christmas

To Bring Out the Very Best in Others

I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.

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(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))

I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.

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I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)

Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.

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I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.

25c29a664c3adbf6cb0376956dcc3b65I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.

Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.

I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.

I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.

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As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.

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I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.

12346342_10153900478369171_1587333639328318231_nA great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.

This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away.  These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result. 

Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂

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“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

This may be my last post of the year. It may not – I always like wrapping up December with reflection, but perhaps just being in the last month of 2014 is enough for now. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, and a lot of it has revolved around the evolution of strength.

For most of my life, I never considered myself a strong person. I fought so hard against my sensitivity, thinking it weak, and wishing so desperately that I didn’t feel things so very strongly. Then, after reading a lot about INFJs (MBTI’s recent bad rep aside, its roots are still founded in psychology and the understanding of humanity, and it’s got me through a lot in life), as well as realising I’m not the only HSP in the world – I started accepting it instead of seeing it as something abnormal that had to be changed. Handled differently, perhaps, but not eliminated. Feeling things to the extreme is something unique and it genuinely means I care an incredible amount. I’d much rather feel things fully than experience them half-heartedly just to avoid potential heartache.

The thing is, in a few months, I’ll be thirty years old. I’ve had a lot of heartache. I’ve also had a lot of awesome. The good thing about experiencing something repeatedly is that each time you go through it, you can look back and say I made it through. You can reflect on the other things in life that aren’t terrible, and, very importantly, you can count your blessings. You can choose to focus your thoughts. Be consumed by feeling, or feel them and deal with them accordingly. Learning how to process them doesn’t mean they need to be suppressed.

My sensitivity is no longer a weakness. I’ve learned to see it as a strength. But with that change has come a lot of hard work, a lot of reflection, and a lot of practice. Reforming all those neural pathways and stuff that used to see things a certain way; they’re being repaved and lead to a place where everything I once told myself is dying. It’s a good thing.

I remember, years ago, a colleague asking me why I insisted on putting myself at the front of a classroom and leading workshops, teaching adult learners, when I was terrified of being the sole focus of attention and actually gave up on my education degree because I knew I’d never be comfortable in front of a group. She saw how much it shook me up, how scared I got, and how I felt like throwing up afterward. Yet I kept doing it, week after week. Why do you do this to yourself when it causes you so much discomfort? I remember struggling with it; I’d read something that I kind of agreed with, but that went against my reasons for pushing myself into things that made me physically sick.

1. Focus on what you’re naturally good at. If you try to be better at something that doesn’t come naturally, you may go from a 3/10 to a 6/10. But if you focus on improving that in which you’re already skilled and/or passionate, you can go from a 7/10 to a 10.

This makes sense. If I practised calculus, I’m sure solving equations might take me three hours as opposed to 12. But it’s never going to be easy, because it’s not something I give a particular crap about.

2. If it’s outside your comfort zone, you should definitely be doing it.

Also agree. Because if I hadn’t pushed myself with things, I’d likely still be riddled with social anxiety, I’d never have tried doing music or making art or videos – things that bring me such joy today. I was blown away with the reaction to this – something someone once told me I’d never be able to sing, because my voice wasn’t strong enough. I hope I did it justice and proved that I could.

Katy Perry - ET Cover

Katy Perry – ET Cover

I started a discussion recently in a local photography and modelling group. I was curious as to why those with low self-esteem when it comes to body image choose to volunteer repeatedly to have their photos taken if all they’re going to do is tear themselves down afterward and point out every flaw. I’ve done it myself – I’m sure there are many of us who’d jump at the chance for some cosmetic surgery or laser hair removal if we could afford it. I was curious to see others’ motivations for doing so, because I’d been there myself. And this train of thought does indeed come back to my original one about the evolution of strength, I promise.

I used to need external validation from others in order to feel good about myself. Many commenters said something similar. But hearing this just made me feel bad, because it’s such a temporary solution. In my early twenties, I was a bit of a serial monogamist. I’d go from relationship to relationship thinking it was absolutely necessary, and only in another person would I find my true worth. When they inevitably ended, so did my entire world. I lacked the self belief and inner strength to feel good about myself on my own. One thing I’ve learned is that needing attention/external validation is not going to elicit inner strength and self worth. I only felt worthy when others made me feel I was needed. But I’ve learned that feeling unsure of your worth is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t personally know that you matter, then perhaps nobody will ever believe you do. If you don’t feel you do, then do something about it. Make art. Follow a passion. Take up a new hobby. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if you fail, because inside, you’ll have all the validation you need: that you had the courage to try.

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of  the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

I’ve also learned that I am the owner of my own time. People complain about being too busy all the time. Too many social obligations, too much work, too many chores, not enough time for the things they want to do. Well, guess what? You get to control what you say yes to. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone has to pay the bills. But there are people in the world that still get to do exactly what they want. Why? Because they learn when to say yes and when to say no. We all have desires. Sometimes they involve going to house parties and socializing with thirty people. Sometimes they involve having a friend over and a bottle of wine. Sometimes they involve spending a Sunday morning curled up in bed with a good book and staying there for a good four hours. Sometimes they involve going on adventures, and sometimes they involve going to bed at 8:00 on a Friday night. There will always be demands on our time. But you get to choose whether you spread yourself thin, or put yourself first once in a while. This year, I will be spending more time Google calendaring dates with myself, writing songs, going on photo adventures, and finishing my book.

I used to also let anybody and everybody in. Let me rephrase: I still let anybody and everybody in. I’ve always maintained that by putting absolutely everything out there (come on; I have a blog, a YouTube channel, an active Facebook account and dearest words tattooed all over my body; being known deeply and knowing others is kind of what I live for), you will attract the most authentic relationships with people. They won’t be based on the superficialities of being what you feel you should be. But I also used to need the company of others in order to feel worthy. Learning to love being on my own was a big thing this year. I spent most of it living and being solo for the first time in a very long time. Solitude used to terrify me, but realising just how much I want to learn, make, create and accomplish has made me cherish my time alone, and realise that if I’m going to spend it with others, it will be with a select few awesome human beings; with those people that make each others’ lives mutually better.

I also began 2014 afraid of ever loving again. My heart had soared through what seemed like fairytale highs and been dragged through the most painful of lows. I decided that if I just didn’t invest it, it wouldn’t get hurt. I remember sitting in a food court with a friend saying this, and how I’d given up on magic; that I’d already had it and I was so strange that perhaps I wasn’t meant to find someone that fit, and that I was resigning myself to being a cat lady. I remember being told that was “a crock”. That I had the biggest heart and that I’d been hurt, but there was no way any of this was true. That I’d been “KO’d”, but not killed. I didn’t feel like myself saying the words anyway; and of course they were bollocks. I live to love those dear to me, completely and fully, and I hope with everything I am that those people know it. Now, after a convoluted journey of growth and reflection, understanding and exploration, I feel like myself again. Home, hopeful, and ready for whatever life brings.

f7b5bd0dbd2595f5f12a367f7797f8ecFinally, this year reinforced something I’ve tried to practice for a long time: that happiness is a choice. People may make all sorts of new year’s resolutions in a few weeks, or tell themselves that 2015 will be better… but these are just words, said every year around this time. Words are nothing without action and conscious commitment. 2014, 2015, 2016… life’s going to happen. It’s going to keep happening. The only thing that determines your mental well-being is your own choice as to how you react to it.

The last year of my twenties has been far from what I imagined, but I’ve learned an awful lot. I still have a long way to go, but that’s the brilliant thing about life – it keeps happening, you keep evolving, and you keep learning. Never stop. This Christmas, I hope you spend it in a way that makes you smile. I hope you count your blessings, and I hope you enter the new year equipped with things to be thankful for and dreams to chase, capture, and make reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, and after eight hours of tossing and turning, waking from strange, sporadic dreams every hour or two (one involving dating someone who wore salad for a beard, and getting upset with my parents for judging him on his choice of facial hair), I think I might be having a Writer’s Moment. A few minutes ago I was tucked away with a happy cat in my arms and an electric blanket warming my toes. Snug, but getting rather tired of focusing exercises designed to slow your thoughts and will you to sleep after every attempt resulted in nothing but more consciousness. So I found myself starting to form sentences in my head instead. I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me. Is the inside of anyone else’s head so busy, so full of an endless rapid fire of thought after thought, feeling after feeling? I’m okay with being a deep thinker, but sometimes (usually around three o’clock in the morning), I yearn to be able to shut off the relentless stream of consciousness.  Especially when said stream is composed of a rather irritating mathematics problem I’d heard earlier that day, which barged its way into my head, grabbed hold of every scrap of drowsiness, and proceeded to promptly punch each one out before putting its feet up, lighting a cigarette, and cranking the stereo. (Sidenote: thank heavens I have someone I can call at 1:30 in the morning to solve it for me. Hopefully I still will at the time of broadcast.)  This morning was another restless one, and I found my thoughts wandering to where I was this time a year ago. I gave up on the idea of a lie-in and decided to write about them instead. This time a year ago, it was the night before my wedding, and I was sitting on my bed in tears with my husband-to-be, torn between calling the whole thing off and trying to convince ourselves we could make something so very wrong work.

A year ago, I was writing the following words. It’s hard not to see the signs from every direction pointing out the enormous mistake I’d be making:

It all started last Thursday night with the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to have everyone have a quick run through at the church,  head out to a restaurant that’s usually one of my favourites, then head home for our last night as Mr. and Miss. And words cannot begin to describe how polarly opposite the evening went. The rehearsal itself was fine until the very end, as everyone was departing, when something very dramatic, very unpleasant, very… conniving, and very unexpected happened. It wasn’t the best way to head off to a dinner that was supposed to be a celebration, but we got there, met our friends and family, and ordered what looked to be a fantastic meal. Until the table became a battleground. And we were told they had no beef. Or wine. And it arrived over an hour late. One meal missing. And they refused to give us a discount. And then it broke into a rave. It was kind of beyond ridiculous… but after talking with some married friends, I found myself slightly reassured when I was told “I don’t think there is such a thing as a smooth rehearsal dinner”.

I then arrived home and thought I’d do one last Facebook/Twitter check before logging off for the weekend… when I was met with one of the most horrible things you could imagine two nights before the day you get married. An anonymous comment on my blog, held for moderation, on the post immediately following the one about Internet Trolls and the exceptional cowardice it shows when someone takes the time to invest in attempts at sabotage, and doesn’t have the balls to attach their own name. But since this person’s contact information was limited to “pseudonym@dontpostthis.com”, I have no choice but to respond to it here.

“I wonder if you really should be getting married. You seem so ready to emerge as who you fully are. It seems to me that you could be traveling around the world, doing great and amzing things, playing the field, flirting with all sorts of things.  If your married, day-after-day you’ll wake up with nothing to take you beyond yourself and your husband can only challenge you so much. Really, as exciting as it sounds, how is a theater production going to make you a better person in the grand scheme?

Maybe its just that we’ve all watched you grow so much in the last little while that it seems foolish now to throw all the opportunities that life has to offer to settle with one person in a cold city that really has nothing to offer. When your husband comes home after a long day of work, won’t that bother you that hes content living in a city with his family and you’re so far away from the amazing things you could be doing elsewhere?

When you say, “I do” it may be like your a princess but the very next day it’s just routine and a drag. You can’t be happy with that. I think that married life is going to stop you from growing into the person you’re becomming and I think you know that. You’re going to be stuck and I think you’ll grow to resent the fact that your husband is keeping you down. Well, its not him but its married life. You could be hanging out with so many interesting people, going interesting places. Instead you work (I presume) only 9 to 5 and write about music and doing drama. Already your relationship has limited you.

Sorry Emily but I had to say it. I fear this marriage might just put you in a rut. Every day, the same person… the same place… the same routine. That’s not the emily I know.”

To this day, the author’s identity remains unknown, but it’s interesting to see that despite everything around me telling me to turn around and run, I still went ahead with it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s something unsettling about having gone ahead with something when logic had been flashing neon BAD IDEA signs at every turn. I know there are thousands of people who make the same decision I did – who defy logic and instinct and get swept away in the pressure of having spent a great deal of time and money investing in something, in the fear of judgment, and in the idea that maybe true, fairytale, soul mate love really does only exist in stories and films, that nobody’s perfect, and that maybe this is as good as it gets. It’s unsettling to look back and see how I prioritised what was comfortable, despite knowing that what I longed for was so much more. How many people, I wonder, unwittingly spell their own life sentence of settling for something just because what’s comfortable is an easier option than the risk of never finding what they truly desire?

I had a conversation with The Professor recently, about our past relationships and how we’d both been subject to criticism for some of the decisions we’d made. In my early twenties, likely tying in to a bit of self-esteem issues, I went from relationship to relationship, not spending much time alone because being alone was scary, all the while knowing deep down inside that every one was wrong – that somewhere, I was always wishing for something more. Not the healthiest of way to spend a few years, but then again, perhaps going through the so very wrong allowed me to truly recognize what was actually right and acceptable. Perhaps if things had been too comfortable, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to get out, and the opportunity to meet the someone I was more suited to would have sailed past into the sunset, and I never would’ve known otherwise. Contrarily, he’d spent the same years doing quite the opposite – avoiding relationships like the plague because they never met the hope of what true love should be, spending years in solitude and breaking off potential connections soon after they’d begun because that nudging feeling of knowing they weren’t it was ever-present. It’s funny, the way people spend those first few years of adulthood, and how attitudes to relationships are formed, shaped, altered and evolved, and I don’t really know what it means, but I don’t suppose it really matters, because each path led to the here and now.

I just realized this post isn’t going to end up being big on coherence, but since I’ve been a tad absent over the last few months, I felt a strong urge to write one last post before the year was out. A few noteworthy incidents have taken place recently – my job for one has turned out to be an absolute dream, and I can genuinely say I’d be happy to spend seven days a week there! I’m up on the fourteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (I think), and I arrive each morning to a view of downtown stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun illuminating an expanse of morning cloud cover in bright pinks and oranges, and spend my last hour of the day watching it retire as the lights of the city below slowly come out like stars. I work with a brilliant group of people who seem to accept, like, and even encourage me to be my nerdy self, and I’m somehow seen as the extrovert of the office. It’s become a safe environment for me to be exactly who I want to be, and I absolutely love it.

Six months past deadline, I finally checked off the hardest thing on my 26 Before 26 list – learning to drive. I’d written about it this summer after driving out of the city for the first time, spent looking at the biggest, most glittering night sky I’d ever seen, and the sense of accomplishment outweighed the fear I’d had for so very long. But then winter came, and dropped a whole pile of snow and entirely foreign driving conditions on top of me – three days before my road test. I panicked, but did kind of okay – took the test, parallel parked perfectly, and promptly failed – I got five points too many, for not knowing how to turn the windscreen wipers off. I was really disappointed and cried like an absolute child for a good half hour – I’d never failed anything in my life, and when you pride yourself on overachieving, it feels like the end of the world – but I made my second appointment, and will be trying again right before New Year’s Eve. Fingers crossed I don’t bugger it up this time – although getting into a giant car crash and totalling my boyfriend’s car last week isn’t exactly the smooth sailing I was hoping for. I was driving down a main street on the way to the last of the Christmas shopping when out of nowhere, somebody ran straight through a stop sign to our right and pulled out immediately in front of us. The road was icy, there was less than a second to impact, yet it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see it coming, I could see there was nowhere to go, and we ploughed straight into the side of the other vehicle in front. The airbags immediately went off – and those are not the soft, cushiony things you’re led to believe will save you from rocketing headfirst out of the window – they’re a sudden, very solid punch in the face, and they emit some kind of smokey gas which absolutely suffocated me. I couldn’t breathe, and the door was jammed, so I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I looked to my right and saw my love with blood all over his face from the smashed passenger window. I kept saying I couldn’t breathe and scrambling to get out of the car, the door not opening… when the other driver opened it for me from the outside. Apparently The Professor had been trying to help me get out of his side, which I don’t remember, and apparently I’d had the car in park and my foot pressing wildly hard on the accelerator while I struggled to get out… which I also don’t remember. I just remember panic, shards of glass flying into the car slowly as it filled with smoke, and ending up in tears in a fire truck next to my poor boyfriend, whose nose had bled all down his face and onto his coat and hoodie, unable to stop shaking. The funny thing was I knew the other driver – a rich older gentleman I’d done some design work for a few years ago – who gave me an enormous hug and apologized profusely. We exchanged details, and my dear in-laws came to pick us up and take us for something to eat. I felt terrible I’d completely wrecked somebody else’s car – a really great car, too – but was thankful it wasn’t so much worse.  It hasn’t done wonders for my road confidence, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to get back behind the wheel – and hopefully we’ll be mobile again within a couple of weeks.

Oh, another noteworthy event – my tattoo! I got a beautiful old quill pen on my inner forearm a few weeks ago – an eternal reminder of my love for the written word, and to draw me to the activity I love more than anything in the world. I also spent four hours getting black out of my hair for good and going a bold red I really love. I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to carry it off. 🙂

Outside of work and big scary accidents, I really should write about something that’s been quite a prominent feature of my life over the last month or so. I guess it could fall under the category of “general health and wellbeing” – very much so, for reasons a handful of you know, regarding The Professor, but also in terms of really dealing with my anxiety. I think a number of factors contributed to it getting to a breaking point. The thoroughly traumatic dissolution of my marriage, the subsequent moving home, the new job… the letting go of everything that had become comfortable, and immediately focusing on forward movement rather than allowing myself time to heal properly was definitely a factor – and I’m at a point where I’m reframing how I deal with the world; retraining myself and rewriting my attitude to life in general. I’d always felt so strongly that life was short and no moment should be wasted, and only recently am I learning that an attitude I felt so positive actually caused a lot of harm in the long term. By not allowing myself time to deal with what happened and diving straight into creating a new future, the damage was never given the opportunity to be resolved in a healthy way. It began to affect everything around me: I spent every day in a state of constant worry, and subconsciously allowed the fear of history repeating itself to manifest and weasel its way into everything I did. I started getting upset for no reason at all in the real world, seeing tiny, insignificant things as the catalyst for what happened happening all over again, and reacted accordingly. I became an insane person. I’d get into fits of tears and despair over trivial things; I’d take out my worries on those I loved as if they were actually doing the very thing I feared most; I’d worry about being fired for not learning quickly enough at work and was shocked to receive a glowing review from my coworkers and bosses about how I’d done the opposite. “Not wasting time” and focusing so strongly on shaping the future right now prevented me from dealing with things healthily. It came out in disagreements, too – I’d want to move on immediately, when what was needed was some time to cool down, and my insistence on “making the most of the time we have” was the very thing that exacerbated everything. So for the last few weeks, I’ve called that into question. I think my tendency toward impatience definitely plays a part too. I started seeing a counsellor who’s helped me recognise the destructive thought patterns that had begun to take over, and provided me with tools and techniques to catch myself in my tracks, break bad habits, and make healthier choices.  I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks, recognised my habits, and been able to react differently – and life has been so much easier. No longer am I consumed by worry, or desperate for reassurance. No longer do I fear being physically alone in my own company – something that had for a long time been a territory of fear and overthinking things, a place to allow my thoughts and worries to take over reality and lead to panic. I’m learning slowly to break the compulsions that almost destroyed everything, and for the first time, I feel genuine. All the endeavors at conquering my anxiety up until now definitely helped me in a way, but those unhealthy thought patterns were never properly addressed. I was building a house before laying the foundations – it’s no wonder everything came crashing down. So I’m starting again. I’m not just focusing on actions lining up with the person I want to be, but thoughts, too – that’s the hard part, but the important part. And at the end of the day, they’re just a habit. And habits can be broken, and new ones can very much be made.

So it’s a few days before Christmas, and after an eventful year, I have a feeling that things paved the way for what’s going to be the best one yet. I’m in a place where everything is clearer – the past, present and future are written in a language I finally understand perfectly, and 2012 is looking brighter than ever. I’m heading into it with more certainty, knowledge, and tools than I think I’ve ever had, and I think those are going to lead to more happiness, confidence, deeper connections, less worry, and a better person for people to be around. I’m not proud of how badly I slipped up, but what are mistakes if we can’t learn giant life lessons from them? The darkness does, after all, define where the light is. I’m looking forward to a holiday filled with real friendship, genuine happiness over obligation, seeing the looks on people’s faces when they open presents I have a sneaky feeling are rather awesome, the Doctor Who Christmas special – and course a good old EastEnders massacre. I’m looking forward to a year where every thought, feeling and event of every day shines a little brighter. I’m looking forward to more tattoos (thank you Frank Turner for the endless inspiration), more risks, more meteor showers, more writing, brilliant music, more laughter, more growth, and life truly, finally, being exactly what it was supposed to be.

Happiest of Christmases to you, and I apologise wholeheartedly for the lengthy ramble. I just felt I ought to note a bit of life as it is here and now before heading into the new year. 🙂 I hope 2012 is everything you hope and dream for. I started this post quoting my favourite author, and I think he’s pretty good for wrapping it up, too:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

Vignettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift Giving

It’s the holiday season, and I’m sure most of us have spent the last few weeks scouring shops and websites in hopes of finding the perfect present that will undoubtedly light up the face of a loved one come Christmas Day. Gifts of all sizes are wrapped in pretty paper and adorned with ribbons and bows, and tucked under a warmly glowing tree for safe keeping, until the day arrives when they get to do their job: make someone’s day. Gift-giving has undoubtedly been on many minds these last few weeks, and I’ve seen no shortage of wishlists floating around the blogosphere – but today, I want to address something else related to gifts: those which were given to us at birth.

In some way or another, we are all gifted. Some of us are fantastic listeners, great writers, artists, or musicians. Some of us understand chemicals and equations, or the inner workings of technology, and some of us are born to sing or spread a message throughout the world. Some of us are born to be on the stage, and some of us allow our imaginations to soar onto the pages of books published by the million, working their way into the hearts of a generation. Let’s think about that for a second – because there are so many of us out there who’ve written about hopes and dreams and secret passions, yet used fear and excuses to not explore and develop them. “But what if I’m not good enough?” has become something of a mantra throughout the collective consciousness, resulting in thousands of potential gifts being locked up and hidden away, quashing any potential in the slightest they could have to make this world or someone’s life that little bit better.

I received an e-mail recently from a man whose story I was lucky enough to hear last summer, Patrick Combs. He had an interesting point about worldwide phenomenon Stephenie Meyer*, the biggest selling author of the last two years: she almost didn’t submit Twilight to publishers because she thought her writing wasn’t good enough. [Pause.] Potential irony aside, clearly by taking a leap of faith in offering her gift to the world, she found her calling, made millions, and won over the teenage masses with tales of angst fantasy, romance and adventure. What if dear old J.K. had never allowed Harry Potter to see the light of day? What if she continued to write on trains and in coffee shops, and kept the stories bound in paper journals, only ever given to her children and perhaps a few friends? By choosing to give her gift to the world, she helped a generation move away from their Playstations and fall in love with reading all over again. Patrick had further interesting points:

Five years ago I had a strong sense that I wanted to be a speaker and I became one. But now I’m back to wondering what I should TRULY be doing with my life, and now the ‘What to do with my life?’ question seems more important than ever. First off, the panic I’ve felt this week stems from a deep seated fear: Fear of missing my calling.

Wouldn’t it be awful to miss your calling? What could be worse? Also, I’m certain that “success” isn’t what I’m after. Simply reaching the top is not what I’m out to do. I’m out to give the gift I was meant to give – whether doing so ultimately makes me rich, middle class, or poor. Famous, notable, or unknown. Getting to the top of your field can’t be as important as becoming what you were put on the planet to become. Fulfilling your calling has to be the peak of the pyramid. Giving your gift – the one gift you can and were born to give – must be the ticket.

via carolineeez.tumblr.com

I’ve seen countless people going through their lives – myself very much included – being held back by feelings of inadequacy. I believe we were all given gifts the day we were born, and we are all drawn toward certain interests, hobbies and passions so we can tap into them, open them up, and give them to the world. Yet so often, they are held hostage, hidden away untouched and unused, and never given the opportunity to shine.

As I’d mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of wishlists floating around in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. TV boxsets, makeup, gadgets, and mp3 players may result in a smile for a few days, but they are all temporal. Why not choose ones that could last a lifetime? We’ve all had great Christmas presents, and we’ve all had one or two pretty rubbish ones. Why is it that when it comes to a naff Christmas gift, we don’t hesitate in going straight back to Best Buy on Boxing Day to exchange it for something better, yet when it comes to the gifts we’re given in our very souls, we’re perfectly content to accept the useless (fear, anxiety, and self-doubt), and refuse to enjoy the brilliant?  On my wishlist this year, I want to open the great gifts. The ones I want to someday offer to the world through compassion, song, speech and written word. I want to make the choice to accept and recognize them instead of settling for a cheap, half-hearted knock-off tainted by what I’ve settled for for so long.

This Christmas, in the spirit of gift-giving, ask yourself if you’re ready to give yours. Follow those passions and release those fears, do what feels comes naturally, and go after what makes you bubble with enthusiasm. Cultivate your talents, listen to your dreams, and follow your heart. You never know whose Christmas you might end up making the best yet.

* While we’re on the subject of Twilight… (I’m sorry :))

I Got Chills (They’re Multiplying)

Just a quick post to acknowledge the beautiful Matt Cardle, the adorable ex-painter/decorator in plaid shirts and worn-out newsboy caps, my pick from the very first auditions, who just won The X Factor! This boy has the most beautiful, haunting voice I’ve ever heard in my life – I seriously got chills all over every time he opened his mouth. A-mazing. Congrats to the best contestant ever – here’s hoping we don’t get another festive civil war and he manages Christmas Number One this Sunday!