The bad news: Nothing lasts forever. The good news: Nothing lasts forever.

This week, other than band practice, a tattoo appointment and a Friendsgiving potluck at the end of the week, I have nothing. It’s strange, yet not, how my introversion kicks in sometimes – I’m told more and more as of late, especially by those close to me now who never knew me when I was an entirely different person, that me being an introvert comes as a surprise. That I should be on the stage; that I love dressing up and going out in public; that I make people laugh; that I’m a social butterfly. That I’m a complete extrovert. These words make me feel accomplished, more than anything – for those that have been with me for a while will remember, perhaps not quite so well as I, the many years I spent a hostage of fear and anxiety, desperate to possess half an ounce of confidence or self-belief, wishing so much I had the social skills that would attract people into my life and make them want to be around me, to impress, or sobbing into a pillow every night convinced I was everybody’s last choice. That nobody would miss me should I not be here, because I never had the courage to allow what’s inside to be seen externally. I used to fill up my weeks with plans because I craved the company of others, yet the desire was eternally outweighed by the fear of not being good enough, and I’d end up cancelling, and lonely, and upset with myself. These days my schedule seems to fill itself, and I find myself on the other end of the spectrum – busy, social, incredibly thankful, yet sometimes a little thirsty for what always terrified me most: solitude.

It’s strange how much the tables have turned. But then again, perhaps they haven’t. I still have moments where I find myself scared – of performing a song I wrote in front of people (yet I can karaoke in front of a room of strangers), of speaking on the spot in a meeting, or of others seeing the things I still sometimes see in myself. All of the flaws. I’ve worked so hard on embracing so many of the things that drove me to my darkest hour, and I feel more gratitude than I could ever express being in a position I’d only ever dreamed possible, but still, sometimes they sneak in.

Only occasionally, though. For the most part, I’m exactly where (and who) I always wished I’d be. I have deep, deep friendships with a few – “best” friendships, after never knowing what that could possibly feel like. I have independence and a sense of self worth I never imagined could belong to me. I let everything that begins as a tiny ember in the heart of my imagination burn brightly, so bright it spills into the outside world and I don’t care whether or not I’ll be judged for it, or if it’s odd. I don’t think any of us have these creative desires for nothing, and if we fail, we fail. At least we tried. At least there’ll be a record of our mind’s existence in this world.

So it’s been a couple of years of fierce determination, but I’m finally on the right path. I make music, I write stories, I make strange Facebook statuses about the sky. I try singing, I try taking photographs, and I try being in them, then re-working them to become the magical things I see through the lens of my imagination.

All of it’s a work in progress, but with passions, I think when they’ve spent far too long being stifled by your own fear, when you have the chance, you have to grab onto the time you have and unleash them into a creative explosion. Time is so fragile, and is stolen so quickly.

Tonight I sit in my new house, my housemate upstairs and a few hours before bed, alone. On one level I feel more connected and alive than I ever have; on the other, a sense of isolation so grand it almost evokes the feelings I used to have. But I’m stronger now. I have a tenor ukulele beside me, another laptop to my right, a glass of wine on the table, a few Photoshop windows open, a website half designed, a folder of sheet music in front of me along with a stack of stationery and postcards. I have so many things to put out into the world. Songs, videos, letters to loved ones, magical images. A sense of guilt hangs over me because I didn’t include storytelling in the list, and I’m desperate to write another chapter in my book, a short story inspired by a writing prompt, and another for the Hallowe’en season. I have tonight to myself, and so much with which to fill the hours. Hours to myself I’ve craved for what seems like months. I’m simultaneously overwhelmed and concerned. Not enough time for all I want to make, yet too much to spend alone. I haven’t felt the latter in an eternity, but I’ve recently had a bit of a deja-vu, in the worst way possible.

Years ago, when I was messed up, an emotional wreck and had yet to deal with my anxiety problem and insecurities, I lost friends. I hadn’t yet experienced a true, authentic, adult connection with another (platonic) soul, and those I had meant everything to me. I used to feel so much that I didn’t belong that anyone who stayed was absolutely cherished. But in the end, nobody did. I convinced myself it was because I was too much of an anomaly for this world; I felt too deeply, I was into too many different things, I was both silently passionate and loudly awkward, and I didn’t seem to fit in to anyone’s life well enough to stay. This was half a decade ago. In the last few years, I’ve learned how to fend for myself. To acknowledge the true power that lies in simple acceptance, rather than trying to control. To remain calm, and to train myself to capture any stray thought that may wander into the land of old and reform it into something new. Something real. To insist on living in the worlds inside my own head only if they are worlds of wonder and awe and inspiration. Not imaginings of others’ thoughts or intents or worst case scenarios. I used to believe every fear inside my head was intensely real and react accordingly. No wonder I was such a mess. Now I sit on the other side – though my feet sometimes dangle – and I know exactly what’s true. I believe in myself. I know my own worth. I continually learn, create, and push myself, and by doing so, somehow I’ve ended up with incredible people in my life. Intense kinship, for lack of a less fancy word, the likes of which I used to wish for so desperately. Yet tonight, I feel alone.

I lost people recently. One person in particular, who’s been in my life for over a decade, and has been one of the biggest parts of it in recent years. Relatedly (because it sounds otherwise), I’ve spent this entire year single. For the first time in my life, it was through choice. I’d experienced such depth of connection that I was sure nothing could possibly live up to it, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. In my younger years, my self esteem came from being with someone else. I was terrified to be alone. This year, I knew because I had experienced it, that what I wanted was possible. That maybe I actually deserved it. And I wasn’t going to take anything that I knew wouldn’t be that. My dearest friend, who I’ve come to see over the years as family, confessed his feelings for me a few times this year. Each time, I felt terrible saying they weren’t reciprocated in that way, but that he was the most important person in the world to me. He’d always say it was mutual, and that he’d get over it because we were going to be best friends “for life.”

Anyone would be lucky to have a best friend like this. We shared everything; celebratory wine on the good days and emergency car wine on the bad. Lengthy handwritten birthday cards, text reminders every day that no matter what, somebody cared about you more than anything in the world. Adventures in creativity, in other cities, pyjama nights and our innermost secrets, knowing they would always be safe. Trusting the words that no matter what, we would always, always have each other. Last week, this was taken away, and it threw everything I knew into disarray. My best friend is gone, because I said once and for all, I wasn’t “available” in that way. Ironically, this person was always the one to stand up for me if ever I was wronged, saying “talk is cheap,” and to look at people’s actions. His action in leaving my life defies every word he ever said, and I feel like somebody has died. Except worse than died, because I know he’s still right there, just choosing to no longer be around. I’ve been strong, but I’ve also broken down a few times. Old thoughts of years ago have stirred in my soul and I’ve begun to question again if anything could possibly ever be sincere. I believed with all my heart for years. But at the end of the day, everybody, even those you feel bound to for life… everybody leaves. And life is better for having had them.

I know in a former life this would have broken me. That I would have believed myself to be so very broken that nobody could possibly want to stay. But being on my own this whole year has brought a kind of strength – a lesson that sometimes, you kind of have to be your own superhero, because nobody is going to save your own day but you. It makes me sad to say that, because I was always the most hopeless of romantics, the most fanciful of dreamers, the believer of fairytales and human goodness and bonds that would transcend most anything. It hurts my heart to admit that I of all people have become jaded. Yet at the same time I feel a tiny bit proud, knowing after so many years of darkness, I can hold myself up and know that I’m good enough on my own.

Tonight, for the first in a very long time, I feel lonely. But I also know that I can choose to accept that. See the countless things in my life that I have now that I wished for for so long. Recognise that I have no control over anything but my own actions, and with reminders of appreciation, accept. I feel lonely. But I feel incredibly grateful, for too many things to list, and because of that, strong.

On not blowing myself up, and how digital serendipity forever changed my heart

I’m sitting a few hundred thousand feet in the sky somewhere between Alberta and Manitoba, having left behind that magical city once again. I remember the very beginning of summer, when I found myself unemployed and was gifted (along with the time to do so) a surprise trip out to Vancouver, and I fell endlessly in love with it. The end of August, when I’d booked my original first trip, seemed so far away. Now both trips are behind me and I’m filled with a sadness that it’s all over, but a sadness that’s infinitely outweighed by gratitude, wonder, and hope.

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ll probably know that the lead-up to this trip was a little on the Sod’s Law end of crazy. I’d just started a new job, which I absolutely love to pieces and has made me feel incredibly welcome, appreciated, and has given so much in the way of encouragement, freedom, and patience. I feel creative, connected, and thoroughly enjoy each and every day I spend there. (Seriously, they let me run with this idea my first week on the job – just wait until you see what I get to do for Hallowe’en!)

10383006_10152662721309171_274438477794558083_nThey’ve also been ridiculously kind and patient with All The Things – lending me a vehicle when I accidentally spilled nine litres of kerosene all over the carpets of mine and spent two weeks driving around inhaling it; helping me with a rental car; allowing me the flexibility to make up time I had to take for, you know, being horribly ill and having to go get insurance and convince MPI I wasn’t an insane person. (The bulk spillage of fuel after carrying it around in your car for old-timey writing by oil lamp purposes apparently isn’t the most common of situations.)

So, the car almost blew up. I kind of poisoned myself. I had to spend a bunch of money to re-paint my entire apartment in order to be able to sublet. I had to pack up, hire movers (who showed up while I was still asleep and not finished packing or painting), and then spend the rest of the day frantically packing everything else and transporting it over myself (with the help of my wonderful father). The cleaner I’d hired did her thing, only to have my walk-through with the caretakers the next day fail miserably in that she’d taken the money, done an atrocious job, and I subsequently wasn’t going to get my damage deposit back. I couldn’t fix it, because I was getting on a plane. Then my mail redirection started being sent to my father’s house, because apparently having the same last name means we are the same person… didn’t have time to unpack in my new house, left my cat with a new environment, new people, and basically got onto the plane to Vancouver a complete wreck. Huzzah!

But oh, the difference twenty-four hours can make! I arrived, met by my best friend at the airport, and we laughed as my suitcase came off the plane vibrating loudly enough that it sounded like drilling from below. I had a little bit of a cry on the beach… but it was a beach. It was 11:00 at night and my face was kissed by a warm sea breeze and my eyes by glittering stars. We lay on the sea wall and broke open some emergency car wine and plastic cups, and I went off into the night to begin a BC adventure all over again.

Sky

The Artist and I spent the first day basking in the sun, devouring the best food in the world (when I inevitably move there, I like to think I’ll be healthy, with all the hills and walking and stuff, but I know I’ll turn into the poorest, fattest foodie on the coast). We sunbathed, and I began my mission to have a selfie with a seagull (preferably with one stealing food from my hand. It’d be awesome!). We ate sushi covered in coconut, sat on a beachside patio at an Irish Pub while tourists waved at us all covered in our tattoos, and met with friends to watch the most glorious of sunsets before a catch-up movie night. Every sense was set alight that day, and I felt an even stronger sense of belonging than before.

Cloud

The next day, BFF and I spent a day with the goal of touching the sky and the sea in the same day. We went up a mountain and wandered around in actual clouds. I can’t describe how awestruck I was by the whole experience. Walking, outside, as clouds slipped through our fingertips and swathed over the trees and fellow explorers, was enchanting. I felt like I should have worn black and taken some badass goth horror shots up there; a silhouette against the mist that swallowed up the trees. I touched the sky, and then we went to the complete opposite of a mountain: Lynn Canyon.

Canyon

The scale of these trees is far too immense to describe, but we trekked through them, down woodland steps made of roots, across a suspension bridge, down into the valley where we sat on rocks with our ukuleles and I slipped and fell and learned that my brain’s reflex is to save the camera, not myself, which was rather amusing, even if I was left a tad bruised and soaking wet. We ran into musicians in the forest, who asked us to play with them, and we headed for the beach to end the day with our toes in the ocean. All these things in a single day. Have I said yet how much I love this city?

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I was so thankful to get to spend time with The Oneironaut and his beautiful lady, with whom I’ve taken to exchanging postcards and letters through regular mail. We had a fantastic writing session, and I was gifted a lovely notebook, inscribed with a message I’ll cherish, and I learned a few new exercises to get the creative juices flowing before settling down for a full-on writing session. We had the most incredible sushi under strange sculptures of mythical creatures hanging overhead, and though our visit was brief, it was wonderful. It’s funny how much you can come to care about people you’ve only met twice in person through a random encounter with digital serendipity.

GastownI revisited Gas Town, the closest place to York I’ve come across since moving across the Atlantic. Took in a ghost tour, and spent the rest of the night on cobblestoned streets, hopping from pub to pub, drinking expensive Pimm’s at bars lined with gas lamps and cocktails made with antiquey-looking tonic water. I may have stolen a little bottle to keep with my ever-growing collection of Vancouver mementos. We visited the steam clock, and I felt thoroughly at home talking with strangers about ghost stories and travel adventures, wearing things I might feel uncomfortable in in Winnipeg, but so very comfortable in there. I felt like some kind of time travelly, Victorian, sciencey artist-type, and that it was okay to be one there.

I visited the magical places where video games are made, saw my friends make great music and great art, went to an awesome comedy show, reconnected with the lovely lady I met on the plane last time I visited (who was reading the same fantastic book as me!), and we shared a hipster lunch and fancy Italian coffee. I went to geek heaven, in the form of the INSANELY cool Storm Crow Tavern (seriously, can I get on this? I’d be a great nerd pub owner), where you could roll a 20-sided die for a random nerd shot (including the – be still my heart – Sonic Screwdriver!), dine under the Temple of Cthulu, and the bar had a battle-axe high above it, in a broken case, with the words “in case of zombies, break glass.” The entire menu, design, layout, and feel of the place was incredible (from the TARDIS back door to the multi-gender, multi-species toilet signs), and I would very much like that to be my local.

I realise I’m already sitting at over a thousand words here, but I have another story I need to tell involving one of the biggest instances of Decent Human Being-ness I’ve ever experienced. Two days into the trip, I lost my laptop. The machine I take with me everywhere that has all my writing, every photo, memory, and every piece of art I’ve spent hours making on it. Luckily, my skills in Sherlockery are pretty fantastic, and I narrowed down the place I was sure I’d left it pretty quickly. Unfortunately, this place was closed for the long weekend, not opening again until the day after I was set to return to Winnipeg, so I spent the rest of the trip feeling a little bit like I’d lost an appendage, and hoping desperately my powers of deduction weren’t going to fail me.

Flash back a little while, and shortly before I arrived in Vancouver I’d received a message, from a perfect stranger who’d happened to find me online, read my blog, and sent me a beautiful message that made my heart smile.

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love new friends! And lo and behold, I just so happened to be in Vancouver. I went for brunch with this person, who was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with, and we talked about the laptop, amongst other things. He had a bit of an old clunker and was in the market for a new machine, and asked what I’d been using, the specs, etc. We went to the Apple store and I recommended the Macbook Air wholeheartedly. Soon enough, he bought one, and I told him how much he was going to love it. He said I needed something to be able to keep doing what I’m doing, and said “how about this: I lend this to you, and if yours shows up next week, you can just send it back to me. If it doesn’t, then hang on to it, and you can pay me back if you want to.” I didn’t know what to say. An act of pure human kindness – I was kind of speechless, and I hope very much it wasn’t taken as anything but gobsmacked gratitude! I assured him he’d be seeing it again, and came home with a new machine I could keep creating on, and a new friend.

