26 Before 26

Vocal Adrenaline

For as long as I remember, I’ve had a problem with my voice. I remember the day it began vividly – it was one of my first classes in Canada. American History. Our teacher was a skinny little man, probably in his late fifties. His skin was a phoney shade of copper brown, his nose bespectacled, and his head adorned by a mop of floppy, greasy hair through which he insisted on running his fingers at every opportunity. His wardrobe must have consisted of an entire closet of tight-fitting grey suits, and a few dozen pairs of squeaky black loafers. One eyebrow was continually raised, and it seemed a smug sort of Sean Penn-esque smirk had visited his face one day, and liked it so much it decided to set up camp. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.

One of his favourite things to do was to assign presentations. Get the students to stand up there all class so he didn’t really have to do anything. My first time up was during my first term in a north American high school, and I was nervous. Nervous they’d make fun of my accent, or that I’d be too quiet for them to hear. I got up there, glued my eyes to the page my hands were struggling to keep still, and started to read. I’d barely got to my second sentence before Mr. Milan stopped me, and started laughing. “Slow it down, and speak up! Nobody can understand a word you’re saying!”  My face flushed. Everything I’d worried would happen had happened, and in front of the thirty other students, too. I took a breath, and continued shakily. Every presentation from that point on was prefaced by Mr. Milan’s jibes, reminding me of my initial humiliation. That moment had forever traumatised my feelings toward public speaking.

“I wonder sometimes how any of us survive when we are all so fragile as children that makes it impossible to reach adulthood unscathed. I find myself wondering if these things don’t happen to force us to grow, but so often we don’t know how to heal and remain stuck.”

Jenny, local blogger and kindred spirit, said it so well in one of her recent posts. Sometimes, I don’t think people realise the lasting impact their words can have – and the damage it can potentially do in shaping someone’s future.

I was telling a good friend of mine this story last weekend, after we’d finished recording a chapter in his audio drama (!). At the beginning of summer, he’d asked me if I’d be interested in a role in a radio play he’d written. I was shocked – I had zero acting experience, and my voiceover work was pretty limited – stuff that required nothing in the way of character or emotion. Still, he convinced me to give it a shot. A couple of weeks ago, we did our first take. And for some reason, he was thrilled with my performance. Outside, I’d been reading the lines, but all the while the inner monologue had been on loop, telling me I wasn’t believable… my accent was too different… why the heck would he want someone with no acting experience anyway… but somehow, he thought I was good.  I told him about the incident in high school,  why I was so afraid of using my voice, and how I didn’t understand how all these opportunities to do so kept popping up lately.

Narrating the company video at work. Recording the voiceover on our radio ad.  Being given a job where speaking in front people is now my primary function. Being asked to host radio shows three times in the last two months. Why did they want my voice? My friend asked me what the logical conclusion would be. If I was no good, why did people want me? “Well… maybe it’s not that bad?” I said. “People don’t want ‘not bad’,” he laughed. “People want excellent.”  I didn’t know what to say. Compliments are so hard to take when you’ve believed the opposite thing for the longest time. But I was grateful for the encouragement… and slightly intrigued.

See, I’ve wanted to use my voice in another way for a while now. Every time I hear a good song, watch X Factor or crank up the Glee soundtrack, I have a near irrepressible urge to burst into song – but my thoughts limit me to doing so solely when there’s nobody home, and all the windows are closed. I never used to have this problem – there was a time I thrived on performing – taking stage school, putting on shows for the neighbours, and once upon a time, fronting a punk rock band. I love to sing. If I had three wishes, I’m pretty sure one of them would be to have a voice like Lea Michele. I had this conversation with an old friend this summer while I was in England, who, since I’ve moved away, has become an accomplished actor and musical performer. He had an interesting thought on the subject: If you have the urge to do something, and you feel like you have to break into song, it means that’s what you should be doing.” He went on to convince me that though some people may naturally be better singers than others, it doesn’t mean anybody can’t become a great singer with the right training.  “It’s just muscles,” after all – and, like couch potatoes can become athletes with enough hard work, training, and dedication, non-singers can gain strong musical voices the same way.

