life lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Bring Out the Very Best in Others

I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.

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(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))

I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.

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I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)

Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.

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I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.

25c29a664c3adbf6cb0376956dcc3b65I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.

Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.

I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.

I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.

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As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.

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I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.

12346342_10153900478369171_1587333639328318231_nA great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.

This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away.  These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result. 

Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Tell-Tale Heart

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

So many emotions running through my veins, tangling themselves up and forming themselves into words so desperate to launch themselves out into the world with the hope of landing somewhere in a place of understanding. I didn’t know where to aim, so I  turned here.

For the first time in my life, I feel I’ve been filled with a spirit of standing up for myself, for my own being, my own feelings, my own heart and my own worth, and it seems I should preface this with the fact that I shouldn’t have to – everybody is made up of a thousand different thoughts and experiences that lead them down different paths and shape their ideas and viewpoints and lives and very beings… nobody should have to feel they have to defend themselves. But the past has taught me that the Internet, heck, the world, is filled with those who see one veering off the path of formulaic shoulds and seek to judge or offer advice before first venturing in to understand. I know true friends, genuine, caring souls will do that, and I thank everyone for their concern in recent days and, I’m sure, in those yet to come… but I just have to give my heart the floor for a moment; thrust its worn and battered soul back into centre stage and hope for the best.

I always maintained I never wanted to die without any scars. The idea of “living backward” is something I’ve latched onto in recent years; grasping every day and opportunity by the throat and living the fuck out of it, seeing every second as a gift and living with the mentality that if you live life to pieces, there’s no possibility in the world that you’ll get to the end of it and have regret. I don’t want to die without any scars. And my heart is covered in them, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because with every one of them has come incredible experience, lessons, growth, memories… the choice to keep going is not an easy one, and I’m sure any sane person would lock it away behind a fortress where it could be protected from the dark depths that sadly must exist if the highest of highs are ever to be experienced… it would be easy to hide away from life, to take time, to barricade myself from the world if just to stay safe. But this goes against my very way of living. Our days are finite. We are filled with an endless capacity to feel… and just because the world’s timeline says our actions and paths must be those that are pre-carved to be societally acceptable doesn’t mean it aligns with mine.

Every time we listen to what someone else says we should be doing, we fall away from what our heart tells us we need to be. Yet we go along with it, because it’s normal. It’s traditional. It’s “the rules”. We grow up, and go to university, and get a degree because that will get us a job. We meet someone, stick it out even though it’s not perfect, and settle in relationships that aren’t so bad and can sometimes be pretty good, and we tune out the gut instinct that tells you there might be more. We get mortgages and houses and have children and work jobs that pay the bills and it’s all so very safe. But why are we given these instincts, these wishes, these strong desires and hopes and dreams if we’re not allowed to follow them? I think we are allowed. I think it’s just scary because it’s so much easier to play it safe and follow the path, and it’s so much scarier to be judged for veering into the forest. It’s so much scarier not having a safety net. But if we weren’t meant to have these feelings of curiosity and hope and passion for something more, why are we equipped with the capacity to have them?

I want to clarify what’s happened over the course of the past week… and the past little while. The past few months… the past two years… the past five… I want to be understood. Again, I am hit with this sentiment, but I also – and I guess this is my super INFJ-ness coming out – am hard wired with a desperate need to be understood.

If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.

I was told recently that attachment to safe, neutral, acceptable terms can neither steal nor produce anything of true value… or it can produce an urgency, to live, to feel, to create, to love, to dream… to create a life so full of experience that the heart is so well travelled that when it finally reaches its destination it recognises where it’s meant to be.  Why should we be conditioned to live the life the rest of the world tells us we should? Why should our own timeline be bent and shaped according to what’s traditional just because it’s what everybody else does? Anything could happen tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m going to be on this planet for another day or another ten years or another ninety, but I don’t want to waste a second of it. I have no patience for waiting in corners and turning away opportunities when I know, I know that the path I was on was the wrong one. Let me regain my footing on another that may lead to exactly where I’m meant to be. And if not, let me make my mistakes. This life is mine, and these choices are mine. This heart is mine and this sense of never giving up may be frowned on or judged, but let me do it my wayIt is my right.

I sobbed for a good two hours straight last night at the realisation that with my decisions comes judgment from so many who see things from afar without bothering to take the time to first come in, see what my past has held, whether near or far, and where it has led me. I was the one that was left. Repeatedly. I gave all, and for the longest time, I held onto something that hadn’t been right for a very long time. I think we all have a tendency to do that… to accept what we have, to ignore the feelings of feeling misunderstood and the imaginings of something more. To accept that no two people are perfect and to just make the most of it. I did that. I did that every time I was left and convinced myself that with enough work, things could be perfect. But when the decision was made, for the final time, for the first time I felt equipped with enough self confidence, enough passions and enough truly incredible people in my life that I didn’t have to settle for forever feeling inadequate. So this time, I accepted it. It so happened that in recent months that what could be was illuminated… I did nothing wrong. I came to a realisation that I was worth more than forever being left, forever struggling and fighting for understanding… and I realise that on the surface, it may look like “jumping”, from one thing to another, but we’d been strangers for a long time. Different homes, different friends, and a building of walls I tried so hard to break. It is no-ones decision to judge but mine, but I’m so incredibly saddened that the world jumps to easy conclusions before first hearing, knowing, understanding the path that led to where I am. 

I hold no resentment or malice. The past two years have filled me with incredible memories, gratitude, learning experiences and a growth that’s fuelled me forward to a place where I finally feel at peace with who I am… I feel for the first time it’s okay to be the way I am, emotionality and all. Yes, I’m throwing my heart open again, but I genuinely feel for the first time… it’s understood. It’s recognised. It’s battered and bruised, but it’s filled with an eternal hope. All its past flaws are somehow now seen as strength and beauty and I’m embarking upon something with someone whose heart truly speaks the same language. I’m genuinely happy, and I feel like I… deserve to be. This is my path. Please let me walk it. If for no other reason than tomorrow, it’s my fucking birthday.

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. 

 

A slightly sad post on life and the philosophy of happiness

It’s kind of ironic I sit here today writing about happiness when recently, I’ve felt so sad. I’m sad that every day I feel I’m running at a thousand miles per hour just to achieve the tasks assigned to me and feel myself slipping under the tide. I’m sad it’s all had such an effect on my wellbeing – I find myself doing, doing, doing, just to do what’s right and what’s needed – with the side effect of having lost all appetite for weeks, being unable to eat breakfast, not having time for lunch, and eating something quick and full of crap in the evenings if anything at all because I am obsessed with always needing to be doing. Since February, I now find myself at 104 lbs. And I feel it.

I know everyone says you need to take time to nurture yourself if you’re going to have any chance at functioning as an optimal human, but I can’t do it. I know I need to relax. I need nothing more than a good night’s sleep, a few hours and a glass of wine to do some reading or writing, an empty apartment so I can sing my heart out, or an evening free tasks and chores and fretting to just do something I love. Apparently I’ve  started grinding my teeth at night “with such intensity it’s a wonder the teeth didn’t fall out”. I looked it up to see if it had anything to do with the jaw pain I’ve developed lately – it hurts to open my mouth wide, affecting chewing, singing, yawning – minds out of the gutter – but apparently this is something that happens with stress. And it’s affecting some of the things I really love to do. That video I posted last week? I was so excited to try out my new equipment. But it hurt like hell to just get the words out.

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I know, attractive, right? I want my other vampire tooth back!

I’m going to stop whining and being such a bloody sad panda here because I said this was a post about happiness – though it’s more a philosophical one than one relating to my own. Despite this manic busy-ness that I’ve either stumbled into, taken upon myself or had thrown at me (I’m really not sure), I still have time to think. And there’s always so much going on inside my head.

Two happiness-related questions came up in conversations recently:

1. If a person lost their altruism, stopped caring/doing things for others above themselves, and became utterly selfish, would they be happier?

2. Is it better to live in ignorance of a certain knowledge or truth if it means being happier?

I think with both these hypotheticals, there’s a difference between day-to-day happiness and longer term, “ultimate” happiness. There’s also the defining factors of happiness that fit in as well, but I’ll get to that in a bit. If I remember.

The first question really stopped me in my tracks. I know my tendency to always put myself at the bottom of the priority list should be a good thing in a person, but lately it’s become harmful. I can’t take a bath without getting out after five minutes because there’s dishes or ironing to be done. I cancel social obligations and plans with friends if there’s an important deadline at work and I can take an extra few hours in the evening to work on it. But my problem is that I see everything else as a priority. Everything. In the moment, this is causing me harm – I’m becoming more anxious, losing weight, skipping meals, losing sleep, and feeling overwhelmed – because I insist on putting everything above my own wellbeing. But in the end, I’d hate myself if I did anything else. Taking an evening to do nothing but get a takeaway, read a good book, or go to the movies is a foreign concept to me right now because there is so much that needs to be done. I’d feel like I was letting everyone around me down if I took that time to “self-nurture”. For the first few weeks at my job I’d feel guilty going to the lunch room to get a glass of water or some lunch because it might look like I have the time to do it. I’m fully aware this is crazy. Short term? It is. But long term… even if this is wrong (and you can tell that somewhere, I know it is)… I think it makes me happy. Knowing I did everything I possibly could for others gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing. But in the current moment, I’m burning out.

I think back to the question and think of examples of people I’ve encountered who were exactly the opposite. They put themselves first in every situation, took two-hour lunch breaks, charged every fancy meal to the company, and manipulated and bullied others to get them to do what they desired. And they were completely content with living this way. Yes, to many they came across as selfish and arrogant, but day to day, they seemed perfectly happy with their life, because they get what they want.

I spoke to a friend recently who makes an incredible impact on the world. A lot of you will know who this person is and will probably have spoken with this person numerous times. This person is an incredible soul whose life consists of doing enormous things to change people’s lives for the better in the biggest ways possible. This person’s entire life is comprised of efforts of continually making the world a better place. But speaking to this person, there’s a sadness. This person has no time to for self-nurturing, or spend time doing the things they love. But this person keeps doing it anyway, because (and I’m guessing here), of a similar personal value system. Leave the world a better place then when you found it, whether on the smallest scale of doing errands for somebody you love simply so they don’t have to, or by organising global fundraisers to help those in desperate need of help and making headline-breaking news in doing so.

From a study I was reading (a backwards take [does happiness result in selfishness, not vice versa], but still an interesting read:

Does temporary mood influence how fair or selfish we are in interpersonal situations? These three experiments predicted and found that when people have the power to allocate scarce resources between themselves and others in the dictator game, positive mood increased selfishness, and sad mood produced greater fairness. In a public setting (Experiment 1), happy persons kept more raffle tickets to themselves when making allocations, and Experiment 2 confirmed this effect in the laboratory. Experiment 3 showed that mood effects on selfishness were strongest when the external norms for fairness were relaxed. The results are discussed in terms recent affect-cognition theories, suggesting that positive mood recruits more assimilative, internally focused processing, while negative affect promotes more externally oriented, accommodative processing and thus greater concern with social norms. The implications of the findings for everyday interpersonal decisions are considered.

I will always advocate for altruism, maybe at the expense of immediate happiness, but with the hope that ultimately, it will make me happy. I’d feel like a terrible person if I did anything else – even if it does seem that selfish people are generally happier on a day to day basis. I just need to learn to figure out how to fit my own immediate happiness into the equation. (I kind of want to go off on an evolutionary tangent on why altruism is part of our programming in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

As a certain Ms. Keller once put it: “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.” 

2. So, onto the second thought – is it better to be happier in ignorance of truth, or be aware of your entire reality, even if it lessens happiness? I had this debate with a friend last night, and I – now, at this point in my life – am firmly on the side of always being informed. I’ve lived life in the past believing things and keeping myself in the dark because I knew reality would hurt, and I liked believing something I didn’t quite question, but generally made me feel better. Coming to the conclusion that there is no cosmic, divine force or afterlife hurt, but ultimately, it’s made me happier. It’s made me value every minute of every day. Blissful ignorance goes against the value I place on knowledge and education. Again, there’s an element of short-term happiness and long-term in play here – and it comes down to a matter of how much weight you place on what you value. I imagine a scale of knowledge versus happiness existing in the present moment – there are so many things I’m certain I’d be happier not knowing – but if you don’t know about the things that could potentially upset you, then you can’t do anything about them. You can’t grow as a person unless you keep learning and experiencing, and I don’t believe hiding knowledge at the expense of happiness is a good thing.

This discussion came about as a result of informing people about his condition. He’s a very private person, and I think the main reason he didn’t want people to know was because knowing would equal them worrying and being less happy. But if it were you… if someone you loved and cared about hid what life was really like… wouldn’t you want to know, so you could do something – even if that did mean a temporary decrease in overall happiness (purely from the knowledge that someone you care about is suffering)? I thought back to some past relationships, and some of the things I found out after they ended. Yes, they were tough things to learn – and at the time, I felt a fool, I felt stupid, and of course I was unhappy – something I thought was real for a period was most definitely not the whole picture, and it made me sad – but ultimately, the learning experience has led to personal growth, experience, and ultimately, strength… all resulting in my being a more informed, and thus happier, person. Maybe short term pain really does translate into long term gain. As long as your intent is never to actively hurt someone for the sake of hurting them, educating and informing is always worth more in the end. I think.

I’m going to wrap up this philosophical stuff and actually end on a few happy notes. The darkness, after all, defines where the light is, and there haven’t been days without some pretty awesome positives. Firstly of which, I suppose, would be my new car!

After talking with a good friend, who’s actually visited me at my new job, my work location also came into play. I’ve worked in dodgy areas before, and it’s not like I haven’t had hobo snotrockets fly into my actual mouth (welcome, new friends!) as a result – but I’m back out of the corporate world and into another area of downtown that isn’t exactly the most… comfortable, and it’s a ten minute walk from the bus stop. (Okay, there was a pile of poop and some vomit at the corner of the building for three days last week, and the streets are scattered with zombie-like street folk on substances half the time.) She affirmed my necessity of a vehicle – if not just to be able to see people, but to decrease my likelihood of actually getting mugged (or thrown up at) on the way to work.

After one god-awful experience with my first ever dealership, I went somewhere recommended – and it was amazing! No pressure, completely friendly and respectful – it was like going to visit old family friends more than salespeople. After much budgeting and deliberation, it was decided – I was getting the car I literally squealed at when I first drove into the lot. Oh, and it matches my lime green handbag exactly. Hello, Being a Grown Up!

I’ve also re-taken up (there’s a real word for that, I’m sure) an old hobby of mine I always enjoyed: photo shoots. I’ve developed a love for the more creative, conceptual shoots moreso than any other – pictures that go beyond the norm and tell an entire story. I’ve met some amazing people in the process, too, and already have some dates planned for things that evoke more of me… including a neo-goth type runway show sometime later in the year!

shoots

I’m also going to see my favourite band in the whole world next month. Around this time last year, I took a road trip down to Minneapolis to see another excellent, excellent band, and it was the most fun ever. I’ve already seen Mumford and Sons, but it was in a tiny venue before they’d even released Sigh No More in North America. The electric feeling of absolute eagerness and anticipation was indescribable – those couple of hundred people, if that, all gathered in one place to experience something magical together. Passion is always best when shared with fellow enthusiasts, and this time there’s going to be thousands of them. On top, I discovered I had enough travel points accumulated through my Visa that I scored as three nights in an extra-fancy hotel, minutes from the stadium, for absolutely nothing. And this time, it’s domestic – meaning we can take his medication. Last year was a risk. This year – as with anything, really, may still be a risk, but that reassuring factor at least is there. It’s going to be one of those life-changing, soul-stirring, breathtaking experiences I’ll never forget, and I’m excited beyond words.

mumford

And lastly, I can’t go without addressing the generosity of friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers. I wanted to do something big for The Professor as a result of our recent situation – a fundraiser of some sort, but he was having none of it. “There are people who need help much more than I do, and if I can make it work on my own, then shouldn’t they be the ones to receive it?” Boys. I understand the pride component. I’m generally horribly awkward when it comes to even borrowing money from people, and I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have an entire group of people just giving it to you – I wouldn’t know how to thank them, and I’d feel, probably, a certain degree of embarrassment – so I understand where he’s coming from. But at the same time, I couldn’t do nothing. So I signed up for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Spring Sprint, with the intention of power-walking my way across 2.5k (really, can you imagine me running?) one day in June and maybe getting a little financial support along the way to go toward the charity. It’s kind of exploded – and I now have a team of fellow runners, and we’re sitting at almost $1,000 thanks to the incredible generosity of some of those we’re lucky to have in our lives – and from people who read the story and spread the word in their communities, retweeted, etc. and felt compelled to help. I do wish the fundraiser was going to have a direct impact on him, to get him the medication and to allow him to come home – but knowing that in this way, I’m kind of honouring his wishes, and that in some way, maybe the funds raised will go toward the kind of research and programs that will help people like him – and those others affected by this monster of a disease.

sprint

To read the story of why I’m doing this, to join our team, or simply to make a small donation, please click here. Anyone who helps in any way at all is an absolute rock star.

So yeah. Sadness… happiness… philosophy… life. Forgive the stream of consciousness.

“There’s always going to be bad stuff out there. But here’s the amazing thing — light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can’t stick the dark into the light.” – Jodi Picoult

Of typewriters and tear-stained tempests

I just got home from a seriously crap day involving some potential bad news, some actual bad news, and a subsequent thirty-minute crying fit in the work toilets. Not high levels of win. But on the bus, I found my thoughts drifting from feeling sorry for myself to writing, to two massive things in my life right now, and I found myself mentally drafting a post about it. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook around with me everywhere lately – I pack it in my bag along with my lunch, several books, and USB chips in the morning, keep it beside my computer at work to jot down ideas and flashes of what I hope to be inspiration, hauling it home at the end of the day and keeping it beside my bed in case I wake up with an idea in the night. It’s a habit I’m enjoying immensely, and it kind of makes me feel like a little bit more of a Real Writer. Note: I wasn’t using it because I was trying to hold a pile of letters, a laptop bag and a bottle of port as well as the handrail, and the remaining energy that wasn’t being spent coming up with this post was being used on Not Falling Over.

