J

The Horizon Is My Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rathaus

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

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

sparty

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

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

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t believe me? Just watch.

I start this post with two promises: one, to write more often; two, to never name a post after a Bruno Mars lyric again. I’ve been away since the beginning of the year (!), and though on most days I’m mentally composing a chronicling of them, I’ve been doing so much lately I haven’t had the time to get any of it down. Life has taken a drastic turn this year. 2015 began pretty terribly, and I spent the first few days of it lying on the ground crying so hard my best friend had to come and scoop me up and let me live with her for a few days just to make sure I didn’t die of dehydration. For five months, I feel like the universe was telling me, repeatedly, loudly and very clearly, that I was on the wrong path, but hindsight is always 20/20, and who knows, perhaps it led to the way things unfolded in the end. Maybe you have to go through things that are so wrong for you that when what’s right appears, it shines, and you’re filled with an appreciation for it far deeper than you ever could have felt otherwise. A certain darkness is needed, after all, to see the stars. I do wish I’d known what would transpire just a short month later – I’d go back and tell myself that though things sucked royally at the time, things weren’t only going to get better, but they were going to end up being a fairytale dream version of everything I’d ever wished life could be, and that very soon, I’d be crying with appreciation at just how lucky I got.

Darkness-Stars

Is it luck, though? A good friend of mine posted something on Facebook recently about how your thoughts and attitude shape your life, and I really enjoyed it. I remember being given a copy of The Secret a few years ago and thinking it utter codswallop; thinking that things just happened whether you wanted them to or not, and no amount of wishing things different would actually change anything – but though the book itself might be a bit full of itself, a bit new age, a bit bestselly, a bit lazy ( who needs education, effort, or performance when everything you want is yours simply by wanting it enough?) – the idea of the law of attraction when you put it into actual practice can carry a bit of weight.

“I got on writing spree on the plane today,” my friend posted.  “Whatever your thoughts, that is what you attract to you. If you see a fall as the end of your journey, it is. If you see it as a lesson on the way to success it is.  We unconsciously attract what we emit. The people and the opportunities presented to us are not by chance. We have opened the door of our life to them with our thoughts and energy. You get what you think you deserve. If you don’t think you are worthy of love and riches and success you will never receive them. You may have to analyze why you think you don’t deserve them. If you think you deserve to suffer, you will. If you think you deserve to be punished, you have just invited punishment into your life. But if you think, deep inside, that the life you have lived and the actions you have taken make you deserving of love and success, it will be so.”

StoriesI think he absolutely has a point. It kind of goes back to that book I read a few years ago, and the idea of our egos needing an identity, whether good or bad. We tell ourselves we don’t deserve certain things, that we’re not good enough, and we believe it, not having any idea that we’re actually shaping our lives in the process. We tell ourselves these things, and they are instructions. How terrifying – yet empowering – is that? This year started rough, but I told myself I deserved better. For years I didn’t believe I did. But – and I mentioned this, I think, last time I wrote – somehow, at some point over the last couple of years, I’m finally comfortable. Instead of sitting in my office with the door shut, terrified of anyone seeing or hearing me, believing thoroughly that I wasn’t good enough for anyone to want to be friends with, I now embrace being in front of people. I socialise. I create. I have enormous desires to make things and put things out into the world and tell great stories and live even better ones, and that in itself gives me a sense of accomplishment. A belief that maybe I do deserve good things. And when I started believing that, the best things in the world started to fall into my life. Best friends and a relentless closeness I’d always wished for. Laughter. Being seen. Art projects. Music. Bandmates! A job I like. Better health. More smiles, less tears. More security, less fear. (I really didn’t mean for that to rhyme.) And a love the likes of which I never thought imaginable in the real world, outside of songs and books and movies. Something that’s even better.

I met J. in February. We’d exchanged a brief message last September through my Facebook page, but that was about all. (What’s wrong with me?!) Then, at the beginning of February, I saw a picture pop up on Instagram. It was a “hospital selfie” he’d taken after a horrible operation, and I took one look at that face and had to get in touch. I remembered when I fell off a building and shattered my arm and how rubbish that was, and how much I appreciated people’s help, so I asked if he needed any groceries or anything from a strange girl he’d never met in real life. He laughed and said he was good for food, but could definitely use some company, and asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink. He’d just had surgery, but his demeanour was uplifting. Optimistic. Kind. Funny. That very night shared stories about sci-fi, space, practical jokes, philosophies, hopes, dreams and so many laughs over a couple of martinis, a hug, and headed our separate ways into the coldest of nights. Two days and probably a hundred text messages later, we had ourselves another date, and within 24 hours we found ourselves climbing up tiny snow mountains in the middle of the night exchanging I love yous, positively glowing. I was filled with the strongest, most unquestionable certainty that I wanted nothing more than to keep making this man smile for the rest of my life. His laugh, the way his eyes lit up, and every word said and unspoken were like a direct line to making my heart so full it almost beat right out of my chest, and I’ve felt that way every day since we met.

Euphoria, Take My Hand

I met his family the day we started dating. We’d been adventuring at a local flea market, buying antique photo frames and TARDISes, and they happened to be having lunch nearby. I met them and was instantly welcomed, and every sense of having to appear a certain way vanished. I’d never experienced anything like it, and it’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words, but I felt compelled to be exactly myself. I was chatty. A bit eccentric. Offered my house to his brother who was having water problems, and made wise cracks to his parents, who were thoroughly amused and commented on how confident I was, and that they liked it. 🙂 Me, confident! It was as if they all actually saw me as everything I’ve always wanted to be. And it was wonderful.

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The following weekend was Valentine’s Day, and we were invited to spend it in exotic Dauphin, Manitoba in the middle of a blizzard for an 80th birthday with his entire extended family. Why not? It was amazing! We had a little love-fest the night before, with car burgers and tiaras and exchanged cards and kisses and gifts (I cried so hard). The next morning, we packed our bags and drove Fiero out to the country. Three and a half hours were filled with so much laughter, good music, ALL the Red Bull, and once we were there, yet again, every person I met I instantly felt at home with. Sometimes in life, you find genuinely wonderful humans. And there’s nothing complicated about them, just sincere, innate goodness. We stayed with J.’s nan for the weekend, got stuck in a ditch, cranked Frank Turner and drove with our headlights illuminating the snowstorm pretending we were in space. We took photos in positively Arctic conditions, exhausted ourselves, exchanged words that should have been scary but felt completely natural, decided that custom air sickness bags were definitely happening, and came home to put face masks on each other and drink Caesars. It was all sorts of wonderful and I loved every second.

[Insert one of the sick bags] Since then, we’ve Star Trekked it up (he owns a uniform too!), danced to Joy Division, laser tagged, seen the actual northern lights (something I’ve wished for my entire life!), explored the galaxy from a pop-up planetarium, floated around beautiful buildings, met all of each other’s family and friends (there’s something so very wonderful about everyone in your partner’s life being wonderful, too), seen an amazing musical, looked at million dollar houses, planned trips, Fringed really hard, and shared more laughs and more love than I ever thought possible. Could it be that now I’m finally becoming who I was always meant to be, the universe has dropped the person I was meant to be that person with in my life? Everything in our lives aligns. Life is weightless. Beautiful. And he has this gift I see given effortlessly to everyone he encounters: the gift of allowing others to see their true potential. Seeing what they’re capable of and allowing them to see it for themselves. It’s a sort of magic.

Leg-Float-Flat

I’ve been working on my image editing for a while now; each post does seem to have a photograph or two from a shoot I’ve worked on. But I’ve never considered myself a photographer in the slightest. I love making things whimsical in Photoshop, but I’ve never been able to operate a camera like the pros. Shutter speed, ISO, aperture – these were always maths-heavy things that seemed far beyond my comprehension. I liked taking photos to edit, but I never thought it would turn into anything beyond a hobby. J. saw what I was doing and after our Legislative building shoot, we talked about it being something unique that could potentially turn into a business venture. How many people specialise in making others fly? I thought about it, thought about how much I love it, talked logistics, and after a thoroughly encouraging and inspiring chat, decided what have I got to lose? He helped me get into photography school, where I’ve been every Monday night for the past month, and I started working on a website and business cards. I talked with my accountant friend about all the things I don’t know how to do, and applied to register with the province as a business like a Real Grown Up. For the past few weeks, I’ve been learning, shooting, making inquiries in the industry and getting out there – and it’s been incredible. I have a passion for making things magical, and I think it might have a bit of promise. I read somewhere recently that “you have everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself.” The words spoke to me loudly. I want to capture the feeling of magic and whimsy, target couples and friends and families and transport them into worlds that are full of magic. Make them soar physically the way my heart is internally right now. My site has been behind closed doors for the past couple of weeks as I get everything together, but I think I’m just about ready to launch Stardust Photography. Like a rocket ship. I’m in a bit of disbelief that this, too, is actually happening.

VivienneThanks to my friend Vivienne who let me shoot her in her pretty dress over the train tracks.

Music is still happening, too, and last month White Foxes got a new member in the form of our very talented friend John. I haven’t known John very long, but we’ve become fast friends, and he just so happens to be able to build moving, Hogwarts-eque staircases, real life video game characters and boots, and has the really annoying and stupidly impressive super power of hearing a song once and being able to play it on every instrument AND sing it an hour later. He’s primarily playing piano with us, but also guitar, bass, voice, and probably drums at some point, and it’s changed our sound brilliantly. I’m so thrilled to have three incredible musicians making music with me, and I can’t contain how excited I am that they lend their insane talent to songs I wrote sitting by myself and transform them into full, real things. I wrote a song for J. I think the week we first met, and we tried it for the first time as a group last night. It’s already transformed from this (my first attempt alone after writing it) to this (yesterday), and I can’t believe it’s sounding so real already. I can’t wait to get this one thoroughly rehearsed and laid down! I really hope we can record an EP this year.

foxes

Things right now are going alarmingly well. I’ve always been quietly determined, but I no longer need to stay in the shadows. My heart feels strong, and has finally been recognised by another that speaks its language. That’s forged from the same stardust.  And that’s given me permission to fly. I want to go back to that girl who sat in front of a psychiatrist two years ago after years of trying to figure out why, despite making big lists and doing things she was terrified of, she still had crippling anxiety. I want to show her a glimpse of what was to come. I want to go back another year and tell her she didn’t have to be so scared. I want to go back five or ten, and tell her that every hope and dream she had could actually become reality and that as soon as she decided to step out of the darkness and take action, things would only be scary for a moment and then life would start to take shape. I want to take the hand of everyone who’s ever been afraid and squeeze them tight and help them get aboard their ships and leave the harbour. Sail through the storms and through to the most epic horizon they’ve ever seen.

I’ve also stopped taking the medication I’ve been on for more years than I can count. I’ve relied on prescription medications to keep my brain from living in a state of constant worry as well as to keep it asleep through the night for a long time, but for the past few weeks, I haven’t needed it. I’ve simply forgotten, come bedtime, and I’ve slept like a normal person, and each day I feel strong, positive, capable and happy. Everything is finally working out. I’m incredibly grateful for life right now. For everything and everyone in it. I’m not sure what conspired to make life take such a turn, but I’ve never felt better, and for that, I am in the truest depths of appreciation. I hope that for today at the very least, all is wonderful in your world.