If We Could Be Wild.

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What would I be if I could be wild?

That’s the question that tumbled out onto the paper when I was writing the introduction for Willow’s first project, Domestic.

I didn’t have an answer then.
I couldn’t have…It was the first time I’d even let myself ask the question.

Domestic was written in response to Gabrielle Funk’s body of work about a woman struggling to find and preserve her sense of self in the midst of dogmatic religion and patriarchal ideologies. Trying to hear yourself in the midst of the clashing and resounding cymbals of expectations. Things you should be. Things you can’t be.

The first time I saw the art, something in me was stirred.
Feelings. Questions. Frustrations.
I was well versed in being the woman I should be.
But…

How much of myself had been left behind in the things I shouldn’t be?

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At the time, I was a new mom. I had a new business. I was a lot of things to a lot of people. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend.

Of course, these are beautiful roles. But, now I can see that I was misusing them. Misusing them as a replacement for a sense of self.

I didn’t want anything except to be wanted.
I didn’t need anything except to be needed.


I gave up so much of myself and neglected caring for myself for the cause of being what I was supposed to be. Or what certain people/society/religion/social media/etc. wanted and needed me to be.

”What do you want to do?”
”Whatever you want to do.”


It was as though there were lines drawn on the ground entitling me to a certain amount of space and I’d done a very careful job of staying put. And, suddenly, on the night I saw Gabrielle’s art, I became claustrophobic.

However, I was afraid to step out of the confines. In order to start caring for yourself, believing in yourself, investing in yourself, taking up space…You have to believe in yourself and know you’re worth it. But, I didn’t yet.

I felt bad for maybe wanting more. For wanting to do less. For asking for what I needed. I thought the anger and exhaustion stirring in me was because I was not enough, not because I was giving too much. I thought I was having panic attacks because there was something wrong with me. I thought I was frustrated because I was bad. I thought I was broken because I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) live up to the ideologies.

Is there something wrong with me?
Am I broken?
Am I bad?

Future-me to past-me would have said: No, girl... You’re just fucking tired.
Unfortunately, past-me didn’t realize how rooted these questions were in shame.

I mistook the shame for a friend keeping me in check. A friend who knew better. I let shame be my guide and keep me safe. But really, shame was just my captor. A prison.

What would I be if I could be wild?

Creating Domestic was my wobbly baby steps in starting to figure that out. The release of that book created internal momentum for me and my sense of identity. Writing. Making books. Making shit up. It made me feel alive. I began to test the boundaries. Accept myself. Grow. Take up space. Ask questions. Become acquainted with myself.

Then, Margot was born.

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The delivery of Margot connected me to myself — my body, my voice — in a way that would change everything. I went into that labour full of doubts and fears because of the trauma from my first delivery. But, I found the courage to listen to myself. Follow my own lead. And, I was loud. I didn’t know I could be so loud.

The newfound connection to myself and my power was the most incredible feeling. But also, the most terrifying...This would surely break the confines I was in and I was afraid of what I might lose if I stopped following the rules.

What parts of my life could grow with me and what couldn’t?

This was the time when Willow began to put out digital magazines. I was at home with Margot and adjusting to two kids, but knew I needed to keep creating. That magazine enabled me to do both. Plus, I started to work on a kid’s book.

Marian was inspired by my daughter’s love for princess stories. I was in the thick of undoing narratives and learned behaviours that I’d accidentally accumulated, while watching my two daughters be fed the same ones I had been. The kid’s book became an exercise in rewriting the narrative. It was a joy to connect with my inner-child, remove the template storyline, and create something for and with my girls.

I’d really started to find a balance of caring for myself and caring for others. I was still mother. sister. wife. daughter. friend. But, more and more, I was also me.

I was hitting my stride.

Then, I had the wind knocked out of me. Curveballs came. An end.
Adjusting to being at home with two babies became adjusting to being on my own with two babies. It became moving, untangling, grieving…

I paused the zine and went quiet on Willow for awhile.
Winter came. I was a stay-at-home single parent with two kids and no car in a Winnipeg winter, so I really went into hibernation. Time crawled and I wrestled with the shame demons more than ever.

Is there something wrong with me?
Am I broken?
Am I bad?

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These questions became louder and louder as I began to hear untrue versions of what people thought happened or what they thought of me. I worried I was the person they thought I was. Mostly, I really, really missed my kids when they weren’t with me. I felt guilty that my story didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to and wondered if I could have done more.

The questions came like crashing waves. But, I was determined not to hide from them in search of safety and security. I waited the storm out. Observed the waves hitting the shore with violence and let them crash over me. I asked the hard questions over and over.

Is there something wrong with me?
Am I broken?
Am I bad?

I rifled through experiences, trauma, parts of my identity, and stuffed-away feelings to find the source of where these questions were growing from. At the root of my shame, I found things that were sad, hard, unique, traumatic, unfair, peculiar, infuriating, curious, beautiful…

But, not bad.

As I worked the knots out of this tangled web of shame, the illusions eventually faded and made room for grieving the truth. I sank for awhile in disappointment over what happened, what was different than I expected, what was hard, what I had lost…

There is no way around grief. You have to go through it to get through it.
So, that’s what I did.


Grief is not linear. But, time really is a healer. So, as months went by, it got easier. The storm really did start to calm. What had felt like an end started to feel like it could be a beginning. I felt lighter.

My lightness was serendipitously timed with spring.
The days were longer. The sun was coming back out.

I was ready to circle back and ask the original question:
What would I be if I could be wild?

It was at that time that an opportunity sort of just fell into my lap.
A pop-up shop.

