Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Bittersweet Song

I need to talk about something that's leaving a very bittersweet taste right now.

The purely sweet: Three out of four of the Skokie Idol (it's like American Idol but just in Skokie) contestants I coached last week made it to the final two in each of their categories - Kids, High School, and Adult. The girl who didn't lost out to one of my other students and a 12 year old boy who sang Defying Gravity O_O Yeah. Nothing really much to do about that.

BUT she DID get a standing ovation for the song I worked on with her, she belted notes she never thought possible, and the judges said that whoever is coaching her clearly knows what they are doing when it comes to "unlocking potential while still keeping her voice safe."

Seriously what better compliment as a voice teacher could you get?!

All the rest of my students also got complimented for something that I personally worked on with them too. I'm so proud of the work they put in and I'm kind of amazed and beside myself at the idea that I could actually make that big of a difference with such talented people. This has been such a validating experience. A sign that makes me feel I'm really on the right track.

I'm just going to go ahead and be proud of myself too. No humble disclaimers right now. My students freaking rock, and so do I!


Now comes the bitter.

I would not have these techniques to teach if I had never met Kathy Sweeney.

Kathy was my music teacher in elementary and middle school. She became my vocal coach in high school. She taught me techniques that changed the way I sang forever. She taught me how to belt in a way that opened my range and kept me safe. She pretty much taught me everything I know and everything I now teach in voice.

Kathy took her own life in October of 2012.

From what I understand, depression was a beast Kathy had been battling for a long time. I don't know most of her story, and what I do know is second and thirdhand.  It's not my place to talk about or assume anything about Kathy's life that I was not directly involved in, so I won't.

She was my teacher. I was her student. First in elementary school, show choir, school performances, Christmas pageants, and finally private voice lessons. I would also call us friends.  She could be short tempered and impatient (though rarely with me personally), but also incredibly funny and downright inspiring. In seventh grade, she told me she always really appreciated my lack of cynicism and that I should hold onto that. I did my best.

I wrote a bunch of reflections and speculation on the parts of her life I did participate in as part of my processing here, but then I deleted it. Writing it out was therapeutic enough. And once again, it feels like it's not my place to get too raw in this circumstance. I didn't know Kathy the way I knew Jenna.

What I will share is that I wasn't all that shocked when I found out (as an adult) that depression was something she struggled with. I really don't mean that with any judgmental implications or drama. I just knew (and know) a lot of people who also struggle with this issue and it just... made sense in the context of the woman I knew. Like finding out someone you thought spoke particularly loudly was partially deaf or something. It was not an obvious thing, but it was something you always kind of noticed. So once you had the explanation, it was like, "Oh? Huh. Yeah, that makes sense."

I dunno, that's probably a horrible analogy. I hope you all get what I mean.

Years later, when I heard the news that it had finally claimed her... That was a shock.
It always is, I suppose.

I could not bring myself to drive up to attend her funeral. In fact, I had trouble really acknowledging or processing the loss of this woman for a very long time.

It happened six months after my sister died, five days after her birthday.
It was all just... too much.

I don't regret my choice. And I know anyone who might have noticed my absence understood. Remembering how I know I felt at that moment in time, I know that there was no other choice I could have made. But I do often find myself wishing there was some way I could be in a situation like that now that I'm more emotionally stable - Have the chance to be around others who knew her well so I could hear more about her. Share how she affected me. Say goodbye...

Kathy was really important to me and I SO WISH I could have shared with her what her teachings brought to my adult life. I hadn't talked to her in so long, but in these past years since she's been gone, she's one of the people I most want to get in touch with. I would to ask her questions about her technique, I would invite her to come to Chicago to see the school, I would tell her how the first show I ever did at my summer theatre camp was "Help! I Need a Vacation!," I would tell her about how voice students and parents are telling me that they never knew they could sing a particular way until they met me and it's all because of her.

Hell, even my stint as an Elsa performer is because of her. That song did NOT come in my natural range. Without her techniques, I never would have been able to train myself to sing that song comfortably.

As a teenager, I took voice lessons for granted. She used to scold me that I couldn't call her my voice teacher unless I actually came in consistently for lessons. I wish I could tell her now that I'm teaching other high school students, OH MY GOD. I know exactly how she must have felt now. The ones with natural talent are the WORST students! Haha


There are these monsters on one of my favorite TV shows, Doctor Who, called the Weeping Angels. Their attack is very unique. When they touch you, they send you back in time. You still get to live out the rest of your life in whatever decade or century they send you, but those who were supposed to live it with you don't get to. The timeline you were supposed to inhabit is deprived of whatever impact you would have had from that point on. And the Angels feed off of the energy from uncompleted potential your cut-off life has left behind.

Seeing potential that will never be culminated as something so tangible you can EAT IT is an image that really speaks to me when I think about losses like this.


Sometimes I wonder... If she had managed to hold on a little longer, would that have made a difference? If I had been able to reach out to her and show her that a huge portion of what will become my life's work was built on what she taught me?

But then I shoo it away. From what I understand, she was already in contact with several former students. She had people who cared about her. 

Depression is never that simple.

The best I can do is imagine that maybe I DID get to keep some part of her. After all, I started working at Top Note that following February.

This place has given me so many opportunities to push my life forward and keep my fire blazing despite the downpour it's suffered through. And it's the perfect place to do what I can to serve the memory of a woman who, quite frankly, gave me some of the main tools I make my livelihood with.

And what are we really in the grand scheme of things, if not the pieces we leave to others?

Story Time

About a year and a half ago, my boyfriend lost his grandfather. When I went to the funeral, I was affected in a very odd way.

At Jewish services (which this was), anybody who wants to come up and speak is encouraged to do so. It can be a small blurb, or pages long. Additionally, at most kinds of Russian receptions, it’s traditional for anyone who wants to speak to say something. After each speech, you take either a shot of vodka or sip of wine. You can drink anything really, but you must drink something. But you don’t clink glasses. You never clink in someone’s memory.

I heard about four or five people speak at the funeral. The people speaking at the reception brought the number up to at least a dozen.

Of those dozen speeches I heard that day, only ONE of them was in English.

Dashi interpreted to me from time to time, but I have to say, it was fascinating watching all these emotions to a language I didn’t understand. Even though I didn’t get the details, it didn’t take me out of the moment one bit. Watching all these people speak with such feeling over this man, I was still totally connected.

I found myself mourning the loss of a man who I never even really knew. He and his wife had come to visit multiple times when Dashi and I were dating, but scheduling just never permitted us to meet. Once he was living with the Ardashnikovs, he was already very sick. It was a very personal time and it was understandable that he didn’t want any new faces to see him like that. I understood.

But when I realized I would never get to meet him, I felt… devastated. It was bizarre. I had no idea why my emotions were coming on so strongly. It felt self centered and stupid. When I found out he had passed, I cried. Again, strangest thing. I knew that it would have been perfectly normal to feel sad for Dashi, his father, the rest of his family… And I did. I totally did. But I was also personally grieving for a man I’d never even met. And that was a bit strange.

