life

Protected: On change, resistance, and in response to those shocked by my pregnancy announcement. (I’d grab a cuppa – message me for password)

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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. 🙂

Life Doesn’t Stop for Anybody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Hands

How often do you think about your body? Its limbs, extremities, face, organs, mind? It’s almost two years now since I fell off that building and smashed up my arm, and I think I’ll always remember how terrifying it was. Not just the pain, but more the prospect of no longer being able to do all the things I took for granted. Simple things, like showering, being able to wash each part of your own body and then put clothes on it. Preparing food for yourself or someone you love. Being able to carry two cups of tea. Driving. Bigger things our limbs can do, like holding musical instruments that make beats and melodies that transport your songs to something new and beautiful. Stretching out to sleep comfortably, and horizontally. Holding a camera to capture moments, holding bags of treasures and presents, or holding another soul dear and close in an embrace of love and appreciation. Doing cartwheels. Since then, I’ve never lost sight of how easy it is to take things for granted. We usually don’t think about impossible, horrid things unless faced with them, but I think it’s important to cultivate an awareness of what we have, because of how quickly it can all be taken away.


walkOur time here is finite
. Unless you’re spending your life working on some kind of cryogenic stasis device that’ll let you wake again in two hundred years and zip about on a rocket ship, every day is another that evaporates with every sunset. When you look back from the end of your life, are you going to say you spent those precious days well? I feel like each and every one will have seemed like an individual gift, as opposed to the ongoing stream we navigate our way through today. At the end, people always seem to wish for just one more day, to spend close to someone they love, or to do something they’ve always wanted to. To live fully and completely, forbidding a single moment to pass by and be wasted. I tend to always be on the go, and I seem to have assumed responsibility for planning most things when it comes to my group of friends. Maybe it’s an INFJ thing, but I like looking at a planner and seeing it filled with things to look forward to. Seeing hours each evening booked up with songwriting, dashing about the city scouting locations for photoshoots, visiting friends, throwing Star Trek parties, or building blanket forts. Those things all totally happened within the last two weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the way I was wired or if it stemmed from earlier years filled with anxiety – I remember arriving home countless moons ago to one empty apartment or another, and having no idea what to do with the remainder of the evening I was met with. I remember living alone and wishing I had plans with people. Imagining everyone I knew taking part in fun activities and making myself so sad I wasn’t part of them. I convinced myself I was everybody’s afterthought. But that was the thing – and here’s where I want to travel back in time and give my younger self a good shaking – a) I was sitting there crying about something without doing anything about it, and b) I conjured it all up in my own head and told myself it was truth. Aren’t those the root causes of so much discontent? The human brain is fascinating, but it can also be a bit of a bastard.

I’m on the brink of turning 30, and I have to say 25 was the year my life started to turn around. Whether it was the sheer exasperation of having played the part of the victim for so long and blaming other things (formative years living in a sibling’s shadow, a trans-Atlantic move, a traumatising high school experience, fear of public speaking, a handful of unfortunate and pretty awful relationships, invented imaginings of people judging me or not thinking me good enough… the list went on), or the carpet being pulled from under my feet when my ex-husband went religion-crazy and having to get a new job, a car, a home, and truly Be A Grown Up – I made that list of 25 things I was sick of wishing for instead of actually being able to do, and did everything in my power to do it. Just do it. It’s a brilliant slogan, but a better attitude with which to meet life. “But what if I fail?” Just do it. At least then you’ll have the sense of accomplishment and lack of regret you get with actually trying. “But what if people judge me?” Just do it. If you have a burning desire to do something, it’s not for no reason. It’s meant to get out of your mind and into the world. It could be brilliant. “But what if I get hurt again?” Just do it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbours. Replace all those negative what-ifs with a spirit of forever trying anyway, and perhaps a new what-if: but what if it’s amazing?

You have two hands. Arms. A mind, a voice, dreams, and an imagination. Hopefully, all those things are in working order. I hope today, if just for a second, you reflect on all the things you’re capable of with those gifts. And perhaps do something wonderful with them. I like to give lots of hugs, make photographs, and write stories and songs.

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I think it’s too easy to fall into residing within the confines of what we tell ourselves, believing the walls to be solid and real. These words, these fears, these doubts – we invent them based on worry and we inadvertently live our lives according to them. We tell ourselves all the things we’re afraid of – not being clever or fun or attractive enough, not being wealthy enough, not having enough time – and we go ahead and live as if they were truths. In doing so, we limit ourselves – perhaps it’s a self-preservation thing, in which case if things do go wrong, then at least we already called it – but it’s stupid. We all have the potential, the time, and the physical ability to chase after our potential. So why do so few of us actually start realizing it? Why do we strap sandbags to our sails when we have every capacity to soar?

Bad choices are probably one culprit. We choose what’s easy, and often follow the path of least resistance because we tell ourselves we’re exhausted and that we don’t have the time or patience for anything else. But every day – think about that – every single moment of every single day – is another chance to make another decision. Miss somebody? Reach out to them. Stop waiting by the phone and pick it up, tell them what they mean. Scared of trying something new? Stop sitting and wishing, wasting and wanting, and start doing. It might take more effort than watching three episodes of Game of Thrones, but it’ll be time well spent. More obligations than time? Evaluate. Are the things and people upon which you’re spending your time bringing positive things to your life? I try to stick to the 80/20 rule as much as I can. Spend 80% of my free time on things that are 80% in line with what I want my life to look like, and 20% on necessities (housework, chores, shopping etc.). It’s easy to spend 80% on things that contribute 20% to your life, and only 20% of your time on the things that bring you 80. Doing what we feel we should be doing rather than what we genuinely want to be doing is another. We get caught up in other people’s expectations of where we should be with our lives and how we should be spending our time instead of truly examining if what we’re doing is contributing to our overall happiness. It’s okay to review and switch things up a bit.

