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woman of characters on the day of its expected release I’ll have been 650 days free this child of mine is showing its vital signs and its due date is in 86 days it’s coming sooner than we think and ready or not I’m finally going to become a book mother
I open with this poem that I wrote from a ground-floor bedroom in the airy Manglaralto jungle, encased by brick walls laid by hand with an overhead light flickering into the darkness. I open with this poem because it was the first time I addressed the work by name, during the early awakening when I’d begun to grasp the depth of what I had growing inside me. I open with this poem because, while it is my debut literary work that I will address as a project, and then a book, it is my child. I have been called to create it and give life to it from the blood of my veins and the words of my tongue. I’ve been called to do my best with what I have right now, because I believe this work itself is a life-force, demanding space in a world however hostile, however it may land beyond the safety and silence of my body. My work is far braver than I am often able to be – my role in this is merely to release it.
I open this way to explain that this is a sacred process. I don’t consider my work primarily to be a display of my skills and talent, although that’s how it will be assessed by those who determine its value in the business of selling books. As I understand it, my writing ability is not simply a well-honed talent. Writing is the method by which I move through and between worlds. It’s a vehicle, transcending languages, cultures, generations, feelings, and futures. It’s something I’ve always been skilled at because it’s the way my spirit – timeless, boundless – operates through the limitations of my body. My body that happens to be brown and cis-female; my colonized settler body. My body encased by the thinnest skin, housing a perpetually broken heart, weak lungs, and a fried motherboard of a nervous system that is the boilerplate of trauma. I’m something of a spiritual person, or rather, I’ve become one in recent years. My understanding of the so-called “higher powers” acknowledges the profound limitations of earthliness, but I refuse to discount the experiences of the body, what happens in our human worlds. I am unwilling to dismiss any human experience as invalid, because our bodies are our only homes; what happens to and within them by extension, our only truths. No one can tell us what did or didn’t happen to what our bodies remember. No family member, no spouse, no colonizer, no judge. I suppose this is why I write poetry, why I write from personal experience, and why [especially this] work must be overseen and produced entirely by myself. I speak from truths no one else can negate. No one can fact-check what I can’t forget. I believe in and choose to partake in the business of selling books because I know who buys them, who needs to hold them, read them. So I impart this heart-work of mine with the deepest respect: by honouring my truth, I hope to honour a part of yours, as well.
Woman of Characters is an autobiographical collection of prose poems, telling stories of my life online. It begins in the early 2000s in the South Calgary suburbs, where my family’s first desktop computer is my gateway to a new and mysterious universe. It ends in present-day, as a millennial adult working to establish myself online as a writer, maddened by social media addiction and its effect on my life. In between this beginning and “end” is a complicated journey of loss, self-discovery, and an earnest (and often futile) search for truth amidst a sea of hashtags, promo codes, and motivational quotes.
Primarily, when I talk about this work, I say it’s about online identities: that they are real, complex, and have a profound effect on our offline lives. Millennial adults in the developed world are the last generation whose formidable years are made up of both online and offline memories, distinctly. Facebook came to prominence midway through my first year of high school. For adults now in their mid-30s or older, this happened later, if at all; and in the case of Generation Z, we now have teens and young adults who were born into connectivity as we know it today. In my experience, I’ve noticed that older adults tend to dismiss the problem of social media addiction and invalidate the notion of online identities as legitimate. The younger generation, by contrast, may be hooked to their lives of perpetual connectivity, but likely don’t take issue with it, since it’s the only world they know. By and large, millennials are the most privileged generation, beyond our position as pioneers of technology with long-running ties to the past. We are also known to be the least agreeable, the least happy, and the least personally fulfilled. Millennial arrogance and entitlement has been known to be a force for good: for instance, the gumption ensuring that this book will be printed, bound, and in your hands in three months’ time. It’s also a defect of our nature and conditioning that’s exacerbated by social media, constant projection, and having far too much information presented to us at all times.
In my belief, the struggle arises in the dichotomy of being caught between two worlds, and the expectation to set out and make homes in digitally uncharted territory where no one has lived permanently before. In the early 2000s, there was no manual for safe use of the internet for communication, no roadmaps for Facebook or Instagram, and certainly no handbook for online behaviour in any known language to follow. Like many millennials, I formed a complex online identity over time, which would grow to a depth that is equal, if not greater than that of my offline persona. Birthed in the rocky era of my teens, this identity would quickly outpace the growth of my physical body and brain, far exceeding my intellectual maturity, capacity for empathy, and penchant for risk that I possessed at the time. The process of forming that online identity and learning to live in it would present challenges and inevitable mistakes. These mistakes, often both personal and public, became a crash-course simulation for Gen-X and Y, and a cautionary tale for Z. Many who criticize millennials for our online triviality belong to one of these groups, folks who have the luxury to retreat to their more streamlined and familiar worlds: the good old days of offline behind us, and the perpetually connected future ahead of us.
“I don’t want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or… at least, a voice. Of a generation.” - the fictional Hannah Horvath/Lena Dunham, GIRLS
These poems retell the stories of my crash-course. Rather than read as a collective cautionary tale, I attempt to provide an honest and recent recollection of the types of challenges adults online face today, where social media and our online identities have come to dominate our offline lives. It calls attention to the insidious danger of social media addiction, through the depths of my struggles with it, and the myriad ways it can alter our self-perception, relationships, and the objectivity of our world-views. I share poems and personal revelations from the 50 days I spent off social media this past spring, uncovering the roots of connectivity, connection, and loneliness within my own life. In the end, I try to show you where I am – in the midst of all the cynicism and confusion that comes from being a young woman of colour working through my own problems, a challenging place to be without Instagram there to tell you you’re doing it wrong – never to suggest an ideal, but rather, to ask questions and to spark conversations.
At the end, I do not emerge victorious over my demons, dancing happily in tandem with both my online and offline selves. Woman of Characters is not a transformation story. It is but the beginning of a critical, yet compassionate examination of the lives we live onscreen, the safety (and validity) of the discussions we facilitate there, and a measure of our character in both. In the year 2018, we can no longer deny the validity of our online identities and their potential for reverberation beyond our screens. While it may not be easy, I do believe it’s possible to live more authentic and compassionate lives after Facebook. It is my hope that my stories and insights shared can begin to get us there, and if nothing else, free us to become our most truthful and shameless selves.