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Bravery and joy

It’s a new year, and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world. So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them. And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for; we can take joy in the act of creation. So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

I hope the world is gentler to us in 2018. And that we do not forget how to be kind.”

Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors (and humans in general), has a habit of releasing beautiful thoughts into the world around the time one year expires and makes way for a fresh one. I was reminded of something I’d written a year ago on Facebook recently – I say recently; this post has been growing for months between feedings, calmings, pumpings… – something about the first day of a new year holding such wide open promise, unknown adventures, and with nothing bad in it yet, and it seems an eternity ago. From the first day of 2017 to now, I went on the biggest physical and emotional journey of my life, and now I sit in the small hours of the morning in the warm lights of a Christmas tree with a whole other person in the room. A person I grew and gave to the world and who needs me as much as I need her. I need her. My eyes are sore, dry and tired, my back aches, my breasts are shooting and leaking, and I feel like my body’s been broken for a year, but I can’t possibly describe how worth everything this girl is.

I don’t want to sound like a Parent – you know, the types of people who change their personality after having children and begin to look down on those who don’t, claiming they couldn’t possibly know or understand the type of love that comes along with a baby. I know that every form of love is unique and different and can be felt as deeply as you allow it, but the moment Zaiah was born, I know I surprised myself. That first night, I looked over at her in a cold hospital room, my husband curled up on a small pull-out bed, and remember tears streaming down my face as I felt an overwhelming need to protect this tiny thing and to love her more than anything I’d ever known. Over the years, I thought I’d ventured to the very furthest corners of my heart, but this girl has arrived with a lantern, leading me to chambers and great halls I never knew existed, and emotion poured in like a tsunami.

It’s been three months, and although Zaiah Astrid (pr. “ZAY-ah” – like “Isaiah”) has been the biggest part of our lives for less than a hundred days, it feels as though she’s been here forever. I haven’t had much time to reflect on my birth experience, but today I was gifted a couple of hours to simply sit and write; something I’ve been longing for since her arrival.

She came exactly one week early, the day the very first snowflakes kissed the ground this winter. I remember I’d had a rough night’s sleep, believing she was probably kicking at my cervix or making her way gradually down (not realising this had actually been the start of labour), and had got out of bed close to 7:00 a.m. after reading various Facebook posts about the arrival of the white stuff. I got up to look out of the window and took a photograph of the rooftops starting to be covered in snow, fully believing that would be the most exciting thing to happen that day. Two hours later I was back in bed, when I heard a loud crack in my back and happily announced that for the first time in nine months, my tailbone had finally cracked again. Seconds later, I felt the water. ALL of the water, gushing all over the maternity pillow my poor friend had lent me. “I don’t think this is pee,” I told my husband, half laughing and half panicked. It didn’t stop. I got up to go to the bathroom, where it kept gushing all over the floor, and remember being told to stand in the bath, where it kept pouring. We’d hired a doula for the birth, who’d been wonderful and had told us not to hesitate to phone if we had a question or needed her help. We called, and were told it definitely sounded like my waters had broken, but that labour wasn’t necessarily imminent – until a minute or two later I began feeling what I assumed were contractions. I had no idea what contractions were supposed to feel like; all I knew was that you didn’t go to the hospital until they were four or five minutes apart. Which they were, immediately. The only way I can describe the feeling is ever so eloquently: it felt like having the absolute worst constipation in the world, except your body is forcing you to take the world’s biggest shit at the same time, and it just won’t come out. That’s what contractions feel like.

We decided to go to the hospital – I had a shower and had wanted to eat, but by the time I got a biscuit (Digestives), the contractions were too intense to really even talk through, let alone eat (something I regretted the entire day, as they do not let you have food after this point until after that baby’s out!). James’s cousin Chris drove us, and we met our doula shortly after arriving. I remember going in a wheelchair to a tiny cubicle and putting on a gown, and being told I was already at 6 centimetres. I remember asking for an epidural and hearing my husband and the doula whispering that I might be too far along to have one, and panicking. I remember them saying something about having to do a spinal something or other before I could get an epidural, but that I could still have one. I remember being taken to the room in which I eventually gave birth, and having a series of different nurses come in and tell me how my baby would be here “within the hour,” and learning how to push (like you’re going to take a crap) every time your body went into another contraction. I remember feeling them weirdly in the side of my thigh after I had the drugs. I watched an episode of The X Factor and listened to Chris Moyles while I was given an hour to stop pushing. I learned that there is no longer such thing as modesty.

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Eleven hours after my water broke, Zaiah was born. The doctor had been called in after the nurses discovered I was bleeding a fair bit and that they could no longer find her heartbeat, and had attached a monitor to her head while she was still inside. They soon found her signs again, but also that something had happened with the placenta, causing the bleeding, and that they were going to have to get her out now. She’d been in the right position (head down), but had always favoured my right side (so much kicking in the ribs), and apparently she’d remained facing that way through labour, causing her to get stuck in the birth canal for such a long time. I was told that if she didn’t come out on the next contraction, they were going to have to do a Caesarian, at which point (after this many hours) I pushed harder than ever. I saw the scissors as they told me they were going to have to do an episiotomy (the part I’d dreaded most) and felt a pressure, but no pain as they made the cut. I’m not sure if they pulled her out with tools (she had some scabs and still has a scar on her head) or if she just came out, but as she did, I felt such a strange mixture of thoughts and emotions. She was blue, and she wasn’t crying. I knew she was in safe hands. I knew I couldn’t allow myself to panic. I trusted the medical team as they whisked her off to try and get her breathing properly. I cried because my husband cried, and that’s something he doesn’t do. I was so excited about eating. I was terrified of peeing. “Of course that’s what she looks like.” Meeting her face for the first time. Her little patch of hair, only on the back of her head, like Friar Tuck. Staying calm alone with the doula as my husband went with Zaiah to NICU. Guessing her to be over 8 pounds and her coming out at 6 lb 4 oz. Hearing the nurses’ confusion as to what to do when a baby lies exactly on the tenth percentile and not on either side of it. Her little pink hat being far too big for her head. Seeing myself be stitched up. Giving up on peeing and getting a catheter. The cold of the room we spent the night in, and the overwhelming, borderline euphoric love that came streaming down my face for my daughter and my husband. Thinking it hilarious the first time I saw my nipple in a pump. Zaiah’s blue steel face. Chicken nuggets and a chocolate milkshake. Remembering I felt I’d rather give birth five times rather than go through nine months of pregnancy ever again. Even if we did get some pretty awesome photos.

