kicking anxiety in the ‘nads

Hurdles

The last month has been an absolute whirlwind. More press articles than I could’ve ever imagined being featured in. (I was in my home town’s local newspaper once, as a five-year-old, for donating a giant chocolate Easter egg to the children’s hospital, and that probably would’ve done me for life.) Being interviewed on national radio and having my song played on it, too. Letters, words of encouragement, people spilling their secrets to me and finding inspiration in some lyrics I wrote. New friends. TV interviews. Coming top by popular vote in Manitoba. And everyone I know pulling together in a huge pile of love to help me get there. I made a quick little video to sum up the experience as semi-finals were drawing to a close in which you can see the highs, lows, cries, love, where the song began, and what it became – thanks to an incredible group of kind, generous, and impossibly talented friends/musicians who’ve helped this journey become something magical.

About twenty minutes ago, I found out I didn’t make the final cut.

It was one of those moments where you feel a little bit like a science beaker into which somebody’s just poured two dozen different chemicals, and had a naturally surprising reaction. Except instead of chemicals, they’re emotions, and they’re all tangled up together fighting for the chance to be the sole one that can describe what I’m feeling, and instead of an explosion, there’s an implosion, an internalizing of all the feelings I’ve felt during the course of this contest. And that’s what it is – a contest. A stop on my journey – not the destination. But I can’t help but feel above all, that I’ve let everybody down.

#Searchlight

I submitted this song to CBC’s national contest with no hopes or expectations of actually getting in. I’m new to making proper music, I’m new to being in the public eye, and I’m new to even seeing myself as a musician. I give all credit to anything on my tracks to the wonderful souls that see a seed of potential and help transform them into real things, and for that I am, and always will be, eternally grateful. I still have an EP coming out next month, I’m still writing, and I’m still hopefully releasing a full album in the new year.

But right now – especially after kind and unexpected blogs like this, or this morning’s Metro article telling the entire city that I’ve “fought” my anxiety to “achieve” my dream – old thought patterns are emerging again, telling me that I haven’t achieved anything. That I haven’t fought anything – the fact that I’m sitting here after seeing the news, questioning why I didn’t make it and inventing reasons that surely went through the judges’ heads in deciding (“We can’t put her through because she used to struggle with bad anxiety – she’s too much of a risk.”) – means, clearly, to my old self, I haven’t overcome anything. I don’t mean that. I know full well that the person I was a couple of years ago would never have had the guts to put such a personal creation out there into the world because I wouldn’t have had skin thick enough to handle the potential criticism.

Now I am able to see that I have achieved something. I allowed myself to be proud of doing something I’d always dreamed of. I set out with a goal of writing and recording some songs. I’m still doing that, with the added bonus of having had a month of exposure, of having reached people who’ve told me I’ve inspired them, and of having my first song not only on national radio but on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, just like a real artist! I’ve connected with other contenders in the competition, those of whom made it to the final 25 I wish nothing but the best for, and even to those who fell at the last hurdle – we all made it this far. We made something and put it out into the world that wasn’t there before, and people took notice. History is doused with dreamers and doers whose work never saw the light of day, who never stopped anyway. I never set out to be a star. I set out to tell stories through songs that might bring people together or make them think, and I have every intention of fulfilling that goal.

Triad video

This week, we began filming the second music video. The rest of this month will be filled with adding the finishing touches to the EP, and as of about a month from now, I’ll be able to share the rest of these songs with the world. And gosh darn it, I’m still going to go to my niece’s (well, almost-first cousin once removed, but who needs extra words when it’s me writing) Show and Tell at her school in a couple of weeks. “You’re a star in her eyes,” my cousin told me. “I’m going to face this fear because of you,” said others. And that’s more than I ever could have wished for.

p5

No words could ever describe the gratitude I feel for everyone who took the time to listen, to vote, to share their stories, to share mine, and to support me along this journey. I don’t take a second of it for granted, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such kind and generous souls. I’m free tonight, if anyone wants to grab a glass of wine, haha, but for the rest of the day, I’m going to remind myself of the message I tried to send to the world. This contest was temporary, and life goes on! And to the faint echoes of anxiety I’m feeling right now: 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? I’ll remember the kindness, the journey, and the amazing people I’ve shared it with. Not falling at the last hurdle. Because the thing with a hurdle race is that you can pick yourself up, and just shoot for the next one.

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 ❤

Waking Up from Ash and Dust

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

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

First performance

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

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

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

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

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

First video: Bastille’s Pompeii

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Bridges

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

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

The Anti-Romanticism of Pathology

I haven’t been writing here half as often as I used to. I’ve been spending most of my writing time on fiction for the last little while (enormous thanks to those darlings who took a peek at my recent short story!), and when I’m not doing that, I’m making various endeavors to learn to play musical instruments, getting more tattoos, and decorating for my cats (seriously, this is in a frame above their food dishes. It is important for me to chronicle this life of mine through writing, but lately I’ve found it slightly hypocritical to do so without actually spending it living. Still, I’ve been taking lots of pictures and recording lots of videos (which I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the not-too-distant future), and connecting regularly with some really awesome people.

But recent life hasn’t all been smooth. I’ve always maintained the importance of eternally moving forward, no matter in which direction, but for a little while over the few months leading up to Christmas, I felt myself being pulled toward a dangerous destination. A place where old, distorted ways of thinking wrapped their way around the progress and masqueraded as reality. And that called for action.

[via]

From late 2011 until about spring 2012, I started to see a counsellor. I also started taking medication for my anxiety for the first time in my life. I went through a ten-week course with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, I did my homework, and after a few months, my case was closed. But toward the end of 2012, I found myself immersed every day in what felt like a pool of toxins that began to insidiously creep in and distort my entire mentality. No longer was I spreading my wings on the vast ocean of possibility, but I was becoming caged, torn between my own vision of capabilities and the person I had to be in order to comply to that environment’s standard. I’ve always been motivated by achievement and surpassing others’ expectations, but when your wings are clipped and all you’re left with is a dream of what you could be doing, you begin to question the capabilities you had in the first place. Everyone around me told me what a huge, positive difference I’d made. But those with authority over me saw nothing but someone stepping beyond their role, taking on too many “extra-curriculars” – necessities, in my mind, for a successful operation – and pointing out all the places things could be done better. I was someone who didn’t fit the corporate mould.

“I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat;” words to a favourite song come to mind. “I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen; you speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.”

I mean no malice in writing these words, but I have to be true to the reason that led me down the path of old habits and distorted imaginings, things that led me toward the place I used to be. I started feeling that if all my achievements, hard work, creativity and dedication to bettering something meant nothing, then maybe the same held true for myself as a person. Maybe the same held true for my friendships and relationships; maybe I personally felt I was doing all the right things but maybe I had it all wrong. So I started looking for signs. And in doing so, I saw my insecurities manifest from thin wisps of possibility into a corporeal monster that tore away at everything I held dear. Something had to be done. Something had to be done now.

So I went to see a psychiatrist. Re-opened my case with my counsellor, who, after a session, recognised where I was and wanted someone who specialised in mental health to help me. I’d been on the medication for about a year, but I apparently should have been getting infinitely more benefit from it than I was.

The assessment consisted of a one-hour booking which turned into a near two-hour session with me, my counsellor, and a young psychiatrist. I think I threw him a little by being so on the ball with my own mentality, and after an extensive fleshing out of my childhood, my cross-continental uprooting, my traumatic experience of a “marriage”, my amazing but heartbreakingly ill partner and my increasingly toxic work environment, he decided I “didn’t fit any one mould.” I learned that within classifications of the various mental illnesses any one person could have, there were “cluster A, B and C trait” characteristics, each subsequent one being less common than the last, but still possibly present. I didn’t have a textbook anxiety disorder. I definitely didn’t have social anxiety, which explains why I felt so out of place in the ten-week program I attended a year ago. I didn’t have generalised anxiety either, but I did have B- and C-cluster traits of a “non specified anxiety disorder”. Additionally, I had the same for borderline personality disorder. He made it very clear I didn’t have BPD   – but my heightened concern about others’ perception of me being “good enough” and continual fear of abandonment fall into that realm.

[via]

The fact that I didn’t fit neatly in one box didn’t surprise me. I never have in any area of my life, and only recently found peace with simultaneously being a fiercely passionate creative with a love for arts and language and an enormous sci-fi, psychology and science nerd with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I never have been typical, and this plagued me for most of my life. But I think I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness – and so the diagnosis, as it were, didn’t upset me. He recommended a change in medication, some mental exercises, and to check in with my doctor and counsellor regularly over the next couple of months.

“There is nothing less romantic, literary, or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists. As I read through these checklists over and over again I was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology. And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the lists, as the problems quickly grew in scope and seriousness.”  — Priscilla Gilman

It’s hard to put this stuff out into the world, to admit that you’re flawed, but I want to remember the journey. I’m not scared of being judged for it because I know I’m really doing something about it. And I tell myself that makes me brave. On top of that, I am so much more than a diagnosis. I’m someone who takes action when things get sucky, I’m someone dedicated to bettering myself, I’m someone who makes goals and follows through on them, and I’m someone who feels the fear and goes ahead and tries anyway. I’m someone who sees beauty in the universe and feels so very deeply, and I’m someone who’ll be a brilliant friend if you’ll let me. I am so much more than a diagnosis, and this is merely a stop on the map that will lead me to where I believe I’m supposed to be. I know a lot of people are reluctant to turn to medication when it comes  to issues of mental health, usually due to the strange notion that becoming dependent on them is both terrifying and bad. Is it so terrifying when one has something as terrible as cancer and “depends” on medication for a better quality of life? Why the double standard when it comes to issues of the mind?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The first night I began the new meds I was promptly knocked the hell out for a good fifteen hours, and struggled to stay awake past 8 PM for the next few nights. But that very first day, I was blown away by how quickly I felt so much better. It felt like I’d been living with my heart in a vice that had finally been released and allowed to breathe. I felt free, and it felt strange – it felt like the continual physical tension and weight of anxiety and worry I hadn’t even realised was there was gone. I was just about to go into a brand new job, and I found myself excited, without a trace of fear. It was beyond bizarre. But I couldn’t be happier. This freeing has left me with a sense of urgency – to dive into the world around me and do all those things I’d set out to do, knowing how much easier they’re all going to be. Knowing that the joy and adrenaline will finally outweigh the fear. My first week at work is going swimmingly, and the plan is to get up and perform at an open mic within the next two weeks (without throwing up afterward).

[via]

I think this is the start of brilliant things.

My Ukulele Decemberists Cover

So… remember about a month ago when I wanted to finally man up and sing in front of an audience? And went into it shaking harder than a cheap hotel bed and came out the other side throwing up? Yep. Fun times. But amidst the terror and the vomit was a tiny sliver of accomplishment – and an enormous desire to be able to learn an instrument (if only to give me something to do with those damn arms), lose the nerves, and be able to Perform Properly. I’ve never been able to play the guitar, so I decided on a ukulele. Less strings, and a way better fit for my hobbit hands. And only $25!

Naturally this first proved a lesson in patience. I wanted it to be in tune, I wanted to know the fingerings of all the chords, and I wanted to be able to read music and play every song I knew immediately. I’m learning these days that one of the things I need to work on most in pretty much everything is learning to be patient. (But “carpe diem” has such a good ring to it…)  But after a week or two of perfecting playing the basic chords in my best carpal tunnel-inducing claw and almost giving up, I figured out the proper way, and managed to bugger my way through a whole song! So here’s my first attempt at playing the ukulele for people. The cat doesn’t count. PLEASE bear in mind that a) I’m a total n00b and have a LOT of work to do, b) I look crap in glasses, c) I’m still terrified of singing in front of people, but d) I really, really want to keep taking these steps – even if they’re scary and even though I’ll probably look back in total mortification – because I love music. I love singing, even if I’m not the greatest singer. And I really, really want to stop being afraid of doing it.

Here goes. (God I wish they’d let you actually choose the thumbnail!)

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.)

The Final Countdown

Something rather alarming came to my attention over the long weekend.

Friday, in addition to being my lovely Dad’s birthday, was an alarming reminder: a single month was left in the biggest challenge I’ve ever set myself. An ongoing theme over the last year has been the 26 before 26, the list of things mostly comprised of everything I’ve always wished I could do but had always been too afraid to try. Some of them were simple no-brainers. But the majority revolved around the decision to tackle those things I felt drawn towards yet scared of, and choose fight over flight. Certainly, the former may involve risk, pain, and discomfort. But I’m desperate to be able to one day look back on my life without regret and confidently say that my life became what I wanted it to be the day I decided that fear was no longer an option.

So I have less than four weeks left, and I’m not going to lie: with some of the stuff that’s cropped up over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen off track. But what’s a tight deadline in the grand scheme of things if you’re positively determined to succeed? I may run out of time, but it’s not going to stop me trying. So what have I crossed off so far?

#1: Get in crazy good shape. When I made this list, my level of physical activity was pretty much zero. I never did any form of deliberate exercise, and my weight wasn’t healthy either (too low; not too high). While I may not have maintained the initial level of commitment (a wedding does wonders for your treadmill motivation!), I am proud to say that for a while, I ran three times a week, I became stronger, pushed my endurance, and altered my eating habits. I put on a few more pounds in the healthiest way I could, got my BMI back into the “normal” range, and crossed off #2 in the process – starting hot yoga – as well as #9 – planning meals, eating better – and trying that ominous green monster once and for all.

#6: Write non-blog or magazine material. I really found a passion for creative writing last year, and I think what had been putting me off committing to doing it regularly was the fact that I didn’t feel I really had any worthwhile creative ideas. But then… I did. And I’m diving straight in. I converted our spare room into a “writing room”, attended conferences, and managed to cross off numbers 13 and 20 in the process!

#7: Meet new people. My goodness it feels strange to say that this time last year, people I consider absolute friendship soul mates weren’t even in my life yet. Looking back, I can’t help but feel the universe was at work when I put it out there that I was willing to make myself vulnerable. I was so used to living within the confines of my social anxiety “disorder” that the thought of voluntarily going to a massive meetup, on my own, full of strangers, was enough to make me want to throw up. But in deciding to take that leap, I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the blessing to know, and been lucky enough to call a friend. The acts of attending one meetup group and messaging one stranger on the Internet were the turning points that shaped the path of the last year enormously, and I can’t imagine how different life could have been had I not met these wonderful souls. This one kind of went along with #25: Stop being scared of talking on the phone, and I am happy to say I am no longer one of Those People.

#8: Do real karaoke. I wasn’t sure whether I tackled this one or not, but in talking to a friend this weekend she assured me it definitely did count. I looked back on the original list, and the original goal was to “break into song in front of live people, and not just people on the Internet.” (Please don’t ask for the URL!) It may not have been on a stage in front of strangers, but it was in front of about 20 of my closest friends, and ended up being a totally brilliant night 🙂

#11 was the most frightfully boring and easy item on the list, and barely deserves acknowledgement, but even if it is just for my dental hygienist friend Dani, I have fully implemented flossing into my daily routine. 🙂

#15: Teach a class full of people. Comfortably. It’s amazing to be able to look back on something that’s become so routine and remember how it felt to be absolutely powerless to the same thing a year ago. This was probably the biggest challenge: practising being on the spot, in front of people, and speaking publicly to an audience. I’ve struggled with questions from others as well as myself – why do something that feels so unnatural (Peter Gabriel – sorry, couldn’t help it; bonus points for getting that) when you could focus your time and energy on something you’re good at? I look back on my initial motivation: “I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear.”  It’s not an easy task for anyone to change thought patterns that have been established for such a long time, but the thing that’s helped me most is trying to focus on the big picture. Catching myself slipping back into old tendencies like fretting, worrying about things beyond my control, being too quiet… and just deciding that something else is more worthwhile. Like the fact that I at least tried, or the fact that just maybe, something I say or do might actually help someone else in the process. Speaking to groups has now become part of my job, and I think this is a perfect example of putting something out there into the universe, and having it deliver. 🙂

#18: Go on a blogger meetup. Last year I was absolutely blessed in being able to meet up with amazing people all across the world. I met fellow local bloggers, explored a beautiful city with people I’m honoured to now call real-life friends, and even enjoyed breakfasts and explored science museums with bloggers internationally. As much as I harp on about trolls, the Internet is genuinely a wonderful place, and I’m so lucky to have been able to meet some incredible people off-screen as well as on.

#19: See more of the world. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above, but I definitely saw some new places over the course of the last year. Mexico, Chicago, new places in England, as well as Spain are all crossed off my list – too bad that wipes my travel budget for the next two years!

I was pretty sure #22 (forgiveness) was going to be the toughest one on my list, but the moment it became reality, I felt the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. Forgiveness is something I’ve learned is at the forefront of how I want to live my life, and goes hand in hand with the practice of “big picture thinking”.  It’s a tough one to implement when accompanied by the stranglehold of memory, but at the end of the day, the past has already happened, and the only thing I can control is how I face the future from this moment on. Ultimately, holding onto past grudges and baggage is contrary to how I want to live my life, and though pride can be a bitter pill to swallow, I think at the end of the day, it’s way more worthwhile than maintaining any sort of vendetta.

#23: Do something drastic with my hair. I’d had mid-length, boring brown hair for the longest time, so this was the year to step outside the comfort zone. I went jet black, added near waist-length extensions for a few months, then chopped it all off and started going red again. Now I’ve got the bug, I’ll probably end up with something completely different by summer 🙂

#24: Become more spiritual. This was one I was really hoping would come to fruition this year, and over the last few months, I think I’ve really found a belief system that works. I’m still learning, still reading, and still exploring different avenues of expressing faith in a way that makes sense for me, but it’s something I think that’s helped me grow, as well as strengthened already existing relationships.

#26: Set up a professional website. I revamped my writing and design portfolio, and made some snazzy business cards to go along with it. It may not be a thousand-dollar investment, but it’s a long way from where it started!

I’m beyond thrilled I decided to stick to this list – and I’m glad I did it in a way other than New Year’s Resolutions, which have the tendency to evaporate mid-January along with the last of the mince pies. I can honestly say it has contributed immensely to the shaping of this past year, which was genuinely my best one yet, and I think the biggest lesson is that life really can be exactly what you want it to be when you make the decision to become an active participant in shaping it, and hold yourself accountable to the words, actions and thought patterns of the person you’ve always wanted to be.  That being said, I still haven’t finished. I have just over three weeks to check off the remaining nine goals:

#3: Learn a choreographed dance
#4: Do a cover of a really popular song in a completely different style
#5: Get my driver’s licence, or at least take lessons
#6: Make traditional English food
#12: Stop hating how I look
#14: Perform something in front of my coworkers
#16: Become entirely debt-free
#17: Volunteer somewhere
#21: Finish my back tattoo

I realise that some of those are pretty much impossible to complete in three weeks – there’s a year waiting list and a thousand dollar deposit required to fix my tattoo, which probably isn’t happening this month, and I’m not sure anyone can get a full on driver’s licence in twenty-four days – but I’m absolutely committed to at least trying everything before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin turning 26. I’m not a hundred per cent sure how just yet, but the countdown is most definitely on!

If you’ve set goals or resolutions over the last year, how are you doing with yours?

BIG NEWS: Someone has stolen the real Emily. Apparently, I’m in GLEE…

Firstly, I need to extend an enormous thank you to the absolute army of support you all offered over the insanity that stemmed from my last post. Thank you for standing up for me, sticking by me, and offering proverbial shoulders to cry on – words cannot express my gratitude for the friendship and support you showered upon me following the downright vicious behaviour of some anonymous coward who had nothing better to do than try and destroy my wedding, and reputation. Seriously, it amazes me how people will not simply cross the line of acceptable behaviour, but run in leaps and bounds over it simply because they can be anonymous. I think there’s actually an equation for this sort of thing. It baffles me, but also says volumes about their life and character. The good news is that the attempt failed miserably, and everything is 100% okay (although credit should be given for exceptional cowardice, supreme saboteurial spirit, and general trollishness). Your kind words and support throughout the whole debacle were appreciated enormously, the wedding is most definitely still on, and I think we’re actually in a better, stronger place now than we were even a week ago.

Now, it’s a new week, and I’d like nothing more than to slam the door shut on the last one, and enter this one with brighter spirits – and some fun news. Last week, I did something crazy. I was checking something or other on Facebook, when I was accosted by a little sidebar advertisement that stole my attention, a beat of my heart, and soon enough, $300. I know Facebook advertising is targeted in all sorts of clever ways to your interests, your habits, topics you mention (although why I keep getting weight loss ads I’ll never know), but this little ad seemed to have read my blog five months ago when I declared I wanted to learn to sing, dance and perform – and made me sign up for Glee club.

We have a handful of theatres in the city, and Prairie Theatre Exchange always offers great shows. It’s a fabulous venue, home to countless wonderful performances I’ve seen over the years, and also offers acting classes to teens and adults. Now, this is me we’re talking about here – the girl who runs kicking and screaming out the nearest window at the mere mention of public speaking, let alone performing. But over the last few months, I’ve been a little more accomodating to my inner desire of being able to perform.  Taken a couple of singing classes. Shamelessly attempted to learn the Bad Romance choreography off  YouTube in my living room. Read my writing out loud in a public bookshop.  But this is a whole new level. I had just signed up for the next fifteen weeks for real musical theatre classes. I was going to be thrust into a group of adults, many of whom have musical training and acting experience, where I would be learning to sing showtunes and taught actual choreography. Oh, the the cherry on top? There’ll be a public performance at the end of the course. In the actual theatre. Cabaret-style. For EVERYONE to see.

This isn’t me. This is my inner dreamer, who seems to have jumped on board and stolen the reigns while the inner critic was on coffee break, and signed me up for something I’ve always wanted but been too afraid of. This isn’t just public speaking. This is high risk of total embarrassment territory. But this is also exactly what I do when I have the house to myself for a couple of hours on a Friday night. I crank up the music. I belt it out regardless of whether or not I can hit the notes. I dance down my stairs as if I were making a big entrance on a Broadway stage and I imagine it going brilliantly. And in my dreams, it does. Not in real life!!

In the five months or so that I’ve been tackling this list, I’ve been lucky enough to have received a lot of encouragement. I’ve also been recipient of a certain amount of questioning. Why are you doing this? If you’re not naturally good at something, why would you put yourself through the discomfort of doing things that scare you?  Bravery will only get you so far, but there are more important things in life. Why don’t you stick to what you’re good at?

To which my (internal) response has always been: Why the bloody hell not? I’m at a point in my life where I’m no longer embarrassed to admit that I spent most of my adult life ruled by fear. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s no longer something I’ll try to hide. I had an interesting talk with someone after X Factor last week after they saved one contestant who’d been in the bottom two almost half a dozen times. “But she’s a fame whore!” she said, “they should have got rid of her!” I told her firstly not to believe everything you read in the papers. So what if she slept with a couple of famous people to try and get famous? That’s in the past – now she’s at the point where she’s making an honest, dedicated effort every single week, facing the nation that’s slapping stories about her being a “whore” all over the place, and chasing after her dream. Just because she may have made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean that’s who she is today. What if I went on X Factor, I asked her, and one of my ex-boyfriends went to the press and said I was some crazy psycho who needs psychological help. What if that was the image the nation had of me? Would it make it true today? No. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s choosing not to keep making them that makes us better. I think the best we can be is when we decide to let go of the past and focus on creating the best possible present as the best possible person we can be in this very moment. Just make a choice to live the right life, and start doing it.

That’s what this year has been all about for me. That’s what this list is all about. Hopefully in seven months time I will be able to look back, and maybe I won’t have achieved everything on it. But I want to be able to say I tried. To be able to say I made the choice, when it came down to fight or flight, to not choose fear. To be able to have courage and guts, and not take myself so seriously, not spend so much time trying to perfect things that I miss out on growth and adventure. So on Saturday, I had my first musical theatre class. What I loved most of all was that in every song I ever thought was too high for me to sing, there was a part for me. We got to choose which range we felt most comfortable in, and even if it wasn’t the direct melody, it was still just as valuable and helped in creating something beautiful when everyone sang together. I even learned a DANCE!! Every Saturday from now until March (save perhaps Christmas, and one in early December) I will be in musical theatre. And even if I fall flat on my face, it’ll be a challenge. It’ll be fun. It’ll be the scariest thing I could imagine and it’ll push me to my absolute limit. And I think, for right now anyway, that’s exactly what life should be made of. 🙂

There I was thinking it was just a good idea, and it went and got its own whole day

It has come to my attention that today is National Face Your Fears Day! And I couldn’t think of a better reason to HAVE a day dedicated to it. This whole year has been one big Face-Your-Fears-Fest for me, and I love being able to look at my list and always be able to say I’m pushing myself to be more. Even if it is scary. Because the victory over fear is always so much more meaningful than the handful of panic attacks along the way. I don’t think anyone ever wants to look back and regret not trying. To admit that they allowed fear to control their life. I certainly don’t. So today, I thought it a good day to write about one of the tougher items on that list. Remember a couple of weeks ago, where I decided I wanted to stop being so terrified of singing in front of people, signed up for vocal coaching, psyched myself out so much I made myself sick and cancelled the appointment? Yeah. Fun times. Well, as I write this, I’m pretty excited – because this past week I tried again – and actually made it out the front door! 🙂

I’d emailed the coach apologising profusely for being such a scaredy-cat, tried to feebly explain how afraid I was of this, how desperately I wanted to sing and how sorry I was, promising to pay double next time – I felt SO BAD about inconveniencing her, as well as letting myself down. But she e-mailed me back an incredibly thoughtful, kind, understanding message which really reassured me that I wasn’t the only one, and that she wanted to make it as safe of an environment as possible.

Singing can make you feel exposed and vulnerable and a one-on-one setting can be pretty intense. But perfection is never even remotely the goal. Believe me. I won’t be perfect. I’ll demonstrate things and I’ll make mistakes, sound bad, make mistakes in the piano parts to your songs, and it’ll all be okay. It’s always my aim to make our little environment a safe-feeling place and for it to feel okay to screw up. And if we’re ever working and you’re feeling overwhelmed, please know in advance that it’s okay to say so and we can take a break or call it quits for the night, or whatever needs to happen, okay? 🙂 I think that every singer I know has cried in a lesson or a coaching at some point – or many points! I know I have! It’s just the way of it.

So I rescheduled – and this time, showed up.  Let’s backtrack for a second. When I’m home alone, the first thing I do is close all the windows, crank up the stereo and sing my absolute heart out. But I also keep a close eye on the view outside the window, in case I see a neighbour close by, or Sweet arriving home, so I can be sure to turn everything down, and most importantly not be caught in song. I’ve always wished desperately to have a good voice and a good range, but I’m pretty sure I don’t. I can’t hit the high notes, I can’t do those diva-esque runs, I can’t belt it out or do any sort of imaginative take on a song, and I definitely can’t read music. It’s funny, last week I was talking about my issue with the “niche philosophy” – should you stick to what you’re good at, and focus on being great at it, or do you branch out into things you’re not, riding on the hope that one day you will? I’ve always identified more with the latter, but the former makes a lot of sense. But, as a good friend once told me, if you feel you need to be doing something, even if you’re not good at it right now, it’s because you’re meant to be.  So I’m going to keep going.

 

 

Last week, I learned the difference between “strong voice” (which I’d always thought was the sole indicator of your range) and the “natural voice”, and that it’s okay to switch into that falsetto sound when the notes get high. Awe-inspiring musical theatre-type singing, where they hit the notes with the “strong voice”, was a style created by theatre people, not singers, and classically, it’s about strengthening that upper range so you can project over crowds and choirs and instruments and still be heard.  I felt a little silly waving my arms around while I was singing, but I learned that different parts of the body work best when they’re in harmony with each other, so if I want to sing those high notes loudly, let my arms move in big circles and do with them what I want to do with my voice. I was shocked to hear I was actually a soprano – hitting only 2 notes lower than my coach and going down even lower than she did, but it doesn’t mean I did it well… I didn’t believe her when the words weren’t “you’re going to need some work.”I’ve never felt I could sing, simply because I’ve never allowed myself to practice.  Strengthen the muscles and therefore my voice. It all makes complete sense to me now, and I can’t wait until I really am able to carry a tune! I left with homework – a 17th century Italian song, scribed on five sheets of music in two languages I can’t understand. I don’t know how to read music or speak Italian, and I found myself getting lost as I was trying to follow along, but I was reassured that was okay. We’d learn together. Pronunciation doesn’t matter at this point, and with practice, reading music will become easier.  I’m not going to lie – some of these notes are pretty intimidating. But I’m going to try anyway. Tomorrow night, I’m back for lesson 2. And this time around, my heart’s beating with the excitement of learning instead of nerves.

What fear of yours are you allowing to hold you back?

Shelving the Past

Recently, I had the pleasure of going for dinner with one of the most insightful people I know. We only see each other once every few months – he’s often travelling, touring, or teaching yoga day and night – but every time we get together I leave feeling incredibly uplifted and inspired.  We got onto an interesting topic last time we got together – the past – and how we have the tendency to hold onto it.

People always say the past helped them become the person they are today. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – the past can be full of hardships and mistakes, as well as growth, deepening of relationships, and happy memories. Of course the past helps us become who we are today. But there’s a difference between allowing it to shape who you are, and allowing it to define who you are. We all have the choice between looking back on past experiences and archiving them in the vault of memory, or pinning them to our proverbial jackets for all to see in every walk of life.

We talked about the things from the past we’re guilty of dragging around with us into our present. Traced negative self-talk back to events in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood to find its origin. As you know, two of my bigger struggles are speaking in front of people, and dealing with how I look. The self-destructive things we allowed to be planted in our youth and grow into poisonous weeds that tangle around our every thought, holding us back from reaching our true potential.  I was in the middle of trying to explain how it feels to have a continual loop of self-detriment running through your head, worrying that the nerves and thoughts about yourself on the inside are going to spill out somehow and everyone will see exactly the same things you do – when my friend interrupted me with a smile.  “But they’re just stories“, he laughed.  “They’re all just stories we choose to keep telling ourselves; they’re not real.”

I’ve always been an advocate for the power of choice. Not blaming things or other people when things are crappy. Not waiting for tomorrow to roll around before deciding it can be a good day after all. Choosing hard work and determination over fear of failure. Questioning rumours rather than contributing to their continuation. Swallowing pride over perpetuating a grudge. But I’ve always had trouble with choosing not to beat myself up over things out of my control. I listen to the voice that tells me I’m not fun or attractive. That I’m too quiet, too awkward, too ugly. I let it hold me back in social situations and I allow it consume my thoughts. But after this conversation with my friend, I felt I really could let go. Close the door on the past experiences that lead to these unhealthy thinking patterns, acknowledge them for what they are – “just stories” – and choose to let go of them.

All sorts of things can happen to us throughout life, and unfortunately, as often as there will be people to lift you up and enrich your life, there will be people who hurt you. They may be deliberate, or they may be completely unintentional – but they can fester in the mind and take over a lifetime if you choose to let them. But there’s something incredibly powerful when you come to the realisation that you are choosing to perpetuate those stories you tell yourself, and you can choose to close the door. When you realise that you’ve had the choice all along to either be defined by the past, or keep it where it belongs. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us day in, day out, telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to believe we are the sum of our past mistakes and hardships. Labelling ourselves “awkward,” “ugly,” or “a sufferer” of this or that. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe it.  And in doing so, how we limit what we can become.

When you realise you alone have the power over those stories, it can be as simple as closing the book. Storing it on a shelf somewhere, always there, but up high and out of immediate sight – instead of carrying it everywhere, a heavy weight dragging down on the soul.  Choose how much credit you give those stories, and ask yourself if they’re really worth perpetuating. Choose to learn from the past, and then to let it remain there.  Choose whether you want to limit yourself by others’ definitions, or to let go of them and set yourself free. None of us need be a slave to stories.

Is there a book you’re dragging around with you that would be better off shelved?

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

The Physiology of Fear. And How to Pwn It.

Once  upon a time, I had a dream. A dream of being able to stand in front of a group of people and speak, with excitement, passion and confidence, without fear taking over, making my hands tremble and voice shake, without the constant worry of being good enough, intelligent enough, or entertaining enough. If you’ve been reading for a while now, you’ll know that it’s an ongoing challenge, and something I’ve been trying to tackle at every opportunity. But getting my body to cooperate with the direction in which my mind wants to go has proved… difficult.  The first efforts were small. Attending meetings at work, and actually speaking up instead of keeping my mouth shut for an hour. Breaking out Cranium at parties and choosing Star Performer over Word Worm. Facilitating workshops to groups of 5 or 6 . Tiny steps along the path to my goal of shaking free the fear. Talking the talk is becoming easier, but physically walking the walk? Not so much.

Through those workshops, I realised something that helped push me forward: I wasn’t public speaking, I was teaching. I was giving people information that they could use to help them succeed. When I started thinking of it that way, it was a doddle. No longer was I in the spotlight, all eyes on me, ready for judgment day, but I was simply being blessed with the opportunity to pass on helpful information to others. The desire to help outweighed the fear, and it became okay. It became okay when it stopped being about me.

A few weeks ago, however, I was put into one of the most terrifying situations I could imagine. All the extroverts out there may very well laugh at this – but I had to do a public reading of a piece of my own written work.  Fiction. In a public bookshop.  I couldn’t use the same mechanisms I could in front of a class, because I wasn’t “teaching” or providing anyone with helpful information. I was just baring my words to the world; something I’d poured my heart into was to be lifted from the refuge of the page and thrust into the great wide open. I was petrified. I arrived at the bookshop an hour early, frantically texting one of my dearest friends, ordering a large glass of wine, and trying to remember to breathe. The seconds crawled by and the world followed in slow motion; rows upon rows of chairs slowly growing, bodies starting to fill them.  I’d prayed nobody would come, but the faces kept coming, their words of encouragement and support filtering through my ears,  landing heavy on a rapidly beating heart. 6:00 rolled around. I was up.

The 10 minutes seemed almost an eternity, but I kept reading, my eyes glued to the page. As the words came out, I tried to lose myself in the story I’d created, forcing my mind into the scene and the character, subsequently forcing out thoughts of self-deprecation. I made it through, took a deep breath, and lifted my head. I saw rows of smiling faces and clapping hands. I heard “wow”s whispered and was asked when I was going to finish the book. It didn’t seem real – I felt like I was living someone else’s life for a moment; someone who was actually able to do something well in the real world – and I couldn’t quite grasp it. A moment I’ve longed for for as long as I can remember, and I came out the other side unscathed.

So I did what any hip and cool person would do, and proceeded to burst into floods of tears. I don’t know what it was – the release of weeks worth of pent-up nervous energy, the unexpected victory, the compliments I’d spent years convincing myself I wasn’t worthy of receiving – or a combination of the three, but I bawled like a BABY.  In front of everybody. Luckily I was back in my seat, and even luckier I was struck after my performance, but it was something I’d never felt before. As with every difficult thing, practice = less panic and greater confidence, so as uncomfortable and scary as it is, I have to keep going.

So, next steps? I’ll do what I always do, and throw myself in at the deep end. My new job starts in a matter of weeks, fifty percent of which is going to be teaching in the biggest classroom in the building. This weekend and next, I’ll be standing in for a couple of DJ friends of mine who host their own radio show (who just had a beautiful baby girl, who though adorable, may not fit right at home in a radio studio). Hosting it. I want to learn new coping mechanisms of how to throw off the anxiety and embrace the challenges and opportunities. Mentally, I think I might be on the right track, but how do you overcome the body’s natural tendencies to fall into the physiological reactions to fear? The heart racing, the hands shaking, the pit of the stomach wallowing, and the mouth drying. Changing your mind about something is one thing, but changing your body’s defiant behaviour is quite another. I want to get in front of those classes and behind the mic and just bask in the excitement of it all – project enthusiasm and confidence, rather than the telltale signs of nerves.  I’m really working on changing the way I think about the situations – but any tips on altering the way I physically react would be hugely appreciated.

Failing that, pictures of kittens/celebrities falling over/the OMG Cat/OMG Cat vs iPad always fixes anything. 🙂

Twenty-Five

At the beginning of the month, on top of being slightly lame and asking the Internet how I should celebrate my 25th, I decided I wanted to make a list of goals for the year of 25.  I’ve heard from so many people that 25 was their best year EVER, and I really think this will help make it awesome in terms of challenging myself, trying new things, and continuing a journey of growth. So here’s what I’ve got so far. The 26 Before 26:

  1. Get in crazy good shape. I’ve used my back pain as an excuse for far too long, and I’ve come to the realisation that it’s going to hurt whether I’m exercising or not, so I may as well be doing something good for myself! Right now, I’m running once every two weeks. Not a good plan. Now my evening classes are done, I’m scheduling time for at least 2-3 times a week for running, and getting back on board with strengthening exercises as well. SO I CAN DANCE LIKE TOBIAS.
  2. Start hot yoga. There’s a place ten minutes away from me that I’ve heard rave reviews about, and I’ve talked about trying it (without actually doing it) for six months now. And last night I met up with someone for dinner who absolutely raved about it, goes for two hours every day (intense!!), and offered to be my hot yoga buddy. Apparently it’s life changing! Hopefully as much so just three times per week.
  3. Learn a choreographed dance. Last week I posted videos from this year’s Britain’s Got Talent finals and the incredible precision, strength and creativity of some of those dancers just blew me away. So what if I wasn’t in gymnastics or dance at five years old? I may be 20 years late to the party, but even if it’s just learning Bad Romance off YouTube, I want to dance properly.  Or pop and lock. Yes, I realise the eighties are calling and want their moves back. Yes, I also realise I will need to vlog this. I’m on it. 🙂
  4. Team up with Sweet and cover a really popular song in a totally different style. Bluegrass Radiohead or something, I don’t know. He’s a drummer and has guitars and banjos upstairs, I’m sure we could figure something out! And I can bash a… Tupperware drum? I just think it’d be really fun, and the whole point of covering a song is to do something different with it, right?
  5. Get my driver’s license.  I know this is the only 2010 resolution I haven’t tackled yet, but I still have 6 months left of the year. 4 before the snow comes back. I need to get my arse in gear.
  6. Write non-blog or magazine material. The creative writing class I took this spring really opened my eyes to what I really love to write. Blogging and writing for magazines is all well and good, but I’ve found that I don’t really feel proud of that kind of style when showing it to people. I’ve been working on some fiction over the last couple of months and have found a passion for literature, for creating, for the English language, and for eloquent prose, and I’m feeling totally motivated to keep going. Even if it is a sci-fi story. 🙂
  7. Meet new people.  Pretty self-explanatory, but just taking opportunities to invite people into my life instead of being held back by societal “norms” of keeping to myself. I’m not going to lose anything by trying. This one started last Saturday, when I met my first Internet Stranger (thank you Brittany for checking in throughout to make sure I was safe, LOL), a friend-of-a-friend penpal of sorts I’d been exchanging emails with for the last couple of months. It was a brilliant time, not awkward in the slightest, full of interesting, inspiring, fun and intelligent conversation, and I’m really hoping the beginnings of a new friendship. 🙂 This challenge continues this week , when I meet a bunch of local ‘strangers’ I met on Twitter for a “Creative Show and Tell”. Who are apparently bringing me birthday cake. At the pub!
  8. Do REAL karaoke.  The infamous Wicked! attempt was tough cookies but it went over pretty well, and even if I can’t sing well or reach the high notes it doesn’t mean I don’t LOVE doing it!! This year I won’t be scared to break into song, and I want to gather enough balls to do it in front of real LIVE people. 🙂 Partner in crime, anyone?
  9. Plan meals and cook better. One of the big things I decided in January was that I wanted to cook from scratch more often instead of getting so many takeaways. This proved far more difficult than anticipated and we’ve ended up eating out at least once a week. I want to make it a routine to shop on Sundays, and prepare for a week’s worth of meals, including buying less prepared/easy stuff and switching to healthier options. Including switching my beloved morning porridge to these Green Monsters – started this week, YES that is spinach in a smoothie… but I just feel better starting the day without copious amounts of sugar and carbs.
  10. Speaking of cooking, MAKE ENGLISH FOOD! There’s a local place called The Brit Café that makes brilliant Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Mash, Steak and Kidney Pudding, and of course, Fish and Chips, and I miss it all terribly. I want to make something traditionally English. But maybe once every 6 months, because I don’t want to be a lardarse.
  11. Floss. Self-explanatory.
  12. Stop hating how I look. Short of winning the lottery, I can’t change it. I can’t half the size of my nose or shrink my chin or erase the bags under my eyes. I can’t grow taller and I can’t chop my thighs in half. I can’t make my hair naturally straight and healthy and I can’t in good conscience keep up the “olive skin” look.  I want to be able to look at a picture of myself and NOT have my first thought be of how much I wish I could change. I want to seriously be able to like myself just the way I am. Apply to myself what I try to do with life: that things are the way they are for a reason, and to make the most of the cards I’m dealt.
  13. Get a laptop and become a Starbucks blogger. Or writer. I just want to get out there and do more writing.
  14. Perform something in front of my coworkers.  Around Christmas there’s all sorts of festive events – costume competitions, talent shows, games and cook-offs – last year I was too scared to get up and rock the sing-off. But it’s all in good spirits, and nobody really cares if it’s any good. This year, I’m joining in.
  15. Teach a full class of people without shaking with nervousness and actually be excited about doing it. In the year of 24, I managed to work up to a classroom full of about 8 people, max. I want to be able to do 30 like a proper teacher. In July, I’ll be starting a new position where facilitation makes up fifty percent of my job. For some reason they think I can do it. I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear!
  16. Get (and stay) entirely debt-free.  After the Europe trip in August, the only major expense left is the wedding, for which we’ve been putting money aside for months. Sweet’s parents are helping with the cost of the food (which is an ENORMOUS help, we’re so lucky!!), and with our savings (and DIY stuff), it’ll hopefully not be TOO big a surprise in December. I can’t even imagine having $0 debt, but I’m determined to get and stay that way during 25.
  17. Volunteer somewhere. I haven’t volunteered in two years now and I feel dreadful about it. I’m going to make time for a good cause again.
  18. Go on a blogger meetup. Some of my favourite people in this world live MILES AWAY FROM ME and it’s about time I met them. And thankfully I am marrying the best man in the world, who BOUGHT ME A TICKET TO CHICAGO this September. I get to see Ashley and Brittany, Jen and Phampants . Go on a chocolate tour and visit a secret bar and dress up and have a Glee-off and my first big girly weekend ever.  SO. EXCITED.
  19. See more of the world. Somewhere I’ve never been before. And soak up every last drop.
  20. Go a bit feng shui. Right now my walls are covered in black and white photos from a year or two ago, and oversized framed Doctor Who, Tim Burton and Hives posters.  Sure, I have some “grown up” stuff, too – the Book of Kells hangs proudly in my living room along with a cityscape of the London skyline. But I need more art. Modigliani, this is your year to move from my heart to my bedroom walls.
  21. Finish my tattoo, even if I have to be hypnotised, drugged, hardcore trained or anaesthetised. This thing’s getting finished THIS YEAR.
  22. Forgive. I’ve learned that relationships will only work if two people’s timelines are ready to coincide, and that it’s okay to opt out if clearly the timing isn’t quite right, all the while having faith and leaving the door open. I also realise that by not forgiving people, we waste so much time we’re given on maintaining grudges and harbouring negativity, instead of doing the hard thing, sucking it up, swallowing pride and actually being the one to take the difficult step toward what’s hopefully a better future.
  23. Do something drastic with my hair. After the wedding I have no reason at all to keep abstaining from haircuts and keep it black, so I may very well go for a totally different cut and colour. Hey, I’ve had a pillarbox red pixie cut; nothing can be too drastic! (What’s that, pictures?)
  24. Become more spiritual. I don’t tackle the topic of faith on my blog at all because it’s something I’m still relatively new to, but I’m determined to grow more spiritually this year, and learn all I can about faith and purpose in this world, really figure it out and try to be the best person I can be. Things have happened in the past week that are just BEYOND coincidental and I feel are leading me down the right path, and I’m so excited to explore that this year.
  25. Stop being scared of talking on the phone. I know it sounds ridiculous but I’m more scared of talking on the phone than I am of talking in front of a group of people. Up until now, this has pretty much been my rulebook (you can’t say you don’t agree with at least HALF of those!!), but I’d love to be able to chat on the phone or ring somebody up without worrying that I’m bothering them. Less e-mail time (well, maybe not) and more real conversations. This means phone me up and hold me to it. 🙂
  26. Set up a professional website. (Read: have someone set one up for me.) Right now I’m using a WordPress-hosted site for my graphics and writing portfolios and though it does the trick, it’s hardly the most impressive thing in the world. This will be the year I get a site to match my business cards, and look like a real pro.

This was a tough one to make – but I’m going to ask you lot to keep me on track, and I’ll be sure to share the fun ones when they happen. Can you do me a favour? Take a look at the list I made for 24.  Just a few bullet points about halfway down the page, but this time last year, they seemed impossible. I can’t believe this weekend I will be 25. This year’s flown by and been full of amazing things, in a large part thanks to YOU, and I really hope I can fill this upcoming one with even more adventure. Wish me luck!! Has anyone else made one of these lists? If not, what would you put on yours? Resolutions don’t only have to come in January. 🙂

See you on the other side!

What are you waiting for?

I remember, maybe a little less than a year ago now, my first (and perhaps only) true light bulb moment.  Do you ever find yourself in a place where all around you, you can see things in life you wish were different? The year from summer 2009 – 2010 has been one of self-discovery for me, and it all began with that moment.  The moment when it dawned on me, for the first time, that my circumstances were never going to be what I wanted unless I took the steps to make them that way.

If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll know that I’ve written on and off about my past struggles with anxiety.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about them in the past tense. If you’re reading it on Samantha’s (I’m guest posting for her today; do check out her blog, as she’s just wonderful!), then I should probably give you a little bit of a back story.

This time last year, I was seeing a therapist for a social anxiety disorder. I don’t like the idea of therapists, really. I also don’t like the term “social anxiety,” and I especially dislike the word “disorder”.  It evokes images and feelings of being afraid, of allowing something to control you, and of something being wrong with you. Although perhaps that was the motivation I needed – I’ve learned over the last little while that the bigger the discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, the stronger the motivation to change.  I think it was a result of years of low self-esteem – with friendships and relationships, I often latched on to whoever showed the slightest interest, even if it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them around.  I learned my lesson the hard way – got kicked out of where I was living, had one ex-boyfriend jet off halfway around the world never to come back, and had another gradually sap about $12,000 out of my bank account, start doing drugs, and get arrested for physically abusing me in the street. I think these things, combined with my ongoing self-doubts to make me want to retreat from the world. I gave in to the inner voices that told me that I wasn’t good enough.  That I wasn’t worthy enough to be treated well, and that I had nothing of value to offer the world. That I should keep my mouth shut, because everyone would see how useless I “was”.  I was terrified. But I allowed it to happen.

Looking back, I want to take hold of my 22-year old self and give her a good shake, but at the same time, I have to remind myself that things happen for a reason. If it hadn’t been for the bad, I never would have been fuelled to grow in order to find the good.  I think in life, we can be nudged slightly, reminded that what we’re doing isn’t good for us. This can be in the form of a simple daydream, wondering what our life would be like had we made a different choice.  Or a series of negative events paving the way of a relationship; warning signs to get out.  Unfortunately, if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen.  What happened to me was a megaphone in my ear telling me to alter course from the road I was taking.  And had it not come to that point, who knows where I may be now?

One night last summer, it was a low point. I was upset that inside, I so desperately wanted to be able to break free of this fear that was holding me prisoner, and offer myself to the world, hoping to find friendships and new situations, and growth in my career.  I wanted to be happy, to be content and comfortable in my own skin, to be able to stand up in front of people and do something inspirational without being plagued by nerves.  I was upset because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be.  I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And on came the light bulb; a literal shining light of hope on my self-induced darkness.

Dreams are never going to become reality unless you become an active participant in calling them into action. 

I’d been wishing and waiting for things to be different… without doing anything about it. It’s so easy in life to victimize ourselves, because I think, sadly, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the things that don’t require as much effort. I was upset that things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, yet I hadn’t played a part in making them happen. Silly girl! I decided from that point forward, things were going to be different.

I made a list of all the things I wanted to be able to do without fear. All the things I wanted to be without worry.  A great piece of advice I got was remembering to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of mental energy. I will never be able to control what other people think of me, so instead of using that energy worrying about judgment, I should use it to focus on the things I can control. I can control what I put out into the world. I can control whether I allow myself to take risks with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side. I can control how I take the words of others.  “This is a big change,” I was told, “and it’s not going to happen overnight. These things take time.”

But why should they?  We all have a choice in how we decide to live our lives, in the way we choose to see the world, and in what we put into it.  Just because I’d spent the last twenty-something years making the wrong ones doesn’t mean I have to ease myself into making the right ones gradually. Every day is a new opportunity to change everything, if you only have the determination.  Since last summer, I’ve made the choice instead of retreating, to dive headfirst into everything that scared me.  I can choose whether I allow things to control my life, or if I want to control my own.

It started off incredibly hard. Just because the mentality is shifting doesn’t mean the physiological signs of anxiety shake off so easily. The first workshop I facilitated, I went in trembling and stuttering. The first workshop I came out of, after telling the students why I decided to give it a shot, I left to the sound of applause. It was the best feeling in the world.  A tiny victory that fuelled my desire to keep growing, keep trying anything and everything that used to terrify me. It’s definitely been a journey of ups and downs – chairing meetings to a room full of people twice my age is intimidating, facilitating a workshop as the youngest person on staff is daunting, singing to the Internet was nerve-wracking, and sharing my story perhaps the scariest of all.  But I’m determined to keep trying. Of course there are things still on my list. Real life karaoke, speaking to a class of 30 instead of 10, and reading my writing in a couple of weeks in a public bookstore to a bunch strangers.  I’m still apprehensive. But determined to come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes, all it takes to change what you don’t like about your life is making a choice and sticking to it. Having the courage (or at least pretending to!) not only to recognise what it is you don’t like about your life, even if it’s admitting past mistakes, but to venture forth and take control.  None of us need be a prisoner of fear.  We have every right to be able to be the person we want to be.  You can’t control what other people are going to think about you. But you can control what you put out into the world. And if it’s positivity, and determination to better yourself and the lives of the people around you? I don’t think anyone could ask for anything more.

On Writing… and Reading to Hundreds of Strangers!!

A few weeks ago, I had a bunch of really good news.  We’d booked our trip to England, I was starting my new position at work, Nan was doing better, we’d signed up for dance classes, and I was just about to start my Creative Writing class.  Since then, things have continued to be great.  We’ve discovered Sweet is, hilariously, a NATURAL at ballroom dancing (while I’m still stuck on which foot goes backward) – but each class has been filled with fun and laughter, and it’s the perfect way to start our weekends.  I also phoned my Nan last week – and not only was she thrilled, but apparently she’s well enough to go home – to HER home, not a care home! – within the next two weeks! Work is going well, we’re making all sorts of plans for the UK trip, and Creative Writing class? ALL sorts of awesome.

From WinnipegLoveHate.com

I’m going to tell you a secret: I never finished university. I grew up hugely academic, spending my high school years continually on the honour roll and spent Saturday nights in the university library, reading Chaucer for fun and gazing out at the city’s skyline, as the sky turned from pinks to blues and the streets below came alive. I loved school. I love to learn, to challenge myself, to succeed in something I adore – but at 20 years old, life started to happen.  I’d moved out just as I turned 19, with A Boy, which lasted about a year – we broke up, and after a short stint on my parents’ sofa , I got my first apartment. I was working part time, and had no savings – or furniture – so I reluctantly decided to take some time off from school, get my life in gear, and work for a little bit in the Real World.

I was lucky enough to find jobs that led me toward graphic design. In school, I’d been studying medieval English literature and psychology – which would serve me really well in the real world [ahem] – but through work, I found I loved graphics. I was offered real-world experience, networking opportunities, and the chance to build a real portfolio.  This led me into marketing and advertising, which I adore – but I’ve also realised I have a passion for writing. Blogging has become just about the best hobby I’ve ever had, but I’ve always secretly loved to write fiction, too. I get lost in the worlds of incredible authors, surrendering my mind to their vivid imaginations, and longing to visit these fantastical places in the real world. I love the art of crafting a piece of prose as that’s as beautiful as a masterpiece painting. I love the English language.

Mr Flay appeared to clutter up the doorway as he stood revealed, his arms folded, surveying the smaller man before him in an expressionless way. It did not look as though such a bony face as his could give normal utterance, but rather that instead of sounds, something more brittle, more ancient, something dryer would emerge, something perhaps more in the nature of a splinter or fragment of stone. Nevertheless, the harsh lips parted. ‘It’s me,’ he said, and took a step forward into the room, his knee joints cracking as he did so. His passage across the room – in fact his passage through life – was accompanied by these cracking sounds, one per step, which might be likened to the breaking of twigs.
– From Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Isn’t it beautiful? (The text – but yes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in the miniseries, we can refer to  him, too :))

So two weeks ago, I started my Creative Writing class. I had all sorts of hopes of meeting new people, of indulging my creative passion, and of a place my imagination could really take flight.  The first class wasn’t quite what I expected – I don’t think the instructor expected a group of only six, either! – but I was in my element.  I’m not usually one to pipe up in groups, but I instantly felt comfortable in a place where creative thinking was encouraged and praised.  In class, we all have to read our assignments and classroom activities out loud in front of each other.  This is slightly intimidating – but I’m hoping may be just the ticket to keep me going on the whole breaking free of fear journey.  Last week, we had to write a “character”, which I initially struggled with – I wasn’t used to having such open-ended assignments! But the second I sat down to write, I couldn’t stop. I ended up with something I was really rather proud of – I can’t use literary techniques and flowerly language on the blog, but I indulged on my assignment. And it went down really well!

We were also told about our final assignment, due in about 8 weeks. It’s open-ended in that it can be a play, a short story, a review, a poem… anything we like. But we’ve been booked a spot at one of the city’s biggest bookstores, where we will do a reading. In public. This is quite possibly one of the most intimidating tasks I’ve ever been given.  The way I got through facilitating my classes at work was to tell myself I was in a position to pass along information that would ultimately help people.  The desire to help surpassed my fear, so I was able to do it, no problem.  But putting something I’ve created out there, where it can be judged by other people? SCARY.

I’m trying to tell myself this is just another stepping stone in my ongoing journey. That I’ve learned how to live without worrying constantly about other people judging me, so I should be able to do the same with my writing.  Hopefully the next few weeks will be practice enough that I won’t bomb it in the end… and I’m feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.  Let’s just hope the latter dominates.  Until then… hold my hand?

My (Literally) Naked Fear

Recently I’ve been tackling a lot of things that I’m afraid of. You all know about my (almost) past issues with anxiety, and it’s my ongoing goal to try to attempt every single thing that scares me, in the hopes of being able to overcome them.  Public speaking was the absolute scariest.  Throw me out of a plane, put me in a cage full of spiders, no problem, but ask me to stand up in front of people and speak? No thank you! Until about… 6 months ago? I asked my boss if I could facilitate a workshop every week. All eyes on me, thinking on my feet, projecting to a room full of blank faces… biggest fear, let me tell you. But I did it. And I kept doing it. I forced my desire to overcome it to hold more weight than my fear.  And though it started incredibly scarily, the only way to get over it was to take the risk.  Now, I’m still slightly nervous if I have to speak up in front of people, but it’s nowhere near as bad, and it’s no longer something that makes me want to leap out of my office window onto the gob-infested concrete below.

Now, as you know, I’m also terrified of singing in front of people.  Lauren commented on my little poll the other week asking, if I was so afraid of it, and I thought I wasn’t very good at it, then why did I want to do it in the first place? The simplest answer is that I don’t want fear to dictate my life. I don’t want to be held back by what other people might think of me. I enjoy singing, even if my range is  barely an octave.

I adore musical theatre and I get goosebumps when I see a massive choral number taken on in Glee.  I might not be any good, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to try.  So next week? Up goes the vlog. In which I serenade the internet, knowing full well that as well as the kind souls who cheered me on when I first posed the idea… there’ll be people ready to judge. And I’ll try my damnedest to instead focus on the courage it took to do it in the first place – and the fact that I’ll never try and take anyone down if they’re trying to break out of their comfort zone.

Tiny victories fuel my perseverance and determination to keep going, keep taking on the intimidating and riding through on the adrenaline, focusing not on fear, but on triumph, the growing confidence that’s slowly rising, and liberating me from the fear that held me back for so long. I might make a fool of myself in the process. But that’s okay. It’s all about whether or not I think I’m foolish for trying. People may think I’m incompetent, or untalented, or whatever they need to feel in order to make themselves feel better. And that’s okay too. Because at least I’ll have tried.

So, what’s next? Right now, my biggest fear is building the foundation of new friendships.  It’s so easy to do online, where people can take the time to construct their words and sentences, promote their most desirable qualities and hide behind the safety of a computer screen in a tracksuit and greasy hair going on day 3 while posting cropped and Photoshopped pictures on Facebook.  Not so easy to do it in person! I see people I’d love to be friends with – but I also see a similar pattern of being afraid to take a chance. I listen to the voices I carry around telling me “they wouldn’t be interested”, or “I’d be crossing professional boundaries” and worry about being rejected, content to stay in on Friday nights with my cat singing Rock Band to her delightfully non-judgmental and forever loyal little kitten face.  But that’s easy. And those people I want to be friends with? Would be awesome to hang out with instead.  I mentioned my nail girl and my massage therapist a few posts ago, when I was writing about where to find friendship as an adult. WoW doesn’t count. Well, let’s see. I see my nail girl every three weeks. We’ll talk for an hour or so and catch up and I find myself really looking forward to chatting and seeing how she’s doing, hearing her stories and sharing my own.  And wishing I could just have the courage to ask her to hang out sometime, so we could maybe do that more often.  Same thing with my massage therapist, who I see weekly, who’s as big of a nerd as I am, who seems to have the same kind of values I do, and who’s another Trekkie… who hasn’t been introduced to Doctor Who yet.  We’d be great friends! But still, I let that fear of rejection and crossing boundaries prevent me from taking the risk. Though this may have something to do with the fact that all of our conversations take place with me half naked with my face in a hole.  But still. Is that really a good reason for not potentially having a great new friend in my life?

What do you guys think?  Naturally, Facebook would be the easy route… but naturally, both of them have massively high privacy, non-contactable or addable profiles.  I have another appointment this Sunday for a massage, and an appointment on Thursday for my nails. Should I bite the bullet and just see what happens? And how do you do it without coming across a total weirdo?? Tips would be very much appreciated!

A question for all my blog friends

I’m hoping for (A). I KNOW it’ll be embarrassing – that’s the whole point!! But I’d really like to say I had the courage to do it. Especially ’cause my singing isn’t too far from William Hung standards 🙂 And if people vote C – that’s totally okay.  A year ago I would’ve voted C too because I’d be terrified of embarrassment. But I think it’s all about how you define “embarrassing”. For me, these days, it’s all about what I allow to embarrass me. It used to be anything at all and I’d worry constantly about what other people thought of me. Recently, I’ve learned that people will always think whatever they want about me, and I can’t do anything about it – so I’m not going to waste time being controlled by something I, personally, cannot control! All I can control is whether or not I let things bother me. And if people think it’s embarrassing – well, all that says is that they care more about what other people think of them than I do. 🙂