26 Before 26

Now I’m Officially Old: Perspective, Fears, Goals and Dreams Before 30

So it’s been a full two years since the 26 Before 26 – which turned into a bit of a 26 before 27, but I think I just about got there in the end. Last week I turned 27 (and got a SWORD from my amazing boyfriend!), and, seeing as I think that officially puts me into the “late twenties” category, I’m going to go ahead and do it all over again. This birthday, I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. I’m going to become Jack Nicholson, except without portraying cancer as a fun adventure leading to some sort of clichéd (and rather irritating) epiphany. You shouldn’t wait for something terrible to happen before you decide to grab life by the throat and live it to pieces (thank you Frank) – but that being said, when something terrible does happen, you do kind of realise that life is short, and it’s probably better off not to spend it on crap you’ll either forget or regret when the end is drawing near.

Yes, some pretty rubbish things have happened over the last year. My ex husband disappeared, went crazy, and came back a different person who left shortly afterward for good waving a crucifix around in the air.  My anxiety got to an all time high, which resulted in a lot of crying, a lot of damage, and a lot of people sodding off. I lived in a hobbit-sized apartment with a git of a landlord who almost lost my cat, charged me almost $1,000 a month, and let my ceiling remain pretty much collapsed for two of the coldest months of the year. I got into a car crash and totalled my boyfriend’s car a week before my driving test. And the man I love is incredibly sick, and I can’t do anything to take it away. Many of my real-life friends are fully aware of the prognosis and day-to-day details, but it’s not my place to broadcast the details across the internet. But it’s really, really hard. So it hasn’t been the easiest year, but it has put things very much into perspective for me. Two of the biggest things I’ve learned are that a) time is short, that every second should be spent wisely, and that trivial things should never be prioritised over what ultimately means most in life, and b) shit happens, but the only way it’s going to stop happening is if you decide to take action rather than whine about it.

Blogging about my goal list over the course of the last two years is hands down the reason I kept going. Once you put something out there for the world to see, you feel like you owe it to them to follow through on your promises. And you owe it to yourself to stay accountable, and not look like a lazy bastard. Blogging’s taken a bit of a back seat lately because I’m spending most of my free time working on the novel. But it’s still important for me to keep some sort of record of 2012, even if it’s only every month or two. To continue to immortalise life as it is, life as it was, to look back on and remember how everything felt exactly as it happened. My words are my legacy, and I’m not going to abandon them. That’s another thing I’ve learned – we all have the same amount of minutes in every day, and complaining about “not having time” for something important to you is incredibly defeatist. If it’s truly important, you make time.

So I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. And this time, it’s not going to be lame! When I made the last list, it wasn’t just a bucket list of stuff I thought might be kind of neat – it was a list of things I was terribly afraid of, but things I was desperate to be able to do (but that most people probably checked off by the time they reached puberty). Reading out loud and speaking to people on the actual telephone don’t make for the most exciting of reading material, and I think I’ve taken enough of the small steps to move onto the bigger ones. I promise it’ll be more exciting this year. I want to challenge myself, grow, learn new things, throw myself outside what’s comfortable and hope for the best. I want to learn to stop giving a crap about things and people that don’t factor into the big picture, and I want to focus only on the things that do. I want to learn to accept my weaknesses and faults, and actively try to change them. I want to learn what is most comfortable, and spend some time nurturing that as well as trying what’s not. I don’t want to get to the end without any scars. I want to get there knowing I did something, and I want to know more fully who exactly I am. I think once you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty much time to kick the bucket, but I think there’s enormous value in exploring yourself, learning to be comfortable with what’s there, and challenging yourself to be even more. I think I’m on the right track. I think it was good to have tried things I was afraid of, but I tend to give myself a hard time for not having done them perfectly – my goal wasn’t just to attempt them, but to do them fearlessly, and in that respect, it’s hard not to focus on shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think points are generally given for effort, so I think as long as I keep trying, maybe I’ll learn to give myself a bit of a break.  It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going or if you even know where you’re going, as long as you’re moving forward.  And move forward I shall.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to truly “conquer” anxiety, or not be a worrier. There’s a fine line between habits and innate personality traits, and hard as I work at changing behaviours and thought patterns, I think there’s always going to be something there that’s simply part of who I am. I think it would be a terrible thing if we could easily change who we are, but I think with enough effort and determination, we can change habits that may masquerade as personality.  I know I’m always going to be sensitive, and I’m always going to have introverted tendencies over extraversion. I know I’m always going to cry when I think of animals being mistreated (even in Pixar movies) or losing loved ones (also even in Pixar movies… yes, I just finished watching Up), or when I feel like I’ve let someone down. But I just have to look at these things and instead of eliminating them, maybe just working on getting them in check, – maybe trying to see the positive side of them is the way to go. Yes, I hate that I’m so incredibly sensitive and cry so often. But I’m proud of the fact that I feel with the absolute maximum capacity I have, and care so deeply about what’s important to me. And if weeping like a Shakespearean B-lister every night is the result, then I think it’s a small price to pay.

I have two years left of my twenties. I still have so much to learn, so much to improve, so much to tackle and so much to try. I have so many goals I want to throw out there into the universe and make sure I always keep working on. I have activities I want to experience, moments I want to share, places I want to see, and project I want to complete. And I want to spend every day focusing on all of them. Nobody, they say, gets remembered for the things they didn’t do. So here goes.

1. Become a proper ukulele player (i.e. learn more than six chords), and learn how to play guitar. I love that I can play – not well, I might add – something whenever I have the desire to spontaneously burst into song, and I love that I’ve made enough lame videos to not be so self conscious about people other than the cat hearing me. But I want to lose the awkwardness, the terror at the thought of singing in front of a single person, learn to have some sort of presence, and actually not kind of suck at something I actually really enjoy.

Thanks Corey for sharing this gem

2. Finish the novel. All 100,000 words of it. Get it published, whether self or through a publisher, and see just one copy for sale in a local bookstore. I’m about a tenth of the way through my first draft right now, and I’m addicted. I love the premise. I love the poor, twisted characters. I love that I have enough fuel from real life stuff and my own mental meanderings to create such a creepy world. Thank you, everyone who’s ever been a psycho!

3. Go an entire month without crying. Right now I think it’d be pretty accurate to say I cry every two or three days. Not because I’m sad or lonely or depressed, but usually about things I care so bloody much about. I cry because of loved ones in pain and me being powerless to do anything about it. I cry because of how lucky I feel to have such incredible people in my life. I cry at the thought of never having met them. I cry when I think about animals in pain. And I cry because sometimes, the chasm between where I am and where I want to be is bigger than I’d like, and I feel like I’m letting people down. I’m not a miserable person by any means, but I feel things with enormous emotional impact. I’d just like to be able to get the physiological consequence of that under control.

4. Do whatever I can to travel home to England or to see more of Europe. I haven’t travelled far away for a few years now, and I miss it terribly. I did take an amazing road trip back in March though, which was pretty amazing – if I can’t go too far, I’d really love to do another one and make it all the way to SF Comic Con. 🙂

5. Get a text sleeve. Or a partial one. I saw this forever ago and absolutely fell in love with it. Now I’m not going to go as big as my entire arm – initially I wanted to go with the same spot as my other arm tattoo, but then I figured a) it’d probably look like I’d been in prison, and b) it’d probably look like I’d been in prison. Plus I’ve never been one for symmetry anyway. So I think I’m going with my other arm, maybe along the back of the tricep, or over the shoulder. I’ve compiled a few of my favourite quotes and hacked them out visually to get this sort of effect. And I can’t wait.

6. Stop picking my damn thumbs. Is this what giving up smoking feels like? Instead of rotting away my lungs I’m mutilating my hands at every opportunity. It makes NO SENSE. I look nervous, it’s gross, it hurts, and it makes my hands look they they’ve fallen victim to the Vidiian Phage – but for some reason I can’t stop digging my nails into my thumbs and peeling them until they bleed. It’s the most disgusting habit ever. I’ve tried fiddling with hair bands, getting manicures, and putting plasters on them… but logic and willpower are disappointingly weak little buggers in comparison to the ridiculous compulsion.  I mean really?

7. Become a more active astronomer. Be able to recognise more planets and constellations without Star Walk. I may accomplish this once my Space Room is completed next month. Painting’s already underway – now to map out constellations on the ceiling, string up hundreds of fairy lights, and make a DIY solar system. I live in the most wonderful and nerdy place in the world, and I love it. I also really want to learn to capture the night sky in a photo.

8. Completely pay off my debt. I’ve started with small things like bringing canned soup to work and taking caffeine pills so I don’t have to spend on downtown lunches or Starbucks (I swear it’s healthier than the ten sugars and colossal amounts of syrup I need in order to get the stuff down). I’ve started eating bachelor food at home, I gave up my gym membership (it takes a good ten minutes just to walk to the kitchen and back), and date nights include building forts and writing by Dollar-store candlelight instead of going out. But one thing I’ve learned in my working adult life is that sadly, you are worth what your job title says you’re worth – not what you actually do. That doesn’t stop me stepping outside the box. I love stepping outside of boxes. This probably stemmed from getting stuck under my bed as a child and being terrified of ever being in one again. My resume may say I’ve been an Admin Assistant for the last six years, but I’ve been a writer, a marketer, a graphic designer, a social media expert, an office manager, an accountant, a curriculum developer, a teacher and a coach. And that’s just in my last two jobs.

I’m all for the sentiment of being the creator of your own destiny, but when it comes to dreaming bigger, that’s not the problem – it’s being financially unable to break the poor cycle in order to do it. Yes, I could take classes in the evenings or on weekends to get myself some sort of certification that says officially on paper that I can do all the things I already can. But there’s always going to be a part of me that refuses based on sheer principle, and there’s no way I can invest thousands of dollars and 100% of my waking time to something that may get me a better sounding title (and subsequent pay package) – that’ll take another decade of being poor in order to pay off. I really, really like the job I have right now. I like the people, the place, and the progressive responsibilities I’m being given. I’m managing okay-ish financially, but for now, it’ll have to do. I know it’s going to take a couple of years to fully tackle my debt, and in the meantime it’ll mean a few sacrifices. But hopefully by thirty, it’ll be under control.

9. In relation to the above, there’s nothing to say I can’t add one based on sheer hope and wishing really hard. By thirty, I want to have a more impressive (and accurate) job title. I have a big goal in my current job, and I’m really hoping that one day it’ll be a possibility.

10. Read 25 books. (I know it doesn’t sound like a lofty goal, but I’m being realistic.)

11. Skydive. Next month I am hosting a party celebrating humanity launching itself up into the sky, and I think it’d be terribly exciting (if predictably list-worthy) to launch myself back down from it. I can’t think of a bigger adrenaline rush, and it’s good to be utterly thrilled every once in a while. I want to jump out of a plane with someone I love, and share the memory for the rest of our lives. (Almost relatedly, I also really want to go zorbing with someone.)

12. Take an incredibly out of character class, like hip hop dance, burlesque, theatre or pole dancing. Just to say that I did.

14. Give a public speech. That goes well.

15. Stop injuring myself and getting bizarre afflictions. I don’t know how, but bizarre afflictions seem to keep popping up that are just downright embarrassing to explain. Last year it was the joints in my hands. It ended up being a few RSIs as a result of living in the pre-Smartphone age, but it got to the point where I couldn’t use my hands. I couldn’t grip anything – couldn’t do dishes, carry bags, hold a pen or straighten my hair. And when people asked what I’d done – I didn’t have a cool bad-ass answer. I didn’t break my hand punching ninjas, I had a random injury I couldn’t really explain.

Since September, I’ve had a weird skin disease that I’ve managed to keep under control with topical steroid creams. Which I learned last week cause a dependency/addiction to be developed – which I already knew, since every time I stopped using it, it would come back – so I’ve just switched to antibiotics and a non-steroidal gel. The withdrawal is absolutely horrifying. The skin around my mouth, nose and eyes has exploded in an itchy, flaky, red, sore ugly mess and I look like I just had a vat of acid thrown at my face. Apparently this is normal, and goes away within a couple of months. I’ve spent all weekend hiding in the dark and I’m dreading facing the world tomorrow. Why couldn’t it be on my elbow or knee or somewhere I could cover up??

Also, this year, I had to have a toenail removed. And in what I can only explain via best guess, the subsequent walking funny did something to my whole foot, and I haven’t been able to put proper shoes on or walk without my foot taped up for the last three weeks. What did I do? I have no idea. I don’t know if it’s torn ligaments, a hairline fracture or a voodoo curse. But I feel stupid not being able to walk and not having a reason why. I suppose the only way I can accomplish this is taking better care of myself. Getting more sleep, eating more vegetables, and doing more exercise. And maybe some more wishing.

16. Learn to be concise. This goes for blogging, writing, e-mailing, even conversing. Nobody has several hours at a time to devote to my two thousand-word ramblings about things that could be described in bullet points. And more importantly, nobody’s going to want to read a book that takes seven pages for a character to leave his apartment and go down a flight of stairs.

17. Go to Vegas, or spend Christmas/New Year’s Eve seeing musicals and ice skating in New York.

18. Stop worrying about things I can’t control. I tend to work myself up into fits of tears over things that often only exist in my head. I need to learn to stop worrying, and have my first instinct to calmly talk about things rather than internally catastrophise them and react accordingly.

19. Focus on quality over quantity. I think part of what they call “growing up” is learning the lesson that it’s not how much crap you have, it’s how awesome your crap is that actually matters. But even though I’ve been putting a lot of effort into embracing my introverted tendencies, things like birthdays still get me down. Last weekend I threw a get-together and must have invited at least fifty people. Knowing this was a Facebook event, I knew that in all likelihood half wouldn’t respond, and maybe a third would come. I convinced myself that even if four people came, it’d still be great, because as a Grown Up, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it matters how great they are. But as the event got closer, I kept getting those damn notifications. From people (a lot of whom had sodded off after the events of December, but with whom I still had hope) declining without reason. This shouldn’t matter – it’s Facebook, I’m not hitting a milestone, and grown-ups have things like children and weddings and vacations and evening jobs and all sorts of other obligations. But it still made me really sad and really lonely. It ended up being lots of fun – we had a gathering of a dozen or so, drank lots of wine, listened to good music and played lots of board games (including 12-person Balderdash with Monopoly and Chess pieces), and I think everyone had fun. But I still felt really down about all the people who not even just declined without saying why, but the giant chunk of people who didn’t even bother to respond.

Before thirty, I want to learn to not be so devastated by things like this that are perfectly acceptable and normal, and in no way equal me unequivocally being a giant loser. I have amazing friends, who do amazing things every day, and they mean more to me than I could ever say. I am determined to stop giving a crap about people that really are more acquaintances than anything, and remind myself all the time how lucky I am to have a few absolute stars in my life that made my actual birthday one of the best I’ve ever had. The number of wishes from people, the cards with words that moved me to tears, the incredibly thoughtful gifts, the surprises… I felt like the luckiest person in the world at the end of the day. So next year: no birthday party, or trying to organise something big on a Saturday night. Just a handful of loved ones enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating being here on this Earth together at the same time.

20. Embrace my natural introversion, but do what I can to quell the assumptions that go along with it. Not just those around me, but my own, too. I’ve definitely been learning that it’s okay to spend time in your own company, and not fight my cravings for evenings with no plans like I used to. I’m actually rather enjoying time by myself where I can read or write or play music and not feel like I have to be socialising (and that there’s something wrong with me because of it). But there are all sorts of misconceptions about introverts, and I want to set the record straight. I think it’ll make me feel better, and hopefully make like-minded others feel a little bit better. If you feel like we might be in the same boat, here are some interesting things I learned about introverts from Psychology Today and Cracked – my two go-to sources for understanding the human race.

21. Hug a tiger. I’ve hugged a dolphin (and given him a high five) and it was hands down one of the most joy-filled ten minutes of my life. After my dolphin experience, the trek back to my tour bus included stops at a seal show, petting sweet little birds, and watching tigers clean themselves. JUST LIKE GIANT VERSIONS OF KITTENS. Having a socially accepted and completely content pet tiger would probably be the best thing ever, but since that’s about as likely as scientists discovering a nutrient at KFC, I am more than happy to settle for a simple hug.

22. Learn to swing dance.

23. Have fantastic nails all the time. My appearance has changed an awful lot over the last year. I used to feel the need to tan, have hair extensions, continually be made up, and getting manicures every other week in order to be attractive. But the people who’ve been in my life for the last little while have shown me that none of that matters – not to mention the exorbitant amount of cash it all adds up to. I no longer tan, I box dye my hair, I can go to Safeway without makeup on, and I save myself $45 every three weeks on nails by doing my own. I’ve fallen in love with Poor Person DIY Nail Art – it’s cheaper and more fun than boring old French manicures anyway.

24. Do something big for a good cause. I try to do things as often as I can to make my little corner of the world a tiny bit better. I donate to charities, I sponsor a child, and I’ll buy a sandwich for someone with a cardboard sign if I think they’re genuinely in need of it. But it’s not enough. It breaks my heart that every second there are people losing babies, husbands and wives, diseases taking over and killing amazing people, animals being kicked or thrown into dumpsters or over bridges, people being tortured or exploited or abused, and it along with feeling absolutely devastated and incredibly useless, sometimes it genuinely makes me horrified to be a part of the human race. I want to do something bigger, something more, something that will really do something significant. I don’t know what yet, but I want it to happen.

25. Perform at least three songs at an open mic – with an instrument – and without throwing up afterwards.

26. Change my inner monologue. They say we are what we believe, and perhaps one of the reasons I’m finding it so hard to shake some of my insecurities is because going through the motions without internally believing you’re successful in your endeavours is never going to address the root problem. My thoughts are still a problem – I’ll sit down to write something and tell myself it sucks when I’m finished. I’ll play a song for the Internet and watch it back cringing, telling myself how stupid I look and how bad I sound. If I’m home on Friday and Saturday nights I tell myself it’s because everybody has someone more exciting to be with. Getting this skin infection left me crying and sitting in the dark for days because I repeatedly tell myself I’m not as attractive as others, and this has made me even more hideous. I might be able to carry off being confident by at least doing the actions – but I’m never internally and genuinely going to believe it as long as I keep telling myself otherwise. I’ve started a little exercise – writing down three things I like about myself each night before bed. I haven’t been as diligent as I probably should have lately, but I think it’s a step in the right direction in learning to create my own self image, and not continually relying on others’ assurances, or tearing myself down. The only person that can bridge the gap between how I see myself now and how I want to is me.

27. Be mentally, physically and financially ready to settle down and have a family. I don’t think this will happen by thirty, and as I am right now, I don’t particularly want it to – I’m just learning to love life and tap into what it can be like when you learn the right lessons, and practice the right attitudes. I have so much to see and do and so many memories to make before that time comes. A lot of people my age have now already been hit by the baby bug – I see all the time Facebook statuses about it coming completely out of the blue, and being subsequently unable to think of anything but having a child. I’m not there. At all. In all honesty, the only reason I considered it after I just got married was because the timing made sense. I am so incredibly thankful it didn’t happen – if it did, I probably would’ve been stuck in a meaningless, loveless cycle of settling, disagreements, and obligations. I never would have known what life could be with the right people in it. And now that gift has been given me, I want to live it to pieces with those people. I do want to have a family one day – I believe raising excellent humans is the best thing you can do for the good of the rest of the planet, and it’d be incredible to see part of your soul embodied in somebody else – but I’m not there yet. Hopefully by 30, I’ll at least want to be.

28. See the northern lights. For someone who loves the night sky as much as I do, I still can’t believe I’ve never seen these. I was blown away by the sight of a real, unpolluted meteor shower last summer and I’ve been enchanted ever since. I can’t possibly predict it, but I hope one day in the next couple of years I’ll see the lights dancing across the sky.

29. Inspire someone to change their life. I don’t really blog for traffic any more. But when I first started, the biggest thing I wanted was to be able to be real, and put my hopes, fears and struggles out there, in hopes of finding other people who felt the same things I did. My biggest goal wasn’t to eliminate my fears. It was certainly one of them, but moreso, through taking small steps at a time, I hoped to inspire somebody else to challenge theirs, and live better because of it. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m determined to help someone become more.

30. Learn chess and win a game. I want to learn all the rules and be able to plan fifteen moves ahead and stop losing all my little soldiers and take that damn king. But more (and rather more nerdily): I want to build more neural pathways in my brain. Like life, what’s the point of having one if you don’t at least try to reach its full potential?

Making this list took a lot of time, mental energy and reflection. I didn’t want to make a list full of things like getting degrees, learning languages, or running marathons. These are the sorts of things you put out there to impress others, like new year’s resolutions, that you never truly intend to make happen – going through the motions of being passionate about something without actually feeling any. I don’t want my list to be full of empty actions. I want them to check off everything on this list and be able to give a genuinely good answer as to why it’s on there. I want experiences, not accolades. I want to do things that require courage and bravery, that will lead to growth, or will yield incredible memories I’ll be able to take to my deathbed. I don’t want it to be a checklist of things to experience before the end, but a list comprising the person I want to be. I want it to be challenging, fun and terrifying – the things I was most scared of on the last list resulted in the most growth because, before doing them, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to. I want it to expand the limits of what I am capable of. I want it to lead me to becoming more than I am.  And if the opportunity for one of my less realistic goals arises on the course to 30, all the more awesome. Just saying. #TimeTravel

Let the road begin…

It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go (in which I sing publicly, on video, looking like a moron – but finally finish that infernal list!)

It doesn’t matter where you come from
It matters where you go
No-one gets remembered
For the things they didn’t do
– Frank Turner

I started writing this post the week of New Year’s before apparently taking a sharp turn through the time vortex and ending up halfway through February. The subject of reflections and resolutions is subsequently a little stale, but bear with me: over the last two months, Big Things have happened, and both of the above have played rather large parts in my day-to-day life.  On January 1, I didn’t make any resolutions. This was likely in part due to the fact that I still had a handful of things to check off my 26 Before 26, and partly because I think waiting until the turning of a new year to start doing things better is a bit of a procrastinator’s cop-out. If you’re going to make a change, what better time than the very moment you decide to? So while I didn’t new year’s resolutions, I did try to hop aboard the Life Lesson Express to see if I could learn something from the year that was to pave the way for a happy, healthy 2012.