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The first week after coming home, I was confined to my bedroom as a result of being far too sore down south to even attempt stairs. It wasn’t a bad place to be, as the tree outside the window was positively bursting with the oranges and reds of autumn. Zaiah was tiny and we were afraid of everything. Passing her to each other, falling asleep and rolling on her, changing nappies… my stitches etc. were too painful to really walk, so James took on absolutely everything. Looking after our newborn and looking after me. Pregnancy had been hard on both of us, and I was scared of how we’d be with each other at the beginning of this new chapter, but I cried every day in gratitude and disbelief of how incredibly this man was rising to the challenge. I’d felt isolated, scared, and alone in pregnancy. I suddenly felt adored, cared for, and safe. Major points to anyone who’ll hold my hand as I sit on the toilet scared to shit, bleeding, crying, and leaking breast milk on their head. Within ten days I was able to go downstairs, had dropped most of the weight due to some severe engorgement and pumping enough milk to feed an army of babies, and ventured outside for the first time. There’s nothing quite like crisp air and autumn sun after being cooped up. The view may have been beautiful and the company amazing, but breathing in the fresh air of the outside world filled me with an energy and a renewed sense of gratitude for living where I do.

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At three months, Zaiah is finally over ten pounds, still struggles with sleeping flat on her back, makes all the faces in the world, loves cuddles and hates sleeves. James took six weeks off up until Christmas but is now back at work, but rather than taking night and day shifts and passing each other like ships in the night, we now both attempt to sleep at the same time. For a while, Zaiah was only up once or twice; lately as she’s grown, that’s at least doubled. I think she gets hungry in the night like I do. He changes and feeds, I pump and wash bottles. We collapse and get up again two hours later and do it all over again. It’s immensely hard but I look at her face every time and feel nothing but love.

My breasts and oversupply issues have been the most challenging part of all of this. After two weeks, I developed mastitis. High fever, unable to stop shivering, and with lumps throbbing like the ends of hot pokers, I went to the doctor dressed in five layers and still unable to keep warm. I got some antibiotics but was in no state to do anything, so Zaiah had her first sleepover at fourteen days old and went to my dad’s. The next few weeks were filled with conflicting advice from all sources. Clinics, nurses, doctors, and the internet all told me different things. I’ve been asked several times why I chose to pump exclusively when it’s so time consuming and difficult. Honestly, I was always planning to incorporate pumping into Zaiah’s feeding – I wanted her dad and grandparents to be able to hold her close and feed her as well as me, and I’d heard from others that it was sometimes an absolute nightmare to transition babies to bottles later on, so why not start from the beginning? I tried breastfeeding, but the engorgement meant my breasts had basically doubled in size and were pouring and squirting milk at such velocity that poor Zaiah could not only not get a latch, but couldn’t regulate the flow to manage swallowing without almost choking. She started gnawing at the nipples to the point where they became cracked, cut, scabbed, and I had to discard bottles upon bottles of milk that were red with blood. Breastfeeding at the actual boob wasn’t going to be an option, but pumping still meant she’d get the same product with far less difficulty. I didn’t realise there was such a battle between your wishes, needs, and your body. Pump too much to relieve the extreme excess supply, and your body will make more to replenish the vast amounts being drained. Don’t pump enough, and the milk will back up into the ducts, form lumps, clog them, and make it so painful you can’t even hold your baby close. After fourteen weeks, ultrasounds, antibiotics, various timed pumping strategies, growing somewhat of an extra boob, donating a mass supply to a baby in need and being put onto birth control not for contraception, but for hormonal reduction of milk, I think I am finally starting to normalize. I can go four or five hours without pumping now (which means no longer having to lug a machine around with me everywhere I go, and also not waking up in a white puddle several times a night), and I have a deep freeze of extra which will sustain Zaiah as we get closer to her being able to start solids.

Pregnancy was also an enormous challenge. I had to stop one of my anxiety meds as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and at times I was on the phone in hysterics to my doctor begging for some other way to get through to the end because I couldn’t cope. My initial withdrawal resulted in a trip to the mental health crisis centre and about two weeks of intense sobbing, delusional and fully believing those closest to me were lying to me any time they’d say anything positive and that they all despised having me around. If I received a compliment or a kind word, it was almost as if my brain would say reflexively, no you’re not. They’re lying. None of this is true. I fully believed I was hated and alone, and it did not do good things for my marriage. I also ended up fracturing my foot, having my hips and tailbone subsequently out of place, limping through a summer of photography gigs (coming home crying from the pain at the end of each one), dislocating a couple of ribs, and going on maternity leave ten days early in a fit of tears from the relentless back pain toward the end which prevented me from being in pretty much any position except laying flat down. I did however manage to avoid morning sickness, and only went through a brief phase of being thoroughly nauseated by the smell of barbecued meat or burgers, so that was a bonus, but a year after conception and still not in control of my body, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t possibly do this ever again.

But as much as the inevitable questions of when the “next one” is coming have arisen, I don’t feel pressured to even think about anything of the sort. Right now my role has been handed to me, glowing with certainty. Someone is depending on me to exist. To feel loved. To learn about the world and to be comforted when she’s sad and celebrated at every milestone. To fall in love with the best music (she’s already started music classes for babies), to be sang to, to laugh with, to hear stories and to socialize with. People told me during and after pregnancy that they were surprised I wanted to have a kid, because I was “so creative and ambitious.” My own husband even feels I’ll be longing to find a new job to start before my maternity leave is over because “that’s the sort of person I am.” And I feel, by the rest of the world, entirely misunderstood. When I fall in love with something, whether a new venture I’ve committed myself to, a creative endeavour, a project, a skill… I throw myself at it with everything I have. It becomes a part of me, fuelled by thoughts and desire, ideas and dedication, and I want to make it the very best thing it can possibly be. At the end of it all, I want to look back on what I’ve committed myself to and know I gave it everything I could. I work tirelessly on making my business the best it can be, on improving my skills, and though I have a long way to go, I’m going into year four and each year has been bigger, better, more joyful and more profitable than the last. I did complete an EP, which was a musical journey through battling my anxiety and proving to myself that something my heart longed for was something my brain wasn’t going to stop it from achieving, and though my time right now isn’t exactly prime for recording sessions, it doesn’t mean that in time, I won’t finish laying down another five or six songs and finalizing an entire album. I’m determined. I’m also determined to finish the book I started a few years ago, and have recently been struck once again with immense inspiration. Lengthy hours at a writing desk aren’t in the cards right now, but it doesn’t mean that in time, they won’t be, and that this labour of love will never see the light of day. And now there is my daughter. I’m one hundred percent committed to being the best mother I can be – not just in terms of nurturing and teaching, but in terms of raising an amazing human being that will live on in this world long after I do, whose actions, dreams, thoughts and personality will touch more lives than I could ever imagine. My job is to make sure she’s equipped with love, enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge, a dedication to kindness, a soft heart and a strong spirit, a passion for creating and a desire to make others’ lives better so that she can be a shining light on an often dark planet. All my creative dreams, socializing, and sleep-filled nights are worth putting on hold temporarily. Without a shadow of a doubt. Because of everything I’ve done or ever will do, she will be my greatest legacy. I love you, Zaiah Astrid.

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Snappy’s Gender Reveal

When I wrote this, I was 21 weeks pregnant, having found out Snappy’s (binary) gender at 17. (Snap has definitely grown a bit since!) I didn’t have the gut feeling that many women speak of; some friends and family had made guesses based on old wives tales, symptoms, and cravings, but I honestly had no idea going in to the ultrasound. Snap (who at some point on one particular week, was the size of a snap pea) moved around a lot, had long legs, waved, had a thumb to suck, and definitely did not want to give us a reveal for a while, but we got there in the end. My first reaction (aside from “Kevin was right!“) was a really interesting feeling, and though initially I was slightly disappointed I wouldn’t get to use the one name we both really loved, primarily I was overcome with wonder – yet at the same time, was reminded of something really important: life’s possibilities don’t have to be determined by gender.

As I thought about it more, the more I realised that traditional “gender reveal” activities, though fun and well-intentioned, could potentially be harmful. I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t want anything to support the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” notion. There will be no party where guests bite into cupcakes to reveal pink or blue filling; no balloons will be popped, surprising everyone with a certain colour of confetti. Not that I believe this sort of thing has any negative intent – if I were invited to such a party, I’d be fully supportive of the couple – and who doesn’t like cupcakes? But I do believe the expectations that accompany traditional gender reveals, as well-intentioned as they may be, may sometimes set people up for failure.

I’ve worked, lived, volunteered with and known enough wonderful people to know that gender is a) not determined by genitals and b) not binary. In the former camp, genitalia is allowed to override a person’s sense of self: their gender identity. In the latter, men and women are placed on opposing ends of an artificial scale that enforces the idea that if you fall on one end of the spectrum, you have opposite sets of gender identity, expression, roles, privileges, and disadvantages. It’s important not to reinforce this idea, and remind ourselves that everything that keeps this notion going is actually subjective. Of course girls can love curling their hair, nail polish, and makeup. Boys are certainly allowed to admire Batman and garbage trucks. But let’s introduce them to more than just what’s designed for their gender. Boys can wear dresses if they’re more comfortable. Girls can play with trucks. Men can become ballet dancers and women can become executives of corporations. I love Obama for so many reasons, but a standout one would be the time he broke down stereotypes when sorting Christmas toys for boys and girls.

The way we talk about fertilization itself is inherently flawed: the “one sperm to rule them all” was faster and stronger; the winner over all others after a fast-paced race that valiantly penetrates the egg as if conquering a foreign land. In reality, the egg exhibits the strength, reaching out and clutching its chosen sperm.

Traditional gender reveal photos and parties kind of tend to promote a socially constructed binary that excludes the full range of possibilities of what could be, and can also set expectations that can lead to parents and other family members questioning what they did “wrong” when a child grows to express themselves to be who they truly are, and not what everyone expected them to be. We can start to prevent this and promote acceptance, encouragement, and inclusion of our kids from birth by letting them be whatever they want to be, play with whatever they want to play with, work in the industries they want, kiss whoever they love, and dress however they desire. We should love each other for who we are, and not what others expect us to be.

I remember going to university with, and becoming quite good friends with someone I, at the time, had a crush on. He was in all my medieval history classes and drama classes, and the group we became friends with loved musicals. I remember after about a year, he came out as gay. He had such a hard time with it, because not only did one of his best friends at the time, a strong Catholic, shun him, but so did the church they went to together. He started questioning if he was not worthy of forgiveness and grace. It was heartbreaking. A few years later, I found myself needing a roommate. After a few interviews, we found the perfect person: a student, new to the city, who blogs, plays an instrument, and loves cats. He was kindhearted and shared so many of the same interests, and I was excited to be gaining a friend in the process. Curious, I found his blog – which was a series of video diaries of his journey transitioning from not only female to male, but straight to gay. To this day, he remains one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known, and I hated that people struggled with and found it so hard to accept his story. A few years ago, I joined my then-workplace’s LGBTQA network, volunteering to promote diversity and, luckily, getting to experience the Out and Equal Conference that year in Maryland. People asked my supervisors behind my back why I was involved. Was I a lesbian? (Did it matter?) Why should an administrative assistant be chosen as one of a dozen people from across the company worldwide to accompany senior leaders to an international event? Those leaders fought for me to go, and the experience was enlightening, inspiring, and also saddening – to see just how much work there still is to be done in terms of acceptance and inclusion. The discrimination still exists toward wonderful people who are punished or shamed for simply wanting to be who they are.

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I didn’t want to place any gender expectations on Snappy before even coming into the world. Traditional pinks and blues used to reveal gender may, in a way, put inadvertent expectations into place. This could affect how others view potential and capability, which can very much also affect how the kid will reflect on themselves. We meet the little girls of friends and relatives and compliment them on their pretty hair or dresses. What if all that little girl wants is to talk about the castle she just built out of Lego, or brag about her battle scars from climbing trees? She may grow to feel the things she loves are wrong, and later in life, that there is something wrong with her. No child should have to feel ashamed for liking or wanting what makes them happy just because as a society, we’re not quite there yet.

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So, I promised you a “gender reveal.” My true revelation is that while Snappy will be born without a penis, her gender can be whatever she grows to feel is right for her. If she wants to grow up wearing ruffles and flower crowns, playing with dolls and wearing skirts, we will embrace her inner princess. If she wants to help dad with house repairs and wear baseball caps, she can 100% do that, too. We decorated her nursery in grey and white, not pink and purple, with books on display and dreams to grow and explore. My hope is that she’s exposed to the enormous diversity this world has to offer, that she learns to explore and accept a wide range of gender types and feels free to explore without judgment. I hope she’ll feel happy and safe bringing anyone home for dinner, and will learn to see that humans are humans, people can be whatever they want to be, and that being yourself, whatever that happens to be, is never wrong.

We’re just over halfway to welcoming you to the world, Snap. I hope you know that whatever you do, whatever path you follow, whatever toys you want to play with and whatever you choose to become, you’ll be supported 100%.

Thank you to my friend Jensen at Pine and Birch for shooting these, my husband for his support in me expressing this, and my friends John, Jola, and of course Dave, who might have taken quite possibly the most epic maternity shot ever!

Protected: On change, resistance, and in response to those shocked by my pregnancy announcement. (I’d grab a cuppa – message me for password)

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“…And because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…” Contiki Honeymoon Part 1 of 3

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I’m back. I’ve been back in Winnipeg for about a week now, after a much-needed adventure overseas in lands vast and beautiful. J. and I had booked our honeymoon long before I lost my job (ironically scheduled to take place at the time my vacation days would kick in),  and though this meant zero employment insurance for three weeks (despite having used up my vacation payout to, well, survive since August), I tried my best to put aside my feelings of guilt and anxiety, leave the stresses of the preceding month behind, and venture off with my new husband who’d worked extra, incredibly hard to take care of us. We had three back-to-back Contiki trips planned (seriously, after last summer’s trip seeing what I think ended up being 14 cities in 16 days and meeting some of the best people I’ve ever known, this was the only way to travel – yes, even for a honeymoon!): Mainland Greece, a cruise through the Greek Islands, and a week in Ireland. #diversity.

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After a bit of a surprise getting to Winnipeg Airport, we soon discovered we wouldn’t be flying Air Canada, but instead Air Canada Rouge, their best kept secret for travellers on a budget whose retro idea of in-flight entertainment included such joys as Name That SmellAdventures With Strangers (Because You Aren’t Allowed To Sit Together), and Cake in the Face (and other surprise wake-up calls). Slightly baffled that a two-hour domestic flight came with a nice glass of wine and TV screens for all, yet 8+ hours across the Atlantic was to be spent wondering if that green sauce was actually food and playing the world’s most limited edition of I-Spy, we promptly took a couple of sleeping pills and attempted to knock ourselves out until we got to Greece.

We arrived in Athens to clear skies, warm temperatures, and the happiest taxi driver in the world, who ended up taking one of my EPs! We were dropped off at the lovely hotel a few hours before check-in, so ended up crashing in all our jetlagged glory with our suitcases in the lobby. We were to meet the rest of our group later that night, and after getting in to our room, taking in the view from the rooftop pool (no Ibis here!), and discovering iced coffee wasn’t going to be hard to find at all (“uhh, we’re kind of famous for it”), we met our first tour manager Alex and our group of fellow travellers for the next few days.

Our first day spent as a group started in Athens, where we ended up walking through the city centre, exploring the Plaka area and ending up at the most picturesque Greek scene for dinner, at a restaurant built over several areas up some steps canopied with a roof of open-air ivy and vines. Traditional dancers and ALL THE CATS (Greece = cat lady heaven) provided a gorgeous atmosphere, we dined, made new friends, and got to see the Acropolis all lit up under the moonlight. A beautiful first night topped off with a walk back where poor Alex was trying to give us a bit of a tour by night but we all got distracted by playing with the dog with a ball instead of paying attention to the story of the monument in the city square (oops).

Day two was pretty chocka. We began by hiking it up to the Acropolis and the Parthenon itself, which was nothing short of breathtaking – both in terms of view and for the less fit of us. Being at this spot, next to these impossibly big old structures (constructed in 447 BC and finished by 438 with no modern-day machinery? Somebody get those Greeks time-zapped over here to maybe do something about our roads!) completely reinspired my love of Greek mythology, and everything we learned was a brilliant combination of folklore, myth, belief systems, and history itself. We then trekked over to Mycenae to visit some cool tombs, took in Agamemnon’s Palace, where we learned tales of murder, incest, treachery and Troy, and ended the day in Olympia, where we spent the evening getting to know our new friends, played tonnes of games, drank one too many Mythos, and climbed a tree. My scrapes from falling out of it were nothing compared to the misadventures that ensued after we’d gone to bed – apparently poor Alex had been called at 3:00 a.m. to be informed that some of his group had launched themselves heroically from their second-floor balcony in an attempt at subterfuge so a fellow dedicated adventurer could go skinny dipping in the (very much closed) pool. Love you guys 🙂

Our second-last day of this trip began in Olympia, and the spot of the very first Olympic games in 776 BC. I wish you could capitalise numbers; the history of some of these places is mind-blowing. We had a really in-depth tour of the site of the games, met Olympic Dog, visited the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the exact spot the Olympic flame is lit every four years. Some of the guys took it upon themselves to have a race (James!! You’re supposed to win!), which was tonnes of fun, and we had a bit of time to ourselves to pick up some goodies and our first real gyros of the trip – HEAVEN! (They even put chips in them over there!) We had a stop in what might have been my favourite spot on this leg of the trip, the relatively untouristy little town of Nafpaktos. We all enjoyed the most turquoise water ever, splashing around, soaking up the sun, and a quick margarita before heading off to Delphi for a night of dancing in a local bar (we are feeling our age a bit on these nights, but I’ve decided that the Aussies are just born with the superpower of being able to drink copiously and constantly and still manage to be upbeat and functional the next day regardless), and a surprise – because it was our honeymoon, they’d arranged a special room for us in the hotel there – the actual Presidential Suite where Hillary and Bill had stayed!! It was breathtaking. I only wish we got to enjoy it for longer!

The final day of Spotlight on Greece I spent hanging with the girls at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Everyone was feeling slightly rough from the night before, but we had in front of us one of the most magnificent sights and amphitheatres, so we went for it and climbed as high as we could to enjoy the view!

After making our way back to Athens, we picked up some last-minute souvenirs, ate more gyros, and transferred to our new tour group for the Golden Fleece. Only three of our group were moving on to this next cruise, so we said our goodbyes and made our way to the next spot, where we’d be joining a new group to set sail through the Greek Islands on board the beautiful Celestyal Crystal. We’d already packed so much into four days I couldn’t believe we still had over two weeks left, and though I was sad to say goodbye to a couple of really awesome people (AJ, Steve, we’ll meet again, and Ashleigh and Carime, all the hugs in the world to you ladies), I was excited for another two Contikis and thirsty for more sun, sea, and mythology.

Stay tuned for parts two, three, and compilation video! 🙂

 

On guilt, whelm, ego, and not wanting to be helped.

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Taken by my husband. Somewhere, a cluster of stars is smiling. Can you see it too?

It’s day two of September, and I couldn’t be happier to see the arrival of a new month. I’ve found I like to divide life up into chapters – my Facebook albums are neat, chronologically organized, and cover a span of precisely six months; my 1 Second Everyday (sic) videos cover a month each; I had a 25 for 25 and a 30 Before 30. and my schedule is planned in week-long bursts on Google calendar. It’s slightly hypocritical of me to see the arrival of this month as a new beginning when I’m eternally professing not having to wait for a whole new day to reset a bad one, but sometimes it’s the little crutches that get us through.

Last time I wrote,  I’d just released my EP, summer had barely begun, and I was a week or two away from getting married. I hadn’t stopped all year; I was determined to get that CD complete before my 31st birthday rolled around, I wanted to book and shoot weddings, I was prepping for a house full of international friends and family here for my own, and Fringe festival was just around the corner. I was re-designing my website and painting my basement and I was so excited for it all, but, in keeping with my INFJ nature, equally excited for a bit of downtime come August. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll probably already know that August was quite possibly one of the worst, and busiest months I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed in life before that I’ve wondered whether my actions were consistent with what a complete mental breakdown would look like.