Reacting adversely to things beyond our control is probably another habit that’s too easy to get into and only detracts from a happy life. I have to give enormous credit to J. here for being hands-down the most grounded, wise person I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have known, and I’m experiencing a huge and wonderful internal change as a result. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. You’re merging into traffic and hit a van full of wheelchairs, for example (#happened), or you visit IKEA to buy a pillow and lose your car keys somewhere in its labyrinthine aisles leaving you unable to get into your vehicle that’s right there. My usual course of reaction: cry, panic, and cry some more. One call to him? My brain stops seeing things as the end of the world and sees them as a minor inconvenience I’ll probably laugh about in an hour, and I’m reminded of all the things that I still have to be thankful for. I think I mentioned before, but in the last few months, I’ve found I no longer need anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills – things that have been synonymous with life for years. I find myself in shops and car parks and see people freaking out at things that a) they can’t control, and b) really aren’t the end of the world. Life’s too short to be filled with such frustration and anger and tears for such trivialities. Wal-Mart doesn’t have the right brand of cat food? Relax. Take a drive to another shop and use the time to listen to some great music and sing your heart out instead. Then drive home and use those two fully functional hands to pick up that cat and give it a damn hug. Life really is 10% what happens to you, every moment, and 90% how you react to it. Practising awareness can do miraculous things for your state of happiness, stress, and overall well-being.

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I hope today is a good day for you. I hope your spirit is light and you have at least three brilliant things to be thankful for today. I hope that your hands are operational and uninjured, and I hope that with them, you choose to do something wonderful.

Don’t believe me? Just watch.

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

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

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

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

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

Euphoria, Take My Hand

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

family

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

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

Leg-Float-Flat

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

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

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

foxes

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

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

“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

This may be my last post of the year. It may not – I always like wrapping up December with reflection, but perhaps just being in the last month of 2014 is enough for now. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, and a lot of it has revolved around the evolution of strength.

For most of my life, I never considered myself a strong person. I fought so hard against my sensitivity, thinking it weak, and wishing so desperately that I didn’t feel things so very strongly. Then, after reading a lot about INFJs (MBTI’s recent bad rep aside, its roots are still founded in psychology and the understanding of humanity, and it’s got me through a lot in life), as well as realising I’m not the only HSP in the world – I started accepting it instead of seeing it as something abnormal that had to be changed. Handled differently, perhaps, but not eliminated. Feeling things to the extreme is something unique and it genuinely means I care an incredible amount. I’d much rather feel things fully than experience them half-heartedly just to avoid potential heartache.

The thing is, in a few months, I’ll be thirty years old. I’ve had a lot of heartache. I’ve also had a lot of awesome. The good thing about experiencing something repeatedly is that each time you go through it, you can look back and say I made it through. You can reflect on the other things in life that aren’t terrible, and, very importantly, you can count your blessings. You can choose to focus your thoughts. Be consumed by feeling, or feel them and deal with them accordingly. Learning how to process them doesn’t mean they need to be suppressed.

My sensitivity is no longer a weakness. I’ve learned to see it as a strength. But with that change has come a lot of hard work, a lot of reflection, and a lot of practice. Reforming all those neural pathways and stuff that used to see things a certain way; they’re being repaved and lead to a place where everything I once told myself is dying. It’s a good thing.

I remember, years ago, a colleague asking me why I insisted on putting myself at the front of a classroom and leading workshops, teaching adult learners, when I was terrified of being the sole focus of attention and actually gave up on my education degree because I knew I’d never be comfortable in front of a group. She saw how much it shook me up, how scared I got, and how I felt like throwing up afterward. Yet I kept doing it, week after week. Why do you do this to yourself when it causes you so much discomfort? I remember struggling with it; I’d read something that I kind of agreed with, but that went against my reasons for pushing myself into things that made me physically sick.

1. Focus on what you’re naturally good at. If you try to be better at something that doesn’t come naturally, you may go from a 3/10 to a 6/10. But if you focus on improving that in which you’re already skilled and/or passionate, you can go from a 7/10 to a 10.

This makes sense. If I practised calculus, I’m sure solving equations might take me three hours as opposed to 12. But it’s never going to be easy, because it’s not something I give a particular crap about.

2. If it’s outside your comfort zone, you should definitely be doing it.

Also agree. Because if I hadn’t pushed myself with things, I’d likely still be riddled with social anxiety, I’d never have tried doing music or making art or videos – things that bring me such joy today. I was blown away with the reaction to this – something someone once told me I’d never be able to sing, because my voice wasn’t strong enough. I hope I did it justice and proved that I could.

Katy Perry - ET Cover

Katy Perry – ET Cover

I started a discussion recently in a local photography and modelling group. I was curious as to why those with low self-esteem when it comes to body image choose to volunteer repeatedly to have their photos taken if all they’re going to do is tear themselves down afterward and point out every flaw. I’ve done it myself – I’m sure there are many of us who’d jump at the chance for some cosmetic surgery or laser hair removal if we could afford it. I was curious to see others’ motivations for doing so, because I’d been there myself. And this train of thought does indeed come back to my original one about the evolution of strength, I promise.

I used to need external validation from others in order to feel good about myself. Many commenters said something similar. But hearing this just made me feel bad, because it’s such a temporary solution. In my early twenties, I was a bit of a serial monogamist. I’d go from relationship to relationship thinking it was absolutely necessary, and only in another person would I find my true worth. When they inevitably ended, so did my entire world. I lacked the self belief and inner strength to feel good about myself on my own. One thing I’ve learned is that needing attention/external validation is not going to elicit inner strength and self worth. I only felt worthy when others made me feel I was needed. But I’ve learned that feeling unsure of your worth is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t personally know that you matter, then perhaps nobody will ever believe you do. If you don’t feel you do, then do something about it. Make art. Follow a passion. Take up a new hobby. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if you fail, because inside, you’ll have all the validation you need: that you had the courage to try.

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of  the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

I’ve also learned that I am the owner of my own time. People complain about being too busy all the time. Too many social obligations, too much work, too many chores, not enough time for the things they want to do. Well, guess what? You get to control what you say yes to. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone has to pay the bills. But there are people in the world that still get to do exactly what they want. Why? Because they learn when to say yes and when to say no. We all have desires. Sometimes they involve going to house parties and socializing with thirty people. Sometimes they involve having a friend over and a bottle of wine. Sometimes they involve spending a Sunday morning curled up in bed with a good book and staying there for a good four hours. Sometimes they involve going on adventures, and sometimes they involve going to bed at 8:00 on a Friday night. There will always be demands on our time. But you get to choose whether you spread yourself thin, or put yourself first once in a while. This year, I will be spending more time Google calendaring dates with myself, writing songs, going on photo adventures, and finishing my book.

I used to also let anybody and everybody in. Let me rephrase: I still let anybody and everybody in. I’ve always maintained that by putting absolutely everything out there (come on; I have a blog, a YouTube channel, an active Facebook account and dearest words tattooed all over my body; being known deeply and knowing others is kind of what I live for), you will attract the most authentic relationships with people. They won’t be based on the superficialities of being what you feel you should be. But I also used to need the company of others in order to feel worthy. Learning to love being on my own was a big thing this year. I spent most of it living and being solo for the first time in a very long time. Solitude used to terrify me, but realising just how much I want to learn, make, create and accomplish has made me cherish my time alone, and realise that if I’m going to spend it with others, it will be with a select few awesome human beings; with those people that make each others’ lives mutually better.

I also began 2014 afraid of ever loving again. My heart had soared through what seemed like fairytale highs and been dragged through the most painful of lows. I decided that if I just didn’t invest it, it wouldn’t get hurt. I remember sitting in a food court with a friend saying this, and how I’d given up on magic; that I’d already had it and I was so strange that perhaps I wasn’t meant to find someone that fit, and that I was resigning myself to being a cat lady. I remember being told that was “a crock”. That I had the biggest heart and that I’d been hurt, but there was no way any of this was true. That I’d been “KO’d”, but not killed. I didn’t feel like myself saying the words anyway; and of course they were bollocks. I live to love those dear to me, completely and fully, and I hope with everything I am that those people know it. Now, after a convoluted journey of growth and reflection, understanding and exploration, I feel like myself again. Home, hopeful, and ready for whatever life brings.

f7b5bd0dbd2595f5f12a367f7797f8ecFinally, this year reinforced something I’ve tried to practice for a long time: that happiness is a choice. People may make all sorts of new year’s resolutions in a few weeks, or tell themselves that 2015 will be better… but these are just words, said every year around this time. Words are nothing without action and conscious commitment. 2014, 2015, 2016… life’s going to happen. It’s going to keep happening. The only thing that determines your mental well-being is your own choice as to how you react to it.

The last year of my twenties has been far from what I imagined, but I’ve learned an awful lot. I still have a long way to go, but that’s the brilliant thing about life – it keeps happening, you keep evolving, and you keep learning. Never stop. This Christmas, I hope you spend it in a way that makes you smile. I hope you count your blessings, and I hope you enter the new year equipped with things to be thankful for and dreams to chase, capture, and make reality.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

During the first half of 2013, I was absent from blogging because I found myself swept away by a whirlwind of creativity – I was working on my novel, learning an instrument and searching for the courage to sing, and then suddenly, I was in a band. Blogging had always been my safe outlet, and my original reason for doing it remains true: put all of yourself out there into the world, and people may relate and feel not so alone, or someone may just read it all in and decide you’re an awesome person, flaws and fears and history and all. If you put everything you are out there, the ones who take the time to see it all see the real you, and there are no surprises. No skeletons. Just a real person, who believes (despite advice and wishes to the contrary) that only by being a truly open book will any type of relationship be entirely authentic. And if someone can relate to something along the way, maybe we don’t have to be so alone in our struggles. This outlet has taken a bit of a back seat for multiple reasons this year, whether for diving into others or for physically being unable to do the most basic of things, but it’s the end of a year, and I can’t let it slip by without marking something down.

It’s Christmas Eve as I write this, and the year leading up to it has been a difficult one. Life as I knew it this time last year couldn’t look more different than it does now, and with this chapter has come incredible opportunities for learning, introspection and hopefully, growth. Gratitude has stolen the show, and for each soul that not only checked in with me continually to make sure I was well looked after, but also did so much more, with love, encouragement, company, helping me with food, dressing, and bathing as I cried with shame… for those who dropped everything to take care of me, who bought me presents to make me smile, or kept in touch continuously despite being in the midst of a mire of work, homework and exams just to make sure I knew I wasn’t abandoned… words cannot express how deeply my appreciation runs. This year I lost my independence, my dignity, at times, my home, and stability. I felt left behind as the worlds I was so passionate about moved on without me and all I could do was sit and watch. I felt useless, and a burden, and so very scared. I had to visit a food bank several times and say goodbye to things I loved to do so much. I felt it was the biggest curse, to have so much time off on disability – time, the one thing I always wished for to just devote to creating – writing my book, writing songs, playing shows, doing incredible storytelling through photos… I was given the time, but had all ability stolen. For months it hurt so much, but if it weren’t for a handful of the most incredibly kind souls whose hearts are so full of love, I don’t know how I would have made it to today.

