still very much believe that sadness is a crucial companion to joy. But I no longer feel obligated to sit through five course meals with negative memories, regrets, or staggering what-ifs.
Meditation has given me the tools to avoid spirals triggered by clinging to thoughts and feelings. It's connected me to who I am without the tangled muck. It's escorted my anxiety to the back of the bus and put me behind the wheel again.
It's made me less sticky!
Headspace for everyone!
I've especially been sharing the good news with friends dealing with mental health issues, but I can't think of one single person Headspace wouldn't benefit.
If meditation interests you, but you don't really know where to start, Headspace is screaming your name. And if you've already got meditation buttoned down, I double dog dare you to try Headspace anyway. You might see meditation from a fresh, more delightful angle.
Mr. Puddicombe is not compensating me in any way for my Headspace happy dance. I'm this obnoxious all on my own because Headspace has opened up my world more than cute cat videos. Which is really saying a lot.
It's on Me to Build My Racial Stamina, and Thank You
I often think about leaving social media because it takes up too much of my time, but it holds intrinsic value that I can't find elsewhere.
My husband jokes that without social media I'd have to resort to keeping up with the news. This has never been my jam. People who exclusively rely on the news sometimes have information than I do. They're not exposed to first-hand stories of the marginalized nestled amongst the noise of the Internet.
They haven't witnessed POC be patient through the valley of the shadow of white tears. They haven't been changed by the public conversations full of grit, insight, vulnerability, and hurt, despite the trauma and fatigue involved.
The Internet has made me a less ignorant person. A better ally. More empathetic and understanding. It exposed me to voices that I would have otherwise missed.
The day after SCOTUS ruled in favour of same-sex marriage nationwide, I saw a cartoon on Twitter of the rainbow flag going up in place of the confederate flag. It made me smile, and I almost retweeted it. Something stopped me—something that had nothing to do with critical thinking or insight.
Later, on Facebook, friends were in conversations about the problems with the flag cartoon. How it's dismissive, appropriates black pain, and implies the black struggle for civil rights is over. And, once again, I was thankful to be privy to these public conversations. I was thankful for the chance to listen, learn, shake my head at my own ignorance and enormous privilege.
It's tough to face internalized racism, bigotry, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism. It's embarrassing and sad. Uncomfortable.
"It does hurt to be called racist, or to have your behavior that contributes to a greater culture of racism called out. That does suck.
However, it is nothing compared to the pain of racism and weight of discrimination based on race that people of color endure.
If you hope to be an ally to people of color in their fight for freedom and justice, it would behoove you to endure a few moments of discomfort or soreness in order to continue to grow and educate yourself."
If the state of the world is breaking your heart and you don't know what to do, start by earnestly listening to people of colour. Get comfortable with calling out the bullshit. And get comfortable with being called out.
Engaging in race conversations can be terrifying—as a white person who carries pockets of prejudice I'm not always aware of, I'm bound to make mistakes. My ignorance will reveal itself. But if there's any hope of evicting the racism that resides in me, I need to embrace exposure as a risk that's necessary and worthwhile. I need to get comfortable with discomfort.
That didn't feel good, but maybe we're not all supposed to feel good right now. Not yet. -Chenjerai Kumanyika
A piece I read last week offers a brilliant framework around racism and call-outs. I plan to follow it going forward.
"Racism is the norm rather than an aberration. Feedback is key to our ability to recognize and repair our inevitable and often unaware collusion.
In recognition of this, I follow these guidelines:
- How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.
- Thank you."
Follow with me, friends?
I’m Glad You Didn’t Jump, Shannon
Trigger Warning for talk of death and suicide.
“I almost jumped from a bridge into the Mississippi River last night.”
It’s not something I imagined myself ever needing to tell my husband. But on May 22nd, that’s the call I made. I’ve been open with Steve about my suicidal ideation, but I’d never had a plan. Never come so close.
I was maybe ten when my parents climbed the stairs into the kitchen, my step-dad’s hands wrapped around each of my mom’s wrists, guiding her like a sleepwalking toddler. My step-dad tied dish towels in place of his hands and shuffled my mom out the door. He called to me over his shoulder that he was taking her to Emergency.
I stood alone in the kitchen wondering what had happened to my mom’s wrists.
I wasn’t sad when I left the bar on the east side of the Mississippi that night. I was still tingling from fun with friends. I didn’t want the night to end, so I suggested we walk to our hotel. Google Maps said it was only half an hour, and the warm night felt custom made for us. No one was interested, so I set off on my own.
A few blocks into my walk, I tripped on familiar thoughts about how I never really belong and all of the very scientific reasons it will always be so. Thoughts about how I make everything complicated and weird. Down we spiraled, my thoughts and I, on our well-worn descent.
And then there was the bridge, offering itself up as a solution.
We saw her before she saw us. She sat alone at a table in a hospital robe, fidgeting with the white plastic bracelet around her wrist. She smiled when she saw us. Relieved. Tired.
My mom kissed my head and we held each other. “Hello, my little chicken,” she whispered.
At the center of the bridge, I leaned on the railing, resting my chin on my folded arms. Was it high enough? Maybe jumping would only mean dragging myself back to the hotel in wet jeans?
I swung my legs over the railing and lowered myself onto a thick nylon cable and then backwards onto the outer metal beam that spanned the length of the bridge. I stood for a long time before sitting. I looked down between my dangling feet and watched small dark waves follow the current. I imagined myself sliding off the edge and disappearing.
What would it feel like? How long would it take?
As a teenager, I’d get ready in front of the mirror at the end of our hallway. I’d sit criss-cross applesauce beside the skinny, rosewood table that held our Sears catalogues and National Geographics. I’d dry my hair and flip through magazines while I waited for my curling iron to heat.
One evening I was alone, waiting for my mom to come home and shuttle me to a sleepover. I plunked myself on the floor, plugged in my curling iron, and pulled out a magazine. It flipped open to a folded piece of paper tucked between its pages. The paper matched the familiar green, coil-bound scratch pad from the junk drawer in our kitchen. I unfolded the note and recognized my mom’s writing. As I read, the hallway narrowed. My heart pounded in my head, drumming out the beat of my panic.
It was a goodbye letter. It was all the reasons why.
Before I could wonder when it had been written or if it was too late, my mom came through the door, cheery and chatty. Alive.
As she drove through the darkness, I studied her profile from the passenger’s seat. I looked for the sadness she carried. I thought of all the hours I’d spent in teenage angst, angry about everything. And nothing. Was this my fault? I love you mom. I’m sorry. Stay with me. She caught me staring. She squeezed my knee and smiled. I covered her hand with both of mine and squeezed back. I didn’t let go.
My conference roommate was up before me. “Morning!”
I sat up. None of it seemed real. “Bekah. I almost jumped off a bridge last night.” I hid my face in my hands and sobbed.
I could hear her quietly weeping in the bathtub while I watched The Golden Girls in the livingroom. I pushed the bathroom door open without knocking and began collecting every razor I could find.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“You’re scaring me.”
I felt the danger I had been to myself. I felt silly and small.
Bekah hugged me while I settled. “I’m glad you didn’t jump, Shan,” she said.
Later, I sat five feet from Anne Lamott as she discussed the problem with the mind, failing better, and finding our voice.
I almost missed this, I thought.
When I arrived home from Minneapolis, I googled Hennepin Avenue bridge to see if I had been in danger. The answer was yes, yes I had very much been in danger. I wasn’t the first hurting person to find her way there. I wasn’t the first to stand on that metal beam and think the river below was an answer. The only answer.
I can’t tell you the time since the bridge has been all sunshine and clarity. Things stayed dim for a few days.
I know it would be soothing to hear that my experience shook me into a new state of being. Cleared up the brain jumble. But it didn’t. The truth is, I may always be fighting to stay alive. I may always be too close to the edge.
But I’ll keep working. Keep trying all the things. Keep confiding. Keep seeking out the quiet moments and listen hard for the small voice that says, I am enough. Keep taking my meds. Keep going to therapy and keep surrounding myself with love.
And I’ll keep talking. Talking away the shame and loneliness of depression. Because shame is the deadliest, friends. Shame keeps us from sharing. Keeps us feeling broken, embarrassed, silly, and it keeps us believing we are too much work, unloveable, unfixable, unworthy.
I hope you’ll keep talking, too.
I hope you’ll listen for those drowning in shame and create spaces for us to be deeply seen. To be good enough.
If you are depressed, wrestling suicidal thoughts, or need someone to talk to, please call 1-800-273-8255. For international readers, use this database of crisis centres listed by continent.
If helplines aren’t your jam, arrange with a trusted friend or two to take your calls—anytime. I have two pals who’ve set up private Facebook groups and filled them with people keen to share the very best, most true truths when called on. Those groups are beautiful examples of asking for what you need and then letting your people show up.
Web Conferences Help Me Write Good
Parenting Changed My Teaching
In my past life, I taught elementary students for almost a decade. In the third year of my teaching career, my daughter entered kindergarten. Having a kid in the school system changed me.
I became less of an asshole about “junk” food in lunch bags, BECAUSE OMG KIDS AND FOOD ARE WHAT (MY) NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF JUST LET THEM EAT.
I advocated for and ran homework-free classrooms, because having tension-free family fun time after long days became personal.
I challenged students to take responsibility when they blamed moms and dads for lost library books, because conjuring images of the 42 million other things parents juggled was a wad of toothpaste on my sweater.
Getting cozy with the team creating kind, resourceful, functional, happy humans made me a better teacher. I developed empathy for the vision, goals, and pain points of the other departments in Human Development. They reminded me, continuously, that teachers are one important contributor among many.
This is not to say childfree teachers can’t be good teachers. They absolutely can be and are. I could've developed this deeper empathy over time without becoming a parent. But being immersed in both roles definitely accelerated my growth. Spurred me to reach out to my team—students, parents, siblings, librarians, school admin—and tap into their collective experience. Led their stories and approach to shape my own.
Web Savvy Influences My Writing
In my current life, I’m a writer and a content strategist. I attend a lot of content strategy, design, and UX conferences—I’m even helping produce one!
I was at UXIM 15 in Salt Lake City this month where, toward the end of the three-day conference, another attendee asked if I’d gotten much out of it as a writer. My first instinct was to say, “Well, I’m also a content strategist. So, yeah.” But that would have poopooed a writer’s place in UX. Instead, I thought about it for a minute and decided my answer was still yes.
The same way a teacher colours a student’s journey, digital writers help shape the user experience. And if we want to shape great user experiences, our writing should complement the work of our web development counterparts. This means getting acquainted with and growing empathy for industry vision, goals, and pain points.
Surrounding yourself with industry nerds and experts at web development conferences is sure to do this!
I eavesdrop on or participate in conversations that change the way I think about the web and my contribution. Sometimes this looks like being challenged, and sometimes this looks like being the challenger—and discovering I know more than I give myself credit for. (Oh hai, Impostor Syndrome!) Both scenarios breed learning and confidence.
I’ve dug into user testing, journey mapping, responsive workflows, sketching, field research, and content modelling all in workshop settings. The collaboration and hands-on learning pushes me toward more thoughtful, people-centric, informed digital writing.
These lecture-style snippets from industry experts are full of gems. At UXIM Jason Grigsby talked about the way XBox One’s voice control reads all the text in a link. So tagging, say, the full 272-word Gettysburg Address could hamper the user experience. I’ll think of that example every time I link text.
Taking notes and writing summary posts
I’m not good at either of these. Taking notes and paying attention is a bad mix for me, but this is helpful for some folks. And so far, I’ve been too shy to send recap posts into the thinking world, but I imagine this helps work through and firm up eye-opening moments that other digital writers could learn from.
Get Ye to a Web Development Conference, Dear Writer
There’s much goodness to choose from.
Design & Content Conference will rock your web socks this August. If you’ve always wanted an excuse to come to Vancouver, this is it. I’ll see you there!
UIE is forever putting on top-drawer events. Their latest conference was full of especially great Feature Talks that were recorded and should be published soon. Watch for them! They also have a whole library of affordable learning and a UX Thought of the Day that you should sign up for now.
Confab is a must-attend if you’re a digital writer. Content strategy is not writing, but understanding it will certainly make you stand out in a sea of writers and have your readers swooning over your human-friendly copy.
Get savvy about web development. Your digital readers will thank you.
I’ve been living in an RV with my husband, 12 year-old daughter, and two not-small dogs for 17 days.
The idea of buying a travel trailer came up last summer after cramming the five of us and our old bones into a three-person tent. One thing led to chats about possibly hitting the road full-time, and here we are in the middle of testing out the idea with a month-long trip down the coast.
And if you’ve been relying on our Instagram feeds to gauge our levels of contentment, you’d think we struck good times gold. And, in a way, we have. But chicken nuggets the good times come with a shit ton of stress. I don’t exactly know how to Instagram hair-pulling and tears without weirding out the internet, so smiling faces and bounding dogs on west coast beaches it is.
Our first couple days brought on a cluster of surprises that, alone, would barely register as annoying. A spitball to the head. Like, say, bad wifi delaying client meetings, an oven fan that doesn’t work, condensation forming pools in window wells, drawers and doors that won’t stay shut during travel, a broken set of plates, and mesh pockets that unglued themselves from the wall.
No bigs, right? Wrong, dear reader. Wrong. The spitballs piled up and became increasingly trickier to shrug off.
And let’s not forget our dog with car anxiety. We'll call him "Neville."
When your daily travel consists of a ten-minute ride to the dog park—whatevs! Less whatevs when you’re talking multiple seven-hour stretches towing over 6000 pounds through mountain passes. Regardless of our proactive measures—including anxiety meds, a compression jacket, a pheromone collar, a harness, a tether, and sedatives—Neville still manages a constant state of batshit crazy. This comes in the form of pacing, whining, pigeon coos, high-pitched barks at random intervals, and spastic attempts to climb the back seat—getting himself tangled, and our daughter flustered, in the process.
But surely he settles after an hour or so? Surely he can’t manage that level of intensity the entire drive? Wrong again, dear reader. The force is strong with this one.
The upside? Neville stresses out his canine sister enough that by the time we arrive, they’re both exhausted and settle easily.
Let's move on to day five's sewage smell that crept in from the vicinity of our back bunks. With some collaborative nose work, we discovered its source: the AC vent above the top bunk. And why would sewage fumes leak through an AC vent, you ask? Hells if we know.
The collecting spitballs and the piles of not knowing became an un-ignorable heap in the corner of our psyches and almost sent us into a stress coma. We became so tightly wound that our daughter—whose warm childhood memories and adventure quota were the source of inspiration for all of this—was having zero fun.
We seriously considered heading back home. We crawled into bed with heavy hearts and twisted stomachs.
Sleep helped. Sleep always helps. The morning brought fresh resolve. We apologized to our kid and followed the highway south.
I can’t tell you that we RVed happily ever after. We’ve since had to learn to unclog an RV toilet, reattach a trailer brake that popped off en route (thank Moses we were only going 5 miles an hour), and get an empty black tank to actually read as empty.
Just tonight we had a whopper of a fight that ended in tears and cooling-off walks. But it was one of those fights that probably needed to happen. It dislodged some unspoken truths and made way for doing better.
So. Could we actually take this on full time? I really can’t answer that. We still have 11 tester days to go. We’ve definitely learned what works (shorter driving days and setting up Anxi-o Dog in the back seat with access to kid cuddles) and what doesn’t (many travel days in a row and too much toilet paper), but I’m not sure we have enough data to decide if this is our jam.
I do know that despite white-knuckling my way through these last 17 days, I’m happy to be trying. I’m proud of us for not sitting at home wondering. We’re out here, elbows-deep in the finding out. And that’s something.
(Thanks to Sara Wachter Boettcher for the clever title.)
Thank you for your there-ness. Please accept mine.
In friendship we live out belonging and connectedness through the sharing of stories. Our wild, banal, gut-punching stories.
But something makes us itchy about taking up space when we're in pain. Our crisis conversations often end with some version of, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump on you."
When I say sorry, I'm apologizing for all of the taking. I'm telling you that I also have a giving, light-hearted, less-burdensome side.
But when you apologize, I'm jolted by the absurdity. Why would you be sorry for the gift of your story, time, trust, and the chance to show up?
"When we learn someone's story, it shifts the fabric of our being. We are more open. And when we are open, we connect." -Kate DiCamillo
When you let me into your life—when you lay your heart before mine—you create space for me to show up. And showing up is something I can do. I don't have fancy words or know any of the good crisis jokes, and my casseroles are kind of the terriblest—but boy can I show up.
Showing up is a gift we give each other and ourselves. We hold each other's stories like tiny birds. We cup them with warm, gentle hands and float hight on the thrill of trust. The gift of crossed paths and hearts.
"Oh, but I've been taking up so much space and there's been none for you." We say.
Maybe. Maybe that's been a little true lately. But friendship doesn't keep tallies, and soon it will be my hurt that needs showing up for. And you'll be there. I know it.
"All you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Your there-ness, your stepping into a sacred person's line of vision, can be life giving, because often everyone else is in hiding." -Anne Lamott
Let our friendship show up and fuse us together. Let me hold space for you, no sorries allowed. Let our there-ness propel us toward love and healing.