That’s one of the things that’s been a big thing lately, as I think I may have mentioned before my giant hiatus from blogging. Writing. I can honestly say I’ve never felt so passionate or engaged about it in my entire life.  I used to blog often because I had things to say, and I enjoyed compiling an ongoing archive of the way my life and thoughts took shape over the years. But it was completely different from what I wanted to be writing.  It’s always been my biggest dream to write fiction, but though I think I can describe atmosphere and scenes and stuff pretty well, I’ve always sucked at plotting and dialogue – you know, the things that make any story an actual story. If it were up to me, I’d describe creepy old rooms and echoing hallways and buildings that cast looming great black shadows until the proverbial cows came home. (Likely from the library, where they’d gone in exasperation to find anything with some sort of action.) I also learned in writing classes that if you wanted to be a Real Writer, you had to also be a public speaker. Not only did you have to be able to include conversations and actual people in your stories, you had to be charming and charismatic and engaging, and able to read your stuff in public without breaking down in tears or throwing up afterward. So for years, it remained a dream. One of those things people put on bucket lists that they really like the idea of actually happening, but deep down know it’s probably about as likely as life-sized, strawberry-filled, Nicki Minaj-shaped chocolate zombie victims hitting the shelves next Halloween. (Just me?)

But then it happened. I got an idea! And I think it’s a really good one! And to be working on something I’ve always wanted to do, with a real premise… to conjure up characters and and give them all their very own back stories… to have them consume my thoughts throughout every day, to book off days from work just to have time to devote to giving them life, to be able to share a secret notebook of stories and ideas and to be able to create something, finally? It’s quite possibly the best thing ever. It’s killing me not to be able to talk about the actual premise, or show you any of my fiction writing, which is very different from something I just throw together without reviewing and splurt out onto the internet, but I’m bursting with excitement to be taking this on. Every day, I find myself rushing home from work to pour the ideas from inside my head out onto the page, or to do further research on the topic, setting, and history. I’m sure it’ll be at least a year or two until it’s fully complete, but until then, I’m loving every minute of it.

But it hasn’t been without its struggles. I know every writer’s process is different, and, so I’m told, mine is very much like a certain Mr. Vonnegut – I write meticulously, taking an hour to form two sentences and refusing to continue the next page until the current one is perfect. This defies a lot of advice on writing – I’m told at every roadblock to just keep writing, even if it’s shit. That that’s what editing is for. But in perfecting it, you set yourself up for future hardship when something you spent hours on has to be hacked up and reworked to fit someone else’s mould. I know perfectionism is a disease. Heck, a couple of years ago I wrote a thousand words in a blog post on the very subject, and genuinely believed myself to be convinced it was true. But here I am, still unable to shake the habit. Today’s meltdown at work was a result of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of myself. Every time I hear the word “feedback” after I’ve shown somebody a rough draft of something, I find myself tensing up, bracing myself for criticism, ready for a crushing blow of imaginary proportions. If I slip into an old habit I’ve worked hard to eradicate, or make a mistake at work, the thought of being seen as weak, wrong, stupid or, I suppose, less than ideal, is absolutely crippling. I work myself into a frenzy, beating myself up for not being perfect when nobody in the world expects me to be. It’s something I’m tackling in the anxiety program, and I know awareness is the key to changing bad habits, but my god, it’s difficult.

I think one of the reasons I want to write so desperately because I see a heck of a lot of crap out there that somebody’s decided to immortalise in print, and I know I can do better. Kind of analogous to being a decent person in general (I see why this mental post was drafted whilst on Winnipeg’s public transit system) – you see a heck of a lot of shit being put into the world, and you feel almost an obligation to put something awesome out there instead. The tough part is getting out of your own way. If I’m going to be a proper writer, it’s great to have an idea, characters, and plot points – but I need to be open to what’s inevitable. Edits upon edits, well-intentioned criticisms, processes that may be outside my comfort zone… all things that will help the end product be the best it can be. I just need to learn to stop being such a perfectionist, admit that things may be utter crap the first time around, and apply that principle to life in general. Learn to be okay with just being okay sometimes.  And stop beating myself up for not being perfect first time.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there had been two big things in my life as of late, the first of which happened to be writing. The second is related, but kind of on the other end of the spectrum, and is something that’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Oversensitivity. Notably, crying. I cry all the time. Before shit hit the fan at the end of last year, I cried because I let myself worry about everything. I let my thoughts spiral into imagined scenarios in the future that seemed absolutely inevitable as a result of the past. I worried about spending an evening at home alone without plans because that must make me a socially inept loser that nobody wants to hang out with. I worried that I wasn’t witty or confident enough, that I wasn’t attractive enough, and that my giant emotions about everything would push people away – which they did, which led me back to worry #2. It was a self-perpetuating cycle I couldn’t escape, and I was the only one administering my own entrapment.  Then things reached their climax, and I started to get my act together. I tried not to be so reliant on others for reassurance. Learned to see evenings solo as a chance to do things I loved, and not sentences to be served in isolation while the world continued on without me. Learned to see periods of non-contact as simply being busy, or sleeping, or being in class or with people – nothing to worry about; and actually do the same myself. But I still cry. I cry not because I worry about the worst, but mostly because I can’t believe the best is actually happening. My biggest dream of being a writer is coming true. My longest desire to feel confident and funny and smart has materialised, and I’ve found myself with the self-confidence to do things I’ve always wanted to. I’ll be mid-conversation and just start breaking down in tears simply because my dreams are becoming reality. But ever so often, I cry for the wrong reasons. I catch my thoughts spiraling into worry again, and I start sobbing. What is this all disappears? What if my job gets cut, or my Dad moves away, or people still see me as the person I used to be? I know all of those things are beyond my control, but there’s something terrifying about life finally becoming what you wanted it to be, and the very real possibility that something may happen to take it away.

via Hyperbole and a Half

It’s not like it’s a new thing. Anyone who’s ever met me for more than a day will attest to the fact that I am probably the most sensitive and weepy person they’ve ever met. But the thing is, I don’t want to be seen as a wuss. I know I’m bloody strong, I just think I feel things with a hell of a lot more impact than perhaps is normal. I’ve written before about the emotional spectrum, about how keeping yourself from expressing how you really feel can suck away the full potential of joy. Yes, I firmly believe that it’s better to be incredibly happy for a short time than just to be okay for your whole life. But the danger in handing yourself over to the full range of human emotion is that you put yourself at risk of turning from master to puppet, to be taken hostage by them and rendered powerless to do anything about them once they take over.  This week I’ve found that happening, and it’s a scary place to be.

Before I started seeing a counsellor and going to the anxiety program, I didn’t have the tools to recognize my thought patterns and subsequent crying fits as unhealthy or detrimental. I believed them to be perfectly logical and rational behaviours. Now, I can see my tendencies, process them, and stop them before they take over the world around me – and I’ve been doing infinitely better. Life has been infinitely better. I don’t worry so much, I don’t react to every little thing like the world is imploding, and I’m happy 99% of the time. But twice this week, I found myself absolutely paralysed – able to see what I was doing as illogical and irrational, but physically unable to stop sobbing and being sad. Now, this may very well be an unusually extreme case of PMS induced by a day without eating, my back being worse than usual, and not having had any coffee that day, in which case I think we can forgive the slip up. But I found myself sitting in a toilet cubicle, giving myself a pep talk about how there was no reason to be sad, failing, and unable to stop sobbing.  An interesting thing I’m learning in the anxiety program is that other people have this problem too, and I’m not going to discount the idea of me simply being, as Psychology Today so wonderfully brought to my attention, a Highly Sensitive Person. Please read it. When I read psychiatrist Judith Orloff’s words – “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10,” I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone, and it may actually have something to do with biology and science as to why I am this way. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. I don’t like being in constant fear of criticism or rejection, and I don’t like bursting into tears if I haven’t heard from my boyfriend for a few hours and I’m worrying he’s lying somewhere unconscious. I don’t like overanalyzing and reading into things that aren’t there, and I don’t like catastrophising every little event in a day. I love that my sensitivity allows me to be incredibly in tune with others’ emotions, or that I read a piece of beautiful prose or hear a great song and want to jump up and down because somebody’s just been an awesome human being. I love being overly enthusiastic about things like simple existence and celebrating creativity and taking the time to see small beauties of nature and spend two hours in the cold photographing them because nature is just so stunning. I love that there may very well be a biological explanation for being extremely sensitive, and I love that just because I cry a lot doesn’t have to mean I’m a giant baby – it just means I feel things more extremely. But I don’t like being a slave to its tendency to send me crashing down faster than an IQ after an episode of the Kardashians.

So what do I do? How do I manage the lows healthily and still exude enthusiasm and passion and soak up excitement from the highs? I tried reading other people’s (hilarious) stories of being sad for no reason. I tried taking my very good and well-intentioned friend’s advice and “manning the fuck up.” I tried giving myself pep talks. The counseling and reading and stuff is definitely helping, but I want to just develop the capability to not be a sobbing mess every time something bad enters my head – or something beyond wonderful happens because I’m terrified of losing it.

Anyway. I realize I’ve just rambled on for a good six pages, and I don’t know if I have anyone left reading. If I do, hi! This is more just a state of where things are right now that’ll go into a scrapbook at the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong – things have been on the up and up for the last three months, and I’ve been doing much better than I used to be. I just know if I could get this under control, I could be even better – for myself and the poor souls around me. But things are brilliant. Writing is brilliant. I’m excited, and being creative, and learning and sharing, and doing something I’ve always wanted to. I even got myself a set of snazzy business cards to go along with the tattoo I got to inspire me to keep writing. And despite the crappy outset of today, I arrived home to it all turning around. A new issue of Psychology Today in my mail box. Finally, FINALLY, a copy of the Dry the River album – the record I haven’t been so excited about since I first heard Mumford and Sons two years before theirs finally hit the shelves. An evening of cancelled plans opening up a good four hours to spend fuelling and feeding my latest character. A snuggly kitten, an already clean apartment, a glass of port, and a desk covered in deliciously creepy warped candles.