Now, the thing about learning experiences is that they usually end up having the biggest impact after you’ve made the biggest cock-ups. Maybe the reason we’re all stuck in the eternal Groundhog Day of making resolutions that evaporate faster than a Winnipeg cup of tea in February is the fact that it’s so bloody uncomfortable to admit we’ve made bad decisions in the first place. Nobody likes being wrong, and it’s easier to cover up the past with declarations about the future than it is to actually stop for a second and take accountability. But if you don’t genuinely acknowledge your own part in things not happening the way you wanted, nothing will ever change – we throw ourselves into our own time loops of history repeating itself simply to avoid the temporary discomfort of admitting we were wrong. When I began this post, I wanted it it to be my personal acknowledgement: there were things I did and decisions I made in 2011 that led to life being significantly less full of win.  There were definitely a few big mistakes, and a crap load of smaller bad habits I’d formed over the years – but as someone commented last time I was here, the good thing about bad habits is that with enough dedication, they can be broken, and room can be made for new ones. And that’s exactly what I decided to focus on.

Lesson One: Being too focused on “not wasting time” prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly what’s needed.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a difficult time with conflict. I think it results from the uncomfortable combination of being extremely opinionated, extremely sensitive, and extremely stubborn, all three of which are bad ingredients to begin with, but when combined result in one recipe for ultimate disaster. Keeping the idea of life being short and avoiding future regret in the back of your mind I think is a good thing, but as with many things, taking it to the extreme results in them being very bad indeed. My lesson here was to break the habit of closing the door on negative things too quickly – whether in short-term situations (a disagreement with a friend, for example, who wants time to cool down – I’m trying to learn to see that as a positive step to a healthy resolution, and not a waste of time that could be spent moving on) or long-term ones (getting the proper treatment for my anxiety and self esteem issues, and not trying to be a hero and do it on my own, or do it all now). As much as I like to think things could be as easy as flicking a switch, I’m learning that even though life is short, some things do take time – and patching over things for the sake of moving on quickly isn’t going to fix anything in the long term.

So this weekend, I begin a ten-week program with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. And since December, I’ve been seeing a counsellor who’s given me all sorts of techniques and insights into the way I’ve grown used to seeing the world – and armed with this knowledge, a chunk of humility and blind determination, I’ve seen an enormous change. I don’t worry so much any more, I don’t assume the worst, and though I still break down in tears practically daily, it’s now usually a result of things finally being more awesome than I’d ever dreamed of. (I know, I kind of wanted to punch myself when I saw that in print too.)

Lesson Two: Just because terrible things happened in the past does not mean terrible things will always happen.

I’m not going to go into this one in depth, but something I allowed to spiral out of control last year was allowing past baggage skew (and ultimately sabotage) how I viewed the present. I got into the habit of absolutely ruining things that were going wonderfully because in the past, something always bad had happened – I started reacting compulsively to my own catastrophic imaginings of history repeating itself, and became a leech for constant reassurance. It wasn’t enough to have things going brilliantly; I had to be told repeatedly that they were, and that sort of uncontrollable worrying and assurance-seeking is enough to drive anybody away – causing a distancing that fuelled the worries that had been unfounded in the first place. I created my own self-perpetuating cycle. It had to stop, and breaking the habit of over-worrying and needing reassurance has been my biggest focus in 2012 so far. It started with forcing myself not to text people when I felt the urge to, which was enormously difficult for the first few days – but within a week or two, I’d learned that it was completely okay to go several hours without communicating, and actually valued the messages and phone calls more knowing that they were completely on somebody else’s initiation. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness how drastically a cycle’s direction can change – to learn that constant neediness drives others away, resulting in more worry and more need for reassurance – and that with a change of habit, it can all turn the other way. I don’t catastrophise any more. I don’t worry that somebody’s died, or found more interesting and exciting friends if I don’t hear from them for a little while. I give myself a grace period when learning new things, and don’t beat myself up half as much if I’m not an expert after watching something once. (Half as much however is apparently still too much, and something I still need to work on…) I don’t ruin perfectly fun evenings any more by inventing some reason to worry and then be reassured. It’s been two months of continually tearing down these old habits and rebuilding new ones, and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my life. I feel terrible for the loved ones that had to put up with me last year, and I’m so grateful to those that stuck around.

Lesson Three: It’s perfectly okay to spend time in your own company.

I’ve always been thoroughly fascinated by the psychology of personality, and still remember being thrilled when I first discovered that there weren’t just 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, but 16 independently scaled variables, too: one INFJ may be on the extreme side of introversion and feeling, for example, and another may be extremely intuitive while only slightly introverted. These two people may score the same fundamental personality type, yet their wildly differing levels of each component would make them incredibly different people. When I learned that I was barely a cat’s whisker on the introverted side (I like using making reference to cat whiskers when I have the chance), it was like I’d unlocked the Library of Babel. Every answer I’d been searching for suddenly arrived – I’d forever wondered why, if I was such an introvert, I craved company so bloody much, had such difficulty spending time alone, yet was often terrified of social situations where I might find myself centre of attention. It was because I was stuck in the middle of introversion and extroversion – and realising this led to understanding, and finally being able to do something about my discomfort. I wanted social interaction, but my inner introvert wanted to do solitary things like reading, writing, or watching a movie. But the extravert would always say how terribly loserish I’d be if I spent time doing any of those things, and encouraged me to fill up every night of the week with plans involving other people. And then cancelling them because I’d invariably be too tired, and then feel bad I was stuck at home alone again. Egads! I decided to work on becoming comfortable with both – primarily the solitary activities, because I desperately wanted to be able to go home and not be intimidated at the thought of an evening by myself, wondering what I’d do with the time – but also the more outgoing things that go along with being an extrovert.

With the former, I started small. I’d opt to walk home instead of taking a bus, despite it being winter.  I’d wrap myself up in countless layers, tuck my hair into a big furry hood, plug my earphones into my phone and head off into the night. It’s about a twenty-minute walk, but it’s down one of the prettiest streets in the city, and at night in the snow with nobody around, it can be quite magical. I found myself getting caught up in the lyrics of wonderful songs by moonlight, getting goosebumps more from the words than the chilly air outside. I stopped to take in small displays of loveliness – tree trunks and bows silhouetted in fairy lights, or brightly shining stars above. The cold didn’t seem to matter – I’d stop at various points along the way, pulling out Google Sky Map and pointing it skyward, learning the positions of Jupiter and Orion. I’d make it home eventually, hair and eyelashes coated in frost, to a happy little cat, and realise for the first time, I actually enjoyed something I did alone. So I started doing more – spending time on things I really wanted to do, and learning how to feel perfectly at peace in doing them. I went on walks just to listen to music and take lots of photos. I carved myself a new workspace at home, with candles and greenery and sepia-toned photographs, and I find that now, it’s a place I love to go. This also led to an incredibly exciting project – I can’t share too many details yet, but I’ve started a project I’m beyond thrilled about. Research is being done, calls are being made, buildings are being explored and imagination is in overdrive. I’m a happy cat.

As for nurturing the extraverted side, I decided to take the plunge and cross the last two things off my 26 Before 26. I’m well aware of how long ago my June 2011 deadline was, but there were two really big and really scary things on there that I’d been terrified of for as long as I can remember. The first was learning to drive and getting my licence. It took a couple of months, one intense car crash (!), one instance of being pulled over by the police (for going too slowly), two test attempts, one lesson in learning how to operate windscreen wipers and one extended crying fit (I’d never failed anything before!), but I got there – at the end of December, on icy roads in lots of snow! Words couldn’t describe the feeling of finally achieving something I’d been afraid of for a whole decade, and now I’m just getting used to driving around on my own. And it’s brilliant!

