Friday, October 13, 2017

Cruel Summer: A Biopolitical Diary Entry

That feeling of clarity when you’re on the other side of something awful is one of the best feelings in the world. I have that feeling.

Today is my last day in household agony. Well, it better fucking be. Until recently, I was smothered by things I couldn’t control, but my senses of purpose and hope have been replenished. A very dark chapter in my life is closing today.

As I’ve told the internet, I think about suicide all the time, but it’s usually not an issue. Things are bad when suicide dances on the line between benign consideration and desire. Things are worse when those thoughts get played on high rotation in the internal narration of my life. Things are dangerous when a desire becomes a plan. Thankfully, a suicide plan was never part of the summer's trauma, but the thoughts on repeat were enough for me to ask for an increased prescription. 

Let's start at the beginning, After a series of dispensary raids, my tenure as a well-paid budtender on Toronto’s Church Street came to an end. I had saved responsibly, and I was in good financial shape in April, when life began to crack apart ever so slightly.

It began when I found a bed bug on my pillow.

Sidebar: pests are a common urban issue, not a measure of cleanliness or poverty. Google it before you embarrass yourself with a douchey comment.

Naturally, we put on our grown up shoes and told our rental company right away. They scheduled Orkin bedbug treatments, two chemical sprays two weeks apart in early May. 

Because nothing is ever easy, the next months snowballed from a routine pest control incident into months of feeling homeless, hopeless, and suicidal.

In order to prepare for the chemical sprays, everything had to be stripped from dressers, closets, desks and shelves then stored in sealed bags or bins. All clothing was to be washed in hot water and dried on high. It was fucking arduous.

I love my roommate, but she owns an impractical truckload of belongings. The volume of objects she had to pack was just stupid.

Courtney is half of Drag Coven, a creative duo that documents and does drag, so she travels a lot. I would say she’s gone 50% of the time, if not more. Travel schedules meant Courtney's unpacking/ prepping availability was quite limited. The balcony hosted many of her belongings the entire summer.

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Mental state level: Not good, and declining proportionally with savings, but Europe!!

Evelyn, the best friend I got out my MA at Carleton, and I had been dreaming of Iceland for 3 years. She’s living in Geneva, so we knocked one off the bucket list and met in Iceland to begin our mini Eurotrip (Reykjavik, Zurich, Geneva). It’s great feeling to know you have someone who will meet you on a cold island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Zurich was the runway favorite destination of the trip. The city let me learn about myself in ways I hadn’t.

Zurich made me think about my relationship to space and language. I am not a fan of Toronto, and it was so nice to feel genuine appreciation for the space I occupied. I realized space and place are elements of life I need to prioritize for my ongoing well-being.

The Toronto I live in (Church-Wellesley Village) is daily displays of poverty, starved for social services, and fueled by a culture of drug and alcohol use. The queer communities here are rife with internal discrimination and advertisers and non-profits use stereotypes to decorate most of the villages's posters. Nature is a subway ride away, and housing is expensive and scarce. Toronto has lots of nice places and things to do, but the bare bones of the city are ugly. If money was no object, I could like my life in Toronto, but I don't.

Zurich tuned me into the importance of sense of place. I realized I’m happier in non-English cities. My anxiety is calmed by being required by surroundings to be more present in the moment. Having to pay more attention to the space I’m in occupies my mind, so that I don’t have the capacity or impulse to overthink and project myself far into the future.

So the summer started with a nice boost. Things were manageable, but unemployment was a source of stress.

Then we found more bed bugs in July. Courtney was being bitten, but there were no traces of bed bugs in her room. Then I found bites and went looking. I found them living in the tiny holes in my bedframe. It’s an Ikea bed that had different pre-drilled holes to adjust the depth at which the mattress would sit. My bed sits on the middle one.

Obviously when I see a bunch of tiny beetles living in my bed frame I freak the fuck out and grab a torch to kill them with. I crushed and roasted all of them I could find and soaked my whole bed frame with furniture polish.

So once again, we had to pack our lives away.

At least we were smarter, if not more fortunate, smarter about how we were going to store all Courtney’s stuff. We missioned to Ikea to buy pop-up tent style wardrobes. They each held about a closet’s worth of crap, so Courtney bought and filled three. I bought one that still isn’t built. (TBH building tents was my least favorite part of camping.)

With this preparation, my sense of home evaporated. The balcony was refilled to the rail, and three ugly white wardrobes took up permanent residence in our dining room (craft room). I lost all will to host guests, maintain the space to my usual standard, and I noticed deep depression when I spent too long at home alone. I felt I was living amidst constant reminders of failure and poverty.

The visual imposition was not good. Even just the balcony being literally filled against a wall to wall window with no curtain dragged me down mental health wise. I used the balcony almost every day. It was one of my best thinking spots, and I still miss it.

It got worse.  As Courtney went the summer in various degrees of belongings sealed away between the balcony and in the three space pod style wardrobes, I lived off dwindling savings and became increasingly stressed about job prospects.

I’ll be frank, I can’t function in traditional job settings. The times I’ve tried, I experienced mental health crises and quit. I had enough saved to spend the whole Summer trying to find a job with a good fit, but that wouldn’t come along until August. July-August was dark for me. I spent too much time alone in a space that I hated.

My anxiety meds got upped, and I found out the hard way how prescription medication is always a gamble with your health. I went on 300 mg of slow release bupropion, and it basically shut down my digestive system. I was in pain and constipated within a couple days of starting the new pills. After 3 days of passing more blood than stool, I stopped the pills and the symptoms began to subside. The fifth day there was blood passed was the last. I got a colonoscopy that would diagnose Irritable bowel syndrome.

Digestive issues and dietary sensitivities have been on my radar for a few years. So not much of a surprise, or an answer. Figure out what fucks with my digestion and don’t eat it. Cool.

Before this wave of digestive trauma, I’d completely cut soy, and dairy was reserved for cereal and coffee. Cheese got phased out over the summer, and I’m doing lactose free milk. Removing cheese had an immediately noticeable benefit, and I think there’s a nominal benefit from the lactose free milk.

This rare reaction does happen to other people. I Googled it, and the guy in the case study didn’t clue in to stop taking pills as early as I did, though. He sustained internal damage that need surgical repair. At least I wasn’t that guy…

Mid-August: I got an interview at a sex club practically around the corner from our apartment, and I was offered a job at the end of it. Since mid-August, I’ve been an employee of Oasis Aqualounge, but I didn’t really feel settled and safe in the position for several weeks. Oh, and I broke my baby toe on my left foot the first weekend after I got the job at Oasis, because the universe hates me.

August wasn’t all sunshine and new jobs. That’s when we found cockroackes! And guess what? There’s an extensive preparation for that too.

Wait for it though.

During that preparation, for a third time, we found bed bugs once again.

The balcony stuff had never come back in, and I own few enough things to have washed it all through in hot water several times. (Oh and fuck the environment, I've been washing in hot water for months because of bed begs).

Whenever something catches my eye I think it’s a bug. It’s unsettling, and it’s been inescapable for months now.

The cockroach spray happened and, we *think* it was effective. There is a period of increased activity when they trudge through the poisoned corners then die. We saw a few shortly after, but haven't in a while now.

Boot to teeth time: the bedbug treatment was being scaled up to a heat treatement. The apartment would be brought up to 60 degrees Celsius for four hours, and that should fry all the bugs and eggs on anything in the apartment. That treatment was supposed to happen last week, but it was rescheduled last minute by our building manager, and is now happening today, Friday, October 13th.

So fucking kill me. I’m still paying $940/Month to feel homeless. We are seeking rental rebates.

My one saving grace over the whole Summer was that I was going to film school in September. Back to school, creative life, new experience blah blah fuzzy feelings that kept me alive. I’m trying to ignore the ruin that is my home space while I start the new adventure of Centennial College’s Advanced TV & Film: Script to Screen program.

It lasted a week.

Film school may have been a description that’s too generous for that program. The program was a post-graduate certificate. Everyone had a bachelor’s degree, and it was only 8 months long. The program was entirely oriented around creating a collaborative short film that could be submitted to festivals. It was all group work and light on technical training. All of the instructors were contract, 3/5 first time instructors to the program.

The grades were made up, and nothing felt serious. The program director and writing instructor begged us so genuinely during both introductory sessions to come to class. That blew my fucking mind.

I realize I went to grad school, and that experience is completely different from undergraduate studies. If you miss a grad class, email your prof with a genuine apology. If that's not your approach, don't go to grad school. I was the MA student who did like 90+% of the required readings. I was there to talk about what we agreed to talk about. And I was for college too.

I’m too serious of person for that style of education. I want to be taken seriously by other serious people. This was not what was going on with this program. The experience was too character driven and not enough focused on imparting skills that would advance a videomaking career.

At the end of the day, the program wouldn’t have given me the proficiencies I would need for working in technical aspects of film and TV. Like, sure, I could edit something, but my 8 month program and collaboration on a short film isn’t going to get me a job at Netflix. And that’s what I wanted.