I think that somewhere in all of this, there’s probably some sort of lesson in patience.

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 world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, and after eight hours of tossing and turning, waking from strange, sporadic dreams every hour or two (one involving dating someone who wore salad for a beard, and getting upset with my parents for judging him on his choice of facial hair), I think I might be having a Writer’s Moment. A few minutes ago I was tucked away with a happy cat in my arms and an electric blanket warming my toes. Snug, but getting rather tired of focusing exercises designed to slow your thoughts and will you to sleep after every attempt resulted in nothing but more consciousness. So I found myself starting to form sentences in my head instead. I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me. Is the inside of anyone else’s head so busy, so full of an endless rapid fire of thought after thought, feeling after feeling? I’m okay with being a deep thinker, but sometimes (usually around three o’clock in the morning), I yearn to be able to shut off the relentless stream of consciousness.  Especially when said stream is composed of a rather irritating mathematics problem I’d heard earlier that day, which barged its way into my head, grabbed hold of every scrap of drowsiness, and proceeded to promptly punch each one out before putting its feet up, lighting a cigarette, and cranking the stereo. (Sidenote: thank heavens I have someone I can call at 1:30 in the morning to solve it for me. Hopefully I still will at the time of broadcast.)  This morning was another restless one, and I found my thoughts wandering to where I was this time a year ago. I gave up on the idea of a lie-in and decided to write about them instead. This time a year ago, it was the night before my wedding, and I was sitting on my bed in tears with my husband-to-be, torn between calling the whole thing off and trying to convince ourselves we could make something so very wrong work.

A year ago, I was writing the following words. It’s hard not to see the signs from every direction pointing out the enormous mistake I’d be making:

It all started last Thursday night with the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to have everyone have a quick run through at the church,  head out to a restaurant that’s usually one of my favourites, then head home for our last night as Mr. and Miss. And words cannot begin to describe how polarly opposite the evening went. The rehearsal itself was fine until the very end, as everyone was departing, when something very dramatic, very unpleasant, very… conniving, and very unexpected happened. It wasn’t the best way to head off to a dinner that was supposed to be a celebration, but we got there, met our friends and family, and ordered what looked to be a fantastic meal. Until the table became a battleground. And we were told they had no beef. Or wine. And it arrived over an hour late. One meal missing. And they refused to give us a discount. And then it broke into a rave. It was kind of beyond ridiculous… but after talking with some married friends, I found myself slightly reassured when I was told “I don’t think there is such a thing as a smooth rehearsal dinner”.

I then arrived home and thought I’d do one last Facebook/Twitter check before logging off for the weekend… when I was met with one of the most horrible things you could imagine two nights before the day you get married. An anonymous comment on my blog, held for moderation, on the post immediately following the one about Internet Trolls and the exceptional cowardice it shows when someone takes the time to invest in attempts at sabotage, and doesn’t have the balls to attach their own name. But since this person’s contact information was limited to “pseudonym@dontpostthis.com”, I have no choice but to respond to it here.

“I wonder if you really should be getting married. You seem so ready to emerge as who you fully are. It seems to me that you could be traveling around the world, doing great and amzing things, playing the field, flirting with all sorts of things.  If your married, day-after-day you’ll wake up with nothing to take you beyond yourself and your husband can only challenge you so much. Really, as exciting as it sounds, how is a theater production going to make you a better person in the grand scheme?

Maybe its just that we’ve all watched you grow so much in the last little while that it seems foolish now to throw all the opportunities that life has to offer to settle with one person in a cold city that really has nothing to offer. When your husband comes home after a long day of work, won’t that bother you that hes content living in a city with his family and you’re so far away from the amazing things you could be doing elsewhere?

When you say, “I do” it may be like your a princess but the very next day it’s just routine and a drag. You can’t be happy with that. I think that married life is going to stop you from growing into the person you’re becomming and I think you know that. You’re going to be stuck and I think you’ll grow to resent the fact that your husband is keeping you down. Well, its not him but its married life. You could be hanging out with so many interesting people, going interesting places. Instead you work (I presume) only 9 to 5 and write about music and doing drama. Already your relationship has limited you.

Sorry Emily but I had to say it. I fear this marriage might just put you in a rut. Every day, the same person… the same place… the same routine. That’s not the emily I know.”

To this day, the author’s identity remains unknown, but it’s interesting to see that despite everything around me telling me to turn around and run, I still went ahead with it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s something unsettling about having gone ahead with something when logic had been flashing neon BAD IDEA signs at every turn. I know there are thousands of people who make the same decision I did – who defy logic and instinct and get swept away in the pressure of having spent a great deal of time and money investing in something, in the fear of judgment, and in the idea that maybe true, fairytale, soul mate love really does only exist in stories and films, that nobody’s perfect, and that maybe this is as good as it gets. It’s unsettling to look back and see how I prioritised what was comfortable, despite knowing that what I longed for was so much more. How many people, I wonder, unwittingly spell their own life sentence of settling for something just because what’s comfortable is an easier option than the risk of never finding what they truly desire?

I had a conversation with The Professor recently, about our past relationships and how we’d both been subject to criticism for some of the decisions we’d made. In my early twenties, likely tying in to a bit of self-esteem issues, I went from relationship to relationship, not spending much time alone because being alone was scary, all the while knowing deep down inside that every one was wrong – that somewhere, I was always wishing for something more. Not the healthiest of way to spend a few years, but then again, perhaps going through the so very wrong allowed me to truly recognize what was actually right and acceptable. Perhaps if things had been too comfortable, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to get out, and the opportunity to meet the someone I was more suited to would have sailed past into the sunset, and I never would’ve known otherwise. Contrarily, he’d spent the same years doing quite the opposite – avoiding relationships like the plague because they never met the hope of what true love should be, spending years in solitude and breaking off potential connections soon after they’d begun because that nudging feeling of knowing they weren’t it was ever-present. It’s funny, the way people spend those first few years of adulthood, and how attitudes to relationships are formed, shaped, altered and evolved, and I don’t really know what it means, but I don’t suppose it really matters, because each path led to the here and now.

I just realized this post isn’t going to end up being big on coherence, but since I’ve been a tad absent over the last few months, I felt a strong urge to write one last post before the year was out. A few noteworthy incidents have taken place recently – my job for one has turned out to be an absolute dream, and I can genuinely say I’d be happy to spend seven days a week there! I’m up on the fourteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (I think), and I arrive each morning to a view of downtown stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun illuminating an expanse of morning cloud cover in bright pinks and oranges, and spend my last hour of the day watching it retire as the lights of the city below slowly come out like stars. I work with a brilliant group of people who seem to accept, like, and even encourage me to be my nerdy self, and I’m somehow seen as the extrovert of the office. It’s become a safe environment for me to be exactly who I want to be, and I absolutely love it.

Six months past deadline, I finally checked off the hardest thing on my 26 Before 26 list – learning to drive. I’d written about it this summer after driving out of the city for the first time, spent looking at the biggest, most glittering night sky I’d ever seen, and the sense of accomplishment outweighed the fear I’d had for so very long. But then winter came, and dropped a whole pile of snow and entirely foreign driving conditions on top of me – three days before my road test. I panicked, but did kind of okay – took the test, parallel parked perfectly, and promptly failed – I got five points too many, for not knowing how to turn the windscreen wipers off. I was really disappointed and cried like an absolute child for a good half hour – I’d never failed anything in my life, and when you pride yourself on overachieving, it feels like the end of the world – but I made my second appointment, and will be trying again right before New Year’s Eve. Fingers crossed I don’t bugger it up this time – although getting into a giant car crash and totalling my boyfriend’s car last week isn’t exactly the smooth sailing I was hoping for. I was driving down a main street on the way to the last of the Christmas shopping when out of nowhere, somebody ran straight through a stop sign to our right and pulled out immediately in front of us. The road was icy, there was less than a second to impact, yet it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see it coming, I could see there was nowhere to go, and we ploughed straight into the side of the other vehicle in front. The airbags immediately went off – and those are not the soft, cushiony things you’re led to believe will save you from rocketing headfirst out of the window – they’re a sudden, very solid punch in the face, and they emit some kind of smokey gas which absolutely suffocated me. I couldn’t breathe, and the door was jammed, so I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I looked to my right and saw my love with blood all over his face from the smashed passenger window. I kept saying I couldn’t breathe and scrambling to get out of the car, the door not opening… when the other driver opened it for me from the outside. Apparently The Professor had been trying to help me get out of his side, which I don’t remember, and apparently I’d had the car in park and my foot pressing wildly hard on the accelerator while I struggled to get out… which I also don’t remember. I just remember panic, shards of glass flying into the car slowly as it filled with smoke, and ending up in tears in a fire truck next to my poor boyfriend, whose nose had bled all down his face and onto his coat and hoodie, unable to stop shaking. The funny thing was I knew the other driver – a rich older gentleman I’d done some design work for a few years ago – who gave me an enormous hug and apologized profusely. We exchanged details, and my dear in-laws came to pick us up and take us for something to eat. I felt terrible I’d completely wrecked somebody else’s car – a really great car, too – but was thankful it wasn’t so much worse.  It hasn’t done wonders for my road confidence, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to get back behind the wheel – and hopefully we’ll be mobile again within a couple of weeks.