The second thing was a little more nerve-wracking: being in the spotlight singing a song on stage in public to an audience full of strangers, friends and coworkers. I’ve always loved singing, but the love has always been outweighed by fear. For some reason I can sing proudly and confidently in my own little apartment, but I find it incredibly difficult to do so in front of a single person. Cat-shaped people notwithstanding. But over the last few months, I’ve been “jamming” with a couple of good friends, who’ve encouraged me to pursue it. We made plans before Christmas to perform together at an open mic, but I managed to lose my voice for a good month until the end of January. At the beginning of this month, I was practicing with one of said friends, who suggested I perform one song with him during his next set – the night before Valentine’s day – only two weeks to get my proverbial shit together. I’ve never been good at getting my shit together. Especially on a deadline. Remember last time I had to do something in public? I went up there, raced through the entire thing, and left the podium sobbing uncontrollably. Which wasn’t exactly awesome.

So Monday came after a night of definitely not sleeping, and I found my heart defiantly attempting to burst out of my chest every time I thought about what I’d be doing at 8:00. I made sure my coworkers knew I didn’t think I was a good singer and had expectations lower than a rapper’s trousers. I went home at the end of the day to find my lovely little cat and a lovely boy there to surprise me me, into whose arms I immediately fell and burst into tears (how many times is this now? We should make this a drinking game) crying about how I didn’t want to do it. After a good sob and a better cup of tea, I decided I should probably practice. But I was too scared to sing in front of him, so I sent him outside on the balcony (in mid-February) to run through my song once. When I let him back in, I sang it in front of him. Well, that’s a lie, I meant facing away from him, because I didn’t want him looking at me while I was singing. (Because I am a crazy person.) After finally managing to squeak it out kind of in his direction, it was time to go… and we arrived at the venue. Friends and coworkers started pouring in, and after a couple of songs, it was my time to join my friend on stage. I’d never been so scared in my life. The next five minutes flashed by – I remember getting to the final chorus and thinking ecstatically that I was almost done – and looking back, I know you can tell how incredibly scared I was. I know they probably turned the mic up because I was singing too quietly, and I know I sound awful because I was focused on just getting sound out without fainting, not on actually singing well, and after I was done, I felt very proud for about thirty seconds that I hadn’t cried – before running into the toilets and throwing up. But I did it! It may be terrible, but I finally crossed the last thing off my list. And for that, I’m happy.

Here’s a video of the whole thing. It starts with a giant case of feedback, keeps focusing on the back of some guy’s head, and I look like an uncomfortable moron, but apparently if I don’t post it, it didn’t happen. Next step? Learning to do it standing up (shut up), without shaking, without the words, and actually making eye contact with the audience.

And apparently to not be so hard on myself.

Here’s to the amazing people who helped me keep striving, who put up with my crap, who believed in me, and who helped me do things I’d only ever dreamed of being able to do. Here’s to friendship, to life lessons, to creativity and to passion. 2012 is shaping up to be the best year ever, and right now, at this moment, I feel on top of the world.

(2012 is also the year I promise to learn the lesson of conciseness. If you made it this far, you’re a brilliant human being.)

The Final Countdown

Something rather alarming came to my attention over the long weekend.

Friday, in addition to being my lovely Dad’s birthday, was an alarming reminder: a single month was left in the biggest challenge I’ve ever set myself. An ongoing theme over the last year has been the 26 before 26, the list of things mostly comprised of everything I’ve always wished I could do but had always been too afraid to try. Some of them were simple no-brainers. But the majority revolved around the decision to tackle those things I felt drawn towards yet scared of, and choose fight over flight. Certainly, the former may involve risk, pain, and discomfort. But I’m desperate to be able to one day look back on my life without regret and confidently say that my life became what I wanted it to be the day I decided that fear was no longer an option.

So I have less than four weeks left, and I’m not going to lie: with some of the stuff that’s cropped up over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen off track. But what’s a tight deadline in the grand scheme of things if you’re positively determined to succeed? I may run out of time, but it’s not going to stop me trying. So what have I crossed off so far?

#1: Get in crazy good shape. When I made this list, my level of physical activity was pretty much zero. I never did any form of deliberate exercise, and my weight wasn’t healthy either (too low; not too high). While I may not have maintained the initial level of commitment (a wedding does wonders for your treadmill motivation!), I am proud to say that for a while, I ran three times a week, I became stronger, pushed my endurance, and altered my eating habits. I put on a few more pounds in the healthiest way I could, got my BMI back into the “normal” range, and crossed off #2 in the process – starting hot yoga – as well as #9 – planning meals, eating better – and trying that ominous green monster once and for all.

#6: Write non-blog or magazine material. I really found a passion for creative writing last year, and I think what had been putting me off committing to doing it regularly was the fact that I didn’t feel I really had any worthwhile creative ideas. But then… I did. And I’m diving straight in. I converted our spare room into a “writing room”, attended conferences, and managed to cross off numbers 13 and 20 in the process!

#7: Meet new people. My goodness it feels strange to say that this time last year, people I consider absolute friendship soul mates weren’t even in my life yet. Looking back, I can’t help but feel the universe was at work when I put it out there that I was willing to make myself vulnerable. I was so used to living within the confines of my social anxiety “disorder” that the thought of voluntarily going to a massive meetup, on my own, full of strangers, was enough to make me want to throw up. But in deciding to take that leap, I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the blessing to know, and been lucky enough to call a friend. The acts of attending one meetup group and messaging one stranger on the Internet were the turning points that shaped the path of the last year enormously, and I can’t imagine how different life could have been had I not met these wonderful souls. This one kind of went along with #25: Stop being scared of talking on the phone, and I am happy to say I am no longer one of Those People.

#8: Do real karaoke. I wasn’t sure whether I tackled this one or not, but in talking to a friend this weekend she assured me it definitely did count. I looked back on the original list, and the original goal was to “break into song in front of live people, and not just people on the Internet.” (Please don’t ask for the URL!) It may not have been on a stage in front of strangers, but it was in front of about 20 of my closest friends, and ended up being a totally brilliant night 🙂

#11 was the most frightfully boring and easy item on the list, and barely deserves acknowledgement, but even if it is just for my dental hygienist friend Dani, I have fully implemented flossing into my daily routine. 🙂

#15: Teach a class full of people. Comfortably. It’s amazing to be able to look back on something that’s become so routine and remember how it felt to be absolutely powerless to the same thing a year ago. This was probably the biggest challenge: practising being on the spot, in front of people, and speaking publicly to an audience. I’ve struggled with questions from others as well as myself – why do something that feels so unnatural (Peter Gabriel – sorry, couldn’t help it; bonus points for getting that) when you could focus your time and energy on something you’re good at? I look back on my initial motivation: “I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear.”  It’s not an easy task for anyone to change thought patterns that have been established for such a long time, but the thing that’s helped me most is trying to focus on the big picture. Catching myself slipping back into old tendencies like fretting, worrying about things beyond my control, being too quiet… and just deciding that something else is more worthwhile. Like the fact that I at least tried, or the fact that just maybe, something I say or do might actually help someone else in the process. Speaking to groups has now become part of my job, and I think this is a perfect example of putting something out there into the universe, and having it deliver. 🙂

#18: Go on a blogger meetup. Last year I was absolutely blessed in being able to meet up with amazing people all across the world. I met fellow local bloggers, explored a beautiful city with people I’m honoured to now call real-life friends, and even enjoyed breakfasts and explored science museums with bloggers internationally. As much as I harp on about trolls, the Internet is genuinely a wonderful place, and I’m so lucky to have been able to meet some incredible people off-screen as well as on.

