friendship

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. 🙂

The Horizon Is My Home

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain ’til you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
– Jack Kerouac

I sit here with a thousand words inside me, and a thousand more memories on top, all bubbling away and zipping about, weaving themselves together in some sort of attempt to make chronological sense of the past three weeks, desperate in their endeavours to not be forgotten. I don’t know where or how to begin, as I sit here, freshly back from the trip of a lifetime, my regular world a stark contrast to the fantasy I was just lucky enough to experience. I left stressed, lonely, and hopeful. I return with a heap of new friends I grew to love dearly, memories of labyrinths and gas lamps, vast skyscapes, breathtaking architecture, soul-wrenching emotion, near-kidnappings, film festivals held on the walls of minsters, giant underground cathedrals, haunted houses, ruins turned into a bohemian revolution, the actual Moulin Rouge, epic EDM dance parties in enormous thermal baths with lasers in the sky, romance, friendship, highs, lows, stories you couldn’t possibly make up, and the ultimate in adventure.

Our time began in Amsterdam, where we’d planned on spending a night before heading over to join our Contiki group in Berlin the next day. Thanks to a bit of a cock-up at the Winnipeg end, our luggage didn’t make it off the plane with us, so we had to stay at the airport for a while trying to explain that our bags would also like to spend the night. Exhausted and eventually with suitcases in hand, we made our way to the hotel, which thankfully wasn’t too far away. After a bit of a nap, we realised we only had a few hours left in this beautiful city – so we did what any newly-on-holiday person would do and head out to the Heineken factory! The tour was fantastic (as was getting free beer for trivia), and we hit the streets (packed due to it being Pride day) in search of the I amsterdam sign to be massive tourists with. We walked through the city, stopping briefly as I was overwhelmed with deja-vu: I don’t often remember my dreams at all, but a recurring one I’ve had for years involves a rapid descent through a castle being chased by robots and escaping into a town square covered in cobblestones by a clock tower – the very place I found myself in that night in real life. It was bizarre enough to move me to tears. After snapping some photos, we found and climbed all over the sign, and went for a lovely dinner by a canal.

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Our first adventure came that night when we found ourselves separated on the streets of Amsterdam – unable to find J. and with no telephone on me, I tried for a while to hail a taxi, none of which would stop, and being me, promptly burst into a fit of tears. Eventually a man came up to me and asked what was wrong – and in my panic,  “don’t go with strangers in a strange city in the middle of the night” won over “you can do this”, and I followed this man, who kept assuring me he was taking me to the spot the taxis stopped. Knowing nothing about Holland but clogs, tulips and bicycles (none of which were available to help me get out of my predicament), I figured maybe there was some sort of taxi central, but after forty minutes walking around with him asking me if I wanted to drink wine or smoke pot with him (and occasionally asking people for money), we ended in an alleyway. Still sobbing, and at this point terrified, I told him I didn’t think the cabs came there, and that I was going to go and wait in the road. I ran. I ran fast. I hailed the first car I saw and hoped desperately the driver would know where my hotel was. Miracle of miracles, he did, I had enough money for it, and I arrived to find J. safe in bed. Lesson learned: NEVER wander off in strange cities in the middle of the night. Never go with strangers, never forget your phone, and always, always remember how lucky you are to have someone that cares about you. Never let them go.

So our time in Amsterdam was brief, but we head onward to Berlin the next morning to meet up with the fifty-two people that would become our best friends for the next two weeks. We had a couple of hours to kill before the official group meetup, so we found a very German sounding restaurant named Andy’s and sat with a pitcher of beer in the sun, making each other laugh and sneaking video clips of each other answering impromptu philosophical questions. After changing and heading to the hotel, I met a girl I knew instantly was going to be an amazing friend. She ran up to me and introduced herself as “Jackie, like Chan”, and said how she’d been following my stuff on Facebook and “had to meet this girl”. She was lively, bubbly, full of hugs, dance moves, and good vibes, and we became fast friends. Getting to know 50+ people didn’t take long at all, and over a traditional German dinner, very quickly, very good friends were made.

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berlThe next day we went on a walking tour of Berlin in the beginning of what proved to be a giant European heatwave. We saw the Brandenburg gate, street art, grabbed some currywurst, almost made it onto a hot air balloon, took in the Berlin wall (where I cried at a message of love graffiti’d on it), and head out that evening to two German bars. The first didn’t last long, as it was basically in a boiling hot, airless room, but the second was surrounded by deckchairs in the park under the stars, where J. and I sat hand in hand looking at the stars. The next morning, we went along the East Side Gallery (longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall), and headed on to beautiful Dresden, which was stunning. The town had been completely rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II, and was full of beautiful, baroque-type buildings. We climbed a tower, took in the views, and head across the border into the Czech Republic.

I must say Prague was the city I was most looking forward to, but it didn’t even end up making my shortlist of favourites. It was absolutely stunning, but it was also packed with people who don’t move and shove you out of the way, scary traffic, pickpockets (luckily we were safe), and in a case of horrible timing, my PMS followed by two entire weeks of ‘that time of the month’ (two months ago I’d had a miscarriage – something I don’t want to go into; but my hormones were definitely all over the place) in addition to heightened emotions and heat exhaustion led to a big fight I read too much into and almost wanted to drop it all and go home. After a difficult night, neither of us wanted to miss out on getting up to see the sunrise over Charles Bridge, and we rose at about 5:00 to walk through beautiful parks and cobblestoned streets to catch the skies over the city bursting with colour. That morning, we joined the group for a bike tour through the city – which was absolutely wonderful! We learned so much, saw gothic cathedrals, began our adventures in speed photography, and spent some time in the beautiful old town square, where historic buildings and churches surrounded cafes that spilled out onto the streets. Here we had quite possibly the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life – at Coyote’s of all places!! We toured a nuclear bunker, dressed up in gas masks, and spent the evening with the rest of the group at a traditional Czech restaurant, where I bonded closely with a beautiful girl named Irene, shared drinks with new friends, and watched some fun dancing and games.

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Next up was back on the road toward Vienna, with an amazing pitstop at the Sedlec Ossuary – something I’ve wanted to see my entire life!! I’d always imagined it bigger, but it was a smallish chapel basically built with the bones of over 40,000 people arranged to form chandeliers and decorations inside. Nothing can describe what it was like to be surrounded by such immense beauty made purely of human bones. When we got to Vienna, we stopped at the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace for a quick jaunt and some fun group photos, and then head off toward the Schnaps Museum for a fun tour and lots of tasting 🙂 That night we were dropped off at the city’s Rathaus (city hall) – a stunning gothic cathedral upon which had been hung an enormous projection screen, surrounded by rows upon rows of seats. It happened to be the Vienna Film Festival, and we had our pick of glorious food and drinks from an open-air eatery to enjoy it with. Afterward, a dream was realised: when J. and I booked this trip, we realised we would have the opportunity to live a Frank Turner lyric (the song this post is named after, the one I dedicated to my busmates, and the one I’ll attach to the video I’ll be making of the whole trip) and “drink with drifters in Vienna” – we all went down by the riverside and sat by the water enjoying a beer. Amazing 🙂

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The next day was a much welcomed free day – so a small group of us joined forces and began the day at a very fancy cafe, trying out their famous cake (I can’t remember what it was called, but it was VERY chocolatey!) and cream-filled, wafer-covered ice coffees. We went to the Sisi Museum at the Hofburg Palace, which moved me once again to tears – I’d never heard of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (“Sisi”) before, but her tale and her writings were so tragic they tugged at my heart. Here, as I read quotes of hers in big letters across the walls, I vowed to write a song about this character – a carefree young girl who was thrust into the spotlight at fifteen years old, marrying a king who loved her unconditionally, living in splendour, yet eternally searching for some unattainable solace, miserable, and yearning for death… eventually assassinated in the late 19th century. Having in the past been in some very dark places, her words of such beauty and loneliness struck a chord, and I bought the only English book available on her and her writing. Our group lay on the grass in the palace grounds, taking photos (myself getting a massive bruise I ended up rather proud of after launching myself into the air and tripping trying to take a group shot), sharing stories and lots of laughs, and from here we went into town to climb over 300 steps in blistering heat to the top of a tower. Totally worth it! We found a pretty little tea house close by and grabbed a bite and a beer, and J. and I celebrated our half-year together by going on an adventure, finding a wonderfully creative restaurant with a big sign saying “we’re all mad here” on the outside (throwback to Fringe festival last month!), had epic conversations and pizza, and reconvened with the group as they took us to Prater amusement park to end the night, where we rode rollercoasters, and I shot myself into the sky with Jackie on a giant slingshot. It was brilliant.

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Next up, we headed for what became my other favourite city, Budapest, stopping in Bratislava, Slovakia on the way. Again, words fail to do justice to just how incredible Budapest was. This was the city going into the trip I knew the least about, but became the one that stole my heart. I had no idea it was two cities rolled into one; Buda and Pest sit on different sides of the river Danube and brought a fusion of exotic romanticism filled with architecture, castles, parties and adventure. By night we first went on a sightseeing tour, getting a spectacular view of the entire city, and taking in the royal palace. Then came a highlight: a dinner cruise down the river, seeing the city completely aglow from the water as we ate a feast of local specialities. At first we thought perhaps birds were circling a giant cathedral, lit up in gold, but we soon realised they were bats as we stood on the bow of the boat in each other’s arms. It was nothing short of magical. Before we left, J. and I had hoped we’d have time to visit the thermal baths in the city – little did we know that the one night we were there just so happened to transform these baths into a massive EDM dance party!! “Sparty” (terrible name, but I bet whoever came up with it was high-fiving himself pretty hard, haha)… how does one go about describing Sparty? The SzĂ©chenyi Baths are the largest in all of Europe, its water supplied by two thermal springs. Usually, people flock to the waters for their “healing” properties – but this time, people showed up by the hundredfold to party. I’ve never seen anything like it. Great music, cheap drinks, fireworks, and a laser light show that created 3D objects in the sky and made you feel like you were in the Matrix… all in the warm water while under the stars. This was an experience I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

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Not too many people made it up in the morning for the walking tour, but around 11:00 we all started filtering out of our hotel rooms and into the corridors, where a small group of us teamed up and went on a mission to find a beer bike we’d seen the night before. These bikes can sit up to eighteen people, with ten sets of pedals. Everyone teams up together and drives the bike around the city with the assistance of one guide, whose responsibility it is supposedly to stop the bike ending up in a ditch or the river, as it’s also attached to kegs of beer and an unlimited supply! We were slightly disheartened when we found them all booked up, but lucked out when we found one on its lunch break, whose operator agreed to let us hop on for 45 minutes. It was perfect – we made it about halfway through the town square, haha, but enjoyed just being in such a beautiful part of town (Hero Square), relaxing in the sun in amazing company, then wandering through parks and learning about Dracula. We’d heard rumours that the labyrinth under the castle was de-illuminated after six p.m., and that it was still open for exploration for another hour afterward… by gas lantern. How could we resist?! We showed up at the castle only to find another handful of friends, and together we went down into the Labirintus on the adventure of my dreams. Lamps in hand, we went through sprawling dark hallways, thankful for the cool air and slightly terrified we weren’t going to get out. We took turns being tour guide (J.’s tales of Dracula in the best Schwarzenegger voice I’ve ever heard went down brilliantly), kissed in cages, and visited torture chambers, caves and cellars 16 metres under the ground. My love for these people grew so incredibly much as the trip went on, and I find myself so sad today wondering why some of the world’s best people must be so far away.

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That night, we went to an incredible place called Szimpla: the”ruin pubs,” a cult bohemian open-air collection of bars through which we roamed, marvelling (and trying not to collapse in 40-degree heat!) at the bric-a-brac-erie, the Christmas lights strung haphazardly across walls and tree branches, the live bands, the DJ who commanded a simultaneous spirit of chill and excitement, the various paraphernalia that adorned doors and walls, seating made from old bathtubs with mattresses in them and fairy-lit bicycles strung from the ceilings. We had what became my new favourite drink (which J. and I will make you at our next cocktail party), but escaped relatively early due to the heat.

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

After leaving this beautiful place, we found ourselves en route to Poland, where the entire coach took part in a music quiz (which we won hands down! Thank you, useless ’90s pop knowledge!), stopping briefly in Banská Bystrica. We were soon in Krakow, and first thing in the morning, explored (and got stuck in) the Wieliczka salt mines, once again heading underground into a labyrinth of tunnels, licking salt off the walls (Anthony: “So where’d they get the salt from?”) and learning about the oldest mine in the world. This place was incredible: we saw dozens of statues carved out of rock salt by the miners (including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose words make up a portion of my text tattoo) as well as several underground chapels complete with chandeliers. It was stunning, and the size of it too immense to begin to describe. Our small group of adventurers got separated from everybody else somehow, and we found ourselves not on the lift for normal people up to the exit, but squeezed in through a gate onto what felt like some kind of coal chute, shot back up to the surface. We grabbed food (I never want to see another sausage again) and danced in sprinklers in the heat until finally everyone was together again.

Krakow was also the place J. and I were determined to discover something called Lost Souls Alley – definitely not on the tour, but ranking hugely high on TripAdvisor! Escape rooms these days are all the rage (and with good reason), but imagine one located in a haunted house instead, at the end of an alley where your two choices were either strip club to the left or screaming and chainsaws coming from upstairs. Unfortunately they only had a single slot open that day and could only take up to eight people – so after feeding pigeons and splashing around in the beautiful market square, the most dedicated of us head over to the alley itself. Solving puzzles while being chased by monsters through room after room of absolute terror? Brilliant. We emerged alive, and went on to join the rest of the group for a traditional perogy dinner. I believe Krakow was also the place of the $1 shot bar… after our friend Danny bought at least a hundred, I’m pretty sure we’re all either barred for life or we’ll go back to find they’ve erected a statue of him. This may also have been Warsaw. I’m getting my Polish lines a little blurred.

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Quick sidenote: Poland was where I had to make an emergency stop for hair dye after Sparty destroyed all the beautiful purple in my hair and turned it grey! Do not buy hair dye in Poland! It does not come with all the supplies you’ll need, and your choices will be one of three. I grabbed the red one and ended up having to mix it with my own hands in the hotel sink and plop it on my head, hoping for the best. Rescue mission to come.

On our penultimate day, we found ourselves in the actual Auschwitz concentration camps. What to say about this place? It seems wrong to even utter words, instead taking the time to reflect once again on the horrors that took place in these factories of death. I walked past barbed wire, listening to our tour guide tell horrific tales of what could have easily happened to me or you had we been born in a different place at a different time. I saw endless shoes, spectacles, and luggage, stolen from real people who were gassed and burned. I walked through gas chambers and read about the experiments, and walked down hallways of photographs of those that lost their lives. Labourers. Hairdressers. Students. Ordinary people. I cried silently as the tortures were described, imagining there could be nothing more terrible than this happening to someone I love. These people were loved. And they were killed. My choice in atheism was affirmed again in this place: the religious among us may wonder where was God at this time of evil. The rest of us may wonder where was man. As we walked toward Auschwitz II (Birkenau), I told J. that when I got home, it was going to be so difficult taking part in our normal again. Seeing people complain on Facebook. Filling out spreadsheets. Things that, compared to these atrocities of broken bodies and deadened hearts, of faces without names whose souls reached for the sky as their physical shells of bodies plummeted into ash, mean nothing at all.  Nobody deserves to suffer, but nothing could possibly be anything close to what happened in that true nightmare of history. Be so, so very thankful for the life you have today.

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Last on our Contiki tour was Warsaw, and by this point most everybody was running out of steam and getting the dreaded Contiki Cough, yet all were filled with an eagerness to spend as much of the little time left we had together. J. and I spent the day eating perogies, wandering through a magic garden, enjoying a beer in the sun and packing up before heading out for one last night with our new friends.  We feasted, we drank, we danced, we embraced, and we all got up bright an early to say our teary goodbyes. I can’t handle goodbyes at the best of times, but when you’ve seen some of the most brilliant sights the world has to offer with these people, danced under the stars, sailed down rivers, launched yourself into the sky, got lost in labyrinths and witnessed the brilliance of human imagination as well as the madness of a man who changed history forever… when you spend every waking moment with these wonderful souls, these fellow dreamers, travellers, explorers and adventurers who flock from across the globe… you truly do leave a piece of your heart with each and every one of them. Saying goodbye was the acknowledgement that those pieces had shone brighter than ever, and as they splintered off back to their respective corners of the galaxy, life would from then on be that much duller. But, at the same time, each of those wondrous souls left a piece of themselves with me. New, glorious, exciting, brilliant friends with whom I’ve shared the memories of a lifetime. People I’m determined to do it with all over again. And that hope, that dream… shines on in its own way. A beacon to sail toward. I’m crying just thinking about how fantastic they all were.

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J. and I finished our trip by first heading to Paris, where I saw quite possibly my favourite sight of the whole trip: his face when we turned the corner and he saw the Eiffel Tower in person for the very first time. It lit up like a Christmas tree, and I was at once surrounded on all sides by beauty and wonder. Of course we ventured over and climbed it, despite the protest of our legs, which were at this point about to fall off, but we made it to the second storey and took in the brilliance of the city from above. A warm rain began to fall, and I pulled out the only umbrella I had – one covered in Union Jacks, of course, which quickly threatened to get us kicked out of France! We enjoyed a beautiful French dinner with a fantastic waiter, hopped the Metro to our hotel, dolled ourselves up as best we could in ten minutes and head for another wonder: The Moulin Rouge itself. I have to stop for a second here and express my heartfelt gratitude for the man I’m so lucky to be in love with. A Moulin Rouge show, in Paris, with him by my side. I felt like the luckiest girl in all the world. The show, Feerie, was absolutely packed, and the streets were lined with people queuing to get into this magical place. As we filtered in, we were transported to another world, one lit by warmly quiet red table lamps and veiled by drapes that hung across the ceilings like a great circus tent. We were seated, champagned, and treated to a show the likes of which I’ve never seen.

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Three hours later, we were due on a train to London, so we downed a couple of giant Red Bulls and hopped the Eurostar over the channel where we were met by my dear friend of 19 years, James. He’d planned the entire day for us, and treated us to breakfast, a ride around the London Eye, a trip through the Dungeons, a brilliant pub lunch in a pub that was restored in the 1600s, where we were joined in person by the lovely Elly, with whom I’ve been blog friends for probably near a decade! Great conversation and great food were enjoyed by all, and with our remaining couple of hours, we traipsed through the Tower, taking in the ravens, the crown jewels, and various instruments of torture. (Of course.) We ended the day back at the station, all I think holding in tears, and both of us feeling an immense sense of gratitude for the kindness and friendship we’d been gifted.

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I’m sitting at over 4,000 words right now (Contiki book deal, anyone?)  so I’ll wrap this up. Fifty-two new friends. Fourteen cities in sixteen days. Chickie Chickies and dead guinea pigs and Holas. “Moisto bene.” Memories, sights and experiences that made my heart soar and my soul occasionally sink, all of it coalescing and transforming me into something new. Coming back to where you started is infinitely different to never having left, and though materially I may be poorer, experientially I am blessed with the wealth of riches money couldn’t possibly buy, and more thankful, reflective, educated and inspired than I’ve ever been. The Eastern Road may have come to an end, but these friendships, these memories, these dreams… these are just the beginning of a whole lot more.

I’ll be working on a video of the whole thing over the next few weeks, and I can’t wait to share the spirit of this trip with everyone. Until then, here are about 700 photos!

Fringe, authenticity, and friendship: A single cloud cannot extinguish the sun.

As I begin writing, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival is at its midpoint and I’ve taken in four shows (five, if you count the one I enjoyed so much I went back!). Each one has been wonderful in its own way, and I can’t wait to wrap up this week with an explosion of theatre that will surely leave me as inspired and invigorated as it does every year, and has for the past decade. I’m positive I’ll write again after the second half after the festival is over.

I’m starting to realise that with words like “decade” – realizing that some of the brilliant souls I’ve shared this festival with over the years – I met before I’d even turned twenty years old, and it’s kind of fantastic how we’ve all shared in these creations of creativity, fully immersing ourselves in the experience that seems to exist to celebrate imagination and the artistic spirit. I remember shows from years ago, so clearly I can remember the goosebumps I got, or the awe that struck me, and I can look them up online to find barely a trace of them having happened at all. These performers flock to the city for ten days each year to display the products of their imagination, to share their talent, their energy, and to draw audiences into their world in the hopes of sharing it, inspiring, and creating memories. These shows burn brightly and touch countless souls, bringing laughter, tears, and wonder, and then, like the glow of sparklers after Bonfire Night, they are gone for another year. There’s something bittersweet but quite wonderful about their transience. If you are to exist for such a limited time, then why not make that existence shine?

Photo by Leah Borchert

Fringe couldn’t have been timed better this year. So far, I’ve seen master storyteller (and eternal favourite) Martin Dockery, who brought with him two shows (the second to come later in the run), strings of words and buckets of charisma, and DVDs (finally!) of some of my all-time most loved shows from festivals past; a tale of a man’s journey through cancer as told through story, projections, and stadium rock songs; the greatest hits of the always brilliant Die Roten Punkte, a “brother and sister” duo from “Berlin” who sing about robots, lions, and the Bananenhaus, and the 5-Step Guide to Being German, suggested by my friend, who’s dating a German man, returning for a second time after having such a blast being the token Brit and ending up befriending the performer, going for food, chatting about literature, travel, and pseudo-plotting the emergence of a British version of the show. To come: zombies, performance poetry, parodies, puppetry, and magic. I usually take time off work for Fringing, but this year I have a grand total of ten days holiday off from work (can Canada take a flip through the UK’s book of employment standards? McDonald’s workers back home get at least four weeks!) and they’re all being used up very soon in the most epic way possible: jetting off to Europe with the love of my life and packing in eight whole countries. In eleven days we’ll be stepping onto a plane, and my heart will burst with excitement, gratitude, and awe.

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But I digress. Fringe, in all its glory, is good for the soul, and as of late, this soul has been feeling a little empty. Perhaps empty is the wrong word – I haven’t stopped writing songs, making music, diving into this new photography business, planning trips or going on adventures. I haven’t stopped seeing people or filling my time with exciting things. But I have had a bit of heartache lately when it comes to the people in my life. I’ve come to realise I probably feel things at a greater extreme than what’s considered normal – and I think any fellow INFJ can relate. Everything I do has to be with passion, everyone I befriend has to become a kindred spirit, and everyone I love I do so with all my heart. Every hurt I witness is as if I feel it myself, and every injustice to a cause, or animal, about which I care, goes straight to my heart and tears flood out. Tears flood out with all the positive, too – whether gratitude for kindnesses, for love, or for simply being part of the same human race that creates such brilliant things – I feel pretty hard. So it’s no surprise that losing my two best friends this year has thrown me. I’m thirty years old, not thirteen, so I’m not going to go into details, but it’s made me pretty sad. The illusion of permanence always does, when things come to an end. I tend to invest everything into things and people I care about – believing words like “family” and “forever”, and thanking my lucky stars for people who feel as strongly about our coexistence as I do. It’s heartbreaking when things you believed were forever are shown to be untrue, and I feel a tad foolish for ever believing otherwise. But I guess that’s the price of growing up – as we become older, stronger, more authentic, and (hopefully) wiser, we scan and audit our environments to ascertain whether or not they still align with our values and the person we’re becoming.

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
— Anthon St. Maarten

Sometimes, what fit who you were before no longer has a place in the life you’re meant to be leading, and as you grow into that person, that life, fundamental incompatibilities begin to show. It’s sad, but somewhat inevitable –the more you invest in people, the more their authentic selves begin to show. Hopefully, as with any relationship, you discover layers upon layers of shared hopes, dreams, experiences, and above all, values – but sometimes, you discover you only aligned on the surface. Hurts begin to emerge, and panic sets in – it’s not supposed to be this way, you think, and before you know it, there are conspiracies and spite thrown about in the name of others’ preserving their own images and reputations at the cost of yours. Losing people is never easy in any circumstance, but witnessing those who once cared turn so quickly on you and toward gossip and flat-out mistruths hurts hard. Last week was a hard one, but after much reflection, introspection, and a tallying of all the wonderful things that hold true in life, I’m feeling better. I heard a turn of phrase recently that made me slightly wistful – “people are only happy for you as long as you’re not doing better than them.” Is this the new way of the world? It’s sad, but what can we do about it? We aren’t equipped with the power to change the world. But we can make a conscious decision to be honest, kind, true, and real, and leave the world hopefully a little better than when we arrived in it. We can choose to be an example of what we wish were the norm. And we can choose to let go of the things that are no longer good for us in order to do so.

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Fringe most definitely helps. Friends from other walks of life surface and relationships deepen, genuinely, and I find myself excited at the prospect of memories yet to be made. I count my blessings for those who’ll drop everything to show their caring when it’s needed, and hope they know I would do the same. I relive moments, words, and photographs of recent days and remind myself how lucky I am to have experienced them. I think of the past six months with J. and how much laughter and love have filled my days; moreso than the entire rest of my life. When your world seems to be falling apart, if you take a step back and look at it in its entirety, things usually aren’t quite so dire. The universe is simply pulling out weeds to make room for a more beautiful garden – one that’s pretty lovely to begin with, and one that you’re probably already standing in.

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From my Lady of the Lake photoshoot 🙂 (http://stardustphotography.ca)

So, here begins week two of this wonderful festival. I’ve already met people from faraway places I hope very much to stay in touch with. I recently indulged in some more creative storytelling, heading out onto the open road under skies of the most brilliant purple and orange, sitting solo under the symphony of the heavens. I’m working on new songs, finding ways to record on my own, and reconnecting with possible future collaborators. I’m loving the death out of summer, but quietly anticipating colder days and evenings filled with good tea, great music, and the return to my novel. I’m going on adventures to abandoned ghost towns in the middle of the night, jetting off across Europe with the most incredible soul on the planet, and capturing the beauty of this planet we share an existence with. For those things that have ended, their bitter culmination doesn’t take away from their season’s brilliance. With everything comes new skills, wisdom, and a clearer picture of what’s needed in life, and what isn’t. This week is going to be filled with creativity, camaraderie, fun and adventure. The one after will take us on a journey I’m sure will be a highlight of this lifetime. When things seem sad, it often helps to write things down, and see that one black cloud doesn’t extinguish the sun.

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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.

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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 science, but 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”.

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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?

When the heart is most afire, that is the time to write.

And that time is now. I have so much to say that it’s like something was set alight in my chest and my body is a moment frozen in time; the explosion was ignited but is held in stasis inside, ready to go off. I think it has to explode here. I want to write her a song. I want to write about songs. I want to write about incredible performances I’ve seen that made me proud to be a member of the human race. I want to write about my confusion and determination, to try and figure out a plan for the way forward. I want to write about so much happiness. So much sadness. The paradox of being. Thank goodness for words.

Do you ever lie awake at night with so many thoughts and ideas rattling around your brain you can’t possibly sleep? I know each of us is afforded the same amount of time per day, but I feel eternally that it’s not enough. I wish it were a real commodity; I’d buy so much from other people. Nights they spend in front of the television that will disappear into the past completely wasted. I’d scoop them all up and make so many things. Songs. Stories. Photographs. Memories. I sometimes wish I weren’t so invested in so many things.

But I can’t do things by halves. I pour every ounce of everything I am into everything I do, and it frustrates me and sometimes breaks my heart. When it’s not reciprocal, it hurts, and instead of seeing it as the simple fact that other people don’t always feel so extremely (and that’s okay), I feel saddened and alone and confused. My heart will always take my head in any fight, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change that. I’m a little all over the place right now, so this post probably will be, too. Thank you for bearing with me.

I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job at doing what I’m supposed to be doing lately. Storytelling, in some way or another. I’ve made some images, posted a song I wrote, and entered a writing competition with something I made over a few lunch hours, ending up with about 3,500 words. I love being able to tell stories in more than one way, but I sometimes question if I should.

Should I focus on one avenue at the cost of the others? If I want to be a real writer, I should spend all my storytelling time telling stories through the written word. If I want to be a half-decent musician, I should spend my time writing more songs, learning how to perform, and getting things recorded. If I want to be a photographer, I should spend more time taking and editing images. But I’m so very drawn to all three. Writing most. But sometimes an idea has to come out as music or art instead, and I don’t want to limit myself. But I don’t want to spread myself thin, either.


The Triad and the Harvest Moon

garyMusic is something I’ve been passionate about for probably close to the same amount of time as I’ve been on the planet. As a kid, I remember anxiously sitting by the radio, waiting for a song to come on to record onto a mix tape. I’ll still spend a few hundred dollars I don’t have travelling to other cities to see a favourite band. I curated mix CDs for friends for years (damn modern technology; how do you do that now?) and grew up listening to my dad’s punk and new wave, and to this day we basically have the same taste. We went to a Gary Numan show this week – something I was looking forward to (Godfather!) but had no idea how incredible it would be! This man blew me away. Everyone knows Cars, but holy crap. I loved everything he played, and his performance was mesmerising. It was as if the music had been injected into his every vein, fuelling his movement and delivery; the result an electric art piece (that rocked SO hard) that words fail to describe. Everyone in the audience was awe-struck. There was an excitement and wonder that filled the air as we watched him command the stage with body contortions and vast, stylized gestures that made it appear like he was channelling so much more than music. No wonder so many artists cite him as their biggest influence.

I’ve always adored music, but I never dreamed I’d ever be able to make it. I took classes in school, but always struggled with being able to read sheet music. I was in stage school for a brief period and loved it, but I lost a lot of confidence in my early-mid twenties and though I loved to sing, I’d ensure every window was closed and nobody was home before I ever dared sing along to something. My biggest reason for getting a car wasn’t for transportation; it was so I’d have a space where nobody would see me that I could sing in as much as I liked.

I wrote my first song at about this time last year, and I surprised myself. You know me; I like to write thousands of words at a time. A song is about 200. Yet it somehow worked. My little story fit into a couple of verses and a chorus. So I kept going. Now I’m in the habit of writing down stray sentences and turns of phrase in an ongoing Google document, and recording random bits of melody on my phone if inspiration strikes. But why am I doing it? I’m still terrified of performing, but I have this immense desire to create music. I want to keep writing songs, learning more chords, and strengthening my voice until it becomes one I’m actually proud of. Not because I need to entertain people; far from it. I think it’s because, like my old friend once told me, we don’t have these insatiable longings for no reason at all. We have them because we should be doing something about them. And I think my reason is to prove to myself that maybe I can be good. I’ve spent years trying to let what’s on the inside emerge externally; to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Recognising the discrepancy between where I was and where I wanted to be and actually doing something about it. But I don’t think I’ll ever be done.


That reminds me. I finally got some work done on my tattoo! This thing has cursed my back for years, and the last time I tried to cover it up it ended with me leaving the shop in tears, insulted, and in ridiculous amounts of pain (chronic abnormality; my back is always in spasm and hurting, and having needles in it doesn’t tend to go well. I can sit through being inked anywhere else on my body!). I finally went back in to see Ivy, who’s been creating this wonderful piece on my arm, and she understood my situation. It was going to be a cover up of a messy, quarter-finished cover up attempt on a back that hurts just to touch: not fun, but it was time. She designed something perfect, and I’ve got the hardest piece done, even if it was quite possibly one of the most painful things of my entire life. A ship, to represent the sentiment of always sailing forward, even if you don’t know which direction you’re going. I refuse to ever settle and stay still when there is so much life to be lived. An albatross, too, because they are beautiful and strong and can last for days and days on nothing at all. And a Frank Turner lyric, “I face the horizon, the horizon is my home,” supporting the ship itself in the same typeface and style as everything on my arm. The sentiment is perfect, and it just encompasses (no pun intended) the way I absolutely have to live my life.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. I want to make music. I also want to make art and edit images and create whimsical fairytales told by a single photograph. I’m almost at 1,000 on my photography/art type stuff Facebook page, and I could edit for hours and hours. I love compositing, creating magical stories, and I have so very much to learn still. And I want to learn it all. I want to be as good as Brooke Shaden. I have a shoot I’ve organised for December with close to thirty people taking part, and I’m so excited for the day, but I’m beyond excited for the editing process and the resultant album. But again, these things take time.

I also have to finish my novel. Now winter is here I’ll be spending far more time indoors and not running around barefoot in forests, and it’s been a goal to have the whole thing finished before I turn thirty. That’s only seven months away. But if people can Wri Nos in a Mo, I think I can do it. The Professor and I I’m sure will start our writing nights again, just like before. 🙂

There are a few things up in the air right now, but writing this stream of consciousness has helped settle me. This evening I will build a blanket fort and make epic grilled cheese sandwiches and light sparklers for Bonfire Night with one of my favourite people in the world. The rest will sort itself out. It always does. And life is full of a lot of wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky

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

Cloud

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

Canyon

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

Uke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live to the point of tears: Fringe 2014

Winnipeg Fringe 2014

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

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

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

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

Abandoned

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

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

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

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

bowling

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

Ten Years Em and Shelby

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

Fringe group 2014

Right Here, Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On saying no to massive opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bone Cruncher (The Final Shot)

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

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

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

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

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

It all went downhill from there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When all the world becomes a hundred stages

Winnipeg Fringe 2013

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

fringe1

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

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

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

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

Waking Up from Ash and Dust

Last time I wrote, I believe (it’s hard to keep track of because I’ve been privately publishing small “performance diaries” to chronicle this journey from the get go), I’d just decided to team up with a good friend and form a band together. I was all sorts of terrified and simultaneously excited at the possibility of something I’ve always wanted actually materialising, but most of all I was baffled that someone who’d actually been performing and writing/recording music and in other bands wanted to start one with me. The goal was two cover songs at an open mic – incidentally one of the things on my 30 Before 30 list.

And it happened. I didn’t throw up this time, but I did completely over-analyse it afterward and burst into tears, thoughts of having let my friend down flitting about my head along with worrying about if I was awkward on stage, if I was too stiff, if I sounded any good… people kept telling me it was great, but it was like their words were being thrown at my brain which had built a solid, impenetrable fortress around itself and couldn’t hear any of it. Then it happened again. I went from not being able to physically face the same direction or look at my friend to actually enjoying getting together to jam. There was something magical about having a far better musician than me actually be willing to sing and play songs I’ve always wanted to right there with me, and I’ve always been a sucker for great harmonies, and ever since we’ve been performing, I’ve lost count of how many times people have said how perfectly suited our voices are to each other. And it’s really difficult and strange and bizarre… and kind of amazing to keep hearing when your brain has told you otherwise for so long.

First performance

It’s been six weeks, filled with many jamming sessions, a handful of performances, and an almost complete turnaround in belief – I’ve always felt I was too quiet, too soft, too nervous, and too doubtful to ever fully sing properly. But even though I still wish I had a bigger voice, or could play more instruments, or could commit songs to memory in a heartbeat, the love of doing something has finally, finally outweighed the fear. Last performance was my first ever in front of the biggest audience yet without the safety net of lyrics and chords in front of me. We did an Imagine Dragons song and made it completely our own and I don’t think I forgot a single word. Afterward I noticed I hadn’t needed my water, which I’d chugged the time before because my throat was so dry with nerves, and I noticed I wasn’t shaking with post-performance analysis and anxiety, I was actually REALLY HAPPY and excited that I’d just done something I really never, ever thought would be possible. My heart wasn’t sinking to my feet any more. It was bursting with joy.

I was reading a blog post today from someone I am beyond proud to know, and these words struck such a chord (I swear that wasn’t intended):

Whether you’ll admit it or not, there are dreams you’ve kept since childhood. There are things out there that make you come alive. There is a burden in your soul that feels like its been lit on fire, and it makes it difficult to speak, and you fumble for the words, and you ache to quench the thirst. That’s not your heaping serving of cliché for the day. That’s just the truth. The truth, the truth, that we are often made for things so much bigger than we ever allow ourselves to have. We get small doses. We get little reminders. But honey, honey, what could it look like if you just opened the flood gates and let the passion pour out.

I felt that passion come pouring out when I finished my first short story. I feel it now I’m 30,000 words into a book in which every strange twist of my imagination is allowed to live and breathe forever. Once you hit the point of taking that step over the edge, into the unknown, and you realise it’s actually okay – it becomes a fuel to keep going. People always say things like “feel the fear and do it anyway”, “what have you got to lose”, or “what’s the worst that could happen?” But I thought to myself the other  day, before a practice session, perhaps some better words might be along the lines of “…but what if it’s brilliant?” Everything you ever try has the possibility to turn out a million different ways, and we have such a tendency to believe our capacities are far less than our true potential. We’re conditioned to believe it’s almost arrogant to go into something new thinking “I might be kind of good at this”. And so we don’t. We go in scared, if we even go in at all, because then at least if it does suck, it’s not like we didn’t expect it. It’s a self preservation thing; a mask that’s been so tightly glued to our faces that even we’ve forgotten it’s false, and we believe it. We believe that we are small. And we let those beliefs shape everything we’re ever brave enough to try.

I don’t know if anybody’s watching this season of The Voice UK (shh, guilty pleasure), but I remember seeing this little Irish ginger kid with a guitar auditioning with an absolutely arse kicking version of an Ellie Goulding song of all things. And he just WENT FOR IT. I looked him up on YouTube afterward, and he does it all the time. He doesn’t hit half the notes, but it doesn’t matter – his enthusiasm and commitment to just pouring that passion out into the world and rocking it is all he needs to just be absolutely brilliant. And he’s kind of become a bit of an inspiration. Every time I get nervous about hitting a note or trying a new song for the first time, we talk about “just gingering it”. Not thinking about nerves or worrying if it comes out wrong, just letting the excitement and love of music and hope for something awesome come out instead. And I think when you do it that way, perfection doesn’t even matter. My whole life I’ve been scared of showing anything I’ve created to anyone unless it’s 100% perfect first.

First video: Bastille’s Pompeii

I’ve spent the last six weeks learning how to jump in unprepared and ride on hope and enthusiasm and trust… That’s a big one. Trust in other people’s words for the first time, that maybe I’m not that awful at this thing I’ve wanted to do so badly for so long. I know I have such a long way to go. I need to learn more chords, I need to learn how to write a song, I need stage presence and I need to strengthen my range. I need to stop doubting and being afraid and just keep focusing on the passion and forcing myself to keep doing it. With writing, and with music… I’ve been wired with a longing to dive into them both, such a strong, deep desire to create, to get what’s on the inside of this head out into the world… I suppose some of the very same reasons I started a blog in the first place. To prove to  myself and to the world that what was on the outside, or what I saw in the mirror, wasn’t truly what existed inside. Wasn’t what I truly was. Another few words from my wise friend seem applicable here, too:

We’re all a lot deeper than we give ourselves credit for. And we live within a world that never lets us fully know that. It’s a culture that keeps our intensity, and the fire in our eyes, and the lost hope in our bones at bay because shallow sells and the harder questions make us wince. But you, you, will always be hungry to go deeper than this world has ever let you believe you could. Going deeper isn’t easy. It’s not pretty. But it is so, so, so, so, so, so, (so, so, so) life giving… This world is much, much shallower than your sweet identity.

And maybe you already cry over that at night. And maybe no one ever thought to tell you but, yea, you’re kind of deep. Deeper, deeper than you even allow yourself to see. But the scary truth in all of it is that we have to be the ones to wade out into deeper water…. If you choose to walk forward, leave some of the smallness behind, plenty of others will stay to pick up your load but you’ve got be the intentional one in all of this. The one who sets the space for something more. Or else, you’ll stay a clam shell. You’ll stay surface level. And no one will ever fault you for that but you’ll probably start to feel those concrete shoes getting buckled to your feet when you look at your hands and ask, wasn’t I supposed to do something more with these? 

Diving inside to retrieve that passion and intention has been a long time coming. Words cannot express how happy and free I finally feel, but moreso, how grateful, for those around me who’ve been my safety nets. My cheerleaders. Those who’ve made it their mission to get me to see that maybe I really can follow my dreams after all. We only have one life. And it absolutely cannot be guided by, or wasted on fear. 

 

“It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old.”

Yep, one more Frank Turner lyric, and that’s officially cemented the fact that some of his words are going to be added to the sleeve next time around — not those specific ones, but If Ever I Stray had a great message, as did Glory Hallelujah and The Road, and I love his spirit of persisting through knockdowns and the eternal determination to get back up, moving forward, and kicking ass. (Anyone got the new record? Full of the heartache and the gut-wrenching honesty of a relationship breakdown, but portrayed with upbeat rock and roll, Donnie Darko and Rocky Horror references and a cheery piano that will drag you back onto your heels and up to face the world again. I love his ability to declaring that things royally suck in a way that’s ridiculously uplifting and kind of demands a punk rock dance party.)

I digress – today’s lyric kind of reflects a bit of a theme that’s arisen lately, and it called me back to a list I made almost a year ago of things I was going to do before 30.

“You shouldn’t wait for something terrible to happen before you decide to grab life by the throat and live it to pieces (thank you Frank) – but that being said, when something terrible does happen, you do kind of realise that life is short, and it’s probably better off not to spend it on crap you’ll either forget or regret when the end is drawing near. […] Two of the biggest things I’ve learned are that a) time is short, that every second should be spent wisely, and that trivial things should never be prioritised over what ultimately means most in life, and b) shit happens, but the only way it’s going to stop happening is if you decide to take action rather than whine about it.

Blogging about my goal list over the course of the last two years is hands down the reason I kept going. Once you put something out there for the world to see, you feel like you owe it to them to follow through on your promises. And you owe it to yourself to stay accountable, and not look like a lazy bastard. 

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

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

Life has been such a whirlwind lately that I don’t think I’ve actually checked in with this list, but looking back on it now, I see the first thing on the list was to do with music.

“I want to lose the awkwardness, the terror at the thought of singing in front of a single person, learn to have some sort of presence, and actually not kind of suck at something I actually really enjoy.”

When I wrote that I think I had a handful of lame YouTube videos up, ones in which I’d tried to sing and play but definitely wasn’t doing it to the level I wanted to be. It was like my fear of being heard for what I really am was physically stifling my voice, and I sounded like a little mouse. I so wanted to not be that quiet, whispery singer who only does songs in her bedroom when nobody’s home. I so wanted to sing Big Songs and not be afraid to do it in my own home. I so wanted to prove I could do it, for myself, and eventually, for other people.

So it’s been 9 months. I’ve invested in a lot of music equipment (Psych 101 taught me that the brain will convince itself to make use of things if they’ve been a bit investment), and I can record with a mic and an amp now. I’m still recording off my phone, but that’s not a big issue. I took a series of piano lessons (which didn’t come back as naturally as I’d hoped), and I think I started getting braver in what I was singing and posting to the internet. And then something magical happened. First, I stopped cringing so much and started feeling a tiny bit proud of myself. Second, somebody in a real band told me they preferred my voice to their own singer’s. And thirdly, somehow I joined a band. (More likes = more accountability!)

City of Bridges

The first few jamming sessions were scary. Tonnes of fun, but scary. I think even proper singers will say it’s harder to sing in front of one or a small group of people than a big crowd, because all the attention is on you. But after a couple of practices, I’m actually starting to feel more comfortable – and slightly excited at the thought of performing. In two or three weeks. Yep, I figured if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to wait another nine months sitting in my bedroom mustering up the courage to do it, so I’m making it as public as possible so I have to stay accountable. It’s just going to be an open mic, but I have a couple of weeks to get my arse in gear, stop fretting, overanalysing and psyching myself out, get excited, and sing like I’ve always wanted to. The topic of why, as an introvert, I want to do these things, is something I’m trying to answer in my head. I think it has something to do with avoiding regret, maybe something to do with proving myself (to whom, I’m not sure), something to do with always becoming more (or at least trying)… but I don’t have a good answer yet. Maybe I will when the idea of performing doesn’t make me want to throw up so much. 🙂

Right now, I’m sitting at about 15% excitement and 85% pure terror. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few months, or a year or two, and see if anything’s changed. Wish me luck?

To This Day

I’ve spent most of my lunch hours this week working on something that, as I mentioned on Facebook, is guaranteed to offend at least someone, but prefacing it with the caveat that my intentions were coming from a good place. I was going to post it this weekend, but something passed my way this morning I couldn’t ignore, and had to write about immediately.

I know people (myself included) are generally pretty crappy at watching videos linked on a blog page, but this is too important, and I feel every soul in the world should take the seven minutes it’d take to read a couple of stories in the Metro and actually pay attention to something important. Because this affects everyone, and something small that may have happened twenty years ago can twist and distort someone’s mental well-being, confidence, and view of themselves all these years later. We need to change the norm that bullying and intimidation are just “part of life”. We need to stop being told the answer is to develop thicker skins, or that some people are just mean, and that we should brush it off. Because for some of us, we can’t. It seeps into our very selves and tangles its way around the fibres of our own psyche, resulting in what’s often a lifetime of damage and distortion.

Bullying was part of the norm when I was a kid. I think it’s pretty much a British institution in all parts of the country. I remember being picked on as a younger child of ten, maximum, for my “monkey arms”. I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs until 12 misc-4aand I remember secretly shaving my entire arms with my dad’s razor every day and wearing long sleeves to PE classes for years afterward. The words of a handful of small boys evaporated from their worlds the moment they left the playground, but they burrowed their way into my self image well into my teens. I was different and ugly. The fact my mother chopped all my hair off because I wasn’t good enough at keeping it untangled didn’t help matters, and neither did an unfortunate incident of an inadvertent whack to the face from a fellow schoolmate trying to catch a ball – which knocked out my two front teeth and had them grow back – well, like this.

When I arrived at senior school I was gawkward. I was desperately trying to grow out the haircut and had fourth less teeth and a fresh set of nineties braces in my mouth. The ones you had to rub wax all over so you didn’t end the day looking like some kind of vampire fresh from the kill. In most British schools, there’s a time-honoured social hierarchy. At the top are the popular kids. These are the bullies. At the time, I though it had everything to do with looks and social life, but looking back, some of those bastards (mostly girls) were some of the ugliest people externally as well as inside I’ve ever known. I think it had more to do with knowing the right people, and behaving a certain way. Do like us, and be one of us. You’ll be immune. Then there was the other side. The bullied. The more intelligent kids who got picked on for reasons ranging from acne and unusual face structures to being too clever (and nobody wanted to be a boffin) or, heaven forbid, carrying a rucksack with both straps. Then there were the handful of kids who tended to attach themselves to either side – but weren’t full on bully or bullied. The ones who’d go around with the popular kids, but never actually take part in the instigating, or the ones who’d stick with the other side, not actually bullied themselves but firmly allying themselves to the right side. That’s where I was. I wasn’t bullied, I think because I was kind of a sweet, if awkward kid, but it broke my heart to watch my friends have things thrown at them, called awful names in class and publicly humiliated, racistly joked about or lock themselves in a toilet cubicle for hours they were crying so hard. Some of these people remain very good friends to this day. I guess something about shared pain building bonds, or something.

It was interesting that at this point in my life the effects hadn’t fully taken root to the point of damaging my own self image. I was able to function normally; I took swimming and figure skating and ju-jitsu lessons, I went to stage school, and put on Spice Girls shows for the neighbours. At that age, I still managed to be a relatively confident kid.

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I moved to Canada at fourteen and was blown away by the world of difference in school culture. Kids weren’t divided into good and bad; kids were divided into a hundred types of person and style, and I couldn’t believe how welcomed I was into so many lives. I joined the IB programme, hung out in the physics room at lunchtime making science puns on the whiteboards, performed at a punk show with a studded collar to a drama hall full of students, marched in a fashion show and went on Shakespeare trips in snowy cabins. But amidst that, I think the seeds of self-doubt were sown – in addition to ones I hadn’t realised had begun to take root many years prior. My one insecurity in high school was my accent. Yes, people seemed to love it, but I’ve always been softly spoken. I remember in my first year there having to give a presentation in history class, and the teacher stopping me part-way telling me in front of everyone how I was talking too fast and too quietly, and how nobody could understand a word I was saying. I was different. Those words became branded onto me and led to years of terror when it came to speaking in front of other people. In a post from 2009:

[I’ve felt myself slipping. I see opportunities for me to grow and contribute as a person, yet feel crippled by the fear of what other people might think about me. What if I’m too quiet? What if my accent’s too strange? What if I speak too fast? All my flaws one high school history teacher had pointed out in front of the class during a presentation one time come flooding back, and I feel paralysed by anxiety. I can’t go for promotions or new roles at work, because they all involve speaking in front of others, or giving presentations, or talking at staff meetings. Heck, I can’t even give a coworker a goodbye speech after organising a group gift and making a big goodbye card. I’ve stopped going to devotions at work because I’m afraid I might get asked to speak. I try and avoid sitting at the back of the bus so I don’t have to use the back doors for fear they won’t open and I’ll have to yell “back door!” in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s ridiculous, and awful, and I can’t get over it.]

Not only was I exposed to the world of bullies throughout childhood, but I was exposed to words that stuck. At home, I could never compete with my younger brother. I was never as good or, in my eyes, as loved. At times I felt downright hated. The idea of not being good enough stuck well into my adult life, and affected every aspect of it. At work, I’d break down in fits of tears because I thought I was being judged poorly, or because I didn’t feel I was meeting standards – I believed the impossibly high standards I set for myself were equivalent to the substantially more reasonable ones set by those around me, and continually felt a failure. I felt for years that I was never good enough as a friend because I was different – I wasn’t into the popular stuff that most people enjoyed doing. I played video games and read books. I didn’t go to the mall on weekends and I didn’t go to parties on Friday nights.  Everyone else did, and that meant everyone else was more exciting than me. Everyone else would rather be friends with someone more normal. More exciting. The tumultuous events of my twenties led to several people cutting ties with me, and that only fuelled the idea I wasn’t worthy of friendship.

[“It sounds like things are really looking up for you and that you’re happy in your life right now and I think that’s fantastic. It took a long time to find what you were looking for, including relationship abuse, a divorce, a partner’s stressful family, coping with a boyfriend who has a debilitating condition and then when things got too much, what happened in December. Up until the very last point, I was with you every step of the way, but at the end of it all, there was just nothing left to give. If you have friends now that you know will stick with you through thick and thin and are the rocks at the bottom, that’s wonderful and it makes me really happy to know that you’ve found those people. With that said, I just can’t be that friend – I just don’t have enough in me to be what you need. I’m happy to see you if we run into each other and catch up, but that’s all that I have right now. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I respect you enough to be honest. I still think that you’re a good person and I’m genuinely happy that things are looking up for you. Thanks for understanding and I’ll see you around.”

But in the past couple of years, I really have found those rocks. And words cannot express my gratitude for those people. 

I’m getting off topic here, but I want to summarise the main message and post this video again, not just because it does an infinitely better job of getting it across than I just did, but because it needs to be fucking watched.

We all have the capacity to change the world, to be mindful of what we put out into it, and to remind ourselves that no, words don’t die the moment they’re uttered. They just begin to live that day. And if they’re the wrong ones, they can eat away at self esteem and potential for years, and the long-term damage to a soul can be catastrophic. Don’t take part in what the “norm” has been for as long as I’ve been on this earth. Don’t let your children tease others, or tell them they need to toughen up if they fall victim to schoolground cruelty. Don’t give up doing what’s right for the sake of fitting in, whether at school, at work, or in your social group. Don’t sit by and watch it happen to someone else, because sometimes our silence can be equally as destructive. Don’t accept the way things are. Be aware of what you’re putting out into the world. And always, always stand up for the right thing. 

Make sure they’re the right ones.

 

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The evolution of New Year’s Eve is an interesting one, isn’t it? I remember as a kid going over to one of the neighbours’ houses and spending it crammed in a bedroom with my younger brother and the neighbours’ kids. I’m still friends with them today, all these years later. I remember spending hours taking turns playing Prince of Persia (2D!) with them until midnight hit and going downstairs to find both sets of parents absolutely loaded, and being completely mortified. That night was probably the reason I didn’t drink a thing until I was in my twenties.

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 and all the excitement everyone around the world was sharing. I was 14, and I dressed up in the sparkliest silver dress I could find. We went to an out-of-town party in a big place where they had several halls, one designated for the under 18s. I can’t remember what was in it, but I think it was a fun time.

I remember New Year’s Eve in university, being 19 or so, having my first proper “group” of friends all come over for board games. I remember my parents coming home after their party and my dad joining us for a few rounds of Taboo. I think we played charades, too. I remember the feeling of pure content being surrounded by a group who simply adored each other’s company.

I remember New Year’s Eve newly single, sitting in my dad’s study writing out my resolutions for the upcoming year and chatting with an old friend overseas, comforted by the triumph of human connection over several time zones and thousands of miles.

I remember New Year’s Eve in Palm Springs, California, with a group of people I thought were going to become my family. I remember New Year’s Eve newly married, sad, scared and worried, because those people wanted me gone.

I remember the only time I ever ventured out on a Proper New Year’s Party. Tickets were $75, including cover and all drinks (which nobody could get anyway with the queues permanently thirty people long), but it was probably the worst one I’ve ever had. Someone had rented the Art Gallery and transformed it into an amazing venue with different themed rooms, DJs, even music on the roof, but their coat check volunteers had abandoned ship halfway through the night, and the holding space became a free-for-all looting session. Everyone was stealing everybody else’s belongings, and I remember sitting on the floor crying amidst the riot with my coat and camera missing. The police ended up getting called. I waited freezing for a good three hours before finally being able to get a cab home.

I remember last New Year’s Eve, going out for dinner with a splintered group of people who huddled in small clusters around a long table. I remember the lemon soup being the most delicious thing I’d ever had, and I remember being extremely thankful for a few people there, but more worried about being judged by the rest. I remember being new. I remember the excitement as 12:00 rang in a six-month anniversary with my boyfriend and running off on our own down empty snow-filled streets, setting off fireworks before dashing inside to warm up and drink peach champagne.

But I think this New Year’s Eve is going to be my favourite. I get to spend it with a handful of some of the best people I’ve ever known. If 2012 has taught me anything (well, it taught me a lot of things, but perhaps more so than anything else), it’s the value of actual love. Not just romantic love, but platonic love, too.

They say your real friends know you inside out, all the bad as well as the good, and love you anyway. But this year I actually saw that happen. I put my friends through a lot of crazy this year. I lost a few people because of it, but a handful were there through it all, all the tears, all the panic, all the worry and all the downright insane. There are things I put people through this year that I don’t even understand. They certainly didn’t, but they were there anyway, with hugs, reassurances in the middle of the night, and the occasional bottle of wine. They’ve shown me the meaning of the true human connection – when love outweighs absolutely anything else.

Friendship is a pretty amazing thing from a scientific standpoint – investing time, emotion and energy into a relationship without any evolutionary gain. The capacity to care is beautiful. It’s also pretty incredible when those relationships are completely open. I did some things this year I’d be embarrassed to write about here, but when you know someone is truly there for you, those things don’t become embarrassing because they’re crazy, they become embarrassing because you feel you let the other person down. Because they think you’re awesome, and sometimes, you’re not. 2012 was the year I realised with some people, I truly could be exactly the version of myself I am right now, and I didn’t have to worry about being judged. And for that, I’m simultaneously sorry and grateful beyond words.

I’m not going to make resolutions for 2013 – I have a pretty good 30 Before 30 on the go, and I’ve always maintained that you shouldn’t wait for an excuse like the turning of a calendar to start making things happen. I look back on 2012 with a deepened appreciation for those dearest to me, and I make them a hope and a promise: that they will always know how cherished they are, and that for their sake, I will always remember what I’ve learned, where we’ve been, what we’ve shared… and use that to be the best possible person I can be.

And for anyone reading these words, Happy New Year. I hope your 2013 brings introspection, courage, adventure and education. I hope your understanding of yourself and the world around you deepens and with it, an appreciation. I hope you chase your dreams, even if you’re afraid, because every day in this upcoming year is another chance to do something amazing. I hope that even if you screw something up, there’s something to be said about people that try. Besides, with the biggest cock-ups come the biggest lessons, and lessons are awesome. I hope you learn great things, read great books, and hear songs that set your soul on fire and make you proud to be part of the human race. I hope you remember small kindnesses and compliment strangers, and I hope, at least once per day, you find one thing to smile about.

The Terror of Freedom and the Illusion of Permanence

I did something emo recently. I posted a vague, ever so irritatingly melancholy status on Facebook without referencing what the hell it was about. I don’t know if anyone read it, but I felt I owed it to anyone who did to elaborate a little. And to myself, as a reminder to never be One of Those People again.

Of course it’s a Neil Gaiman quote. When I die, I really hope I can be a ghost that can not only move through walls but also through all the barriers of human anatomy, through the great divide between the physical and the intangible, and haunt the inside of that man’s brilliant head. I want to live inside his imagination, but I’d be content just to be a passenger for a day or two, and observe what comes out of his mouth. He’s just so damn quotable.

The instant I read this, I was transported back to an early conversation I’d had with a boyfriend when we’d first started dating. I’d ended up in tears through being unable to unlearn something that has completely stolen a lifelong hope. We’d been discussing ghosts and the supernatural. A bit of religion was probably thrown in there too, but that’s definitely a topic for another day, and conversation had moved to the idea of existence after death.

For my entire life, I’ve clung to the hope that this isn’t all there is. My mum went through all sorts of spiritual journeys growing up, and I remember learning about everything from chakras to the Dalai Lama, but one thing that captivated me as a child was the idea of reincarnation. I didn’t know if I necessarily believed it was actually possible, but I hoped desperately that it was. She taught me that we’re all reincarnated in groups of about fifty, I think she said, and that the people who have the biggest parts in your life are because their souls have always been incarnated with yours, just in a different form. She taught me things like  that maybe in a previous life, I’d been her mother, and the idea always fascinated me when it came to love, relationships, best friendships… Did this mean that it was possible to always find your way back to these people over and over again throughout all of eternity? That no matter what happened in life, somehow true love, whether for family, friends, or someone else, would triumph across all of time and space, even death? The idea wasn’t just reassuring. The thought of every relationship with someone you care so deeply about ending after a handful of years on Earth seems such an incredible waste. For friendships and love and bonds to burn so brightly for such a short time, only to be extinguished by life’s ephemerality. I couldn’t bear it.

But over the last year, my beliefs have come to rely more and more on empirical fact than on hope – I realised that one reason a lot of people hold on to religion not because it’s real, but because it gives them hope. A crutch, a lifeboat upon which to sail through stormy seas. But just believing in something because it made life more bearable kind of goes against what I value. I value proof, questioning, searching for evidence, and discovering the truth before simply accepting someone else’s. And the notion of human connection’s immortality beyond death cannot ever be proven. And that makes me incredibly sad. I think logically, I’ve come to accept that in all likelihood, this really is it. But there’s a tiny sliver somewhere in my heart that holds onto the hope that these infinitely unlikely bursts of brilliance will happen all over again. I guess it’s a sliver that not just inhabits my heart: part of my newest tattoo includes the words of Emily Dickinson, who believed that “love is life, and life hath immortality.” More updates on the ink later.

That took a bit longer than I thought to explain, but I guess I’ve just been feeling a little sad lately. The past has been weighing heavily on my heart, I suppose triggered by continual reminders of what used to be. People I was once incredibly close with cut me out of their lives, largely as a result of who I am. I have baggage. I worry. I get overwhelmed by emotion, and I am subsequently too much to deal with. Over the last couple of months I’ve seen photos of parties, celebrations, and weddings I always imagined to be sharing with people who instead turned their backs. I’m not blaming them. My insecurities, anxiety, emotional extremity and pent-up esteem issues made me a pretty shitty person to be around. It just sucks that I’ve put so much work into dealing with it, managing it, and being a better human being, and it’s still not good enough. People would rather move on or actively tell me, as was the case a couple of weeks ago, that they’d rather keep their distance. I feel lost and torn: I desperately wanted to get my issues in check so I could be a better person to be around, and so I could reign in my tendencies and alleviate some of the worry and heartache – but I don’t know how much is something that can be fixed, and how much is simply how I was made. I want to be true to who I am, to wear my heart on my sleeve and to see the good in how much I feel – even if it does mean bursting into tears after reading a news story about a local tiger cub dying at the zoo, or getting myself into a teary-eyed panic while waiting for a loved one’s test results – I’ve battled with my emotional tendencies my whole life and hated who I was because of it, but lately I’ve tried to embrace it – not see it as such a bad thing because it’s not usual, but see the good in it, that it’s because I care so damn much. But then if I think of things in those terms, I set myself up for failure – people left my life because of who I was. So I don’t know which way to turn.

“But the lonely are such delicate things, the wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea with stones on their feet, lost to the light and the loving they need…” – The Shins

The lives I watched continue without me on Facebook have made me feel very lonely lately, so I did delete a large chunk of people from Facebook. I was confident it would make me feel better if I didn’t see it all the damn time. And I suppose, in a way, it did – but it also served as a huge reminder that I have lots and lots of free time now. I used to be terrified of coming home and not having plans. I figured it meant that nobody wanted to do anything with me, and that I was always last on other people’s priority list. Since I started seeing a counsellor and taking medication to get the anxiety under control, I really have learned to switch how I see free time, and in most cases I’m now able to see it as a luxury with which I can enjoy a good book, make photo albums, catch up on EastEnders or crank out another few hundred words for the book. But with all these reminders lately, I’m starting to get scared again. Evenings alone are spent suchly because everyone else has other people to be with. The freedom of time alone isn’t something to cherish any more. It’s a terrifying place in which your mind can go into overdrive, reminding you of all the people who once wanted you around, of all the plans you’d had, of all the doubts you have about yourself. Time alone allows your thoughts to take control. And when those thoughts start in a place that feels a little lonely, the destination can leave you feeling completely abnormal and thoroughly abandoned.

‎”Isn’t it funny how some thoughts and cherished memories can become your worst enemies? The ones you loved to think about, the memories you wanted to hold up to the light and view from every angle–it suddenly seems a lot safer to lock them in a box, far from the light of day and throw away the key. It’s not an act of bitterness. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s not always a bad idea to stay behind the window and look out at life instead, is it?”

As down as I’ve felt lately, the universe has made a pretty huge effort to let me know I’m not alone. Literally seconds after I received one text confirming someone’s decision to cut contact, I received two more – one from a wonderful new friend I made through Fringe Festival this summer, with whom I instantly clicked and spent several hours telling our entire life stories to each other, and one I hadn’t seen in years, who’d just found my blog and wanted to reconnect, and to let me know that if I ever needed a friend, I had one. I really do believe that one door closing generally allows another, better one to open, and honestly, that very much has been the case this summer. The people who’ve come into – and the people who’ve continued to be – in my life are people with whom I never have to worry about hiding my emotions, or how long they’re going to stick around. They know everything, and they still want to be here. And that means more than I could ever express.

I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately. Yes, it gets stuck in there for days and days, and it does sound like some sort of bizarre fusion of country, The Lion King and Cecilia (you’re breaking my heart), but for some reason I love it. And it seems kind of fitting for right now.

Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know any more…

This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?
Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

Well, some nights, I wish that this all would end
‘Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, I’m still not sure what I stand for most
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know…

Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands
This is not one for the folks at home; I’m sorry to leave, I had to go
Who wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?
But man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things
That can come from some terrible nights…

I’m a little down, but not a moment goes by where I’m not incredibly grateful for the people I have. I guess by writing it out, I just needed to remind myself of that again. I’ll be back to positivity again soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Corey for sharing this gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Give a public speech. That goes well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Learn to swing dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the road begin…

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”   – AnaĂŻs Nin

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. You know, one of those annoying splotches somebody spilled on the canvas of the life you want to lead. Have you ever looked at your life as a nice, freshly baked pie? Rhubarb, perhaps, because it’s the best kind of pie.  (It should also probably be noted that I’m writing this at lunchtime, having forgotten to bring something to eat, and trying desperately not to spend on the exorbitance of downtown dining.) Have you ever mentally divided that pie into sections – work, home, friends, love? And have you ever delved in only to find that somebody’s eaten it all up? A vacuous dish you expected to be filled with deliciousness, but instead filled only with an ugly mess of scattered crumbs and regurgitated leftovers somebody decided they didn’t like all that much after all. It’s slightly alarming when you look to your plate and instead of finding things neatly in place, everything is all wrong. I’ve felt a bit like that over the last few weeks, and when that feeling hits, it’s hard not to look to the common denominator and feel that you must be the problem. But can it be you, if you genuinely feel inside that you try desperately to be a good person and do the right thing for every person and in every situation? Or could it be that your intentions become warped somewhere in the transition between your heart and the world outside, and you, simple medium, are oblivious to the final product?

A couple of issues from various areas have surfaced as of late and I’ve been left feeling powerless as to what to do. Take a blast from the past friendship, for example. A few of you may know that December 2011 was a pretty rough point in my life, and the build-up of only partially really dealing with my anxiety effectively led to me doing something awful that resulted in many people in my life wanting to distance themselves. It was a very sad and lonely, but I had no-one to blame but myself. Since then I’ve been determined to right the wrong, and have dealt with it in the best ways I can think of.

I went through a ten-week program through the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, and began seeing a counsellor. I started medication and increased the dose so I could get to a point where I wasn’t crying all the time. I did assignments every week and learned the enormous thought distortions that accompany an anxiety disorder. I learned to separate reality from distortion, and reshape my thinking and subsequent reactions to things that before would have had me in tearful hysterics, spouting my twisted imaginings onto those close to me and believing them to be real. I was a horrible person to be around, but the catalyst for really getting better was the self-inflicted isolation. If I wanted friends and loved ones to be around, I couldn’t treat them as I had been, and had to learn new and healthy ways of relating to people. Learn to be independent, to not catastrophise and assume the worst, to stop reading minds and seeing the world solely in black and white, and to stop blaming others for things my mind had invented. I’m in a much better place now, but I’m still not there yet. The slow journey is one that sometimes doesn’t sit well with my impatience, but I know it’s the only way to truly get there.

A handful of people stuck by me six months ago. A small handful of people who wanted to understand why it got to the point it did, and wanted to be there to support me as I got better. To let me know I wasn’t alone. I wish I could re-write the dictionary, add a second volume of words or maybe even add another twenty letters to the alphabet, to conjure up a whole new lexicon of emotions that express the true extent of how deeply thankful I am for those people, and how the amount of love for them I have fills my heart up so full it could almost burst.  But a larger number of people turned their backs. People I’d invested heart and soul and love and vulnerability into told me I “needed more than they were able to give”, and went about their happy lives without being weighed down by a friend in need. It stung. A lot. But I couldn’t blame them.

I reconnected with one of these people recently and we chatted about how things had been since December. I had thought that devoting myself to all the things I had to do to rectify the way I’d been acting may result in some of these people coming back, but I received this message earlier this week:

It sounds like things are really looking up for you and that you’re happy in your life right now and I think that’s fantastic. It took a long time to find what you were looking for, including a divorce, a partner’s stressful family, coping with a boyfriend who has a debilitating condition and then when things got too much, what happened in December. Up until the very last point, I was with you every step of the way, but at the end of it all, there was just nothing left to give. If you have friends now that you know will stick with you through thick and thin and are the rocks at the bottom, that’s wonderful and it makes me really happy to know that you’ve found those people. With that said, I just can’t be that friend – I just don’t have enough in me to be what you need. I’m happy to see you if we run into each other and catch up, but that’s all that I have right now. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I respect you enough to be honest. I still think that you’re a good person and I’m genuinely happy that things are looking up for you. Thanks for understanding and I’ll see you around.

I think, six months later, I’ve earned the right to feel it’s good to know who your true friends are. The reason for putting so much work into getting better wasn’t to win friends back, it was to be a better person – a better one for loved ones to be around, one who was more equipped to see things in a positive light and not cause undue stress on those I care about more than anything; a better person at work, who wasn’t preoccupied with worry about things that were only an issue in my head; a better person for myself, to have my thoughts and actions be in harmony with my values and what’s most important to me. So I’m not disappointed – the last six months have been spent with a few people who really have become those rocks, as well as learning to be independent, do the things I’ve always wanted, and be more of the person I really want to be. But when life gets overwhelming, I have a terrible tendency to revert to the stranglehold of old thought patterns and behaviours.

When life seems to be beyond your control, it can lead to feelings of despair. I spent many a night alone in my little apartment in the weeks leading up to Christmas sobbing into my poor little cat’s fur, wishing for things to be different. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that nothing is going to change unless you take the action to do something about it. If you don’t like something, change it, don’t just sit there crying and playing the victim of the world’s wrongdoings. If everything seems out of your control, focus on what you can control. Your own actions and attitudes, not the thoughts of others.

The mind can become a sinister place when eclipsed by the shadow of anxiety. Every thought is wrapped meticulously in a dark veil of uncertainty, every hope and ounce of positivity choked tightly until all that remains is a core of steadfast fear. Friends become liars, who must be masquerading care and concern. Lovers become impostors, saying the right words but surely secretly wishing you were different. Acts of kindness and affection are drowned before registering as ever having existed at all, and you are left feeling alone, lost, and abandoned, wondering why everyone is suddenly giving up on you. But as real as it may seem, it is a fantasy. A dark place that exists solely in the imagination of those affected, their world becoming distorted as if by some sort of intoxication.  where everyone is an enemy.  Trust nothing, no-one. Become blind to reality and see the world only through a distorted lens of neglect and fear. It’s terrifying, once safely on the other side, to look back and see yourself helpless to an attack of the mind – to have studied psychology and read all the ins and outs of anxiety, yet once in a while still be powerless to its brute force.  There have been a few of those attacks recently, and I’m upset with myself that I still haven’t 100% beaten it, but I have never been more determined. The big difference is that before, I believed my thoughts to be completely justified. Now I can see that they’re not, but every once in a while, I still can’t seem to escape their grip.

I need to learn how to better deal with life when it gets overwhelming. I need to learn how to channel that energy into something positive and productive, to remind myself continually that crying and victimising yourself is the complete opposite of how I want to live. I pride myself on taking action to better things when there’s a problem, not sitting there whining about them. I think I’ve made a lot of progress, but I want it to be always. I don’t want there to be relapses, however few and far between. I want to be better permanently. For me and everyone around me.

But enough of the nervous ramblings. If we’re friends on Facebook, you may have seen there are an awful lot of fantastic things happening in the next little while, and having that to look forward to is my shining light. Soon enough, problems won’t seem so large, work will be caught up on, and all that will be left is awesomeness. In five days (touch wood), after a year of waiting, my divorce will finally be granted. In just over a week, an amazing new friend and roommate will be moving in with me, someone I am so glad to have met – a fellow INFJ with an incredible story who loves reading and musicals as much as I do, and – be still my heart – Moulin Rouge! 🙂  Not long after that, Winnipeg seems to be having a festival celebrating pirates, steampunk and the Renaissance – I can’t wait to get costumed up, watch jousting and dance around to one of my favourite Celtic bands. Then for a night of fancy board games for my birthday, a Space Party to celebrate the anniversary of humanity launching itself into the sky and landing on the moon, and then FRINGE, where the city turns into an enormous celebration of culture and creativity, and old friends come to visit from across the globe. The last few weeks have had their fair share of win too: a 1920s themed, swing dancing games night, being given the captain’s chair on creative projects at work going across the country,and a giant party in the park put on by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, surrounded by fellow space nerds, watching a partial solar eclipse. Summer really is shaping up to be pretty wonderful. And for now, I must focus on the positive. Focus on what’s important, and what’s a priority. Focus on catching myself before I fall, and focus on making the most of every moment I am lucky enough to have been granted. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. And I’m determined to show just how much I really am.