But then I realized… This is what life after death really is.

Dashi talked about his grandfather all the time to me. His connection and love for him made me feel like I was getting to know him. And being at his funeral, hearing all these stories, interacting with all the people who loved him… It painted a fuller and fuller picture. Everyone in the room was saying goodbye, but I felt like I was just starting to say hello to this man. The fact that he was no longer here on Earth did not mean that I couldn’t get to know him. If that wasn’t proof that he was still here, I don’t know what is.

I mentioned this to Dashi’s little sister, Sasha later that day when she was telling me how much she missed him. She turned and said, “I hope this doesn’t make you sad, but that’s how I feel about your sister.”

I told her that didn’t make me sad at all. In fact, it made me very happy. And that whenever we miss our people, we should tell each other stories. That way, we’ll be able to keep those people alive. She liked that. So did I.

It’s true what they say about Russians not being very comfortable with feelings. Without going into too much detail, I witnessed a variety of different coping mechanisms that day and most of them supported that assertion. But that’s where the stories come in. No matter how you deal with pain, telling stories seems to break that barrier across the board. It’s a way to express what that person meant to you without having to delve too deeply if you don’t want to.

I’m sure you can guess why that practice was so appealing to me. What is one of this blog’s main function? Every time I collect a new story about Jenna, it’s like getting a little shard of my heart back.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Any dumb animal can eat, breathe, and live in the technical sense. Love is what sets us and certain other creatures apart from insects. It’s the relationships and love we build with others that give us more than just our basic lifespan. Love is what gives us our stories. Love is what gives us our souls.

I loved Kathy very much. Not in the way her family and close friends did of course, but I realize now that I will always love Kathy for what she gave to me. How could I not?

I've been thinking about her a lot lately. All the things I'll never get to discuss with her or ask her... I have to believe that on some level, I can still show her what I've been able to do with her help and most importantly, contribute to her "life after death" in my own small way by continuing to share the knowledge she imparted to me.

Just to be clear: The LAST thing I want is to claim a position of significance in the grand scheme of Kathy Sweeney's life.

I knew her more than some, but significantly less than most. I can only say that even though I played a very small role in her life, her role in mine is growing every day. And I am grateful.

She taught me how to sing.
She taught me how to teach others to sing.

I cannot share very many stories of Kathy, but I can share this particular one over and over.

It's the least I can do.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Catharsis Through Cosplay

It's been a while. But I'm not going to write entire intro paragraphs about why that is anymore. I'm trying to put my life back together. It's time consuming. And writing these posts takes a long time and a lot out of me.

But writing is necessary. Because no matter how much time goes by or how busy I am, I still think about her every day. I still hurt. I still miss her so much I can actually feel wind pass through the hole inside me that losing her left. I know I won't be posting as often as I'd like, but I'm never going to stop trying.

But there's actually a reason I'm writing today.

Most of you who know me, know that I'm an avid cosplayer. What is cosplay you ask? Oh boy...

You know those people who dress up in crazy outfits and go to Comic Conventions? Those are cosplayers. Basically it's anyone who dresses up like their favorite characters. But it goes deeper than that. It's a community. Some of these people are master craftsmen and absolutely hardcore. I'm proud to say I'm slowly working my way up to be considered one of those madmen.

I did my first cosplay August of 2011. I had never been to Comic Con and always wanted to go. I knew a lot of people dressed up, so why not? I kept it simple to blend in. I already had some pieces for Poison Ivy from an unrelated project that didn't pan out, so I went with it. And there I was. At my first Con with a few friends and a guy who was not yet my boyfriend in nothing more a elaborate than a corset, a wig, some underwear, tights, and boots.


I barely even tried at this cosplay and people were taking pictures of me all day like I was a movie star. It was so much fun, but it DEFINITELY made me want to step my game up! Some of these cosplayers were amazing. I didn't feel like I deserved the attention I was getting compared to most of these people! I wanted to EARN it!

So I stepped it up.
And an obsession was born.

After Jenna passed, my parents started coming to the conventions as well. By then, my roommates had also picked up the hobby. My mom is a talented photographer and my dad loves to people watch, so they have almost as much fun as I do. It also helps that one of the biggest Chicago conventions, C2E2, just happens to fall on the last weekend in April every year - a weekend that's extremely difficult for my family. It's been very helpful to have a reason to be together that also keeps us busy. This way we can spend time together WITHOUT celebrating or giving special recognition to a horrible event.

2015 EDIT: Apparently C2E2 is now taking place in March this year. Kind of a bummer. At least I still have ACEN to have a reason to build something new and focus my energy.

Cosplay has swiftly become my favorite hobby. It combines all the elements of art that I'm good at with all the elements I've always wished I was better at. I learn from it, I'm affirmed for it, and it's fun. What's not to like?

This past year I did two cosplays - Ryuk from Death Note and Elsa from Frozen. They have been getting a LOT of attention and have given me the opportunity to work with a lot of tremendously talented people - from designers to photographers. People have been going out of their way to support me and promote me and it means a great deal because both of these cosplays (especially Elsa) have been very personal endeavors to me.

So that's why I'm writing. I want to share with you why all of this has meant so much to me. Here we go.

The Frozen Heart

I probably should have written more this winter, that's for sure. Because I went through a very odd phase... I've always been really good about expressing my feelings. I cry very easily because I prefer crying to other more destructive (in my opinion) reactions to strong emotions like anger or stoicism. Crying feels so much healthier. Studies have even shown that, unlike tears that are shed due to external stimulus like wind or dust, tears shed from emotion actually contain a stress hormone. This suggests that emotional crying is actually the body's way of flushing out the bad chemicals that are feeding the body's stress. Makes perfect sense. Especially when you think about how you feel after a nice good cry. Your body is weak, but in a good way. Your outsides feel puffy and wet and uncomfortable, but your insides feel clean.

But starting in the fall of last year... I stopped crying. At least over Jenna. And not in a good way. My body still felt the urge now and then, but I just... stopped myself. I was just so tired. I still am. I believe I mentioned before that there's a disconnect between "my sister who died" and "Jenna" in my mind. I think and talk about "my sister who died" a lot, but it's still really hard to think and talk about Jenna Jenna. Does that make sense? Like actually think about her in the context of something real - Remember a specific moment between us, actually try to think about how she would react to a certain situation, allow myself to acknowledge that in some circumstances I have no idea how she would react... and I never really will. I guess it's the difference between thinking about how losing my sister affects me personally (I'm grieving, I'm philosophizing, blahblahblah) versus... Thinking about how my sister is gone. Period. Not how I'm dealing with it, but just that the fact... is.

That second one is much harder. It's a part of the wound that is much harder to attend to so I've done it less frequently. As a result, it's healing over at a different rate than the rest of me. It weighs on me. It makes my heart hurt all the time and I have no idea what to really do about it because this is the part that only heals with time. Consequently, it feeds the parts of me that feel resentful toward the people who have moved on without me.

It started around end of September I think. Around Jenna's birthday. Maybe even sooner, but that's when I noticed it. I didn't write an entry about her birthday this past year. I was just so busy. And tired. I think I started feeling guilty because of that, even though I knew that I shouldn't. Then I felt like I was demonstrating that I was moving on more than I actually was, but I didn't know how to send a message to correct that impression without it looking like just a cry for attention. It was so confusing and I'm not used to not knowing how to help myself. I couldn't handle it anymore. These waves of feeling had been coming at me over and over for a year and a half and I keep dealing with them whole heartedly and there's only so much one person can take. So no. Not now.

A week later, I was moving into a new house. So I dealt with it. I internalized it, which is NOT my usual MO. I said "not now" again.

The problem is, once you turn it off, it's hard to turn it back on again... Because the longer you go, the bigger the build up. Meaning, the more you know you'll have to deal with when the wall finally comes down. I wasn't ready. And my ability to BE ready couldn't keep up with the amount I would have to deal with. It kept outpacing me.

I was stuck.

That's when I started acting weird.

Those months were hard. My emotions kept trying to escape in different ways that I wasn't used to. I started getting angry, I picked fights. I ran away a lot - I'd go places far away for a day and not tell anyone except Dashi and whoever I was going to visit. I still cried, but it was only about stupid shit and never progressed to the full body cleansing mode. I also made some questionable and out of character choices. I don't think I ever ACTUALLY reached a point where I started getting destructive (at least not enough for anyone to really notice or say anything), but I was definitely playing with fire on multiple occasions in a variety of ways. I'm a self aware person and recognized what I was doing so like I said, I kept a level of control over it, but not enough to really stop.

Mostly because I think... Part of me welcomed the change. As uncomfortable as I was, at least it was different. I justified it by thinking that I was so busy being strong and a touchstone for everyone during that first year, I never got a chance to really act out. So here I am acting out. I've never been a patient person, and no matter how constructive I was/am, this healing process can only happen so fast. Hell, I wouldn't even WANT it to happen faster. The fact that I'm healing at all only causes a different kind of pain. Does that make sense? No? I know, right? Can you see how part of me might have wanted a break, even though I knew it wasn't good for me?

Then the holidays happened. They were really lovely, filled with ways of coping and emotions that I'll get into on another post, but the short version is this: I played hostess that year down in Chicago. The holidays came and went in a blur and stacked up so many feelings that I may have finally broken open had it not been for all the distractions. Instead, I was doubly fortified and left with even more feelings that I felt even less equipped to deal with.

Great. Now I was REALLY stuck.

It was like a sneeze that refused to happen. I tried multiple things to shake it loose. One of my favorites was a trip to the Botanical Gardens that I actually can't wait to write about more extensively. If my life were a movie, that's the event that really would have been a turning point. But... it's not. So nothing stayed effective longer than a few days.

The Movie

Disney's Frozen had been out since the end of November. Everyone was talking about it on my newsfeed. It was a phenomenon after all. I'm sure most people have forgotten that now that it's been overplayed and everyone is sick of it, but think back to when it first came out. It was pretty amazing. It still is.

This was especially relevant to me since I work with kids. EVERYONE was talking about this movie. The songs were all any of my private lessons wanted to sing, even the kids from my 5 and under Music n Me class were obsessed.

I figured I should see it. I love Disney. But there was one problem...

It was a total sister movie.

In my current state, I was pretty nervous to subject myself to that. This was a movie that I would have seen with Jenna. This isn't the first time a movie like that has come out, and I always manage to pick the right person to go see it with me in her stead, but this time... I knew that if I went with anyone besides her, it would only highlight the fact that she wasn't there with me.

So then I had a thought... Why not go with Jenna?

So I did. First I prepped myself by reading the plot summary to prepare myself for any unexpected emotional daggers then I texted Dirk to verify her favorite movie snack. I went to work, dropped Alyssa off at dance, and before I could change my mind, went straight to the theater.

I bought two tickets, then snacks - Nachos with jalepeƱos. Her favorite. It was far more awkward than I expected trying to get the ticket guy to rip both of them for me when I clearly didn't have another person with me, but whatever. Then I sat down in the theater, put the seat down next to me, and watched Frozen with my sister.

Cried three times.
I still cry at the same moments every time I see the movie.

It's weird because I don't really see myself as Elsa, nor do I see Jenna as Anna. I don't even see Jenna and my relationship reflected in the movie's main conflict. It's the little moments that got to me. The ones that are universal with all sisters.

The one I remember the most is at the end of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman." Their parents have died and Anna sings "We only have each other... It's just you and me. What are we gonna do?" One of the things I still grieve for the most is the fact that there are certain events in life that you're supposed to share with your sister. And now I don't have one anymore.

I know I know, there are lots of people who don't have sisters or even siblings and they make it through just fine and I know that this is a tremendously self-centered issue I'm confessing, but I hope you'll forgive me.

It goes back to the idea that you're not only mourning the person you lost, but the life you were supposed to have with them. From the joyful moments like maid of honor things at your wedding or hers, to sorrowful things... like losing your parents someday. So whenever I see something that reminds me of it (which has been happening more and more frequently with "the wedding years" in full force and the "baby years" just starting to pick up), it's still... Really hard.

Side note: That comment is NOT meant to make any of my wonderful friends and family feel guilty about any past events or even feel remotely obliged to give me so much as a fragment of your attention on any future events that might fit this description. In fact, I encourage the opposite. If you ever catch me (which I hope you won't - I try to be very sneaky) take a second to gather myself during one of these occasions, I'd honestly prefer you ignore it. The last thing I want is to draw any attention from YOU during your special moments. I don't resent you or hold anything against you. This is just a thing I need to deal with from time to time so I can go back to being supportive and enthusiastic as quickly as possible.

The same goes (possibly even more so) for the sorrowful events. I've always dreaded the idea of losing my parents someday, but now I have to do it without my sister. That's a cloud of anxiety and fear that still hangs over me and will probably never go away.

So basically what I'm saying is... within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I was a wreck.

Second time was during Let It Go because it's beautiful and pretty much everything I wanted to do with my feelings but was completely unable to at the time. I'll get into that more in a second.

Third time was... duh. For SO many reasons.

I cried that Elsa lost her, and even more that she got her back.
By the time I got to the credits, I had more feelings than I could possibly feel, and I had relieved the pressure considerably with the few times I cried, but I was still stuck.

That's probably why I identified with Elsa the most. The movie itself was absolutely connected to my sister, but the individual character and journey of Elsa really hit close to home how I was feeling lately. I had cut myself off in a lot of ways from a lot of people. I was trying to hard to stay composed and emotionally healthy because I HAD to. As much as people were still willing to be there, it hurt them to see me in pain. And I was so tired of pain. So because I had shoved it down for so long, my emotions were now completely out of control. I needed a Let It Go moment. Well no, not just that. Because most people don't realize that Elsa is still incorrect about what she needs when she's singing that song (just cut myself off from everyone so I can just be me and they can be them and nobody has to worry about anyone anymore). What I needed was whatever the fallout would be from a Let It Go moment. 

I needed a REAL turning point.

So I got to thinking.

The Thaw

About two weeks later, after much online searching and finding nothing worth the money that I could potentially alter, I decided I just needed to start from scratch. I got in touch with my friend Jeanine, who happened to be a fabulous seamstress and designer. We put the plan into action.

I also started practicing the song. This was the first time I've actually had to vocally train myself in quite a while. I don't know if ya'll know this, but that song is HARD. But it is also a very cathartic piece of music. Pushing myself like that has cleansing properties.

I even wrote a version of the song that was about dealing with my loss and wanting to come out of my current "frozen" state of mind. Maybe I'll record that sometime.

Less than a month later, it happened.

I was watching (of all the STUPID things) The Vampire Diaries. During the particular season I was on, one of the main characters had died and was having a really difficult time accepting it (did I mention she was wandering around as a ghost?). In the scene I was watching at the time, she had finally accepted her death and was saying goodbye to everyone.

I. Lost. My. SHIT.

I started to cry. Then I started to really cry. Then I could not stop. I cried for about 45 minutes when Dashi came in to say hello and encountered the slow motion train wreck taking place in a tangle of blankets and laundry, The Vampire Diaries STILL playing in the background. He didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do. I just couldn't stop. The floodgates had opened.

He held me for a little while and that helped. When it became evident that this was no longer something that could be controlled, I gave him leave to go and continued about my business, crying the entire time, periodically taking moments to collapse and relapse back into "losing my shit" mode.

After almost two hours total, it finally stopped. I slept like the dead that night.

Over the next few weeks, there were several "after shocks." I would start crying unexpectedly and not be able to stop at very unexpected and inconvenient times. The worst was when I was driving. It was very distracting.

I called this time "The Great Thaw" because it seemed to correspond with the weather. As the snow melted, so did I.

It was a very muddy spring.

The Cosplays

And so I went to C2E2 this year in two cosplays that meant a great deal to me and my relationship with my sister. Yes, two.

In fact, I would say that Elsa was more for me, Ryuk was actually more for her.

The big scary black and white cosplay is feminine interpretation of a god of death called Ryuk. He is a character from the anime "Death Note." One summer day, my friend Bobby came over with the series and we started watching it. Jenna wandered with her computer to hang out for a bit and before she knew it, she was hooked. We got through about half the season in one day. I was out of town the following weekend (don't remember why) and apparently she ended up binge watching the rest of the series all by herself. She called me in GREAT distress because she had just spent her weekend binge watching anime and she was pretty sure that officially made her a nerd.

I'm pretty sure she was right. Some things can't be helped. *shrug*

It was one of those things we bonded over. I really wish she could have seen the cosplay. She might have even been impressed.

The other one was obviously Elsa. And like I said, that one was more for me when I really think about it. It was more a manifestation of this particular chapter in my journey to help me make it real. Once you really identify a thing, you have power over it. You can fight it properly.

I really don't want to go back to that place again.

So this Elsa cosplay has become very precious to me. Not only did it manifest from a deeply personal place, it has grown and connected so many people in so many different ways, helped along by the song I worked so hard to finally get right. Elsa is the first cosplay that's ever made me money rather than suck me dry - Each birthday party I do now pretty much finances a future cosplay. The connection with the kids is also something I hold very dear. My relationship with kids has pretty much saved my soul these past two years. When nothing else can make me feel whole, that does. In one way or another. Being able to bring a character to life has been a unique and precious experience.

Finally, I want to make sure thank all the incredibly talented and creative people who have participated in creating, capturing, and supporting this particular character.

First and foremost, Jeanine Fry. Thank you so so much for not only making this dress, but for driving up all of those occasions for fittings, including after C2E2 to REmake the dress and ensure that it ended up as nothing less than everything we were hoping for. I absolutely LOVE working with you and cannot wait to create more spectacular things in the future.

I hope everybody reading this will please visit her Facebook page, like it, and follow her work. Maybe even commission her for something in the future! This girl is passionate about not only making clothes but also about sustainability and making the world a genuinely better and less wasteful place.

Also a thank you to Erin Polinski. Without your initial design and guidance, I never would have been able to build and style that wig into what it is now.

I definitely want to thank the talented photographers who captured these cosplays. Tino Caceres of Scorpio Concept Designs not only photographed my Elsa, but also did a KILLER set for my Ryuk cosplay as well.

Eddie Bonneau, I don't even know where to start. He booked me for his daughter's birthday and has been an incredibly valuable contact. I finally got to shoot with him for the first time at Wizard World last month and learned so much. The photo set is unbelievable and has inspired other amazing photographers I know like Kaminsky Kandids and River Walk Studios to create composites with incredible effects.

I also want to make sure I think my roommates, Dashi, Joe, and Alli for putting up with all the glitter in the house, but also for supporting and promoting me. Alli is the reason I even know any of these photographers in the first place.

Thank you to my mom for gluing on those last minute bodice pieces and for cleaning the up giant mess I made throughout the weekend of C2E2. I can't imagine how long that crap would have sat there if you hadn't gotten the process started. Also thank you to my dad for not saying anything about the mess... At least not THAT particular weekend.

Actually I'd like to thank anyone and everyone who cared about either or both of these cosplays - There are a few specific people who come to mind and they know who they are. Those who shared the pictures, who told people about me for parties, who wanted to hear me sing the song.... I know it all probably seems very... I dunno... superficial or career motivated on the surface, but the fact that so many people are interested and excited about this project for WHATEVER reason... Well, it really means a lot to me. I can't even begin to express how much.

Cosplay can be a really powerful thing. It's the chance for kids AND adults to meet characters they love and look up to. It's a chance for them to BE characters they love and look up to. It's both an escape and a connection. It's a funnel for all my creative drive and focus with an incredible payoff. I'm so glad I discovered it.

September and April are always the hardest months for me to get through and this experience and the results are exactly what I need to remind me to let myself feel. It's exhausting, but letting the pain in is sometimes the only way to let it out.

Finally I want to thank Jenna. For being my sister, for going to the movie with me, and for continuing to inspire me push myself. You were doing that long before I lost you, but it's really nice to know that you haven't stopped.

The cold never bothered her anyway:)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Connecting Through Stuff She Loved: One Tree Hill

So I watched One Tree Hill. It was one of Jenna’s FAVORITE shows. 

All. Nine. Seasons.

It is effing ridiculous.

No really. The first time I watched and it got to the intro, it BURST into laughter. It took a good three, four episodes before I finally got used to it.

Basically it’s about people fucking up and Chad Michael Murray squinting and people making poor life choices to emotional music. Also basketball and brother stuff. And then in the last couple seasons… I have no idea. Still basketball I guess. But also some baseball. And an overly precocious child. The music remained a thing.

There was also a lot of slapping for some reason...


Like... a LOT of slapping... 


Seriously, don't these people know how to use their WORDS?!

But all jokes aside, it was the closest I’ve felt to Jenna in quite a while.