#19: See more of the world. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above, but I definitely saw some new places over the course of the last year. Mexico, Chicago, new places in England, as well as Spain are all crossed off my list – too bad that wipes my travel budget for the next two years!

I was pretty sure #22 (forgiveness) was going to be the toughest one on my list, but the moment it became reality, I felt the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. Forgiveness is something I’ve learned is at the forefront of how I want to live my life, and goes hand in hand with the practice of “big picture thinking”.  It’s a tough one to implement when accompanied by the stranglehold of memory, but at the end of the day, the past has already happened, and the only thing I can control is how I face the future from this moment on. Ultimately, holding onto past grudges and baggage is contrary to how I want to live my life, and though pride can be a bitter pill to swallow, I think at the end of the day, it’s way more worthwhile than maintaining any sort of vendetta.

#23: Do something drastic with my hair. I’d had mid-length, boring brown hair for the longest time, so this was the year to step outside the comfort zone. I went jet black, added near waist-length extensions for a few months, then chopped it all off and started going red again. Now I’ve got the bug, I’ll probably end up with something completely different by summer 🙂

#24: Become more spiritual. This was one I was really hoping would come to fruition this year, and over the last few months, I think I’ve really found a belief system that works. I’m still learning, still reading, and still exploring different avenues of expressing faith in a way that makes sense for me, but it’s something I think that’s helped me grow, as well as strengthened already existing relationships.

#26: Set up a professional website. I revamped my writing and design portfolio, and made some snazzy business cards to go along with it. It may not be a thousand-dollar investment, but it’s a long way from where it started!

I’m beyond thrilled I decided to stick to this list – and I’m glad I did it in a way other than New Year’s Resolutions, which have the tendency to evaporate mid-January along with the last of the mince pies. I can honestly say it has contributed immensely to the shaping of this past year, which was genuinely my best one yet, and I think the biggest lesson is that life really can be exactly what you want it to be when you make the decision to become an active participant in shaping it, and hold yourself accountable to the words, actions and thought patterns of the person you’ve always wanted to be.  That being said, I still haven’t finished. I have just over three weeks to check off the remaining nine goals:

#3: Learn a choreographed dance
#4: Do a cover of a really popular song in a completely different style
#5: Get my driver’s licence, or at least take lessons
#6: Make traditional English food
#12: Stop hating how I look
#14: Perform something in front of my coworkers
#16: Become entirely debt-free
#17: Volunteer somewhere
#21: Finish my back tattoo

I realise that some of those are pretty much impossible to complete in three weeks – there’s a year waiting list and a thousand dollar deposit required to fix my tattoo, which probably isn’t happening this month, and I’m not sure anyone can get a full on driver’s licence in twenty-four days – but I’m absolutely committed to at least trying everything before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin turning 26. I’m not a hundred per cent sure how just yet, but the countdown is most definitely on!

If you’ve set goals or resolutions over the last year, how are you doing with yours?

Vignettes

I’ve been pretty absent over the last week or two. The last little while has been brimming with laughter, tears, frights, delights, and of so much activity I haven’t had time to write – so I think the best thing to do is sum it all up in snapshot form. Let’s start with Christmas. It was our first as a married couple, and I’d had lots of tips offered from all over the blogosphere as to how to spend it, for which I was really thankful. A good point was raised – that now is the time to start our own traditions as well as continuing some we’d grown up with – which was interesting, since our childhood Christmases couldn’t have been spent more differently! We both agreed, especially since we hadn’t had any time off work since the wedding, that it was important to make time for the two of us, so we began on Christmas Eve starting a tradition I hope will continue. It was an idea of Sweet’s, which I thought was absolutely fantastic: cooking as many Christmas dinners as we could together, packaging them all up with cutlery, insulating the lot and driving around some of the “bad areas” of the city looking for people on the streets going hungry. We drove through downtown, the words of Fairytale of New York filling the car, a stack of dinners piled on my knees. It was -26°C that night, the wind bitter and the streets slick with ice. We ended up at what’s commonly known as one of the scarier street corners in the city, and ended up giving away everything we had. I know it’s a dangerous thing to do, but we took precautions. We stayed together. And the chance to make someone’s Christmas Eve a little more bearable was worth it. I held on to his arm tightly as we approached people queuing outside shelters, people under the influence, people huddled in doorways… it was a heartbreaking, terrifying, eye-opening experience, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are all so incredibly lucky just to have a roof over our heads over the holiday season, and even more lucky to be able to have someone to give a gift or a card to. We can get so wrapped up (pardon the pun) in ideas of presents, of family dinners, of decorations and of BBC Christmas specials that it can often go unnoticed that there are people living in the very same city for whom Christmas is just another day without food, warmth, friends or family – and I’m really proud of Sweet for wanting to spend Christmas Eve doing something small to acknowledge that. I hope this is a tradition we can continue over the years.

Christmas itself was just about perfect. We slept in a little, exchanged gifts (any girl whose husband buys her a levitating TARDIS is a lucky lady indeed!), ate a wonderful lunch with my Dad and stepmum, Skyped with my Nan (and watched her open pictures and videos from the wedding – magical), watched Dumbledore in Doctor Who, visited my new in-laws (who were incredibly kind and generous!), and spent the evening together, as husband and wife, just curled up with a warm drink, a cuddly cat, ’80s sci-fi Schwarzenegger movies and The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was fantastic.

This was also the first year in many that I’d had to work between Christmas and the new year. Which was pretty rubbish. The rest of my department were all on holiday, leaving me responsible for all 30 participants in our program, which on a regular day would be out in the field, either job searching or providing housekeeping/snow shovelling services to seniors. However, it was decided that instead, during the days I’d be the sole member of staff, I would keep all of them in and teach them computer skills and resume/interview techniques. Now, I recognised what was happening immediately as a case of “be careful what you wish for” – number fifteen on my list for this year was to “teach a full class of people without shaking with nervousness and actually be excited about doing it.” I was being handed the opportunity to do exactly that. I spent the two days prior carefully collecting information, building activities and curriculum, and arrived the morning of to a full class. I was in a noisy computer lab, so I, soft-spoken by nature, had to learn to project. I’d grabbed the wrong PowerPoint file, so I also had to learn how to wing it. I had to answer difficult questions, so I had to learn how to think on my feet. But you know what? I got exactly what I wished for. I can now say I had the experience of a real teacher – and I came out the other side. I stepped out of the building after two days of instruction and literally SKIPPED, clapping as I got into the car. I took people from not knowing what a mouse was to being able to type, e-mail, attach resumes, answer real-world questions, and hopefully, be that much better equipped for success. I definitely don’t want to be  in front of people full-time. But I’m happy I tried. 🙂

One of my closest and best friends in the whole world was in town for the holidays, and I was so beyond thrilled to see him after being able to communicate only by text and Skype for months that I made sure I was at the airport the second he arrived in Winnipeg! We spent numerous nights over the last couple of weeks catching up, each time cramming everything we’d missed over the last few months into four or five hour conversations. I even got to play matchmaker for the first time, which didn’t work out too badly at all! 🙂 I hate that some of the people who mean the most to me have to live so far away, but I’ve come to learn that distance doesn’t have to mean the end of a friendship – it can be the fuel to keep it growing even stronger. I’ve also learned that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, and to cherish the time you can actually spend together in person.

