Why I Decided to Live in a Tiny House

It has been suggested to me that I blog about my experience living in a tiny house. I’m going to do that, not only because I’m having a lot of fun figuring out how to live this way, but also because I need to shift the focus of my blog for a while.

I currently live in an 11 x 14 cabin that I renovated myself, along with a 6 x 6 bathroom addition that I built mostly out of reclaimed wood. I live very cheaply, growing and preserving most of my own food. I’m not yet making perfect use of my space or my situation, but I enjoy the (constant) work in progress, and I’m having a lot of fun living this way.

This first blog post is going to detail how I came to live in a tiny house. My future blog posts will get into the nitty-gritty of my daily life: how I arrange and utilize my space; how I grow, process, and cook my food (this is mostly an excuse to take pictures of my beautiful canned goods and share my recipes); how I budget; and probably a bunch of other random stuff and off-topic tirades.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in a little house; in fact, it isn’t the first time I’ve lived in THIS house. Tiny house living is something I can honestly say I did before it was cool.

The year was 1998. I was finishing up my bachelor’s at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, which is some sort of weirdo clown college where you can “design your own education”. This means you can write a “independent study” proposal saying you want to explore the possibility of cat telepathy. The college will undoubtedly approve this proposal, so then you can spend the whole quarter lying in bed staring at your cat, write a report on the experience, and the college will give you 16 credits as long as you pay your tuition. They don’t have to pay a professor, and you don’t have to listen to one. It’s a win-win.

So, anyway, I spent the last two quarters of my senior year doing one of those independent study contracts. I moved back to my hometown in Eastern Washington State and helped my mom start a small organic farming business.

My parents live on a beautiful ten-acre fruit orchard, which is where I grew up. It’s also where my dad grew up—my grandparents owned 40 acres back then, but sold off 30 of it. It’s been a working farm for way over a hundred years, so whenever you dig in the dirt or explore the rafters of the old outbuildings you find some pretty bomb-ass stuff, like those glass beads white people used to trade to the Native Americans; and boxes of 1950s porno, which is mostly just boobs.

One of the old outbuildings is a little eleven-by-fourteen cabin built in the ‘30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of the Depression-era programs started by FDR. When I moved back home for the farming gig, I decided I’d restore it and live there.

It was a cute cabin, made of indestructible redwood, but it had been used over the years as a chicken coop and skeevy teenager hangout and a bunch of other things that involved a lot of grodyness that I had to scrape out. It also had one of those old wood-burning stoves—the kind people used to actually cook and bake—which was awesome, but it was all rusted out and no longer fire-friendly, so I had to haul that heavy metal bitch out of there and into one of the outbuildings. Then, because there is EVERY THING IMAGINABLE somewhere on my parents’ property, I found another wood stove—a cast-iron potbelly—and hauled THAT heavy metal bitch INTO the cabin.

After that, though I’d never done anything of the sort before, I reroofed it, put in insulation, drywall, plumbing (a sink with cold water only), a skylight, etc. etc. My boyfriend’s dad built me a bed that sat about four feet off the ground and had a built-in dresser and storage underneath. It was really cool.

I lived there for a couple of years. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I loved it.

A bunch of yadda-yadda happens here. I moved out, started working as a paralegal (a job I hated desperately) got married about sixty billion times, and had a kid. I lived a lot of places, and owned a couple of houses that I really liked, but I always missed my cabin. Whenever I went back to my parents’ house to visit, I’d walk by there…but I’d never open the door. I hate moving, so when I moved out, I left it a wreck, with food still on the shelves and clothes and weird shit you don’t want to know about all over the place. The fact that I’d left my peaceful little house in that state really bugged me. In fact, I had frequently-recurring dreams about having to clean it out, except it always had more rooms than I’d remembered, and a labyrinthine basement full of mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches, but I knew if I could just get it all cleaned up and in order my whole life would fall into place and be peaceful and beautiful like it had been before. (Though, let’s be honest, it never truly had been…but my cabin had been a safe place that made me feel it was.)

Even more yadda-yadda happens now, which I won’t rant about here, since I’ve spent about 906 blog posts rehashing it already. Long story short, my marriage fell apart in a blaze of glory. We had moved to California for his job, so when he served me divorce papers, I was in this weird place with like ZERO emotional resources to call upon. I mean that literally. I’m bipolar, and I was stressed out enough that I was not taking care of myself whatsoever. I was drinking almost every day, having psychotic episodes, and attempting suicide.

I didn’t know what to do with myself and my kid. All I knew is that I wanted to keep writing books. It was something I loved to do more than anything else, and something that helped me emotionally and psychologically. Plus, my husband had told me I wasn’t capable of making a living at it, and that I was wrong to want to write in the first place: that I was selfish and immature to have that dream.

I wouldn’t allow his spirit to rise up from the grave of our marriage and force me into a bitter, hopeless life working a job I hated and that I was ill-suited for. I didn’t want him to win. I wanted to be my own woman, on my own terms.

Of course, life never works out that neatly. I wasn’t able to spring triumphant from the ashes of my old life, valiant and stable and perfect. By the time my husband served me divorce papers, I had one book published, and a contract on two more, but I wasn’t making any sort of royalties. I had editing skills and was capable of setting up a freelance business to bring in some cash, but in order to make ends meet that way (at least at first) I’d have to live cheaply. Really cheaply.

I’m lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents with a beautiful 10-acre farm, and they were hinting pretty strongly that my psychotic, suicidal, rock-bottom ass needed to come back home like six months ago, along with their beautiful granddaughter.

I love my parents, and I love the farm, but I knew I couldn’t live long-term in their house. I’m a person who very much needs to have her own space. So, it was time to finally open the door of my old cabin and start mucking out the mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches. It was time to finally get my life together.

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Mental Illness is Not Weakness

A few days ago while addressing a group of veterans, Donald Trump said that strong people can handle trauma without getting PTSD. In effect, he was stating that only the weak are susceptible to mental health issues after they experience trauma.

I myself suffer* from PTSD. My case arises not from wartime trauma, but from physical, mental, and sexual abuse. The idea that people with PTSD—and really, people with any mental health issue—are somehow too weak to deal with the fact that life sucks sometimes, and that we need to buck up, get over ourselves, and move on, is prevalent in society. In my case, it’s a belief that hinders my recovery.

I was diagnosed with PTSD about a decade back. At the time, I didn’t really know what the diagnosis meant. I thought PTSD was something ONLY combat veterans had, and thus I thought my doctor was joking. I’d never had to experience the horrors of dodging bombs and watching my buddies get blown apart. What kind of whiny bitch did my doctor think I was, that I would be as traumatized by my own experiences as a combat veteran would be by theirs?

I dismissed the diagnosis and refused treatment of any kind. I didn’t even investigate what PTSD was, or how it might affect my actions. I even went so far as to have that—and my other diagnosis of bipolar—removed from my medical records. I didn’t want to suffer the stigma. I didn’t want people to think I was weak or attention-seeking.

Then, a few years ago, I went through a period of very high stress in my life. The stress coincided with, or perhaps triggered, a severe manic episode, and I started writing obsessively and behaving a little oddly. My husband at the time became pretty snide about it. His behavior triggered something in me that sent me over the edge, I guess because it in some ways mirrored the behavior of a person from my past. He started to smell like this person, and sound like him. Whenever he would say something unkind to me, my emotions became uncontrollable: I’d get really, really angry, or hurt, or hysterical. I began avoiding him, disappearing for weeks on road trips.

The situation became a sort of feedback loop: the more emotional and erratic I became, the more critical my husband became of me. He told me I was an immature loser and that he was done with me, and kicked me out of the house on a couple occasions. For my part, I was drinking heavily and, eventually, cheating on him.

I wanted to either act “right”, or leave, but I literally couldn’t bring myself to do either. I was terrified to be alone, yet incapable of pulling myself together the way my husband wanted me to. I would watch myself do incredibly self-destructive things and be absolutely powerless to stop.

It’s hard for me to say that: absolutely powerless to stop. After all, lack of self-control is the ultimate weakness. I told myself, day in and day out, that my marriage and my life were in shambles because I was too weak to fix them. If I’d had any control over my emotions and behavior, I would have been able to make my husband love me again.

I was already in a severe depressive episode when my husband finally served me with divorce papers, on the day after Valentine’s Day. I had a suicide attempt (a fairly halfhearted one, since the means at hand were poor), and finally ended up in a mental health crisis center where they said, no really, you have PTSD and bipolar disorder, and we’re going to help you with them.

I’d never been able to stay on medication before. I thought the whole point of pills was to dull your brain and render you inert, so you wouldn’t cause problems for yourself or those around you. I thought they’d kill my creativity and prevent me from going manic; that I’d never have fun or feel any real feelings anymore. After all, pills couldn’t fix what was wrong with me, because they couldn’t cure weakness or repair personality flaws.

But I stuck with treatment this time, because I was tired of my life being unstable, and I had a kid to stay alive for. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to try something.

After trying a lot of different horrible meds, I was finally put on a combination that didn’t make me feel like a disjointed, sleepy puppet from the dream dimensions. It actually made me feel better.

The first time I realized they were working correctly was when I got into a very stressful situation. I’d been in the same situation before, when I was unmedicated, and I’d reacted very badly. My anxiety, self-loathing, and other distress had swelled up in me until I couldn’t see; the only thing left in me were those feelings, and so they were all I had that could inform my actions. When you feel like that, you can’t behave in healthy ways. You want to destroy yourself so that you don’t feel like that anymore. However, with the medication, I was in control, and not my emotions. I was still upset, yes, but my feelings didn’t send me skidding into the walls off-kilter.

That’s when I realized I’d never actually lacked self-control. My brain just worked differently than most people’s, and pretty much anyone would have acted the same way if they’d felt like I had when I’d done those self-destructive things. This was probably the most amazing self-realization of my life.

Some people might still think I’m weak—Donald Trump maybe thinks he’d be able to go through what I’ve gone through, and still be his pompous, egotistical self. And maybe I am more susceptible to PTSD than others, because of my bipolar, or for some other reason. I don’t know.

I was in the supermarket once and saw a young woman with no arms, using her bare feet to grab cups of yogurt from the cooler and put them in her cart. I tried not to stare, but it was pretty amazing to me. I’m sure it wasn’t amazing to her, though: it was just what she had to do, because she had no arms. No one with any scrap of insight would call that woman weak. I would even make the claim that nothing was wrong with her whatsoever. If she broke her ankle, it would probably affect her life more than it would someone who had arms, but that still doesn’t mean she’s weak. She’d just have to cope in different ways.

Those of us with neurodiversity and mental illness are not weak. We just have to learn to cope differently than other people. I actually think that my experiences have given me more self-knowledge, depth of character, compassion, and insight into the human condition than someone like Donald Trump will ever have. And that isn’t a disability: it’s a beautiful thing.

*I use the word “suffer” intentionally here. I would not use this word with any other sort of neurodiversity (and whether PTSD is truly a neurodiversity, I will leave others to argue, because I think each individual can choose for themselves how they want to identify). However, PTSD is unlike bipolar, ASD, schizophrenia, and other diagnoses that are an organic part of the brain. PTSD is caused by trauma, is preventable and, unlike those other diagnoses, has no component to it that I would call desirable (and yes, I think that neurodiversity can be a good thing, though there are some struggles that definitely go along with it).

Elizabeth Roderick is an author. Many of her books deal with neurodiversity and abuse issues.

General Update

Hello, wonderful people. I know it’s been a very long while since I’ve written a post of substance. A lot has been going on in my libeekeepingfe, so I haven’t had a lot of time.

Those who follow me on social media know that I was served divorce papers the day after Valentine’s Day. I’ve since moved back to the family farm, where I’ve been gutting and renovating an 80-year-old one-room cabin to live in, working on growing my editing business, and—apparently—taking up beekeeping.

I have a new boyfriend, too: Phoenix, my best friend, who has inspired so many of my novels and taken me on so many dark and hilarious adventures over the past year. It’s a long-distance relationship, and an odd one, and I don’t know where it will go. He is fifteen years younger than I am. He has schizophrenia. His lifestyle and rituals are very different from my own. I love him to cabina (probably literally) insane degree, though. He has taught me more about myself and the world in the past year than I learned in the thirty-seven years before I met him. He is an important part of my life and always will be, no matter what happens.

A lot of you also know that I ended up in a mental health crisis center a few weeks ago, after it all got a little too heavy. I got help, and will get to start psychiatric treatment again this coming week. I’m going to finally be honest with the psychiatrist and hopefully get a valid diagnosis and some treatment that works.

Throughout all this, I’ve been writing, editing, marketing. I went to the RT Booklovers conference in Vegas. I’m finishing up the final edits on my May 31st release The Hustle, which is Book 1 of my Other Place series. I’ve also worked with some truly aphoenix n memazing editing clients, continued work on a YA alternate-earth fantasy novel, finished some of the parts of my Wattpad series The Story of Tinkerbell (which will be featured when it’s done), and I started pitching my neurodiverse YA romance True Story to agents.

All this stuff is hard to process and integrate, as you might imagine. On the one hand, there’s the supposedly professional Liz, who is writing/publishing/editing/marketing, trying to grow her business and her brand. Then there’s the Liz who is trying to keep her life from disintegrating, who is trying to keep herself alive, off the streets, and out of the mental institution, all while taking care of her wonderful daughter.

At the RT conference, I got the opportunity to talk to a lot of the panels on writing and publishing diverse novels. In the midst of all those thousands of writers and readers, I felt most at home amongst those authors. It was so comforting to hear them talk about the barriers they’ve faced in marketing and publishing, because they’re some of the same ones I’m encountering: people want “diversity” in their novels, but they don’t necessarily want books that explore what it’s really like to live as a diverse person in this world. The term for this is, I believe, “whitewashing”. I think this term is applicable to my situation, even though I’m not a POC, I’m a neurodiverse writer who writes about neurodiverse characters.

I also learned a lot about “branding” at the RT conference—about presenting yourself and your novels in a way that’s both unique and compelling, so that readers learn to associate you with a certain image and type of writing and know what to expect when they buy your books. I learned that you’re supposed to simultaneously present an marketable image while being professional and genuine.

It’s hard for me to be both professional and genuine, though. I can’t present an image to the public that’s widely compelling while still being myself. The problems I encounter with branding myself and getting the public to embrace and accept me are the same problems I’ve struggled with in getting people to want to read about my characters: most people like the concept of a story about a person with psychosis or other neurodiverse behaviors, but when it comes down to seeing what it’s like to actually live with neurodiversity, it’s a little much for them. I’m told, about my books, that the writing is good but people can’t relate to the characters. I’m told my plots are odd. I’m told that I, as a person, am oversharing and trying to be a special snowflake. That “we’re all crazy, but we don’t have to talk about it all the time.” In short, I’m told that I’m annoying, and that my characters are, too.

I am being the only person that I know how to be, though. It would be more convenient to be someone else sometimes. I’d still be happily married if I knew how to be someone else, and I’d probably have a much easier and more lucrative job. But I love writing. It’s what I was meant to do. And I love my characters and my plots. I wouldn’t want to write books that were more “typical”.

