Butterfly Effect

by Tabitha Grove

How many conversations does a person have that result in something existing in the real world? 

As a child I would make myself panic thinking about what I now know to be the butterfly effect. The idea of small decisions resulting in a version of existence disappearing made my little mind spin uncontrollably and plunge into terror. In hindsight, this was a ridiculous way to approach life, especially as a kid whose biggest question of the day should have been what mom was making for dinner. But when I think of where I am in my life, I know that I got here because I said 'yes' on many different occasions. 

That should be the t-shirt slogan of positive thinking or the words that make me one of the many disciples of #YOLO. Not the case. I still find it terrifying thinking about the doors that I open (and close) with every choice. 

I am annoyed with my fellow twenty-somethings in this urban space I've yet to call home even after several years of living here. I like to think I'm removed from their self-aggrandizing, self-describing, self-congratulating, far-too-cool-to-be-disillusioned lifestyle. But that might make me even worse: being a young person who's cynical about youth sounds like the epitome of pretentiousness. It's possible I'm just a grinch who doesn't like going out. Re-reading the sentences I've just written, I'm wondering what chain reaction I've just unleashed. At least I proved my Canadian-ness by apologizing profusely during my small moment of confession. 

Whatever the case, about a year ago a series of 'yes's led me to a colourful, low-lit bar in the west end of the city called Get Well. The occasion was a dual birthday party and I was very, very early. 

I remember my legs barely fitting under the table that was wobbling under the varying intensity of weight from elbows, pitchers and enthusiastic fists, bent beer coasters advertising local craft breweries stuffed under its metal legs in an attempt to keep it level. I kept being drawn to the barrage of antique décor that, while now was the essence of eclectic chic, in its time would have been considered wearisome kitsch. 

I normally wouldn't have such a hard time keeping my legs from cramping, but I was wearing black leather platform heels that increased my height by five inches. Backup: prior to this party, I had said 'yes' to an invitation to a Spice World costume screening sing-along at a local performance art gallery. 

So I also said yes to birthday drinks at a bar, way past a time I would usually be comfortable being outside, and which resulted in me arriving before everyone else. I have been in that position so many times before. Being that person who is waiting, looking up every time the door opens, checking Facebook news feeds for something miraculously new, holding a large table while other people scowl at me. But I said 'no' to that, left, and started killing time in a record store, which I hadn't done in a long time. I went back to the bar when someone in the party told me they had finally arrived. 

That was how I found myself sitting at a table with Michael, Elias and Winter. Where we talked about wanting to do a film project together. A project that would later become Just Cuddle, and I was a part of it. A part of something that would take me somewhere outside of my control. Liberating, terrifying, and exciting. 

Several months later, Elias told me the outline of what was to be the last episode of our first season, "Waffles." The main character was a woman named Katherine who hadn't left her apartment in three years. 

When I heard that, I got this very real feeling, like I was going to have to become very uncomfortable to understand the best way to tell the story. 

To help create the home of Katherine, I watched interviews with agoraphobics and people who had different reasons for finding themselves alone. As I did my research, it became all too real. Although I have never considered myself OCD, I am obsessive and have never seriously thought about doing anything to counter my obsessive thoughts. Seeing my obsessive nature through Katherine's eyes, I was forced to acknowledge that certain behaviours were not random, but were born of the comfort I find in control. 

I've been told that it's good to know your triggers. However, acknowledging them leads me to avoidance, and then the avoidance becomes the obsession, creating an unsustainable loop. This is how I found myself kneeling in front of my bookshelf, measuring ruler in hand, ensuring that my books were descending in height level from left to right. This process made me very calm. My apartment didn't look any different as a result of it, but the feeling of security it offered concerned me. 

It was very strange watching Katherine enter her (my) apartment when we were shooting this episode. I watched her almost ritualistically go through the quiet and calming motions in a room full of people all experiencing varying levels of anticipation to get the scene right. It struck me that filmmaking is this insane paradox. I'm not the first person to say it, but for a medium that is intensely personal, it's a process that requires enormous synchronized collaboration. Filmmaking forces me outside of my comfort zone. It has broken me out of my own patterns and got me operating on a totally different level out of the pure love for what I'm doing. 

Butterfly effect: Over the course of a long weekend, I watched my apartment become the home of a fictional character. I say 'yes' to producing Just Cuddle and as a result meet Nancy Mamais who plays Katherine. Through getting to know Nancy I discover that years ago she lived in my old apartment at Church and Wellesley. Not just in the same building, in the exact same unit. She remembered the same crack in the bathroom sink and knew the layout of the place by heart. A series of 'yes's brought us together, two people in a city of millions who happened to live in the same apartment at different times. She was now playing a character in a web series I was producing who lived in my actual apartment. I wasn't sure what to take away from this exactly but it felt meaningful. Like it fit. Maybe I had said 'yes' to the right things.