Filled with hope, I decided to do something about it. I hired a vocal coach. I was supposed to have my first lesson last Thursday, but – and I hate to admit it – I got hit by what happens when you rush into things before you’re ready. I ran the thought of singing in front of someone else over and over in my head until I was so nervous I was nauseous, and ended up making myself sick. I could’ve kicked myself – I’m not a patient person, and when I want something, I want it right away. Taking the long road is hard in the best of times, but when something ridiculous like nerves is your barricade, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world.

I still want to take that lesson. Study, train, and practice. Sing in the house regardless of if the windows are open or closed. Learn to let go and dive into something I love… with the hope that one day, I’ll have the guts to perform. Maybe it’ll be at the work Christmas talent show. Maybe it’ll be around a campfire. Maybe I’ll even do karaoke – I only have another nine months after all, and it’s so frustrating that something I want to do so badly is going to be one of the harder ones to cross off the list. The coach was understanding, and sent me some extremely kind words of encouragement and reassurance. I’m going to give it another shot next week. I just have to pluck up the courage, and keep some more of Jenny’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind:

“If I’m lucky enough to be able to take lessons, I am not going to waste it by being afraid! I finally get that it is not only about giving myself permission to make mistakes. It is also about believing that I am worthy, and have the right to shine.”

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

Tattoo Update. Bring on Operation: Cover Up the Cover Up!

#21 on my 26 Before 26 is to finally finish my biggest tattoo. In May, I decided it was finally time to get my arse in gear. A couple of months ago, I went ahead with it and basically lost all my money, bawled like a baby, and got shouted at by  the most insensitive, arrogant twat of an artist ever. But last week, I was lucky enough to find a professional who can FIX EVERYTHING!!

Long story short: probably half a decade ago now, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to get matching tattoos with the guy I was with at the time. (Told you I was a smart cookie.) You all know about the epic levels of crapola in THAT relationship, and we were both left with solid, giant black tattoos of our initials intertwined. All I can say is thank heavens we artsied it up a bit and you can barely even tell they’re letters, but STILL, I was branded for life with what felt like an eternal reminder of my younger self’s moronitude.

Flash forward to the present. One of my best friends happens to be dating an INCREDIBLE artist, who drew me up a gorgeous cover up based on the artist’s instructions – “has to be all black to be able to cover it up, and has to be pretty giant.” He designed something PERFECT, and I was so excited to get going with it – a phoenix, symbolising growth from the ashes of the past into something better. We got about a third of the way through the outline before I couldn’t continue – there’s no way I was lasting more than 20 minutes of someone telling me what a baby I’m being and tattooing way too deep regardless of the back pain situation.

So for the last few months, I’ve had this. A piece of outline of a cover up which doesn’t look like anything. I’ve been more okay with it than I thought I would be – the bottom line is it’s no longer what it WAS, and it shows it’s on its way to becoming something else. Which is a good thing. The bad thing being that it kind of looks a bit rubbish.

Last week, I met with someone at a studio close to where I work. A coworker had recommended it to me after she’d gone there for a piercing, and told me just to check it out, saying it was very clean, they were extremely professional, and they even had nurses on staff, so if anyone was going to understand the back situation, they were.  After a few weeks waiting to get in, I went on my lunch break, and met Ivy. AKA MY NEW HERO. She took pictures of my back so she could show me the “ghosting” that’s already started to happen on the outline part. Because he went WAY too deep (apparently if you know someone’s going to have a hard time with the pain for whatever reason, you can outline in a light grey so you can do it really fast), way too dark, and didn’t stop when all the blood started going to the surface (remember those exercise pictures?) so black (apparently the least viscous ink) bled into all the capillaries. Hence it already starting to bleed out. She also informed me the design had way too little white space and would eventually all become one black blob (original jerk artist told me he was going to redesign it with more white space, and DID NOTHING), so long story short: we couldn’t continue this design.

But before I started crying, she also told me black wasn’t the way to go. With cover ups, you use colour and shadow to distract the eye AWAY from the thing you’re covering up. With something big and black, there’s an enormous central focus which makes it look MORE like a cover up. She showed me pages of cover-ups of black tattoos she’d done. Big, gorgeous, colourful, organic looking cover ups that looked amazing. She said this was going to be one of the most challenging things yet, but yes, we can do it. We get to wipe the slate clean. Yes, it’ll have to be ENORMOUS. Yes, it’ll be a 20-30 hour piece. Yes, it’ll cost a fortune. But yes, it’s going to be AWESOME.  I can still get a phoenix. We just have to incorporate colour, a light source (so the left side can be in shadow), and now I get to pick whatever style I want.

So for the next little bit, I’ve been instructed to Do My Research. Find loads of pictures so she can pull together the elements and design something that incorporates the styles and colours I actually like. I’M NOT FATED TO A GIANT BLACK MAN TATTOO. I’m SO excited, and I can’t wait to move on with this!! It’s going to be a long process… but I’m ready, full of renewed hope, slight terror, but determination. The finish line is finally in sight. Bring it. 🙂

The Broken Mirror

Note: I actually wrote this two and a half weeks ago in a fit of tears and I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post it since then. I tossed around the idea of password protecting it for a while and decided on just putting it out there. Hiding it went against what I strive for: sincerity.  And though I realise posts after the excitement of the wedding competition should probably all keep riding  the wave of the upbeat (and don’t worry, I’m okay, and said upbeat WILL return pronto), as I’ve mentioned in blog posts prior, I’m not one to pretend everything is sunshine and unicorns when behind the screen, it’s not.  I may be shooting myself in the foot and alienating readers with this, but I’m hoping, contrary to what I’ve sometimes seen around the blogosphere, people might be drawn to the genuine rather than stories about cupcakes and puppies.  But if this does push people away, I apologise in advance. I just have a really hard time sugar coating things when being real is so important to me.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Remember the List? Of course you do; I’ve been writing about my endeavours to tackle it since before it went public. I was talking about it earlier this week with someone, and I started worrying about the items that were going to be rather more difficult to achieve than others. Anyone can start exercising, or make smoothies, or floss. Anyone can make new friendships, or do karaoke, or learn to speak publicly with enough dedication and hard work.  But what happens when something on your list seems to defy the way you’ve lived your entire life? I panicked a little when I revisited Number 12: Stop Hating How I Look.

How can you change the way you feel about something when the reality of it stares you in the face on a daily basis? What if I suddenly wanted to like, I don’t know, rap music, or root beer – things I’ve experienced, disliked, and subsequently formed an opinion on.  I wouldn’t magically be able to start appreciating them when I already know I’m not a fan. I feel like it’s the same with how I look, as painfully awkard and superficial as this sounds. Every day I look in the mirror, or at pictures, and I think how repulsive I am. I want to Photoshop my nose because it’s hideously huge and I don’t understand how the rest of the world doesn’t see what I see.  Every time I sit across from someone I worry if they’re secretly looking at my face and seeing what I see when I look in the mirror. Ugly. I was trying to explain myself to this person and found myself breaking down in tears at the thought of getting my wedding photos back – being completely natural and happy on the day, only to get the photographs back  in a few weeks and be appalled at how awful I looked.  In all honesty I’m dreading being the centre of attention and the subject of every photograph because I feel like every snapshot is another piece of evidence in the case that proves how unattractive I am.