Oh, another noteworthy event – my tattoo! I got a beautiful old quill pen on my inner forearm a few weeks ago – an eternal reminder of my love for the written word, and to draw me to the activity I love more than anything in the world. I also spent four hours getting black out of my hair for good and going a bold red I really love. I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to carry it off. 🙂

Outside of work and big scary accidents, I really should write about something that’s been quite a prominent feature of my life over the last month or so. I guess it could fall under the category of “general health and wellbeing” – very much so, for reasons a handful of you know, regarding The Professor, but also in terms of really dealing with my anxiety. I think a number of factors contributed to it getting to a breaking point. The thoroughly traumatic dissolution of my marriage, the subsequent moving home, the new job… the letting go of everything that had become comfortable, and immediately focusing on forward movement rather than allowing myself time to heal properly was definitely a factor – and I’m at a point where I’m reframing how I deal with the world; retraining myself and rewriting my attitude to life in general. I’d always felt so strongly that life was short and no moment should be wasted, and only recently am I learning that an attitude I felt so positive actually caused a lot of harm in the long term. By not allowing myself time to deal with what happened and diving straight into creating a new future, the damage was never given the opportunity to be resolved in a healthy way. It began to affect everything around me: I spent every day in a state of constant worry, and subconsciously allowed the fear of history repeating itself to manifest and weasel its way into everything I did. I started getting upset for no reason at all in the real world, seeing tiny, insignificant things as the catalyst for what happened happening all over again, and reacted accordingly. I became an insane person. I’d get into fits of tears and despair over trivial things; I’d take out my worries on those I loved as if they were actually doing the very thing I feared most; I’d worry about being fired for not learning quickly enough at work and was shocked to receive a glowing review from my coworkers and bosses about how I’d done the opposite. “Not wasting time” and focusing so strongly on shaping the future right now prevented me from dealing with things healthily. It came out in disagreements, too – I’d want to move on immediately, when what was needed was some time to cool down, and my insistence on “making the most of the time we have” was the very thing that exacerbated everything. So for the last few weeks, I’ve called that into question. I think my tendency toward impatience definitely plays a part too. I started seeing a counsellor who’s helped me recognise the destructive thought patterns that had begun to take over, and provided me with tools and techniques to catch myself in my tracks, break bad habits, and make healthier choices.  I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks, recognised my habits, and been able to react differently – and life has been so much easier. No longer am I consumed by worry, or desperate for reassurance. No longer do I fear being physically alone in my own company – something that had for a long time been a territory of fear and overthinking things, a place to allow my thoughts and worries to take over reality and lead to panic. I’m learning slowly to break the compulsions that almost destroyed everything, and for the first time, I feel genuine. All the endeavors at conquering my anxiety up until now definitely helped me in a way, but those unhealthy thought patterns were never properly addressed. I was building a house before laying the foundations – it’s no wonder everything came crashing down. So I’m starting again. I’m not just focusing on actions lining up with the person I want to be, but thoughts, too – that’s the hard part, but the important part. And at the end of the day, they’re just a habit. And habits can be broken, and new ones can very much be made.

So it’s a few days before Christmas, and after an eventful year, I have a feeling that things paved the way for what’s going to be the best one yet. I’m in a place where everything is clearer – the past, present and future are written in a language I finally understand perfectly, and 2012 is looking brighter than ever. I’m heading into it with more certainty, knowledge, and tools than I think I’ve ever had, and I think those are going to lead to more happiness, confidence, deeper connections, less worry, and a better person for people to be around. I’m not proud of how badly I slipped up, but what are mistakes if we can’t learn giant life lessons from them? The darkness does, after all, define where the light is. I’m looking forward to a holiday filled with real friendship, genuine happiness over obligation, seeing the looks on people’s faces when they open presents I have a sneaky feeling are rather awesome, the Doctor Who Christmas special – and course a good old EastEnders massacre. I’m looking forward to a year where every thought, feeling and event of every day shines a little brighter. I’m looking forward to more tattoos (thank you Frank Turner for the endless inspiration), more risks, more meteor showers, more writing, brilliant music, more laughter, more growth, and life truly, finally, being exactly what it was supposed to be.

Happiest of Christmases to you, and I apologise wholeheartedly for the lengthy ramble. I just felt I ought to note a bit of life as it is here and now before heading into the new year. 🙂 I hope 2012 is everything you hope and dream for. I started this post quoting my favourite author, and I think he’s pretty good for wrapping it up, too:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

The Butterfly Effect

 “Wisdom comes from experience.
Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”

– Terry Pratchett

Contrary to popular belief, I’m twenty-six years old. (I’m really hoping for some sort of prize if I still get asked for ID a decade after turning eighteen.) I’m at That Age where everyone around me seems to be busy Being Grown Ups and doing all the things my teenage self thought I’d probably be doing now too. Friends are earning degrees, planning weddings, welcoming babies, climbing the corporate ladder, celebrating anniversaries, buying cars and houses, and all the while I’m reminded that the clock is ticking, thirty is just around the corner, and my life is far from what I thought it would be.  I think we all have ideas of what our lives will look like when we’re younger, largely based on the patterns of those around us (my parents met each other at sixteen, married at twenty and had me two years later – and for most of my high school years, I thought this was probably going to be my life course too! Prime opportunity to make use of the word “crikey”?), added to interests, goals, hopes and dreams… but how many of us actually end up living out the life we imagined we would?

By my mid-twenties, I definitely thought I’d have graduated university. I thought I’d have been married a few years, maybe with a kid on the way around this age, and I thought I’d be living in my own house. Not a big house, mind – I envisioned a little bungalow somewhere with hardwood floors, walls I’d painted turquoise and sage green, and a garden I’d somehow enjoy tending. I definitely thought I’d be able to drive, and though I was passionate about pursuing psychology, I was told I’d never find a job in it, so I imagined I’d be using my finished university degree in driving to work every day to my job as an English teacher, which would be unaffected by any sort of social anxiety, and which I would love. I imagined the only debt I had being the mortgage on my house, and I imagined planning trips every year to faraway places. I imagined having taken a year off in my early twenties to launch myself across the Atlantic and explore India or Australia, and I think I always imagined I’d be living back in Europe. I imagined getting home from work by 4:30 and having an hour or two to catch up on housework, prepare actual meals from actual recipe books (and actually enjoy cooking), and sit down at my dark cherry mahogany dining suite with my family, a glass of wine in hand and classical music floating in from the living room. I imagined spending the rest of the evening in a nicely decorated study, catching up on marking, and I imagined going to bed by 10:00 with enough time to read every night.

How frightfully grown-up my illusory mid-twenties were going to be. And how frightfully boring

I ended up moving out at eighteen with someone I was dating at the time, and when that fell apart, moved straight back to my parents’ basement for three weeks before finding the first of a series of flatmates that ended up being… let’s say… interesting characters. I moved five times in seven years, cohabitating with people who didn’t realise the expenses of living alone (and moving straight back home after a few months), didn’t own plates or cutlery (and insisted on stockpiling all mine in their bedrooms for weeks at a time in what I can only imagine were endeavours at breaking some sort of horrible Guinness record), and stole movies and CDs. People who took monthly phone and Internet cheques from me, deposited them in their bank account, had us disconnected, and then broke my bedroom door in an effort to burgle their way in to use my computer. I ended up dating a series of bad people who left my self esteem in tatters, and ended up agreeing to marry multiple times because I thought that’s just what people did – that life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and we just go through the motions. I never imagined for a second that soulmates and fairytale love existed in the real world and ended up settling for what I thought I was worth, getting myself thousands of dollars in debt, emotionally and physically abused, and picking up pieces repeatedly as a result of my own inability to believe I was worth any more. I dropped out of university two years in because I couldn’t afford to keep going and live on my own, and because my dream of teaching English didn’t line up with the anxiety disorder I’d developed (and subsequent incapability of speaking in public). I lived in a series of apartments, I went through a series of groups of friends, and I drifted for years, just floating along through life, never taking any risks, always settling for less, never truly fitting in and never truly comfortable with who I was. No direction, no assets, and definitely nowhere near the picture I’d drawn of what life was going to be. But you know what? Being where I am now, I genuinely couldn’t be more thankful that things happened the way they did.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
– Helen Keller

So I didn’t finish university – it doesn’t mean I’m not clever. I know I kept up an excellent GPA, and I know I still spend much of my free time reading and learning more about science, psychology, language and the world around me. Textbook clever, I think, is just as valid as real-world clever. So I’m still thoroughly undomesticated – I still hate cooking and would rather do six loads of laundry one Saturday afternoon a month than keep up with it weekly, but I keep things clean, and I spend my time on other, more interesting things, like writing or sci-fi nights with friends. I know the person I am today is a result of having been through complete and utter crap – and it’s not easy, but I fully admit I was the only one who allowed that crap to happen. That’s why I’m so determined today to stand up for myself, stand up for what I believe to be right, stand up for others who’re taken advantage of or can’t see their potential, and stand up for my own self worth. If life had been easy, if I hadn’t wanted for things so desperately, I would never have had any reason to push myself out of my comfort zone. If things had fallen into my lap, I could have been living the life I imagined, thoroughly sheltered from real world experience, thoroughly limited in my outlook on life, and thoroughly bored. As one of my favourite musicians once said, “darkness defines where the light is”, and I firmly believe that things are so much more meaningful, and so very much more appreciated when you’ve had to work to get them. If things had been easy, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have challenged myself, I wouldn’t have attempted things I wanted to be able to do, I wouldn’t have met half the amazing people I have in my life today, and I would never have experienced soul-stirring, life-changing, epic, fairytale love I thought only existed in fiction. I wouldn’t have learned to prioritize making a difference over making money, and I wouldn’t have learned how incredibly much there is in this life to learn, to attempt, to soak up, to throw yourself into and to experience with every fibre of your being. I wouldn’t have felt the need to tell those I love just how much they mean, I would have taken things for granted, and I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lesson of acceptance. I wouldn’t have stories or battle scars, and I wouldn’t be fuelled by such insatiable passion for making the most of the time we have.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I know he hates it when I cry – he is completely undone by the sight of tears – so I blink hard against the sting. “I’m thinking how thankful I am for everything,” I say, “even the bad stuff. Every sleepless night, every second of being lonely, every time the car broke down, every wad of gum on my shoe, every late bill and losing lottery ticket and bruise and broken dish and piece of burnt toast.”

His voice is soft. “Why, darling?”

“Because it all led me here to you.”
– Lisa Kleypas

Life may be far from what I imagined, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. There’s something about catching or missing a trainbumping into someone instead of passing them by, the wrong person getting their hands on an ordinary sports almanac, or preventing the wrong medication being given that may help illustrate my point – I do think there’s something thoroughly fascinating about the whole butterfly effect. I may not have a degree, a family, a house or a car, but I reckon I’ve got life experience by the bucketload. In the past, at times, things have definitely felt confusing and downright catastrophic. But they all led me to the here and now. They made me stronger, more aware, and more passionate. More grateful and more determined. They led me to true friends, true love, and true appreciation of what’s really important in life. My timeline may be off, and I may have taken a few wrong turns. But at the end of it, it was a terribly big adventure, and from where I’m sitting now as a result of the course things took, I wouldn’t wish for things to have been different at all.

Now, somebody stop me before I embarrass myself terribly and start quoting Rascal Flatts. 🙂 How about you? How do you feel about the darker times in your past? And did your life turn out the way you’d imagined it would? 

What matters most must never be at the mercy of what matters least.

It’s been just over a month since I made the move to living solo, and life since has been quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There have been a lot of adjustments, and not all of them have come easily (especially learning to budget! Seriously, send help), but the biggest change I’ve noticed is that of my own mentality. I don’t know if it’s a result of my new quarters, my new neighbourhood, or the people I’ve been spending my time with, but my heart and mind have been fuelled with a renewed energy that has given rise to a sense of passion, priority and direction. I’m riding on the momentum and I’m happy to report that train shows no sign of stopping any time soon. 🙂 But, in a similar spirit to that of my recent move, in order to make room for the new and exciting, one must first declutter and dispose of the old and useless. 

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching Countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully dishevelled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job. How do people cram them in?”
– About a Boy

I think it ties into what seems to have become the most significant of the five goals I put in place for this year: not wasting a moment of the time I have been given. You hear all the time that at the end of their lives, more than anything, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do. The words they didn’t say, the risks they didn’t take, and the time they didn’t spend investing in something lasting and meaningful. I’ve found that by attempting to constantly remind myself of the big picture, it’s helped me become more mindful of the present-moment choices I’m making, and really prioritise my time. I remember last year writing a post about how I didn’t understand how people made time for work, exercise, keeping on top of chores, writing, reading, Facebooking, or socialising. But if you work on making it a habit to ask yourself if something truly holds the weight in the grand scheme of things you may feel it does right now, you can weed out the wasteful, and focus on the meaningful.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like the world’s pace seems to be moving faster with every passing day. (Yes, I realise that with that statement comes the risk of publicly channelling my inner old fart.) I think it has much to do with technology:  we’re so used to so much information being instantaneous that we’ve inadvertently constructed the mass illusion that we don’t have as much time as we used to, and that the world is more fast-paced and demanding that ever. Add to the fact that the majority of human contact has experienced a paradigm shift from dinner parties and coffee dates to texts, blogs and e-mails, and we add a sense of isolation to the mix: we feel anxious about all the things we have to do, and we feel we have to do it all alone. Yet our actions are in direct conflict with actually doing anything about it: we spend hours checking status updates, creeping photographs and reading online tabloids about gossip and scandal, and then have the nerve to say we don’t have enough time for the things we need to do! It can be easily addressed when boiled down to a simple idea: if you don’t like something, change it.

A friend of mine recently called people out on it. She’s a giant bookworm, and someone had made a remark about not understanding how she could possibly get through so many novels in a month, irritatingly exclaiming that they wished they had the time to indulge in reading. The thing is, we all have the exact same amount of time – we just choose to spend it differently. Becoming aware of wasteful habits allows us to make different choices, eliminate what’s ultimately meaningless, and spend our time on things that really are important. I like to think this can be applied not just to activities, but on people too – when having an argument, for instance, taking a second to remind yourself that your immediate anger and frustration with someone is probably outweighed in the big picture by how much you care about them. Just ask yourself: if today was your last day on earth, would you want to spend it on something that’s really a waste of time? Would you choose to fight with someone, or enjoy just being with each other? Would you choose to surf the Internet, or do something you’ve always wanted to do? I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to be okay with having dishes unwashed overnight, or laundry not done one weekend. Life’s too short sometimes to get caught up in the obligations to the mundane, and a messy room once in a while can be indicative of time better spent actually living. 🙂

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
– Goethe

It shouldn’t have to take getting to your final breaths to realise what matters. We can all be proactive right now. Recognise the faux significance of the immediate and ephemeral. And with people, words, and actions, make a choice to prioritise what’s really important.

So in that spirit, I’ve been doing a bit of an evaluation on my habits. I mentioned earlier that lately, I’ve felt a new sense of passion, energy and direction, and the amazing thing is that I can start reorganizing my life this very moment. One thing I’m guilty of is spending too much time online. Sometimes it’s spent well – keeping in touch with friends elsewhere on the globe, or reading articles on psychology or science I’d still consider productive. But no matter how compelling, reading blogs about people I have no connection to, streaming episodes of Britain’s Next Top Model or The Bachelorette (what? It’s a fascinating study in social neurosis!) or catching up on the latest in the life of Cheryl Cole are not indicative of time well spent. And if this was my last day on earth, these things wouldn’t even be on the list. So I’m determined to start shaping a life I hope will allow me to avoid later regret. Dive into those things I’m drawn to, keep tackling those fears, retrain myself to stop wasting mental energy on worry and insecurity, and peel those ideas, dreams and “one days” from the walls of my mind and thrust them into the real world. Stop wishing, stop wasting, and start living with intent. There are so many things I want to do, and as Mr. Obama recently said, it shouldn’t take the risk of catastrophe to get people to do the right thing. The right thing is making the most of every moment we’re given, choosing the eternal over the evanescent, and learning how to spend our time, thought and energy wisely. The road I’ve been on may have become drained and routine, but the path ahead is glittering. I can’t wait to dive straight in to new ventures, lifestyle changes, and creative ideas over the next little while. I’ve been guilty of saying I don’t have time for this and that for too long. Of course I do. I just have to make room. This may mean less frequent stops in the blogosphere, but at the end of it, I’ll be able to say I lived, and made use of everything I was given. Or at least tried my damnedest.

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

Let the next chapter commence!

So it goes…

FINALLY, after what feels like absolutely months, I can say I’ve returned to the online world! I feel absolutely horrible I haven’t been able to keep up with you or write back to your lovely comments, but last week, with the help of a team of wonderful boys, I moved, got The Men in, the Internet hooked up, and am currently in the process of catching up on everything. Come to think of it, this may take another week. 🙂 

Unsurprisingly, a couple of things that seem to have worked their way into my mind as of late and taken up residence are the ideas of risk and change. If I were to describe the events of the last few months, you might wonder why said mind hasn’t handed in its proverbial resignation (seriously, when DIY espionage, treason, and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn in life path, people, relationships, accommodation and finances all crop up within a few weeks of each other, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh!). But in keeping with one of the goals I wanted to put into practice, I seem to have latched on tightly to the notion of acceptance, and consequently hitched a surprisingly comfortable ride through the last few weeks. 

Every hand we are dealt by the universe is accompanied by a choice of reaction, and if the last year has taught me anything at all, it’s the power that lies within every one of us to choose our response. For a long time, it used to be panic, and despite the best counselling efforts of one Mr. Adams, crap would happen, and I’d fly into a fit of despair. The rug would be pulled from under my feet, everything would go up in the air, and I’d find myself scrambling frantically in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control. But at the end of the day, panic is just one option of many. My boss once described a metaphor for change that’s stuck with me to this day: a trapeze artist swings through the air, and unless she takes a leap of faith in grabbing onto the next bar, momentum will slow to a stop and she will be left hanging.  There is a comfort in holding onto what’s comfortable, held back by the fear of free-falling through the air, heart racing, nerves pounding, not knowing when or where the next bar will come. But if you don’t take a leap, you’ll be left hanging, until the only way left is down. Sometimes a leap of faith is exactly what’s needed to launch you toward bigger and better things. 

breaking at the seams, heaving at the brace
sheets all billowing, the breaking of the day
the sea is not my friend, the seasons they conspire
yet still I choose to swim, and slip beneath the tide
James Vincent McMorrow, If I Had a Boat

It seems that lately I’ve become incredibly passionate about the idea of change. I think without it, one stifles all possibilities of future growth, of becoming more, of doing more and seeing more and exploring our unchartered potential… I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back on my map and see that the ship never left the harbour. Someone once said that ships are safe in a harbour, but that that wasn’t what ships were for. I want to look back and see trails across stormy seas through torrential rainstorms and bands of pirates, up to new countries and through new sights and civilizations, stopping for treasure and beautiful sunsets and meeting a plethora of all sorts of fascinating people with whom I’ll share stories and build memories and from whom I’ll learn great lessons. I want to see it full of adventure and culture and colour, and I want to be left with battle scars that tell the story of a life well lived. I don’t want to settle for what’s comfortable. Settling’s better left in Catan. 