A few months ago, Jenna’s old roommate Paige got in touch with me about a recurring dream she’d for the third time. Jenna kept asking her about me. She was wondering why I wasn’t talking to her as much anymore.

There was more about the dream that shook me to say the least. Conversations Jenna had apparently “had” with other people (that those people had mentioned thinking about on completely separate occasions), even the mention of inside jokes… Stuff that Paige had no way of knowing. It struck me pretty hard.

Because whether you believe what I believe – that it is possible for those we love to find us in our dreams – the overall message was true. I had been struggling to talk to Jenna lately. And apparently I wasn't the only one noticing.

I used to talk to her the way the old guy in Up used to talk to his wife – Just random remarks, a clear picture of her in my mind. Lately that picture is getting a little hazy. The facial expressions she made in pictures weren’t the ones she made with me when we talked. Most of the Jenna from my memory is contained in my own expressions, but I’m never sure just how diluted I’m making her as more and more time comes between my memories and my point of reference.

Conversations with her lately just feel more and more like conversations with myself.

That’s where One Tree Hill came in.

From the few remarks she made about it to me (and her attitude whenever we watched anything she liked and I thought was stupid), I’ve been able to build a dialogue. I know what she’d say every time I rant about something I think is ridiculous. I can make pretty solid guesses about the parts she loved, who she likely crushed on. I’m finally starting to hear her voice in my head again.  I think I actually DID hear her yell "SHUT UP!" when I started laughing at the intro the first time.

But I think the most interesting part about watching or reading things I know she loved is seeing how they must have shaped the way she thought about things in life.

One of the philosophies that Jenna and I truly agreed on is that while experiences and success are important in life, they’re completely worthless without the people you love. What’s the point of building a life if it means sacrificing the people you want to spend it with?

That’s definitely a message reflected in this show. Through all the bad dialogue and ridiculous plots, I will say that I’ve enjoyed the underlying theme advocating the significance of following your dreams, but remembering what’s truly important.

I could also see a lot of the choices made regarding making romance work in the first place reflected in many of the character relationships. It's the idea that shit happens, mistakes are made, but love conquers all. As practical as Jenna could be, I knew her to be a closet romantic. It was always fascinating to watch her romantic experiences because it was like watching echoes from my own life. 

She always said that I was the more patient and forgiving person between the two of us (which is why she was so fiercely protective of me) but the more I really examine her journey, the more I realize that we both had the same capacity for it. Hers was just more selective than mine.

Love was always the bottom line for us. And we would be DAMNED if pride or stupidity or the poor choices of others got in our way. Watching One Tree Hill, I could see so much of that attitude underneath the drama. Maybe the reason the show bugged me so much is because it's hard to look back on your past and who you were before you knew better. I know that she would have grown from her experiences. She was always less actively self-reflective than I was (she was never as comfortable with her feelings as I was), but she was more intuitive about things like that. And we had each other. I was always there to force her to look at the things that motivated her and why, while she helped me let things just... be. A thing that's very difficult to do for me.

I really miss that.

I have to say, it was also pretty interesting to look at the way a television show like this handled death (particularly unexpected death) and especially grieving.

There were a couple of them on this show and I have to commend them. It seemed like they really wanted to make sure they got it right when it came to that experience. It's pretty clear that One Tree Hill strived to be a show that spoke to teenagers. Sometimes the speaking TO them was a little too obvious, but they didn't half ass important stuff like some other shows who fill that role do.

Television is one of my favorite story-telling mediums WHEN IT'S DONE WELL. It has all the visual techniques of a movie when it comes to evoking emotions, but the structure of the way a story is presented is completely different. On one hand, episodes are so much shorter than movies and must have a beginning, middle, and end. On the other hand, there's the season. And the series. And each of those measurements contains its own story that needs to be told. So if you want to dedicate an episode to a death, that's what the episode is about. But in the scheme of the season, that death can be a plot point. And in the scheme of the series, that death could be part of an overall character arc. Multiple layers, you see. And it's also unique in the scheme of a television show because often, you've gotten the chance to either get to know the character that's lost and/or the characters who are left behind. It so much closer to experiencing a life event WITH them rather than watching it unfold from the outside.

That I think is what makes watching the way the grieving process is presented especially fascinating. Not all television shows do this. A lot of them acknowledge, but mostly skim over the grieving process. It's understandable for a variety of reasons, especially if the show is more action driven than character driven or if the context the show is taking place in makes death commonplace (GAME OF THRONES O_O) and the characters are reacting accordingly. But when they actually take the time to dedicate an episode to what it means to experience a loss...

You know what? I think I’m going to put a more extended post together on all that. Put that on my endless “to-do” list when it comes to this blog.

Back to One Tree Hill...

All in all I was glad I watched the show. I can still have conversations with her. I just really miss asking questions I don’t already know the answers to. But maybe that’s only because it’s not an option anymore.

If any of you guys remember watching this or any other show with her, please feel free to send me your random thoughts and stories. They don’t have to have a beginning/middle/end. They can just be random things you remember her saying about the show.

The one thing I remember she said about it when I caught her watching it once or twice was that Nathan and Haley were “like the cutest couple ever.” Watching it now, it makes perfect sense. I can see a lot of Jenna’s ideals when it comes to relationships reflected in theirs. Though I always thought she was more of a Chad Michael Murray fan… I don’t remember.

This is basically the first five seasons in a nutshell...

And me? Chris Keller. Hands down. Also Dan Scott. I didn't have a thing for either of them (they were pretty much terrible people), but they were pretty much the reason I watched the show.

That last season had some serious drama.I was actually really worried that she hadn't gotten around to watching it that spring before... and she missed it... 
But I heard from Heidi that she, Jenna, and Gretchen had "study dates" once a week to watch the final season together (and not do homework). That made me happy.

Because it was actually pretty good.

YEAH I SAID IT. Whatever.

Life After Death: My Thoughts on Souls

Here it is! The follow up! Told you I'd get to it eventually!

Some time ago, I posted an entry talking about my beliefs about what happens in our last moments. It was basically my definition of what our personal heaven must be. Today I’d like to expand on that idea and talk about what I think happens to us after those last seconds of consciousness.

As I’ve stated before, I’m definitely not an atheist. However, I cannot call myself “religious” either. The closest thing I am to a label is an agnostic. I don’t rule anything out. I’ll say a prayer, I’ll get my chakras aligned, I’ll pay attention to my dreams, and sometimes I’ll address “God” or “the Universe” depending on my mood.

I believe that science and faith are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe they strengthen each other (as I mentioned in my first entry about these philosophies).

 I believe in the mysteries of the universe. I revel in the undiscovered. And I find divinity in existence itself and I think it is perfectly possible to be the most insignificant and significant thing in the universe at exactly the same time.

I can no longer connect to any specific religion because when I really consider the scale of the universe, how much we have discovered in our short time on Earth, and how much we still have to learn, I can’t help but find the assumption that we have even come close to figuring out what “God” is (much less what he “wants” from us) laughable. The desire to be a good person shouldn’t be rooted in fear of punishment or hope for a reward in the next life. The more good you put out, the more likely you are to get good back FROM OTHERS. The universe owes you nothing, but it’s still worth putting out those good vibes. ESPECIALLY when bad things inevitably happen. Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people, but those good people are going to have far more help getting through those bad times than the people who do not live their lives well.

Now I must add that I also do NOT begrudge people their religion either! In all this chaos, it’s perfectly understandable that a community that all believes the same thing can make you feel a heck of a lot more secure. Some people also need more rigid moral guidelines laid out for them. There’s no crime in craving structure in your life from an outside force if you struggle with it internally. And who knows? You could be right. As long as your beliefs aren’t a vehicle for hate, live your life in whatever way makes you happy.

I’ve just built something out of what I know and what I’ve experienced. They’re constantly evolving. I don’t like to rule anything out.

Also this is my blog. I'm not telling anybody what to believe.

So I’ve already talked about what I think happens in that moment right before the power shuts off—My idea of “heaven” so to speak. But what happens after that?

A while back, when this whole thing happened, my brain kind of went into philosophical overdrive. I just couldn't connect to the idea of traditional heaven and I sure as hell wasn't satisfied with the idea that this was all we get. But the fact that "one shot and done" just made me sad wasn't a good enough reason for me to believe in something. So I decided to take what I did know and figure it out from there. I started looking for answers outside of religion or even spirituality. I needed something concrete to start building my thoughts. 

That’s when I stumbled across this quote:

I found this to be profoundly beautiful. To have out scientific imprint laid out like that pushed me into a realm of thought I hadn’t yet considered. I took this idea and expanded.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Someone I love very much once told me, “People say that God is love, but I believe that love is God.”

I think that everything that’s capable of love has a soul. Love is the ability to put the comfort, survival, and happiness of another being ahead of your own. It is the opposite of our most basic biological instincts. It is proof that there is more to us than electrical signals and chemical releases.  Science has yet to account for every atom making up our body or the brain’s function. Even computers have ghosts. I find it completely unfathomable that something like our human minds have existed and evolved for this long and haven’t manifested some kind of… Something extra.

I know my theories probably wouldn’t hold up in a peer review or whatever, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s enough evidence to support it and not enough evidence to dispute it.  So… Imma go with it.

For the purposes of simplicity, I’m going to call those unaccounted for pieces “soul particles.” 

Still with me?

Alright so assuming that this is true (which I have no idea if it is), here’s what I think happens next. After that split second when we have our personal experience with “the afterlife.”

One of the most important rules of physics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed or moved.

Based on that idea, I believe that once our bodies (or our casing, as I like to call it) it completely shut down and no longer processing, all that energy has to go somewhere. So our soul particles are released back into the world around us.

Now energy and particles can get into habits. So I think that for quite some time, those particles remain drawn relatively together (like a core consciousness), and are also drawn to the people and places that hold the most significance to them (or perhaps those who THEY are most significant TO). The way an antenna picks up a radio signal.

I believe that these particles will likely start separating after a while (while remaining connected to their “consciousness” in some way), but I feel like it's likely that when they first start out, they clump together and maintain the essence of what it would be like to be alive, simply because that's what they're used to. Why do I think this? Well... My roommate totally got haunted the night of Jenna’s funeral when he stayed over in our farm house. Without going into too many details, he woke up in the wee hours of the morning to the cat acting bizarre. He then heard a voice whisper to him. Not in a threatening way, but more in a… sassy way (his words). What it whispered, I don’t really care to go too much into detail with everyone who reads this blog, but let’s just say it was an inside joke between her and me and a few other people that my roommate did NOT know about. He mentioned it to my boyfriend on their ride back home

So yeah. For a while, they may maintain some traits of their behavior when they were all cased together, but after a while, I think the particles feel more comfortable branching off. After all, as I mentioned before, they're drawn to ALL the people and places that held them close. It would probably be more convenient to embrace the ability to be multiple places at once.

So after a while, our interactions with our loved ones soul particles become more and more specific to us. Because we're now just getting pieces of them. The pieces that were associated with those people or places. Does that make sense?

So for example, in the cases of most supernatural occurrences or “hauntings,” the “spirits” are often reported to be caught in some kind of pattern or have very limited wants. This isn’t because these are souls trapped with one thing to accomplish. I think it’s just a piece of a soul. Like a piece of code.

Meanwhile, dreaming about the ones we’ve loved and lost has been incredibly common across the board, but sometimes people have reported getting information eventually verified as true that they couldn’t possibly have known. In my experience, I’m pretty sure that I’ve noticed the difference between when you are dreaming about that person you love and when a person you love has entered your dream. So that’s where that comes from. Maybe the soul particles are drawn to you and get filtered through your brain and influence your waves… Or something.

So it’s stuff like that. Energy that interacts in subtle ways, maybe influences your mood, the weather, your choices, who knows? Maybe some of them even seep into you and bind with the soul particles you already have. If that’s the case, maybe everything you do from now on, they get to experience with you.

AGAIN, THIS IS PURE CONJECTURE (with a touch of babble). I’m not a physicist, I’m just someone who knows some stuff about physics. I’m not a theologian, I’m just someone who’s thought a lot about this and doesn’t sleep much anymore. I’m sure there is plenty of research to support or argue against these theories. This is just what I’ve come up with and I like it.

So yeah. That’s what happens to your soul particles—At least as long as they have an anchor to hold them together. I think that once all the people you loved die too, you have less of an incentive to hold yourself together and eventually your particles start to drift.

Now this next part doesn’t even have any science-ish stuff to back it up. This is pure guesswork.

So I think that once your particles start to drift, they mix in with other particles to form NEW souls. It’s not always evenly distributed of course. Maybe that’s why some people feel connections to past lives and others don’t – They have a clump of soul particles that stuck together that have some sort of memory. Maybe that’s why some people feel connected to others after only meeting them for a few minutes – Maybe we can detect familiar particles – A piece of our former selves.

The girl I nanny, Alyssa, also said something pretty interesting about souls. We like to talk about alternate universes sometimes (you know, typical small talk) and when we were first examining the possibilities of what would happen if a change in the timeline caused her to never be born. She just shrugged and said, “Well yeah, maybe not in THAT body. I’d be born somewhere else.”

That struck me: The idea that our souls aren’t tied to just one predestinced body...The idea that our souls are just waiting for a body to make its home – like we’re waiting to catch the right train. In some ways that makes perfect sense. Perhaps the souls that are extinguished too quickly, before they’ve had a chance to make a large number of ties to make them linger, get eager and just try again. The implications a belief system like that could have when it comes to infant death, or especially miscarriages (which I’ve learned through investigating various grief support groups is a very unique, complicated, and difficult grieving process), opens up a huge realm of comfort, perspective, and new philosophy.

I didn’t go off on this tangent to her of course. We had chapters to read and art projects to finish. But this is just one more example of why I love hanging out with this child (more in depth tangent on that in progress).

So there you have it: My completed theory of the afterlife.

