blogging

In which I’m suddenly an extrovert, write songs, am on television, and create a huge vintage freak show. Happy 2015!

New year! It’s funny I write this in such good spirits, because most of 2015 so far has felt pretty terrible. However, when life gives you things beyond your control, as long as you’re consciously doing all you can to make the best of the situation, I find the notion of acceptance a comforting one. (I conveniently had this realisation on my Google calendar scheduled “Epiphany” day. Anyone else have a good one?) Also, gratitude for all the things that don’t suck. They’re always there, if temporarily eclipsed.

I didn’t make myself any resolutions for 2015. I think New Year’s resolutions are kind of stupid (if you want to change something, do it on any day of the year), but I had the idea of making resolutions for everyone I know and love. At first that might sound horrid, but I think instead of everyone making lists of things that will likely evaporate two weeks into a new year, maybe we could all do these few things throughout the year. I kept seeing on my Facebook news feed how dreadful 2014 was to many people. So let’s make the next one awesome. 1) Stop wishing, and start doing. We only have one life. 2) Get out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but I’ll hold your hand. It’s made me physically ill, but also led me to some of my greatest loves in life. 3) Think of at least one thing every night before bed you’re thankful for. Better, write it down. Wake up happy. 4) Stop and admire the stars. 5) Every time you judge or criticize yourself, ask yourself if it’s warranted. If so, do something about it. If it’s just a nasty inner monologue, ask yourself what your dearest friend would say about you. How they would see you. Because if you’re reading this, chances are at least one person (ahem) thinks you’re wonderful. 6) Cut things out of your life that aren’t contributing to where – or who – you want to be. It’s hard to give up on what can feel like obligations, but we all have hopes and dreams, goals, great people and self-nurturing to fit into our lives. Don’t run yourself ragged. You don’t have to say yes to everything.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It's magic.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It’s magic.

Those were my thoughts going into 2015. Some crap happened, but some incredibly great things have happened too, and we’re not even three weeks in. I attempted to conquer my fear of sudden loud noises. I spent time and many hours with my best friends on the planet, who picked me up when I was physically lying on the floor unable to stop crying, brought me chicken nuggets and let me sleep with every pillow and blanket in the world, talked me through everything with such openness and transparency, love and honesty, even if it hurt, that I felt they were legitimately part of my own mind for a while. I never imagined I would find friendships so close, and for the two of them, words cannot describe my gratitude.

friends

I wrote a new song. I spent a couple of days snowed in with my dear friend and she let me spend a day with my beautiful new baritone ukulele (for which I have to learn all the chords again from scratch! Whole new instrument, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to play! Thank you to The Professor for the wonderful Christmas present! I named him Cogsworth.), writing quite possibly the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever written. The feelings I had were so intense, I had to put them to music. And I wanted it to physically move people – sound very upbeat, as well as hopefully move them emotionally. I like songs whose feel sounds completely different from the actual lyrics. Here’s a very rough draft – recorded literally a few hours after I finished writing it – but with White Foxes we’re going to add in harmony, I hear some sort of kick drum, more guitar, and hopefully it’ll end up as a piece of ass-kicking folk a la Mumford and Sons. I’ve been really excited about making music lately. Just thinking that my whole life I’d wanted to sing or write even just one song, and in the last year I’ve written enough to record a whole EP. And I get to make music with two incredible people. I’m so very lucky.

I also tried the new instrument out on a song I figured everybody would know, along with another piece of new equipment – a Zoom H1 I bought to record band stuff. My phone REALLY wasn’t cutting it in terms of audio quality. So here’s Lady Gaga’s “Applause” I tried about ten minutes before my friend Nicole arrived for a movie night. (Yep, that’s my music stand falling down halfway through and me winging the end.) Excited to actually pair the mic with my DSLR once I figure out how to keep it recording video for more than 8 seconds at a time!

applause

I also got to be part of some amazing photography projects recently, both as a subject and photographer/editor. I always feel strange referring to myself as a photographer, because I don’t consider myself one – all my work is done in post; but I’ve been watching courses with the incredible Brooke Shaden recently, and she’s known in the fine art world as a brilliant photographer, yet she freely and regularly admits not really knowing how to use a camera. I organised my first big photo shoot as a “photographer” at the end of December – an entire series of weird and creepy old timey freak show shots I convinced people to pose for and let me edit. My dear friend Kevin owns a studio in the Exchange District and incredibly kindly allowed me to not only use it, but also his lighting equipment for the day. I had over a dozen models, a fabulous hairstylist and two amazing makeup artists all show up to donate their time and skills to help make my project come to life. I’m not quite finished all the images yet, but here are a few I’ve finished so far. (Of course I had to be one of the characters too – I’d written this character in my book, and it was the perfect opportunity to bring her to life!) I think you can click on each image to see it larger. I haven’t used galleries before. And yes, that’s a cut-up doll attached to a woman’s stomach as the baby that never came out.

I also got to be in front of the camera a few times – and my talented friends transformed me into a robot, an entire galaxy, and an evil disease infecting another poor soul.

I also really, really want to get back to working on my novel soon – it’s been too long, and I realised I’m turning thirty in a few months, and I began this project two years ago. I need to get back at it before another two go by. (But there’s so much to create!!)

Another fun thing that happened was that this very blog got featured on a local channel! It’s on television sets every day for the next few weeks, and I’ve already had people stop me and comment about it, which is very strange. My lovely coworker happened to be volunteering at the station and they were doing a series on bloggers, and though it was about two weeks after we’d met last summer, we’d become fast friends, and I ended up doing an interview.

blog

I realise I’m at about 1,200 words right now. You should know I gave up on the “rules” of blogging a long time ago, and for making it this far, thank you! I also had a bit of a realisation recently, and it honestly threw me. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know how very interested in psychology I am. I love to study personality, the human mind, how we all weave our lives into each others, and how we’re all wired on the inside. People fascinate me, and the study of psychology is something that’s taught me a lot, as well as continuing to bring a sense of personal understanding and reflection. It’s also made me feel that after so many years, it’s okay to be exactly who I am. And as strange as I feel sometimes, I am not alone. The MBTI has been getting a bit of a bad rap lately, and I’ve never been one to call is sciencebut I have appreciated and learned a lot from it. It’s a psychometric typology assessment I’ve taken routinely for the better part of the past decade, at least, and I’ve eternally scored the same result: INFJ. This is considered, at less than 1% of the population, the rarest of all personality types, and I related to it so much that I got it tattooed as part of my text sleeve a few months ago. Over the past few years, my introversion has gone steadily down, which I’ve felt good about – the closer I got to zero, the more progress I felt I’d made in conquering my anxiety, but I always remained an INFJ, also known as “The Counsellor”.

infj

For two reasons recently, I decided to take the test again. One: I found myself filling out a new type of personality assessment, and noticed I was answering questions in a way I hadn’t before. I had more confidence and answered in a more extraverted way than I have for most of my life. I found this interesting. Two: I was given the biggest compliment in the world. In preparation for the galaxy photo shoot, I was telling the team that I’d like to incorporate something my friend Kier had always told me – that even at my quietest and most afraid, I had “a universe inside.” This meant so incredibly much that somebody saw what I was. My friend Melinda, whom I only met last year and who’s done some of the most incredible makeup I’ve ever seen, told me she “never would have guessed I used to be painfully shy.” Same with a coworker who’s only known me a few months. “Can’t imagine you not being this confident person”. Shy was THE word people described me as since I moved to this country, and I hated it so much. I hated what people saw on the outside just because I was so scared of everyone and everything. I was so scared of being judged that I never let what was inside come out. I feel like in the last few years I’ve tried to put myself in situations that force me to do what I’ve always wished I could. And to have people see that as ME… that in itself was enough to throw me.

enfpI’ve been worried lately I’ve been growing less sentimental, but that’s not it. I’m still the most emotional and sensitive person you probably know, and I’d still do absolutely anything for those I love. I tell them how much they mean regularly and I make a point of trying to put good out into the world whenever I can. I think maybe I’ve just learned to recognize things and see them clearly, and not through rose-coloured glasses. I’ve also learned that I’m more than okay on my own, because I’m incredibly lucky to have the best friends in the world. And I think that’s given me a bit of strength. Anyway, back to the MBTI. I held onto being an INFJ so hard because my whole life, it was me. 100%. But I retook the test. I expected maybe my introversion would have gone down a bit more, but I didn’t expect it to flip onto the side of extraversion. A tiny percent (basically a cat’s whisker over the border between the two), but also? My J changed to a P. Apparently I’ve become more okay with spontaneity rather than careful planning. Things have become more flexible. My entire personality has apparently shifted from the sensitive INFJ to the outgoing ENFP. Reading over this description… I don’t disagree. That’s the alarming part. Have I become a whole new person? I’d always wanted to become someone with strength and courage, someone unafraid to be authentically themselves in any situation, someone who wasn’t scared to try making an impact or putting my stuff out into the world… hopefully someone who could inspire others in some way. I just scored ENFP. The Inspirer. And I don’t know what to think. I know basing your identity on pseudo-science isn’t the wisest thing in the world, but because I’d related to it so very much; because it had made me feel so unalone – a shift threw me. Even if the results and people’s recent comments paint me as… the person I’ve always wished I could be.

I used to be afraid of taking the bus. Eating in public. I threw up if I had to be in front of anybody. It’s a little alarming to see what you only ever dreamed of actually becoming… real. But as taken aback as I am, I’m happy. I’m on the right path. I don’t know where it’s going, but isn’t that half the fun?

They do not exist, and thus they are all that matters

Another month has gone by in the blink of an eye, and once again I find myself missing writing dreadfully. I feel a bit like Tuvok in that Voyager episode where he’s asked to “fire at will,” and responds with something awesome like “I have the will, Captain, but not the means.” Life has been busy (and wonderful), but I’ve felt the pull toward writing sirenesque and impossible to ignore.

I think the time has come to acknowledge the fact that there’s been a shift in my attitude toward blogging: for the last couple of years, it had become a huge part of my life. I loved carving out my own little space and filling it with thoughts and ideas, immortalising them in a way upon which I can later look back, probably laugh at how young and terribly naïve I was, but remember fondly the hopes and dreams, slip-ups and victories, events and emotions that were my life here and now. Through blogging, I got to know all sorts of wonderful people who lived all over the world, and was lucky enough to meet some of them in person. Through blogging, I landed jobs, created a reason to be accountable to my biggest goals, got published in a magazine, and won a trip to Mexico. I got to express myself coherently and somewhat eloquently (the latter’s debatable) when I was too scared or shy to do it in person. Blogging has done wonderful things for my life, and for all of them I am more than thankful – but the time has come for something that’s sat prisoner at the back of my mind for too long, tapping on the jailbars and calling for release. I have become the jailer of my biggest passion, and the time has come to set it free.

I adore the written word. I love reading beautiful prose and lock away beautiful sentences like treasure. I love, when I have time, to sit at my rickety old desk with a glass of port or oversized cup of tea, turn on the fairy lights hanging overhead, light a few candles, and write away the next few hours. But as much as I’ve loved blogging, I’ve felt limited. Not in terms of expression – anyone who’s read for the last little while knows I don’t believe in keeping silent about things that matter – but in terms of style and creativity. Enormous fervor for the English language is tangled around every thought and feeling that floats across my imagination, and I can’t help but feel it’s my biggest calling in life to try to find the words with which to get it out. When I die, I’m quite sure that they’ll find the inside walls of my heart decorated with love letters, pages of Chaucer, and the inlays of hundreds of CD covers, all their lyrics borne of creative geniuses intertwining around the fibres of my soul. Words are my passion, and it seems that when you feel this strongly about something, it should be explored to the absolute limit. It shouldn’t be limited because it’s more comfortable to stay where you are, or because the ephemeral duties of the day-to-day are given priority.

In life, I’ve always been a fan of the saying “that which matters most should never be at the mercy of that which matters least”, and once again I find it situationally apt. I’ve buried the language I love beneath what’s easier, and made excuses about not having time. But I want to write fiction. I want to build characters and create worlds, to write handwritten letters and tell tales that will move people the way I’ve been moved by great literature. And the time has come where I can no longer keep this inside. I’m transitioning from blogging into creative writing, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Step one comes next weekend: after seeing a photo somewhere on the Internet, I’d designed a new tattoo (sadly my back shows no sign of becoming a cooperative team member, so that project’s on hold for the foreseeable future) which I’d fallen in love with – a circular alphabet in a script that looked like it could’ve been scrawled by Shakespeare himself, which I wanted on my inner forearm as an eternal reminder that I should be writing, and of the immense power that lies in words. Unfortunately, the script was so ornate that the size I wanted would render it illegible, and I really wanted it somewhere I could see. So I met with the artist, who asked me all sorts of questions to make sure she understood why I was getting what I was… and by the end of it, we came up with something that captures the spirit just as effectively: a beautiful, old-fashioned quill. And I have every hope that it will not only reflect my love for the written word… but guide me for the rest of my life toward what I truly should be doing. I’ll still stop by every once in a while and update my blog, but today marks the turning point to the world wherein my true passion lies.

“There are only two worlds – your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. these worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters.”

– Neil Gaiman

This I Know

I was talking to a good friend recently, and we were discussing our reasons for blogging and how they’ve evolved and changed. When I first started writing online, my posts were terribly boring and even more terribly written. I must have been about seventeen years old, and in high school, LiveJournal was the coolest thing in the world. It didn’t matter that your entries were as fun and exciting as getting a dart in the eye and finding a phone bill attached to the end, all the cool kids were doing it* and subsequently, I wrote about everything and anything. Fastforward a bit, and a couple of years ago I decided to start blogging “properly”. I started having Ideas and wanted to Share Them With The World (a dangerous combination), and discovered that the way to get them out there was to learn the valuable skill of networking.

Primarily, at the time, I wanted to write about my journey toward getting over anxiety – I had this desperate desire to reach anyone who’d ever felt similarly, and band together in some sort of invisible army, penning my fears, hopes, dreams, defeats and tiny victories and hoping that somewhere I might reach someone, and maybe, if I was lucky, inspire them to break free too. It was probably one of the best things I ever did, but as blogging made the transition from occasional visitor to permanent resident in my life, my reasons for writing began to change. It became a platform upon which to share my opinions, my thoughts and ideas; to stand up for myself, for my beliefs, and for others; to explore new ideas and gain new insights, to share my biggest struggles and learn new ways of living and dealing with things, and to chronicle all the thoughts, goals, feelings and everyday goings-on that are my life right now. As of late, my blog has become a sort of window into my head – I may not be the most vocal of people in real life, but I feel if someone lands themselves in my little corner of the internet, they’ll get to know the real me. Words I may not pipe into everyday conversation I can feel free to pour onto the page (no wonder most of us here are introverts), and these entries serve as a continual reflection of who I really am. So in that spirit, today I’m taking a leaf out of a fellow blogger’s book, and using a wonderfully honest post of hers as inspiration. It’s about Things I Know.

I know that I’m probably the most emotional person you’ll ever meet, and will invest every fibre of my heart into friendships and relationships. I know this puts me at the highest possible risk for getting crushed, but I also know that if I don’t, I’ll feel like I’m living half a life.  I know I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I also know I’ve done a lot of reflection, and I know that harping on about and reacting negatively to things that have already happened isn’t going to change them. I know I’m a work in progress – I know I need to break habits like overanalysing things, assuming the worst, and worrying about things beyond my control. I know that with enough practice and determination, I’ll get there. I know that every opportunity must be seized.

I know that I will always be an INFJ, Doctor Who will always be the greatest show in the world, and that green will always be my favourite colour. I know that curry in England is better than curry anywhere else in the world (rumour has it, including India), I know that I could happily live on coffee, bacon and lemon meringue pie forever, I know that the world would be slightly better without cherry-flavoured things, and I know that anything is better covered in salt. I know that without fail, a heartfelt hug, eating avocado with a spoon, inescapable laughter or a dog’s head sticking out of a moving car window will make anything better. I know that good things come to those who wait, but I also know that life is too short, and that we all have the power to turn it all around the very moment we decide to, and sometimes, the only time is now.

I know this planet is full of incredible beauty as well as incredible horror, and that I just happened to land on it. I know if I had three wishes, I would want to save the world, take away all the pain of those I love, and wish for more wishes, and only then would I be a little more selfish with them. 🙂 I know I want to travel, walk down streets thousands of years old, see impossible sights, soak up every soaring sunset and really look at, study, and fall in love with the canopy of stars that blankets our little world, knowing I’m seeing something billions and billions of years old. I know that the galaxy is big enough and wonderful enough to call God, and I know that now, I will never believe something that doesn’t make one hundred percent sense to me personally. I know I will always seek, question, and do my best to locate and figure out the truth.

I know that pain and sadness are inevitable, that loved ones could be stolen away at any moment, and that our time on this Earth is finite and ever diminishing. But I know that for the rest of my life, I am determined to make the most of every single moment, choose love over hate, future over past, present over future, and love as hard as I possibly can. I know how lucky I am to have people to love, and be loved in return. I know we are never given more than we can handle. As much as I like to think otherwise, I know that honesty may not always be the best policy, and that sometimes kindness is a higher priority.  I know that understanding is infinitely more difficult sometimes than proving yourself right, but I know one hundred percent that it’s always more important.

I know that dreams might not always be attainable, but I also know that just having them gives the opportunity for great adventures and great stories. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m finally at a place where I know my worth. I know that soulmates aren’t a quantifiable science, but I know with all my heart that whatever your definition, that they exist. I know that I’m too hard on myself and that nobody sees all the flaws I do, and I know that life’s too short to worry about things that we all lose in the end. I know one should never give up hope. I know that laughter and brilliant moments should be cherished forever.  I know that pyjamas are better as weekend clothes than they are to wear in actual bed, and I know that sometimes, style really is more important than comfort.  🙂

I know that my thirst for learning and passion and adventure will never be quenched, and I know how lucky I am to be able to go wherever I want, or to find whatever information I want at the click of a button. I know that this world would be better with more love and more education, and a focus more on unity than on difference. I know that I will always be infatuated with the English language, with literature, and I know that great minds will live forever through their words, which I collect and stash away like the finest of treasure. I know that being able to speak and tell stories and be heard is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I know that what’s popular isn’t a reflection of the best the human race has to offer, but that the human race offers wonderful things if you know where to look. I know I will never watch American soap operas and I know I will be a BBC girl until I die. I know that sometimes nothing can make you feel more alive than jumping around passionately with someone hand in hand to  brilliant live music. I know that life is better with a cat in it.

I know that I’m pro-choice, pro-freedom of speech, pro-equality, pro-gay marriage, and pro-doing what’s right. I know I should exercise more and eat more greens, make more time for sleep, drink more water and less port wine, but I also know that we only have one life. I know that few things bring me more joy and sense of accomplishment than writing a great piece of fiction, but I know that writing is a battle between you and a blank page, and that, as a favourite author once said, most often the blank page wins. I know that a home is better filled with ever-playing music and ever-shining fairy lights. I know that home is where the heart is, and that sometimes that can be in people more than places.

I know I don’t really fit into a social niche, but I know that by attaching labels, we cage ourselves in from everything that ever could be otherwise. I know that talk is inevitable, but in whatever form it comes, it means you’re not being boring. I know that the person I am today is an entirely different person than who I was five years ago, and I know that the person I will be in another five will probably be just as much a stranger, but I know that moving forward in life is a must, and that I will never stand in one place. Even if I don’t know where I’m going. I know I’m but a small speck on the surface of a planet that’s just as insignificant a part of the universe, but I know that even though all things pass, we can all have a giant impact in our time, and on those that surround us, as they can on us. I know that life’s a mystery, that it’s too vast and incredible and mysterious sometimes to take too seriously, and that I’m lucky just to have the adventure. And I know with absolute certainty that brevity will never be my forte. 🙂

How about you? What do you know at this moment in time?

*Definition of “cool” subject to interpretation; mine personally being people who occupied the physics room with me at lunchtime, examining the lyrics of the latest Decemberists tracks and drawing Star Trek comics on the whiteboard

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?

Battlefield

So, I’m going to hazard a guess that my absence from the blogosphere lately, on top of several vague tweets and a thoroughly emo Facebook photo didn’t go 100% unnoticed. I say this as a result of something I hadn’t imagined happening: a complete outpouring of love, concern and support. This community has been incredibly kind to me in the past on many, many occasions, and through good and bad, I consider myself blessed to have built relationships with so many of you. Real life friends have become pillars of strength, and so many some would call “strangers” have offered solace and guidance – but someone once told me that a stranger was “just a friend you hadn’t met yet”. So many of you have truly shown the meaning of real friendship over these last few weeks whether the distance between us is five blocks or five thousand miles. So for all the e-mails, texts, hugs and phone calls, please know that the gratitude I express through saying “thank you” here can only reflect a small percentage of the magnitude of how very deeply I mean it.

I’m not going to go into details of what happened over the last couple of weeks, because this is partly the story of others, and it’s not fair for me to put something out there if it’s not one hundred per cent mine. But a lot of you already know, and trust me, everything you’ve expressed, advised and warned me about has been looping on repeat inside. I never thought Jordin Sparks would be my new best friend, but the only way I can describe what’s been going on inside me is in terms of visualising a battlefield.  I’ve had two sides raging against each other in my mind; one comprised of soldiers of shock and armies of anger under a ruling hand of disbelief; the other of heart, of hope, and of forgiveness. There seems to be a middle ground of reason which doesn’t seem able to join with either, and sits rather uncomfortably on the fence as both sides battle for its allegiance and the right to call it theirs.  In about twenty minutes, it will be reckoning night, and there can only be one winner. This is a fight to the death.

Supporters of both are cheering on loudly; banners of fear and betrayal held high as the opposition’s cries of compassion fight for the victory. Each believes wholeheartedly that they are battling for the right reasons, and I find myself sitting somewhere above it all, watching from afar. But the clock is ticking. I need to join a team. How could it be so difficult to choose between two sides so completely and utterly at opposite ends of the spectrum? One side’s soldiers wear shades of grey; a monochromatic army of emotion past and horror realised. As a fabulous song reminds me, everything they’re fighting for is like punching in a dream and breathing life into the nightmare. The ghost of disillusion hovers like a weight over them all, penetrating their swords with the stranglehold of memory, fuelling the fight to rage on. The other side, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have a uniform, but though in and of themselves they bear no semblance of cohesion, juxtaposed next to the resistance, are united with a sort of glow. Their cross-shields are emblazoned with symbols of love and hope; giant doves adorn armour and shimmering spells are cast across the battlefield, taking down dozens of greys at a time. In the heat of war, neither side seems to notice their torn observer, and I find myself praying for some kind of sign. The team to which I pledge allegiance will pave the way forward, and it is not a decision to make lightly.

The clock ticks loudly, an obnoxious reminder that my time is up. As I close my eyes in those last remaining seconds and surrender the decision to a blind leap of faith, the banner of a lone soldier catches my eye, and I see him looking directly at me. The rest of the field becomes a blur as our eyes lock in a simultaneously fleeting and eternal moment, and suddenly, my decision is made. The answer had been sitting inside of me the whole time, and was scrawled in giant, shining letters across his flag. Philosophy. I had to do what I did in every other walk of life, and apply my philosophy just as I would to anything else. I’ve always been a firm believer in humanity’s ability to choose their reaction, and no matter how difficult any situation may be, we all have a weapon of choice. My mission over the last year has been made evident time and time again: choose the right one. Fear is a trusty protector, and has been relied upon in battle after battle to shield from harm. But it’s only one weapon. A weapon that also blocks out the sun, and along with it, the potential for everything wonderful.

We cave so easily to the option of self-constructed walls around our hearts in misguided endeavours to keep them safe. The temptation to hold on tightly to those things from the past is almost sirenesque (did I just make that word up?), but like those sailors stolen from the seas, doing so only results in destruction. The power of acceptance has been pointed out to me in the past, and I think the lesson here may be to simply accept that in itself, and work it into my life’s philosophy. It’s an ongoing and ever-evolving mission statement, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that’s what life’s really all about. As I touched on earlier in the week, my philosophy already includes choice, love, forgiveness, integrity, and a focus on the big picture. At the end of the day, every one of us is only human, and if every person on the planet held onto all the hurts and pains from the past in order to protect themselves, this world would be a terrible place indeed. I think my lesson here is to focus on life from this point forward, not backward. Reaction to something that’s already happened isn’t going to stop it from happening (space-time continuum issues aside), but I believe accepting it, leading with love, and focusing on shaping a better future is the way forward.

We all have a choice. I just hope my heart is leading me in the right direction. Here goes…

Status Update

It’s been a couple of weeks since I got put in the Power Glove, and it’s been the biggest change of pace I’ve had in a long time. I’m still at work, and while I’m supposed to be avoiding using the rebellious buggers, my fingers still have to type from 7:30 – 4:00 – so I figured I could make a quick stop back in the blogosphere too. Because I miss you all an absolute TONNE.

My GOODNESS I miss electronic communication. I was told to stop texting (still not having caught up to the touch-screen generation, the keypad wasn’t doing me any favours), and I have subsequently lost all form of socialisation.  It makes you feel a bit rubbish when you have to stop contacting people the way you’re so used to, and then realise you’re the only one who usually initiates anything. 😦 I’ve run into the odd person on the bus, had one lovely dinner date, and a few phone calls from friends across the country, but other than that? I’m feeling a bit of a social castaway. What doesn’t help is not being able to blog or write – two of the things in life that bring me the most joy. Last week, I was over the moon when I saw Vista came with a fully installed speech recognition programme. I spent an hour training it and all seemed to be going well until I started trying to use it. Five mistakes per sentence soon became more trouble than it was worth, and the novelty wore off immediately. Does anyone have any experience with Dragon?

I’ve seen a hand physiotherapist twice in the last couple of weeks, and though the splints are helping me do things like, you know, actually dress myself and brush my own hair, without them there’s still a tonne of pain whenever I try to grip or hold onto anything at all. Why do we train ourselves to ignore our bodies when they’re trying to tell us something’s wrong? Why do we shut out the signals and hope it’ll go away, until it’s too late?

I recently read an interesting article about early 19th-century artist Henri Matisse, and feel somehow inspired:

Old age or illness are never comforting thoughts. For an artist especially, it can be a real horror. It rings up images of arthritis in which merely holding a brush can bring anguished pain. It threatens the artist’s lifeline to the outside work, his or her vision. It often entails frailty and fatigue where once there was strength and vigour. There can be sadness and despair, yet the creative urge never dies. Sometimes it is the one spark that keeps an artist alive and aware. It can be a harsh taskmaster, driving the aging artist, now with excruciating pain, and an uncertain, but nonetheless final, deadline to do that which in youth would have been quite easy. Where others might simply give up, the true artist adjusts. Claude Monet painted massive garden scenes seen through double cataracts with a brush bound to fingers which could no long grip it. Henri Matisse, in the last decade of his life, following repeated, debilitating surgeries, his eyesight also failing, and so weak he could no longer get out of bed, adjusted to his condition by moving to huge sheets of paper he could still see and large blocks of painted paper meticulously arrange by assistants according to the master’s directions. The work was necessarily abstract. No more could he create the intricate, flat, interior designs or two-dimensional painted figures that had long been the hallmark of his flamboyant style. His gouache on paper work entitled The Snail, created in 1953, just a year before he died, is an excellent example of the adjustments an old man made in continuing to do as best he could what best he loved. Much of his work is a testament to a man’s sheer stubbornness to persist in the face of years of daunting debilitation, giving new meaning to the phrase, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

I hope desperately that this is only temporary. I hope with all my heart I’ll be able to, some day soon, fix this problem and once more be able to write whenever I want to instead of once or twice per month, to read your stories, email, engage in discussion, and to work on my creative stuff… it is my biggest dream and remains the sole thing that brings me most joy. But for now, I have to take this step back. A friend once told me, “if you have the urge to do something, and you feel like you have to do it, it means that’s what you should be doing“. I still feel I should be writing, but the Universe right now has other plans. I don’t know what those plans are, but, as with all the big things in life, I have faith that this is happening for a reason, and that somehow, that reason will become clear.

Okay. Enough whinging. I just wanted to check in to let you all know I miss you, and hopefully, if I can find some decent software, I’ll be able to rejoin the Internet soon. 

Have a wonderful weekend everyone 🙂

The Hazards of Cyberlife: On the Loss of Social Conscience, and Living in the Age of Trolls

A couple of weeks ago, some of you will know that I experienced what I consider to be a massive violation of privacy. This involved someone creating a false name and e-mail address in an effort to solicit a password to a protected post, and then proceeding to share said post publicly with influential people, and make empty threats of invented consequence solely to scare and intimidate. My argument was always that it was never publicSaid post wasn’t even that bad – it was my simply my own opinion, in my own space, shared with people of my choosing – in the same manner in which one may share thoughts verbally with a coworker, in a quiet corner of the office lunch room. It’s not the same thing as standing on a podium with a loudspeaker at the next staff meeting, advertising how you really feel about your benefits package, paycheque, or supervisor’s wardrobe. Password-protecting a post, intending never to offend, but to share an opinion, seemed like a pretty safe way to express myself. But in the age of the Internet, it seemed I was couldn’t have been more wrong.

This situation really got me thinking. Over the last few years, as the power of Facebook, blogging, and other social media has increased its stranglehold on society, I’ve experienced my fair share of cyber-attacks, ranging from online stalking to identity theft to explosions of slander and hate mail. And lately, a new specimen of online pest seems to be breeding: the troll. I’ve seen incidents all across the blogosphere – kind, sincere people becoming victims of the most cowardly form of bullying there is. Genuine hearts on sleeves being attacked by the Anonymous Commenter who has nothing better to do than prey on people, either when they’re experiencing something awesome (in an endeavour to bring them down), or when they’re going through something tough (in a spiteful attempt to break them). Our generation has one enormous factor affecting it that was nonexistent twenty years ago: The Internet.  And the psychological and societal effects of being so interconnected – whether good or bad – are nothing short of fascinating.

I remember, years ago, going through a breakup. I was pretty down, and I quickly learned that heartache was one of the most effective forms of troll bait. In this case, it was the circle of friends of The Ex, who swarmed on my newly single Facebook page, and proceeded to send a barrage of spiteful e-mails telling me I was the worst thing that ever happened to their friend, and that I should go back to England, “because nobody wants me in this country anyway”.  Looking back, it’s interesting – would these boys carry out this behaviour if we were to have run into each other on the street, face to face? There’s no way of fully proving an alternate scenario of the past, but I’d place a pretty strong bet on no. Another incident happened in the spring. A friend of said Ex was in one of the same social circles as a friend of mine, who told me that (four years after the breakup), this friend was still spouting off to anyone who’d listen what a “psycho” I was. And had created a fake Facebook account with stolen pictures from my old MySpace page, stuck my name on it, and proceeded to write bitchy comments on her own page, AS ME, to prove her point.  Why is it that when personal interaction and consequence is removed, so are people’s social boundaries? Without accountability for their actions, people will say and do all sorts of appalling things – simply because they can be anonymous. What does this say about people?

via verlverl.deviantart.com

This leads me to a news story that was big on UK radio last week, and hit local newspapers yesterday: Cyberbullying. 15-year-old kids committing suicide after being threatened on Facebook. Children being terrified to go to school. 13-year-olds photos being stolen from Facebook, photoshopped onto naked bodies and put on porn sites. There is no law that recognizes cyberbullying as a crime, and nothing police can do. And people are realising that something needs to be done. I remember going to school almost fifteen years ago and hearing the news that a fellow student had been stabbed by another. I remember how terrifiying it was, thinking that someone in our midst was capable of murder. But when these people can get to you outside the real world, online, where you can be targeted in your own home – there’s no escape. They’re not just in your face, they’re in your own personal free time, in your own personal space. And, thanks to the new generation of mass interconnectivity, it can overtake someone’s life to the point where the preferred alternative is death.

What about the trolls that exist on the plethora of forums and public spaces across the web? The ones who spend their evenings scouring YouTube for music videos, of contestants on X Factor or people in their homes, singing some song for the pure joy of it, and take immense satisfaction from leaving the most spiteful comments they can. YouTube comment channels are some of the most negative places I’ve visited online, and it blows my mind how anyone can take pleasure from creating hurt and pain to another. Let’s examine the life and thought pattern of such a person for a second. For someone to gain satisfaction and pleasure from inflicting pain and upset on another, it means they either a) have no source of joy in their life, so in order to feel better about themselves, they try and make others more miserable than they are, b) are mentally twisted, disturbed people who have no grip on reality, or c) searching for something over which they can have control; perhaps lacking control of their own life, they hit the jackpot of being able to control something, without consequence, by creating a reaction.  When you frame it like this – are they really worth bothering with the energy of getting upset?

No – think for a second what life must be like, for someone who goes to the lengths of preying on innocent people, taking the time to read their story, creating false or anonymous identities and leaving childish, hate-filled comments. Life must be pretty sad if that’s how you’re choosing to spend your time. And so next time you fall victim to someone’s attempt at causing hurt, remember that. Remember that in real life, they wouldn’t have two balls to knock together to do something similar. Remember how sad their lives must be, and remember how incredibly cowardly this form of childish bullying actually is. And perhaps choose pity instead.

The other thing that fascinates me is that we all know there are people like this out there. We all know the risks of identity theft, personal attack, slander and anonymous hate mail. Yet, even as simple Facebook users, but especially as bloggers, we continue to give the world access to every detail of our lives. What is it about the Internet that demands such open access to every facet of our thoughts, emotions, and life events? Why do we feel the need to broadcast our innermost desires across the entire globe? It has to be a generational thing. There’s a growing form of stigma attached to social networking and online presence, and it’s commonly equated with being modern, forward-thinking, and successful. The more online you are, the more respect you’ll have from the rest of the world. The cooler you’ll seem. I think, in a way, it’s a form of international, mass-scale peer pressure. And that’s a bit of a scary thought. But at the same time, spending such a large chunk of my life online has led to incredible things. It’s led to personal growth, meeting some of the best friends I’ve ever had, free theatre tickets, international trips, and rekindled romance. It’s allowed me to find my own voice, share it with the world, and subsequently tell the genuine from the fake. It’s made me feel close to friends and family in faraway places, and it’s made me feel connected to the rest of the world, in a sense of ongoing community. The Internet has brought about some of the most wonderful events, things, and people of my life, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

But it’s a relatively new force in human evolution. It’s changed the face of communication, made information available instantly, yet made us more impatient as a result. It’s brought people closer together, but it’s put people at risk of privacy invasion, bullying, and identity theft. It’s a simultaneously strange, awful and wonderful force on humanity, and I think the effects on upcoming generations are going to be very interesting indeed. For now, though, the benefits far outweigh the risks, and I’m going to continue riding this wave of technology. Cybercrime isn’t going to go away – in fact I’m sure this post itself may be pretty effective at drawing some trolls out of the woodwork (how’s it going, 66.90.73.223?) – but I just think it’s important that we recognise it for what it really is: incredibly cowardly endeavours by people with the emotional intelligence of a five year old trying to get a reaction, hidden away behind their computer screens. People who have no say or influence over your life, whose own lives are probably pretty void of happiness, integrity, and purpose. And that’s not really worth paying too much attention to at all.

The Mysterious Case of Google Gone Wild

One of my favourite things about blogging is checking in with my stats every now and then to go through the highly amusing search engine terms that people somewhere out there in the world are looking up on Google, and somehow ending up at my blog. Inspired by Wendy’s post, here are some favourites that rank, bizarrely, pretty highly on my all time Search Engine Term statistics:

1. “Tattoo epic fail.”  Okay, so my tattoo right now is a pretty epic fail, but there’s no need to rub it in. This is one of the highest hitting searches I’ve ever had, and 34 people have searched for this exact phrase, and landed at one of my posts about the mess my back tattoo is in right now. Thankfully, this weekend I went back for my final consultation with my new saving grace, and Operation: 40-Hour Cover Up the Cover Up is under way! Now if only I didn’t have to come up with a $1,000 deposit to get on the waiting list…

2. “Trevor Horn.”  It took me a really long time to figure out who this was, and for a while I was kind of worried about the number of people searching for this mysterious man and ending up here – but then it dawned on me: Trevor Horn, of Video Killed the Radio Star fame was mentioned in one post about two years ago, referring to an odd repeat customer I was having at work, who wore similar giant 80s glasses and smelled so bad I had to evacuate the premises and open every fire exit in the middle of winter. Fun times.

3. “Abominable snowsuit. Somehow, sixteen people have been hunting for this exact thing, though I’m not sure if it was my unfortunate snowsuit they were looking for.

4. “Marina Diamandis smoking.”  This, next to my own name, is the biggest search that’s led people to my blog, and some variation of it shows up almost every other day. I didn’t even know she did smoke, and certainly don’t remember referring to it in my little tribute!

5. “Weeping Angels.” …And then came the nerdy ones. I have more than a few handfuls of sci-fi references in my search engine terms, including “tardis blink,” “nerdgasm costumes” “night of the living trekkies,” “3 things aliens can do on earth” and, a personal favourite, “hit it my dear, i’ll go klingon on that ass,” but this one tops the lot with a grand total of 38 searches. Strangely, “wheeping angel tattoo” led four people here as well.

6. “Blue eyed university students” scores on the top ten, and is the only one that leaves me clueless as to where they ended up.

7. “The bad news is that time flies, the good news is that you’re the pilot.” I always like it when people search for this one, because it means they’ve just watched one of my favourite movies, Cashback.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. A warning though: the promotional poster was the word pasted over a woman’s naked chest. This movie’s artsy, intelligent, somewhat fantasy, and has the lovely bloke who played Oliver Wood in Harry Potter in it, but in case you wanted to peek at the trailer, it’s kind of NSFW. Great film, though.

8. “Creepy phone guy” is pretty up there, with 14 poor people having experienced one of these in their lives.  This search probably led them either to this weirdo, or the time a couple of years ago someone had misdialled once and then proceeded to start calling me regularly, “wanting someone to talk to”.

9. “French big fat ladies.” This one baffles me. I know, I know, the English are supposed to hate the French, but I’m marrying (close to) a Frenchman, and though I may have referenced that fact on a couple of occasions, I don’t think big fat ladies have ever intentionally been a part of my blog content. Yet, amazingly, they rank on the list.

10. Lastly, possibly my favourite: “Pirate prayers“. AWESOME. I loved it the first time I saw it leading someone here, and though I did reference the two things once in the same post, they were intended to be in two separate sentences.  But now I really want to know what exactly a pirate prayer would encompass. No pun intended.*

I know a few of you have some pretty entertaining search engine results – anyone else care to share? 🙂

* I’m so sorry.

 



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The Niche Philosophy

Lately, it seems in all walks of life I’m coming across the same message: in order to be successful at something, you have to find your niche. I’d started thinking about this after our work retreat on teamwork a few weeks ago – we’d gone through six “indisputable laws” of successful team building, and the one I’d had the most trouble with was Law 3: The Law of the Niche. It stated that all players have a place where they add the most value, and if you weren’t working in an area you are naturally gifted and passionate about, you’ll never be as successful as if you are. If you try something you’re not naturally talented at, you’ll only ever be a 5/10. But if you work in your niche, you’ll hit 10s every day. This initiated a gaping chasm of worry in the pit of my stomach – all I’ve been trying to do for the last year is dive into things that make me uncomfortable, riding on the hope that repeat exposure will eventually make them totally fine. The idea being presented, though it made complete sense, was entirely contrary to everything I’ve been trying to do. Said chasm was further widened when we were all asked to go around the room stating what our niche was, and were we working in it?  “No,” I thought to myself – “but how do I declare that to the boss who just gave me a new position, in front of all my colleagues?”

Initially, I thought my niche was a given – what I love doing at work is working in roles that allow me to be creative. Writing, designing, directing videos, creating advertising, doing radio – these were the sorts of things that were part of my job before the term ended. Now, the majority of my position involves things that aren’t quite such a natural fit: group facilitation, spreadsheets, and reports.  Not so within my comfort zone. As we were going around the room, before they got to me, one of my (teacher) coworkers spoke up. “I don’t think of it as teaching,” she said, “I think of it as encouraging people to want to learn.”  Now that really hit home. The thought of standing up in front of a class still makes me nauseous, but with practice it’s getting easier. Regardless, I don’t think it will ever be my “niche”.  Encouraging others to want to learn however… has my name all over it. I’d always wanted to be a teacher throughout my adolescent life, before I realised I was afraid of public speaking. I’d always adored learning, too – I remember reading Jane Eyre in the hallways one lunch time and being stopped by an impressed English teacher and feeling awfully proud, wishing my classmates could experience this great piece of literature but saddened they seemed more interested in whose party to go to that weekend.  I’ve always loved learning, so when I heard it framed like that, I thought maybe I am in my niche after all. I have the freedom to create curriculum, to design slideshows, to write cover letters and resumes and to encourage people to learn. And looking at it like that made me feel a whole lot better.

Finding my niche in the blogging world has been similarly difficult – mainly due to the fact that I refuse to have one! I see lots of blogs evolve from a collection of diverse thoughts into ones that limit themselves to one or two topics, and have their readership skyrocket through the roof. It continually baffles me – if you want to be a “successful” blogger, you have to be confined into a handful of areas if you want to keep the traffic coming back. But I’ve seen it work all the time. Lately, I think I’ve come to the realisation that it’s perfectly okay to write about what I want to write about regardless of whether or not people are going to be interested. If I’m going to lose readers because I write about Star Trek or obscure music one day, so be it. Why keep your passions hidden, and say what you think other people would rather you say? I feel like a bit of an outsider in the blogging world sometimes – everybody seems to know the ins and outs of each others’ lives, because a lot of people tweet and write about the goings-on of their hour-to-hour existence. Trips taken, friends visited, meals created or books read. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – this is how I keep in touch with many people I care about! I guess I just don’t know if my everyday life is really worth writing about. I don’t know if I could be proud to write about the cookies I baked last week, the invitations I printed on Sunday, or the toys I bought for my little cat. Because in reading about what I did, you’re not reading about me. Writing about my thoughts, however? That’s a different story.

This blog is more than a journal. More than a chronological account of what I did over the last few years. It’s an all-encompassing chronicle of my thoughts and opinions, hopes and dreams, loves, loathes, fears and passions on top of the things that filter into my day-to-day existence.  I sometimes wish we could all walk around with personal profiles attached to sandwich boards draped over our shoulders. Creative. Animal lover. Nerd. Bookworm. Longs for Home. Artistically Inclined, but Lover of the World of Science. Hopeless Romantic. Wants to Make a Difference. None of us can walk about the world and trust that the right people will just fall into it, but by writing what I do on this blog, I can put myself out there. People can look at my words and see my journey, my story, my thoughts, wonderings, hopes and dreams. Individually, they may be haphazard, random, irregular and about as cohesive as Paris Hilton’s recounting of The Canterbury Tales, but in total, they make up me. All of me. Not one part of me put on show for the sake of “that’s what’ll make me popular”.

I’ll never be a niche blogger, or a subscriber to the rules of “successful” blogging. At any moment of any day, the best friend I haven’t met yet may come across my blog – do I really want my first impression to be one-dimensional? No. I want to be known as someone with real thoughts and feelings, whose heart, interests and passions aren’t caged into a cookie-cutter mould to please the masses. I want to write when I’m passionate about something, which may be three times a week, or may be twice a fortnight. I’d much rather have something substantial than post just for the sake of having something new.  I want my blog to be genuine and real, because I want my relationships to be the same.  I’m not going to limit myself to the things that’ll increase traffic. I don’t want it if it’s drawn by something that isn’t the real deal. I’ve always been a hearts-on-sleeves kind of girl, and if that means not fitting in, I’ll take it. As the Bard once wisely said, “this above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” In twenty years, these blog posts will be in the archives of history, the commenters will have moved on, and all that remains of this chapter of your life may be the words you wrote. Wouldn’t you rather know, from the bottom of your heart, that they reflected you?

From Avatars to Allies

Whirlwinds of activity and excitement seem to be becoming somewhat of a theme this year, and this long weekend was another fantastic ride through foreign streets accompanied by friends from afar. I left the city late Friday afternoon (on what was possibly the most claustrophobic, teensy little plane I’ve ever been on – we had to move three passengers plus luggage to the back of the jet so the weight was spread evenly enough for takeoff!) and watched an orange sun illuminate the sky as we rode, sandwiched between two layers of cloud, through a glowing dreamscape down towards the coastline of Chicago. There’s something to be said about solitary travel – it’s a great time, with no distractions, for seeing the world from a new perspective, and for inner reflection. I arrived in O’Hare airport where I was soon met by two ladies I’ve known only in the realms of cyberspace for the last year or so, who greeted me with a gigantic squeeze and my first ever welcome sign, made with the help of our fabulous hotel concierge, Ian.

We took the L train (JUST like in Time Traveller’s Wife!) downtown, noshed up, and soaked up the experience of finally meeting each other in the flesh for the first time. In the last year, I’ve exchanged (sometimes daily) emails, text messages, phone calls and Skype dates with these girls more often than I have most people I know in real life. Seeing a relationship built through technology come to life in the real world was a surreal and wonderful experience, and we spent the next three days taking on the Windy City in style.* We walked for miles, taking in landmarks, amazing food, my first sangria, and truly breathtaking architecture. My heart was literally swooning as we trekked through downtown, surrounded by culture, life, and gorgeous towers soaring toward the sky. Every American I met was an absolute sweetheart, especially our fantastic doorman at the hotel, “Showtime”, whose enthusiasm and genuine love for life spilled out at the seams. He sent us off every night with a hug, a laugh, and a coupon for something wonderful.

We explored fancy shops and dreamed of being able to clean out places full of beautiful clothes and ornate houseware. We found original Glee costumes, had movie pyjama parties (complete with an unfortunate case of The Titanics, in which I bawled my eyes out for a good twenty minutes and proceeded to get VERY much laughed at :)), soared 103 storeys into the sky and braved the glass bottomed boxes looking down on the city below. We adorned ourselves with silk roses and crystal penguins, and I realised that five inch heels can simultaneously be a girl’s best friend and mortal enemy. We got lost in countless book shops, both modern and vintage, where I found myself wishing luggage would come in TARDIS form. We found the most amazing little sci-fi coffee house, plastered with oversized eighties film posters, with stuffed models of ET and ninja turtles perched atop every surface. I met even more bloggers, old friends and new ones, toured the local brewery, and witnessed the fastest and most inopportune blackout I’ve ever seen. The three days went by in a flash, but there was something quite magical about this trip.

If it weren’t for blogging, I would never have met five of the people in this photograph. I’ve always written, but I’ve only been properly blogging for about a year now, and some of the relationships I’ve been blessed enough to develop have become some of the most treasured in my life. Friends who are on speed dial, ready to cheer you on, or to defend against runaway snotrockets (new readers: yes, it happened, yes, it was in the face). Friends who’ve given me opportunities to help make the world a better place. Friends who send surprise cards, letters, and handmade gifts in the post, and friends who’ll happily exchange nerdy Doctor Who stories for hours on end. The world can seem an awfully vast place, but thanks to this online community, can seem rather comfortable… and not quite so big after all. Seeing the voices you’ve known so long through words and photographs on screens come to life was an amazing experience, and I only wish I’d had more time to fully spend with each and every one of these fantastic people. Chicago was an absolutely stunning city, and I have no doubt I’ll be heading back before too long. I arrived home after a plane ride accompanied by snapshots and science magazines, in one happy, exhausted, and exhilarated piece. Thank you Chicago, for capturing my heart, and thank you to everyone I was lucky enough to meet this weekend… who proved once again just how brilliant this online community really is.  Until next time… 🙂

Pandemic

I started my new job this week, and things are definitely shaping up to be a whole new change of pace!  I am still title-less, but the month of July is going to be filled with training, curriculum development, out of office visits and tonnes of learning.  (AND VOTING. PLEASE. DID YOU DO IT YET? :)) It’s massively different than what I’m used to, and I must admit first day I was so overwhelmed and anxious about all the new responsibility I made myself physically sick and subsequently missed the next two days (I’m a winner, I know), but the nerves I think are finally subsiding a little.  I’m thrilled to be part of a brand new project which is going to put me in a position that will not only push my boundaries (I’m going to be facilitating about 6 different modules – huge for the whole public speaking thing) but also put me in a position where I can really help people. One of the first things we were told was that the focus of this project was going to be not only helping the community, but empowering people – giving them tools and opportunities that will help them change their lives for the better. And that make me really proud. Along with teaching, I’m going to be doing some admin, some promotion and marketing, and toward the botttom end of the list – health and safety. Now, I may be a strange candidate for holding any portion of responsibility regarding other people’s safety or health (I think I made my stance on the government’s encouragement of mass vaccination quite clear during the H1N1 outbreak) – but thinking back to that got me thinking about the idea of what constitutes the idea of a pandemic – something which, when it comes down to it, causes widespread action in regards to something contagious.

When you hear the word, you automatically think of outbreaks of scary things like SARS, H1N1, Bird Flu… even the Bubonic Plague, and the masses subsequently running on something not too far from hysteria, having bought into the combination of newsreaders telling scary stories, but more accurately, fear. Fear is as contagious, if not more so, than whatever outbreak happens to be circling the newspapers.  Did I know anyone in my city affected by any of these so-called pandemics? No, I knew a bunch of people who, upon the encouragement of lunchroom gossip and television sets, rushed to the nearest doctor’s office to have something injected into their bloodstream, or started wearing surgical face masks in the street. The fear of contamination was more contagious than the sickness itself.  The word “pandemic” is defined as prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world; widespread over a large area; general; universal. So why are we conditioned to evoke a negative connotation in response to hearing it? If something like fear can become pandemic – why can’t something more positive take over the masses?

In short, it can. Think about fashion trends – throughout the ages people have seen someone famous do something different, and rushed out in efforts to imitate their style or attitude. This may not always be for the best (Crocs anyone?), but it’s a mass movement to copy something based on personal admiration.  Health movements have also swept nations (just look at Atkins and Green Monsters), and people across the globe have dropped their current habits and adopted new ones in the hope of bettering themselves.  Spiritual teachings on how to become a better person have been written in books and shot to the top of the national bestseller list, sparking a movement of positivity across book clubs, across friendships, and across the globe. An idea to make the world a better place can pop up in a single man’s head, and before you know it, it’s become an international project with people across the globe hopping on board, all hit by the contagiousness of spreading joy onto the lives of others. Movies like Julie and Julia can inspire nations to learn how to cook; shows like Glee can inspire thousands to sing.

And then there’s blogging. Since I started blogging properly, not even a year ago, I’ve been inspired by people around the world who’ve set goals for themselves, pushed their boundaries, and written about their endeavours to become stronger, healthier, better people. I’ve lost count of how many 101 in 1001s I’ve seen around the blogosphere and have been inspired by other people’s 30s before 30 to create my own list of goals, which inspires me to grow every single day. You could say it’s contagious – hundreds of people reading hundreds of posts about growth and empowerment causing a “pandemic” of positivity. I love it. How great would it be if next time we witnessed something bad spreading – fear, gossip, rumours or hatred – we chose to instead spread something else? Combat the contagiousness of negativity and be the turning point to instead disperse something better. No dictionary tells us pandemics need to be bad. It’s often easier to go along with the masses.  The phenomenon of mass hysteria proves that the strength found in numbers can allow people to do things that would be considered insane if they did them solitarily. But we’re all capable of rising above what’s popular. We just have to practice prioritising, and thinking for ourselves.

BLOGGING RANT: The Cost of Self-Promotion

My bonnet is usually relatively free of bees.  But recently, there’s been a pattern in the blogosphere that’s left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  It’s something Brittney touched on a few weeks ago here, and it’s all about bringing the fun back to blogging, and the reasons we all started doing it in the first place.

When I first started blogging “seriously” back in October-November last year, I was blown away by how awesome it was. By how many people there were out there who were willing to read my stuff, take the time out of their day to comment, and who also wrote great stories about their lives.  I loved getting to know people, starting to build friendships, going from a couple of comments a week to emails, text messaging, phone calls and the odd face-to-face Skype date.  In the last six months, I’ve met people who may be miles away, but I consider some of my closest friends. As with my friends back in England, I find distance doesn’t have to stand in the way of a good friendship.  But there are a few things I’ve seen  lately that really turn me off.

1: Bloggers who started with no traffic, just like all of us, who get to a certain level of blog-stardom, and use it as an excuse to all of a sudden become “authorities” on how to be a great blogger.  They start posting how-to guides on forums and networking and profile pictures, so you can be as awesome as they are.  It’s highly self-indulgent, and I find, borderline arrogant.  If I want more followers, I’ll invest the time in finding them myself. Or I’ll ask! I realise everyone’s reasons for blogging are different, but I read your blog because I’m interested in who you are, not because I want to be told I’m not “successful enough.”

2: Bloggers who fuel and listen to gossip behind the safety net of a computer screen.  It’s all so petty teenage angst fest.  I talked a little while ago about staying to true myself, even if that was at the expense of losing readership.  But at the end of the day, I know the person behind the blog is the same person that’s presented to the world. A person with real thoughts, ups and downs, questions and opinions and a good heart.  And that’s all that matters. Apparently, honesty is sometimes controversial. Sometimes not what people want to hear. So they’ll whisper amongst themselves and latch on to rumours without even bothering to question the truth. Why? Because it’s so much easier to go with the popular crowd.

I like to form friendships. I like to text and send snail mail to bloggers if they’re going through something bad OR good. I like to surprise people and I remain a loyal reader, commenter and friend. If they need help with a design project or a résumé, I will help them out. I like to build the foundations of friendship the same way I do in life – by showing I care. And it irks me to no end that some people lately have decided to completely drop me off their radars because they’ve “heard” something from someone, and haven’t even bothered to question the truth in it. It’s disappointing when you thought some of them were half-decent.

As much as it’s thrown in my face that these days blogging is a competition and the ONLY way you can be good at it is to have a million followers and a USB port in your ankle where you can stay connected to the online world 24/7, I write when I want to, about things that are important to me, and about things I think will really benefit other people. Things I care about, things I love, things I’m striving for and lessons I’m learning. Don’t get me wrong – everybody likes comments.  And I’m so thankful for each and every one of you that takes the time to read, and voice your thoughts every time I write. But I’m not going to compromise who I am because the Internet says I have to. And I’m going to continue making friendships with the people that really are awesome, and stop wasting time on the superficial.

3. Bloggers who sell out.  If I wanted to bombard my eyes with advertising I’d go and empty our recycling box all over my kitchen counter.  I’m coming across many blogs who used to write for the fun of it, and now seem more concerned with making a quick buck by slapping dozens of ads all the way down their sidebar. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, and it kind of tells me you’re more concerned about the $2.75 you’ll make in clicks that week than you are about the writing itself. I don’t read your blog because I want to be inadvertently sold something.

4. Bloggers who capitalise on something you did as a favour to them. I try and offer kindness to the world because let’s face it, the world could use a little more of it. I don’t do it for a reward. But there’s something nice about saying thank-you, isn’t there?  It’s disheartening when kindness is met with egotism, and behind the blogging scenes things are a very different story indeed. Disheartening, yes… but not discouraging. The world needs more kindness, and none of us can control with what our actions are going to be met.  We just have to keep breathing… and reminding ourselves we do things for the right reasons. Right?

4. Bloggers who pretend to be somebody completely different from the person they are in real life. Life isn’t perfect. Everybody has bad hair days and breakouts and stomach aches and snot flying into their face.  If your posts are all rose tinted and I leave wondering if you live in some sort of magical secret cottage where woodland creatures must come in through the night to sew your clothes and clean your house spotless, then I’m sorry. NOBODY is that perfect.  I get it that we all want to present our best sides to, ultimately, strangers.  But how do you think people who DON’T live in said magic cottages feel reading stories (for that’s what they are) about how perfect your life is? Go write a book, or a soap opera, or get your own TV show, instead of trying to be a character. And pick a better one than Martha Stewart.

There’s a difference between being cautious, maybe for work reasons, and pretending to be an entirely different person. Maybe it’s because of some need for personal validation, and if you just pretend for long enough, then maybe people will actually believe it’s real. I don’t know. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ll write about the bad stuff as well as the good. I’ll write about my struggles and my efforts to overcome them and what’s worked and hasn’t worked for me – not because I believe I’m some authority on personal growth, but because if I put it out there to the world, not only am I held accountable, but the world can see it. The emails from people appreciating the honesty and even finding inspiration just mean the world to me. I may not write about cupcakes, kittens and headbands, but at least I’m honest. I’ll take empowerment over self-importance any day. If you don’t write from the heart, and stay true to yourself in doing so – then what is it all for? A fleeting sense of popularity at the expense of your innermost self?

Brittney said it perfectly when she said:

Forgive me, and I may be a complete rarity, but I miss the personal/intimate side of blogging. It just seems that if we all follow these rules on what to blog, what not to blog, how to write, what to say, what not to say, what topic to avoid, what tone to use, what length to adhere to… then there will be very little point in my reading multiple blogs because we will all be the same exact person and I can just go to a single blog for everything. I like reading REAL blogs, with REAL bloggers writing them. I won’t stop reading your blog if your life doesn’t seem perfect, if your home didn’t just step out of Martha Stuart Living, if you have a zit, if you regularly consume obscene amounts of fast food, if you own exactly one pair of jeans that still fit and wear them for weeks on end (coughMEcough). In fact, I will probably like it MORE because you’re willing to be honest, vulnerable and human. I really wasn’t sure where I was going here, except to say that I want us to be ourselves and be okay with that. Blogging is growing into this awesome outlet, which rocks, but it’s also becoming home to 45243 writers who are creating fake personas for the sake of popularity or marketing and in turn, it’s losing it’s unique-ness.

Ask yourself the question today. Do you really know who you’re reading? Are you okay with being told what to do on your own personal outlet in order to be “successful”? Are you willing to give up your own passion and personality to conform for the sake of a comment count?  Is blogging really just turning into another popularity competition?

In life, I think the most important thing you can do is stay true to yourself, and stay focused on being a positive force in the world. It’s easy to get sidetracked by temptations, societal pressures, and worrying about what other people think of you.  It’s important to be authentic – and to be able to tell the difference between self-promotion and a fake persona.  Unfortunately, I’m realising, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult.  Yes, parts of the blogging world have disappointed me lately. But thank you to everybody who I know is willing to be real, who’s willing to stick around through the good and the bad, and who makes blogging such a joy most of the time. You’re all rockstars.  And I really wish there were more words to hyperlink in this sentence, because if you’re commenting on this, you’re probably one of them. 🙂

And, now that that’s dealt with, we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow 🙂

Who really likes being stuck in traffic anyway?

Traffic

This weekend I had an interesting conversation with my best friend about blogging. She’s been blogging for a year and a half, updates on schedule like a fiend, and averages at least 35 comments a day. I’ve been writing for five years, and am lucky to get 3 or 4 per post. I’m in the blogging communities. My posts automatically show up on my Facebook page after I’m done writing. I visit at least 15 blogs, and comment, at least every other day. So why don’t people care? I asked my friend what the trick was. Her response took me by surprise – why do you care?

I’ve always thought I was a pretty good writer – in school I was the A+ English student who read Jane Eyre for fun and actually looked forward to writing 15 page essays on the corruption of the church in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I subscribed to endless Word-a-Day emails, and carried a thesaurus around to improve my writing while I was on the go. I loved the English language, and I loved to write.

Looking back in my archives, I was a terrible blogger. I’ve obliterated all posts about my Series of Unfortunate Relationships, and what’s left is the remnants of my post-teenage rambling about nothing of any substance at all. Only in recent years have I actually started to write, instead of keeping an online diary. I write about intense emotional experiences I’m having in regards to my personal growth, my dreams, pain and persistence. I write about my opinions on current events, music and movies. I write about things I’ll look back on and actually care about.

So why do you care about traffic?

The question took me completely by surprise. I thought about it for a few days, and came to several conclusions:

  • A few weeks ago, over lunch with a coworker, she asked me why I was pushing myself out of being an introvert and into the spotlight, when clearly it made me uncomfortable. I told her “because I used to be able to” – and looking back on my life, she made me realise a lot of what I’ve done, I’ve done for the approval of others. Singing in a band, going to stage school, putting on talent shows – I enjoyed doing all of them, but I enjoyed being told I was good at something more. This is something I’ve only recently realised, but holds a lot of truth. I love to write, but I love being good at it, so naturally a lack of traffic would cause discomfort.
  • I’m an INFJ.  Apparently the rarest of the personality types, the description of it fits me to a tee. We are crushed by too much criticsm and can have their feelings hurt rather easily. They respond to praise and use approval as a means of motivating others, just as they, the INFJs are motivated by approval
  • Having switched from a boring “this is my life” blogger to one who writes about things I actually care about, I guess I had the expectation that other people would too. Fact of the matter is, the Blogging World is just like the Real World. There are people who rule it, who can post about the contents of their bowel movements and still have a hundred responses, and there are people who can write about morality and politics, psychology and the human mind, about growth and inspiration… and get absolutely nowhere. I never did that great in the Real World; I grew up feeling kind of an outcast and today I can count my friends on one hand. So naturally my blogging experience draws a parallel.
  • I don’t like schedules. I don’t like deadlines, and I don’t like planning things out and working on them weeks ahead of time if I can just put them off ‘til whenever I feel like them (this has been recently illustrated in my recent attempts at a bible study; my friend is diligent and excited to stay on the 5-night-a-week schedule, while I get to Sunday and try and cram everything in in one go). Maybe this sets me up for failure in terms of ever being a successful blogger with piles of responses and thoughts every entry. But I think I care more about doing it my way.
  • I’m not on Twitter! It seems every blogger and their dog is on Twitter, and it’s something I just can’t bring myself to devote that much time and energy to. One week from now, I’m not going to care about what I was doing at 10:12 am on Monday morning, and I don’t expect anyone else to, either.

So maybe I’m spelling my own doom. But I’m going to keep writing, about what I want to write about, whenever inspiration strikes. It’s my blog, after all. And if, along the way, somebody’s motivated to respond… it’ll bring a pretty big smile to my day (I made somebody’s actual blogroll the other day, and almost fell off my chair).

And besides, I can’t be that rubbish. I just got signed up to write for an online music magazine.  And that makes me very happy indeed.

Back in the zone

So, er, where was I?

Oh, that’s right, struggling to pick up the pieces after Flatmate From Hell, packing my life into (I swear) at least a hundred boxes, unemployed, and very much stressing at said state of unemployment.

But that was 2 weeks ago.

Now, I have a new job. I have a new house. I have officially said a final goodbye to a long string of flatmate disasters, started working somewhere that exists to help people, just like I wanted, and I’ve moved not only into a new place, but an entire two-storey house with beautiful hardwoods, new paint jobs, my own back garden, two huge bedrooms and a storage shed so I can pretend I don’t own a whole bunch of crap. And I only have a handful of boxes left to unpack! I can’t believe the change that’s come about in the last few weeks. After a couple of weeks without a job, I somehow got multiple offers all on the same day, and I was so excited I took a quick lunch with the boy and called back the one I’d really wanted to work at. They’re called Opportunities For Employment and they’re a non-profit organisation that helps people who might be without computer skills, older, disabled, or on welfare etc. gain the skills they need to be able to present themselves to the workforce and get employed. It’s very interesting and is also part of a research study involving the different psychological levels of wanting to gain meaningful employment too, and tailoring different programs to different stages to hopefully be more effective. I get to be the first person people see when they come in, at my own desk, surrounded by a team of lovely people. I get three weeks holiday and over an hour in breaks every day. It’s very awesome indeed.

Me and the boy also took a big step recently. Probably bigger for him than for me, since it was his first move away from home, but just over a week has passed and we ended the last one with an incredible weekend. The first weekend we exhausted ourselves with packing, moving, lifting and unpacking, and all week we’ve both been working two jobs leaving the only time we have to see each other 6am to 7:15am Monday-Saturday. Saturday night we went out dancing for a friend’s birthday, grabbed some midnight greasy wings and chicken fingers while dressed to the nines at Smitty’s, and spent our full non-working Sunday with a big breakfast, pyjamas, and countless back episodes of Heroes. It was pretty much the best thing ever. Adjusting to only seeing someone five or six waking hours a week is tough, I’m not going to lie. But being able to wake up with them every morning in our first house together, cherishing those Sundays we do have, and knowing this is the beginning of the rest of our lives… makes it all worth it.

Also recently I was part of MillerFest – my first annual Master Playwright Festival. I was one of seven bloggers who got to go see a bunch of plays and write about them, the productions, Arthur Miller and theatre in general. It was tonnes of fun and I learned lots about a very, very interesting man. I only wish it hadn’t been right in the middle of moving, or I would’ve been able to see lots more. Still, I’ve had a good creative fix, and it’s definitely shortened the wait to Fringe. Only 5 more months!

Now I’ve settled down I think I’m going to be back online writing a whole lot more than I have been in the last month. It’s been a whirlwind, but from where I’m sitting now, I very much like the direction things are going. 🙂