There are still many things I’m unable to do, but compared to a few months ago, there are small things I now can – things I will never take for granted again. Being able to sleep lying down. Being able to somewhat return a hug. Being able to open a door to let myself in, and being able to operate a vehicle. Being able to brush my own hair (kind of). These things are taken as a given, but I will never forget how terrible life felt without them. Being poor and kicked out of your home, being in pain every hour of the day, being forced into an existence where everything you love is no longer possible, not being able to afford to eat… these are not things I expected when 2013 rolled around. But do you know something? Life is only 10% what happens to you. It’s 90% how you react to it.

My reaction hasn’t always been the best. I couldn’t count how many times I broke down into sobbing fits, taken over by despair and a flood of worries and frustrations. But the experience has fostered the biggest spirit of gratitude I’ve ever known, and as with every frustration in life, there lies a choice. I can’t choose to put my arm back together, but I can choose to work bloody hard to get it there instead of sitting around. I can’t choose to be able to lift 20 lbs above my head, but I can choose to make the most of the time I’m unable to. I’ve built my knowledge base, I’ve learned how to code enough to make a couple of websites, I’ve learned the finger positions of new chords, and I’ve learned the structures of songs. I can’t choose to have money in my bank account, but I can choose to see that a new top, nail polish, or bottle of wine is not a necessity. And the toughest choice, but still a choice nonetheless, is not to be defeated. There have been times when I’ve felt so alone and lost and in so much pain that I’ve wanted to just give up, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it’s the longest road you’ve ever seen, and the light is a speck as far away as a star in the sky, it’s still shining. But only you can make the journey beginning with step one. And step one always begins with a choice of mentality, and with hope.

This time of year hasn’t traditionally been a good one for me. And I know how hard it can be when the world insists on taking you its Christmas prisoner, with inescapable songs about love and festivity and togetherness poured into your ears at every turn. It is a season of love, but for those going through something difficult, its very existence can exacerbate the toughest of experiences. Even those whose lives are perfectly normal can succumb to the stress of the holidays, the endless pressure to purchase, to visit countless people who don’t stay in touch throughout the year yet are obligatory to give up your time to at Christmas. To spend money we don’t have because the world insists on it; to focus on materialism rather than the true gifts of incredible relationships, unconditional love and friendship, and the making of memories that will last far longer than whatever you found under last year’s tree. There are people out there who, on Christmas Day, will be stuck in a hospital with no-one by their side. There’ll be people at war, or people who’ve just lost someone dear to them. There’ll be people working, stopping crimes, or trying to save the life of someone who’s given up. There’ll be breakups and hearts so heavy with loneliness as the world rubs salt in the wounds. These things happen every day, but the season has a horrid way of turning fairylights into spotlights on the pain felt by those who don’t or can’t fall into the happy togetherness seen on every advert and heard in every December song. The holidays are not supposed to be painful. But the intense pressure we put on them to be perfect can ruin everything. (In writing those words, I feel I just learned something about my own tendency for perfectionism, but that’s a post for another day.)

There’s the operative word. Can. It all comes back to choice. Life is such a fragile thing, and we can be punctured like the shiniest of balloons, leaking out all our joy when life deals crushing blows when we least expect them. But the cracks in our hearts can be filled not just with sadness. We can let love seep in and fill up the holes that have formed in our aching souls. Life can be horrible, devastating and upsetting, but it can also be filled with moments of such kinship, connection, gratitude and joy that we feel it rising from our chests up through our necks and out of our eyes, a feeling of such appreciation that these feelings can still exist within our battered hearts that it has no choice but to come streaming down our cheeks.

Shit happens. At Christmas and on any day. And when it does, we inhale all the pain and misery that come along with it. We sometimes exhale it back into the world because we don’t know we have another choice. But we always do. We can breathe out love instead. Choosing love isn’t always the easiest option. Usually it’s far easier to submit yourself to whatever life has thrown in your path and become its victim, or worse, take it out on others. But nothing in the world, a very wise Mr. Roosevelt once said, is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty. When hardships come, we can experience them. But the magical part is that we can take ownership of our reactions and thoughts before releasing them to the world, and in that in-between state of being done to and doing unto others, we have the power to choose and transform them. Into something that, however hard, will always make the world a better place. Into love.

This Christmas, if you’re hurting, it sucks. It sucks a lot. But try not to let this temporary cage of tinsel and bells turn your spirits to despair. It is just another date on the calendar, but it is also a time for love. When things are hardest, sometimes doing the hardest, most impossible thing leads us to the best path out, and tomorrow is always a new day. What I’m learning is that life is so very fragile, its stability so very precarious. But that when the world turns upside down, these are all external factors, and that there is always something positive, even if in its smallest form of a sliver of hope. The power of choice lies within all of us, and though it may be the most difficult thing to see, if we choose to fuel that tiny spark of positivity before we react, then the world around us becomes that much brighter. People expect us to take the pain and react to it by passing it on. But we can take it in, experience it, and recycle it into love. 

My heart hurts knowing that during the holidays, for so many people all is not well. I hope this week, if you’re reading this, you’ll keep those poor souls in mind and maybe do something send an unexpected spark of love into the world. I like to stop at a coffee shop and buy a hot chocolate for any stranger who happens to be working, away from their families or loved ones, on Christmas Day. It’s a tiny gesture, but this year especially, after so much pain and so much love that’s been given me, I need to exhale that love back. And I hope I continue to build the strength to do so, through this unpredictable journey, no matter what comes my way.

There’s always a choice. It’s not always easy. But it’s there for the taking. Much love being sent to you, wherever and whoever you are, at this very moment.

Black and White in a World of Technicolour

I first encountered the phrase “black and white thinking” a couple of years ago when I met with someone at the local Anxiety Disorders Association prior to starting any programming, exercises or medication. This was probably half a decade ago now, and I remember sitting in a very welcoming lady’s office and noticing that despite probably being well into her fifties, she had one of the prettiest, most inviting faces I’d ever seen, as well as a head of beautiful brown curls. Her face was etched with countless lines, but all I remember seeing in it was kindness and beauty. The purpose of my visit at this point was, after a referral from my doctor, to have a discussion to see what type of anxiety disorder I had. Social? Panic? Generalised? I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember her opening a book at a page listing a series of symptoms and feelings, and asking me which I related to. I remember bursting into tears when I realised my life was filled with every single thing on the list, and feeling like it was complete and utter confirmation that I was thoroughly flawed. Broken. I wasn’t able to finish the assessment, and I vowed never to go back—stepping foot inside that building again would be a reminder that I was fundamentally wrong, and I knew if I stayed out, I could pretend. I could do it by myself.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I did end up back in that very same building, taking that very same assessment. I’d done what I could on my own—set up and near-completed a list of everything I was ever afraid of (then, in true INFJ fashion, made another one!), tackled fears head-on (even if they resulted in various instances of throwing up or sobbing my heart out feeling my efforts weren’t good enough), but I still had Serious Issues. We could go back for hours talking about where they came from, but the point was they were still there. At this point, I went through the program. I started counselling and medication and I started doing my homework. I did a lot of reading and a lot of learning, not on how to “conquer” anxiety, because I think I’ll always be a worrier, but how to manage the destructive thoughts and feelings that had buried themselves so deeply into my skin that they’d become part of my identity.

My then-boyfriend broke up with me several times over anxiety-related issues. Each time I felt once again that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to do better, be more, in order to be worthy of being wanted. I felt like I had to prove myself for two whole years, but looking back, I’m glad things unfolded the way they did. Even if the motivation at the time was fuelled by insecurity, being forced to learn independence and how to manage my thoughts made me strong enough to accept the final breakup when it did happen. I’d learned I needed—and deserved—more than always having to prove myself and beg desperately simply to feel wanted.

That was a tangent, but it leads me back to the idea of black and white thinking. Throughout all that, I was taught that it was a terrible thing, and that it was part of my anxiety that had to be eliminated. Yes, I did learn that sometimes, not being able to see the in-between can blind you to the best solution. It’s horribly self-centred of me to believe that there are only two ways of seeing things and that anything else is completely invalid, but at the same time, I hate the idea of wasting a single day on things that don’t align with what life should be. Trivialities, chores, arguments, Facebook… we have one life, and each day is falling away from us faster and faster as we get older. We don’t know how many we have left. We hope there’ll be lots, but there are no guarantees. None. So on one hand, I do acknowledge that being too focused on not wasting time prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly the thing that others involved may expect or need—but on the other, perhaps more dominant hand, being able to quickly see how things are, whether or not they line up with how they should be, and make an immediate call to action to improve them results in more time being spent on the things that matter. I realise that not everyone operates this way, and I acknowledge the value in devoting time to truly exploring the best way forward. I just have an unequivocable need to bridge any discrepancy between how things are and how they’re meant to be as quickly as possible, so as to make the most of however many moments we’re given on this planet.

BridgeI’m not just talking about times of conflict. I’m talking about goals in life, too. I honestly think if I hadn’t put everything out there for the world to see, I would have had no reason to remain accountable or take action, and I would probably still be huddled away in my cubicle at lunchtime so inwardly full of dreams and so outwardly terrified of judgment and failure. What a waste of this gift of time. When I first met AC, I saw someone passionate about music. Someone who’d begun with the same dream but had been as scared as I was, who’d taken the leap into performing and a year later, fronted a band, had written dozens of songs, and had turned that dream into reality. I wished desperately for someone I might be able to begin the same journey with, and when he was actually open to starting a band with me, my brain quickly weighed out the options in a flash: fight or flight. This was my option to fight the fear that had kept me off stage for nigh on a decade, so I grabbed onto it tightly, all the while counting my lucky stars for the opportunity. That night, I sang something, and made him face the other direction I was so nervous. But a few hours later, we were singing together, and I’d decided we were going to perform publicly in two weeks’ time. I remember him telling me it didn’t have to be so soon, that I could take my time and ease into it. And I remember saying that as scared as I was, it was something I wanted to be able to do, and there was no point wasting any more months being afraid when the opportunity to just do it was staring me in the face. The thing is, opportunities are all around us. If you don’t like something about your life, you have every power to change it. All you have to do is decide to, and take action. It’s been almost three months since we started our little duo, and I’ve got a log of six performance diaries already, music videos of us on YouTube, a rather official looking Facebook page, and photos of myself actually enjoying being on stage. Three months, and already so very much closer to where I want to be—all because of black and white thinking.

Video shoot screencap

I’m trying to walk the line between what I believe to be the benefits of black and white thinking and what others around me may need. Do I try to convince them of my rationale? I think any time someone tries to get someone to see things their way, if it’s done with the intention of bettering things, practices, thoughts or processes, it’s almost a crime not to—only when one tries to convince purely for the sake of being right is the endeavour wrongly entered into. But I have to respect that other people’s methods and ways of doing things are just as valid to them as mine are to me. It’s a strange balancing act, but I had to put it out there. If there’s a situation, a goal, or a life you want to be leading and aren’t, whether it’s ten minutes from the present or ten years away, realizing the discrepancy between what you’re actually doing right now and whether or not it’s going to get you where you want to be can be an immediate call back to the right direction. Things can be as simple as switching your mindset; breaking the cycle of immediate emotion and focusing instead on how your current actions are affecting the big picture. Life is finite, and that’s a scary thought. Why fill any period of time with grey when it could be filled with technicolour?

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.

teeth

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

The Terror of Freedom and the Illusion of Permanence

I did something emo recently. I posted a vague, ever so irritatingly melancholy status on Facebook without referencing what the hell it was about. I don’t know if anyone read it, but I felt I owed it to anyone who did to elaborate a little. And to myself, as a reminder to never be One of Those People again.

Of course it’s a Neil Gaiman quote. When I die, I really hope I can be a ghost that can not only move through walls but also through all the barriers of human anatomy, through the great divide between the physical and the intangible, and haunt the inside of that man’s brilliant head. I want to live inside his imagination, but I’d be content just to be a passenger for a day or two, and observe what comes out of his mouth. He’s just so damn quotable.

The instant I read this, I was transported back to an early conversation I’d had with a boyfriend when we’d first started dating. I’d ended up in tears through being unable to unlearn something that has completely stolen a lifelong hope. We’d been discussing ghosts and the supernatural. A bit of religion was probably thrown in there too, but that’s definitely a topic for another day, and conversation had moved to the idea of existence after death.

For my entire life, I’ve clung to the hope that this isn’t all there is. My mum went through all sorts of spiritual journeys growing up, and I remember learning about everything from chakras to the Dalai Lama, but one thing that captivated me as a child was the idea of reincarnation. I didn’t know if I necessarily believed it was actually possible, but I hoped desperately that it was. She taught me that we’re all reincarnated in groups of about fifty, I think she said, and that the people who have the biggest parts in your life are because their souls have always been incarnated with yours, just in a different form. She taught me things like  that maybe in a previous life, I’d been her mother, and the idea always fascinated me when it came to love, relationships, best friendships… Did this mean that it was possible to always find your way back to these people over and over again throughout all of eternity? That no matter what happened in life, somehow true love, whether for family, friends, or someone else, would triumph across all of time and space, even death? The idea wasn’t just reassuring. The thought of every relationship with someone you care so deeply about ending after a handful of years on Earth seems such an incredible waste. For friendships and love and bonds to burn so brightly for such a short time, only to be extinguished by life’s ephemerality. I couldn’t bear it.

But over the last year, my beliefs have come to rely more and more on empirical fact than on hope – I realised that one reason a lot of people hold on to religion not because it’s real, but because it gives them hope. A crutch, a lifeboat upon which to sail through stormy seas. But just believing in something because it made life more bearable kind of goes against what I value. I value proof, questioning, searching for evidence, and discovering the truth before simply accepting someone else’s. And the notion of human connection’s immortality beyond death cannot ever be proven. And that makes me incredibly sad. I think logically, I’ve come to accept that in all likelihood, this really is it. But there’s a tiny sliver somewhere in my heart that holds onto the hope that these infinitely unlikely bursts of brilliance will happen all over again. I guess it’s a sliver that not just inhabits my heart: part of my newest tattoo includes the words of Emily Dickinson, who believed that “love is life, and life hath immortality.” More updates on the ink later.

That took a bit longer than I thought to explain, but I guess I’ve just been feeling a little sad lately. The past has been weighing heavily on my heart, I suppose triggered by continual reminders of what used to be. People I was once incredibly close with cut me out of their lives, largely as a result of who I am. I have baggage. I worry. I get overwhelmed by emotion, and I am subsequently too much to deal with. Over the last couple of months I’ve seen photos of parties, celebrations, and weddings I always imagined to be sharing with people who instead turned their backs. I’m not blaming them. My insecurities, anxiety, emotional extremity and pent-up esteem issues made me a pretty shitty person to be around. It just sucks that I’ve put so much work into dealing with it, managing it, and being a better human being, and it’s still not good enough. People would rather move on or actively tell me, as was the case a couple of weeks ago, that they’d rather keep their distance. I feel lost and torn: I desperately wanted to get my issues in check so I could be a better person to be around, and so I could reign in my tendencies and alleviate some of the worry and heartache – but I don’t know how much is something that can be fixed, and how much is simply how I was made. I want to be true to who I am, to wear my heart on my sleeve and to see the good in how much I feel – even if it does mean bursting into tears after reading a news story about a local tiger cub dying at the zoo, or getting myself into a teary-eyed panic while waiting for a loved one’s test results – I’ve battled with my emotional tendencies my whole life and hated who I was because of it, but lately I’ve tried to embrace it – not see it as such a bad thing because it’s not usual, but see the good in it, that it’s because I care so damn much. But then if I think of things in those terms, I set myself up for failure – people left my life because of who I was. So I don’t know which way to turn.