Interestingly enough, whenever I’ve talked to any other person who has suffered an abrupt and traumatic loss who isn’t particularly religious, they seem to have come to very similar conclusions I have. I don’t know what that means, but… like I said. It’s interesting.

I know this probably won’t appeal to the religious OR the scientific demographics reading this blog (I like to pretend more then seven people read this, isn’t that cute?), but it’s what stuck. With a loss so traumatic and horrible and everyone being so damned understanding, I get really paranoid about when I’m being patronized. I think maybe that’s one of the more… underlying things that has driven me to find a theory about the afterlife that’s actually rooted in facts as well as faith. I don’t want to feel like I’m just trying to lie to myself to get through this.

I dunno. As I’ve said before, I find so much divinity in existence itself. Actually being able to prove something doesn’t make it any less wondrous. Having an idea that’s appealing and comforting doesn’t mean it’s probably a lie. And just because we have some answers doesn’t mean we’re even close to finding all of them.

Some romantic part of me hopes we never do.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Back in the Air

So I know I haven’t posted in a while. I guess that’s for a lot of reasons.

The first and foremost is that these blog entries take a LOT of time and energy. My body has gotten into some seriously bad habits and energy is no longer something that is willingly distributed throughout more than one or two things a day. I need to learn to budget my time again. I haven’t had to in quite a while. It’ll be a welcome effort.

The second is that for the past few months, I’ve been much emotionally stable yet depressed at the same time. By that I mean I’d stopped having frequent crying fits and I was making an effort to get back into a routine, but found myself hindered by ridiculous sleeping patterns and distressingly low energy. This resulted in waking up too late to take my meds, but continuing to stay up too late to fix the problem. It’s all been a big mess.

Basically… Doing anything outside the pattern I’ve gotten myself into is still really hard.

A chart to illustrate, courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half:

There are several other reasons that I could list, but none of it really matters. Because the fact is that I need to write, whether I feel like it or not. I really appreciate certain people for reminding me of that recently.

My room is clean. I have a new job. The girl I babysit in my other job is forcing me outside almost every day. And now this post is up. Let's keep this momentum going!

So here are some upcoming posts you can look forward to:

  • A recap of our experience at the Humane Society Dedication
  • My relationship with The Little Prince
  • Jenna’s relationship with our pets
  • Guest Post from Amanda Sorensen
  • How a 9 y/o girl helped me more than any grief counselor ever could
  • Jenna and Tennis
  • Jenna and Games in general
  • Grieving and the Internet
  • Physics and Afterlife theories

Some of these are already half finished, others I’ll need your help on!

For now, I’m just going to tell you about these past few months. Get you up to speed with some emotional rambling.

We got through Christmas, then it was off to Colorado to ski with my boyfriend’s family. I must say, there were a few moments on that trip that would definitely shape the upcoming months.

The first was that I realized how hard it was to watch my boyfriend interact with his brother. I had met Pavel before and he’s a great guy. Although he’s my sister’s age and they share quite a few things in common, it was more the dynamic between him and Dashi that brought a lot of emotions to the surface.

The second was meeting a young man in the complex’s hot tub who had recently lost his brother to an abrupt death. I remember the relief I felt talking to someone who really understood what it was like to lose a sibling before they were supposed to. What struck me the most, however was how interesting it is that every time I talk to someone with no strong religious ties about death, they all seem to be converging on very similar theories about the afterlife and what our presence in this world means. More on that in a later post.

The third event was breaking down one particular evening and feeling calmed when Dashi started asking me questions about what Jenna’s sense of humor was like (there’s a point to me mentioning this, I promise).

The final event that I think really struck me the most was a very honest conversation with Dashi’s mom, Marina. I asked her if I make people uncomfortable with the way I talk about my sister. She told me, yes. Sometimes. Especially since I often still referred to my sister in the present tense. Even though it’s clear that it’s just a way of dealing with my pain, it can be off-putting to people who aren’t used to dealing with, much less talking about death.

Marina has always made efficient use of her second language, that's for sure. She doesn’t mince words, but she also has an underlying empathy that makes even the bluntest statements possible to process. Which is good. Because I needed to hear it.

People may jump to my defense saying it shouldn’t matter how those other people might feel, but it does. And I’m truly grateful to Marina for her honesty. It confirmed what I was already beginning to notice and hearing it out loud decreased my chances of rationalizing not moving forward. For the last several months, I would talk about my sister to anyone who would listen and didn’t care whether or not they felt comfortable with what I had to say, because it wasn’t about them. And that was okay. That moment, however, made me realize that I was finally at a point where I was starting to care how I affected other people again. It was bittersweet because although I felt slightly embarrassed, it also meant I was in a new phase of grief. I was becoming emotionally aware of the world around me again.

This realization played a role in the next few months.  As I began reconnecting with the rest of the world, I became more and more aware of the fact that the world was moving on. It still is. This is not to be confused with “moving forward.” Because I know those of us this loss has affected profoundly are certainly doing that. My moments of happiness have become far more frequent and my emotional outbursts (with the exception of this past month) have become far less. But it’s not the kind of thing that ever goes away. It’s not like a breakup where you can realize all the reasons you weren’t right for each other, learn from it, and find a better one. It’s not like losing someone who you know has lived a full life. There’s not really any kind of spin you can put on it to make it okay. It’s not something you would want to “get over,” even if such a thing were possible. You just have to rebuild yourself around it, and that takes time. I’m still feeling it. So it’s difficult to watch the people who are less directly connected moving further ahead than I am and even harder to feel the people who were only connected by-proxy let it go all together.

So many people are sort of “over” the whole situation.  Not in a callous way. Nobody has expected ME to really be "over it" and plenty of people are still WILLING to listen, but it’s in a, “Oh okay. We’re talking about this again,” kind of way. They will sit and listen and be there for me, but there’s no connection. No investment in what I’m saying. They’re just going through the motions. And as much as the effort is appreciated, the result is that something that used to give me relief is now causing me anxiety and frustration. So… That kind of sucks.

But it’s not anyone’s fault! As I’ve mentioned countless times before, most people simply have not suffered this kind of loss in their lives, so it doesn’t occur to them how long this process will really go on and how much I actually still need support. Time is relative. It SHOULD be irrelevant and we shouldn’t base our lives on a timeline, blahblahblah… but that’s how most people think and it’s come up more than once in various discussions during my grieving process, so I’m accepting and addressing it. And those who haven’t experienced a particular loss firsthand experience the passage of time differently. Often, it doesn’t occur just how little time has gone by when you really think about it and more importantly, what that amount of time means in relation to the loss suffered.  Even those who have experienced loss beyond a grandparent or a breakup have still experienced a different KIND of loss. So it’s still hard to understand what that person might need without being told directly or making a huge effort to imagine what their loss might feel like – Which most people simply aren’t comfortable doing. Understandably so. It’s awful.

Not to mention, everyone has their own stuff. And you can't compare the magnitude of problems or pain outside the immediate time bubble each event occurs in. A friend will do as much as they can to be there for you, but eventually, their own stuff will always catch up and overrule yours. It's NOT because they don't care. It's just life.

