The One Where I Write About Depression

At the beginning of this year, my four-year-old daughter was interrogating me at the breakfast table.

Sprout: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Me: When I was about your age, I wanted to be a paleontologist and dig up dinosaur bones. But when I got a little bit older, I wanted to make movies. So that’s —

Sprout: You must be sad.

Me: What?

Sprout: Because you’re not doing any of the things you wanted to do.

There are layers to that conversation, and it put me in a deep rut. For days. It kept repeating in my head, having my daughter call me out in such a direct way.

Was she just being precocious, or was she right on the money, and noticing something I hadn’t?

It would take me a while to acknowledge that there was a deeper problem. I needed help, and it wasn’t just about my career.

When I was in grad school, it was easy to ignore issues I was having because of my general busyness and the novelty of living in a new place. It was the same when I would start teaching at a new school, or with Sprout coming into our lives. So long as there was a Big Important New Project to throw myself into, I could use that work to paper things over and ignore what was beneath the surface.

But no success was ever enough. Every failure or missed opportunity felt apocalyptic. It got to a point where I would mull over and second-guess a three sentence email for several anxious hours.

And with the end of the school year, I was spending afternoons on the couch, eating junk food and letting auto-play on the TV do its thing. I kept telling myself tomorrow might be better. And then tomorrow would wind up just like the day before.

Sure, there were lots of things to prep for a new baby, and lots of other work to be done, but I still had plenty of time for the things that I enjoy the most. If I could just get to them. If I could just get myself to try.

And getting myself to try kept getting more difficult.

So I did what the commercials tell you to do: I talked to my Doctor.

As of writing this, I’ve spent almost a month taking an SNRI antidepressant.

I’m sharing this because so far it seems to be helping. It’s not a night-and-day difference. I’m not suddenly one of the happy, peppy people crushing it 24/7. But I’m more resilient. The strategies I have to bounce back are working better. I feel more aware of what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it.

I’m sharing this to acknowledge that this is something I should’ve tried years ago. Looking back, I can see how a lot of the choices I made, the missed opportunities that passed me by, and my reactions were related not to some kind of innate unworthiness, but a glitch in brain chemistry. I can’t get that time or those choices back, but I can change how I see myself today and what I do from now on.

I’m sharing this because if even one person reads this and asks questions, or goes to get help, then I can feel like I’ve left a ladder behind after I climbed out of this hole.

Because living with depression was like being haunted. But instead of having books launch off your shelves, or spectral visions trying to teach you the true meaning of Christmas, it was like seeing shades of your past self taunting you.

The person you thought you were, who thought they’d be somewhere else by now. The person you thought you’d be. The multitude of different “yous” that never got a chance to exist. All there. Darting in and out of your peripheral vision. Distracting you and keeping you frozen in place, feeling trapped and powerless compared to them.

And in just a few weeks, I see small ways that I’m busting those ghosts. Making room to feel positive things again. And it’s not just me who sees it. Like in a conversation with my wife the day after I made some pretty excellent shrimp tacos with homemade guacamole and pico de gallo.

Me: I think I like cooking again?

Dena: I think you like a lot of things again.

I like liking things.

What I’m doing right now may not be the only answer for me, but it’s an answer that’s helping right now.

Medication is giving me the leverage I need to do the heavy lifting of fighting these ideas that my brain was misinterpreting as facts. It’s helping me to get my butt in a chair and put words back on the screen.

It’s helping me fight to make the most of today. It’s helping me start to fight for tomorrow as if tomorrow matters.

But most of all, I hope it can help me show my daughter that what I’m doing right now, in this moment, does not make me feel sad.

Clean Your Plate

Picture yourself in a restaurant.

The server hands you a menu and lets you know they’ll check back in a few minutes to see if you’ve decided on what to eat. You look over the available options and make a choice.

When the server returns to your table, they ask if you think you’re ready to order, but then offer you an additional menu. Specials the chef thought you might enjoy, they say.

Do you stick with what you picked from that first menu, or would you rather take a moment to see if there’s something better available on this new list?