The logic behind my withdrawal actually came after the emotion of it all. Bodies tell us things the mind can’t accept yet. The “this is wrong” feeling for me is the feeling like my time is being held hostage, and I’d rather be anywhere else. I had two long installments of those moments in the both directing and editing classes. I needed to use my time otherwise. The return was not worth the struggle it would have been study on top of working enough hours to pay bills.

I’m still interested in creative work, but I would not be comfortable pursuing a technical film career without a more serious education. I am not stepping away from the medium, and I plan to acquire editing skills through other channels.

I’d also been torturing myself with thoughts of doing a PhD in September 2018, and the voices finally won. I ran out of reasons not to. I miss having peers. I miss the hope of working with students in critical social sciences, and I’d like a better dating pool.

The least alone I’ve ever been is in school. I don’t know if that’s sad or empowering. I want to do a doctorate because that’s how I want to spend the next 5 years.

It will be important for me to maintain creative outlets throughout the process. I will write every assignment for public consumption and real-world application. If I'm going to be writing anyhow, how can each paper I write make the world better?

I'd also like to vlog through my PhD. I want to share the human side of doctoral studies and use new media to ensure any valuable work I do doesn't get stuck inside the ivory towers. Creative productivity will be a core plank in my approach to avoiding isolation throughout future studies.

My applications will not be like the last time. I accepted my offer from the University of Ottawa’s Department Political Science, but I did so for the wrong reasons. I wanted the class privilege that academic life can provide. I wanted to out-compete my peers for prestigious grants and teaching positions. I wanted what I thought was on the other end of the PhD. I wanted to indulge in the propriety and peity of academia. I was chasing “The good life”.

I would have been miserable. I chose right. I needed to leave Ottawa, and I needed to come to terms with my mortality. That sounds dramatic, but it isn’t. I knew when I moved back to New Brunswick in January 2015, I was not well. Fast-forward a couple years and that generic “not-well” is now diagnosed IBS, GAD, and a bunch of back and shoulder problems.

More than getting my health in check, I needed to evolve before I could advance in my career. I needed to stop spending energy lying about my (lack of) wellness and caring about how my private life may compromise my professional life.

The internet is a lovely place for catharsis. I distilled the things I was trying to say over my MA into a manageable length paper and slapped it on academia.edu. The paper I wrote was more creative than analytic. I now understand that I was too close to the project, and it was too abstract for the structure of a PhD. I needed to get the idea of universal design as a public duty out of my head and into words.

That paper is basically one of my horcruxes. No one asked me to do it. No one gave me a gratifying grade. I did it to put my most valuable thought out there for the world on my own terms.

Then I went one step further.

As a project of radical authenticity, I aired all of my dirty laundry here. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. Sometimes I look back at my radical disclosures, and I feel bulletproof. What could anyone say about me that I haven’t said about myself (probably more articulately)?

When I walked away from PhD round 1, I thought I’d be better off writing books and scripts than papers. That's probably still true. I was right that I didn’t need the academy to keep me writing, but I do need some kind of sustenance. The mental drag of meaningless work was not a factor I could have planned for in my considerations walking away from U of O.

Here began my upswing. Several I told you so's are coming my way. I'm ok with that.

I am applying to doctoral programs to use their opportunities to create my best life. I am not saying nothing could lure me away. For example, the budding cannabis industry has a lot to offer. This is my adventure, not my destiny, and I'm excited about my life again.

The best thing about a PhD is city shopping. I might finally get to move to Montreal, something I’ve lusted after for years. Otherwise, I have reconciled I’d rather move back to Ottawa than stay in Toronto if McGill rejects me. Both Carleton and the University of Ottawa have appropriate expertise in the area of my proposed research.

The other side of the PhD doesn’t matter to me, which is super liberating. I don’t need to be a professor or researcher. I may be, but I’m not giving up on creative and media careers.

In reflection, I know that the confluence of three things got me out of the slump: finally feeling a sense of belonging at work, forming an escape plan from Toronto, and looking fucking awesome at Nuit Blanche.

I didn't try to look like Storm, but I'm not mad.

It’s been a while since I rocked a high-effort costume, and I’ve disappointed myself this year for being so creatively unproductive. That was the final boost I needed to get into stride and rise the onslaught of challenges I’m about to face.

Yes, I was lit.

When I wake up tomorrow, I get my home back. I have a job I can live with and co-workers I like, and I have a plan to spend the next 5 years in Montreal doing meaningful work. Fuck yeah.


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