introspection

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

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

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

Photo by Leah Borchert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


…Stars, hide your fires, for these here are my desires,
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so I will be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul…