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A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Lies

There’s one photo that encompasses my entire childhood (that I will not be posting here).

My stepfather was a professional photographer. He not only made it his living, but his hobby, so much so that we often had to pose for stupid photographs like the one I’m speaking of, which has me sitting, nicely dressed, backwards in a dining room chair, making me appear as if I’m on the back of a NYT bestselling crime novel I’ve just published to rave reviews. Not only this, but we actually had a large framed photo on our wall where my stepsiblings I all got two rows to ourselves to make goofy faces and then smile at the end, because that’s the sort of household I grew up in. Give someone an outside appearance at a happy family to cover up the inner turmoil. That’s the thing I love about photography, more than anything. IT FUCKING LIES. 

This photo irritates me on a number of levels. Not only was I ever a happy or a good looking daughter (hell, I’m not even the best looking woman in the world. I mean, I know I’m up there, but I’m not #1), but it signifies the fact that not only was my childhood a lie…but it’s a well documented one. Having your parent be a photographer means being stuck with photo album after photo album of family photos ranging everything from christmas mornings to graduation. So the photos lie just as much as I was lying about myself to everyone around me regarding my lesbianism and so much more. And it’s all documented. Wonderful. It’s not necessarily that I HATE the photo, but it’s more along the lines of…I hate what the photo is showing. The photo itself is well taken, but it’s presenting yet again a false image. That other one I mentioned? That one with the rows? That was hung literally next to our front door as an instant image to be seen when you entered as a guest.

Oh, what a happy family!

Far from it, lady. Childhood is hard enough, but it’s even harder when you have to deal with declining mental health or a rejected sexuality. I’m certain the difficulties vary person to person, but for me personally…it’s the photos that are the worst. A lie of a lie. And the worst part is that it makes me feel like I didn’t even start really being alive until I came out, so there’s a documented childhood for a person I never identified as. That’s…unsettling to say the least. It also explains my enormous self hatred for having my photo taken as a kid, to the point where I’d leave the room or cover my face. I didn’t want to be documented. I DIDN’T KNOW WHO THE PERSON IN THE PHOTO WAS. Other people look back at photos and say, “What a happy child I was!”. I look back and say, “Who the hell IS this?”

These days though, I take a lot of selfies. It’s not because I’m vain (you have to first have self esteem for that, so I’m safe) or anything, but simply because I finally kind of like how I look. It’s a small consolation for the hell I had to put up with, but at least what I’m working on fixing my self esteem. But, that’s what suburban life is, at least when I was a little girl. Parents didn’t want their neighbors to see how screwed up their family was. Judgment was important to them. They wanted their family to be portrayed as happy, good, people. So they kept trimmed lawns and took lie filled photographs and they upheld to the highest standard an image of excellence and perfection to hide the problems they had. Nobody talked about divorce. Nobody talked about mental illness or homosexuality. It’s amazing how far we think we’ve come from the 50s, when really the only thing’s that’ve changed are our cable packages and how we process our food. There’s still bigotry, and hatred, and total lack of decent humanity, ESPECIALLY regarding treating your children and, a lot of times, often, yourself right.

So yeah, there’s one photo that encompasses my entire horrible childhood.

But there’s a billion that encompass my bettering adulthood.

And that’s kinda cool.

Hey, I’m Maggie Taylor, and this is my blog. If you like what I do here, you should check out my depressing space webcomic, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry”, or my new site “Sad Party”, where I ask others to revel in their sadness so others can see they’re not alone. If you wanna support me, you can always donate at my SquareCash. I’d really appreciate it.

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A Blue Ribbon In Sucking Less

To clarify right off the bat, I am neither for nor against the whole “everyone’s a winner!” campaign. While I agree that, yes, children should be applauded for their actual accomplishments rather than just being a participant, I also recognize that for some kids, just being a participant is a goddamn accomplishment. I know this because I failed to be one, and the few times I was one I wasn’t told that it was a good thing, so I just assumed “Well, I hate this and nobody else seems to be happy about me being here, so screw it” and became ever more introverted. Then again, my parents never told me they were proud of me about anything, and that hurts. Try as I might, they never once told me they were proud of anything I did accomplish, nor did they tell me it was important for my own sake, so at some point I just stopped trying altogether. Eventually I stopped doing homework, classwork, or participating in life in general. The things I did do of my own accord, like get my film degree or get paid to write, they didn’t say they were proud of those either, which only minimized them to me. Why should I do anything if nobody else is going to care? If it’s only important to me, then how important can it actually be?

See, nobody ever taught me about self worth. When I was in 8th grade, I had to pick an elective class, so I chose art. I hated it. It ruined art for me for years. However, my teacher did see something in me, and picked a painting of a flower that I did to include in the Rotary Arts Show in our town. I got noticed by her, by other artists, and even got a ribbon for it. My parents didn’t care. Oh they went to the art show, sure, because it was expected of them, and my mother still has the painting because it’s something she can show off to others, to lord over them, a sort of “my child is better than your child” situation, because in the end, it’s all she has that I did well in. It’s not that she’s proud of me for painting it, she’s proud of herself for birthing someone who painted it. She’s proud of this extension of herself. At the art show, or even afterwards, nobody told me, “Hey, good job” or “That was a really great painting, well done”. I just got ignored like always.

Self worth. If I don’t mean anything to anyone else, why should I mean anything to myself? If nobody else sees anything worth believing in in me, then why do I even matter? I kill myself to create content, I drive myself to the brink of exhaustion chasing perfection when it comes to what I do, and yet…nobody ever says “Well done” or “Man, I love this!” or anything of the sort. These days, my girlfriend is my biggest supporter, which is so weird to me because if nobody else ever said anything, how can I be sure she isn’t just saying it out of pity? And see, the fucked up thing is, I realize this is all fucking irrational, but because nobody ever said they believed me, or were proud of me, then I can’t help but shake the notion that nobody ever will be, even if they say otherwise. I say that I do what I do because it helps me survive, which isn’t total bullshit, as it does help me categorize and clarify everything in my life, and in the bullshit world surrounding me, but when it comes right down to it, self preservation just isn’t enough. I don’t need admiration. I don’t need adoration. I don’t need a star on the fucking hollywood walk of fame. I just need to be a participant.

“Everyone’s a winner!” is a dangerous motto to bandy about because no, not everyone is a winner, and despite how often you tell your child that, some of them just aren’t gonna be winners. Take it from a girl who was told, when she was very little, that academically she would be great and was then abandoned when they realized she wouldn’t live up to their standards. Take it from a loser. Sure, your child might end up having some talents, but not all talents are bankable, and even the ones that are that they might obtain, you still have to get lucky enough to be successful. Success isn’t just hard work. It’s also a lot of luck. So, to tell your child they’re a winner, and then have to watch them fail repeatedly, all it does is send them the message that you’re a goddamned liar, and you only said that to protect their feelings. I’m not saying to tell your kid they fuckin suck. That’s even worse, obviously, but make sure to clarify to them that they need to find their strengths and aren’t good at something just because they were involved in it. Everyone’s a winner? No. But everyone should be a participant.

I’m 28. I lived through a lifetime of abuse, failure and a suicide attempt. But guess what, I’m still here. I’m still participating, and I think I deserve some fucking acknowledgement for that. Where’s my goddamn blue ribbon?

If you like what you’ve read here, and wanna help support me in my artistic endeavors, and not ever make me put on pants, then perhaps you should consider donating at my Kofi? It accepts PayPal and you don’t even have to give more than 3 dollars! It’d be greatly appreciated and help buy groceries, pay for our rent and more. Thank you.

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You Will Be Tested On This

Recently, I acquired a lot of paperwork from my earlier years in school, elementary mostly, and came across some things that really surprised me. Here’s some slightly edited quotes from one particular packet, called the “Psycho Educational Assessment Report”.

Maggie was referred to the Student Study Team at [redacted] by her first grade teacher because of concern about her behavior. She tended to need constant one to one attention from the teacher and she was referred to the Resource Room for assistance as well. Maggie is noted to be very bright, creative and enthusiastic. Her verbal and reading skills are well advanced for her age and she can create long stories while playing with toys and recite full poems. She is loving and appreciative, but can also be stubborn. When in kindergarten, her teacher there gave her lots of individual help and love, but when she entered [redacted], she had severe emotional, social and behavioral problems and said “I want to die”. She would run away from the teacher and sit under her desk. Her parents got a divorce when she was three or four and she does not see her father.

This was all well and fine, except, ya know, the whole “I want to die” statement by first grade, but let’s just ignore that and test the kid, right? It’s the american way, dammit. As I read through some of the stuff I found, I was actually delighted by some of what, especially my high school teachers, had said about me. It lifted my spirits to know some of them personally enjoyed engaging with me in one on one conversations about serious or misc topics, and didn’t ever find me to be a problem. Goes to show what your parents tell you and what is actually the truth, I guess. However, let’s just stick to this packet, because there’s another section I want to quote here:

The Childrens Perception Test is a test in which the child tells stories about single pictures presented to them that have animals depicted on them in varying situations. When stories to this last test are subjectively interpreted, they yield information about underlying or subconscious concerns and motivations for surface behaviors. The house-tree-person drawing is also interpreted in light of the various aspects emphasized and yields information about underlying emotional issues.

Maggie tended to want to tell her own stories, but instead told stories from books/videos she had seen. She insisted on telling those and would give only very little on the cards presented to her. On the ones she did give, she tended to have themes of escape, getting stuck forever in goo. Maggie does not tend to want to reveal much of herself and seems to be strong defenses for a girl her age. Her drawing of a house, tree and a person are all very simply. The person is the biggest, but has no arms or hands. The house has a door and one window and a steep roof. The tree has a trunk and curly crown for the leaves. Her responses to questions about the house, tree ad person are very interesting. She indicates the person is a kid who is not healthy, that something is upsetting her. She said she had a dog and it ran away and came back and the kid started to be healthy again. She indicated the kid was more upset about the dog than the parents since she “didn’t like how the parents were treating her, pushing her and giving her nothing.” Sometimes fed her but gave her no attention and eventually left her and went to Paris to live. She says the parents do not care about the girl. She indicated the parents were nuts but the girl as not. The girl and the tree were indicated to be very strong, so much so that if a strong wind came along, it would blow down the house, but not the girl or the tree. When asked who was the girls best friend, she said “the house”. A subjective interpretation of all of the above indicates Maggie is still preoccupied with where she falls in relationships within the family and is concerned with getting enough attention. There is some anger regarding parents and desire to get what she wants. Maggie seems to expect the worst at times and seems to feel a lack of control over her environment (lack of arms or hands) and wishes for more interaction with those in her environment. But at times she feels “stuck”, perhaps in a pattern of behavior that doesn’t allow others to get close to her.

Results from the above indicates Maggie is feeling generally good about herself in the school environment at the present time but feels something lacking at home and in social situations. Overall she has low self esteem particular to having friends and feels her parents expect too much of her. In regards to friends, she indicates she is not popular with kids her own age, kids don’t follow her ideas, she often feels upset in school, feels others are better liked than her, would rather play with children younger than her and feels picked on by other children. Maggie has a low opinion of herself.

Keep in mind, this is all written up and tested by the time I was in FIRST GRADE, okay? I really think that puts everything into perspective. By the time I was 6, I already felt hated by everyone, felt trapped, stuck and hated myself and didn’t know what to do. That isn’t right. And what do my parents do? Do they talk to me? No. They have a school test me, as if that’s the only accurate way to understand a child. But wait, there’s a final section here I’d like to share, if you’ll so indulge me:

Maggie is currently a six year old first grader who has had a difficult time adjusting to the expectations of a first grade classroom. Test results indicate she is quite bright but has difficulty following directions from others. She likes to do what she wants to do and can resist instructions. She is also very likeable and fun to talk to. Her verbal skills are excellent and far above where her academic skills are. She tens to be a perfectionist at times and doesn’t want to do something unless she knows it will be just right. The Conners Questionnaire indicates a strong likelihood of her having an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or being on the Autism Spectrum, and this should be investigated with her pediatrician.

Social and emotional testing indicates Maggie has somewhat of a low self esteem and feels some conflict at home and in social situations. She now sees school as a positive place but that has taken some work by many staff members as well as Maggie herself in the last few months. She needs lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement to stick with things that are challenging. Counseling is recommended to help Maggie work with her expectations of herself, learn how to handle mistakes better, how to handle her frustrations, how to get attention from teachers in appropriate ways and find ways to increase her self esteem. These things are most likely impacting her in the school setting and in social settings. Her rebellion and immature behavior makes other students her age not want to be her friend. She very much wants friends and seems to deal best with adults in her world. Maggie likes to present herself as very sure of herself and yet is really very protective, feeling vulnerable and not wanting to show it. Instead, she begins to go off on a tangent about another story to distract people and uses her verbal and dramatic skills to get attention and applause where she seems to need.

I am presenting this to you because I think it drives home a strong, vindicating point. That you need to TALK to your children. My parents didn’t care. They didn’t push for these tests. These happened because the school felt it was necessary, and not because they cared about me, but because I was seemingly “disruptive”, despite so many contradicting statements within the findings themselves. They will say I deal with adults better than children my own age, say my verbal and some academic skills are way ahead and then two sentences later say I’m “rebellious and immature”. These places don’t know what to do with children because they don’t talk to children. They just slap some labels on them and go about their day, hoping everyone is pleased as punch with their “findings” and “tests”.

Second, despite it giving me two possible diagnosis to be checked into, my parents refused to ever look into EITHER of them. So, ya know, there’s that. The thing that strikes me as funny about this is how much praise they can laud on a child they also see as a problem. “Yes, they’re very bright and articulate, they do very well and we like them very much, yet they are an enormous problem”. You can’t contradict yourself like that, especially when it comes to a child, especially a child that isn’t even fucking yours and you only see, what, 5 times a week? That you don’t live with? That you know virtually nothing about? Growing up, I was told the opposite of these papers. See, my parents, they told me teachers and kids found me to be a problem. They never praised me. Teachers praised me, my skills, my reading skills, my academic skills (outside of the math area) and yet all the while I believed that I was a problem, that I wasn’t good enough because my parents told me I was. They left out all the positive shit because they thought that by telling me I wasn’t being right, I would try harder to be better. They never even anticipated the idea that that might NOT WORK.

I was much less a child and much more a social experiment, it seems. In the last few years, my mother has still tried to control me even from states away. My stepfather recently unfriended me on facebook and hadn’t spoken to me since he and my mother divorced back in 2008, and yet my father, my real father, who has barely been involved in my life, sent me an email in July. My father, who was for many years a heavy alcoholic, a drug user, was in an out of prison, who told me he’d come see me when I was a little girl and then left me sitting on the curb on weekends because he never showed up or bothered to call…

…my father sent me an email, and in it he stated, “I am sorry your childhood wasn’t better. I love you very much.” See, my father has worked hard at fixing himself. My father has stopped drinking, hasn’t used drugs in god knows how long, hasn’t been to prison in ages. My father has bettered himself. My father APOLOGIZED. The only time any other adult has apologized to me is when it works in their favor, a bargaining chip, something to be held up and used later so they can get me to do what they want. My father has nothing. That’s what makes it sincere. He just wants to be in my life. He said he was sorry. It isn’t that hard to be a parent. You just have to be a good human being at first. Tests can only tell you so much, but talking to your child, taking a real concern and interest in them? That can take you so much further than any fucking test ever could. These tests are bullshit.

I’m still bright. I’m still articulate. I’m still far ahead and don’t get along with people my age. I’m just broken because of it. I have low self esteem? No. Everyone else has a low esteem about me. They want to label me, but I know what and who I am.

I am Maggie Fucking Taylor. I am a shining, explosive, brilliant, uncatergorizable mess.

And no goddamned test can tell me otherwise.

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Time Capsule

Every year I go to my father’s for his birthday.

I don’t take him out for a meal, or to see a film or anything like that. We talk for a while, I give him his gift, and then we do what we’ve done every year for the last 7 years…we open up his time capsule. Inside, there are 5 items, each as important as the last. We take them out one by one, examining and discussing them. The first is a beautiful, golden ring. He puts it in the time capsule, because he wants to make sure it never gets lost, and he wants to give it to me when I get married. He says it’s a perfect fit, and I know it’s true, because I’ve tried it on. On the inner curve of the ring, there’s an inscription that reads, “Your smile is my oxygen.”

Next would have to be the camera. It’s a small, black camera that he took all of my childhood photos on, and that he took every photo in general on for as long as I can remember. He and my mother bought it at a thrift store before they got married, and he’d used it ever since. He even took every photo from their honeymoon on it. He tells me that I should do the same, ‘keep it in the family’, so to speak.

After that would be the corsage. It’s a beautiful shade of pink, and it fits perfectly on my wrist. It was my mothers as well, and she was the one who put it into the time capsule. He got it for her on their prom night, and she still cherishes it he says.

After the corsage comes the key. It’s the key to the first place my parents owned. It was their dream house. He says my mom wishes they still lived there, but I know better, that she’s happy where she is now. She’s happy where they are. But, that aside, it’s still an important piece of their history, and therefore, it’s made its way into the time capsule.

Finally, the last item in the box is a baby photo of me. It was taken by that same camera, in the hospital, mere moments after I was born. In the photo, my mother is holding me, beaming so happily, and my father says it’s her favorite photo of all time. After we’re through, we repack the time capsule, put it back onto the top shelf of his closet and go to dinner. We do this every single year.

We do this every single year, and we will continue to do so. We do it for mom. She’s been gone a while now, but they made that time capsule together on her deathbed in the hospital, where they spent her last days together. She told him that this way, they’d never be apart. This way, none of us would be apart. My father won’t admit it, but he misses her more than he lets on, though he tries to stay strong. But, if you look at just the right angle into his eyes, you can see her, still caught in his gaze, looking just as beautiful as the day they met.

We miss you, mom.

Dad especially.