So I get it. I understand why, now that the shock of it all has worn off, many people I'm close to are struggling to continue offering the kind of support I want and need. But the fact that nothing's to blame doesn’t really make it suck any less. This past month leading up to the year mark has actually sparked a new wave of consideration and thoughtfulness which has been much needed and appreciated, but I don't expect it to last. I need to learn to fly on my own again. It’s just difficult to adjust your expectations of the world around you. I’m still working on it.

I want to make sure I add that there ARE a few people in my life who still DO make a conscious effort to be there and support me on my road to recovery and despite not sharing these experiences directly, have been making a conscious effort to connect to what I'm going through. Especially once I was actually able to articulate what I needed out loud. You know who you are. The gratitude I feel is… indescribable (she typed, after sitting at the computer for a solid two minutes trying to think of the right word… Haha). This is not the last time I will be mentioning you.

It’s weird when I think about it though, because as much as I talk about Jenna and what I’ve been going through, there’s an odd disconnect I feel from her. I talk about her all the time, but most of the time, there’s a wall up. I don’t feel like I’m talking about Jenna. I feel like I’m talking about… “Dead Jenna.”

Oof... I winced as I wrote that, and I had a gentler phrase all typed out, but I want to make sure that the separation is clear. For the most part, they feel like two separate entities. This is likely a coping mechanism I developed for the sake of my sanity. When I really think about the idea that they're one in the same, the depth of my loss becomes infinitely more pronounced.

During the month of April, however, the wall came down more and more often at especially inconvenient times. Like driving. That was the worst. But what really got to me was that even though these moments were still painful every time, I'm starting to get used to it. I’m starting to get used to the idea that my sister is dead (wince again). That feeling is continuing to creep up on me and makes me increasingly uncomfortable. I don’t WANT to be used to her being gone. I feel like once I’m “used to it,” it makes it okay. And it will never be okay. I know that logic is tragically flawed, but I just don’t think any amount of perspective will make me okay with reducing her to an afterthought. On the other hand, the fact that Jenna is now such an active driving force in my life enhances the feeling of the separation between the sister I had and the sister I’ve lost. Her and my relationship was always so much more subtle. It was an underlying constant. I really miss that.

That’s what it all comes down to, really. These feelings of sharp pain will balance themselves out after enough time passes. Pretty much anything broken in the body mends with enough time (though, as I’ve previously mentioned, setting the break properly and therapy is required for it to heal properly). But missing her is only going to get worse.

It’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to my sister. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen her.

And I don’t even want to think about what was going on a year ago today.

Now that I think about it, most of you shouldn’t either I shouldn’t have brought it up so STOPPIT!

Srsly. Cut it out.

Think about something else. Here's Jenna in a shark hat:

There. Was that helpful?

There’s a reason I didn’t post this blog entry on “the day.” I didn’t want it to be a thing. I don’t want that day to be commemorated. I would much rather recognize her birthday. But that's just a personal choice.

My point is that the fact that I haven’t seen or spoken to my sister in X amount of time is never going to get easier. She was a relationship that was only growing more and more positive and active. I think the moment that really sums this up is Jenna’s spring break last year. She went down to Florida with my folks. They hung out, just the three of them and went to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games together. One evening during her time down there, I called her just to chat and we ended up spending over an hour on the phone playing Draw Something and Words with Friends, not saying a word for at least two-thirds of the time, but not hanging up.  The sibling rivalry was over. The teenage angst was over. The menopausal years were over (yeah that’s right, Mom… I’m including you in this too. Poor Dad. During those years, I just imagine him like Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt strapped to that pipe at the end of Twister – Waiting for the F5 to pass over). We had grown into a family that just... genuinely enjoys each other.

Recently, a really lovely woman pulled me aside to tell me that she interviewed my sister for her job at Ruffin’ It Resort. When asked about any conflicts for the summer, Jenna mentioned how she was going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with her family in May. The woman wanted to tell me that she was struck by how excited Jenna seemed to be at the idea of hanging out with us. She said it was really nice to see someone her age who truly enjoyed spending time with her family. That was such a nice thing to hear.

I’m grieving the loss of not only what we had, but also what I know we WOULD have had. I know my parents are experiencing the same thing. Everything had been wonderful so far, but things were just starting to get even better. 

And it’s not fair.

*sigh* I just miss her. 
So I want to talk about her.

As I write this, I realize that the discomfort or “waining interest” (I say this for lack of a better word) I seem to be encountering when I talk about this to people doesn't only apply to “the death stuff.” I realize that (with the exception of the like... last two weeks because… yeah) all I really want to do lately is not talk so much about what I’m going through or my loss. In fact, I’m actually a little tired of all that too. I just want to talk about Jenna. I want people to ask me questions about her, be interested in her. I want people to know her. But even when I share Jenna stories, the reaction I get most often is sort of a “Ha… Well I guess you had to be there” sort of reaction.

And AGAIN (imagine me getting more animated as I say this because I’m getting a bit ruffled in that way that I do), that totally makes sense! It’s nobody’s fault that I’m having difficulty getting what I want out of the rest of the world!  Most people have a difficult time connecting with stories about people they don’t really know, even without the whole “death thing.” Many of the people I'm close to in my life didn’t actually know Jenna, or only met her once or twice, or at the very least did not know her the same way I did. So it’s hard to invest themselves in a conversation with little to contextualize it. And many of the people who DID know her don’t know ME that well.

Some of these people have reached out to me or I’ve reached out to them over this past year, but it’s difficult enough to build a friendship on these kinds of circumstances without it feeling forced, never mind the fact that pretty much all of them live in a different state than I do. But as I reflect on my relationship with Dirk and how much we’ve both gotten out of it (and still are), I really hope that Jenna’s friends and I can make more of an effort to connect from now on.

Regardless, the desire to shout Jenna’s name from the rooftops and share who she was when she was alive has been growing increasingly insistent.

Just one more reason recommitting to this blog is so important.

Which brings me back to one of the events I mentioned in Colorado: Dashi asking about my sister’s sense of humor calmed me down during a particularly difficult evening. So if you didn’t really know Jenna and ever want to show your support for what I’m going through but aren’t sure what to say, just ask me a question about who she was. At this point, I really just want to talk about Jenna, not “Lost Jenna” (that’s my gentler term, though I know it sounds kind of silly). If you DO know Jenna, tell me something about her. Anything. Any time. It doesn’t even have to be a story. It can simply be a random fact or association.

One of my greatest fears associated with the idea that the rest of the world is moving on is that I missed “my window” to get the most out of this blog.  I hope it's not true. A year has gone by, but I hope that no matter how much time passes, Jenna’s friends will still care enough to read this blog and most importantly, participate in it. I seriously cannot do this without you guys.

Thank you to the people who are still reading, and especially thank you to the people who wanted to continue to do so. You reminded me. It’s difficult to force myself to do even the things that make me happy and are good for me these days. Your interest and encouragement has given me the necessary push. So here we go.

We’re back in the air.