I’ve done cool shit.

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I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

Sometimes the truth wants to come out.

Sometimes (always) I worry about the power of my words. Years from now, what will my children think when faced with a pile of half finished journals? Some just messy writing, some painting, some awkward pictures mixed with words. If I am too honest, will I damage them?

If I am too honest, will the people who (will) read my books turn away from my stories?

Writing this makes it seem so simple. I think I am at my most beautiful when I am the most me – even when ‘me’ can struggle so much, can say the wrong thing at the terribly wrong time, can be so doubtful about all that I am. Because that’s just part of me: of course there is another part who thinks I am limitless and beautiful. But the older I get, the more I realise that the limitless me makes the rest of me only feel more glum.

Look at all the books I have not written! Look at that opportunity to write a film for a new director that I turned down! Look at the manuscripts (that I recently had my wife dig out of obscurity) sitting in a pile, thick sheafs of paper just heavy paperweights.

Literal weights made of paper, heavy in the corner. Making the air thicker, making me more fearful and more hopeful. I remember the time I gave a novel, sealed in a thick manilla envelope, to a friend. I had her hang onto it, had her mail it to me. Was it my old therapist, was it the powerfully brave and insecure woman I met on my therapy training? I don’t remember that.

I remember the terror of giving my words to someone else. I remember anguish at knowing she wouldn’t read what I’d written, but relief because I’d asked her not to. She carried a bit of my weight.

And these women surrounded me. My therapist was one that was a happy meeting of need and want. My course required us all to undergo a significant amount of personal therapy; a damaging, world blown wide open bereavement made me realise how much I needed a place to just try to claw myself out of the blackness that death brought into my life.

My therapist was good friends with a well known author. She also was a therapist of other writers, other creative types. And she said I said the same words they did, in the same way. Sometimes she laughed, in this gentle, loving way, and shook her head. Told me I talked like a writer and it was so apparent. And I knew she was frustrated with me, the same way my friend on the course was. She said the way I spoke about writing made her know I was a writer with talent, with love, with the chance to actually do this thing.

Ah, I thought. But they’ve not read my words. What do they know?

And I sit here tonight, wondering what it is that I know. I’m in the same place creatively I was when I started training as a therapist, almost ten (!) years ago now. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground. But not broken.

Perhaps that is all I need to know now. I am not broken, no matter how the darkness sometimes presses against me, no matter how deep into my core it goes. I don’t know if I want to extinguish it; I don’t think so.

I have darkness from hope unfulfilled, from little kid love damaged beyond repair, from death and all the ways that destroyed me.

But I’m still here. And these people and places are part of me. Even the people I no longer have in my life, and by those I mean the ones still alive I choose to not welcome into my life. Those are branches of my own little tree of darkness I pruned not for myself, but for my children. For my sanity.

Those discarded branches don’t seem to rot away and melt back into the earth like normal branches. They hang around, they hurt me when I catch small glimpses of them. But seeing them is reminder enough of the tremendous hurt they could cause if I somehow tried to reattach them.

So I am here. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground.

But not broken.

Living every day as the hero/ine of your own story.

I like stories. I like telling them to friends, I like writing them down for strangers. For a long time, I was paid to listen to people tell their stories. It was an honour to sit with them, to just be with them, as they figured out what it meant to be who they are.

Telling your story, finding the tiny nugget of truth (or sometimes the huge, hulking beast that won’t go away), can be one of the hardest things. As a counsellor, I was awed time and time again by the courage people showed in unearthing their truths, and then speaking them aloud.

Therapy is, at a very basic level yet profound level, trying to experience what it is to truly be yourself, to share yourself, and to be cared about anyway.

Learning to be yourself is a common theme in many of our lives. People are always going on about ‘discovering themselves,’ or ‘waiting for life to start.’

We spent this morning among friends, in a pottery class. Hands wet and slippery with clay, smoothing and poking and sculpting. Afterward we wandered across the street to the park. It almost looked like we were surrounded by a light fog, but it was a constant mist drifting down.

My kids were barefoot almost instantly.

They ran with their friends. Climbed up to the top of things – once M getting stuck and yelling for help, pretending to be cats and lions and vets, scrambling under holes in the fence, all muddy knees and elbows and feet. The highlight had to be when they and their friends (and me and some of mine, it must be added) crammed under an outdoor pingpong table to shelter from the weather/play houses/etc.

Ten or so children laughing and roaring and clapping hands over their ears screaming about how noisy it was. Like little puppies, nudging each other out of the way, leaning on each other, exchanging stories and ideas and animal noises fast and thick.

None of these children are waiting until they grow up to be who they are. They have every day to choose what they want to do, how they want to do it, whether they will be a cat or a person or a gazelle. Some days they are an artist, others an actor, others just tired and cozy lying under a pile of blankets and watching tv.

I think M and S are awfully lucky. I also think I am, too.

I miss being a counsellor, I miss the stories my clients told but mostly I miss their faces, their eyes, their way of being. Counselling – both as a client and as the counsellor – taught me so much about who I am, how I relate with other people, how tricky it can be to just accept your own pile of crap and be okay with it.

It’s all about the here and now – learning what it feels like to not live exclusively in the past or the future, but to see what it feels like being yourself RIGHT NOW.

My kids get to do that every day, and my realisation of that as we walked back to the car today, soggier and happier than we were when we arrived, felt pretty profound.

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