One does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –
André Gide

I recently met somebody fantastic who has the words “so it goes” etched across his arm. Apparently I’d been living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut (!), but in its stark simplicity I think it’s the perfect summation of an attitude with which to face life. Everything you could need is packed into three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss absolutely everything. Which is brilliant. There has been no shortage of people lately asking if I’m okay, telling me I must be doing terribly, and expressing confusion or doubt when I genuinely tell them I’m fine. These three words encapsulate the spirit with which I want to live: crap happens, and at the time it sucks, but it’s fine. We keep calm, as they say, and carry on. We focus our energies on forging a better future, not on futile attempts at rewriting an already written past. 

So in the spirit of great change and acceptance, a natural successor would be that of risk. It’s hard to imagine any change taking place without taking a risk first, but we seem so conditioned to construct walls of caution and fear around our hearts that we inadvertently become prisoners of our own design, and go through life staying in one place, allowing fear of hurt or failure to cage us in, outweighing the hope or potential of something more brilliant. It’s sad that people’s first reaction to my state of mind is one of surprise – why not choose to be fine? Why not take big leaps into creating the future? Why waste time on things that have already happened and doors that have been closed; why not learn their lessons as fast as you can and move on with life’s next chapter? If you take a risk and things work out, you’ll be that much happier; if they don’t, you’ll be that much wiser.

I was reading an interesting article recently about a study on the number one contributor of happiness. Money, health, attractiveness, popularity, and a hot sex life were all expected answers, but according to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a  break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.  A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

It’s all about how you choose to react, and I believe that with a focus on choice, action, acceptance and attitude, risk really can be a win-win thing. Life happens. We just have to allow hope to be of greater weight than fear, and be active participants in shaping our future. The possibilities are endless if we only take a leap once in a while, and, as they say, choose to build wings on the way down.

Here’s to change, to taking big, giant leaps into the unknown and risking your heart for the sake of possible brilliance. Here’s to resilience, to the power of choice, and to making the most of every precious moment we’re given. Here’s to everything that’s ever been, everything that ever will be, and to shaping everything that exists in the here and now. Here’s to great stories, battle scars, epic lessons, and infinite potential. Here’s to writing the next chapter. Here’s to risking it all, and hoping for the best. Here’s to life. After all, we only get one.

What would you do if nobody was watching? Scratch that, what would you do if EVERYONE was watching?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since having a discussion with a colleague last week, who was telling a story about how he’d had his girlfriend over one night, and somehow her phone had dialled her dad, who’d become inadvertently privy to everything they’d been discussing. When they realised what had happened, initially they panicked – but my co-worker said that the question (and reaction) had been rolling around his head ever since.  People always talk about the measure of a good, honest person as lying in the actions they take when nobody is watching. But what about the flipside? What if you knew that someone you cared about, or wanted to impress were watching? What if everybody was watching? Would you modify your behaviour? And if the answer is yes, does that mean you’re not a person of integrity?

This may not be a comfortable question to ask yourself. I’ve been asking myself for the last few days, and I must admit, the process has left me feeling somewhat uneasy. As I’m sure is the case for most people, we all like to think we’re people of our word. But integrity isn’t simply not lying; it’s the unity of our thoughts, words and actions regardless of company or circumstance. Integrity is when what we think lines up with what we say and what we do no matter whose presence we may be in. There is nothing to hide, no divided loyalty, no masks adorned or games played. There is no difference between what we appear to be to a stranger, and who we are inside, or who our closest family knows us to be. Yet if we all think we’re people of integrity, how come we all know someone who can talk the talk but not walk the walk? Something doesn’t add up. I can easily list a dozen people who claim to value health, yet choose to be a smoker. More who’d claim never to steal anything, yet regularly download movies and music illegally. I can think of people who’ll say they value their spouse, their children, their job and their own wellbeing, in that order. But when you take a look at their bank account or their Google calendar, it’s full of trivial expenses on ephemeral feelings of joy – rounds of golf, or wings and beer with friends, and an arrival home at 11 PM to the wife claimed to be at the top of the list of priorities.

Unfortunately, I think integrity is losing its value. The majority of people spend so much time focusing on reputation and how other people see us that there’s no reserve left over to focus on being the most authentic and genuine person we can be. In today’s society, image is a greater priority than integrity, and it may seem unnatural to focus energy on the reverse. So if all anybody cares about is how other people see them, by prioritising in the same way, each of us contributes to a superficial society – one in which our time and energy is spent on creating the best personas we can to impress different people, rather than on building a unity of thought, words and actions.  When I first started blogging seriously, I had a couple of goals: one, to have an outlet in which to pour my hopes, dreams and struggles honestly, to hold myself accountable to growing, and not to hold back; two, to one day reach some of those dreams, maybe overcome a couple of those hurdles, and in the process, hopefully inspire someone somewhere else and make them feel they could do the same.  But being able to have a good influence on someone requires them to put their confidence in you, and nobody will put their confidence in someone who’s not credible, and the only way you build credibility… is by having integrity.

The thing that made me uncomfortable in asking myself if I genuinely do have integrity wasn’t the anecdote of having a partner’s parents on the other end of an unintended phone call, or visualising a neighbour outside my open window while I happened to be in a wild fit of over over-emotion and stubbornness. The thing that made me feel uneasy came in the form of a question from a fantastic book I’m currently reading, a chapter of which ended thusly:

The people closest to you know you the best, and are therefore in the best position to discern your consistency as an employer, leader, spouse, parent or child. If you asked the various people in your life how you are doing in the area of integrity, how do you think they would respond? 

A. You live by the highest standards, and you do what you say and say what you do.
B. Y
ou’re consistent most of the time and easily engender trust.
C. You could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds.
D. You’re a mystery – people rarely know what you believe and how you’ll act. 

As I read, something sunk somewhere in the region of the pit of my stomach. I desperately wanted to answer with A, but I knew it wasn’t entirely true. I’m not to proud to admit that I’m full of words and declarations of focusing on the big picture, on what’s ultimately most important in life… yet am all too often quick to voice my frustration or others’ wrongdoings.  I tell other people to practice forgiveness and focus on creating a better future, yet bring up things in the past that cannot be changed by my harping on about them.  I say one thing yet often practice entirely another. I moved on to B. I could settle for second place, right? I think I’m consistent most of the time, and I like to think I engender trust from others. But I’m not the one who decides whether or not that’s true. C. I could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds. On reflection, this is the only one so far that I can agree with wholeheartedly. At least I didn’t get a D – I am certain I wear my heart on my sleeve, and am not afraid to open up my life like a book for anyone to peruse. I’m positive I’m anything but a mystery. But a C doesn’t sit well in this over-achiever’s heart.

So I revert back to how I dealt with everything else I wanted to change over the last year, and decide to just make the choice to go with what I want to be rather than what I am. Make a conscious decision in every passing moment to act in accordance with my values, and not the fleeting emotional temptations of the moment. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. And, as Aristotle once said, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. And with enough practice and dedication, we can all become precisely what we want to be: people of utmost integrity.

Well played, Universe

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll probably know there are a few things I’m rather passionate about. Music, great writing, history, education, science, compassion, travel… these all hold special places in my heart. Bigger things, challenges, growth, introspection, and the psychology behind so many things we experience along our paths also enthrall me. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of humanity, witnessing the ways in which we live, interact with each other, think of and define ourselves, react and relate to people and events, and why every one of us is so very different. To watch our minds’ internal hardwirings mesh with our hearts’ deepest emotions, combine with the global supporting cast, and see the endless dramatic possibilities play out on the stage that is our lifetime.

Gravitation is one of the fundamentals of nature (I did say ‘science’…), in which objects with mass attract one another. But I think the same philosophy can also be applied to our interpersonal relationships – applied to that global cast of characters that have starring roles at various stages in our life.  I like to think people come in and out of our lives being gravitationally pulled in and out of each other’s orbit, in an elaborate dance orchestrated by the Universe, only learning the steps as we go.  Sometimes we try and make it work – just because the person has arrived in our life, we automatically think we’re supposed to have some sort of relationship with them – but I think certain people are placed in our lives to teach us lessons, not just to befriend.

Interpersonal relationships and their subsequent timing, strengthening, weakening, death and resurrection absolutely fascinate me. I’m a firm believer that everything in life has its right time for happening, and a lot of personal frustration can stem from wanting to have control over when things happen in our life rather than having faith that they will, when they’re supposed to. This can happen with wanting the right job, the right house, the right friends, the right partner… we grow up with this notion that by a certain age, we should have certain things, and if they haven’t happened yet, we go into panic mode. We start believing there must be something wrong with ourselves, especially when surrounded by Things Happening for Everyone Else, and it’s natural to start comparing ourselves. We become frustrated and start delving into action plans, trying to take control over something the Universe will ultimately provide when the timing is right.  I believe there are lessons that need to be learned before certain things can happen. These lessons will only get more pronounced and more difficult if we don’t take the hint the first time around, and will ultimately end up being those Major Life Lessons we look back on sometimes as turning points – times when things started to turn around.I’ve had a couple of instances of this in my life, the biggest probably being the lesson of learning to have some sort of self-worth. Going through a string of awful boyfriends in my late teens/early twenties; people who lied, cheated, became emotionally and physically abusive, that I continued to stay with because I didn’t feel I was worth any better. I honestly thought I’d be better off taking what I could get, even it if put me at risk, because it’d be better than being alone. I want to take my younger self and give her a good shaking for allowing this to happen, but you know what? I had to go through it because it was a lesson I needed to learn. The Universe had hinted at it with the first Bad Boyfriend, hinted a little harder with the next, and slapped me in the face with it with the final one when I ended up questioned by the police about how I’d been treated, and spending a chunk of time in the hospital.  If that’s not a sign I needed to change things, I don’t know what is. But it was the wanting to have control that made it get to that point. Lesson learned, however, and once I’d learned that I had to start believing I was worth more, and set some standards for what’s acceptable, then I was delivered an incredible man who’s helped me grow, believe in myself, and I’ll be marrying in seven weeks’ time.

The other big lesson is one I still believe I’m learning. Do you ever have people in your life who keep showing up, when you wish you could close the door on them and never have to see or hear about them again? People from the past who’ve hurt you, old flames, former friends, people who define you by who you were when you knew them, refuse to see the person you’ve become, and just keep showing up? It’s frustrating. You see their face somewhere and you want to ask the Universe why – why are they still here when all I want to do is move on? The interwoven fabrics of our social networks, especially in the day and age of the Internet, can make this especially hard, and just because you’ve moved on from one relationship doesn’t mean everyone else in both parties’ networks feels the same way.  So what’s the lesson here? Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that the Universe is trying to teach me the lesson of acceptance. Allowing things to be, without reacting to them, without getting frustrated, defensive or annoyed. Accepting the situation that this person still exists and you may bump into them every once in a while, and that’s okay. Let go of frustration, because you know what?

Who cares. This was what a good friend told me a couple of weeks ago when I started fretting about something I couldn’t control. Who cares? Nobody. Nobody at all cares, and if you’ve moved on from a relationship with someone, it doesn’t matter if they still show their face every once in a while. Yes, it would be nice if once doors had been closed on bad relationships, you never had to be reminded of them again, but the reality proves otherwise. You have no control over it, so just accept that they’re here, without getting exasperated about it. Accept that you’ve become a better person since, and it doesn’t matter what the other party thinks, because they’re not in your life any more. There will always be people who’ll talk. People who’ll never move on from the chapter in which your lives intersected. People will be pulled in and out of your gravitational orbit for some reason or another, and you may not want them to. But that’s okay. As long as you make the choice to live the life you want, make the right choices, be the best person you can be, grow from experiences, let go of the past, and focus on making the present the best you can, that’s all you can control.  I think I’m learning this lesson as we speak – and I’m already feeling a whole lot better.

Hear that, Universe?

You can also find this post over at Aly’s blog, Breathe Gently, who I was lucky enough to meet in London this summer! If you don’t read her already, I’d highly recommend checking her blog out – she’s an absolute sweetheart, has an amazing story, and is currently travelling across the world 🙂

I’m a Legal Alien

I don’t drink coffee, I take tea, my dear,
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York…

Sting said it so well twenty years ago, and this past Monday, the 19th of April, marked the ten-year anniversary of my living in Canada.  I still vividly remember how I was the day I left home: a young, impressionable, nerdy teenager whose sadness at leaving behind family and friends was balanced by the excitement at the prospect of everything a new continent had to offer.

My parents had taken us to visit Canada once before we moved – three weeks in mid-August, where the city was bathed in sunshine, culture and crowds. We explored neighbourhoods and schools, in one of which I was taken on a tour, soaking in the cliques, the bright colours, the mohawks and the compliments on my accent.  The houses were enormous – I’d be going from living in a house attached at the seams to neighbours we’d hear day and night; children crying, music blaring. The houses here were castles, with basements and three storeys, hardwood floors and space on either side. Approaching  fifteen, I was excited for this adventure.

Soon after we officially arrived, the novelty wore off. I didn’t know anyone. I was put into the IB Program, where the students who actually liked school were given opportunities to fast-track their education, reaching university level courses by the end of high school, and were taught a more challenging, more interesting curriculum. I loved the education, but I didn’t feel I belonged. I watched the “regular program” kids form their friendships, talking of their weekends together, laughing in the hallways, while I sat in the science room eating my lunch, watching the world go by.  I was the quiet new girl, on the outside of something that seemed to have finished forming before I got here.  And, eventually, that was okay.

I spent some time over the next few  years in university, searching for myself, for friends, for a sense of belonging. Anyone who showed the slightest bit of romantic interest in me was given my heart in a hurry, hoping it would be returned in a sense of finally belonging somewhere – to someone. I learned those life lessons the hard way, and my past is littered with naive mistakes, and people, who to this day, continue to define me by them. Yet still, I stand by the belief that those experiences taught me huge amounts about myself, and fuelled my desire to become worthy in my own eyes – to become okay with who I am as a person, and comfortable knowing I’m doing the best I can to be the best person I can.

This city, above everything, has given me an education. An education in school, where I learned how much I loved to – well, learn. Opportunities to learn more about other people, and subsequently about myself. An education in life. And that is quite possibly the most valuable thing I could ever have. But still, ten years later, this city doesn’t feel like home. I don’t look upon it as comforting, nor do I look upon it as something I’m particularly proud of belonging to.  It’s full of things and people that hurt me. It’s bitterly cold for at least six months out of twelve, with temperatures plunging to minus thirty, where people are surrounded by darkness and cold and don’t venture out of their homes unless they have to. The cold kills my back so much. A huge percentage of people here are on social welfare, and choose to remain that way, rather than taking advantage of the resources available to help them achieve independence (I sound horrid, but I’ve worked in the system). I carry leaflets with resources in my purse instead of change. The sidewalks are covered in spit and litter, and the air is filled with cursing and inanity. On 20th of April every year, hundreds of people gather at the city’s legislative building and advocate for smoking marijuana and the stoner lifestyle – lazing around, getting high, and wasting away their lives rather than taking in real life, learning, growing, and contributing to society.  For two weeks in June, the city’s abundant trees (which line every street) are taken over by something bizarre called the canker worm – small green worms that build webs down from the leaves and hang from them in the air, resulting in getting caught on your clothes or in your hair. It’s terrifying. The summers are beautiful but are sabotaged by mosquitoes – I moved into this house in January, 2009, excited at the thought of soaking in the skyline view on summer evenings, on the bank of the river… These thoughts remain dreams, as the skies are filled with blood suckers and the house is covered in fish flies.  There are no historical buildings dating further back than maybe a hundred years – no history, no culture, no identity. No feasts for the eyes – the whole province is flatter than Gwen Stefani’s stomach and any road trips are a test in consciousness.  Elsewhere in the world, whole nations band together with pride at what their country has to offer – beautiful architecture, great music, literature – This place seems to have little to offer the world except Neil Young and Slurpees.

It’s a daily goal of mine to count my blessings, and I am lucky to live in a place that isn’t worn-torn or disease-ridden, in a place where I have a good job and a handful of incredible people. For all these things, I’m truly thankful. But I can’t help but feel I belong somewhere else.  A decade is enough to give somewhere, is it not? To try and make it home? I long for the days of living in England, a country of which I remain proud to this day. A country that offers incredible imagination to the world in the form of entertainment, that is proud to preserve historical sites thousands of years old, that has produced some of the greatest literature ever written.  I know there are places elsewhere in the world where I wouldn’t be haunted by people who insist on reminding me of my past. Places where the arts are treasured and promoted, and where the days are long, sunny and warm. Where there’s culture, and mountains, and sea; beautiful buildings, museums, and open skies.  Somewhere to fit in and soak up and feel at home. Somewhere people will welcome me. Somewhere I can feel proud to belong. I feel such a strong calling to get out of this place, but it’s hard when I don’t know where I’m being called to. Australia? A whole new adventure in Ireland, or New Zealand?

My ten year anniversary here is indeed bittersweet, but it’s a chapter of my life I will always cherish, for being full of growth and of learning.  My eyes are open to the possibilities the future may hold, and I’m fuelled by a desire for more. I’m hoping this summer’s trip to England will open my boyfriend’s eyes to the world outside our little city, and who knows, maybe together, we’ll be working towards a common dream… one that isn’t solely mine. It’s so hard to settle when there’s such a big world out there.

Happy ten years, Winnipeg – and thanks for the education.  In the words of the ever-poetic Jason Webley: you may not be my lover, but you’re the map I use to find her. One day, I’ll find somewhere I can call home again.  Until then, I’ll wish hard on my shooting star, and hold onto it tightly until it lands me somewhere I truly belong.