Now imagine that server returning every few minutes with another supplemental menu. Each one unique. Each one with at least a few options you might enjoy.

You start thinking about if you need to come back to this restaurant again soon, because you can only eat one thing tonight, and you’d better make a decision soon, because you’re only getting hungrier.

But there are just so many choices, and the server refuses to stop providing you with more options.

Picture from The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with quote from the blog post

It’s absurd, right? Total Buñuelian nightmare. You’d never go to that restaurant willingly.

But you might be doing just that, except it’s not with what you eat. It’s with the other things you consume.

What is your intention with your attention?

You make choices, moment to moment, about how to spend the finite amount of attention you have. When you choose to act based on your intention, you need to navigate the pathway between that intention and satisfying the desire that lead to that intention.

Let’s say you want to watch a movie, the movie is on Netflix, and you have a Netflix subscription. What greets you when you load Netflix?

First, you get an ad for whatever movie or tv series their algorithm thinks you’re likely to enjoy right at the top, filling most of your screen. Then you get a set of similarly-formatted lists; rows and rows of colorful pictures to entice the eye.

While the top one is most likely the list you populated with choices you intend to watch, you’re also presented with an array of options aside from what you told Netflix you have an interest in.

This is a design choice. Your interaction with Netflix is not crafted with the purpose of helping you follow through on your intention. It’s designed to lead you toward discovery.

You know what’s on the menu. You know what you want. But why don’t you look at our specials, just in case there’s something else you might enjoy?

Compare this to the actions that went with watching a movie on DVD. The advertising, selection, and viewing processes had more distinct separations.

Maybe you went to the store, or to a video rental outlet, and made your choice about what to watch. When it was time to watch the movie, you put the disc in the machine, and only that movie was available to watch.

When the disc would first load, you’d see trailers. Sometimes you could skip them. Sometimes you couldn’t. But one thing you were never able to do was switch what movie was about to play. The advertisement wasn’t linked to the immediate act of consumption.

You were still going to watch the movie you intended, even though you had to see trailers and commercials first (just like at a movie theater, where you lock in your intent with the purchase of a ticket).

Think about the goal of each distribution mechanism. A movie theater wants you to pay for one movie and stay for its duration (and maybe buy some snacks and drinks). A video rental store wants you to pay per movie you watch and bring them back in a timely fashion (which encourages you to watch the movies promptly).

Most streaming services don’t charge you based on how much you watch, and there’s no physical media to return. Their interest is in keeping you paying a regular subscription fee, and the best way to ensure that you want to stay subscribed is to create the feeling that you will continue to find new content worth watching.

A digital service has more interest in helping you discover new menu items, than it does in making sure you clean your plate because you loved what you ordered.

This push toward discovery over intention also holds true with the shift from physical media to streaming media in music.

Open up a music app and check to see if the first screen is your saved library, what you last played, or if you see suggestions of other artists or playlists you might like.

Sidebar: This also relates to the promotion of The Playlist over The Album, because it’s a way of rapidly introducing you to more artists instead of focusing you on any particular musician or group.

Now look at a news site. Individual articles still have a prominent place, but there’s often a sidebar with popular links, or links to additional articles interspersed with the text. You may read your way through a single article, or you might wind up with 18 open tabs and no time to scan them all.

There are tools to combat this, like Reader View in Safari or services like Instapaper and Pocket, that remove extraneous links to aid you in focusing on what you intended to read.

But these are additional tools on top of what was designed and presented to you by the news source. These are workarounds to assert your intention instead of the default.

These design decisions are about fostering hunger instead of enabling satisfaction.

This is not to say “DIGITAL BAD!”

There are some amazing things that have happened due to the proliferation of new distribution methods and channels. In particular with video streaming services, there are new outlets for a more diverse set of storytellers and types of storytelling.

And the ability to access this material easily, quickly, and (relatively) cheaply is a boon for many reasons.

But the design decisions behind how we interact with these services are antagonistic toward user intention. These interfaces can easily turn you into a digital hoarder, always hungry, and rarely satisfied.

On not passing on your fears and failures

My daughter loves getting in the pool, except for one thing: Getting water in her face. I know this problem well.

When I was a kid, I hated being in the water. Hated it with a passion. Needed to be bribed, heavily, in order to even attempt the most basic aspects of swimming, like going underwater. And even then I still hated it.

When I was younger, there was a PSA that ran all the time on television about how little water it could take for a child to drown. It was intended to make sure parents didn’t leave a baby alone in a bathtub, but my brain catalogued it as evidence that drowning should be a constant fear when in the water.

So I recognized that level of fear and anxiety when Sprout was asked to put her face all the way in the water to blow bubbles (called Submarine Bubbles by her swim class instructor, as opposed to Motorboat Bubbles, which just involve putting up to your nose in the water).

“But what if it hurts?” she would repeat on a loop, with different levels of anxiety and tears.

That fear of potential pain would lead to stalling. To crying. To building up a wall of anxiety around something that she could actually do when she pushed through that initial moment of fear.

And I thought about all the years I spent, afraid of the water. Afraid of getting stuck underwater and drowning. Scared witless by a moment as a tween when I got the courage to swim in the ocean with some friends, only to fall behind and get pulled under by wave after wave as I struggled back to shore.

I didn’t want that for her. I wanted her to face this fear down.

We had an opportunity: A family trip to a lodge in Ohio, where four generations of my family were spending the weekend. The lodge had a pool in the back yard, and the weather would be warm enough for plenty of opportunities for Sprout to practice.

But we needed to bribe her to do Submarine Bubbles.

At first, it was one dollar if she did five of them. Then my dad offered a matching gift for the second set of five, so two dollars for that set. And the last set, the one where she threw herself into them with gusto, involved matching gifts (as a limited time offer) from a bunch of other family members, which brought her $10.

She was practicing. She was getting better. My wife and I were both feeling more confident she could keep this up.

But the night before her final swim class, when executing submarine bubbles for her teacher would determine if she moved on from Mini Fish 1 to Mini Fish 2, she went back into her stubborn, fearful refrain. I asked her to do one Submarine Bubble in the bath tub, and —

“But what if it hurts?”

There’s a frustration and a futility to arguing against an irrational fear. You can’t out-reason it. The only thing that we could do, in trying to help Sprout break through, was normalize the thing she was afraid of: Water in her face.

At one point, during her bath, I asked her if it would be worse to get hit in the face with water or a ham sandwich. We agreed that the ham sandwich was worse (especially if it had mayo on it). Then we made other comparisons, and I asked her if I could dump water from a pitcher onto her face while we joked about it.

With every comparison, she picked water in her face as being the better of the two options. With every splash, she laughed a little harder about the water in her face.

We had to get through this. We had to, because I was not going to pass on this fear. Whenever I’ve gone swimming with Sprout, I’ve always tried to be conscious of not showing any hesitance toward what she was doing, or signal any anxiety that she might pick up on. And I wanted to feel like my failures wouldn’t become hers.

When it’s your own child, it’s sometimes hard to remember that teaching isn’t always about successes. The Last Jedi put it pretty succinctly:

'The greatest teacher, failure is.' —Jedi Master Yoda

Because I know the fear, I can share with her what I know about facing it. Because I know the cost of letting this fear overwhelm your common sense and your courage, I can remind her of what she’ll miss out on if she forgets how brave she is.

One pathway to success isn’t going to work for all people, but passing on which roads point toward failure can help other people narrow their choices and find the way that works for them.

Let’s cut to the end: She passed the class.

As soon as she was in the water with her teacher, Sprout was eager to talk about how much she had practiced her Submarine Bubbles and showed her teacher what she could do.

After finding out she had passed her class, Sprout was full of boundless enthusiasm for swimming, and wanted to show us all the things she’d learned in her class, without the aid of floaties.

We had to reel her back in when she said that she wanted to jump off the diving board like some older kids she saw, but it was great to see her get past the fear, to feel pride in what she’d done, and to show courage when facing down something that only days before was still paralyzing to her.

At one point we had to start calming her down to get ready to leave, and my wife, commenting on Sprout’s newfound excitement for swimming, asked her “Where did you come from?”

And like the Pawnee Goddess she is, Sprout shouted back:

“I came from your belly, and I’m made of Spicy Chicken Sandwiches!”

Why I grade writing students on respect and empathy

Years ago, when I was still teaching writing classes with training wheels, I had a student turn in a short film script that I wanted to refuse to workshop in class.

It involved a fashion model with no interior life, treated with disdain and ridicule by the dialogue she was given and the way the action and description lines of the script referred to her. There was a lecherous, controlling photographer who the script treated as a virtuous character, even as he sexually assaulted and murdered her.

I met with this student before showing the script to the class and tried to suss out his intent. We spoke for over a half hour as I tried to get across the numerous reasons I had for believing this script wasn’t appropriate for our class.

But he was set in his belief that there was nothing wrong with what was in his script. His said it was honest: That all women just want to be famous, and this woman that he depicted being gaslit, sexually harassed, and murdered deserved what she got.

I had to repeat this back to him to make sure I had heard him right: He wanted to write a script where the audience felt that the model deserved to be murdered for being a model.

As I was trying to explain the many problems with all of this, he interrupted me to ask a question: Was he going to be graded on any of this?

I hadn’t anticipated that a student would be willing to share something so toxic with a room full of their peers, and be willing to be graded on it.

The truth was, I didn’t have anything in writing that directly and specifically addressed the issues we were discussing. He would lose points for flawed characterization and an exploitative and non-sensical plot, but those didn’t get to the heart of the issue.

That was a big problem. A student could turn in an absolutely abhorrent story, and I hadn’t given myself a way to check their impulses with the most powerful leverage I had in the classroom.

I needed better grading tools

After that semester, I evaluated all of my grading criteria and lectures. Something was missing, and it needed to be front and center.

From that point forward, every writing assignment I have given to students involves some variation on the same grading rubric. If they want to get all the points available for this rubric, they need to demonstrate respect & empathy in their writing.

All characters on the page treated as fully-dimensional humans. No stock types, straw men, or derogatory stereotypes used. Every role gives an actor someone specific and realistic to inhabit.

I don’t get as much time as I’d like with each student. I don’t get as much time as I’d like with each of their assignments. So I find a way to make them sit up and take notice of a real problem for writers by making their grade depend on them taking stock of how their writing could have an impact on others.

There’s no clear way to look inside the hearts and minds of every student to see if their default is to look at other people with dignity, respect, and affirming their basic humanity. When we talk about developing characters in class, one of the main points I always make is that we can never truly know anyone. We only know what we see from what we see them say and do.

So that’s what I tell them I’m looking at — What did you write, and what does that show me?

Because narrative choices are moral choices.

No fiction is objective

The defense of saying “That’s just how things were back then!” or “That’s just how people are!” doesn’t work with me.

Any time you tell a story, you’re telling a specific story, loaded with the choices you’ve made as one person, from your perspective.

You can never be objective.

To be truly objective, you would have to know everything and also not have any stakes in the story you’re trying to tell. The first one is impossible, and the second is improbable.

  • You’re not going to spend the time writing a story that doesn’t mean something to you.
  • You’re not going to tell a story that doesn’t have some kind of personal point of reference somewhere in the narrative.
  • You’re going to create characters and situations based on your individual knowledge and experience. Even ways you use to expand your knowledge and experience are still filtered through your individual perceptions of what’s important, meaningful, or useful.

You will always be one little person.

And that’s okay…

So long as you acknowledge that in your writing and as you’re writing.

You need to think about how the stories you choose to tell put the audience in the perspective of certain characters, and what it means to prioritize the perspective of those characters over others.

You need to think about how the resolution of your story gives the victorious perspective moral weight, even if you don’t believe your story has an Aesop-style moral.

