Uniform. Ready? Ready. Game face on. Go.
I love clothes. Not for me the grey sweat suit. Or the understated beige sweater twin set (I have no idea what a twin set is, tbh, I keep on reading about it in books, but the characters who wear them invariably sound beige and unexceptional, and often wear a string of pearls with their twin set, and oh-my-god, it sounds boring as fuck, I’d rather be naked). Clothes are my second skin, both an expression of my inner being and part of my crafting my outer mood and persona.
I am probably most myself when I present workshops on creative writing. Or when I go dance. I communicate, with my clothes, my brand and my expertise. My enthusiasm, energy, thirst and passion for life.
When I teach journalism and corporate communications, I tone myself down, a little. (They can’t handle all of me, never could.) Black and grey dresses, nun-like in their lack of exposed cleavage. Just the shoes, piercings, and hair, bit of jewelry, give me away.
If you see me wearing yoga pants and a T-shirt, and I’m not going to a yoga class or the gym, or not helping a friend paint or move house—I’m not chilling or comfortable in my skin. I’m a wreck. The news is as bad as when you come to my house and see a shining kitchen floor.
Like a cat, dog or primate, the glossiness of my fur informs you about my health.
Yesterday, I wore pajamas under my snowsuit as I drove Cinder here and there. This was not an act of freeing “I don’t give a fuck.” It was the result of, between the things that had to be done, not having the energy to step into the shower and out of pajamas into yoga pants.
None of it felt good.
The glossiness of my fur tells you if I’m happy, excited, confident, passionate… healthy.
But. This is true too: “fake it til you make it,” that’s a thing. Putting that work uniform, dance uniform, writer uniform—it helps craft the mood, the persona even if you (I) really don’t want to do the thing you need to do. Actors embody that capacity the most, I think. As do athletes. The corporate suit fills a similar role for lawyers, bankers, accountants, CEOs; the old school white lab coat did it for dentists, doctors.
Don’t wanna, don’t wanna, don’t wanna, can’t do it—fine, here I go. Uniform on. Game face on. Ok. Let’s rumble.
When you (I) absolutely cannot force yourself to put that uniform on? That’s when things are really bad.
At the Teaching Excellence Foundations course on the organizations at which I teach offers its instructors, we spend a great deal of time talking about the teaching persona. I think it’s adorable how the newbies think all you need to succeed is authenticity.
Almost as naive as thinking all you need is love.
Most of the time these days, my authentic self is limp dishrag that doesn’t want to get out of bed.
Fucking move get out of bed. Shower. Uniform. Game face on. Go. Do the things.
When things were at their absolute worst with Flora last spring—just before I took her out of the hospital and to Wales, against medical advice, to honour a promise—I went to get a long overdue haircut. My hairstylist is an artist and a genius (Rose Mossa, 403.283.8281). She performed another of her miracles. She made me look amazing.
One of the first people to see me after the haircut said, “Great hair! You look so good! I was a little worried when I heard what was going on, but things can’t be so bad, hey?”
We’re not friends anymore. She doesn’t know why. And I know it’s unfair. After all, I got the haircut to look good, to help myself feel good. And it worked. My fur looked glossy and slick. Surely, she made a fair assumption.
Except… do you understand…
No. I suppose you don’t. And I don’t have the spare bandwidth to talk about it.
Haircut. Uniform. Game face on.
Text to my aman cara: “When on day 8 of an at-home suicide watch, you go to see the family therapist, and she says ‘what about your self-care?’ and you bludgeon her to death with her clipboard, that’s justifiable homicide, right?”
Her response: “Holy fucking shit!!”
She’s my temperature check. Ok. It’s not just me. That was a ridiculous thing for the fucking therapist to say.
I didn’t kill one of the medical professionals who are trying to help us and Flora, by the way. I just, again, really wanted to. And this happens so often that I’m starting to think—perhaps it’s not incompetence but design. Perhaps she is on purpose making herself the target, the centre of my rage.
I showered on Tuesday. I will probably shower today, maybe. When I am not trying to keep Flora alive, I am at work. When I am not at work, I am holding Ender—who is not ok. Making supper. When there is no critical task that needs to be done, no child that needs me—God I hope Cinder is ok because there’s nothing of me left for him—I sit very still. Body limp, mind empty. Move not, think not. Rest in-between the contractions.
Don’t ask me to do more.
The time will come—and I can tell you this, I know things are stabilizing—I guess there’s an advantage of this being a cycle—because I can see that the time will come when I can think about… art and music and fun and play and shiny things. But right now? Asking a person who is in survival mode what they’re doing for self-care is asking them to do more… when they barely have the capacity to do what needs to be done.
Don’t invent more tasks for me, ok?
Game face on. Uniform.
I schedule all of us—except for Ender, who loves his mop of unruly hair—for haircuts on Monday. Cinder’s been asking for a haircut for weeks. I can barely see through my bangs. We were supposed to take Flora in for a trim in September but what with one doctor’s appointment and another and another…
Appointment for haircut.
Such a normal, ordinary thing to do.
The effort involved in making that telephone call, to make those appointments? I can’t even… What it will cost me to get Flora, Cinder, myself there, and Ender safely stowed? Don’t even.
When you see me after the haircut? Absolutely, say, “Oh-my-god, amazing hair, your hairdresser is a genius!” (Rose Mossa, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary noble folk, 403.283.8281) But stop there. Don’t tell me things must be getting better. Save pronouncements on my feelings and my situation for—like, me. Flora. Let me tell you how I feel, what I feel—if I feel up to going there. Otherwise, after we finishing adoring my hair (and it will be amazing), let’s talk about the poets of Shiraz, American war crimes, and how we can save independent journalism.
Uniform chosen. Game face on.