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Willow opened up a physical space for three months. It was the perfect way to come out of hibernation and rejoin the world. It was a chance to use my weekends without the kids to explore what I wanted from my career. To take Willow seriously. To take myself seriously. I got to flex my muscles and prove to myself that I can pull off really incredible feats independently. I got to try something for the hell of it. Meet people — wonderful people. See all of you in real life! Have incredible conversations. Connect with artists and writers from all over. It was also during those three months that I was going on first dates, finding my sea legs with single parenthood, and intentionally building a community around myself.

To sum it up, spring was a thrill. It felt as though I was fulfilling a dare to myself. To be curious about myself. What I was capable of. What I wanted.

Then, it was time to launch Marian.

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My work to launch the book led me to school classrooms talking to kids about fairy tales. They were just wrapping up a fairy tale unit and had so many frustrations with the stories.

Why are all the girls like this? And all the guys like this? And all the villains like this?

They wanted to know why there were only cis men and cis women. They were frustrated with heteronormative standards, beauty standards, and the lack of diversity in the stories. And, we had a good laugh looking at images of Disney princesses on Google and observed that the princesses’ eyeballs are bigger than the width of their wrists.

We concluded that (most of) the stories aren’t bad, but they’re all the same.

We talked about the origins of fairy tales and how they were meant to be a tool to teach children morality. They served as a guidebook for what sort of behaviour would illicit you a happily ever after and what wouldn’t. We traced back their roots in patriarchal ideologies and wondered why it is so influential on us still today.

We talked about the constructed opposing images of the “good girl” and “evil woman”. Out of 210 stories created by the Grimm brothers, there are 40 female heroes. Of these 40, the most docile ones, such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Rapunzel were chosen to be recreated and retold over and over. Also, out of these 40 stories, the only one to actually destroy the villain herself is Gretel.

One kid said they wished someone would write a bunch of stories about the villains because they’re more interesting and relatable.
This statement stuck with me and ignited a fascination with villains. I’d be up in the night, rocking a sleepless baby, and scrolling through my phone reading the stories of villains: Ursula. Medusa. The Evil Queen. Maleficent.

Why did the villains do what they did? Are they bad? Or, did they just not fit the mould? Did they just want things they weren’t supposed to want?

The princess narrative is incredibly restrictive. The pressure to obliterate evil with niceness, fall instantly-madly-deeply in love with the first charming man you see and proceed to be swept off your feet and live happily-ever-after in blissful harmony. Staying blonde, skinny, domestic, and perfect forever. That’s an unfair expectation to put on aaaanyone. Prince Charming included.


A side note about Prince Charming: It is true that there are A LOT of ways that the bar needs to be higher for men. However, it is also true that the prince narrative is ridiculous and carries its own kind of pressure: A tall, muscular man that never fails or feels, his kiss will awaken you from slumber and give you reason for life itself, and he will always and forever save the day. Yikes.

What if the princes could be more than star-studded success stories? What if they could stop chasing success, riches, and damsels for one second? What if they could just slip-up? Take a day off? Admit defeat? What if they could fail and not be inadequate? Be soft without being weak?


Having said that:

What if the princess could be more than passive and pretty?
What if we could be ambitious and not evil? What if we weren’t pitted against each other to be the fairest? What if our liberation didn’t have to come in the form of a charming man?
What if we could be powerful without being wicked?
Ask for what we deserve without being scheming?
Be angry and hold people accountable without being ugly and mean?
Be curious — look into the room, touch the spindle, eat the apple, investigate the forbidden — and not be punished for it?
What if sex and exploration of pleasure was a healing elixir — an adventure in and of itself, instead of a dark, corrupt temptation or misguided path?

What if we are all just different and imperfect, but still heroes?
The heroes of our own tales. Each with unique storylines, character traits, and happily-ever-afters.

And even then:

Maybe happily-ever-after is too much fucking pressure. Maybe shame is the true villain.

What if pain is just part of it and we have to learn to grow from it and hold each other through it rather than avoid it?
What if the quest isn’t always clear? Maybe sometimes we just get lost and that’s okay.
What if there are chapters? What if we’re meant to start over, over and over and over again?
What if sometimes true love has ups and downs? What if we have to fall in and out and in again as the person we’re with changes? Give chances, give space…
Or, what if true love sometimes ends in heartbreak and there’s nothing that can be done? Maybe things don’t have to be forever to be true. Or perfect to be good.
Maybe we can fall in love more than once. In more than one way.
Maybe we can be rich with all sorts of true love?
What if we stopped holding ourselves and each other to these ridiculous standards? What if stopped telling stories about other people and minded our own? What if we let each other just be human? Grow, change, fuck it up. Start over.

Life is so much more delicious, complex, rich, dark, and unpredictable than the fairy tales had us believe.

What if the villains really are onto something? They’re painted in a bad light because they’re outside the mould of ridiculous ideologies…

But really, the villains aren’t bad.
They’re wild.


Wild.

That’s the name of the collection I’m releasing in late fall/early winter. That’s what’s next for Willow.

It’s just a little collection that’s part of a bigger world/story that I’m working on. It’s three short stories based off of three iconic villains and it’s set in our modern world. But, there is also magic. And lots of mermaids. All three characters exist in the same world and are a bit interconnected. This bigger storyline is something I’ve been constructing in my head since I went to Mexico for my honeymoon seven years ago.

I’m nervous to be showing you this work because it’s the first time I’ll release something that is all my own writing. And, it’s the first time I’m going to show you my fantasy writing.

But. I’m also excited. And it’s for sure the most fun I’ve ever had writing something. I hope you feel that when you read it.
And, I hope it makes you ask yourself the question:

What would I be if I could be wild?


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Thank you for following along with my journey.
I hope the stories are to you what they’ve been for me:

A place to find and lose yourself.

Meghan Malcolm