Sometimes we become so used to the world just being full of the mundane, full of people doing shitty things to each other, full of drama or heartache or bad luck, that genuinely pure acts of human decency and generosity take us by surprise. I’ve always found it slightly sad that sincere kindnesses are such a rarity they raise eyebrows, or evoke questions of ulterior motives. It’s been a personal mission for a long time to do everything I can to change this “norm” – to tell important people I love them, to send postcards in the mail for no reason, to pay for a stranger’s coffee or to give a lift to someone without a car. These little things are questioned, but I do them anyway. And to be the recipient of something so immensely good and kind took me by surprise, and words cannot describe my gratitude. The good news is that my detective skills were as sharp as ever, and my original laptop was found safe and brought home by a friend who was visiting the week after I’d left – every piece of art in tact (and desperately begging to be backed up!).

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I’ve been to Vancouver twice now in two months, and every time it burrows its way into my heart even harder, painting the walls with its warmth and beauty, kindness and brilliance. That place is full of some of the most talented, creative, genuine, wonderful souls I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and as a result of clicking on one artist’s page somewhere on the Internet back in January, my life has forever been changed for the better. Wonderful new friends. Magical experiences. Tattoos, sights, and a burning fire of inspiration. Now to try not to think about the fact that my favourite band in the world are going to be in that city in four short weeks… this is going to be quite the test in willpower 🙂

Live to the point of tears: Fringe 2014

Winnipeg Fringe 2014

I didn’t realise it until a few days in, but this year marked my ten year anniversary of being a Fringer. Winnipeg Fringe is always the highlight of my year—I write about it every year probably with more passion than anything else because it invariably excites my soul to the point of bursting. Diving into ten days of such an explosion of creativity (seriously, this year we had over 175 different shows of every genre you could dream of), where the Exchange District ignites with passion and people pour torrentially to fill the streets, all sharing a common passion for art and theatre and these brilliant creations of the human mind… it’s like throwing yourself to the bottom of a lake and instead of drowning, thriving; soaking in every ounce of imagination as it fuels a burning excitement that lasts the entire festival.

Fringe 2014I love the Fringe. I haven’t found another city that does it as perfectly as this one. It becomes a community, and for ten glorious sun-filled days, you live it. You feel a connection to everyone you see sharing it, enjoying it as much as you do. People come from everywhere on the planet to see or share amazing stories and performances, and the excitement and adrenaline and sheer connectedness that fills you as you take part in something amazing spills into the time between, which of course, turns into adventures. I don’t know what it was about this year (although I suspect being temporarily unemployed, as well as living without roommates for the first time had something to do with it), but Fringe 2014 was filled with a magic I’ll never forget.

Let’s start with the fact that one of my dearest friends in the world spent the festival with me. One of the great things about the festival is that it gives you the chance to billet performers—have someone who’s in town to do a show live with you for their tie in the city. Shelby comes up from LA every year and has been staying with me for a decade, now, and it’s always brilliant. Some years we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like because I’m working, or he’s doing multiple shows, but this year, I had all the time in the world and he had a good number of days off, and we celebrated by throwing ourselves into all sorts of adventures with the most wonderful people I know.

In ten years, I’d never shown him anywhere outside the city, so we jumped in the car and headed south, accompanied by the best of soundtracks, and shot down the highway framed in endless fields of yellow. We found my favourite old barn and we waded through wild gold and we climbed to the rafters. We took pictures as the sun sank over the prairie horizon and left us with soaring trails of pink to light our way to an abandoned ghost town. We explored houses that looked as though they were straight out of a horror movie, scared ourselves with imaginings of what may lay in the basements, and ventured into a deserted church with only an oil lamp and a handful of stories. We sat on the balcony (or whatever that upper level of churches is called), lit candles, and marvelled at a silence thicker and heavier than the blackness surrounding. We read, we found creepy poems posted on the walls, and we left the memory written in a strange guestbook.

Abandoned

We did a spontaneous open mic—I’d never been on stage alone in my life, and though I’m finally becoming more comfortable singing with my new band (because they are incredible), I still make most people turn the other way if I’m to sing them a song. And there we were, my veins filled with the magical spirit of the festival, printing out lyrics to an eighties hit, never having practiced it, and within twenty minutes finding ourselves in front of an audience. We played and people applauded, and then I had another song to do, solo. For the first time ever. I sang something I’d written, and felt the battle raging inside me; on one side, the desire to show what I could do, what I’d created, that I could sing… the other, so afraid, all the nerves and anxiety I thought were a thing of the past wrapping around my vocal chords and strangling the life out of my voice. I made it through the song, but I knew I could’ve done so much better. I knew I had done so much better. I was thwarted, and I went back into the audience and cried. My friends told me I’d done great, but my emotions told me otherwise. I sobbed as my friend held my hands, reassuring me. She told me something I’ll never forget: “I strive to be like you.” This wonderful woman, saying these words to me. It made me cry harder, and I left with a fierce determination to prove myself better. Sometimes I wish I could just feel good about having tried. But to this day, I’m still unable to unless it’s brilliant. Experiences and endeavours should be epic. I don’t want to fall short. I don’t do mediocrity, and I know learning curves in anything are inevitable, but I don’t like being in them.

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We always try to watch one wonderful film together (one of my favourite years was the one we chose Russell T. Davies’s Casanova with David Tennant), and this year, it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So wonderful. We watched it in pieces, because we both have the complete inability to focus on sitting still and not doing for extended periods of time. But it was lovely. We shared music, and each night before bed I’d read or write or watch EastEnders, and he’d write a handwritten note to his best friend back home and mail it to her the next morning. Such a wonderful soul. I’d never had breakfast in bed, so one morning we had blueberry pancakes. Blueberry pancakes and great music. “You deserve to have breakfast in bed.”

BelltowerWe loved our midnight adventure so much we rallied a group together later in the week, and six of us headed out in a van armed with candles, scary stories, ukuleles, and a thirst for adventure. We drove through the starlight to the same scary houses, the same abandoned church, climbing through the thickets and weeds and cradling our candlelight from the wind, ventured up into the church bell tower. We told tales of frights and unfortunate children and made our way to the altar in the dead of night. Our friend Walter, an incredible musician, brought out his guitar, and performed a series of what we dubbed “murder ballads” as we huddled together in the darkness. The echoes of these fantastically morbid, brilliant folk tales rang throughout the church and our hearts were alight with an eager excitement.

We went glow bowling, we pressed flowers, we ventured into a forest where I was eaten alive, I met a Transformer, learned how to swing dance… and of course, we saw more shows than I can count. From the wit and hilarity of shows like Fruitcake, Like Father, Like Son (Sorry), and God is a Scottish Drag Queen (“Hallowed” is a shitty name!) to the rocking good time of Die Roten Punkte’s EuroSmash (where I got to dance in the aisles, rock out and laugh so hard), see the return of the banananhaus and take home one of the enormous balloons that fell from the ceiling), to the sheer uniqueness of the Wonderheads… from shows like This is Cancer, which sold out every show and was quite possibly the strangest and most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen (a real-life cancer survivor, who’s lost 90% of his vision, dressed in a gold lamé suit filled with lumps and bumps personifying the disease in a one-man comedy that left the audience laughing and sobbing, and me calling somebody afterward to tell them how thankful I am they’re alive…) to seeing phenomenal performers like Martin Dockery, who’s given me my some of my favourite theatrical experiences of all time return with new shows and true stories that only he can tell in his brilliant way, to seeing audiences flock to Shelby‘s One Man Back to the Future, where he condensed the entire movie down to an hour, played all the characters brilliantly, and had the audience participate in hilarious moments that had the entire house on their feet in standing ovations… just made me so infinitely proud.

bowling

The night after it was all over was the night after my first day at my new job. To say it was emotional would be a bit of an understatement… I’d spent two weeks in art, culture, and friendship heaven, and not only was I going into the unknown (although I knew it was going to be amazing; I’d received two job offers and this was the one I wanted more than anything I’d interviewed for… initially I thought I was going to have to turn it down, as it paid quite a bit less than the other and the world isn’t set up for a single person to be able to survive easily… but they called me the next day, upping their offer by an entire third of what they were originally offering… which made me feel really good!), but I arrived home to a newly empty apartment. No suitcases, no cowboy hats, no enthusiastic friend or a night ahead of adventures. It had all evaporated for another year, and I found myself overwhelmed by the infinite sadness of it all being over. The Fringe takes over your whole heart in a way I can’t describe. It fills your soul with an energy that’s too much for one person to contain, and everyone is experiencing the same thing… the air is just filled with the overflow, and we drink it in with every breath. And then it’s gone for another year, and we must return to reality. But the memories, oh, the memories, they last a lifetime. I came home that night to a note that of course made me sob, telling me it was the Best. Year. Ever., and that my friend felt “lucky to be in this time with me.” Not to have shared this time, but to be in this time. A subtle difference that meant the absolute world. That this time had been ours.

Ten Years Em and Shelby

Today is National Friendship Day, and I’m spending it with the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. She called me that night, the very first night of my return to the real world, knowing full well I’d be terribly sad, and though I was exhausted and a bit of an emotional mess, she welcomed me over with open arms, hearing the heaviness of my heart and there to hold it up. Since then, we’ve had adventures of our own, in addition to the countless ones of the festival, and we still have at least a month of this glorious summer left. Fringe brought so many of us together, and it has a way of letting you in, sharing something incredible, and releasing you on the other side with bonds deepened, memories shared, and a connection that’s stronger for having experienced it. Ten years… and this was, most definitely, the best year ever.

Fringe group 2014

“Love the world and yourself in it; move through it as though it offers no resistance, as though the world is your natural element.”

The past month has been filled with many unexpected adventures, reflections, connections, travels and moments I know will stay with me forever. That being said, I’m in a tough place right now—well, my heart and my bankbook are—my head seems to be doing just fine, and though thoughts of fear and worry float about it like motes on a sunbeam, it’s illuminated primarily by the beam itself. A ray of excitement, of anticipation, and of appreciation.

motes

The worry stems from uncertainty—I’ve never done well with it, but I’ve never found myself in a position where I’ve been actively out of work before. It’s been about a month now, and I’m interviewing regularly, and have a few second interviews lined up this week and next, but I’m scared. In eighteen days, the money runs out. And I’m not in a position where I have someone to fall back on, to help. I don’t have roommates or a partner. I have to take care of myself, and EI is a) a complicated process I’m not sure I even qualify for, and b) half of what I was making. What I was making just about covered what I needed it to. I’m frightened. Friends know the story of my departure from what I truly believed was going to be my dream job, but long story short, it was requiring a lot of additional hours. Evenings, weekends. Always being on the job. I loved the job, but it was taking time I needed to spend on life.

Writing my novel, finishing my photography series, making music with my new band. I’ve actually always taken immense pride in going the extra mile, but sadly that mile was taking over everything, and I have to stay true to my own passions and dreams and goals as well as to the job I’m doing. There has to be a balance. Whatever I do, work or otherwise, I do it with my entire being. I couldn’t devote the time I needed to my creative outside-work projects any more, and there’s only so much time in the day. So, I find myself job seeking. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the people I worked with, and I wish it could have worked out. But now, I must find something I can devote myself to fully during the day, bring ideas and creativity and positivity and passion to… that will also allow me to work on my own projects when the day is done. But I need to find something now.

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But enough about that. I write here to document life, to immortalise not just thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams, but to capture experiences. I’ve had a number of those recently, and I find myself at a loss for words that would adequately do justice to the depths of gratitude I feel for having had them. First was my birthday. In all honesty, I was nervous about it. And I hate admitting it, but it was because I was single. I’ve been spoiled, ruined, for having had some incredible relationships, and days like birthdays make you feel like the most special person in the world to someone you adore, and the feeling is magic. It’s something I always try to give others on theirs, even friends, because anyone you truly love in any way deserves to be celebrated. To know their impact on your life, to know they’re loved, and to know they mean the world. To know they matter. I went to bed scared I’d be forgotten, and I woke up to sixty messages before the clock even struck 10:00. I woke up to more kind words and love than I could’ve imagined. I woke up in tears, the best kind of tears, alone and yet not alone at all.

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I spent the day with my best friend, going to get fancy massages, having fancy burgers, seeing a brilliant musical with him and my mum in the evening (that also made me weep), and ended the night ten minutes before midnight with a long-distance phone call from someone I care about so very much. The next day I spent in the company of great friends, dressing up and looking like I’d time travelled to Walmart, colouring in shoes, hugging those who braved the storm and came out to share sparklers and cakes and tiny unicorns on sticks in various amazing costumes. I felt pangs of grief and sadness as I knew my wonderful Dad was halfway around the world, with family, readying themselves for my Nan’s funeral. (For which the order of service I feel the need to share with the world, it’s so beautiful, and tells stories of my beautiful Nan‘s adventures throughout her life.) Over the subsequent days, people gave me unexpected gifts from the heart, special meet and greets with animals, and so many kind words; moments in time I cherish dearly, framed in the feelings of love and appreciation that accompanied them. I was, stupidly, worried about that single day, but it made me appreciate the incredible people in my life more than I can say.

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A few days later, I was speaking with my new friend The Artist, who I’ve mentioned before as having designed the artwork for my book cover and who I’d planned on visiting later in August. Before I knew it, I’d fallen into quite possibly the most random act of spontaneity ever to have sprung itself on my life, and I’d been bought a ticket to go the following week! I had some time off; we were both already far too excited; and after a weekend at the lake with some dear friends, I’d be off to Vancouver for the first time ever. I should have videotaped the booking of the ticket; anyone who knows me knows I can’t hide my emotions even when I’m completely alone, and there may have been more than a little jumping around the living room and clapping a la that girl in Love Actually when she has to excuse herself to hide around the corner just to squee. But first came the cabin!

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I met T first through a series of photo shoots we’d done together. First, we were zombies to promote an apocalyptic airsoft game. Then we were vampires to promote a lavish ball taking place in the city later this year. Then we were in an advert for speaking French of all things (!) together, and then we were in a band. She’s one of the most wonderful, sweet, kind, talented, beautiful human beings I’ve ever met, and we’ve become good friends over the past few months. When things are difficult, she is there, with a handwritten note or a hug or a glass of scotch. When she knows I’m sitting at home mourning, she brings me into the sunlight, and listens. When I tell her my fears and show her my anxieties, she banishes them away. When I show her my songs, she adds harmonies and ideas and makes them beautiful. She’s an incredible soul, and I love her to pieces, and she invited me and my BFF out to spend the weekend with her and her husband at a cabin in Lake of the Woods, Ontario.

We took my little green science-mobile out through the storm of all storms, listening to everything from eighties music to indie to metal to a twelve minute “ghost waltz,” games and blankets and books and beer in tow. We all sat on a dock and dipped our feet in the water as the storm passed and the sky was taken over by soaring pink and blue. We sang songs, we played games, we read and wrote, we drank Pimms in the sun, and we ran down to the water in the blackest night to lay under the stars, all of us blanketed together, which glittered like magic away from city lights. We ate, we laughed, we created, we told stories, we went for walks barefoot in nature. It was a beautiful weekend, and I left overwhelmed with appreciation for having such wonderful people in my life.

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A few days later, it was time to pack my bags and hop onto that jet plane and fly to a city of magic. The Artist and I had been talking since the beginning of the year, and I’d already befriended a few people in his circle I was hoping to spend time with. Fellow creators, musicians, writers, dreamers of wondrous things… infinitely talented people in a city of eternal inspiration. When I landed and this person I’d never seen face to face was steps away, I actually hid I was so overtaken with nerves and excitement. I couldn’t leave the airport! But soon enough the moment came, we hugged, we laughed, and we were all of a sudden real, three-dimensional people existing in the same place. I knew it was going to be wonderful. I was only there for three days, but Vancouver has stolen my heart. And I still get to go back in August. I arrived to the most stunning sunset which we took in from the beach minutes from where I’d be staying. I kept abandoning my new friend to go run into the ocean and feel the sand and water around my ankles, soaking in the view of boats and an endless glowing horizon. People were on the grass, living their lives under these dancing skies, warm sea air kissing their skin as they weren’t attacked by mosquitoes or canker worms or a neverending winter. Apartments and buildings lined the walkways that had gardens and trees sprouting from the rooftops. People played volleyball, or talked, or read, or just lay together in complete contentment. We watched the sun set and bonded over cocktails and cheesecake in a beachside cafe, noticing all the little things you’d never know from behind a computer screen, like the interlocking skeleton keys we wore around our necks, or a treble clef finger tattoo that matched the bracelet I was wearing.

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The next day was filled with tattoos, spontaneity, amazing food, and my first art jam—I’d heard of this and was excited to meet everyone involved, and it was every bit as fun and inspirational as I’d hoped and imagined. A group of artist friends get together every week in a beautiful house for company, drinks, and creativity. I sat there half-working on a story, half-socializing, and occasionally “startending” (of course I brought Pimms, and cucumbers and raspberries, and earned myself a BC nickname!), watching in awe as those around me made music, jewellery, sculpted, and sketched. I felt at home with these amazing people immediately, and even have a new snail mail penpal (a fellow resurrector of the dying arts!). We listened to the symphonic creations of a new friend, bonded, made things that didn’t exist before that night, and I left feeling thoroughly inspired.

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I was left to my own devices for most of my third day (work schedules), alone and fuelled with an excitement that seemed to float in the air and fill my lungs with every breath. I headed down beautiful streets and ended up somewhere that was kind of like the Village, but bigger and more progressive and full of unique shops and cafes and people to watch and imagine lives for. I stopped at a little German breakfast place, ate amazing BC salmon, and with camera in hand, headed for the sea. I just kept walking. I think I walked on what they call the “sea wall” for a while, making friends with birds and strangers and snapping everything I could. Eventually I came across what I’d heard so much about: Stanley Park.

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I truly can’t describe the sheer scale of it. I stumbled across a small path that led to immense trees and threw myself in—and there I found myself surrounded by a towering forest of every green, not a soul to be seen. I wish I’d brought my tripod, but I fashioned one out of twigs and rocks and managed to get more than enough photos of my time there. I sat in a clearing as the sun pierced through the canopy reading a story of incredible adventure. I wandered through trails and climbed trees and danced in the foliage on my own. I discovered a lost lagoon and took in a breathtaking view of the city I’d fallen in love with.

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And after a few hours basking in nature and literature by myself, I met up with my awesome new friend from art jam, The Oneironaut, who took me on an amazing motorcycle ride across town to Granville Island. It was pouring, but the thrill of being there was my umbrella and for the first time I didn’t care about my frizzy hair. I explored an entire children’s shopping centre, met another new friend for pie in a mug, bought robot art, and ended up meeting The Artist when he got off work at the actual Granville Island brewery! We had a pint, found a stunning fancy hat shop I desperately want to shoot a music video in, bought some amazing food and headed home, on a boat, to get “all dapper” for a night on the town.

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Gastown! I was so excited to see the cobblestoned streets, the steam powered clock, and the culture I felt tugging at my heart. We got dressed up, listened to Frank Sinatra, and went to meet another new friend who I loved instantly (a fellow expat, Bowie aficionado, who has the same map cushions I do). We all watched eighties music videos and then headed for this wonderful place, where a friend of mine from Winnipeg also happened to be that night. We saw the clock! We had cocktails named after Britpop anthems. We danced to nineties hits and stayed until close, headed home and ate the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life.

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The next morning brought fancy coffee, Indian food, art, impromptu street dancing, and giant robots… the products of the imagination of another new friend. Seriously, these people are ridiculously amazing. And then I packed, and found myself at the airport (where I had to Shazam the aptness of the soundtrack I found myself accompanied by in the restaurant, as a song I didn’t know sang out “this is the place you belong” over and over… and it was over.

But it wasn’t. It isn’t. I have a whole bunch of new, amazing people in my life. I get to visit their magical city again in six weeks’ time and take in even more. Tonight, one of my favourite people in the world arrives for twelve days (it’s Fringe time! My favourite of the entire year! And everyone in Winnipeg must promise to see his show. One-man Back to the Future. It’s going to be fantastic.). I get to make more music with my insanely talented bandmates. I get to take photos. And hopefully, if I’m very, very lucky, I’ll find myself a job, and the last summer of my twenties will be nothing short of epic. I have a sneaking suspicion everything is going to work out more than fine.

“We are here to live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket

It happened slowly. That’s the worst kind. When my time on this Earth is up, I want it to be over and done with. I don’t want to have my life warp into one I no longer have control over. One where my control and senses are stolen from me, where I can no longer function independently. One spent in a hospital bed. When I go, I want it to be quick. Being eaten by a tiger would be pretty terrifying, but it would make for a fantastic story. My future imaginary grandchildren would be the coolest kids in the playground. I’d take saving a cat from a burning building, too, or maybe having some kind of spaceship malfunction and getting sucked out into the lethal atmosphere of some planet far away. Once my time here is up, I don’t want to stay any longer than I have to. Not because losing control of your life sucks in itself, but because of how hard it is for others to watch, and not be able to do a thing about it.

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My nan passed away last week. It’s taken me a few days to find the words to put to paper, and I’m still not sure I have them, but after life in every sense of the word stopped on Tuesday night (and a couple of days becoming a bit of a solitary wanderer), I’m finally able to get something down. I’m thirty next year, and I guess in a sense I’ve been extremely fortunate that by this age, I’ve only ever lost one person—my grandad; “Guggs,” as I’d called him, and I was too young to really feel the magnitude of what it meant. I remember it happened around the same time as my first cat died, and I remember with great clarity how much that affected me. With my grandad, I remember him going into hospital, and making him a card with the silhouette of a cat on it. He never got it. He never came out. I vaguely remember deciding at eleven years old that even then, I knew if I went to the funeral, never having been to one, that I’d fall into a pit of despair and tears from which I feared I’d never escape. My parents had decided my brother was too young to even ask, and I don’t remember what we did or who we stayed with during it, and I don’t remember much after that.

No, losing someone as an adult is a first for me. Although my reaction was to fall into just as big a pit of despair as I would have twenty years ago. My nan was a huge part of my life. When I was young, I spent most of my time with her. We lived in a cul-de-sac, houses surrounding “the green”; my parents’ house was on one side, my nan’s on another, and my other grandparents’ on the other. We were all thirty seconds away from each other at any given time. I have so many memories of time spent at her house. I remember when she build the aviary and started raising quails and budgies in the back garden. Choosing a budgie, a bright yellow one, whom she named Sparky and taught to say things like “who’s a good boy,” “Where’s Emily?” and “cuppa tea, Charlie darling?” The bird sounded exactly like her.

I remember her teaching me to iron with tea towels and socks, and that a good cook never left any batter in the bowl when cooking. I remember her Welsh cakes, and making figurines and fridge magnets out of plaster of Paris and painting them with her. I remember her bedrooms; each with a terrible carpet and curtains that didn’t match and dressing stands with her gold chains on them and mirrors I used to sometimes be a little scared of at night. She kept two money boxes for my brother and me; one in the shape of a globe; that was mine; the other, a wooden church for my brother. She’d put a pound coin into each every week, and despite us moving halfway around the world, whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d find she’d been putting the pound coins in every week anyway. Her Sunday dinners were to die for. She’d boil every bit of nutrient out of the vegetables, but she’d cook lamb and introduced me to mint sauce and apple sauce with meat and potatoes. I was always in charge of the potatoes, putting in a bit of milk and more than a bit of butter, and then margarine on top of that once they were on the plate. And there was always a pudding. Rice pudding and jam, or custard if it was a particularly good day.

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She hated The Simpsons. “Them yellow people,” she called them, but she watched it with me anyway. I’m certain it was a pretend hate. I remember after school watching Trap Door and SuperTed and Neighbours with her every day while we had tea. She taught me that if you stirred milk and sugar into your tea and you had bubbles on the top, it meant you were going to be lucky and get some money. I used to drink them all up from a teaspoon. I remember her first e-mails, and being so incredibly proud of her, having gone for computer lessons on her own at the library after we’d moved. They were all one big sentence with no punctuation but were always full of so much love. I remember how excited she’d get, throughout my whole life, whenever I visited. It was all the time, but I adored her and I was infinitely as excited as she was. I remember finding a card I’d made as a child on a visit maybe four years ago now, in one of the spare bedrooms, apologising for not being allowed to visit every day any more but saying how much I loved her anyway. It had an outline of my hand on the front I’d drawn and coloured in.

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The decline happened slowly, over years and years, but her spirit was the strongest I’ve ever known. It was horribly unfair. She broke one shoulder, had surgery that went wrong and that meant she couldn’t use that arm any more. She started falling; in the street or in her house, and hitting her head. I remember coming home and finding her at the bottom of the stairs in her nightgown one night after a day in London and being so, so scared. Despite it all, she still cooked, came out to the seaside and down to the shops with us, out for a curry or fish and chips, with a smile on her face.

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She was in hospital a few years ago for an extended period, and went through a really worrying few months, but she emerged, resilient as ever. This time, she fell again, and the damage to her other shoulder meant she couldn’t use either arm. Couldn’t use a walker. Surgery. Surgery during which she had a heart attack. Again, she woke okay… but then the infection started. The skin began necrotizing, and antibiotics weren’t working. She was too fragile to operate on again, and we found ourselves terrified that either the infection or being put under again would kill her. Eventually she became strong enough to have surgery attempted again… and it was successful. My dad visited, and gave her a burst of hope and love after months of being stuck on a hospital ward with no wireless phone… but then her blood pressure started to drop. It kept dropping and wouldn’t stabilize.

This time last week, we got the news that she probably only had a matter of days. I couldn’t sleep. I lay there that night, my heart and mind racing, worrying that somewhere almost 4,000 miles away, my dear nan was laying there alone, her consciousness on the verge of disappearing into oblivion. I got maybe two hours and dragged myself up in the morning, but I felt like I was going to throw up at any moment. I was wide awake and exhausted and nauseous and anxious, so I called in and said I’d work from home. I’d been working that weekend, and I had a pile of things to catch up on, so I dove into it from morning ’til night to try to catch up and distract myself. The next day was spent at the office, waiting for any news. Again, I ploughed through; couldn’t eat for nausea and still had an enormous amount to do, and did as much as I possibly could. That evening I had to work an event too, and in the middle of it, I got a phone call from my dad I couldn’t pick up. I knew then that that was the call.

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He messaged me asking when I’d be home, and I said it would probably be over by nine-ish, so probably 9:30. I called as soon as I was able before even getting in the car, and got no answer. My mind started to panic, so I drove home, and found my dad outside my apartment building. It was a bizarre moment—I knew why he was there, but he didn’t seem upset. I said I’d tried calling him, and he said “let’s go inside.” I knew why, but my brain was working on two different levels and I blurted out something stupid about it being messy. At that point, he looked at me, his eyes welling up, and he choked out, “it doesn’t matter,” and put his arms around me. I cried, and I shook, and he cried with me. He’d only found out a couple of hours prior, and I’d been stuck on a tour bus taking photos of “ghosts” and “spirits” unable to be there for him when he did. We talked. We hugged. The grief came in waves. It was something we knew had been coming for a long time, but my nan had always been such a fighter. She’d always pulled through.

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We talked about how the most important thing was that she was no longer suffering. She’d suffered for so very long, and her quality of life was just gone. We cried as my dad said she’d never have to be in pain again, as we both thought inside we’d never see her again. The part that pierced my heart was when he had a moment after which he said quietly, “I’m an orphan now.” I couldn’t bear it. After a little while and many tears, I knew I had to call work to tell them. I spoke with the CEO who was incredibly kind, compassionate and comforting. I’d had no idea she was travelling, but she talked to me for a while and showed a kindness I’ll be eternally grateful for. The next night, my beautiful sweet friend came over to keep me company. She brought food and drinks and we told stories to each other and shared several heart to hearts. She held me as I cried and I felt such incredible gratitude. The next few days I found myself embracing the I in INFJ (uncharacteristic for me), on day one just driving with no particular destination in mind, looking for somewhere completely isolated from other people. I went south, and eventually an abandoned old barn popped up. I had no makeup on and a dress I’d worn the day before and looked as rough as it did, so I ventured through the long grass and sat inside. There were holes in the roof, which was collapsing; doors had fallen down, and it was a graveyard of its former glory. It was perfect. I sat there in the silence for a while, took some pictures, and tried writing. I just wanted my mind to stop racing for once, and for a moment, it did. The next day I spent alone in a bookstore cafe type place I’d never been to. I wrote for hours, and I found it therapeutic. My soul felt a tiny, tiny bit better after those two days.

As much as I’ve written here, it could never be enough. There could never be enough words in this language of ours to do justice to just how much she meant, and how cherished she was to the very end. I hope with all my heart she knew. And cherished she always will be. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be a) here today and b) who I am today. Her gift of love was one I’m beyond lucky to have been given, and I’ll keep it safe in my heart forever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

I love you, nan. 

Right Here, Right Now

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little bit guilty. When I first started writing here, I did it for a number of reasons: to get my thoughts out into the world because back then, I was a timid thing with a head full of thoughts and a heart too scared to speak up in the world; to chronicle life and bind it into real books at the end of each year; to connect; to document a journey through things I was afraid of and be held accountable to all those goals; to hopefully somehow be some kind of small inspiration, maybe; but most importantly, to make this a place where anyone could come and fall into my mind and know they’re getting the genuine thing.

One of the things I remember being bothered by when I first ventured into the blogosphere was how there was such a difference between real human beings and the personas they portrayed online. I found myself frustrated, searching for authenticity in a sea of best impressions, and I made a vow to myself: put it all out there. All of it. Don’t be a victim or a downer, but don’t be afraid to hide real feelings. Get really excited about stupid stuff and put that out there too. Be an outpouring of enthusiasm for everything I feel deeply about. Think out loud, as a stream of consciousness, and have this space be as close a representation to the inside of my mind as possible. (Though if that were true, the walls would be decked with quotes and beautiful imagery, and there’d be all sorts of music playing in a wandering stream of energy and enchantment.) Be genuine, because by being anything else, no subsequent relationships ever could be. 

My text sleevePeople question me sometimes, and tell me there’s such a thing as being “too open”. But take one look at me and you’ll see I can’t hide a thing. My heart is literally tattooed all over my sleeve, and a recent costuming endeavour (Observer from Fringe; yep, bald head and everything) proved I was thoroughly incapable of hiding any emotions (I’d be a terrible Vulcan!). I’m wired with a desperate desire to know and to be known. Right now, I feel as if I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on how best to balance that, but I don’t know if I’ve been doing the best job. I’ve been trying to follow my friend’s advice (it’s very good), yet somehow I keep packing my calendar fuller than a Christmas turkey.

I think, as with so many things, it goes back to the whole INFJ thing—one of the things I find most interesting with MBTI is the differences within types—I know a few other INFJs who fit the type just as well as I do, but are happy to only go out once or twice a week (higher I), or are able to remain a little more steady when it comes to being affected by emotions (lower F), for example. I’ve always remained an INFJ, but as I’ve grown older, my introversion has been steadily decreasing. I think this leads to the desire to be in the company of others, which when extremely awesome or extremely meaningful (or both), leaves me feeling energized—yet if it’s obligatory, I feel bad afterward, because it’s time that could have been spent making something. And I always need to create. I always have. Especially since I’ve been alone; I dived into photography and modelling and writing music and doing covers to keep myself occupied so, in all honesty, I didn’t just sit there being sad. But in doing so I fell ever so much more in love with it.

QueenMab1WebIt was a good thing: my loneliness was the catalyst for an explosion of creativity and a deepening of incredible friendships. I love doing all these things, all of the time. But tonight was the first time I actually scheduled myself some alone time. I’ve been feeling guilty of going out and seeing people too much at the expense of things I need to accomplish. Yes, I’m always doing photos, whether shooting or editing or being in other people’s… and I love telling stories through imagery. Yes, I’ll come home from work and between getting in and heading out again, I’ll pick up my ukulele and I’ll sing. I’ll try whatever happens to be floating around my head, or I’ll play some chords and hum a tune and record it for future use if something comes out sounding kind of okay. I’ve missed being part of a joint musical force so very much, and this past week, my stars aligned and two friends of mine, two incredibly talented friends who are already in their own amazing band, said yes to teaming up as a three-piece with me. (Me!) We had our first jam, and I was nervous and awe-struck, but I feel like this is could be the start of something that might just be really great. And I’m beyond excited. But one thing I haven’t been doing much of is working on my book. Maybe it’s because that’s the one thing that must be done alone. “Visual storytelling” is a collaborative effort; it’s fun, and from beginning to end, there’s something very social about it, even the solo work itself. Music too: you either collaborate with others, or you post something on the Internet and talk to others about it. But writing necessitates solitude. And that’s the one thing I’ve always been afraid of.

(Most recently written song, before I found this awesome team)

I’m much better at solitude than I used to be. But I have such trouble turning off my thoughts and focusing them on writing the story at hand. My mind will be full of tales and ideas and will conjure up strings of words all day long, but at the end of the day, when I finally have time to put them to paper, they get all tangled up with thoughts and feelings, wishes, reflections, curiosities and nostalgia. And it’s so terribly hard to concentrate. I feel off balance—like I should be either an extrovert who’s just always around people all the time, and feels good about it, or an introvert who can stay home most of the week, perfectly content to embrace isolation (even my word choice there has a negative connotation) and have ample time to devote so much more time to creative projects… I just feel a little torn between the two, and though I’m doing a lot (and loving it), and though I’m learning to only say yes when it’s a “hell yes”… I’m still not finishing my damn book. And that’s the one thing I absolutely need to.

Especially because I hired this amazing artist off the Internet to create the cover, who I'm totally going to visit in Vancouver this summer

Especially because I hired this amazing artist off the Internet to design the cover, who ended up being awesome at life, too, and who I’m totally going to visit this summer

Does anyone else have this problem? Too many ideas for too many things, not enough hours in the day, being torn between craving company and needing alone time, and the complete inability to shut off all the thoughts and simply focus on one thing? I wish I didn’t have to sleep. I feel that maybe then, I’d have sufficient time to devote to everything I want to instead of squishing it all in and feeling spread thin. I want to do everything. But I also want to be able to focus on one thing at a time without my thoughts wandering off with my feelings. The concept of meditating, or even just lasting more than five minutes in a bath, is one I’ve never been able to fathom. (There’s always so much to be doing!) How do you do it?

Fellow INFJs… I feel like you may have a few words of wisdom. Or at least help me feel a little less strange.

On saying no to massive opportunities

I had an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that left me a little exhilarated and simultaneously thrown for a loop. I’ve never been much for public speaking, so the fact that someone from TED (as in Talks) was nominating me to be a speaker at the upcoming TEDx Manitoba was kind of insane.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 4.52.00 PMI responded, naturally, in complete freak-out fashion, thanking them as graciously as I could while also making sure they knew all about my throwing up incidents after being on stage and the performance anxiety that though I am challenging, musically, is still very much there. I wasn’t sure they’d got the right person—if they’d found me through my blog, surely they’d know I’d be a nervous wreck in front of an audience of hundreds? They assured me they’d be with me every step of the way. That people needn’t have any prior speaking experience, that they too had had someone throw up with nerves in their preparation… yet every single person they’d ever chosen ended up being brilliant. They told me they believed in my story; that I had the power to engage through writing and tell stories that inspire people. I was flattered and humbled beyond belief: all I do is live my life out loud. I have a desperate desire to know and to be known, to seize every moment we’re given, to do something positive in the world and be a friend to every stranger who’s ever feeling they can’t do something or that life is too much, because I spent too long feeling that way myself and I want everyone to know that the key to the life they want truly does lie in their own back pocket. Every dragon to slay on the way to reaching it is masked as real, but evaporates the moment you choose to venture forth into the world, face fears head on, and allow yourself the freedom to try what you’ve always wanted. Accept that judgment is inescapable, but that if you have a passion or ten or two hundred, you should be allowed to go forth and explore them. I’ve said it before, that ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for. I was incredibly touched that someone from such a huge organization hand-picked me and believed in me, despite my fears. And I was torn. But not because I was afraid.

Everyone I told was incredibly excited about the opportunity, telling me I absolutely had to do it. That this sort of thing doesn’t just come around, and that I’d always regret it if I didn’t do it. My initial reasons for hesitance were rooted in a bit of anxiety—it hasn’t stopped me, but every time I get up in front of people it’s immensely difficult to switch off my biggest fear: that people will see only what’s on the surface. That they wouldn’t see a girl whose head is full of ideas and imagination, a heart so determined it never stops learning and doing, a mind that never stops thinking and imagining and challenging itself. Someone who’s been at the absolute bottom and knows it well enough for it to become the catalyst to doing everything so as never to go there again. I’m not proud of those years. But I’m proud of these ones. And in the way I wish someone had reached out and scooped me up back then, I want to be that beacon any chance I get. To help people. To pour passion into everything, to soak up the infinite wonders of the world and be inspired to create some of my own. To encourage people to see the vast potential on their very own doorstep. To show them all they have to do is leap, and that it’ll be scary, but it’ll be brilliant. And no matter what, it’ll be okay. Because if we have a desire within us to do certain things, we should leap on that and make it happen. Don’t let something that could shine so brightly fade into regret. (I might not be the best singer or even a good ukulele player yet, but I’m working on it, and the journey is bringing me so much happiness—this is a Bastille cover, and it’s the only one since the accident I’ve actually been kind of proud of)

I debated doing TED internally for a few days, and then I briefly convinced myself I was going to say yes. It’d probably be the biggest challenge of my life, but it’d also probably be one of the most rewarding if I made it through. And I would make it through. I don’t know if I’d do it gracefully, but I’d get through it. But the idea of doing it didn’t sit right. Not because I was scared—I’ve spent the last few years diving into things I’ve been afraid of for the sake of growth and adventure—but because of the idea of time. And wondering if it truly would be that rewarding after all. Would it be, just because it was hard? There’d be no guarantee I’d have any kind of impact on anybody, and if I want to inspire people, I can do that from here. With words, and without standing in the spotlight feeling uncomfortable. When I’m passionate about something (which, let’s be honest, is a lot of things), I have no problem launching it out into the world. Even if it’s not perfect. I did an image this week and covered a song last week and for the first time in a while, felt kind of proud. Not because I’d somehow reached a level I dream of being at, but because I’ve been trying. That leads me back to another reason I felt uncomfortable saying yes: TEDx would be in June, and I’d have to come up with a speech, learn it inside and out, and somehow be okay being on one of the city’s bigger stages in front of hundreds of people. This wasn’t something that excited me. This was two months of fear and dread. Two months I could spend sharing the same message in a different way—a way I felt comfortable with and relatively decent at, that could reach the same number of people.

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal :)

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal 🙂

I had lunch with a dear friend (whom many of you will know from elsewhere on the Interwebs) recently, and she was, as was everyone else, very excited for me. We hadn’t got together in a while, but she’d posted something at the very same time I last wrote about being overwhelmed by All Of The Things, and her antidote was a very well-timed one that constituted the need to get together and discuss! She, like most people, was excited for me—but then we had an illuminating talk over afternoon breakfast and she left me with a phrase that’s embedded itself in my head and may be the very solution to feeling overwhelmed. I’d thought I was feeling overwhelmed because of all the projects I wanted to do, but it wasn’t that at all.

If it’s not a ‘hell yes’, then it’s a no.

Her simple phrase put everything into perspective and made me refocus on exactly what I’ve been advocating forever—we’re only given so much time in a day, a week, a life… why spend it on things that don’t contribute to the life you want to be living? I want to create. I want to inspire. I want to always be learning and expressing and exploring and adventuring and challenging and growing. I want to spend my time with people of the same kind of mindset. People who get that the world is so full of infinite possibility and so is everyone in it. I want to let every piece of imagination inside this head out into the world in some form or another. Because it’s not there for nothing. I’ve debated before whether to spend that time trying to prove you can do anything and everything, or enhancing what you’re innately good at and possibly becoming extraordinary at one or two things. I’ve always felt drawn to the former, I suppose because I felt like I had something to prove. But in recent years, I’ve discovered passions. Making art and storytelling through words, images, or song. Seeing incredible sights and spending time with a small handful of people I feel lucky even exist. And I’m completely sold now on the latter. I don’t have to do everything. I just have to do the things that are a “hell yes”.

10169103_10152303690992552_1677748315_nI’ve never wanted to be a public speaker, but if I have a message to get out there, or an idea (and I have lots!), I have countless other ways through which to do it. Ways that make me happy and, you know, not throw up. I want to know and be known, absolutely. But I don’t have to do it in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

It was an incredible honour to have been nominated for something so huge, but I’m not going to regret not doing it. I know if I took it on, I’d feel overwhelmed, because my time would be invested in something that I ultimately don’t really want to do—and more importantly taken away from the things I do. Like writing, and making cool images, and getting better at music. I decided mid-conversation that I wasn’t going to do it, and you know what? I don’t think I’m actually going to regret it at all. Someone believed I could do it. Someone believed I had something worth sharing. And that’s an incredible honour. I’m just going to do it in a way I feel is the best use of this gift of time—and of what I’m naturally better at. I thought I’d let people (and myself) down if I didn’t do this, but in choosing not to, for these reasons, all I feel is grateful. Humbled. Relieved. And excited.

And just maybe, through following your own path, you create your own massive opportunities along the way.

 

There are so many fragile things, after all

Last time I wrote, things had gone from wonderful to chaotic, and I had to look backward to the words I’d written myself to carry me through the openings of a new chapter. That chapter opened just over a month ago, and right now, I feel the same need to do the same thing. Look back, grab my lifebelt and hold on tight through stormy seas.

So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be. Deep breaths.

The month flew by faster than I can believe, but I think it’s partially through my own doing. I began my new job, and on the very first day I knew this was going to be something different. Something special. I even found myself sapping it up at the end of the first week sending out a mass e-mail with a lovely quote about having found a place to belong, and soon I was out and about at press conferences, fancy lunches, and being given the thumbs up to geek out on the company blog about the superheroes of science. On Facebook, I gushed incessantly about how much I was adoring my new role—I’ve never found anywhere quite so full of wonderful, genuine human beings that seem to see something in me and encourage it to flourish. They’re sincerely concerned about me as a person, recognize my strengths, and are here to help me learn and overcome my shortcomings. They know some of the dearest people in my personal life, and have taken me out for lunches to get to know me, to help me, and to make sure I feel included as part of the team. I’m loving it there very much, and though the pace of each day is incredibly rapid and is taking getting used to, I am constantly doing, and that’s what I do best.

Enthusiasm

But then the soldiers begin to awaken from their slumber in preparation for that old internal battle that’s raged for as long as I can remember. And I’m devastated that a war that’s been going on for so long, one I’ve done everything to end, continues. The battle between sticking to what I’m good at and becoming even better, or challenging myself to do the things I’m not in the hopes of overcoming the fear that keeps me from them. That fight against all the things I’ve been, for all the things I want to be. But someone said to me recently that I needed to focus on what I am. I’ve felt for a very long time that I need to be more; if you’ve read for a while you’ll know the very reason I started blogging was to write about the difficulties I’ve had with anxiety, explore ways to overcome it, to challenge myself constantly with the goal of weakening its grip to the point of just being free, and to connect, to grow, and hopefully, somehow, inspire. I’m turning thirty next year, and I spent far too much of this decade in the restraints of fear. When the realisation came that I had the power to choose to not be afraid, or at the very least be afraid and choose to march forth anyway, life began to open up. I made that list of things I was afraid of, and did every one of them. People asked me why the hell I would choose to put myself in a situation of such discomfort on such an ongoing basis, but I knew that there was a whole world out there of things to experience, learn; people to meet, and share stories and adventures with; people to show that they don’t need to be afraid either… that we can choose to open ourselves to everything in the world and pour it all back out there if we just recognise that power within us… but it’s not easy. Easy is staying still, and that’s a waste of life, of potential, of the book we’re all writing with every day that passes. I want mine to be the biggest adventure ever, and that urge, that desire, I think is a good one—to always be doing, creating, exploring, and connecting, but at the same time… it’s overwhelming. Can you like something about yourself that leaves you feeling both accomplished and burnt out?

I struggle with taking time not doing, but I get overwhelmed by doing too much. But I can’t stop. With every problem, I keep asking myself “why?” Over and over, deeper and deeper, until the answer is very simple. But I can’t get around this one. Is it a curse of the INFJ, the “most extraverted of all the introverts?” I have such an immense desire for deep, meaningful human connection; big, incredible feelings and experiences; projects that are hugely imaginative and unique and magical; knowledge to soak up and memories to be made. I feel so very passionately about so many things, and on one hand, I feel like I need to devote all my free time to all of them, but on the other? I’m wondering if I need to dial it down and learn how to be okay with letting go of a few things and focus on one thing at a time. Because right now, I’m trying to do it all. I’ve always been a “doer” (I have a hard time staying in the bath for more than five minutes because I get bored and think of all the things that aren’t just sitting there), but I think it kicked into high gear after the breakup. I feel so deeply I knew that if I didn’t dive into things I’d be consumed by the devastation. I just so happened to dive into all of the things, and while I feel productive and connected and present (and only get swallowed by loneliness very occasionally), I also feel like I’m running a mile a minute and I’m not actually getting any one thing done. (I think my lack of patience plays into things a little here, too.)

My first big photo editing project of the year. I stood outside in -30 in a sundress for this! Concept: "Let me be your lighthouse". Click the image for the concept and the story behind this idea.

My first big photo editing project of the year. I stood outside in -30 in a sundress for this! Concept: “Let me be your lighthouse”. Click the image for the concept and the story behind this idea.

I’m doing cool photo shoots, I’m finally starting my series as a photographer, I’m investing in new audio equipment and learning the ropes there, I’m throwing myself back on YouTube back at square one so I can get back to where I was and hopefully become better, I’m seeing people probably six days out of seven… but I’m not getting results from any one thing. I haven’t worked on my book in the longest time—something I’m incredibly passionate about and I know I’m good at—but something that involves extensive periods of solitude. Is that why I’ve been avoiding it? Something I know, when I’m finished, I’ll be proud of, but something I’m scared to go back to because I know I can’t switch off my brain when I’m not in others’ company? And that brain, though filled to the brim with imagination and ideas, gratitude and determination, is still filled with a relentless fear and sadness? I am continually choosing to fill my schedule and engage in things—if I’m being honest, so I don’t get consumed by it. I don’t engage, and my thoughts tend to get the better of me. So I keep doing. But I need to learn to stop and breathe.

Part of me says to take action; fight your way to the surface because everybody truly has the power to take action to create the life they want. But what if what you want most of all is to be loved?

You can do and make and engage and organize your life as much as you want, and you can feel good about using your time on this earth to actually do something, but at the end of the day, you have no control over whether someone will think you’re wonderful and want to maybe share a life, a life of magic and passion and adventure and beautiful, secret, safe adoration and unity. I engage myself in all these things for the most part because I am incredibly passionate about creating and imagining and learning and doing. But I also do it, partially, to avoid the loneliness. This brings me back to what my friend said to me recently about how I think so much about the past and the future; I’m so focused on changing who I was and my shortcomings because I’m not yet the person I one hundred per cent want to be—in my heart I am; but externally, no. I’m still on my way, and I’m happy with my values, the person I am inside… but I’m not happy with the hold fear and nerves still have over me. I’m not happy I’m not really good at some of my passions yet. I’m not happy there’s so much on the inside I wish people could see that gets masked by my own self-doubt. Not even doubt; I’m infinitely less insecure than I used to be, and some of those things from that list, though initially terrifying, have led me to things I absolutely adore now. I’m more confident in my abilities, I’m more determined, and I’m more secure with myself knowing what kind of a person I am. I can recognize the good qualities within now whereas before they were invisible. I’m stronger and those dear to me have shown me I’m not a doormat. But I can’t lie and say I’m still not afraid of being in the spotlight (then why do I pursue music?) or of isolation (then how am I an introvert?).

The first of my "Literature and Legends" series as a photographer/editor

The first of my “Literature and Legends” series as a photographer/editor

I initially wanted to write this post about the dilemma of being given a finite amount of time each day and either using it to stick to what you’re good at and become amazing at those things, or to challenge yourself and expand your skills. I’ve always leaned more toward the latter, but again, why? I think something about having been balled up in the tangles of an anxiety disorder for a long time propelled me to want to do everything, but maybe everything is just too much. Maybe this feeling of being overwhelmed is something I should listen to, and start restoring some balance. Balance including alone time to just be, and be present. I have a hard time even thinking about that, but I think it might be kind of necessary. Pick one creative project at a time that I can devote my time to instead of splintering it between five. Pick a few evenings a week where I deliberately schedule time for just that. Pick some time to have no plans. And only make time for the things and people that genuinely contribute to life being awesome. It’s easy to do what’s easy. But I think it’s better to ultimately do what might be difficult, but what’s definitely right. We’re all stories, in the end. Let’s make it a good one.

(via)

Time to focus on learning how to slow down and to live more in the here and now. I will never lose my enthusiasm, but it’s time to simply accept every possibility and to focus on the things within the realm of control. To stop worrying so much, to stop being afraid, and to be okay in my own company. (I think I’m pretty good company!) To never lose hope, but to stay strong through the sadness. To acknowledge every day how much good there really, truly is around me. And to remember that it really isn’t about the destination, and maybe, in this moment, I’m okay after all.

When my friend told me I just needed to be loved for who I am right now, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. (Not ideal in the middle of a busy lunch hour in a restaurant!) I may not have control over whether anyone else does, but I can make some changes in lifestyle, in focus, in belief and in presence, that I think may just steer this ship out of the storm and onward to the horizon.

“Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul.”

I have to look to my last post for advice – from myself, to myself, in times of such fragility. “All your tomorrows start here.” I’d thought that the power of choice was enough to overcome such uncertainties that have hung about for so very long: Finally, I had a small range of motion back. Finally, I was returning to work, settling into a new home, stepping back toward being financially stable, and finally, starting to have the physical ability to do the things I loved again that had been stolen dreams for months. I was starting to sing again, model again, and write again. I was starting to imagine again, and plan, and take action. I was so very excited and moved and frightened by the jellybean video that I had no choice but to get back on course; seconds of life were evaporating and I was compelled to get back to living the heck out of them. Enough was enough.

But then I went back to the hospital, and was told something frightening. That even though the bones themselves were almost healed, the reason I was still in so much pain and had such a limited range of motion was due to being in a certain stage of “adhesive capsulitis“, in which, as the orthopaedic surgeon so vividly put it, the muscles and tendons transform from being flexible and stretchy to “cable-like”; rigid, and from that point, they don’t turn back. I was mortified. It’d been almost half a year; I was holding on so desperately to the hope that it was just slow going. Not permanent. And after this long, they can’t keep providing physiotherapy twice a week, so I’m on my own. With my broom handle, trying hard to force some kind of movement.

And then I quit my job. I’d come back and, understandably, my job wasn’t really there any more. It’d been carved into pieces and handed out to different pairs of hands, and all the efforts I’d put into creating a positive, inclusive culture seemed to have been forgotten, and I felt like a stranger all over again. Shortly after, and on a day I was feeling a little down about it, through random chance, I received a text message from a good friend of mine. A friend of hers had posted something on her Facebook about their company having an opening for a “strong creative writer” with a communications background and social media skills, and my friend told me I should apply. I sent in my resume and cover letter eagerly, along with some writing samples from across the board (yes, even one of my horror stories! #Diversity), and the very next day, I had a call from the Vice President saying she’d arrived to work and been told by three people that morning, “CALL HER”. I was so excited! We met face to face at Starbucks one evening, and we hit it off royally. We’d studied the same very random things at university; we were both into MBTI; had family in the same county in England… we really got each other in terms of values, workplace culture, making an impact, understanding people… it was a wonderful meeting, and I wanted the opportunity more than I’ve ever wanted a job in my life. I actually remember, at that moment, realizing that this was kind of my dream job, in terms of skills, environment, people… and I’ve never had that before.

Then I had about 200 interviews and was made offers elsewhere, but I was focused. And determined. I was sent a few assignments, to show I could actually write, and spent hours throwing in design work too to show what I could do. I met with the president for breakfast one weekend; another great meeting that ended with being told “this was the position for me” and that I’d have an offer within the week! After my references were checked (I cannot convey the depths of my gratitude for all the wonderful things they said!), I was called in for a formal offer (and to make sure I knew “it was going to be primarily a creative writing position” and ask if I was okay with that…haha), accepted, and… I start on Monday. They didn’t even advertise the position. Two of my favourite people in the whole world know people that work there, and I’ve already been in contact on Facebook and e-mail with some of them, and have already been invited on a day out next weekend with a group of them, and received kind words of encouragement from some that had seen the news of the breakup online. They just seem to be a really caring, genuine bunch, and I haven’t even met them yet. I even had a discussion with one about wizard hats and the TARDIS. I’m really excited.

But yes… that happened. Such an intense loss I was unable to do anything for days, and my body, perhaps in rebellion, just kept throwing up and collapsing. I also got sicker than I’ve been in years, and recently realized I’d lost 27 lb. in the last seven months (seven of which have probably evaporated in the last two weeks due to sickness and grief and the sadness of everything). When I returned to work, ALL my clothes were miles too big, and I was told today “I didn’t have to step on a scale to see I was just skin and bones”. Things haven’t been panning out as they were when I last wrote at all, and when there’s stress, apparently my appetite disappears. But I have to remind myself – and my friend keeps telling me – this too shall pass, and everything, good and bad, must have an ending. I was a bit of an emotional wreck for a while, but again I return to my last post and remind myself: the frustration can become the fuel. I’ve forever believed in the power of choice, vehemently so, even when things are at their hardest. But I’m also a creature of intense emotion, and those two things can sometimes be at war. The head and the heart. Both such strong warriors for the same cause, but both so completely opposing at times. It’s hard not to feel lost.

But this is where acceptance comes into play. Things have been tough for a really long time, but as sensitive and emotional as this heart is, it’s also full of dreams and a longing to know and to create. To connect, yes, because true human connection is the most beautiful of things, but it is not the only thing. I have to focus on some of the other things. I’ve been seeing friends often (for those who’ve been beside me through everything, I can’t even begin to say how humbled and grateful I am, and how much love I have for you), and I’ve been brainstorming up a fury in terms of creating again. I’ve fallen in love with conceptual/storytelling photography, and have been lucky to have been part of some great shoots (and hope to do more!), but I’ve also always loved digital creative manipulation.

I’ve been so incredibly inspired lately by photographers who create worlds of fantasy and tell stories through powerful, whimsical images… that I’ve decided to try it for myself. I don’t have a fancy camera, but I have a head full of ideas and hands that can bring them to life and I live in a city where the arts community is absolutely thriving. I threw out my ideas, and the response was overwhelming: over the next six months or so, I’m going to be creating my own images, editing them, and telling stories in new and (hopefully) exciting ways. I already have one group lined up for a shoot next month, and I can’t wait to get into the post-production and make something awesome. And literary! I also had someone ask if I wanted to make a music video of one of my songs… I don’t know where I’m going to go with music, now, but people seem to like this one, and it’d be a huge challenge to be in front of a camera, filmed and playing… worried about doing it alone, worried about memorizing lyrics and chords… but I think it’s a challenge I should take on. Especially if someone’s offering their time and creative brain to make it happen.

So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be.

Deep breaths.

All your tomorrows start here.

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“She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon. You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong.
Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell.
All your tomorrows start here.”
– Neil Gaiman

I’m not sure whether it’s coincidence or the spirit of the season, but along with the new year has come a new spirit. I think it’s one that was always there, but one that got shattered due to an unfortunate event which continues to hang about me like a murky sky full of purple clouds, swollen and about to burst with the coldest of downpours. With that awful event, and its lengthy affect on my life, came a lot of emotions. Loss, anger, sadness, despair, fear, and incredible frustration. But those emotions have become the building blocks for my return into the real world. I’ve been hidden away for months, watching as the world spins on without me, and as hard as it’s been, I have to firstly accept that those emotions are normal, and secondly, use them to fuel a determination to not only have things return to the way they were, but to build a spirit of strength and resilience and sheer adamance to be confined any longer. I was on a journey before it was interrupted, and that journey has to continue, and I absolutely refuse to take steps backward instead of forward.

In my last post I addressed how it’s felt, going back into some of the things I did with such ease before. I’ve felt like I have the determination, but something within me, the doubt and knowledge that my physical ability is not what it was, has manifested in the form of mental restraints to match. I don’t have a choice right now as to how high I can lift my arm or how well I can move, but I definitely have a choice to go into everything with the same fierce spirit I feel I’ve cultivated over the last few years. People always asked me why I set myself goals that scared the crap out of me and wanted to know why I continued to voluntarily put myself in the most terrifying and potentially uncomfortable of situations. My answer has always been twofold: one, because if I feel a pull toward something, a desire to do it, then that’s not inside me arbitrarily, and probably means it’s something I should be doing; and two, because of our finite amount of time on this planet to actually spend doing things that matter. If you have two minutes (yes, I’m pretty sure you do) and haven’t seen this already, please watch it. I showed it to two people recently who cried when they saw just how little personal time we have in our lives outside of work, sleep, chores, etc. How much have we already used up? I refuse to go to the grave without having lived, even if in throwing myself off beaten paths and in deep ends leaves me battered and scarred. At least I’ll have had courage, and hopefully, a life full of stories to tell.

So mentally, I feel like a beginner again. I feel all those goals and all that progress was a lifetime ago, and like I’m starting from ground zero. But something inside me tells me although I feel that way, logically, those experiences are all still there. I just have to tap into them, remind myself of past success and the joy of trying, as well as the reasons for being so set on continuing. I haven’t felt as though I’ve done a good job with my first few steps back into the world of creativity – my writing hasn’t been touched, I don’t feel as though a couple of recent photo shoots went well, and I don’t think as a musician I performed as confidently or as well as I have in the past. But these were things I ADORED venturing into six months ago. Things that had results I was really kind of proud of. Things I wanted to carve into my existence as a human being.

It distressed me to no end watching people continue their journeys as I had to halt my own, because my head was filled with the same ideas, imagination, and passion for creating that it always had been, but my body wouldn’t allow them to exist. But at the turn of the year, I was forced to get outside, get back to work, and put positivity back on along with the first set of professional clothes I’d worn in months. I don’t know if it was “faking it ’til you make it” or realizing that I was re-entering an atmosphere devoid of anything I was passionate about, but these first few days of the new year have filled me with a renewed spirit of moving forward to create the life I’ve always dreamed of. The frustration has become the fuel.

There are things inside all of us we wish we could do. Three years ago, before I turned 26, I made a list of all the things I was going to do that I was ever afraid of. I was sick of living with an anxiety disorder, sick of the label, sick of feeling like a prisoner with every dream on the outside of the jail bars and sick of my own mind being the only thing holding me hostage. I wanted to dance and sing and learn to play an instrument so I could make music. I wanted to write and let my imagination create worlds and characters that could be immortalised in writing. I wanted to tackle my physical insecurities and venture in front of a camera lens, and in doing so, discovered for a love of conceptual photographic storytelling. I wanted to speak my mind and do the right thing and be a voice of good in a world of what often feels otherwise. I wanted to create, to see faraway places, to learn new ways of thinking and feeling so I could be a positive force in my own life as well as the lives of others. I was just sick of being scared, so I dived in headfirst. It was one of the most terrifying yet rewarding things I’ve ever done, but even though I did it, I don’t think that’s where things should end. I don’t think it changed me as a person at the core level. I don’t know if it should. But it did change some negative behaviours, and built new pathways in this old mind that allowed me to be a little more brave. And in doing so, I’ve confirmed what I always suspected: that I am here to create. Things, ideas, attitudes, projects, music, art, writing, storytelling… things that bring something good into the world. What use is a flower that never sees the sun?

I can’t change the world, but as a large pink rhinoceros once said, “you can make a dent”. Every single moment, every decision you make, every action you take… is a choice. Big or small. That pile of jellybeans is continuously diminishing every single day. Are you investing yours in a life you’ll be proud to look back on?

I believe we’re filled with hopes, dreams, talents, and desires because those pave the way to the life we should be living. But the world has carved out the accepted norm of what that life should look like. School, university, car, marriage, home ownership, kids… all of which result in being shackled down by the firm grip of debt. We enter into this routine and once we’re in (and invested), it’s hard to escape. Our lives become routine and our dreams remain caged. But I’ve met people who’ve had the courage to break free. To make their dreams their reality. And in being able to live passionately and do what they love every single world, they spread an uncontainable, infectious joy to everyone they encounter. They create moments. Memories. Legacies. They create art that hangs on walls across the world, or perform pieces that came from their own imaginations that people flock to to support and enjoy. They write impossible and fantastical stories because they choose to let their imaginations pour onto a page, or they tell a first-hand account of their experience that can inspire someone to change their life. They turn their hobbies and passions into their day jobs. They make music that unites and touches souls. They take it across the planet, and the planet gives back a life of adventure and wanderlust. A life well-lived.

But in order to transform those buried dreams into something real, we have to do the legwork. It’s hard to break free, but any adventure begins with a single step. If we take another, then it may not be so hard to take another after that. And before you know it, investing in your own jellybeans has taken over as the routine because you’ve given yourself permission. Don’t grind them away. Take action now. You don’t have to give up everything you’ve ever known and set sail for unchartered waters, but you can dip your foot in. So the first few steps, yes, are proving a little challenging. But I know first hand that they get easier if you keep trying. This year, I’m focused on using my time to do what I’m supposed to be doing. What I’m good at, and what I’ve always wanted to do. Recognising that we ALL have the same amount of time given to us each and every day, and choosing to make time for what matters. Google calendering time for writing and music, choosing to keep doing photo shoots and keep getting better, setting goals and making spreadsheets that force me to get back onto a stage and develop the music within. I found the something as simple as unplugging the router for the internet can do wonders for an evening of creative productivity, and those nights, by the time 2014 draws to a close, are going to have led me far closer to my dreams, and with tangible, real-world results, than ever before.

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Let this journey recommence with a single step. “Forever is composed of nows,” as they say. And now’s as good a time as any to take charge.

Let not your dreams go to waste… (battling some demons)

All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.

As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.

I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging. 

The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.

Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.

My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.

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I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:

“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”

Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

During the first half of 2013, I was absent from blogging because I found myself swept away by a whirlwind of creativity – I was working on my novel, learning an instrument and searching for the courage to sing, and then suddenly, I was in a band. Blogging had always been my safe outlet, and my original reason for doing it remains true: put all of yourself out there into the world, and people may relate and feel not so alone, or someone may just read it all in and decide you’re an awesome person, flaws and fears and history and all. If you put everything you are out there, the ones who take the time to see it all see the real you, and there are no surprises. No skeletons. Just a real person, who believes (despite advice and wishes to the contrary) that only by being a truly open book will any type of relationship be entirely authentic. And if someone can relate to something along the way, maybe we don’t have to be so alone in our struggles. This outlet has taken a bit of a back seat for multiple reasons this year, whether for diving into others or for physically being unable to do the most basic of things, but it’s the end of a year, and I can’t let it slip by without marking something down.

It’s Christmas Eve as I write this, and the year leading up to it has been a difficult one. Life as I knew it this time last year couldn’t look more different than it does now, and with this chapter has come incredible opportunities for learning, introspection and hopefully, growth. Gratitude has stolen the show, and for each soul that not only checked in with me continually to make sure I was well looked after, but also did so much more, with love, encouragement, company, helping me with food, dressing, and bathing as I cried with shame… for those who dropped everything to take care of me, who bought me presents to make me smile, or kept in touch continuously despite being in the midst of a mire of work, homework and exams just to make sure I knew I wasn’t abandoned… words cannot express how deeply my appreciation runs. This year I lost my independence, my dignity, at times, my home, and stability. I felt left behind as the worlds I was so passionate about moved on without me and all I could do was sit and watch. I felt useless, and a burden, and so very scared. I had to visit a food bank several times and say goodbye to things I loved to do so much. I felt it was the biggest curse, to have so much time off on disability – time, the one thing I always wished for to just devote to creating – writing my book, writing songs, playing shows, doing incredible storytelling through photos… I was given the time, but had all ability stolen. For months it hurt so much, but if it weren’t for a handful of the most incredibly kind souls whose hearts are so full of love, I don’t know how I would have made it to today.

There are still many things I’m unable to do, but compared to a few months ago, there are small things I now can – things I will never take for granted again. Being able to sleep lying down. Being able to somewhat return a hug. Being able to open a door to let myself in, and being able to operate a vehicle. Being able to brush my own hair (kind of). These things are taken as a given, but I will never forget how terrible life felt without them. Being poor and kicked out of your home, being in pain every hour of the day, being forced into an existence where everything you love is no longer possible, not being able to afford to eat… these are not things I expected when 2013 rolled around. But do you know something? Life is only 10% what happens to you. It’s 90% how you react to it.

My reaction hasn’t always been the best. I couldn’t count how many times I broke down into sobbing fits, taken over by despair and a flood of worries and frustrations. But the experience has fostered the biggest spirit of gratitude I’ve ever known, and as with every frustration in life, there lies a choice. I can’t choose to put my arm back together, but I can choose to work bloody hard to get it there instead of sitting around. I can’t choose to be able to lift 20 lbs above my head, but I can choose to make the most of the time I’m unable to. I’ve built my knowledge base, I’ve learned how to code enough to make a couple of websites, I’ve learned the finger positions of new chords, and I’ve learned the structures of songs. I can’t choose to have money in my bank account, but I can choose to see that a new top, nail polish, or bottle of wine is not a necessity. And the toughest choice, but still a choice nonetheless, is not to be defeated. There have been times when I’ve felt so alone and lost and in so much pain that I’ve wanted to just give up, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it’s the longest road you’ve ever seen, and the light is a speck as far away as a star in the sky, it’s still shining. But only you can make the journey beginning with step one. And step one always begins with a choice of mentality, and with hope.

This time of year hasn’t traditionally been a good one for me. And I know how hard it can be when the world insists on taking you its Christmas prisoner, with inescapable songs about love and festivity and togetherness poured into your ears at every turn. It is a season of love, but for those going through something difficult, its very existence can exacerbate the toughest of experiences. Even those whose lives are perfectly normal can succumb to the stress of the holidays, the endless pressure to purchase, to visit countless people who don’t stay in touch throughout the year yet are obligatory to give up your time to at Christmas. To spend money we don’t have because the world insists on it; to focus on materialism rather than the true gifts of incredible relationships, unconditional love and friendship, and the making of memories that will last far longer than whatever you found under last year’s tree. There are people out there who, on Christmas Day, will be stuck in a hospital with no-one by their side. There’ll be people at war, or people who’ve just lost someone dear to them. There’ll be people working, stopping crimes, or trying to save the life of someone who’s given up. There’ll be breakups and hearts so heavy with loneliness as the world rubs salt in the wounds. These things happen every day, but the season has a horrid way of turning fairylights into spotlights on the pain felt by those who don’t or can’t fall into the happy togetherness seen on every advert and heard in every December song. The holidays are not supposed to be painful. But the intense pressure we put on them to be perfect can ruin everything. (In writing those words, I feel I just learned something about my own tendency for perfectionism, but that’s a post for another day.)

There’s the operative word. CanIt all comes back to choice. Life is such a fragile thing, and we can be punctured like the shiniest of balloons, leaking out all our joy when life deals crushing blows when we least expect them. But the cracks in our hearts can be filled not just with sadness. We can let love seep in and fill up the holes that have formed in our aching souls. Life can be horrible, devastating and upsetting, but it can also be filled with moments of such kinship, connection, gratitude and joy that we feel it rising from our chests up through our necks and out of our eyes, a feeling of such appreciation that these feelings can still exist within our battered hearts that it has no choice but to come streaming down our cheeks.

Shit happens. At Christmas and on any day. And when it does, we inhale all the pain and misery that come along with it. We sometimes exhale it back into the world because we don’t know we have another choice. But we always do. We can breathe out love instead. Choosing love isn’t always the easiest option. Usually it’s far easier to submit yourself to whatever life has thrown in your path and become its victim, or worse, take it out on others. But nothing in the world, a very wise Mr. Roosevelt once said, is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty. When hardships come, we can experience them. But the magical part is that we can take ownership of our reactions and thoughts before releasing them to the world, and in that in-between state of being done to and doing unto others, we have the power to choose and transform them. Into something that, however hard, will always make the world a better place. Into love.

This Christmas, if you’re hurting, it sucks. It sucks a lot. But try not to let this temporary cage of tinsel and bells turn your spirits to despair. It is just another date on the calendar, but it is also a time for love. When things are hardest, sometimes doing the hardest, most impossible thing leads us to the best path out, and tomorrow is always a new day. What I’m learning is that life is so very fragile, its stability so very precarious. But that when the world turns upside down, these are all external factors, and that there is always something positive, even if in its smallest form of a sliver of hope. The power of choice lies within all of us, and though it may be the most difficult thing to see, if we choose to fuel that tiny spark of positivity before we react, then the world around us becomes that much brighter. People expect us to take the pain and react to it by passing it on. But we can take it in, experience it, and recycle it into love. 

My heart hurts knowing that during the holidays, for so many people all is not well. I hope this week, if you’re reading this, you’ll keep those poor souls in mind and maybe do something send an unexpected spark of love into the world. I like to stop at a coffee shop and buy a hot chocolate for any stranger who happens to be working, away from their families or loved ones, on Christmas Day. It’s a tiny gesture, but this year especially, after so much pain and so much love that’s been given me, I need to exhale that love back. And I hope I continue to build the strength to do so, through this unpredictable journey, no matter what comes my way.

There’s always a choice. It’s not always easy. But it’s there for the taking. Much love being sent to you, wherever and whoever you are, at this very moment.

My First Two Originals

It’s hardly a secret I’ve always loved writing. But writing a song was something I never thought I’d be able to do. I always felt I was too verbose; I had such difficulty keeping things concise that I almost gave up writing for magazines. I never thought I’d be able to fit my words and feelings into three or four-minute bursts. But over the past few months, I haven’t been able to play much music physically, and humming covers wasn’t exactly going to further my passion, so I tried my hand at writing. The first song, Fragments, is about the idea of every person you’ve ever shared part of your life with having a piece of your history, and despite you growing and changing and hopefully becoming better since you knew them, them still holding the piece of you that they knew at the time. The judgments that may come with that. But it’s about recognising that though fragments of yourself are scattered throughout other people’s lives, you’re not your history, and you have the power to decide and believe in who you are in the here and now.

The second I had to write the moment I finished reading a blog post by the wonderful Hannah Brencher, whom many of you will be familiar with. She was one of the first people to ever connect with me when I started blogging, and to witness her journey has just been incredible. It’s about the pain of letting go, and the choice that comes along with it – that no matter how desperate and dark a place you may be in, you still have the power of choice as to what’s inside your mind, and what you do with it.

I think for a first attempt at songwriting, they came out pretty okay. I hope you like them. I know both are about potentially sad things, and in the “write what you know” spirit, there’s a little bit of experience in them, but I think if you’re going to put something as potentially uniting as a song into the world, it shouldn’t bring everybody down. It should give them hope, make them feel they’re not alone, and raise them up to perhaps see a new angle. Some of the songs that mean the most to me are ones that do that. It’s my biggest goal in life, and I’ve always said it: to somehow leave my tiny corner of the planet a little better off than it was before. I may not always succeed, but if I can put myself, my writing, or a song out there, whether it’s seen by two people or two thousand (a girl can dream!), then it takes on a power of its own. And I want that power to carry on a message of positivity and hope. The world is too full of sadness to make things that add to it.

Bone Cruncher (The Final Shot)

It’s been three and a half months now since the incident, and today was kind of a rollercoaster of emotions. The most intense physiotherapy session yet, which left me with what looked like half a can of warpaint smudged down my cheeks; a performance at an open mic which somehow, after this long out of practice, led to compliments from accomplished musicians; and an arrival home to what follows, after I’d dug up the final images from the photoshoot where it all went down (sorry, couldn’t help it!).

I spent an hour or so Frankensteining my way around a couple of the final images my friend Jen shot before I fell and snapped my arm into pieces, trying my hand at editing, and ended up with something I rather liked. I had to ask if it was okay if I shared it – poor Jen was as traumatised by the whole thing as I was, and I wasn’t sure if seeing the final image would resurrect bad memories – but she gave me her blessing, and then wrote this. My heart is full of appreciation for this wonderful woman, and my eyes full of tears. Not only did she offer to pay for my ambulance, but she rode with me, stayed with me, made sure my then-boyfriend arrived, bought my prescriptions, and food…  It’s been such a lonely struggle at times, and this written piece, as well as this girl, is far too full of kindness for me to accept. ❤

Here’s the story through the eyes of the friend who shared this life-changing moment with me. It went viral within an hour of being posted.

“I want to share with you an image, and a story, one that hurts my heart to tell. The image that you are about to see followed a disastrous shoot and ended tragically. 

In early August, Emily Wood and I had our hearts set of doing a shoot that was based around the concept of a young woman who was suffering mentally. We wanted to base the shoot as if we were seeing in through her eyes, in a very dark, creepy manner. It started out great – we had wonderful hair and makeup, and of course, Emily, the lovely model. We had a hospital gown, black “blood”, and a box. And abandoned houses. Yay!

It all went downhill from there.

Barely into the shoot, having barely scraped the images we were wanting to get, my camera batteries unexpectedly died (despite having left them charging the night before). That’s what I get for using no name batteries. 

We were over an hour out of the city with no access to another DSLR and another battery. Lesson learned for me. I felt horrible about the entire thing, I had let the team down. I very much dislike being the weak link in a situation and was beating myself up pretty good for it. But we decided to try to make the best of things, head back to the city, grab Emily’s camera, and make our way to see if we could pull something off in the exchange district. 

We were making levitation shots, and Emily was balancing high up. And then she fell. She fell hard about nine feet, on her shoulder, onto the concrete. There was at first surprise, then shock, then screaming. Emily was in excruciating pain, and I called the ambulance. 

I’d like to take this moment to just reflect on what a brave and amazing woman Emily is. She broke her shoulder/arm in four places, and still manages to keep a smile on her face. She’s been unable to work, has been forced to move out of her apartment since, and yet sees through it all to take something positive out of it. One of the first things she asked me out of the hospital was if I still wanted to edit those images (she really wanted to see them). She does not hide from problems, she takes them head on. 

I’d also like to take this moment to talk about her boyfriend at the time, who did not cease to amaze me. He met us at the hospital, he quit his job so he could help look after her, he also had to move as a result of this unfortunate event, and he too keeps a positive attitude and a smile on his face. He deserves all the credit in the world for his actions.

Months after this event, Emily’s bones are finally starting to show signs of healing, though very slowly. Emily has a job to go back to in the new year, and she is on the way to getting back onto more stable ground. I’m still astounded by the way she handled everything with such grace.

Now that that’s been said (and it needed to be said first, seriously, these people are amazing), I want to talk to you as a photographer. As a photographer, this is one of my worst nightmares come true. I never, never want to see someone get hurt as a result of a shoot I take them on. And normally, I’m on the ball about it. You can sure as hell bet that I was the one making sure that any place Emily stepped in those building were safe, and I knew because I stepped there first. But one wrong thing set off a chain of events that led me to stop thinking clearly, to think that, hey, maybe this shot in this particular location isn’t really a great idea.

We can’t afford to lose our heads this way. We can’t afford to not be diligent. First and foremost, safety has to come first, in everything that we do. Don’t let something that goes wrong in the beginning cloud your judgement. 

Story isn’t over yet. Earlier this evening, Emily blew my mind. She took the images from her camera (the ones right before she fell, the ones I didn’t have the heart to look at), and made something incredible out of them (one handed, no less). Not only does she have some fantastic technical skill, but her bravery to look back onto a moment that had a pretty terrible memory attached to it didn’t stop her.

Emily, you are absolutely one of the best people I know. I hope that one day I can achieve your level of awesome.”

I love you, Jen, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. Despite everything, I’m so glad we got to make this together. ❤

Before and after. I didn't want the image to go to waste!

Before and after. I didn’t want the image to go to waste!

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”


Tonight was a night not too unlike any other. I often find myself in tears, still navigating my way up the emotional spectrum trying to find a way to tame them, but I don’t seem able to help it. Things can be terribly beautiful or beautifully terrible. Things can be so incredibly wonderful, there are in actuality sometimes no words in existence to describe how strongly I feel, so they come out in the form of tears instead. Or I can be reminded of something that happened in my past, something I’ve fought desperately to shelve away and hide from the present I’m working so hard to create. Or I can get swallowed up in loneliness and feel forever unworthy of love or attention, or even being remembered. These past two months with the injury have been bad ones for that. But tonight, the tears came for a rather more traditional reason.

A soul passing away is always cause for sadness, but when you’ve known it for a matter of hours, find it thoroughly traumatised, so paralysed with terror it can’t even shake the spiderwebs that have formed on its body, and then you take it inside, build it a home, warm it, feed it, and make it a bed, see it begin to move… to take nourishment… to build a nest… you feel such joy. And when you wake in the morning to find it in the grip of rigor mortis, you can’t help but sob.

Yes, I found a mouse last night. Some of you may remember the pigeon:

Pigeon rescue

He was in the middle of the road, about to get run over, trying to flap his one working wing and struggling. I remember the strange looks I got as I took him through the underground shopping centre on my arm all the way to where I’d parked, and the comments I got from my coworkers, clearly dumbfounded, judging me for taking time off to help something “they’d give to their cat to kill.” I heard about it for weeks, but it didn’t matter. The bird had been patched up, taken home, and even named by the vets.

So I found a mouse. Something terrible had clearly happened, as he was sitting there frozen with cobwebs on his head, but his eyes were open, and he was breathing… albeit oddly. He looked like he’d sustained some kind of awful injury, or fright, or both, and it broke my heart to think of leaving him. So AC and I brought him in, did some quick scouring of the internet, and made him a little home in one of the boxes not yet unpacked. I gave him a heating pad beneath half the box, some kitchen roll, a corner of cotton balls for nesting, a lid with some water, and some tinily cut up pieces of cucumber and apple. I cleaned him off, but he remained frozen in fear, breathing sharply, and turned on a dim light, leaving the room so as not to cause any further terror. Within the hour, we found him nibbling on a piece of apple, and shortly after, making himself a little bed in the cotton balls. I was overjoyed – anyone who knows me will know that even the thought of animals suffering is enough to send me into a sobfest, and I don’t care if it’s a cat you’d take inside and adopt as your own or a rat most would consider vermin and call an exterminator on; if it has a brain, a body, and a little heart, it needs taking care of.

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So you can imagine how happy I was to see him recovering. The next morning, however, things didn’t look so good. I called out desperately hoping he was just sleeping, but my head was telling me it definitely didn’t look like sleeping. The sharp breathing had stopped, but it seemed so had any other kind of breathing. I held onto the hope that mice do indeed play dead when feeling threatened and hoped for the best, but by the end of an entire day, he was in the same position, definitely no longer with us. I had a good cry, and AC (thank the stars for another NF) suggested we give him a little burial. After being ridiculed for helping a pigeon, the act of kindness and mutual understanding meant the absolute world, and we headed out into the night, his little home in the back seat.

We’d intended to drive down to the river – our new place isn’t far from the water (the full story on how I kind of lost my home to come soon) – but with his eyes on the road and mine on Google maps, I noticed we were within walking distance of an actual cemetery. Not one to ignore a coincidence, we parked and journeyed through the cold to the big iron gates. I’d wanted to leave him somewhere he’d have company (Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book may or may not have been on my mind), and we soon found a small tree midway through the clasp Autumn takes on all things green. There were a pile of crisp leaves at its base, and I noticed a single star to the north, and a big yellow half-moon hung low in the sky to the south. We lay him down under some leaves where the base met the grass, a cotton ball to mark the spot, and I managed to say a few words through a torrent of tears. You’re probably thinking how ridiculous this all sounds, but I can’t describe how or why I was so sad to lose a little creature I’d known only a few hours.

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Until AC pointed something out on the car ride home. I was mid-way through apologizing when he hugged me, and told me it probably had something to do with recognizing suffering in others having gone to the depths of it myself. (Of course this didn’t help with the crying, but the thought hadn’t occurred to me before.) I think part of being an NF involves desperately wanting all to be well in the world, and when things aren’t, whether in our personal one or the planet at large, it causes far more upset than in other MBTI types. And I think I’m (and have definitely been described more than once as) also classified as a HSP – something I’ve written about before – and I maintain that every day still is like “living with fifty fingers as opposed to ten.” I wrote that post over a year ago, and my words hold true to this day:

“I don’t like overanalyzing and reading into things that aren’t there, and I don’t like catastrophising every little event in a day. I love that my sensitivity allows me to be incredibly in tune with others’ emotions, or that I read a piece of beautiful prose or hear a great song and want to jump up and down because somebody’s just been an awesome human being. I love being overly enthusiastic about things like simple existence and celebrating creativity and taking the time to see small beauties of nature and spend two hours in the cold photographing them because nature is just so stunning. I love that there may very well be a biological explanation for being extremely sensitive, and I love that just because I cry a lot doesn’t have to mean I’m a giant baby – it just means I care a lot and feel things more extremely. But I don’t like being a slave to its tendency to send me crashing down faster than an IQ after an episode of the Kardashians.”

I think I’m hard-wired this way, and over time I just have to learn to embrace it – if perhaps, too, control it a little better. Someone who means the world to me once told me a long time ago that I was “the Caretaker of Lost Souls” – the biggest compliment I think I could ever receive in a lifetime. That to have plunged the deepest of depths and to have resurfaced and flown is to know what it’s like. To know loneliness and despair inside and out, to know how awful it is to feel forgotten. And that perhaps that was why I had had to do something for that little mouse. I’ve felt twangs of all of the above now and again since I broke my arm, and yes, it is awful.

There were two happy turns to the story after all was said and done – I’d tweeted about being sad before heading out to the river, and had received a message back:

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AC also pointed out something rather lovely: that we laid him down at the base of a young tree, and that within a few weeks he’d start to decompose, and go directly into the ground through which that tree would absorb its nutrients. That life has a wonderful way of recycling itself, and that perhaps one day, we might take a visit to that tree, and know that in some way, our little mouse was a part of it.

Night has always pushed out day; you must know life to see decay

It’s ironic that the last time I wrote it was about being the necessity of being repeatedly broken, and two days later I’d find myself in A&E (the ER) after falling about ten feet onto cold, hard concrete, shattering my arm in three places. I’ve never broken a major bone before, let alone into three pieces, and the agony was… relentless. I was doing a photo shoot with a good friend of mine, and we were incorporating the idea of levitation shots into our theme—something I was enormously excited about, and had done before, resulting in some really cool images looking like some paranormal force was in play. After spending the day shooting out in a small ghost town in the middle of nowhere, we returned to the city to catch some extreme outdoor shots—all with the assistance of my to-be-invisible balancing box. The final shot was going to look awesome—balanced on my box I was going to appear suspended in an alcove halfway up a building—but I had to make sure my feet looked suspended, too—not as if I were standing on something that wasn’t there. As I moved my feet to the edge of the box, it gave way, tumbling from the nook I’d climbed up into and down to the pavement, taking my bones and cries and scrambling limbs with it.

This was the front of the building, but I think nooks above the entryways were about the same height around the back in the alley where we were.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 5.21.55 PMThe building was all locked up for the weekend and not a soul was in sight. I didn’t have my phone with me and didn’t know AC’s number by heart, and as I sat there screaming my poor friend ran to find out what street we were on and call an ambulance. As she was on the call I realised there was no way I could afford an ambulance and told her in a panic to hang up, but she said she’d cover it, and stayed with me until some downtown security patrol officers showed up. I was in frightening makeup and a hospital gown already, which likely did me no favours, and they kept me talking until the paramedics arrived. I remember them telling me my shoulder had been dislocated and being confused because the pain wasn’t in my shoulder, it was throbbing in my bicep/tricep area and radiating down my entire arm, and the lump seemed way too far down for a shoulder joint to fall to. My friend accompanied me to the ER in the ambulance and I remember arriving in a hospital hallway, screaming, the words “it has to stop, make it stop” repeated a hundred times, my only vocabulary. I kept calling for him, and I didn’t know how at the time but he’d made it.

I was there for four days. Bags of morphine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone were pumped into my veins and they did nothing to relieve the pain. I remember having to have x-rays taken of the arm, wrist, chest and shoulder and crying out, unable to move my body the way it needed to be moved for the excruciating pain and fear. Eventually they got what they needed, and confirmed the humerus had been broken in three places, and I’d have to be immobilised for a number of weeks.

photo (1)Every shift that came and went brought a new wave of doctors, nurses, and assistants, and the communication seemed to dissolve with every passing day. Naturally they wouldn’t let me leave until the pain was manageable, and it wasn’t anywhere close even with an IV, and I couldn’t leave on oral medication if that wasn’t cutting it. I had to—and still am, 2.5 weeks later—sleep upright, and was unable to shower for my entire stay. AC didn’t leave my side once; off work indefinitely just to take care of me, assuring me nothing was more important. I was and still am an emotional wreck with the gratitude of everything he’s doing. Timing and dosing my medication, helping me overcome my mortifying insecurities by helping me shower and dress, addressing the embarrassing side effects of strong narcotics alongside me and making me laugh in the process, holding bowls while I throw up into them (and onto him), cooking for me, cleaning my entire apartment, doing my dishes and my laundry because those I live with have offered zero help in the slightest… if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to have got through these past few weeks. Basic things like washing and dressing are impossible, as are cooking and doing dishes. I feel simultaneously like the luckiest soul in all the world to have this angel looking after me, guilty and frustrated that I can’t do anything in return, and lonely… so very alone. So scared of becoming the biggest burden, despite an arsenal of reassurances to the contrary. It’s been nearly three weeks without income; and every second of the day I’m in pain, useless, and dependent on someone else. It’s so frightening.

This took three days of writing in shifts with one hand, being propped up for as long as I could with pillows and pills, but I had to get it down. The emotions, the fear, the experience… I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. If you were able to get up today after a comfortable night’s sleep, shower yourself, put on an outfit, do your hair and make food for yourself while you replied to emails and checked Facebook… if you got to go to a job where all your limbs cooperated without second thought and got through a day without pain… if you’ll get home tonight and be able to embrace someone you love, and you know you’ll have a paycheque within a couple of weeks… if you have friends you can go visit or take a drive or have a glass of wine, or put on your own pyjamas… count your blessings so, so hard. I’m scared, hurt, and afraid because the world moves on without you. But more than anything, I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for the small handful of friends and family who’ve come to keep me company, to bring me food and movies and a robot arm, to clean for me, to clean me, and to make me smile. To make me feel I still belong. I cannot thank them enough. And mostly, to my AC, who’s given everything and more to take care of me right from the very beginning. My protector.

A bolt of warmth, fierce with joy and pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes.

You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens

The above Rumi quote, accompanied by this striking image, really hit home when I saw it floating around an INFJ Facebook group last week. I realised recently that I’ve reached a point in my life where though, up to this point, I genuinely feel I’ve been living with an open heart, something’s changed. And that something can only be described as having my heart be unbroken. Every worry, every fear, every last hurtful word that’s clung to the the inside and rooted itself deep inside, has been swept away, leaving nothing but a shining freedom the likes of which I’ve never known.

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Words are my weapon, but they are also my kryptonite. Part of pouring my life onto public pages isn’t without risk, and though I’ve dealt with Internet trolls before, my absence from the blogging world has had the pleasant side effect of not really giving them enough fuel to stick around. And it’s been a while. But with my last post (which somehow got into the hands of various festival organizers and performers across the country, and landed me an offer to write for another upcoming festival officially[!])  came another attack, and of course it was directed at my newfound happiness. I had to remind myself that this is the Internet, and that this is the reality of the online world. It’s not personal. There are just people out there who actually enjoy trying to hurt people. But though I think I’ve grown a thicker skin than I used to, the words still stung.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about words from the past and their effect on my current mentality. Words from my childhood, when I was called names in the school playground, or told by my own mother she felt sorry for whatever poor sod ended up with me. Words from former friends, telling me that although I was a wonderful person, my emotions and sensitivity were too much and that they’d rather abandon ship than have any presence in my life. Words from the friends and family of past partners that told me to go back to England because nobody wanted me in this country, or that begged them to leave me because I didn’t fit their mould. Words from exes, telling me repeatedly I wasn’t good enough as I was, that I had to be more to their liking, or telling me to shut my mouth and stop being a little bitch as they pinned me to the floor. Words from teachers as a newly landed immigrant, telling me to speak up and slow down because nobody could understand me, and a class in its entirety laughing in retort. Words from the well-intentioned, telling me I couldn’t possibly go after my dreams. And words from the Internet. Today.

There’s great power in words. They can capture the fragments of human emotion and weave them into something that can light the fire of the very soul. They can express the deepest of love or create the most vivid of imaginary worlds. But they can sting. They can burrow their way into a soul and masquerade as truth, distorting their entire world. The seeds of a person’s destruction. The below video served as inspiration for this post, because it’s true: children believe what they are told. And when those beliefs are formed early, when that foundation of thinking has been laid, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing every negative thing ever thrown your way. To this day.

Now, I did begin this post with a quote that at first may seem morbid, but the instant I read it, it struck a chord. I’ve had to have my heart repeatedly bruised, beaten and broken over the years in order for it to finally, truly open, and its opening has been the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced. Finally, it’s open to the truth. Yes, children believe what they are told. But children grow into adults and those beliefs can become the lens through which life is lived if reinforced and accompanied by a lack of self esteem. But the good thing about having this history, this damage, this repeated hammering at the heart, is that one learns the value of contrast. Only through the darkness can one truly define where the light is, and for the very first time, that light is shining brilliantly.

My heart has been broken to the point of finally opening, and with an open heart comes an eradication of everything that was ever false. A new lens through which to see oneself, and the world. A new way of thinking, and feeling, and believing. An heart broken open so wide that everything that was ever bad had no choice but to spill out, leaving a new vessel into which new truths are repeatedly poured with such passion and determination that I have no choice but to believe them, and remind myself every day that I’m not dreaming. I feel like the luckiest soul on the planet, and words cannot convey the depths of my gratitude. Fears, reluctant acceptance, self doubt… they’re all being erased, replaced with encouragement, confidence, connection, and an actual transformation.

The quote and the advertisement are most definitely disheartening in nature, but simultaneously can, if you let them, offer a glimpse of hope. That things can get better. Be careful with your words, for what you send out into the world may land somewhere it’ll stick, and you may move on with your life, years later in obliviousness to the effect they may have had, or may begin having, on the course of someone’s life. But even for the most sensitive of souls, words don’t have to be your shackles, no matter how heavy they weigh down. At the right time, perhaps with incredible luck and a little orchestration of the universe, they can also set you free.

“Nothing happened. And everything did. Your whole life you can be told something is wrong and so you believe it. Why should you question it? But then slowly seeds are planted inside of you, one by one, by a touch or a look or a day in a park, and they start to burst out of old hulls shells and they start to sprout. And pretty soon there are so many of them. They are named love and trust and kindness and joy and desire and wonder and spirit and soulmate. They grow into a garden so dense and thick that it starts to invade your brain where the old things you were once told are dying.”

— Francesca Lia Block

When all the world becomes a hundred stages

Winnipeg Fringe 2013

My favourite time of year just wrapped up again, and this year I was lucky enough to share it with someone who’d never Fringed before. AC and I saw 12 shows in total (sadly this year I had no vacation time to take the full week off, or it would have been at least double), 90% of which were as brilliant as expected. One of my oldest friends got to stay with me, and though our time was short, it was wonderful, and we even got to help out in making part of People Pleaser (if you happen to be lucky enough to be reading this in Edinburgh, please catch his show!).

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We saw actors perform a sold-out show and move the audience to tears with no words; nothing but hand-crafted masks and brilliantly imagined physicality. We laughed ourselves silly at so many witty comedies, parodies, and storytelling, and spent one night in absolute awe of one show in particular, which left me absolutely breathless. Seriously. There are some moments of human brilliance, whether in writing, Tim Redfordperformance or music, where the creator actually has the power to suspend time and transport you into their world, immerse you in its creativity so deeply that when it’s over, you almost feel the physical need to come up for air. I can’t explain it, but that kind of mesmerizing power, that kind of imagination, that kind of skill… it just leaves me breathless. After that show, I left inspired on so many levels, and reinvigorated with ideas for getting back to writing. And the universe, as if in unison with the burst of awe I felt inside, set the sky alight as it crashed down on us in the most epic of storms, and we ran, we kissed, we laughed, we stood atop a bridge marvelling at the lightning and the force of nature that seemed to be an echo of everything we felt inside.

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I know I try every year, but words fail me when I try to express just how much I love this time of year. I’ve been to Fringe festivals in other cities, and though Edinburgh and Adelaide remain for now a dream, there’s nothing quite like Winnipeg’s. The whole city unites in one part of town that’s usually deserted, and restaurants, pubs, concert halls, parks, churches, and of course the usual theatres become the home of the products of people’s imagination, and the dedicated audiences that fall in love with them. There’s magic in the theatrical. Anyone can become transported into a world of someone else’s creation; for a moment in time nothing exists but the universe of another’s conjuring. It can evoke laughter, tears, and all manners of emotion, and its residual effect can be carried like a torch in the form of inspiration long after its burst of glory. And to live in a city where there’s a community of fellow enthusiasts, others who adore these twelve days of a hundred plus creations… is incredible. Passion shared is passion multiplied, and this year, I got to share it with my favourite person in the world.

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It came and went all too quickly, this explosion of universes that originated in the human mind and for a moment, became real. But they were real. The residual inspiration with which I’m filled is real, and I’m beyond excited for it to fuel the next chapter of creating worlds of my own. In my head, in writing, and in song.  1009800_10151731036659171_359321007_n

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.” 
— Neil Gaiman

Black and White in a World of Technicolour

I first encountered the phrase “black and white thinking” a couple of years ago when I met with someone at the local Anxiety Disorders Association prior to starting any programming, exercises or medication. This was probably half a decade ago now, and I remember sitting in a very welcoming lady’s office and noticing that despite probably being well into her fifties, she had one of the prettiest, most inviting faces I’d ever seen, as well as a head of beautiful brown curls. Her face was etched with countless lines, but all I remember seeing in it was kindness and beauty. The purpose of my visit at this point was, after a referral from my doctor, to have a discussion to see what type of anxiety disorder I had. Social? Panic? Generalised? I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember her opening a book at a page listing a series of symptoms and feelings, and asking me which I related to. I remember bursting into tears when I realised my life was filled with every single thing on the list, and feeling like it was complete and utter confirmation that I was thoroughly flawed. Broken. I wasn’t able to finish the assessment, and I vowed never to go back—stepping foot inside that building again would be a reminder that I was fundamentally wrong, and I knew if I stayed out, I could pretend. I could do it by myself.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I did end up back in that very same building, taking that very same assessment. I’d done what I could on my own—set up and near-completed a list of everything I was ever afraid of (then, in true INFJ fashion, made another one!), tackled fears head-on (even if they resulted in various instances of throwing up or sobbing my heart out feeling my efforts weren’t good enough), but I still had Serious Issues. We could go back for hours talking about where they came from, but the point was they were still there. At this point, I went through the program. I started counselling and medication and I started doing my homework. I did a lot of reading and a lot of learning, not on how to “conquer” anxiety, because I think I’ll always be a worrier, but how to manage the destructive thoughts and feelings that had buried themselves so deeply into my skin that they’d become part of my identity.

My then-boyfriend broke up with me several times over anxiety-related issues. Each time I felt once again that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to do better, be more, in order to be worthy of being wanted. I felt like I had to prove myself for two whole years, but looking back, I’m glad things unfolded the way they did. Even if the motivation at the time was fuelled by insecurity, being forced to learn independence and how to manage my thoughts made me strong enough to accept the final breakup when it did happen. I’d learned I needed—and deserved—more than always having to prove myself and beg desperately simply to feel wanted.

That was a tangent, but it leads me back to the idea of black and white thinking. Throughout all that, I was taught that it was a terrible thing, and that it was part of my anxiety that had to be eliminated. Yes, I did learn that sometimes, not being able to see the in-between can blind you to the best solution. It’s horribly self-centred of me to believe that there are only two ways of seeing things and that anything else is completely invalid, but at the same time, hate the idea of wasting a single day on things that don’t align with what life should be. Trivialities, chores, arguments, Facebook… we have one life, and each day is falling away from us faster and faster as we get older. We don’t know how many we have left. We hope there’ll be lots, but there are no guarantees. None. So on one hand, I do acknowledge that being too focused on not wasting time prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly the thing that others involved may expect or need—but on the other, perhaps more dominant hand, being able to quickly see how things are, whether or not they line up with how they should be, and make an immediate call to action to improve them results in more time being spent on the things that matter. I realise that not everyone operates this way, and I acknowledge the value in devoting time to truly exploring the best way forward. I just have an unequivocable need to bridge any discrepancy between how things are and how they’re meant to be as quickly as possible, so as to make the most of however many moments we’re given on this planet.

BridgeI’m not just talking about times of conflict. I’m talking about goals in life, too. I honestly think if I hadn’t put everything out there for the world to see, I would have had no reason to remain accountable or take action, and I would probably still be huddled away in my cubicle at lunchtime so inwardly full of dreams and so outwardly terrified of judgment and failure. What a waste of this gift of time. When I first met AC, I saw someone passionate about music. Someone who’d begun with the same dream but had been as scared as I was, who’d taken the leap into performing and a year later, fronted a band, had written dozens of songs, and had turned that dream into reality. I wished desperately for someone I might be able to begin the same journey with, and when he was actually open to starting a band with me, my brain quickly weighed out the options in a flash: fight or flight. This was my option to fight the fear that had kept me off stage for nigh on a decade, so I grabbed onto it tightly, all the while counting my lucky stars for the opportunity. That night, I sang something, and made him face the other direction I was so nervous. But a few hours later, we were singing together, and I’d decided we were going to perform publicly in two weeks’ time. I remember him telling me it didn’t have to be so soon, that I could take my time and ease into it. And I remember saying that as scared as I was, it was something I wanted to be able to do, and there was no point wasting any more months being afraid when the opportunity to just do it was staring me in the face. The thing is, opportunities are all around us. If you don’t like something about your life, you have every power to change it. All you have to do is decide to, and take action. It’s been almost three months since we started our little duo, and I’ve got a log of six performance diaries already, music videos of us on YouTube, a rather official looking Facebook page, and photos of myself actually enjoying being on stage. Three months, and already so very much closer to where I want to be—all because of black and white thinking.

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I’m trying to walk the line between what I believe to be the benefits of black and white thinking and what others around me may need. Do I try to convince them of my rationale? I think any time someone tries to get someone to see things their way, if it’s done with the intention of bettering things, practices, thoughts or processes, it’s almost a crime not to—only when one tries to convince purely for the sake of being right is the endeavour wrongly entered into. But I have to respect that other people’s methods and ways of doing things are just as valid to them as mine are to me. It’s a strange balancing act, but I had to put it out there. If there’s a situation, a goal, or a life you want to be leading and aren’t, whether it’s ten minutes from the present or ten years away, realizing the discrepancy between what you’re actually doing right now and whether or not it’s going to get you where you want to be can be an immediate call back to the right direction. Things can be as simple as switching your mindset; breaking the cycle of immediate emotion and focusing instead on how your current actions are affecting the big picture. Life is finite, and that’s a scary thought. Why fill any period of time with grey when it could be filled with technicolour?

5 Songs That Changed My Life

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.08.41 AMToday the lovely Melissa over at Press Play is featuring this post as part of her 5 Songs That Changed My Life feature. Melissa’s life is FULL of music, and she shares the same passion for it I do, except she gets to work in the industry and do things like meeting Ed Sheeran too!!

I had to sign up for it the moment I heard about it. Nothing has had a big an impact on my life as music. I’m a pretty emotional person, and it’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life – I always liked to imagine a sort of emotional spectrum, and where I think it’d probably be easier to lay close to the centre, in the neutral zone far away from the depths of feeling (because things can get pretty dark sometimes), I don’t think I ever could, because you can’t have the soul-igniting, heart-exploding highs in life without also experiencing the lows. And I wouldn’t trade those for anything. I am going somewhere with this – and it really does tie in to music. For every experience I’ve ever had in life, every feeling, every hope or dream or period of exhilaration or loneliness… for every emotion this heart is capable of feeling, there’s a song that can speak straight to it. Music isn’t just the language of love, it’s the language that penetrates your very soul if you let it, and I cannot convey the amount of enthusiasm and respect I have for those who’ve written words and put them to music in such a way that it’s like a direct channel to my soul. (I swear I’m not this weird in real life… just incredibly passionate about the magic of what us humans can create and express in this form of art.)

1. Frank Turner – If Ever I Stray

It was really hard for me to narrow it down to just one Frank Turner song, because he’s one of those modern day songwriters that just gets it. Just gets exactly how it is, exactly what’s wrong with the world, exactly what’s worth singing about, exactly what’s important in life, and there’s no overproduction or forced melodies – it’s a simple English bloke singing songs about what really matters, and he has a way of doing it that just makes me want to ingest every lyric and with them wallpaper the insides of my head. A couple of favourite lines from other Frank songs include “it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go; no-one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do”, along with “I face the horizon, the horizon is my home”, and “It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old,” but I find this track a great reminder for when things may get difficult in life, or you’re feeling low or questioning choices you’ve made… this song always helps me really re-focus on the good things to be thankful for that exist every minute of every day.

“If ever I stray from the path I follow
Take me down to the English Channel
Throw me in where the water is shallow
And then drag me on back to shore!

‘Cos love is free and life is cheap
As long as I’ve got me a place to sleep
Clothes on my back and some food to eat
I can’t ask for anything more”

2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work

I knew I’d have to pick a Kate song, and though this isn’t my favourite of all, it is the one that without fail always leaves me absolutely sobbing. As you listen to her remarkable voice sing a chorus that absolutely penetrates your heart, you can’t help but feel a sense of urgency in life, to not let it go to waste… to tell those you love how much they mean to you, to live these moments we’re given and build a life you can look back on without regret… to always express. Always, always express.

“I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking
Of all the things I should’ve said that I never said
All the things we should’ve done that we never did
All the things I should’ve given but I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away”

3. The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home

This song just stirs something within me that transcends the lyrics themselves, which I wouldn’t go so far as to say have “changed my life”, but every time I hear this song I feel drenched with a cold awe. Every once in a while a song will come along, stop you in your tracks and burrow its way into your ears, then your heart, then every fibre of your skin, making every hair stand up straight on the end of a thoroughly haunted and mesmerized goosebump. This is raw and beautiful, and something about this voice, and the soaring beauty at the chorus end as it fades into the softest of next few words… it’s beautiful. I don’t think there’s an official video, so I wouldn’t read too much into this one, but just close your eyes and turn this up and lie down somewhere comfortable and enjoy something magical for the next six minutes.

4. Mumford and Sons – Roll Away Your Stone

Again, it was far more difficult than it should be to narrow it down to just ONE Mumford song… this is my all-time favourite band. I remember when I first got Sigh No More… it was  the perfect balance of heart-wrenching, goosebump-inducing, earnest longing with a heavy dose of bluegrass and roots, dominated by thumping kick drums and a killer banjo (yes, really) that had me cranking my speakers and jumping around the living room. It was an extraordinary debut; a stunning combination of the expertly crafted upbeats and raw, emotionally ripping passion, each song fully able to stand alone as a fabulously crafted masterpiece… I went to see them before the first album was released in North America at an intimate little venue in Toronto back in what must have been 2009? It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I remember writing at the time: There was an excited, energetic buzz filling the room; they commanded the crowd dressed in vintage waistcoats, rotating instruments, and had the crowd jumping up and down pumping fists while on the edge of their seats two tracks later in awe at the raw passion, soul and mastery of lyricism in front of them.  It was nothing short of stunning, and I hope they get the worldwide recognition they deserve. I’m SO glad they exploded.

This song is one of my favourites not just because of the build up that leaves you breathless, but because of the artfully constructed words, the melody, the combination of everything all in one song that hit really close to home. To me, it’s about being afraid… the fear of being isolated with only your own heart for company. In the past, that’s been a daunting, dark, prospect, and I think the verses capture the fear incredibly. And then the song just builds up into a “fuck it, there’s a whole world out there and it’s brilliant and I’m going to fill my soul with that instead” crescendo of awesomeness that just makes you want to shout YES right along with it.

“Stars hide your fires, for these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
And you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine”

5. The toughest one! There are at least another twenty songs I could probably list; but I’m trying really hard to focus on ones that have had impact rather than ones I’d just love to broadcast to the world because they’re damn good songs. The honour of the last spot I think has to go to Laura Marling, because her words, especially from such a young girl, are so incredibly wise and beautifully poetic. Hope in the Air was a close second, and is a brilliantly written tale that’s a story in itself (and contains one of my favourite lyrics and haunting melodies ever):

“Our hearts are small and ever thinning,
There is no hope ever of winning,
Oh, why fear death, be scared of living”

But I ended up choosing Rambling Man – it speaks to me on so many levels, from the opening verse to the defiant chorus all the way through (excerpts below).

“Oh, naive little me
Asking what things you have seen
You’re vulnerable in your head
Where you’ll scream and you’ll wail till you’re dead”

But give me to a rambling man
Let it always be known that I was who I am

Beaten, battered and cold
My children will live just to grow old
But if I sit here and weep
I’ll be blown over by the slightest of breeze

And the weak need to be led
And the tender I’ll carry to their bed
And it’s a pale and cold affair
I’ll be damned if I’ll be found there

But give me to a rambling man
Let it always be known that I was who I am

It’s funny how the first chords you come to
Are the minor notes that come to serenade you
It’s hard to accept yourself as someone
You don’t desire

As someone you don’t want to be

Transformation is an incredible process, and I adore her determination in this song to become more than those negative voices in our own heads that tell us our limits, not our capacities. To get to the other side, and above all, to be known.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!