This person asked me if outward appearance was important to me. If, in my list of goals for how I want to live my life, physical beauty or lack thereof was ever part of my equation.  Every fibre of my soul wants to say no – because I know I would never judge someone based on how they look.  But the reality is that a large part of the rest of the world does.  There are countless studies on the human face in relation to partnerships, career opportunities, satisfaction with life – and every study proves that those who are considered to be more attractive do better at work, have higher salaries, larger groups of friends, and more satisfaction with their lives and relationships than those who feel, or are considered to be, unattractive.  I know with everything I am that outer appearance doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I also know the way in which the world works.  I genuinely feel uncomfortable in front of people, not just because I’m afraid of public speaking – and that’s something for which I’m able to take steps to tackle – but because I fear everyone in front of me is thinking the same thing about me I do.  I can’t help but feel if I had plastic surgery, and looked how I want to look, that worry and self consciousness would disappear and I would be free to enjoy life, to be in front of people without fear and just do a better job, to be less afraid of getting out there into the world and making a difference, achieving my potential.  How I feel about how I look is holding me back. But unlike social anxiety, it’s not something over which I have any control.

Anyone who’s been reading me for more than a couple of weeks will know I’m a huge advocator for taking control of your life. If you don’t like your circumstances, have the strength to dive in there and actively shape them into what you want them to be.  I let fear and negative self talk rule my life for far too long – you all know that, and you know I’ve been jumping at everything I used to be scared of in the hope of becoming stronger for trying.  I want to be comfortable in front of crowds? Jump right in and start practising instead of hiding on the sidelines. But the goal of being able to not see myself the way I have for so long – I don’t know where to even begin. I don’t know how to change a thought pattern – which sounds so hypocritical, considering I’m the biggest advocate for changing your thoughts in order to change your life. This person told me she doesn’t want me doing something drastic like surgery because she’s “seen me take the hard path before, and this seems like the easy road.”  She wrote me a message earlier in the week:

You have transformed your life in ways I could never imagine, overcome huge struggles and you’re a better person because of it. I’m so proud of you. This is why I’m challenging you to once again take the difficult road of self-loving that I’ve seen you undertake time and again these past few years. I guess the reason I don’t see the need for you to resort to an extreme tactic to fix this ‘problem’ is that I’ve already seen you overcome so much that I don’t see how you can’t overcome this as well! Think about everything you’ve overcome… and I know it seems hard, maybe impossible, to see yourself liking the way you look, but just think, a couple of years ago would you ever have talked openly about your fears, would you have gone outside without makeup on, or seen yourself speaking in front of classes of people week after week, being on the radio, befriending STRANGERS… you probably never would’ve seen yourself loving those either! Don’t you see? Everything you’re feeling and saying now is just a repeat of what you’ve already overcome! With the same hard work and dedication you’ve already put into your life, you can overcome this as well. That’s why I don’t see the need to resort to such drastic measures, because I’ve seen you conquer challenges before and it’s made you stronger. I know you can get through this as well.

I hear the words and I know they’re true. I know with hard work and determination anything is possible. But I’m stuck right now, in a place where I feel there’s no way of seeing things any other way. I know I’ve said the same thing before about old habits, old thought patterns… but this time, I don’t see anywhere to ‘jump in’. I feel hypocritical encouraging others to change their thoughts and habits, to step outside what’s comfortable and grow and come out stronger on the other side. Putting time and thought into something so negative defies how I strive to live my life, and I feel almost ashamed to be writing about something so superficial. I want to smack myself when I think of the good I could be doing with my energy, when I think of how lucky I am to live the life I do… but I can’t seem to shake it. Is this just another on the list of insecurities I’ve had for so long, another challenge that can be overcome? It’s not body dysmorphia – isn’t that just when people feel they’re overweight and lean toward anorexic type behaviours… I don’t have any problems with my weight. That’s a lie (see? I can’t sugarcoat things). I do. I’m 104 lbs right now and I still feel like a whale after I eat a big meal. But I don’t skip meals or throw up or anything. I’m just naturally small framed and consequently the slightest bulge stands out a mile.  To me – and so, in my head, to everyone else as well. I just want to be able to overcome it – all of it, not to be seen as attractive by other people, but to feel confident in myself so I’m not held back so much, so I don’t shy away from people so much, scared of what they might be thinking.  I want to be able to be comfortable and confident. I want to be able to contribute to the world and this seems to be the one destination to which I can’t see a clear path.

I’m sorry for the uncharacteristic downer. I’m so sorry to write about something so superficial but I’m not going to pretend these thoughts aren’t in my head. This is me, this is my life and my thoughts, ramblings, ups and downs, the lot. I appreciate if you’ve made it this far. I just needed to be honest with how I was feeling and get it down, and if people stop reading, or judge me… well, those who are only around for the good times aren’t worth worrying about anyway. I’m not looking for comments on this post… I just had to get it out. But if you could go vote for me over at Weddingbells today… I’d really appreciate it. You guys are wonderful. And I’ll be back to normal next post, I promise.

Wibbly Wobbly, Time-y Wimey

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually,  from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
– Doctor Who, “Blink”

I wish. There are many times in life I wish for the ability to travel through time. When I’m feeling nostalgic about England, I could hop in my TARDIS and go spend a week in Shakespearean London, and be home in time for tea. When I’m curious about life elsewhere in the universe, I could pop up to Saturn and explore. When I’m really poor after Christmas, I could go forward a few days and nab the lottery numbers. Or when I sleep two hours past my alarm clock on a Monday work morning (hello boss!), I could rewind to 11:30 on a Sunday night and decide NOT to go for coffee and philosophical talks on the state of humanity.  Actually, scratch that, I definitely still would. I’d just remember to set the alarm instead.  🙂 I’m a couple of weeks into the 26 Before 26, and it’s already been a rollercoaster of nerves, excitement, and awesomeness – but the biggest challenge I’m having is with finding the time to do it all.

Our daily waking hours are finite. Unfortunately, no matter how many Borg regeneration alcoves one prototypes, this is a sad fact.  If you’re going to throw  two-dozen new things into the mix, this doesn’t leave much room for life in the status quo. My schedule in the last two weeks has been packed with visits, yoga classes, writing dates, birthdays and meeting amazing new people lately, but I’m not going to lie and say it hasn’t left me all sorts of exhausted! My problem is that I’m continuing to do all the things I did before I made the list – including wasting too much time on Facebook, watching too many Star Trek reruns (I have a Trekkie to convert!), straightening my hair, and cleaning the house. If I’m ever going to tackle this list, I’m going to have to re-prioritise – and some things are going to have to go.

I have to learn to ask myself if what I’m choosing to occupy my time is going to benefit me, or others, in the long run. There’s been all sorts of studies on Facebook usage, and I can’t help but think it’s a curse as well as a blessing. It’s full of win in terms of getting concert notifications, creeping on new friends’ likes and interests to see if they’re as big a nerd as you are, and to see how the girl that bullied you in high school is now an overweight mess. But it’s also awful. They change their privacy settings faster than the Enterprise rotates shield frequency under an attack from the Hirogen. You can peruse photos and interests all you like, until you look at your watch and realise your entire afternoon’s gone, and that a new album from a weekend get-together has just gone up and you weren’t invited. Facebook’s been hailed as the saviour of modern communication, reconnecting us with relatives and long lost friends. But in the last few weeks, in endeavors at balancing new activities, online presence, visits and hobbies, I’m finding online time to be more draining than it should be – and that it’s eating away at time I could be using infinitely more productively.  Social media fosters an ephemeral feeling of connectedness, yet in reality causes enormous disconnect from real life.  I had a great chat with someone recently about productivity, and we both decided that this probably has something to do with the increase in distractions as the world moves forward. In ages gone by, there was no Facebook, TV, blogging or MMORPGs. People had time in bucketloads, which they spent interacting with other people, seeing new places, coming up with ideas, which would pave the way to the way we see modern-day science.  Without distractions, they were more productive.

I made the list to push myself out of my comfort zone, to experience and interact with the world in ways that would help me grow, help me become a better person so I could in turn do and become something better for the world. Wasting time wasn’t on that list, so as alluring as “social” networking is, I have to see both sides of the equation, and weigh out the pros and cons. Ask myself if spending as much time as I do online is in line with what I want my life to be. At the end of the day, it’s the things we did, the people we spent time with, the lives we touched and the memories we made that are going to be remembered. Not how many followers we had on Twitter, or how many blogs we commented on. I’m realising that in order to make room for the awesome, I have to cut out some of the crap. Allocating categories to productive internet time (AKA staying in touch with all of you lovely people) vs. wasted Internet time. So this means, as of now, I probably won’t be online as much as I may have been in the last little while. I probably also need to stop prioritizing laundry and a clean kitchen and just say to heck with it, sometimes there are more important things in life.  Every 60 minutes spent reading status updates on a Sunday morning could be an hour running, learning dance moves, writing, or at a hot yoga class. (Sidenote: first one was full of accoustic live music, candles, and AWESOME.) Dr. Who‘s finished for another year, so there go TV Saturday nights. And I need to stop being so obsessive about getting enough sleep, and actually enjoy staying up with people I love spending time with, even at the risk of turning into a pumpkin.

There’s a lot I want to do, and I think it’s high time the routine was shaken up a little.  Out with the old, and in with the adventure of the new. I want to be able to say I lived this year. It’s just going to come down to prioritising, and deciding what’s going to make the cut.  How do you make time to achieve your goals?

The Road to Pro – well, a step, anyway

This may be my shortest post ever. But it’s Friday, and I don’t usually post on Fridays, so it’s two lines more than normal! I just wanted to note that I finally took a little step (like on my list)… and set up a (very amateur) portfolio site for my writing and design work. When I have actual money, or coding skills, or web designer friends who REALLY like me a lot, I’ll get a proper, professional-looking one. But for now… it’s a step further into the 21st century. And it’ll do. Click that new tab to take a peek and let me know what you reckon! 🙂

In which I accept sweets from and get into cars with strangers

Okay, first order of business here is a MASSIVE THANK YOU for all the birthday wishes this weekend! You guys absolutely made my week and I love you all!! Also? BEST. BIRTHDAY CAKE. EVER.

So, moving on, one of my tasks on the 26 Before 26 was to meet new people, branch out and make new friends. Pardon me while I get a little deep for a minute, but I’ve had the experience once before where I’ve put something out into the universe, and the universe has abruptly halted whatever it was in the middle of only to deliver in abundance. In situations where I’ve suddenly decided I didn’t like something about the way I was living, and actually declared I was going to bloody well do something about it, things seemed to… kind of just fall into place? I don’t know what to chalk it up to, but the universe is proving to be a supremely awesome listener/provider.  One of the things I’ve been uncomfortable with in my life lately is the lack of really close friendships.  There are people I absolutely adore… but have moved away for education, still live back in England, or I just don’t see as often as I’d like to here in the city. And I want to change that this year. I want BFFs, dammit!

So, in the last week or so, things have started changing. New people have started cropping up at every turn, and with them (hopefully!) the opportunity to build the foundations of new friendships.  It started just over a week ago when someone who’d originally been a Facebook suggestion (You have 8 friends in common!  Surely you know each other!) turned into a weekly penpal with whom I started exchanging emails for the past couple of months. We shared all sorts of interests, and he recommended the book I’m currently reading (and ADORING) on life, purpose and seeing the world differently. (Review to come!) Long story short, we met in person last weekend – and proceeded to chat for over three hours about where we grew up, football, science, philosophy, music and personal goals… TOTALLY nerded out, and it wasn’t awkward in the slightest! I really hope this turns into a more regular thing – and I’m still surprised this person still actually showed up after a random ‘hello Internet stranger, you seem awesome, be my friend? kthxbai’ – but as a mid-twenty something in a world where friendship circles already seem to have formed long ago, making new ones calls for something outside the box. Even if that’s at the risk of coming across a total weirdo. I’m very grateful the risk was worth taking and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a great friendship. 🙂