It’s 2011! New Year’s Eve was spent celebrating birthdays, watching Harry Potter, eating gourmet burgers, and ringing in the new year dancing with a wonderful group of friends in a living room to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. It was brilliant. I didn’t make resolutions, since I’ve still got a few things left on the 26 Before 26 – hopefully in 5 months time, I’ll be able to say I stuck to them all – or at least attempted them. 🙂

Happy New Year everybody! I can’t wait to catch up with you all soon, and I sincerely hope this year is your best one yet. 🙂

2011: The Year of Passion

A week or two before the wedding, our videographers (I want to call them cinematographers, because their stuff is so ridiculously beautiful) invited us over to film some “interviews” with us individually, to include in our highlights video (due in January!).  I sat upstairs watching Frasier for 15 minutes with a very large, very friendly cat while he was whisked down to the basement studio, where he was asked questions about me, him, us… where we’d met, what we liked to do, what our first date was (thank heavens we answered the same thing!), and which word we’d use to best describe each other. I was caught off guard when they’d asked me for my word best describing him. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m far from a girl of few words. I have Lots to Say about Lots of Things, the wordcount only growing the more I care about something. (Thank you for continually putting up with me!) To sum up someone in a single word wasn’t something that came easily, and I blurted out something awful like “calm” (?!) – but had to ask him, after we were finished, what he’d chosen for me.

“Passionate”. I smiled when he’d told me, because it wasn’t the first time someone had said I do things with my entire heart. I think 2010 has been the year of growth, the year of choice, the year I’ve put on the shoes that always seemed two sizes too big and clamped my feet down hard until they fit comfortably. The year I finally realised the true power that everyone holds, to live the life you’ve always wanted. Not in the material sense, with a timeshare in Jamaica or the big fireplace in the living room, or the kitchen with shiny pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Not the working kind, with a nameplate on your door, fancy letters following your name on your resume, or a personal assistant. Not the kind where you can take a day off to do whatever you want, whenever you want, because all those things, though nice, don’t make life life. They just occupy little corners of it, but by themselves, aren’t really the be all and end all. No, what makes the life you’ve always dreamed of living is the attitude with which you choose to face it. It’s so easy to coast through simply waiting for “one day”, when we have this or that, when we have more money, or friends, or the perfect house or job or partner. It’s so easy make excuses for life not being what you want, while sitting there doing nothing about it. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to stop letting circumstance team up with the inner critic and shackle me down, away from everything the world has to offer, and everything I never believed I could offer the world. 2010 was a year of determination. 2010 was a year of growth.I don’t think the door needs to close on that determination, but I think 2011 is a time for another door to open, and the spotlight to shine on something else. I want it to shine on passion. I want to continue to try my bloody well damnedest to be better, be more to the world, have more of an impact, and I think the only way to do that is to tackle absolutely everything with absolutely everything I have. I want to read more books and take more notes, jotting down beautiful sentences and locking them away in memory for future inspiration. I want to teach more classes, speak more publicly, more confidently, and more passionately, desperately trying to make my delivery line up with the passion I feel inside. I want to love harder, not just in my relationship but in my friendships and family relationships; have my Dad over and cook him something that took absolutely hours, but that we’ll enjoy an incredible amount. I want to do more with my friends, see art exhibitions, throw more dinner parties, laugh more, and tell them more often how much I love them. I want to attempt everything on that list, even the tough stuff, and give all of it all I’ve got.  I want to learn more about psychology and science, study more Middle English, observe humanity and social interaction with fervor and keep more of a record of life, emotion, and introspection. I want to take more photographs, see more sights, spend more of my time filling it up with experience and future memory, and less time in front of a computer screen. I want to make my little cat feel like the most loved creature in all the world, even if it means spending an hour playing catch and dangling fishes on strings instead of watching EastEnders. I want to take care of myself and always choose health over convenience. I want to follow through on the dreams I’ve been keeping locked up inside my head, keeping prisoner from the possibility of soaring, for fear of failure. I want to sing whenever I want to with every fibre of my being, without hesitation or reserve. I want to see all the sights and soak up all the sunrays of faraway places. I want to make a plan and stick to it knowing that sometimes we have to go through the tough stuff to get where we were meant to be, and I want to face everything with a spirit of grace, dedication, acceptance and awareness.

2010’s been great for growth. But 2011 is going to be fuelled by passion and hope that by the end of it, I’ll be that much closer to doing what I was truly meant to be doing… and being who I was truly meant to be. What are you hoping for in 2011?

Bodies

No, this isn’t a post about the giant exhibition that’s currently in town. I was seriously intrigued by Bodies when I saw the posters all over everything, and after reading about how incredible it was, I really wanted to check it out – and then I read somewhere that the bodies were actually Chinese torture victims, my moral compass started spinning wildly, and my brain reigned out over my wallet faster than I could make it to the closest Ticketmaster outlet. So no, this is not a post about Bodies. It’s about mine, and all the different stuff that seems to be going on with it lately.

Firstly – let’s talk fitness. I’ve never been a Gym Girl – I think my longest relationship with a gym was when I first started my current job, which happens to be about 5 blocks away from one. I signed up, and probably went a grand total of three times before cancelling the membership (5 months later). The girls there were more made up than I am on New Year’s Eve, everyone seemed to be an expert on every piece of machinery, and, not one to wear my glasses in public at the best of times, I felt like a prize n00b hovering in and squinting over people’s shoulders trying to read the instructions. But on my birthday, I added a whole bunch of “get fit” resolutions to my list, and I must say I think I’m doing okay! In the last few weeks, in full last-minute-wedding-crunch attempts to fit into my (very tightly fitted) dress, I’ve been on the treadmill pretty much every other day. It’s been a great way to spend the evening post-work and pre-dinner – Sweet gets home at about 7:30, which leaves me a couple of hours to get very sweaty, very ugly, and very exhausted, all the while watching shameless guilty-indulgence wedding porn. (Current addiction: Don’t Tell The Bride) Now, in my running endeavours, I have noticed a few things:

1. I don’t think I’ll ever be A Runner. In much the same way in which I get frightfully bored within the first two minutes of sitting in a bubble bath, I get equally as bored stuck on a treadmill. I think I’ve figured out that the more often you glance at the display, the slower time seems to go, but I still can’t keep my eyes off it. I know it’s only been thirty seconds since I last looked, and I’ve probably burned less than half a calorie, but for some reason I keep checking. Which makes it even more long and even more boring.

2. My motivation may have increased tremendously in recent weeks, but it doesn’t mean the same turnaround has affected my endurance. I have the same pattern now as I did six weeks ago: power walk half a lap, run half a lap, power walk half a lap, run half a lap, jump off the belt for a few seconds to gulp down some water, power walk some more, and then sprint really hard to try and shave a few more seconds off the last time it took me to run a mile. ONE MILE. I think I did 1.25 once, and my knees hurt for days afterwards, and I promptly went back to my senior citizen ways and continued running my single mile.  I want to be able to at least do two, or at least RUN the whole mile instead of taking breaks to power walk, but my endurance hasn’t improved at all. I still get exhausted within minutes and the thought of doing it all over again once I hit 4 laps just smacks my hopes and dreams in the face, off the treadmill and onto the floor where I proceed to collapse for a couple of minutes, and then do a few crunches.

3. I’ve decided to sod the back pain, suck it up and just DO abdominal exercises lately. It’s an absolute killer, but I refuse to let it be the reason I gain weight around my middle. Because I’m so small-framed naturally, any weight goes directly to my stomach area and looks horribly bulgey, so I really need to get on this. I’ve been doing 30-40 side crunch things (can you tell I’m not an exercise person?) where you twist into your leg when you sit up after each mile ran. And this is pretty much my exercise routine.

Now, I’m proud I’ve been able to actually stick to this, however beginner, for the first time in my life. But I’ve also noticed absolutely zero change in terms of weight. I fluctuate between 102 and 106 pounds on a daily basis and this has not been affected in the slightest by my exercising. I think maybe that means this is the weight I’m supposed to be at – going any lower would be unhealthy. But I have twelve days (!!) in which I need to stay this exact size to fit into my wedding dress. I’m thrilled it’s finally finished, and hanging from the rafters – but it is very tight on. So much so I couldn’t bend down to put my shoes on at the fitting. I’m still wondering how I’m going to sit for dinner.

Now, I just realised I’d said “First, let’s talk fitness”. I also realise I’ve just taken up a good chunk of your time talking about what a running n00b I am. So, very briefly, I’ve noticed several other things regarding my body lately. Secondly: my skin. It’s so bad that when Sweet asked me for “peanut oil” for a recipe last week, I asked him if he wanted me to blot a sponge all over my face and squeeze it into the pan. I am SHINY AND GROSS, and nothing seems to work at curbing it short of covering my face in clay and drying out every pore (along with the ability to create facial expressions).  I can’t have a decent hairstyle, because any part of hair that falls on my face gets covered in grease which makes me look like Kevin the Teenager. I cleanse, tone and moisturise daily (because apparently NOT moisturising results in even MORE oil being produced), but I’d love to hear from anyone else having this problem well into their twenties what actually works!

Thirdly, I should probably mention my back. Yes, it still hurts. Yes, I still plan on getting a 30-hour cover up tattoo on it. And yes, I am now the proud owner of my very own TENS machine, which has resulted in me being hooked up to a series of electrodes having my muscles zapped into spasm while watching EastEnders after tea. I’d had something similar when I had coverage for was seeing a physiotherapist last year, and I hated every second of it, being left sitting under a chunk of hot clay while my muscles jerked around involuntarily all down my back, but apparently it was therapeutic. And, as much of a wuss as I am, I’m going to keep trying this one. Even if I can only manage it once every other week.

So, in summary, my body seems to be somewhat of a hodge-podge of progress and defiancy these days. But I’m working on it. Any tips on any of the above would be hugely appreciated! 🙂

BIG NEWS: Someone has stolen the real Emily. Apparently, I’m in GLEE…

Firstly, I need to extend an enormous thank you to the absolute army of support you all offered over the insanity that stemmed from my last post. Thank you for standing up for me, sticking by me, and offering proverbial shoulders to cry on – words cannot express my gratitude for the friendship and support you showered upon me following the downright vicious behaviour of some anonymous coward who had nothing better to do than try and destroy my wedding, and reputation. Seriously, it amazes me how people will not simply cross the line of acceptable behaviour, but run in leaps and bounds over it simply because they can be anonymous. I think there’s actually an equation for this sort of thing. It baffles me, but also says volumes about their life and character. The good news is that the attempt failed miserably, and everything is 100% okay (although credit should be given for exceptional cowardice, supreme saboteurial spirit, and general trollishness). Your kind words and support throughout the whole debacle were appreciated enormously, the wedding is most definitely still on, and I think we’re actually in a better, stronger place now than we were even a week ago.

Now, it’s a new week, and I’d like nothing more than to slam the door shut on the last one, and enter this one with brighter spirits – and some fun news. Last week, I did something crazy. I was checking something or other on Facebook, when I was accosted by a little sidebar advertisement that stole my attention, a beat of my heart, and soon enough, $300. I know Facebook advertising is targeted in all sorts of clever ways to your interests, your habits, topics you mention (although why I keep getting weight loss ads I’ll never know), but this little ad seemed to have read my blog five months ago when I declared I wanted to learn to sing, dance and perform – and made me sign up for Glee club.

We have a handful of theatres in the city, and Prairie Theatre Exchange always offers great shows. It’s a fabulous venue, home to countless wonderful performances I’ve seen over the years, and also offers acting classes to teens and adults. Now, this is me we’re talking about here – the girl who runs kicking and screaming out the nearest window at the mere mention of public speaking, let alone performing. But over the last few months, I’ve been a little more accomodating to my inner desire of being able to perform.  Taken a couple of singing classes. Shamelessly attempted to learn the Bad Romance choreography off  YouTube in my living room. Read my writing out loud in a public bookshop.  But this is a whole new level. I had just signed up for the next fifteen weeks for real musical theatre classes. I was going to be thrust into a group of adults, many of whom have musical training and acting experience, where I would be learning to sing showtunes and taught actual choreography. Oh, the the cherry on top? There’ll be a public performance at the end of the course. In the actual theatre. Cabaret-style. For EVERYONE to see.

This isn’t me. This is my inner dreamer, who seems to have jumped on board and stolen the reigns while the inner critic was on coffee break, and signed me up for something I’ve always wanted but been too afraid of. This isn’t just public speaking. This is high risk of total embarrassment territory. But this is also exactly what I do when I have the house to myself for a couple of hours on a Friday night. I crank up the music. I belt it out regardless of whether or not I can hit the notes. I dance down my stairs as if I were making a big entrance on a Broadway stage and I imagine it going brilliantly. And in my dreams, it does. Not in real life!!

In the five months or so that I’ve been tackling this list, I’ve been lucky enough to have received a lot of encouragement. I’ve also been recipient of a certain amount of questioning. Why are you doing this? If you’re not naturally good at something, why would you put yourself through the discomfort of doing things that scare you?  Bravery will only get you so far, but there are more important things in life. Why don’t you stick to what you’re good at?

To which my (internal) response has always been: Why the bloody hell not? I’m at a point in my life where I’m no longer embarrassed to admit that I spent most of my adult life ruled by fear. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s no longer something I’ll try to hide. I had an interesting talk with someone after X Factor last week after they saved one contestant who’d been in the bottom two almost half a dozen times. “But she’s a fame whore!” she said, “they should have got rid of her!” I told her firstly not to believe everything you read in the papers. So what if she slept with a couple of famous people to try and get famous? That’s in the past – now she’s at the point where she’s making an honest, dedicated effort every single week, facing the nation that’s slapping stories about her being a “whore” all over the place, and chasing after her dream. Just because she may have made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean that’s who she is today. What if I went on X Factor, I asked her, and one of my ex-boyfriends went to the press and said I was some crazy psycho who needs psychological help. What if that was the image the nation had of me? Would it make it true today? No. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s choosing not to keep making them that makes us better. I think the best we can be is when we decide to let go of the past and focus on creating the best possible present as the best possible person we can be in this very moment. Just make a choice to live the right life, and start doing it.

That’s what this year has been all about for me. That’s what this list is all about. Hopefully in seven months time I will be able to look back, and maybe I won’t have achieved everything on it. But I want to be able to say I tried. To be able to say I made the choice, when it came down to fight or flight, to not choose fear. To be able to have courage and guts, and not take myself so seriously, not spend so much time trying to perfect things that I miss out on growth and adventure. So on Saturday, I had my first musical theatre class. What I loved most of all was that in every song I ever thought was too high for me to sing, there was a part for me. We got to choose which range we felt most comfortable in, and even if it wasn’t the direct melody, it was still just as valuable and helped in creating something beautiful when everyone sang together. I even learned a DANCE!! Every Saturday from now until March (save perhaps Christmas, and one in early December) I will be in musical theatre. And even if I fall flat on my face, it’ll be a challenge. It’ll be fun. It’ll be the scariest thing I could imagine and it’ll push me to my absolute limit. And I think, for right now anyway, that’s exactly what life should be made of. 🙂