You need to think about how, if you’re writing a dramatic work, every single role will be performed by a living, breathing, feeling human being. What are you asking them to do? To think? To feel?

Are you asking an actor to choose between paying their rent and portraying something that reinforces negative stereotypes? Are you going to make an actor feel guilty for taking their paycheck?

And you need to consider how, even if it’s abundantly clear that what you’re writing is fiction, some people may use what you’ve written to further a very real agenda.

Act like your words matter

Because it’s the only way that they will.

If you want people to take your writing seriously, write in a way that shows you give serious consideration to what your words could do if shared with the widest possible audience.

Don’t treat something you’re writing as beneath you, or look at your characters with contempt.

Any story has the potential to carry deep meaning for another person.

People have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in stories in ways that their life may deny them, or in ways that they didn’t anticipate. But a story can’t take hold of a person’s hopes, fears, and sense of self if the writer doesn’t consider it possible.

Give them a mirror worth looking into.

The kind of person who owns grapefruit spoons

One day, my wife and I made the decision in a Crate & Barrel to buy grapefruit spoons. We even went and bought several grapefruits and ate them with those grapefruit spoons.

But it never became a habit.

We moved several times after that, and the grapefruit spoons always came with us, but they mostly stayed in the drawer.

It’s a minor thing. A pair of small, serrated spoons that take up an almost unnoticeable amount of space.

But that’s just it — almost.

I know the spoons are there. I know they’re not being used. I know we intended to use them, and now we hang on to them long after the seriousness of the intention has passed.

Buying the spoon wasn’t just about the utility of the thing, but the identity it created.

I’m the person who makes a healthy choice and eats a grapefruit in the morning regularly enough to require specialized flatware.

The purchase came ahead of the identity. The desired identity came ahead of the work of becoming that person.

And it leaves me with three options:

  1. Do nothing constructive. Keep the spoons and feel annoyed every time you notice them. Regret the purchase and the desire to have that identity.
  2. Abandon the spoons. Chuck them out, and decide that either the identity wasn’t that important or grapefruits (as an object) aren’t that important.
  3. Do the work to own that identity. Buy some grapefruit. Eat the grapefruit.

Lately I feel aware of the other things in my life that feel like grapefruit spoons, and that it’s time to make some choices.

Option one doesn’t feel healthy or wise. Option two has its merits, since reducing attachments and commitments allows for more focus on what’s left behind. But option three has its merits, as well.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for everything, but sometimes you need to confront where choices have to be made.

Because it feels better to see yourself as the sum total of what you choose to do, rather than to just feel the accumulated weight of the things you held onto and left unused.

Professionalism and Style

While listening to the latest episode of The West Wing Weekly, there was a great comment from presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg that

“Your job is to decide how much you’re willing to conform to [what’s expected of you]. It’s often ocurred to me that all the ways in which you — in any profession, not just politics — but all the ways in which you conform to what’s expected of you, the sum total of that becomes your professionalism. And then all the ways in which you decide not to conform, the sum total of that becomes your style.”

(You can listen to the full interview here.)

This comment encapsulates a lot of the things I try to get across when talking to writing students.

You learn the rules, tactics, and techniques of writing not so that you can follow them religiously, but so that you know what’s expected of you.

What do people who consume a lot of material see frequently, and what conforms to their expectations? What has worked for other writers in the past? What can you draw from the past that applies to your work in the present?

But you also have to find ways to make something your own. To differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace of ideas.

A thousand other people could be writing a story just like yours right now, so what is it that you’re going to do that subverts the expectations of the audience? What bends (or breaks) the tropes and rules and traditions of the kind of story you’re trying to tell?

And this quote makes a case for thinking on a continuum, where every choice moves your position just a little bit between one end where you’re all professionalism (but no individuality) and one end where you’re all style (but with no sense of accountability or being responsive to expectations and norms).

It suggests a mentality where skill comes from learning to serve expectations where it makes sense, and carve your own path when necessary. And that seems like a pretty healthy mindset to aim for.

Talking to My Daughter About Death

I didn’t realize how far the thoughts had gotten in my daughter’s mind until we were playing a game of hide-and-seek at home. My daughter (I call her Sprout online), reminded me about a game we had played the other week where she got upset when she couldn’t find me. At the time, it seemed like she was just frustrated at not being able to locate me, and we wound up having a laugh after I used our Google Home Minis to help her figure out where I was hiding.

But now, a week later, she reminded me not to hide the way I did that time.

“You were pretty upset when you couldn’t find me, huh?”

She nodded. “I thought you were in Heaven.”

OKAY, let’s back up a bit

Since before she saw Coco, Sprout has had a lot of questions about death. Normally they were general, matter-of-fact questions with no follow ups.

Asking about things like how her great-grandma is dead, and that’s why we don’t see her anymore, or if this or that person who came up in conversation is dead (ex: David Bowie).

Once she came close to realizing the weight of death when talking about pets. We had tried to foster a kitten, but he didn’t get along with our much older cat, Luna. As we set up a new home for the kitten, we had to explain to Sprout that Luna needs to be the only cat in the house.

After that sank in, Sprout looks at me one day and says “I hope Luna dies so we can get a kitten.”

I explained to her how if Luna died, we’d be sad, and we’d never get to see her again, and Sprout realized she didn’t want that. “But I want Luna to be my cat forever!”

She was overwhelmed by the feeling that she had said something horribly mean about her pet, found Luna, hugged her, and formally apologized.

But at the time, she was focused on how it was mean to wish that the cat would die. She hadn’t fully grasped everything. Yet.

A four-year-old’s first existential crisis

I was sitting on the couch as Sprout did one of her regular pace-the-floor-and-talk-with-her-hands sessions, where her ideas are just kind of tumbling out of her brain, and she pauses and turns to me.

“A lot of people have already died. And a lot of other people are still going to be born. How can this be?”

It’s the kind of moment where her question is almost something you can wrap your brain around answering, but I didn’t have time to parse what was underneath it before I saw her brow furrow and the pieces click together.

The tears started, and she let out a wail: “Dying is scary!

Dena hurried into the room, and the two of us quickly hugged her into a Sprout Sandwich on the couch. There were more tears, but we made sure Sprout knew how the people who love her are going to love her for her entire life, even after they’re gone.

Then she told us another part of what she was worried about: That after people die, she’ll forget what they look and sound like.

That’s when Dena pulled out her phone. Because not only do we have pictures and videos of Sprout’s great-grandma, but Dena kept a voicemail that she left on Dena’s birthday years ago. It’s short, sweet, funny, and includes a request that Dena give some hugs to Sprout from her great-grandma.

In the moment, we had some answers for Sprout, and we were able to use the recorded memories stored on our phones as a physical way to show her that the dead aren’t completely gone.

But if you know children, you know that this had no chance of being the end of this conversation.

Death is coming, and that’s okay

We recently had a scare where one of Dena’s aunts looked like she was about to lose her battle with cancer.

She’s rebounded, and though we know she’s not going to go into remission, we’re thankful have more time with her. But at first, when things looked like the worst was coming, we decided we needed to prepare Sprout as best we could.

Dena sat Sprout down while I finished making dinner to lay out the specifics and see if she had any questions, and she also brought home a bag full of picture books from the library about death.

We spent the weekend with family, making sure we were present. Making sure everybody got their hugs and got to spend time with one another.

And we read her the books about death and grieving. Many times. She was particularly focused on having me read a pair of books about a family grieving the loss of their dad, which was uncomfortable enough until she wanted to act out the book with me.


In all seriousness, this book is really well written and I recommend it (and its sequel) if you need to talk about grief and loss with a young child.

But, as she had me pretend to be her brother, and we went through the story about what the family did after the death of their father, I realized she was just processing her feelings in a safe way. She’s trying on emotions, and connecting with the hurt of these other people so she can think about how she feels, and how she might feel.

It’s one of the things fiction and narrative are fantastic at. You can experience an emotion from a slight remove, helping you understand it better.

I was feeling good about the lessons we were modeling for her, and the books Dena brought home were a big help in finding ways to talk about the big picture. And then came the injection of outside ideas.

If you leave a vacuum, something else will fill it

At one point I took Sprout out to lunch, and to pick up some carry-out for Dena. That’s when she started to talk about Heaven.

“Heaven’s where you get wings! And Jesus and God have wings! Everybody gets wings!”

I asked some questions to figure out where she was getting her ideas about a Red Bull Heaven, and it turned out there was a kid in her day care class who was talking about it.

As I’ve learned recently, she is very willing to believe (without question) that when her fellow four-and-five-year-olds tell her something, it must be true.

And because she’s getting a dose of theology from kids who are playing a game of telephone from what they’ve been told, we get scenes like this:

Driving home, we turn onto our street and Sprout declares (out of nowhere) “God is dead.”

Before I could figure out who had slipped her the Nietzsche pop-up book, she elaborated. “Because God is in Heaven, and everybody in Heaven is dead.”

So… this is where I talk about how I’m somewhat horribly equipped for this part of the conversation.

I didn’t go to church as a kid. There are probably many reasons.

One that I can remember clearly is at a funeral for someone on my dad’s side of the family. They hired a minister to give the eulogy who wasn’t familiar with the family, or with the deceased, and I can sum up his pitch about death as this:

Humans are a mistake. They are flawed, sinful creations. Death is God’s way of correcting His mistake.

I was maybe seven when I heard this. For almost 30 years, it has rattled around in my brain. It made that much of an impact.

My mom did her best, as we walked through the parking lot, to get me to push out the worry that I was a mistake, and that God was eager to kill us all. But you know the moment in Inception where they talk about how it’s useless to tell somebody not to think about something?


And that lack of grounding created some odd moments for me. When I was a teenager, I was hit by a car while crossing the street. I lost consciousness, got a concussion, and broke my arm. I was lucky, but I was also pretty disoriented.

While I was recuperating, I watched a lot of Viva Variety and started writing a script that I wanted to shoot with my friends. The premise was about someone who has an accident, wakes up in the afterlife, and doesn’t realize it. Whatever entities I had decided were part of the afterlife took the form of this person’s friends and family, and their job was to nudge the recently deceased toward the understanding that they were dead in a way that didn’t overwhelm them.

Because… There was a part of me that wasn’t so sure what I was experiencing. And a weird part of me that thought by writing this down and sharing it with other people, I could convince myself that it couldn’t be true for myself.

That I’d be okay if I could share it with my friends and not have any of them look at me and say, “Oh. Looks like you figured it out on your own.” I was trying to write my way out of a problem, because it was the way I knew how to ground myself at the time.

This is all to say that:

  • I don’t have a lot of formal religious experience
  • Despite having lost family members and people close to me, I’ve never formed a definitive answer to what is death aside from the scientific end of life
  • I am well aware of how botching this conversation can stick with someone for their lifetime, and potentially lead them to some confusing moments later in life.

So no pressure when it comes to helping my four-year-old through all this.

What I wish I could tell her (because sometimes it’s hard to speak to a four-year-old)

I don’t know what happens. We don’t know. No one is certain, but a lot of people are confident about what happens when we die. They have their reasons, they have their faith in their beliefs, but they don’t actually know for sure.

But what happens to a person after they die isn’t the only thing that matters.

We need to think about the people who are still here. The people who love them. The people they love.

We should live like this is enough. Like we will get enough time with the people we love. Like every moment is an opportunity to choose to love each other with all our hearts.

Because no matter what, it will never feel like enough. We will always want one more hug. One more meal. One more story. One more ‘I love you.’ Always. Always. Always.

Because a memory of love can be the same thing as the moment itself. Our memories can be just as strong and sustaining, and as long as our memories last, so does that love.

We will go on without them, but we will not go on without their love.