Coincidentally, said recommended book had a part to play in last Tuesday’s event: going out for dinner with one half of the duo that’s going to perform at our wedding in December. I interviewed one half of Keith and Renee a few weeks ago for the magazine that was kind enough to publish me, and Keith used to pop into the post office where I worked back in 200….3? On top of touring the world, travelling to Africa to build schools and water supplies and going across the country promoting positive messages and new albums, he plays in the same church band Sweet does on Sunday nights. Oh, and coincidentally does hot yoga every day, and is totally up for a buddy. Turns out the author of that book I’ve been reading is one of his favourites, too, so we chatted about literature, personal growth and making a difference in the world over dinner. One of the most POSITIVE people I’ve ever met in my life – it was great just to get to know someone so upbeat that little bit better, and with both of these people, it felt more like I was catching up with an old friend I’d had for years than someone I didn’t really know much at all. After dinner he drove me to the bookstore and bought me a book I “had” to have. When I asked why, he said “because you basically quoted the title of the book while we were talking,” and he felt like I was “meant” to have it. What was it called? Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.  If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know how incredibly meaningful and apt that is. I was left with a really good feeling of just finally having the right people on my path, who left me feeling like I could totally be myself, and that was absolutely okay, and full of encouragement, inspiration, and real self belief. I can’t even describe the sense of excitement I felt after two such awesome connections within such a short time frame.

Then came Thursday. The Meetup. I went to the pub to meet a group of “strangers” – the Winnipeg Creative Society ‘Secret Handshake’, who get together once a month for networking and chatting and sharing projects. Sounded totally my cup of tea, so I’d added a few people on Twitter before I went, and since it was around my birthday, what I thought was a  joke about cake and party hats TOTALLY became a reality when I got there.  I ended up quickly surrounded by about 40 people wearing elasticated pink cones on their heads, with a giant carrot cake, candles, all singing me happy birthday!! I “knew” maybe two people, who I’d only been tweeting with for a couple of weeks, and proceeded to chat with a whole bunch of other people about work, about creativity, technology, writing, art and sci-fi.  There were too many people to meet individually, but the ones I did get to connect with were awesome, and as a result I am apparently now starring in one advertisement, one music video, having ice cream with a new neighbour and going to a dance party at a composer’s house, as well as preparing for an ’80s karaoke night in drag. After the cake actually showed up, I’m taking everything entirely at face value. This is going to be fun 🙂  Someone caught some video clips on the night (and edited this on their iphone!!) (including the cake!)

Photos courtesy of Luc Desjardins @ http://www.at-first-sight.ca

I spent so many years consumed with the worry that I wasn’t popular enough, fun enough, or into the same things as most people, worrying about something being wrong with me because I didn’t have those Sex and the City friendships by which I seem surrounded. Only recently, I’ve been learning, writing, and thinking more about the importance of staying true to who you are and letting go of the cares and worries of how big (or small) a social circle is. I think it was shortly after my impromptu blogging rant that I really began to believe and carry out the notion that you shouldn’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not in order to fit in. If you have to carry around a persona that masks your true self, how will you ever have true friends? I spent far too much time prioritising popularity over integrity, and it almost shames me to say it. I guess it’s all part of growing up and finding out who you are. But these days, I’m learning that when you cease to empower societal expectations, almost dictations that you need to look or act a certain way in order to succeed in life, life just starts to become genuine, natural, and incredibly fulfilling. When you choose to let go of what doesn’t matter… the people that do will naturally start to flow in.

I feel blessed right now for the changes happening in my life, and excited about what’s to come in the near future. I sign off today with a song that I feel is quite fitting these days – reflecting a journey from fear to awareness, from old chapters to new journeys, from uncertainty to determination, and of the excitement I feel this very moment.


…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 will be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul…