growth

On guilt, whelm, ego, and not wanting to be helped.

14045728_10154573292664171_416880536988129200_n

Taken by my husband. Somewhere, a cluster of stars is smiling. Can you see it too?

It’s day two of September, and I couldn’t be happier to see the arrival of a new month. I’ve found I like to divide life up into chapters – my Facebook albums are neat, chronologically organized, and cover a span of precisely six months; my 1 Second Everyday (sic) videos cover a month each; I had a 25 for 25 and a 30 Before 30. and my schedule is planned in week-long bursts on Google calendar. It’s slightly hypocritical of me to see the arrival of this month as a new beginning when I’m eternally professing not having to wait for a whole new day to reset a bad one, but sometimes it’s the little crutches that get us through.

Last time I wrote,  I’d just released my EP, summer had barely begun, and I was a week or two away from getting married. I hadn’t stopped all year; I was determined to get that CD complete before my 31st birthday rolled around, I wanted to book and shoot weddings, I was prepping for a house full of international friends and family here for my own, and Fringe festival was just around the corner. I was re-designing my website and painting my basement and I was so excited for it all, but, in keeping with my INFJ nature, equally excited for a bit of downtime come August. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll probably already know that August was quite possibly one of the worst, and busiest months I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed in life before that I’ve wondered whether my actions were consistent with what a complete mental breakdown would look like.

6986dad5d7415d9e6ffe178c32a2c987

Speaking of overwhelmed, as I sit here in a coffee shop listening to the bubbling chatter of the go-getting elderly and well-t0-do housewives (my favourite cafe has closed since I last visited), I wonder why nobody ever speaks of being “whelmed”. Is that a thing? And what’s the word for the actual state of being overly so? I feel that being someone who feels things at a greater extremity than what’s typically considered “normal”, I’m in a pretty constant state of being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion – and that’s normal for me. So when things go beyond that, not only do I feel like a failure for not being able to  handle things, I feel like an immense letdown to myself (I’m used to operating in stress mode; everything should be a breeze!) and to everyone around me, because I – and I’m finding, like most people – don’t actually want to be helped.

Break for a relevant quote I’d love the non-feelers to know about us emotional people:

“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

fe96149ded7cfe45080d6801eec40229

Without feelings, there’d be no love, no friendship, no cheerleaders or causes to fight or stand up for, no compassion. Without logic, nothing would ever get planned, made, or achieved. We’re all different, and just because we may operate differently from those around us, doesn’t make our way of being any less valid. We fill in each others’ gaps in hardwiring.

Back to the point – lately (and by this, I mean over the past couple of years), I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in others as well as myself. Nobody talks about these things, but I feel that deep down, our own egos cause us to resist help – even at our most desperate. Around the time I turned thirty, I lost what were then my two closest friendships. (I think the story is in that last link somewhere.) This naturally threw my world into disarray – I willingly and continually suspend my disbelief for the illusion of permanence, and though all things must come to an end in some way or another, even if through the final act of exiting this world ourselves, it always catches me off guard. This happened again around Christmas time, when someone I’d known for years resurfaced in my life and we quickly began doing everything together, only to completely sever ties right before her wedding. This happens with those close to me regularly, and only now that I’m noticing it in myself am I starting to truly understand why. It’s because I’ve decided one of the primary legacies I want to leave is one of helping or improving the lives of others in whatever way I can, and ultimately, people don’t want to be helped. In its simplest form, my desire to help others robs them of control over their situation, and everybody wants to be in control of their own lives.

Take, for example, my old friend T. We so close we called each other sisters, but when life threw her what would ultimately end up a separation and then divorce, I went into rescue mode. I checked in every day so she wouldn’t feel alone (because I would want to know someone was thinking of me), but this soon became overwhelming to her. I started making lists, action plans, and scheduling dates to get together and hug and talk. I started analysing and problem-solving – but this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to figure things out for herself, because in life, I think the only true change or solution to a problem can last if we believe we created it ourselves. (And they say taking Psych in university is a waste of money.)

h-WRITING-LIFE-LIST-628x314

Take my old friend M., who’d become recently engaged, and asked me to be one of her joint Maids of Honour, and whose wedding was suddenly brought forward an entire year, forcing it to be planned in a matter of weeks. I saw she was stressing about it, and once again, went into problem-solving mode. I offered to design invitations, craft with her, book some of my photography industry people for hair and makeup for her… all of which I thought were taking away from the stress, when in reality, I was taking away control. When our friendship ended, she was very frank – at the time, I was upset, but looking back, it’s become another piece of the pattern that’s teaching me why this keeps happening, and lessons like this are priceless when it comes to future happiness. Once again, something I thought was helpful was in fact harmful when viewed as “controlling” – the ego will always find a way to justify its need to be right. (Sidenote: please read this book if you’re at all interested in the psychology of human nature and learning about our built-in destructive tendencies.)

We don’t like to offer up control of our situations because in doing so, it tells us that somebody else knows better, and that’s something we don’t like to admit. It took me a while to figure this out because for the longest time, this didn’t make sense – I’d been trying to act as the friend, colleague, lover, or family member I’d want someone to be if I needed help – but now in a situation where I do, I find myself resisting in the same way. But in examining, I’m finding that awareness of this tendency is allowing me to understand what’s happened not just in the past, but also in the present, and I’ll remember this going forward for the rest of my life. So, as someone who a) derives meaning from helping others, and b) as someone who, just like everybody else, also needs help from time to time, what to do?

I think when it comes to others, it’s important to teach your brain the habit of attaching awareness to situations, so when ones come up that threaten your way of being, you learn to automatically think before acting, recognize that just as we all operate in different ways, we all also like to deal with our situations differently too, and the way I can personally best be there for others is to give them what they need at that moment, and not automatically go into fixing – or “controlling” mode. Internally, I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to being there for our loved ones, but if they are resisting, it’s probably because they want to figure the situation out for themselves, because that’s what will have the most meaning for them in the long run. Stop checking in on my schedule and try to get a handle on what they need themselves. Maybe people don’t need someone constantly asking if they’re okay, psychoanalysing things or offering up lists of solutions – maybe they just need to know you care, and figure things out on their own.

So why am I so overwhelmed; why am I in need of help right now? Two weeks after our wedding, I suddenly lost my job. The company had gone into creditor protection back in May, and everyone at head office was consistently told that things would be okay, and to operate as usual. Despite bills not being paid, and despite losing vendors and contractors as a result of owing and not paying. This continued to the day before the weekend after which we were all made redundant (I actually prefer the north American expression of being “laid off” here; it’s far less insulting!). We were all called into the board room and told that the company had been sold to a liquidator and would be going out of business by the end of 2016, but not to worry, we wouldn’t be coming back on Tuesday to locked doors or anything, and that we’d likely be okay until December. I was personally even told I’d be introduced to other potential prospects who showed an interest during the bid. That Tuesday came around, and I was out of the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon for an appointment. I got a text from my colleague, who informed me quite simply, that we were all done – that over half of head office staff were all told to hand in their IDs, given dismissal notices, and escorted out of the building. After months leading up to the wedding and not even a year into a mortgage, I had expenses, and naturally went into panic mode. This only escalated when I read the dismissal notice stating that as a result of being under creditor protection, we would be given no notice, no severance, and that any benefits would cease immediately. This being against the law, a few of us affected soon went to the Labour Board, who informed us that they could do nothing until the company was out of the protection period in December – and by the time that comes around, they’ll have declared bankruptcy, and would no longer be around to deal with anything. In other words: we were all screwed.

It’s been a month, and I’ve applied for Employment Insurance and filled out my reports, and I’m still in the waiting period. We pay so much into these programs while employed without any choice at all, yet when we need them most, it’s near impossible to get the help we need. We have to sit and wait while our case is analysed, continue reporting and jumping through hoops and trying to keep our spirits high while our bank accounts are steadily being drained simply by the cost of living, hoping that someone at the government will tell us eventually that we’ll be helped. I’m incredibly lucky in that my husband, being the smart man he is, started planning for this scenario back in spring when we were first informed the company was in trouble. He’s been able to help with my share of the mortgage and bills this past month, which I’ve felt awful about – in another life, without a credit card, I’d be out on the streets. But our joint account is being drained, and there’s still no hope in sight. I was paid out my vacation time accrued, which I was saving for some time in the future when I’d actually be on vacation, or toward finishing my album next year or equipment to hopefully grow a photography business – but after five weeks, I’m approaching zero, and those dreams have evaporated. The world’s expenses don’t stop just because your employment does.

A week after the layoff, I got the news that my grandfather had passed away, that my grandmother was now alone and already beginning the descent into dementia, and was halfway across the world. With no job, I couldn’t very well fly over there and be there, and it made me angry and sad. So I made some art instead.

14063828_752106674892558_1212220886263080635_n

I also got the news that another member of my close family now had a cancer diagnosis, and got some medical results back myself that were also unfavourable. I also had to immediately get a new phone contract (having had a work device provided), and our area of the city, while absolutely lovely, also happens to be the Bermuda triangle of mobile phone reception, meaning climbing with a blanket to the top of a small mountain, building a fire, and sending a series of smoke signals usually has a better chance of conversational success. Responding to interview calls and trying to change my phone plan with the provider became so frustrating that I found myself shouting down the line from outside in the street as well as the very top of my house, and eventually bursting into tears and throwing the phone across the floor.

I also had to find a job as soon as possible, so I had to learn to hide my grief and panic, put on a face and go on as many interviews as I could land in the middle of summer when most executives are off on holidays, and convince countless people that I was a happy, competent, fun and skilled person they needed on their team. Putting on an act is something that does NOT come easily to someone with Fe, and after buying a house, getting married, losing a job and losing a family member – some of the biggest stresses in life one can ever experience – was not something that was easy, but it was something that was mandatory. I kept telling myself the same thing I’ve had printed and framed since 2009: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I cried a lot, and didn’t get to see any of my friends for weeks because I had so much to do. For a very short time, I hated the world. But it amplified my gratitude for having someone to hold my hand. For having a roof over my head. For the forced lesson in being strong.

9e0efad832d6c5154d9cd05d9b725951

I had messages from people offering their support, each one of which also made me cry, because people cared. But I resisted their offers of help. Why? I think I told myself it was because I didn’t want to be a burden. August seemed like it was pretty shitty for a lot of people, and I didn’t want to turn to anyone with my problems if they were having some of their own, but why, logically, if they were offering? I fell into the trap of what we all seem to do, and justified my ego’s need to prove I could do it on my own. I exhausted myself with bottled emotion, explosions of emotion, and the guilt of having an endless need to be doing, and as a result, didn’t do myself – or anyone around me any favours. In refusing help, I did what my old friends did to me – robbed carers of that from which they derive personal meaning.

I made endless to-do lists now I suddenly had time for things, but none of the items I checked off made me feel any better. I wasn’t nurturing or looking after myself, I was doing what I convinced myself I needed to – driving from interview to interview, writing cover letter after cover letter, keeping spreadsheets of applications, filing my strewn paperwork and organizing all my digital files, making sure I was on top of housework, catching up on laundry, ironing, washing dishes and mopping floors every other day, applying for grants, finishing other people’s photos, clearing out clutter, and compiling a portfolio. All I wanted to do was write a song, make art, grieve, see friends, finish my current book, get back to working on my novel, write a blog post, finish my scrapbook from last year’s adventure and make one for the wedding, and take online classes to learn more about photography, audio engineering and web design, but I didn’t allow myself to accept help, or to do anything my soul actually needed, because my ego needed to reclaim its control on the situation that had become my life. Was it making me a better person? Did it make me feel any better? And was it letting me be a good person to be around for anyone around me? No, it overwhelmed me, and either hurt or stressed those around me watching it all happen.

August was a really, really hard month, but September is a new chapter. And the best protagonists in any story are the ones who learn lessons from their experiences. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about stress, and about my flawed tendencies lately. I’ve learned too that I can actually be strong when I need to be, and I’ve learned that the ego is far from being always right. I’ve learned to accept, and that it’s okay – even if the world seems like it’s ending – to take people up on their offers of help, as well as to take a little time to do the things my heart needs as well as the things my bank account does. Today, I indulge in reflection, writing, and singing. Last week, I wrote a song and learned a bit about mixing audio, and next week, I will start allowing myself to socialise again. I still struggle with the guilt of doing anything other than what’s strictly necessary, but I’m learning to practice being aware, being present, and to balance.

c40e11e31d9e7a8cd96561e3dd88414f (1)

That lesson in brevity will apparently sink in one day. Oh, and here are some fun photos from what actually was, for a hundred different reasons, the best day ever.

Advertisements

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.

1012551_10153931143574171_9180774713477068122_n

(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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.07.34 PM

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.

10557714_804323256277596_2125168832757392645_o

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.

unders

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.

photo

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. 🙂

Life Doesn’t Stop for Anybody

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s hard to believe three months have gone by. I sit here in the middle of an unusually temperate November, sun shining and snow still a daydream away, and reflect on the weeks that have been with a twang of disbelief. Three months ago, I was still working at a car dealership (and loving it; though as always seems to be the way, the jobs you adore most are the ones that make it the hardest to make ends meet), living alone in a house I was renting from my father. Well, I say alone; Rose makes for the best roommate in the world but has never done much in the way of paying her way.

house

panSince then, I have travelled Europe. The love of my life moved in with me, and I gained a cousin, too. I quit my job for a 32% increase in pay, a fancy title, a level up in responsibility, and a whole lot of Lessons In Developing A Thicker Skin. The weekend of the move-in, we also ended up buying another house. Though all incredibly exciting and terribly grown-up, all of this happened within about a month – the resulting excitement being rather diluted by stress and worry. Getting lost in foreign countries, changing friend circles, big new jobs and buying houses I’m told rank pretty highly on the stress scale, so the last couple of months have had their fair share of tears. But I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I’ve seen lots of complaining lately. Friends, family, colleagues; I’ve been guilty of it myself. Starbucks Cupgate 2015? Makes me want to punch people in the face. I was listening to a news story on the way in to work this morning about a couple who’d planned to get married this Christmas and recently welcomed a baby into the world, after which the groom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They are instead getting married today, and the city is helping in droves with things like donated photography, videography etc. It’s a true lesson in perspective: nothing, no matter how important it seems in the moment, is more important than loving each other. Our life is finite. Every second spent focusing on something that, let’s be honest, we won’t even remember at the end of our lives, is a waste of a gift. Perspective and gratitude should always be at the forefront, no matter how stressful things may seem in the moment.

This idea was once inspiration for a song I wrote a long time ago. I was working in a position I could only remain in for about six months – when you invest the largest chunk of your everyday life into an environment and a vision, you really have to be on the same wavelength as those surrounding you. Sometimes you enter into new ventures and find, for some reason or other, the way you are and the way things are are incompatible. Sometimes it’s physical – I could never show up at a building site and expect to have a successful career as a 110 lb construction worker. But sometimes it’s mental, and though I pride myself on endeavours of unity, sometimes you are simply outnumbered. You’re a thoroughly sensitive INFJ whose strengths are in words, feelings, ideas and relationships, in a fishbowl of Ts who have no patience for such things, because such things don’t fit the corporate mould. My chorus:

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down.
Will you remember any of this,
When life is on its way out?

Funnily enough, that song was resurrected over the last month by a new friend of mine. During the summer, my band parted ways, and I was left with half a dozen handwritten songs and an enormous longing for people to work on them with. After putting out a plea to every musically-inclined soul I know on Facebook, I was met with interest! Guitarists, vocalists, digital artists, producers! People all genuinely willing to lend their time and talent to collaborating with me. In a burst of disbelief, excitement, and giddy enthusiasm, I somehow went from wishing for people to jam with to creating an entire EP – and this song, which initially didn’t even make the shortlist, became first in line for a complete makeover.

Over the past few weeks, my friend Dave has taken this from a tiny little acoustic ukulele track I threw up on the Internet moments after writing (and promptly forgot about) to… an epic, radio-worthy ballad I’ve fallen in love with. It has more layers than I could count… harmonies, instrumentation, swoops and whooshes and texture and big moments that brought me to tears the first time I heard it. I am so incredibly lucky to know such kind and talented people. Words cannot describe how it feels to look back and remember how terrified I used to be of even speaking in front of people, anxiety-ridden nights spent wishing I had the confidence to let the inside out without fear of judgment… and now feel ready to put my heart and soul out there for the world to see. I’ve been doing it for years behind a computer screen, but to be able to do this now… is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

Still on topic (trust me), I picked up a book earlier this summer: The Art Of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I’ve not followed Amanda Palmer‘s career a whole lot, but I do know she’s married to one of my favourite authors of all time, and I do know that as soon as I saw the title, that book’s contents belonged in my head. I haven’t read it yet – but I think now is the perfect time. I’ve somehow found myself on the path that will lead me to one of the biggest dreams I’ve ever had for life, but in order to reach the destination, I do need help.

I was reluctant to start a fundraiser (stay with me!) because I hate asking people for money. I hate feeling like I’m begging (please never put me in your wedding party if you’re having a social), and I hate seeing all the people see your cause and choose not to help. I take things way too personally at the best of times, so this sounded like a recipe for disaster until I talked to a couple of wise musician friends of mine and learned a few things. Notably: “Crowd funding isn’t a begging platform (which is good because no one likes begging), it’s a sales platform. The people who succeed are those who already have an audience that would have bought the final product; it just moves the chronology of payment around. People contribute to a crowd funding campaign because they feel like they’re buying something they want to buy. And ultimately, they’ll receive something for their investment.”

Huh. It really is just a chronologically wibbly-wobbly way of exchanging funds for a product. Anyone who donates to this campaign will receive something in return, even if all they donate is the cost of a coffee. Music, handwritten notes, photoshoots, a free CD… all in addition to the knowledge that they helped make someone who was once scared of everything make their dream come true. Any and all funds raised will go to the cost of the production of this record. Two very talented producers have been kind enough to gift a month’s work (so far) to me for my first track, and have given me a good quote on the cost of producing the whole thing, but I can’t afford it. I also want to repay the kindness of those who’re collaborating with me – fellow musicians, singers, and artists (the artwork, done by my good friend Jen, is out of this world), in addition to the cost of physically making this a thing. A lot of people have seen the campaign, and a few amazingly kind souls have been generous enough to support, but there is a long way to go. I have another 57 days, and I know it’s going to go by in a flash.

If you have two minutes and can afford to help in any way, your support would mean more than you could ever know. Story, sample, and link to donate below. Thank you ❤

On Turning 30: The End of an Era and the Land of Tomorrows

balooons

There are four days until I turn thirty. Thirty! The big, elusive number that’s always hung up there on the shelf of somedays, a number I think on some level I’ve probably believed may perhaps hold within it the feeling of actually being a grown up. I know I’m not the only one sitting at the end of my twenties still wondering when I’m going to feel like an adult – I hear it all the time. Yes, I have a job, a car, real bills, food I buy myself (yes, sometimes rice pudding is a perfectly acceptable breakfast), and a sweet cat I all too often consider listing as a dependent, but I don’t feel there’s yet been a moment where I’ve felt there’s been a clear-cut, unequivocal moment that defined the transition from young person to responsible adult; girl to woman. I still feel uncomfortable referring to myself as the latter. I think I’ll always be that girl. The optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of impossible dreams. (Points if you caught that one.) But not a grown-up. I’ve looked forward to thirty for some time now – I still get ID’d, I still get the gasps from people ten years my junior that no, I’m not really in the same age bracket, and from people in the working world shocked to hear I’m in my second decade of employment and actually have a couple of management positions under my belt. I’m excited to hold up my card and have it reflect an age where generally people are seen as a little more together, and I’m excited to put the rollercoaster adventure that was my twenties in the memory box. I’m actually in a little bit of disbelief to be saying goodbye to them and all they’ve been.

My twenties were life-changing. I think I levelled up as a person at least twice – I had a horrid anxiety disorder for years that prevented me doing basically anything, I ended up in the hospital a few times, I broke bones, got beaten up and had a bunch of money stolen, got married despite crying the night before knowing full well I shouldn’t be doing it because nothing about that relationship was right, got banned from catholic churches, got divorced when he went religion-crazy, uprooted myself and moved countless times, and learned about the power of choice, action, and developed an awareness of our ephemeral existence and decided life was far too short to spend not trying to make it exactly what you dream of. There are things outside of our control that may pose limitations, but there are things within us – hopes, dreams, attitudes, and determination – that we have the power to simply activate and put into motion.

choose

In my twenties, I learned to stop seeing my sensitivity as a terrible thing and actually learn techniques that would help keep me more bearable to others and to myself instead of spiralling into fits of worry about imaginary things inside my head. I studied psychology and neuroscience relentlessly, and learned all sorts of helpful things about abandonment issues and deficiencies in object constancy. I trained myself to be grateful for at least three things every single day, to express that gratitude, and I decided to make a point of letting everyone I know and love just how awesome they are. I decided that success didn’t mean financial wealth, it meant value to others. I wanted to be the friend to everyone I always wished I had when I was going through stupid stuff, and a big goal of mine was for everyone to know I’d always be there for them no matter what. Because loneliness can, as my friend John says, “suck a d**k”.

I learned an instrument and started putting my voice on the interwebs. I was terrified, but I wanted to sing so badly. I spent many nights crying because I was so scared of anyone hearing and judging me, and I’m not saying I’m good by any means, but the act of repeatedly doing it as well as learning an instrument led me to making music with friends, and though at first I cried and made them look the other way, now we have half a dozen songs under our belt ready for polishing and hopefully an EP and some shows in the near future. I volunteered to be in videos and do voiceovers, and I started being funny. Something I always admired in my dad and something I knew I had inside me, but I’d always been too scared to try. I was known as quiet and shy – until I started a new job and nobody knew me from Adam’s house cat – so I started subtly, making wise cracks in newsletters and company profiles, and it slowly transformed into being known as “the extrovert of the office”. It was like every Christmas had come at once. Finally, people were starting to see me the way I always wanted to be seen. And I learned that that sort of thing fuels me to keep going. When small victories become real things, when wishes become habits, and who you always were finally starts to be strong enough to emerge on the outside, it’s addictive, and slowly all the old ways of thinking and seeing are transformed into something healthier, better.

sens

I also learned that I’m a bit of an emotional sponge. I try to be the eternal optimist, because that rubs off on people, and the world is a better place with more happy people in it. But I also find (maybe it’s an INFJ thing) that I absorb other people’s emotions like a sponge, and this takes me back to that place where I used to fear everything like a crazy person. One thing I’m learning lots lately is the power of our own thoughts in shaping our realities, which I touched on in my last post, along with words of wisdom from a movie I was lucky enough to see recently: Tomorrowland is full of adventure, sci-fi brilliance, imagination, but also science, philosophy, and some incredibly wise food for thought.

I didn’t realise how brilliant Brad Bird was until I looked him up after this. The SimpsonsRatatouilleThe IncrediblesMission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol? That’s one heck of a resume. And Tomorrowland may be on the shortlist of my favourite movies ever. It teaches the power of “feeding the right wolf”. “There are two wolves,” one of our leads says to her father. “One bright and hopeful, and one dark and cynical. Which wolf wins? Whichever one you feed.” How often do we fall into our own pits of self-absorption whenever things aren’t going quite right? We may be having a bad day, work might be throwing us unexpected challenges, our bodies might feel stiff and sore, or we may be overtired. We complain about these things because societally, that’s normal. That’s expected. A swarm of whiners in eternal competition to see who’s worse off.

Sympathy has a certain allure when we’re feeling crappy, but self-victimization and bringing others down to our own pity parties definitely doesn’t. With every word we utter, we have the power to influence someone else’s mood. Day. Life, even. With every attitude we adopt, we shape the lens of our own life. With every thought, the more we feed it, the more it shapes us, and in turn affects everyone we subsequently encounter. Do you want the root of it all to spread negativity, to your own days and to those around you? Or do you want to realise that life just happens, good or bad, accept it, and focus on making the most of the next minute? It’s an issue the film explores wonderfully. It makes the point that we, as humans, thrive on chaos. We devour unrest and catastrophe – we claim to desire inspiration and salvation, yet instead, adopt the easy route of depression. As a brilliant Hugh Laurie states during the movie: “You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity AND starvation; explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you, the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint. In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.”

The film was full of writing that made me sit on the edge of my seat and applaud. (“Why do you love the stars so much?” “Because I want to go there.” “But what if nothing’s there?” “What if everything is there?” #swoon) It shows big problems with our world, and how the future, in growing up, may not be all it was cracked up to be when we were children. It shows that anyone; young and untainted or old and jaded, can choose to respond to a problem not with complaint, but with questions; can we fix it? as well we the bravery to try. Things can become difficult. It’s part of life. Everyone can get overwhelmed and things can feel impossible. But we can all look around, and find something we can do right now. Something that makes everything a little better. And decide to build a better future this very moment. Every course of action starts with the right attitude. There are all sorts of philosophical topics tackled in Tomorrowland, great performances, robots, time travel, alternate dimensions, spaceships, rockets, and a fantastic cast, but above all, it’s an enormous life lesson packaged in an adventure of the imagination, and it will leave you inspired, introspective, and exhilarated. Go and see it right now.

I wrap up my twenties with a heart that may have a few bruises and scars, but ones that will forever remind me of everything I’ve learned. I’m incredibly thankful for everything that happened in the last decade – every tear, every laugh, every friendship, every sunset, every hope lost and gained, every dream that shone bright enough to fuel action. Every sadness that made me want something different, every leader whose kindness and influence inspired me, every time I was thanked or felt thankful. Every movie or song, performance, story, or piece of art that made me feel proud to belong to the human race. Every adventure or act of serendipity. Everyone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Every fellow dreamer. Every quiet sign from the universe. Everyone who demonstrated love and kindness, and everyone who demonstrated the opposite, because it showed me exactly the sort of person I want to be. I feel I’m ending this decade as I would a school year, emerging with memories, life-long friendships and relationships built on authenticity, and life lessons I’m excited to carry into my thirties. I always wanted to have confidence, skills, passion, humour, gratitude, wit and compassion. I always wanted those things to be known. I always wanted to love unconditionally, to have such beautiful souls around me that have let me in, to sincerely know them, and to bring the good to their lives that they do to mine.

b1

On the edge of a new decade, I feel extremely lucky to be able to count many of those once-dreams as realities. I’m excited for my thirties. In a month, I am kicking them off with Fringe festival and friends (my favourite time of year), and with the love of my life on an epic 8-country adventure across Europe. I’m writing songs, building a business, expanding my skills, looking at the stars, and soaking up the sky. I vow to always be striving to be better, to always choose kindness, to not fall victim to what’s easy, and to always try to do what’s right. I vow to make my default attitude one of acceptance and action, to leave a good story behind, and to try hard not to get swallowed by my own fears or emotions. It may take a little while, but by eliminating excuses, procrastination, and shunning negative societal norms, and instead adopting an awareness of our own transience and making the absolute most of it, we truly can map the course of our own lives any moment we decide to.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Corey for sharing this gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Give a public speech. That goes well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Learn to swing dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the road begin…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And apparently to not be so hard on myself.

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

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