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Speaking of overwhelmed, as I sit here in a coffee shop listening to the bubbling chatter of the go-getting elderly and well-t0-do housewives (my favourite cafe has closed since I last visited), I wonder why nobody ever speaks of being “whelmed”. Is that a thing? And what’s the word for the actual state of being overly so? I feel that being someone who feels things at a greater extremity than what’s typically considered “normal”, I’m in a pretty constant state of being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion – and that’s normal for me. So when things go beyond that, not only do I feel like a failure for not being able to  handle things, I feel like an immense letdown to myself (I’m used to operating in stress mode; everything should be a breeze!) and to everyone around me, because I – and I’m finding, like most people – don’t actually want to be helped.

Break for a relevant quote I’d love the non-feelers to know about us emotional people:

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
Anthon St. Maarten

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Without feelings, there’d be no love, no friendship, no cheerleaders or causes to fight or stand up for, no compassion. Without logic, nothing would ever get planned, made, or achieved. We’re all different, and just because we may operate differently from those around us, doesn’t make our way of being any less valid. We fill in each others’ gaps in hardwiring.

Back to the point – lately (and by this, I mean over the past couple of years), I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in others as well as myself. Nobody talks about these things, but I feel that deep down, our own egos cause us to resist help – even at our most desperate. Around the time I turned thirty, I lost what were then my two closest friendships. (I think the story is in that last link somewhere.) This naturally threw my world into disarray – I willingly and continually suspend my disbelief for the illusion of permanence, and though all things must come to an end in some way or another, even if through the final act of exiting this world ourselves, it always catches me off guard. This happened again around Christmas time, when someone I’d known for years resurfaced in my life and we quickly began doing everything together, only to completely sever ties right before her wedding. This happens with those close to me regularly, and only now that I’m noticing it in myself am I starting to truly understand why. It’s because I’ve decided one of the primary legacies I want to leave is one of helping or improving the lives of others in whatever way I can, and ultimately, people don’t want to be helped. In its simplest form, my desire to help others robs them of control over their situation, and everybody wants to be in control of their own lives.

Take, for example, my old friend T. We so close we called each other sisters, but when life threw her what would ultimately end up a separation and then divorce, I went into rescue mode. I checked in every day so she wouldn’t feel alone (because I would want to know someone was thinking of me), but this soon became overwhelming to her. I started making lists, action plans, and scheduling dates to get together and hug and talk. I started analysing and problem-solving – but this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to figure things out for herself, because in life, I think the only true change or solution to a problem can last if we believe we created it ourselves. (And they say taking Psych in university is a waste of money.)

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Take my old friend M., who’d become recently engaged, and asked me to be one of her joint Maids of Honour, and whose wedding was suddenly brought forward an entire year, forcing it to be planned in a matter of weeks. I saw she was stressing about it, and once again, went into problem-solving mode. I offered to design invitations, craft with her, book some of my photography industry people for hair and makeup for her… all of which I thought were taking away from the stress, when in reality, I was taking away control. When our friendship ended, she was very frank – at the time, I was upset, but looking back, it’s become another piece of the pattern that’s teaching me why this keeps happening, and lessons like this are priceless when it comes to future happiness. Once again, something I thought was helpful was in fact harmful when viewed as “controlling” – the ego will always find a way to justify its need to be right. (Sidenote: please read this book if you’re at all interested in the psychology of human nature and learning about our built-in destructive tendencies.)

We don’t like to offer up control of our situations because in doing so, it tells us that somebody else knows better, and that’s something we don’t like to admit. It took me a while to figure this out because for the longest time, this didn’t make sense – I’d been trying to act as the friend, colleague, lover, or family member I’d want someone to be if I needed help – but now in a situation where I do, I find myself resisting in the same way. But in examining, I’m finding that awareness of this tendency is allowing me to understand what’s happened not just in the past, but also in the present, and I’ll remember this going forward for the rest of my life. So, as someone who a) derives meaning from helping others, and b) as someone who, just like everybody else, also needs help from time to time, what to do?

I think when it comes to others, it’s important to teach your brain the habit of attaching awareness to situations, so when ones come up that threaten your way of being, you learn to automatically think before acting, recognize that just as we all operate in different ways, we all also like to deal with our situations differently too, and the way I can personally best be there for others is to give them what they need at that moment, and not automatically go into fixing – or “controlling” mode. Internally, I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to being there for our loved ones, but if they are resisting, it’s probably because they want to figure the situation out for themselves, because that’s what will have the most meaning for them in the long run. Stop checking in on my schedule and try to get a handle on what they need themselves. Maybe people don’t need someone constantly asking if they’re okay, psychoanalysing things or offering up lists of solutions – maybe they just need to know you care, and figure things out on their own.

So why am I so overwhelmed; why am I in need of help right now? Two weeks after our wedding, I suddenly lost my job. The company had gone into creditor protection back in May, and everyone at head office was consistently told that things would be okay, and to operate as usual. Despite bills not being paid, and despite losing vendors and contractors as a result of owing and not paying. This continued to the day before the weekend after which we were all made redundant (I actually prefer the north American expression of being “laid off” here; it’s far less insulting!). We were all called into the board room and told that the company had been sold to a liquidator and would be going out of business by the end of 2016, but not to worry, we wouldn’t be coming back on Tuesday to locked doors or anything, and that we’d likely be okay until December. I was personally even told I’d be introduced to other potential prospects who showed an interest during the bid. That Tuesday came around, and I was out of the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon for an appointment. I got a text from my colleague, who informed me quite simply, that we were all done – that over half of head office staff were all told to hand in their IDs, given dismissal notices, and escorted out of the building. After months leading up to the wedding and not even a year into a mortgage, I had expenses, and naturally went into panic mode. This only escalated when I read the dismissal notice stating that as a result of being under creditor protection, we would be given no notice, no severance, and that any benefits would cease immediately. This being against the law, a few of us affected soon went to the Labour Board, who informed us that they could do nothing until the company was out of the protection period in December – and by the time that comes around, they’ll have declared bankruptcy, and would no longer be around to deal with anything. In other words: we were all screwed.

It’s been a month, and I’ve applied for Employment Insurance and filled out my reports, and I’m still in the waiting period. We pay so much into these programs while employed without any choice at all, yet when we need them most, it’s near impossible to get the help we need. We have to sit and wait while our case is analysed, continue reporting and jumping through hoops and trying to keep our spirits high while our bank accounts are steadily being drained simply by the cost of living, hoping that someone at the government will tell us eventually that we’ll be helped. I’m incredibly lucky in that my husband, being the smart man he is, started planning for this scenario back in spring when we were first informed the company was in trouble. He’s been able to help with my share of the mortgage and bills this past month, which I’ve felt awful about – in another life, without a credit card, I’d be out on the streets. But our joint account is being drained, and there’s still no hope in sight. I was paid out my vacation time accrued, which I was saving for some time in the future when I’d actually be on vacation, or toward finishing my album next year or equipment to hopefully grow a photography business – but after five weeks, I’m approaching zero, and those dreams have evaporated. The world’s expenses don’t stop just because your employment does.