“But the lonely are such delicate things, the wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea with stones on their feet, lost to the light and the loving they need…” – The Shins

The lives I watched continue without me on Facebook have made me feel very lonely lately, so I did delete a large chunk of people from Facebook. I was confident it would make me feel better if I didn’t see it all the damn time. And I suppose, in a way, it did – but it also served as a huge reminder that I have lots and lots of free time now. I used to be terrified of coming home and not having plans. I figured it meant that nobody wanted to do anything with me, and that I was always last on other people’s priority list. Since I started seeing a counsellor and taking medication to get the anxiety under control, I really have learned to switch how I see free time, and in most cases I’m now able to see it as a luxury with which I can enjoy a good book, make photo albums, catch up on EastEnders or crank out another few hundred words for the book. But with all these reminders lately, I’m starting to get scared again. Evenings alone are spent suchly because everyone else has other people to be with. The freedom of time alone isn’t something to cherish any more. It’s a terrifying place in which your mind can go into overdrive, reminding you of all the people who once wanted you around, of all the plans you’d had, of all the doubts you have about yourself. Time alone allows your thoughts to take control. And when those thoughts start in a place that feels a little lonely, the destination can leave you feeling completely abnormal and thoroughly abandoned.

‎”Isn’t it funny how some thoughts and cherished memories can become your worst enemies? The ones you loved to think about, the memories you wanted to hold up to the light and view from every angle–it suddenly seems a lot safer to lock them in a box, far from the light of day and throw away the key. It’s not an act of bitterness. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s not always a bad idea to stay behind the window and look out at life instead, is it?”

As down as I’ve felt lately, the universe has made a pretty huge effort to let me know I’m not alone. Literally seconds after I received one text confirming someone’s decision to cut contact, I received two more – one from a wonderful new friend I made through Fringe Festival this summer, with whom I instantly clicked and spent several hours telling our entire life stories to each other, and one I hadn’t seen in years, who’d just found my blog and wanted to reconnect, and to let me know that if I ever needed a friend, I had one. I really do believe that one door closing generally allows another, better one to open, and honestly, that very much has been the case this summer. The people who’ve come into – and the people who’ve continued to be – in my life are people with whom I never have to worry about hiding my emotions, or how long they’re going to stick around. They know everything, and they still want to be here. And that means more than I could ever express.

I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately. Yes, it gets stuck in there for days and days, and it does sound like some sort of bizarre fusion of country, The Lion King and Cecilia (you’re breaking my heart), but for some reason I love it. And it seems kind of fitting for right now.

Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know any more…

This is it, boys, this is war – what are we waiting for?
Why don’t we break the rules already?
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked

Well, some nights, I wish that this all would end
‘Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, I’m still not sure what I stand for most
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know…

Ten years of this, I’m not sure if anybody understands
This is not one for the folks at home; I’m sorry to leave, I had to go
Who wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?
But man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things
That can come from some terrible nights…

I’m a little down, but not a moment goes by where I’m not incredibly grateful for the people I have. I guess by writing it out, I just needed to remind myself of that again. I’ll be back to positivity again soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Corey for sharing this gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Give a public speech. That goes well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Learn to swing dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the road begin…

A brief note

I’ve been away for three whole weeks now, and I must say I’m missing the blogosphere immensely. Nothing to worry about – just terrifically busy with adjusting to the new world that is my new job, and a few looming deadlines in freelance world (someone once said that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, “with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws” – Mr. Adams, I’m pretty sure deadlines may be a contender!). I have so much to share with you, and so much to catch up on – and hopefully once I’ve caught up a little bit with life, I’ll be back to a regular schedule. I really can’t wait to hear about everything that’s been going on in your world, and I’ll be back hopefully sooner rather than later. In short: I miss you, I miss writing, life is insanely busy, but absolutely wonderful. 🙂

See you soon!

This I Know

I was talking to a good friend recently, and we were discussing our reasons for blogging and how they’ve evolved and changed. When I first started writing online, my posts were terribly boring and even more terribly written. I must have been about seventeen years old, and in high school, LiveJournal was the coolest thing in the world. It didn’t matter that your entries were as fun and exciting as getting a dart in the eye and finding a phone bill attached to the end, all the cool kids were doing it* and subsequently, I wrote about everything and anything. Fastforward a bit, and a couple of years ago I decided to start blogging “properly”. I started having Ideas and wanted to Share Them With The World (a dangerous combination), and discovered that the way to get them out there was to learn the valuable skill of networking.

Primarily, at the time, I wanted to write about my journey toward getting over anxiety – I had this desperate desire to reach anyone who’d ever felt similarly, and band together in some sort of invisible army, penning my fears, hopes, dreams, defeats and tiny victories and hoping that somewhere I might reach someone, and maybe, if I was lucky, inspire them to break free too. It was probably one of the best things I ever did, but as blogging made the transition from occasional visitor to permanent resident in my life, my reasons for writing began to change. It became a platform upon which to share my opinions, my thoughts and ideas; to stand up for myself, for my beliefs, and for others; to explore new ideas and gain new insights, to share my biggest struggles and learn new ways of living and dealing with things, and to chronicle all the thoughts, goals, feelings and everyday goings-on that are my life right now. As of late, my blog has become a sort of window into my head – I may not be the most vocal of people in real life, but I feel if someone lands themselves in my little corner of the internet, they’ll get to know the real me. Words I may not pipe into everyday conversation I can feel free to pour onto the page (no wonder most of us here are introverts), and these entries serve as a continual reflection of who I really am. So in that spirit, today I’m taking a leaf out of a fellow blogger’s book, and using a wonderfully honest post of hers as inspiration. It’s about Things I Know.

I know that I’m probably the most emotional person you’ll ever meet, and will invest every fibre of my heart into friendships and relationships. I know this puts me at the highest possible risk for getting crushed, but I also know that if I don’t, I’ll feel like I’m living half a life.  I know I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I also know I’ve done a lot of reflection, and I know that harping on about and reacting negatively to things that have already happened isn’t going to change them. I know I’m a work in progress – I know I need to break habits like overanalysing things, assuming the worst, and worrying about things beyond my control. I know that with enough practice and determination, I’ll get there. I know that every opportunity must be seized.

I know that I will always be an INFJ, Doctor Who will always be the greatest show in the world, and that green will always be my favourite colour. I know that curry in England is better than curry anywhere else in the world (rumour has it, including India), I know that I could happily live on coffee, bacon and lemon meringue pie forever, I know that the world would be slightly better without cherry-flavoured things, and I know that anything is better covered in salt. I know that without fail, a heartfelt hug, eating avocado with a spoon, inescapable laughter or a dog’s head sticking out of a moving car window will make anything better. I know that good things come to those who wait, but I also know that life is too short, and that we all have the power to turn it all around the very moment we decide to, and sometimes, the only time is now.

I know this planet is full of incredible beauty as well as incredible horror, and that I just happened to land on it. I know if I had three wishes, I would want to save the world, take away all the pain of those I love, and wish for more wishes, and only then would I be a little more selfish with them. 🙂 I know I want to travel, walk down streets thousands of years old, see impossible sights, soak up every soaring sunset and really look at, study, and fall in love with the canopy of stars that blankets our little world, knowing I’m seeing something billions and billions of years old. I know that the galaxy is big enough and wonderful enough to call God, and I know that now, I will never believe something that doesn’t make one hundred percent sense to me personally. I know I will always seek, question, and do my best to locate and figure out the truth.

I know that pain and sadness are inevitable, that loved ones could be stolen away at any moment, and that our time on this Earth is finite and ever diminishing. But I know that for the rest of my life, I am determined to make the most of every single moment, choose love over hate, future over past, present over future, and love as hard as I possibly can. I know how lucky I am to have people to love, and be loved in return. I know we are never given more than we can handle. As much as I like to think otherwise, I know that honesty may not always be the best policy, and that sometimes kindness is a higher priority.  I know that understanding is infinitely more difficult sometimes than proving yourself right, but I know one hundred percent that it’s always more important.

I know that dreams might not always be attainable, but I also know that just having them gives the opportunity for great adventures and great stories. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m finally at a place where I know my worth. I know that soulmates aren’t a quantifiable science, but I know with all my heart that whatever your definition, that they exist. I know that I’m too hard on myself and that nobody sees all the flaws I do, and I know that life’s too short to worry about things that we all lose in the end. I know one should never give up hope. I know that laughter and brilliant moments should be cherished forever.  I know that pyjamas are better as weekend clothes than they are to wear in actual bed, and I know that sometimes, style really is more important than comfort.  🙂

I know that my thirst for learning and passion and adventure will never be quenched, and I know how lucky I am to be able to go wherever I want, or to find whatever information I want at the click of a button. I know that this world would be better with more love and more education, and a focus more on unity than on difference. I know that I will always be infatuated with the English language, with literature, and I know that great minds will live forever through their words, which I collect and stash away like the finest of treasure. I know that being able to speak and tell stories and be heard is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I know that what’s popular isn’t a reflection of the best the human race has to offer, but that the human race offers wonderful things if you know where to look. I know I will never watch American soap operas and I know I will be a BBC girl until I die. I know that sometimes nothing can make you feel more alive than jumping around passionately with someone hand in hand to  brilliant live music. I know that life is better with a cat in it.

I know that I’m pro-choice, pro-freedom of speech, pro-equality, pro-gay marriage, and pro-doing what’s right. I know I should exercise more and eat more greens, make more time for sleep, drink more water and less port wine, but I also know that we only have one life. I know that few things bring me more joy and sense of accomplishment than writing a great piece of fiction, but I know that writing is a battle between you and a blank page, and that, as a favourite author once said, most often the blank page wins. I know that a home is better filled with ever-playing music and ever-shining fairy lights. I know that home is where the heart is, and that sometimes that can be in people more than places.

I know I don’t really fit into a social niche, but I know that by attaching labels, we cage ourselves in from everything that ever could be otherwise. I know that talk is inevitable, but in whatever form it comes, it means you’re not being boring. I know that the person I am today is an entirely different person than who I was five years ago, and I know that the person I will be in another five will probably be just as much a stranger, but I know that moving forward in life is a must, and that I will never stand in one place. Even if I don’t know where I’m going. I know I’m but a small speck on the surface of a planet that’s just as insignificant a part of the universe, but I know that even though all things pass, we can all have a giant impact in our time, and on those that surround us, as they can on us. I know that life’s a mystery, that it’s too vast and incredible and mysterious sometimes to take too seriously, and that I’m lucky just to have the adventure. And I know with absolute certainty that brevity will never be my forte. 🙂

How about you? What do you know at this moment in time?

*Definition of “cool” subject to interpretation; mine personally being people who occupied the physics room with me at lunchtime, examining the lyrics of the latest Decemberists tracks and drawing Star Trek comics on the whiteboard

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 train, bumping 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? 

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.