There are some people who love me despite or because of all this, and there are people who love my books. The Other Place Series will be coming out soon, as I mentioned—The Hustle on 5/31, The Other Place on 7/5, and the third and final installment shortly after that (it’s currently with betas). This series is about a recovering heroin addict and a young schizophrenic man, and I’m grateful to Limitless for taking a chance on it. Additionally, my YA romance, which stars a young woman with bipolar psychosis, got five requests on the lovely Beth Phelan’s #DVPit for diverse novels, and one of those requests so far has turned into a full. I’m hopeful that book will find a home soon.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m growing my brand: I’m the crazy lady who writes books about crazy people. I’m being genuine. I’m hopeful that sooner or later the world will accept me for who I am. For now, I’m still alive, and I’m still writing. Thank you for reading.

On Marketing, and the Nexus of Dreams and Reality

Those of you who follow my personal story; or have beta read the Tales From Purgatory books, my upcoming Other Place series, or The Story of a Girl Named Mike; know that the way imagination/delusion intertwines with reality in order to make magic is the underlying theme in my life and work. It’s a subject that fascinates me endlessly and runs at the core of my understanding of the world. In The Deathly Hallows, when Dumbledore said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?” the phrase struck  at my heart, because I knew exactly what he meant.

I know the idea that “dreams can come true” and that there is a sort of force, strengthened by belief, that can bring about changes in the real world, isn’t one that is unique to me. My church believes that prayer can bring about change, and that there is another world – the “Kingdom of God” – that exists just outside of and intertwined with our own; that we can get there through the sacrifice of Jesus, and that this glorious world will someday overcome the physical world and bring about an everlasting peace.

For most people, this is an abstract concept that doesn’t play much in their day-to-day life and decisions, even amongst those who purport to live by God’s rules for getting to this place (said rules and their interpretations varying from person to person).

For me, on the other hand, though I wouldn’t describe my understanding of this concept in religious terms, it is a very real concept. Things that happen “in my head” seem to have a tangible effect on the outside world and on my life. In my worst moments (few and far between, thank goodness), I am driven to frank psychosis, thinking that this effect is more drastic and sometimes uncontrollable than I generally believe. I say this, even though part of me believes some of the things I’ve experienced during psychosis are actually real. And at any rate, I do believe the concept itself – the reality of this alternate reality, or the force of belief – is very real, though it is impossible, of course, to be without doubts.

When life gives me a particularly rough turn, the force of my belief begins to evaporate and I find myself in a cold, bitter and senseless place. This, I know, isn’t a function of whatever mental illness I’m supposed to suffer from: everyone feels like this sometimes. All those things we thought we had, the life we thought we’d built – it turns out, those things didn’t belong to us, and that happiness can be taken from us in an instant. But just because it’s ethereal, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real to begin with.

That cold, senseless place frightens the hell out of me  and makes me angry. The problem is, it seems like I have a harder time sheltering myself from it, building my castles in the sky, than most people. I think that’s because I’m not laying my foundations in the real world, trying to reach  my dreams: I’m building them in my dreams, and trying to reach the real world.

Since I was a girl, my a lot of my behavior and decisions haven’t made sense to people. At some point in my adulthood, I realized that’s because I’m operating on slightly different principles than most. At first I tried to fight with myself about it, because I felt there was something wrong with me, an opinion that was shared by others. Many of those who know me and love me tell me that I need to get a handle on myself, get treatment for my bipolar and PTSD and whatever other things my brain is supposedly sick with. They tell me I need to grow up and start living in the real world.

But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve come to terms with the fact that “wrong” is subjective, and that there’s no point in my feeling that there’s something broken with me, because it isn’t fixable in any case. There is no pill that cures me of who I am. There may be pills that make me sleep more than 4 hours a night; ones that stop me from believing my best friend is invading my brain and giving me his toothache out of spite; they may be able to medicate the past from coming back to haunt me in bright, immediate flashes of feeling, taste and smell that make me react to present situations with a little more drama than is necessary. But pills won’t solve the underlying problem with me, and even the treatments for the scarier parts of my “conditions” don’t come without high cost.

When I discovered writing, I thought I’d finally found something that made sense to me, something that might allow me to find my place in the world and be accepted for what I am, rather than what I “should” be, according to the rules of the real world. It was a way for me to weave together dreams and reality and create something that might shelter me from the driving rain and hungry wolves. But just recently my foundations have been crumbling again and the elements are beginning to seep in. I’d had help in maintaining that structure while I tried to build it, and that person is no longer interested in helping, for various reasons.

There is a measure of how much a person is accepted in the real world, how much they are able to “make things work” on their own terms: money. Money measures this phenomenon every bit as accurately as the scales of centigrade, Fahrenheit and Kelvin measure temperature. The scales themselves may be human constructs, but the phenomena themselves are not; and the forces that affect one’s ability to make it in this world are every bit as chaotic as those that affect atmospheric temperature.

The nexus point of my imaginary world and the real one is this: marketing. If I could market my books, my editing skills, and myself better, I might make money at it and be able to salvage my structure and survive. But I’m horrible at it. This blog post – which most of you have quit reading by now – is one example of it. People like to be entertained (and I get that – entertainment is a worthwhile pursuit that I’m wholly in favor of), but I’m trying to communicate with the world on a level that might be a little too real to be entertaining and professional. I’m sure talking about my marital problems and battles with psychosis isn’t inspiring many to hire me as an editor (even if I say that editing people’s stories is something I love, and it keeps me “sane”), or to buy my books.

The problem is, I’m still struggling to make sense of things, and find my place. And while I try to push my books and my editing skills in a professional way – try to captivate people with one-liners, inspire them, urge them to give me money and leave me reviews – it just feels like I’m grasping at threads…I’m trying to knit my world and theirs together, and I’m not counting the stitches correctly. Maybe I was wrong all along: maybe the two worlds will never fit together. Maybe I’m out in the cold again.

I wish I had a team, like Katniss had Cinna, Haymitch, and Plutarch, to transform me into a propo that resonates with the world. But, as much as we all are The Chosen One in our own stories, most of us just aren’t Mockingjay material.

I’m going to keep trying, though, because – like I said – it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

So: buy my books, and hire me as an editor. Not as an act of charity, please, but because you believe that magic is real, and that perhaps we can share our magic and our worlds with one another.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Divorce

flowersI sat quietly on the couch, concentrating on taking one breath after another. I’d scrubbed the floors, the bathrooms, the countertops; scoured kitchen grease off the overlooked crevices of the canisters; I’d written, or tried to, and spent hours editing other people’s manuscripts, losing myself in their stories; but I hadn’t been able to work feeling into my limbs, or into anywhere else in my body or spirit. I felt like my brain was taped up with bubble wrap and packed in a forgotten crate somewhere.

Invisible Friend Jesus sat quietly beside me. He didn’t have the air of someone waiting for me to speak, and for once he didn’t distract himself reading Cat Fancy or trying to knit. He didn’t ask me if I was okay, or tell me everything would be alright. If he had, son of God or no, I would have broken his jaw, and I’m sure he knew that.

“I knew this was going to happen,” I said. “Ever since you told me, way back almost a year ago, that I should just stop trying to fix things and let you handle it, I knew. I mean, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen, the way things were going. But I still fought so hard against it. I didn’t really believe or understand you, when you told me to stop struggling. It didn’t make sense to me that I should just ‘let go and let God’, because how could I just give up personal responsibility when I knew I wasn’t acting right?”

He stretched his arms over the back of the couch and gave me his little smile. “People have a lot of ideas about what it means to ‘act right’. Think about it this way: when you’re writing a story, what does it mean for a character to ‘act right’? Does it mean they always have to do the ‘right thing’? That they’re always selfless and kind and morally correct?”

“No, it just means they have to act in character.” Invisible Friend Jesus lifted an eyebrow, and I winced. “So that’s my character? A bad person? And you’re cool with that? I thought religion was supposed to be about rising above your base nature to become a better person.”

Invisible Friend Jesus sighed, settling further into the couch cushions and crossing his legs. “God made each and every one of us in his image. It’s a slightly distorted image, true, because the physical realities of living in this world can surely twist a spirit out of whack. But still, God knew us in the womb, and loves each and every one of us just the way we are.”

“So that means that there is no sin? That we can just do whatever we want because it’s ‘in character’?” I scowled incredulously. “I’m sorry, Invisible Friend Jesus, but that’s not very enlightened.”

His smile got gentler and more amused, and he tapped his long fingers on the couch back. “That’s not what I’m saying. We sin when we do things against our true nature, things that separate us from God—who is our true nature, since we’re made in his image. God is big and complicated; He is all things, and there are a lot of different ways of being one with Him, depending on a person’s personality. But, like I said, the world is a messed-up place. It can get in the way and separate us from God by causing us to act out of hurt, anger, greed and loneliness. It can cause us to do things that hurt ourselves or others.”

My eyes filled with tears again, stinging and burning since I’d cried so much already, and I sniffed and dried them on my shirt. “I really tried, Invisible Friend Jesus. I tried to do the right thing and not act in hurtful ways. But I couldn’t get myself to stop… I tried to make him happy, but I couldn’t…”

I pressed my chin to my chest and squeezed my eyes shut as my body shook trying to contain and control all the bullshit I was feeling. Invisible Friend Jesus took my hand. I could feel the scar on his palm, and the callouses on his long fingers from all his knitting, cross-stitch and other weird projects.

“Listen, Tinkerbell,” he said. “When you were drinking like a lunatic and spending all that time away from home, what did you do?”

I sniffed. “I got better. I mean, I had to work at it, and pray myself half-crazy, but I got better. I’m really proud of myself for it.”

“And you should be. How about when you first moved to California and you were really angry, frustrated and fed-up, yelling at everyone all the time?”

I wiped my nose on my wrist, but didn’t bother with my eyes anymore; they felt swollen to the size of softballs and I didn’t want to touch them. “I worked at calming down, and got a lot better. But Invisible Friend Jesus─”

“You’re not perfect, it’s true, but luckily no one who’s rational expects you to be. Nobody’s perfect. Not even me.”

I giggled, which made a snot bubble swell and burst out of my left nostril. Invisible Friend Jesus burst into snorting laughter for about five minutes, because he’s a jerk, but he finally got himself to stop and conjured a tissue from the pocket of his white suit jacket.

I blew my nose and looked at him with a furrowed brow. “But you are perfect, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not. Have you read about some of the stuff I did? I was kind of a dick sometimes.”

I gazed at him thoughtfully. “Yeah, I always wondered about that stuff. You know, calling gentile women dogs, and all that.”

He winced. “I was having a bad day. But I got over myself and cured that lady’s daughter anyway. The point is, I’m a human manifestation of God, and humans are imperfect. I’m God’s way of knowing, and of showing the world, that He understands what it’s like to be human. That he knows how hard it can be, how hurtful. How it can break you sometimes and make you act in ways you aren’t proud of, and how sometimes you end up in situations where it seems like there is no way to ‘act right’, and so you just have to muddle through the best you can. But God loves us, not in spite of, but because of all that because, in the end, being human is a beautiful thing.” He gazed at me with his little smile. “So, anyway, enough about me. You were able to quit some of your self-destructive and hurtful behaviors…”

I grimaced. “But some of the other ones…one other thing in particular…I tried to stop, but it was like I couldn’t. I could only ever last a few days.” A lump rose up in my throat. “If I could have just…I mean, I really didn’t want to destroy my life like this.” I pressed the soggy tissue into my eyes, fighting back sobs.

Invisible Friend Jesus squeezed my hand. “Let me ask you one thing, Tinkerbell. How do you feel right now?”

Tears streamed down my face, and he handed me another tissue. “How do you think I feel? Shitty. Angry. Devastated.”

“Yeah? Well, I mean, that’s understandable. You were just ambushed with divorce papers after almost ten years of a relationship, and two years of…well, you know. Let’s not get into the details again. You’re bound to feel messed up about it. But how else are you feeling?”

I wrapped my arms around myself. Invisible Friend Jesus scooted over and put his arm around my shoulders, and I hid my face in his neck. I got snot and tears all over him, but he didn’t seem to mind. I took deep breaths, and I thought about his question: How DO I feel? My brow furrowed. “I feel…actually, I feel better, to tell you the truth.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m pissed off and stuff because of, you know, how it happened, and how I tried so hard for years to make him happy, only to just fail and fail and fail…but, you know, other than that, I’m lighter. That pain and worry and guilt and desperation—all of it—it’s gone now. I feel peaceful.” I sat up, wiping my nose again. Invisible Friend Jesus gazed back at me with his serene little smile.

“That peace is where God is. That’s how you know you’re in the right place, doing the right thing.”

I scowled. “So God meant all that shit to happen to me? He wanted me to suffer like that?”

Invisible Friend Jesus rolled his eyes. “You know better than that, Tinkerbell. God doesn’t want people to suffer—God is the peace that helps us endure suffering, and avoid it when we can. But suffering happens no matter what. It’s just the way the world is. It’s a complicated and beautiful experiment…it’s part of what makes life life. Because, think about it: would you really want to read a story where nothing ever went wrong? Where there’s no conflict and tension? One of those stories where the perfect little characters hug and kiss and dance around baking cookies all day?”

“Shit no. I hate critiquing those stories. There’s no point to them. And I guess maybe you’re right, that it’d be boring to just sit around blissed out doing nothing all day.”

“It wouldn’t be life if it were like that. You’d never learn or grow or experience anything.”

“You’re right. But I mean…am I just here to entertain God? Give Him a good story? Is the Divine Plan just some sort of dramatic screenplay?”

“I’ve told you before the Divine Plan is a conspiracy theory, and you’re not here to entertain God. You’re here to entertain yourself, and write yourself into the best story you can. Your life may seem like it has a complicated narrative arc, with a lot of senseless and random shit happening, but you need to remember, the plotline doesn’t depend on just you: everyone is the main character of their own story, and those stories are constantly interweaving and clashing and shaping each other. It’s up to each person to learn and grow, find beauty and meaning, and craft their own narrative arc amidst the chaos. And sometimes, the plot that one person wants…well, sometimes the other characters don’t cooperate. That can be painful. It can suck ultimate shit, frankly, but the story goes on, and I know you, Tinkerbell: you’re a hell of a storyteller and you’ve got a lot of plot left in you.”

I wrinkled my nose, a grin creeping across my face. “Yeah, I got a few ideas for the next scene.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, settling back against Invisible Friend Jesus’ arm. “My life has crashed and burned more than most people’s it seems like, and I’ve had to start over more times than I’ve wanted. But, you know, this time, I don’t feel obligated to anyone—except my kid, and that doesn’t bother me, because she’s my little partner in crime. I love mobbing around with that girl, she doesn’t cramp my style except in the ways that it needs cramped. But, I mean, I don’t have anyone telling me what I need to do next, no dude that I feel obligated to follow around and try to make happy. I know the next scene isn’t going to be easy, but it’s cool that I get to write it the way I want this time. You know, as much as possible anyway. What I do next is my choice, and no one else’s.”

Invisible Friend Jesus’ smile widened, and he raised his chin. “True. Choose wisely, though, Tinkerbell, within the confines of your special brand of Tinkerbell wisdom, or you’ll just get bored with it or worse.”

I nodded, smirking. “Just help me out, because I get some crazy ideas sometimes.”

He laughed, stretching out on the couch with his back against the armrest and his bare feet in my lap. “Will do.” He got out his phone and started tapping away and scrolling through the Internet. “How about Utah? Or Puerto Rico? You could get a little apartment overlooking the ocean, write like Hunter S. Thompson, maybe teach English or whatever.”

I snort-laughed. “You’re an enabler, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He shot me a smile over the top of his phone, but didn’t say anything.