A week after the layoff, I got the news that my grandfather had passed away, that my grandmother was now alone and already beginning the descent into dementia, and was halfway across the world. With no job, I couldn’t very well fly over there and be there, and it made me angry and sad. So I made some art instead.

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I also got the news that another member of my close family now had a cancer diagnosis, and got some medical results back myself that were also unfavourable. I also had to immediately get a new phone contract (having had a work device provided), and our area of the city, while absolutely lovely, also happens to be the Bermuda triangle of mobile phone reception, meaning climbing with a blanket to the top of a small mountain, building a fire, and sending a series of smoke signals usually has a better chance of conversational success. Responding to interview calls and trying to change my phone plan with the provider became so frustrating that I found myself shouting down the line from outside in the street as well as the very top of my house, and eventually bursting into tears and throwing the phone across the floor.

I also had to find a job as soon as possible, so I had to learn to hide my grief and panic, put on a face and go on as many interviews as I could land in the middle of summer when most executives are off on holidays, and convince countless people that I was a happy, competent, fun and skilled person they needed on their team. Putting on an act is something that does NOT come easily to someone with Fe, and after buying a house, getting married, losing a job and losing a family member – some of the biggest stresses in life one can ever experience – was not something that was easy, but it was something that was mandatory. I kept telling myself the same thing I’ve had printed and framed since 2009: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I cried a lot, and didn’t get to see any of my friends for weeks because I had so much to do. For a very short time, I hated the world. But it amplified my gratitude for having someone to hold my hand. For having a roof over my head. For the forced lesson in being strong.

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I had messages from people offering their support, each one of which also made me cry, because people cared. But I resisted their offers of help. Why? I think I told myself it was because I didn’t want to be a burden. August seemed like it was pretty shitty for a lot of people, and I didn’t want to turn to anyone with my problems if they were having some of their own, but why, logically, if they were offering? I fell into the trap of what we all seem to do, and justified my ego’s need to prove I could do it on my own. I exhausted myself with bottled emotion, explosions of emotion, and the guilt of having an endless need to be doing, and as a result, didn’t do myself – or anyone around me any favours. In refusing help, I did what my old friends did to me – robbed carers of that from which they derive personal meaning.

I made endless to-do lists now I suddenly had time for things, but none of the items I checked off made me feel any better. I wasn’t nurturing or looking after myself, I was doing what I convinced myself I needed to – driving from interview to interview, writing cover letter after cover letter, keeping spreadsheets of applications, filing my strewn paperwork and organizing all my digital files, making sure I was on top of housework, catching up on laundry, ironing, washing dishes and mopping floors every other day, applying for grants, finishing other people’s photos, clearing out clutter, and compiling a portfolio. All I wanted to do was write a song, make art, grieve, see friends, finish my current book, get back to working on my novel, write a blog post, finish my scrapbook from last year’s adventure and make one for the wedding, and take online classes to learn more about photography, audio engineering and web design, but I didn’t allow myself to accept help, or to do anything my soul actually needed, because my ego needed to reclaim its control on the situation that had become my life. Was it making me a better person? Did it make me feel any better? And was it letting me be a good person to be around for anyone around me? No, it overwhelmed me, and either hurt or stressed those around me watching it all happen.

August was a really, really hard month, but September is a new chapter. And the best protagonists in any story are the ones who learn lessons from their experiences. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about stress, and about my flawed tendencies lately. I’ve learned too that I can actually be strong when I need to be, and I’ve learned that the ego is far from being always right. I’ve learned to accept, and that it’s okay – even if the world seems like it’s ending – to take people up on their offers of help, as well as to take a little time to do the things my heart needs as well as the things my bank account does. Today, I indulge in reflection, writing, and singing. Last week, I wrote a song and learned a bit about mixing audio, and next week, I will start allowing myself to socialise again. I still struggle with the guilt of doing anything other than what’s strictly necessary, but I’m learning to practice being aware, being present, and to balance.

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That lesson in brevity will apparently sink in one day. Oh, and here are some fun photos from what actually was, for a hundred different reasons, the best day ever.

My last post…

…with my current name. In eleven days I will be marrying the love of my entire life, the one who has shown me more laughter, deeper feelings, bigger dreams, and magic realities than I ever could have dreamed of. I’ve been a little absent from this corner of the Internet lately, but all for very good reasons!

So I didn’t win the Searchlight contest. I did make the top Manitoba pick in the semi-finals though, and I did however also release the EP!! I needed to do this before 30 was up. From about last November to mid-June, we started with a living room cellphone recording of a song I was going to throw away, to a 5-track record that’s currently in international hands, in local shops, playing on some radio stations, and on iTunes and Spotify (please follow!). I can’t believe it. I can’t believe the outpouring of kindness, encouragement, time, and talent from others, half of whom I didn’t even know existed a year ago. I can’t believe people wanted me to sign it. I can’t believe some things I wrote on a tiny ukulele are now so full of depth and richness and other voices and instruments. I can’t believe it’s real.

Now Available

How do you do justice to the amount of gratitude you feel when your feelings are so much bigger than the language that exists to describe them? I’m more than thankful. There’s no word for that. So many hours were put into this – not just by me, but by everyone involved – other musicians, my producer, who spent countless hours working not just on the songs but the videos too – oh yeah, there’s a new one of those too – all those involved in mixing, mastering, shooting, being on film, and everyone that came to the launch/birthday party. To have had a dream literally be plucked out of my head and taken safely into the hands of the most incredible team, and then given back even shinier and more magical than I ever could’ve imagined… it’s more than humbling. It’s a gift from the universe.

Launch party

This video was released the same day as the record, and involved almost two months of filming, several trips to different parks and forests, lots of mosquito bites, singing in the woods to passers-by, stepping repeatedly in deer poo because I love being barefoot and can’t see anything without my glasses on, wood ticks, viking vests, piggy backs, drumsticks made of branches, climbing abandoned houses, and battles against the weather, but I am THRILLED with it and everything was so worth it. This one was directed, filmed and edited by Dave Swiecicki, mastered by Jamie Sitar, colour graded and stylized by Jeff Gordon of JAG Videos and Photography. Huge thanks also to Jason Gordon at Studio 11 for producing along with Dave, Murray Krawchuk, Luke Janzen, Sari Habiluk, Roger Fournier, Paul Little, James Culleton, Jason Gordon, Dale Brown, Rob Watson, Alex Edye, Rahim… and Robert Wilson for the use of his trunk! I hope you like it:

(Click here if you’re getting this via e-mail and the video isn’t showing :))

People seemed to like Polaris a lot, but the response to this one has been equally positive, which takes me by immense surprise considering it was the first song I ever wrote in my life!! It’s definitely come a LONG way (wanna see something terrible?? #progress!!), and it’s all thanks to the magic of what others can hear in something new, unfinished, and awful lol. I did a lyric post for Polaris, and I think it’s really interesting reading the story behind other artists’ lyrics, so I should probably do a quick one for this, too. Polaris was written about a job I quit because I was surrounded by people focused so much on the unimportant trivialities of life and losing sight of the big picture – it’s something I find we do all too easily, getting caught up in fleeting emotions that won’t be remembered a week from now, and I think it’s important to recognise that and ask ourselves, is this worth it? Because the answer is usually no, yet our pride convinces us otherwise.

The Triad and the Harvest Moon, as I mentioned, was the very first song I wrote. I wrote it just to see if I was able to write a song – if you know me, you’ll know that brevity isn’t exactly my forte, and it was a challenge to myself to see if I could tell a story in under four minutes. And somehow it worked! I caught the songwriting bug and I kept going. This was based, three years ago, on a midnight adventure I’d had with my boyfriend at the time. We’d gone for a walk down by the river, and there was this giant orange moon suspended in the sky. I’d like to think it was a harvest supermoon 🙂 We’d stopped to look at it, and from where we were on the path, the branches of a tree formed a triangle that framed it. “Triangle” had too many syllables, however, for my song 🙂 The chorus, about looking “to the stars, a reminder of the place that we call home” is a nod to the star stuff from which we’re all made; interconnectedness with other human souls.

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It turned into a “very Manitoba” (as my neighbour said) upbeat folk love song, about new love, secrets adventures, and the beauty of the universe; one I’d like to think anyone in those new stages of excitement can relate to. It’s a happy song, not too entrenched with symbolism this time, but a hand clapper and hopefully a bit of a foot stomper. I hope you like it 🙂 Oh, and there’s a mailing list now! I’d love it if you joined. I promise no spam, only fun, news, events and adventures.

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Now? Well, first step, get married, and then straight back to the studio! Three more songs are written, with another three underway, and the goal is to have a full-length album in time for the new year. If I can get a band together (we all recorded our parts separately at different times!), then maybe even some live shows. I’ve learned I can perform (something I never thought I could do) if I’m up there with other musicians, but I still struggle to do so solo. And I think that’s okay. Maybe I’m not meant to perform solo. Maybe I was just supposed to get these songs out into the world. And now they’re out there, floating about, falling into different people’s lives. I’d love to know where they’re being heard. In kitchens, cooking; in cars on the way to an adventure… the world becomes pretty magical when you’ve made something that wasn’t there before. Especially when so much of that magic is thanks to such an incredible team. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who’s shared this journey with me. So much love to you all.

When you wish upon a star…

… or perhaps the Moon, magical things can start to happen.

It’s been a busy few months since I last wrote, but busy with all sorts of adventures! J. and I are well into our first six months of home ownership, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster – every day I am in awe that I find myself in the most beautiful home I could’ve wished to spend my days in, but along with snow melting, we’re finding some interesting things to deal with, too. Like the fact that the previous owners poured a bunch of concrete over the sewage output, leaving absolutely no access to it (and definitely no X marking the spot under our lovely new carpets), so after several days of no water, jack hammering up the basement, striking gold (and by gold I mean what looked like miles of tangled dead animals), and covering it all up again… we can now wash our pants and flush toilets again. Huzzah!

Photography over winter has been slower, but this month wedding season kicks off again, and I’m also dying to show you some images I did for a big national commercial campaign! I’ve been trying all sorts of different shoots lately, learning lighting, and doing fun projects involving hopping into baths full of milk with my subjects – you can see some of my new images on my Facebook page.

But the BIG news lately has all been about music. I think last time I wrote, I was trying to raise funds to produce a little EP of a  handful of songs I’d written over the last couple of years. As of now, the EP is almost fully DONE, I was featured in a local paper, I have a music video, got local radio play, national play the very next day, and am somehow in CBC Music’s Searchlight contest 2016!

I need to take a step back for a moment. I need to reflect on the whirlwind that has been not just the last six months, but the last week. I need to let this sink in. Because when you wish upon a star, sometimes your dreams really do come true.

Exciting times! Had my first press interview for a local paper recently, had my first local radio airplay (reaction of which was filmed and kind of went all over Twitter…), and ended up being interviewed on CBC Radio the very next day. We finally recorded the video for Polaris, which was originally scheduled to be launched into the world a little closer to EP release this June, but it seems a chance submission I took into a national music contest liked it enough to include me in the first round, so it’s now live!

Originally we’d planned a wonderfully wintery outdoor shoot, but Winnipeg (being Winnipeg) had other plans – recording day arrived, and so did a giant weather warning of extreme cold and imminent blizzard-like conditions. (I can just about handle my minus tens, but minus forties in a dress… perhaps not so much!) Nobody wanted to give up, so we headed to Dave’s trusty all-purpose studio, where I stood in front of a white background, swayed around a bit… and lo and behold, we have a video!

I wanted to share a little about this song, too – my father recently asked me to sing at his upcoming wedding, and asked if the track would be appropriate. I couldn’t think of anything less appropriate for a wedding – though it may sound a bit power-ballad-y, the sentiment of the song isn’t about love at all. In the lead-up to the EP release (and during the course of this competition), I’ll be breaking down the lyrics to some of these tracks, and hope you enjoy learning a bit about the stories behind them.

I have the lyrics up to all the songs here, but if you wanted to read along, Polaris is:

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld

There’s thieves in my head and there’s a fire in my chest
And a madness that rides along the star-wind

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

The compass is a lie, leaves you washed up in turbulent tides
And what’s true is fighting for survival

But there are whispers instead, a rush of light soaring straight to your head
And you’ll find this is where the real adventure lies

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

You know it’s easy to fall into the mould
They’ll think you crazy, but you’ve got a hand to hold
And a wild heart, and a head that’s full of dreams
Don’t coast through when your spirit’s meant to gleam

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld

In all honesty, this song was written after I quit a job I’d been at for a grand total of five months. It took a number of hoops to jump through in order to land the position, and I was so excited to begin… but things aren’t always as they seem behind closed doors. An organization that appeared to exist with a vibrant culture of enthusiasm and creativity was filled on the inside with reports, numbers, and a group of people that I just didn’t fit in with. In all my adult life, I’ve never really had trouble fitting in – when I visited Vancouver for the first time, I was quickly dubbed “professional friend maker” – so working in an environment where I felt deliberately excluded was… difficult. I don’t know the reason for it. Although I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with MBTI.

When I was hired, I took one of my favourite things – a psychometric test! I really believed that a company that would even invest in something like this as part of an onboarding process was one I’d really do well in – but alas. I received my scores, and quickly got involved in making a “corporate culture book” in which I got to interview all members of staff, get to know them personally, and include their results as well as a write-up on what they did, what they were passionate about, and who they were as people. I love stuff like this. When I’d finished, we had an all-staff meeting to discuss our results. Staff were broken down into their respective results groups – leaders, strategists, planners, competitors, etc. I was the only member of staff who scored empathy. This should have been my first clue. #INFJproblems

Four months into the job, my grandmother passed away. It had been a gradual decline, one that was made worse by living halfway across the world. I was in the middle of an evening assignment for work taking part in a tour I had to do a writeup on when I saw my phone ringing. I knew – I don’t know how I knew, but I knew this was going to be the call with the dreaded news. I had no choice – I couldn’t answer it, but as soon as the tour was over, I called back. My world froze. She’d gone. My beautiful nan who’d pretty much raised me as a child, who taught me all sorts of life lessons, who made me feel like her pride and joy right up until the end – had passed. I spent the evening with my father, holding each other, crying, telling stories… and informed my work that I might be off for a couple of days.

I returned to two things later that week: 1. Another member of staff had also had a family member pass in the same week. There were e-mails upon e-mails in my inbox talking of gathering donations, delivering flowers, signing cards for her. I felt awful someone else was going through similar pain. But I also felt… perhaps wrongly so, but a slight tinge of anger. There was nothing acknowledging my grandma’s passing. There was nobody asking if I was doing okay; quite the opposite – people were upset I was now two days behind on work and quickly put me straight back to it. My CEO was out of the country at this point on work business, but e-mailed to see how I was doing. I appreciated this immensely – despite being thousands of miles away, she took the time to make sure I was holding up okay. I let her know what had happened upon my return and that I was a little upset about it on top of the grief – it’s not like I’d wanted any recognition or bouquets or anything, but for not a single soul to ask if I was okay, while someone else was showered in sympathy? It stung a little bit. Forgive me if that makes me sound like a terrible person.

Long story short, CEO calls supervisor. Supervisor becomes irate that I spoke to someone above her, calls me into the office for a highly unpleasant and insulting conversation, where I decided that I could not work in a place that had so little heart, so little regard for human beings as humans and not just worker bees. I left that day, and amidst job searching, decided to write this song.

Verse one:

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld
There’s thieves in my head and there’s a fire in my chest
And a madness that rides along the star-wind

I’ve always been sensitive. A favourite quote by one of my favourite writers (an action figure of whom sits atop my desk): “Beauty, of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” Another: “She said she usually cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short.” This is what got me about that situation. Our life on this earth is finite. My first verse reflects the north star, Polaris, as the direction to aim for in a journey – and that if it doesn’t feel right, if you have a gut feeling that’s slightly off, then it’s not the right path for your journey. Life bleeding into the dreamworld was the frustration I felt at my everyday invading my dreams, thieves in my head telling me it’s simply what I had to do to make a living, stealing my time away from what felt right – from the fire in my chest – and thinking that this mode of living is like some form of madness. We are born into the world where creativity is encouraged, and as we become adults it is squashed out of us in favour of the mundane, bill-paying things. It’s sad, and it’s mad.

Chorus:

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

This is what I want people to remember. I want people to remember that current occupations, chores, reports, fallings out – should never eclipse what’s most important in life. I’ve always tried my best to live life with the knowledge of life’s ephemerality in the back of my mind – not to be morbid, always thinking that one day the hourglass will run out – but to always remember that each waking moment is a gift, and at the end of this life, it’s not the things we place such weight on in the immediate moment that we’ll look back on and think of time well spent. It’s the moments we made a difference, the moments we explored the world, or the moments we were there for a friend, the moments others were there for us, the moments we loved and the moments we saw each other as real human beings. It’s easy to get caught up in the temporary, but it must never eclipse the eternal. The next verse echoes this theme, into another (more punchy) chorus.

The compass is a lie, leaves you washed up in turbulent tides
And what’s true is fighting for survival
But there are whispers instead, a rush of light soaring straight to your head
And you’ll find this is where the real adventure lies

The bridge talks about my desire to always be there for others, and harkens back to my anxiety-ridden days when all I wished for was to be able to unleash everything on the inside out into the world, but feeling so trapped – like nobody would notice, that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I was in the grips of fear and I had no way out of my shackles. I desperately want people to know that if they have a dream, they can make it happen – and I’ll be there cheerleading the whole way.

You know it’s easy to fall into the mould
They’ll think you crazy, but you’ve got a hand to hold
And a wild heart, and a head that’s full of dreams
Don’t coast through when your spirit’s meant to gleam

That last line is a bit of a dedication to a friend of mine back in the UK, who told me once when I first joined a singing class, that we don’t have these burning passions and dreams inside us for no reason – if we feel so strongly about creating or doing something meaningful with our lives, then we have every obligation to do so. We don’t feel this way for nothing. We feel this way because this is what we are supposed to be doing.

The response to this song, even though it hasn’t got too far out of the harbour yet, has been overwhelming. I received a message last night from someone in another part of the country I’ve never met that moved me to tears. She’d experienced a horrible loss of a spouse, and had been feeling terrified of living alone in the aftermath, also dealing with all sorts of fear and anxiety. She heard my radio interview where I opened up about the journey from there to here (an ongoing journey I’m sure will never be complete, but one that will be full of growth and adventure!), and reached out to me.

“We are the only ones holding ourselves back, I am proof of that and so are you. You might be able to sing and create while living in sheltered security, but your song is much more beautiful if you open the door and sing it as a free bird, not a caged one. K. I’m going to do it. Your lyrics in Polaris, as I am interpreting them for my circumstance, has given me the kick I needed… Thank you for inspiring me. Since his passing I’ve been asking myself “what now?”, what is expected of a grown woman with adult children, right? What do I do with my time left? Where do I go from here? My answer is to love, it’s as simple as that and to be there for my children, and to experience joy, but I’m a simple person without a bucket list as every day is a gift, but I feel that now is my time to create. Since I was a young child I always wanted to be a famous writer and I’ve been writing since then, literally. Thank you. Take care. And good luck. I have a sticky note in my daybook that reads “vote for Emily” so I don’t forget.”

I couldn’t be more humbled, or more honoured. This contest isn’t about winning. This is just a song I hope reaches and touches people, that asks them what’s important in life, and lets them know they’re not alone.

That said, if you DO want to take two seconds and vote for me, just click here. 🙂 Soon I’ll share a clip of when I first wrote it in its rawest form, with just little old me in my living room and a cheap ukulele!