Love

“…And because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…” Contiki Honeymoon Part 1 of 3

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I’m back. I’ve been back in Winnipeg for about a week now, after a much-needed adventure overseas in lands vast and beautiful. J. and I had booked our honeymoon long before I lost my job (ironically scheduled to take place at the time my vacation days would kick in),  and though this meant zero employment insurance for three weeks (despite having used up my vacation payout to, well, survive since August), I tried my best to put aside my feelings of guilt and anxiety, leave the stresses of the preceding month behind, and venture off with my new husband who’d worked extra, incredibly hard to take care of us. We had three back-to-back Contiki trips planned (seriously, after last summer’s trip seeing what I think ended up being 14 cities in 16 days and meeting some of the best people I’ve ever known, this was the only way to travel – yes, even for a honeymoon!): Mainland Greece, a cruise through the Greek Islands, and a week in Ireland. #diversity.

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After a bit of a surprise getting to Winnipeg Airport, we soon discovered we wouldn’t be flying Air Canada, but instead Air Canada Rouge, their best kept secret for travellers on a budget whose retro idea of in-flight entertainment included such joys as Name That SmellAdventures With Strangers (Because You Aren’t Allowed To Sit Together), and Cake in the Face (and other surprise wake-up calls). Slightly baffled that a two-hour domestic flight came with a nice glass of wine and TV screens for all, yet 8+ hours across the Atlantic was to be spent wondering if that green sauce was actually food and playing the world’s most limited edition of I-Spy, we promptly took a couple of sleeping pills and attempted to knock ourselves out until we got to Greece.

We arrived in Athens to clear skies, warm temperatures, and the happiest taxi driver in the world, who ended up taking one of my EPs! We were dropped off at the lovely hotel a few hours before check-in, so ended up crashing in all our jetlagged glory with our suitcases in the lobby. We were to meet the rest of our group later that night, and after getting in to our room, taking in the view from the rooftop pool (no Ibis here!), and discovering iced coffee wasn’t going to be hard to find at all (“uhh, we’re kind of famous for it”), we met our first tour manager Alex and our group of fellow travellers for the next few days.

Our first day spent as a group started in Athens, where we ended up walking through the city centre, exploring the Plaka area and ending up at the most picturesque Greek scene for dinner, at a restaurant built over several areas up some steps canopied with a roof of open-air ivy and vines. Traditional dancers and ALL THE CATS (Greece = cat lady heaven) provided a gorgeous atmosphere, we dined, made new friends, and got to see the Acropolis all lit up under the moonlight. A beautiful first night topped off with a walk back where poor Alex was trying to give us a bit of a tour by night but we all got distracted by playing with the dog with a ball instead of paying attention to the story of the monument in the city square (oops).

Day two was pretty chocka. We began by hiking it up to the Acropolis and the Parthenon itself, which was nothing short of breathtaking – both in terms of view and for the less fit of us. Being at this spot, next to these impossibly big old structures (constructed in 447 BC and finished by 438 with no modern-day machinery? Somebody get those Greeks time-zapped over here to maybe do something about our roads!) completely reinspired my love of Greek mythology, and everything we learned was a brilliant combination of folklore, myth, belief systems, and history itself. We then trekked over to Mycenae to visit some cool tombs, took in Agamemnon’s Palace, where we learned tales of murder, incest, treachery and Troy, and ended the day in Olympia, where we spent the evening getting to know our new friends, played tonnes of games, drank one too many Mythos, and climbed a tree. My scrapes from falling out of it were nothing compared to the misadventures that ensued after we’d gone to bed – apparently poor Alex had been called at 3:00 a.m. to be informed that some of his group had launched themselves heroically from their second-floor balcony in an attempt at subterfuge so a fellow dedicated adventurer could go skinny dipping in the (very much closed) pool. Love you guys 🙂

Our second-last day of this trip began in Olympia, and the spot of the very first Olympic games in 776 BC. I wish you could capitalise numbers; the history of some of these places is mind-blowing. We had a really in-depth tour of the site of the games, met Olympic Dog, visited the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the exact spot the Olympic flame is lit every four years. Some of the guys took it upon themselves to have a race (James!! You’re supposed to win!), which was tonnes of fun, and we had a bit of time to ourselves to pick up some goodies and our first real gyros of the trip – HEAVEN! (They even put chips in them over there!) We had a stop in what might have been my favourite spot on this leg of the trip, the relatively untouristy little town of Nafpaktos. We all enjoyed the most turquoise water ever, splashing around, soaking up the sun, and a quick margarita before heading off to Delphi for a night of dancing in a local bar (we are feeling our age a bit on these nights, but I’ve decided that the Aussies are just born with the superpower of being able to drink copiously and constantly and still manage to be upbeat and functional the next day regardless), and a surprise – because it was our honeymoon, they’d arranged a special room for us in the hotel there – the actual Presidential Suite where Hillary and Bill had stayed!! It was breathtaking. I only wish we got to enjoy it for longer!

The final day of Spotlight on Greece I spent hanging with the girls at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Everyone was feeling slightly rough from the night before, but we had in front of us one of the most magnificent sights and amphitheatres, so we went for it and climbed as high as we could to enjoy the view!

After making our way back to Athens, we picked up some last-minute souvenirs, ate more gyros, and transferred to our new tour group for the Golden Fleece. Only three of our group were moving on to this next cruise, so we said our goodbyes and made our way to the next spot, where we’d be joining a new group to set sail through the Greek Islands on board the beautiful Celestyal Crystal. We’d already packed so much into four days I couldn’t believe we still had over two weeks left, and though I was sad to say goodbye to a couple of really awesome people (AJ, Steve, we’ll meet again, and Ashleigh and Carime, all the hugs in the world to you ladies), I was excited for another two Contikis and thirsty for more sun, sea, and mythology.

Stay tuned for parts two, three, and compilation video! 🙂

 

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. 🙂

The Horizon Is My Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Leah Borchert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t believe me? Just watch.

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

Darkness-Stars

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

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

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

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

Euphoria, Take My Hand

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

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

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

Leg-Float-Flat

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

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

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

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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.

“We are here to live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket

It happened slowly. That’s the worst kind. When my time on this Earth is up, I want it to be over and done with. I don’t want to have my life warp into one I no longer have control over. One where my control and senses are stolen from me, where I can no longer function independently. One spent in a hospital bed. When I go, I want it to be quick. Being eaten by a tiger would be pretty terrifying, but it would make for a fantastic story. My future imaginary grandchildren would be the coolest kids in the playground. I’d take saving a cat from a burning building, too, or maybe having some kind of spaceship malfunction and getting sucked out into the lethal atmosphere of some planet far away. Once my time here is up, I don’t want to stay any longer than I have to. Not because losing control of your life sucks in itself, but because of how hard it is for others to watch, and not be able to do a thing about it.

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My nan passed away last week. It’s taken me a few days to find the words to put to paper, and I’m still not sure I have them, but after life in every sense of the word stopped on Tuesday night (and a couple of days becoming a bit of a solitary wanderer), I’m finally able to get something down. I’m thirty next year, and I guess in a sense I’ve been extremely fortunate that by this age, I’ve only ever lost one person—my grandad; “Guggs,” as I’d called him, and I was too young to really feel the magnitude of what it meant. I remember it happened around the same time as my first cat died, and I remember with great clarity how much that affected me. With my grandad, I remember him going into hospital, and making him a card with the silhouette of a cat on it. He never got it. He never came out. I vaguely remember deciding at eleven years old that even then, I knew if I went to the funeral, never having been to one, that I’d fall into a pit of despair and tears from which I feared I’d never escape. My parents had decided my brother was too young to even ask, and I don’t remember what we did or who we stayed with during it, and I don’t remember much after that.

No, losing someone as an adult is a first for me. Although my reaction was to fall into just as big a pit of despair as I would have twenty years ago. My nan was a huge part of my life. When I was young, I spent most of my time with her. We lived in a cul-de-sac, houses surrounding “the green”; my parents’ house was on one side, my nan’s on another, and my other grandparents’ on the other. We were all thirty seconds away from each other at any given time. I have so many memories of time spent at her house. I remember when she build the aviary and started raising quails and budgies in the back garden. Choosing a budgie, a bright yellow one, whom she named Sparky and taught to say things like “who’s a good boy,” “Where’s Emily?” and “cuppa tea, Charlie darling?” The bird sounded exactly like her.

I remember her teaching me to iron with tea towels and socks, and that a good cook never left any batter in the bowl when cooking. I remember her Welsh cakes, and making figurines and fridge magnets out of plaster of Paris and painting them with her. I remember her bedrooms; each with a terrible carpet and curtains that didn’t match and dressing stands with her gold chains on them and mirrors I used to sometimes be a little scared of at night. She kept two money boxes for my brother and me; one in the shape of a globe; that was mine; the other, a wooden church for my brother. She’d put a pound coin into each every week, and despite us moving halfway around the world, whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d find she’d been putting the pound coins in every week anyway. Her Sunday dinners were to die for. She’d boil every bit of nutrient out of the vegetables, but she’d cook lamb and introduced me to mint sauce and apple sauce with meat and potatoes. I was always in charge of the potatoes, putting in a bit of milk and more than a bit of butter, and then margarine on top of that once they were on the plate. And there was always a pudding. Rice pudding and jam, or custard if it was a particularly good day.

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She hated The Simpsons. “Them yellow people,” she called them, but she watched it with me anyway. I’m certain it was a pretend hate. I remember after school watching Trap Door and SuperTed and Neighbours with her every day while we had tea. She taught me that if you stirred milk and sugar into your tea and you had bubbles on the top, it meant you were going to be lucky and get some money. I used to drink them all up from a teaspoon. I remember her first e-mails, and being so incredibly proud of her, having gone for computer lessons on her own at the library after we’d moved. They were all one big sentence with no punctuation but were always full of so much love. I remember how excited she’d get, throughout my whole life, whenever I visited. It was all the time, but I adored her and I was infinitely as excited as she was. I remember finding a card I’d made as a child on a visit maybe four years ago now, in one of the spare bedrooms, apologising for not being allowed to visit every day any more but saying how much I loved her anyway. It had an outline of my hand on the front I’d drawn and coloured in.

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The decline happened slowly, over years and years, but her spirit was the strongest I’ve ever known. It was horribly unfair. She broke one shoulder, had surgery that went wrong and that meant she couldn’t use that arm any more. She started falling; in the street or in her house, and hitting her head. I remember coming home and finding her at the bottom of the stairs in her nightgown one night after a day in London and being so, so scared. Despite it all, she still cooked, came out to the seaside and down to the shops with us, out for a curry or fish and chips, with a smile on her face.

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She was in hospital a few years ago for an extended period, and went through a really worrying few months, but she emerged, resilient as ever. This time, she fell again, and the damage to her other shoulder meant she couldn’t use either arm. Couldn’t use a walker. Surgery. Surgery during which she had a heart attack. Again, she woke okay… but then the infection started. The skin began necrotizing, and antibiotics weren’t working. She was too fragile to operate on again, and we found ourselves terrified that either the infection or being put under again would kill her. Eventually she became strong enough to have surgery attempted again… and it was successful. My dad visited, and gave her a burst of hope and love after months of being stuck on a hospital ward with no wireless phone… but then her blood pressure started to drop. It kept dropping and wouldn’t stabilize.

This time last week, we got the news that she probably only had a matter of days. I couldn’t sleep. I lay there that night, my heart and mind racing, worrying that somewhere almost 4,000 miles away, my dear nan was laying there alone, her consciousness on the verge of disappearing into oblivion. I got maybe two hours and dragged myself up in the morning, but I felt like I was going to throw up at any moment. I was wide awake and exhausted and nauseous and anxious, so I called in and said I’d work from home. I’d been working that weekend, and I had a pile of things to catch up on, so I dove into it from morning ’til night to try to catch up and distract myself. The next day was spent at the office, waiting for any news. Again, I ploughed through; couldn’t eat for nausea and still had an enormous amount to do, and did as much as I possibly could. That evening I had to work an event too, and in the middle of it, I got a phone call from my dad I couldn’t pick up. I knew then that that was the call.

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He messaged me asking when I’d be home, and I said it would probably be over by nine-ish, so probably 9:30. I called as soon as I was able before even getting in the car, and got no answer. My mind started to panic, so I drove home, and found my dad outside my apartment building. It was a bizarre moment—I knew why he was there, but he didn’t seem upset. I said I’d tried calling him, and he said “let’s go inside.” I knew why, but my brain was working on two different levels and I blurted out something stupid about it being messy. At that point, he looked at me, his eyes welling up, and he choked out, “it doesn’t matter,” and put his arms around me. I cried, and I shook, and he cried with me. He’d only found out a couple of hours prior, and I’d been stuck on a tour bus taking photos of “ghosts” and “spirits” unable to be there for him when he did. We talked. We hugged. The grief came in waves. It was something we knew had been coming for a long time, but my nan had always been such a fighter. She’d always pulled through.

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We talked about how the most important thing was that she was no longer suffering. She’d suffered for so very long, and her quality of life was just gone. We cried as my dad said she’d never have to be in pain again, as we both thought inside we’d never see her again. The part that pierced my heart was when he had a moment after which he said quietly, “I’m an orphan now.” I couldn’t bear it. After a little while and many tears, I knew I had to call work to tell them. I spoke with the CEO who was incredibly kind, compassionate and comforting. I’d had no idea she was travelling, but she talked to me for a while and showed a kindness I’ll be eternally grateful for. The next night, my beautiful sweet friend came over to keep me company. She brought food and drinks and we told stories to each other and shared several heart to hearts. She held me as I cried and I felt such incredible gratitude. The next few days I found myself embracing the I in INFJ (uncharacteristic for me), on day one just driving with no particular destination in mind, looking for somewhere completely isolated from other people. I went south, and eventually an abandoned old barn popped up. I had no makeup on and a dress I’d worn the day before and looked as rough as it did, so I ventured through the long grass and sat inside. There were holes in the roof, which was collapsing; doors had fallen down, and it was a graveyard of its former glory. It was perfect. I sat there in the silence for a while, took some pictures, and tried writing. I just wanted my mind to stop racing for once, and for a moment, it did. The next day I spent alone in a bookstore cafe type place I’d never been to. I wrote for hours, and I found it therapeutic. My soul felt a tiny, tiny bit better after those two days.

As much as I’ve written here, it could never be enough. There could never be enough words in this language of ours to do justice to just how much she meant, and how cherished she was to the very end. I hope with all my heart she knew. And cherished she always will be. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be a) here today and b) who I am today. Her gift of love was one I’m beyond lucky to have been given, and I’ll keep it safe in my heart forever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

I love you, nan. 

Bone Cruncher (The Final Shot)

It’s been three and a half months now since the incident, and today was kind of a rollercoaster of emotions. The most intense physiotherapy session yet, which left me with what looked like half a can of warpaint smudged down my cheeks; a performance at an open mic which somehow, after this long out of practice, led to compliments from accomplished musicians; and an arrival home to what follows, after I’d dug up the final images from the photoshoot where it all went down (sorry, couldn’t help it!).

I spent an hour or so Frankensteining my way around a couple of the final images my friend Jen shot before I fell and snapped my arm into pieces, trying my hand at editing, and ended up with something I rather liked. I had to ask if it was okay if I shared it – poor Jen was as traumatised by the whole thing as I was, and I wasn’t sure if seeing the final image would resurrect bad memories – but she gave me her blessing, and then wrote this. My heart is full of appreciation for this wonderful woman, and my eyes full of tears. Not only did she offer to pay for my ambulance, but she rode with me, stayed with me, made sure my then-boyfriend arrived, bought my prescriptions, and food…  It’s been such a lonely struggle at times, and this written piece, as well as this girl, is far too full of kindness for me to accept. ❤

Here’s the story through the eyes of the friend who shared this life-changing moment with me. It went viral within an hour of being posted.

“I want to share with you an image, and a story, one that hurts my heart to tell. The image that you are about to see followed a disastrous shoot and ended tragically. 

In early August, Emily Wood and I had our hearts set of doing a shoot that was based around the concept of a young woman who was suffering mentally. We wanted to base the shoot as if we were seeing in through her eyes, in a very dark, creepy manner. It started out great – we had wonderful hair and makeup, and of course, Emily, the lovely model. We had a hospital gown, black “blood”, and a box. And abandoned houses. Yay!

It all went downhill from there.

Barely into the shoot, having barely scraped the images we were wanting to get, my camera batteries unexpectedly died (despite having left them charging the night before). That’s what I get for using no name batteries. 

We were over an hour out of the city with no access to another DSLR and another battery. Lesson learned for me. I felt horrible about the entire thing, I had let the team down. I very much dislike being the weak link in a situation and was beating myself up pretty good for it. But we decided to try to make the best of things, head back to the city, grab Emily’s camera, and make our way to see if we could pull something off in the exchange district. 

We were making levitation shots, and Emily was balancing high up. And then she fell. She fell hard about nine feet, on her shoulder, onto the concrete. There was at first surprise, then shock, then screaming. Emily was in excruciating pain, and I called the ambulance. 

I’d like to take this moment to just reflect on what a brave and amazing woman Emily is. She broke her shoulder/arm in four places, and still manages to keep a smile on her face. She’s been unable to work, has been forced to move out of her apartment since, and yet sees through it all to take something positive out of it. One of the first things she asked me out of the hospital was if I still wanted to edit those images (she really wanted to see them). She does not hide from problems, she takes them head on. 

I’d also like to take this moment to talk about her boyfriend at the time, who did not cease to amaze me. He met us at the hospital, he quit his job so he could help look after her, he also had to move as a result of this unfortunate event, and he too keeps a positive attitude and a smile on his face. He deserves all the credit in the world for his actions.

Months after this event, Emily’s bones are finally starting to show signs of healing, though very slowly. Emily has a job to go back to in the new year, and she is on the way to getting back onto more stable ground. I’m still astounded by the way she handled everything with such grace.

Now that that’s been said (and it needed to be said first, seriously, these people are amazing), I want to talk to you as a photographer. As a photographer, this is one of my worst nightmares come true. I never, never want to see someone get hurt as a result of a shoot I take them on. And normally, I’m on the ball about it. You can sure as hell bet that I was the one making sure that any place Emily stepped in those building were safe, and I knew because I stepped there first. But one wrong thing set off a chain of events that led me to stop thinking clearly, to think that, hey, maybe this shot in this particular location isn’t really a great idea.

We can’t afford to lose our heads this way. We can’t afford to not be diligent. First and foremost, safety has to come first, in everything that we do. Don’t let something that goes wrong in the beginning cloud your judgement. 

Story isn’t over yet. Earlier this evening, Emily blew my mind. She took the images from her camera (the ones right before she fell, the ones I didn’t have the heart to look at), and made something incredible out of them (one handed, no less). Not only does she have some fantastic technical skill, but her bravery to look back onto a moment that had a pretty terrible memory attached to it didn’t stop her.

Emily, you are absolutely one of the best people I know. I hope that one day I can achieve your level of awesome.”

I love you, Jen, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. Despite everything, I’m so glad we got to make this together. ❤

Before and after. I didn't want the image to go to waste!

Before and after. I didn’t want the image to go to waste!

Night has always pushed out day; you must know life to see decay

It’s ironic that the last time I wrote it was about being the necessity of being repeatedly broken, and two days later I’d find myself in A&E (the ER) after falling about ten feet onto cold, hard concrete, shattering my arm in three places. I’ve never broken a major bone before, let alone into three pieces, and the agony was… relentless. I was doing a photo shoot with a good friend of mine, and we were incorporating the idea of levitation shots into our theme—something I was enormously excited about, and had done before, resulting in some really cool images looking like some paranormal force was in play. After spending the day shooting out in a small ghost town in the middle of nowhere, we returned to the city to catch some extreme outdoor shots—all with the assistance of my to-be-invisible balancing box. The final shot was going to look awesome—balanced on my box I was going to appear suspended in an alcove halfway up a building—but I had to make sure my feet looked suspended, too—not as if I were standing on something that wasn’t there. As I moved my feet to the edge of the box, it gave way, tumbling from the nook I’d climbed up into and down to the pavement, taking my bones and cries and scrambling limbs with it.

This was the front of the building, but I think nooks above the entryways were about the same height around the back in the alley where we were.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 5.21.55 PMThe building was all locked up for the weekend and not a soul was in sight. I didn’t have my phone with me and didn’t know AC’s number by heart, and as I sat there screaming my poor friend ran to find out what street we were on and call an ambulance. As she was on the call I realised there was no way I could afford an ambulance and told her in a panic to hang up, but she said she’d cover it, and stayed with me until some downtown security patrol officers showed up. I was in frightening makeup and a hospital gown already, which likely did me no favours, and they kept me talking until the paramedics arrived. I remember them telling me my shoulder had been dislocated and being confused because the pain wasn’t in my shoulder, it was throbbing in my bicep/tricep area and radiating down my entire arm, and the lump seemed way too far down for a shoulder joint to fall to. My friend accompanied me to the ER in the ambulance and I remember arriving in a hospital hallway, screaming, the words “it has to stop, make it stop” repeated a hundred times, my only vocabulary. I kept calling for him, and I didn’t know how at the time but he’d made it.

I was there for four days. Bags of morphine, fentanyl, and hydromorphone were pumped into my veins and they did nothing to relieve the pain. I remember having to have x-rays taken of the arm, wrist, chest and shoulder and crying out, unable to move my body the way it needed to be moved for the excruciating pain and fear. Eventually they got what they needed, and confirmed the humerus had been broken in three places, and I’d have to be immobilised for a number of weeks.

photo (1)Every shift that came and went brought a new wave of doctors, nurses, and assistants, and the communication seemed to dissolve with every passing day. Naturally they wouldn’t let me leave until the pain was manageable, and it wasn’t anywhere close even with an IV, and I couldn’t leave on oral medication if that wasn’t cutting it. I had to—and still am, 2.5 weeks later—sleep upright, and was unable to shower for my entire stay. AC didn’t leave my side once; off work indefinitely just to take care of me, assuring me nothing was more important. I was and still am an emotional wreck with the gratitude of everything he’s doing. Timing and dosing my medication, helping me overcome my mortifying insecurities by helping me shower and dress, addressing the embarrassing side effects of strong narcotics alongside me and making me laugh in the process, holding bowls while I throw up into them (and onto him), cooking for me, cleaning my entire apartment, doing my dishes and my laundry because those I live with have offered zero help in the slightest… if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to have got through these past few weeks. Basic things like washing and dressing are impossible, as are cooking and doing dishes. I feel simultaneously like the luckiest soul in all the world to have this angel looking after me, guilty and frustrated that I can’t do anything in return, and lonely… so very alone. So scared of becoming the biggest burden, despite an arsenal of reassurances to the contrary. It’s been nearly three weeks without income; and every second of the day I’m in pain, useless, and dependent on someone else. It’s so frightening.

This took three days of writing in shifts with one hand, being propped up for as long as I could with pillows and pills, but I had to get it down. The emotions, the fear, the experience… I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. If you were able to get up today after a comfortable night’s sleep, shower yourself, put on an outfit, do your hair and make food for yourself while you replied to emails and checked Facebook… if you got to go to a job where all your limbs cooperated without second thought and got through a day without pain… if you’ll get home tonight and be able to embrace someone you love, and you know you’ll have a paycheque within a couple of weeks… if you have friends you can go visit or take a drive or have a glass of wine, or put on your own pyjamas… count your blessings so, so hard. I’m scared, hurt, and afraid because the world moves on without you. But more than anything, I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart for the small handful of friends and family who’ve come to keep me company, to bring me food and movies and a robot arm, to clean for me, to clean me, and to make me smile. To make me feel I still belong. I cannot thank them enough. And mostly, to my AC, who’s given everything and more to take care of me right from the very beginning. My protector.

A bolt of warmth, fierce with joy and pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes.

You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens

The above Rumi quote, accompanied by this striking image, really hit home when I saw it floating around an INFJ Facebook group last week. I realised recently that I’ve reached a point in my life where though, up to this point, I genuinely feel I’ve been living with an open heart, something’s changed. And that something can only be described as having my heart be unbroken. Every worry, every fear, every last hurtful word that’s clung to the the inside and rooted itself deep inside, has been swept away, leaving nothing but a shining freedom the likes of which I’ve never known.

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Words are my weapon, but they are also my kryptonite. Part of pouring my life onto public pages isn’t without risk, and though I’ve dealt with Internet trolls before, my absence from the blogging world has had the pleasant side effect of not really giving them enough fuel to stick around. And it’s been a while. But with my last post (which somehow got into the hands of various festival organizers and performers across the country, and landed me an offer to write for another upcoming festival officially[!])  came another attack, and of course it was directed at my newfound happiness. I had to remind myself that this is the Internet, and that this is the reality of the online world. It’s not personal. There are just people out there who actually enjoy trying to hurt people. But though I think I’ve grown a thicker skin than I used to, the words still stung.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about words from the past and their effect on my current mentality. Words from my childhood, when I was called names in the school playground, or told by my own mother she felt sorry for whatever poor sod ended up with me. Words from former friends, telling me that although I was a wonderful person, my emotions and sensitivity were too much and that they’d rather abandon ship than have any presence in my life. Words from the friends and family of past partners that told me to go back to England because nobody wanted me in this country, or that begged them to leave me because I didn’t fit their mould. Words from exes, telling me repeatedly I wasn’t good enough as I was, that I had to be more to their liking, or telling me to shut my mouth and stop being a little bitch as they pinned me to the floor. Words from teachers as a newly landed immigrant, telling me to speak up and slow down because nobody could understand me, and a class in its entirety laughing in retort. Words from the well-intentioned, telling me I couldn’t possibly go after my dreams. And words from the Internet. Today.

There’s great power in words. They can capture the fragments of human emotion and weave them into something that can light the fire of the very soul. They can express the deepest of love or create the most vivid of imaginary worlds. But they can sting. They can burrow their way into a soul and masquerade as truth, distorting their entire world. The seeds of a person’s destruction. The below video served as inspiration for this post, because it’s true: children believe what they are told. And when those beliefs are formed early, when that foundation of thinking has been laid, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing every negative thing ever thrown your way. To this day.

Now, I did begin this post with a quote that at first may seem morbid, but the instant I read it, it struck a chord. I’ve had to have my heart repeatedly bruised, beaten and broken over the years in order for it to finally, truly open, and its opening has been the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced. Finally, it’s open to the truth. Yes, children believe what they are told. But children grow into adults and those beliefs can become the lens through which life is lived if reinforced and accompanied by a lack of self esteem. But the good thing about having this history, this damage, this repeated hammering at the heart, is that one learns the value of contrast. Only through the darkness can one truly define where the light is, and for the very first time, that light is shining brilliantly.

My heart has been broken to the point of finally opening, and with an open heart comes an eradication of everything that was ever false. A new lens through which to see oneself, and the world. A new way of thinking, and feeling, and believing. An heart broken open so wide that everything that was ever bad had no choice but to spill out, leaving a new vessel into which new truths are repeatedly poured with such passion and determination that I have no choice but to believe them, and remind myself every day that I’m not dreaming. I feel like the luckiest soul on the planet, and words cannot convey the depths of my gratitude. Fears, reluctant acceptance, self doubt… they’re all being erased, replaced with encouragement, confidence, connection, and an actual transformation.

The quote and the advertisement are most definitely disheartening in nature, but simultaneously can, if you let them, offer a glimpse of hope. That things can get better. Be careful with your words, for what you send out into the world may land somewhere it’ll stick, and you may move on with your life, years later in obliviousness to the effect they may have had, or may begin having, on the course of someone’s life. But even for the most sensitive of souls, words don’t have to be your shackles, no matter how heavy they weigh down. At the right time, perhaps with incredible luck and a little orchestration of the universe, they can also set you free.

“Nothing happened. And everything did. Your whole life you can be told something is wrong and so you believe it. Why should you question it? But then slowly seeds are planted inside of you, one by one, by a touch or a look or a day in a park, and they start to burst out of old hulls shells and they start to sprout. And pretty soon there are so many of them. They are named love and trust and kindness and joy and desire and wonder and spirit and soulmate. They grow into a garden so dense and thick that it starts to invade your brain where the old things you were once told are dying.”

— Francesca Lia Block

When all the world becomes a hundred stages

Winnipeg Fringe 2013

My favourite time of year just wrapped up again, and this year I was lucky enough to share it with someone who’d never Fringed before. AC and I saw 12 shows in total (sadly this year I had no vacation time to take the full week off, or it would have been at least double), 90% of which were as brilliant as expected. One of my oldest friends got to stay with me, and though our time was short, it was wonderful, and we even got to help out in making part of People Pleaser (if you happen to be lucky enough to be reading this in Edinburgh, please catch his show!).

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We saw actors perform a sold-out show and move the audience to tears with no words; nothing but hand-crafted masks and brilliantly imagined physicality. We laughed ourselves silly at so many witty comedies, parodies, and storytelling, and spent one night in absolute awe of one show in particular, which left me absolutely breathless. Seriously. There are some moments of human brilliance, whether in writing, Tim Redfordperformance or music, where the creator actually has the power to suspend time and transport you into their world, immerse you in its creativity so deeply that when it’s over, you almost feel the physical need to come up for air. I can’t explain it, but that kind of mesmerizing power, that kind of imagination, that kind of skill… it just leaves me breathless. After that show, I left inspired on so many levels, and reinvigorated with ideas for getting back to writing. And the universe, as if in unison with the burst of awe I felt inside, set the sky alight as it crashed down on us in the most epic of storms, and we ran, we kissed, we laughed, we stood atop a bridge marvelling at the lightning and the force of nature that seemed to be an echo of everything we felt inside.

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I know I try every year, but words fail me when I try to express just how much I love this time of year. I’ve been to Fringe festivals in other cities, and though Edinburgh and Adelaide remain for now a dream, there’s nothing quite like Winnipeg’s. The whole city unites in one part of town that’s usually deserted, and restaurants, pubs, concert halls, parks, churches, and of course the usual theatres become the home of the products of people’s imagination, and the dedicated audiences that fall in love with them. There’s magic in the theatrical. Anyone can become transported into a world of someone else’s creation; for a moment in time nothing exists but the universe of another’s conjuring. It can evoke laughter, tears, and all manners of emotion, and its residual effect can be carried like a torch in the form of inspiration long after its burst of glory. And to live in a city where there’s a community of fellow enthusiasts, others who adore these twelve days of a hundred plus creations… is incredible. Passion shared is passion multiplied, and this year, I got to share it with my favourite person in the world.

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It came and went all too quickly, this explosion of universes that originated in the human mind and for a moment, became real. But they were real. The residual inspiration with which I’m filled is real, and I’m beyond excited for it to fuel the next chapter of creating worlds of my own. In my head, in writing, and in song.  1009800_10151731036659171_359321007_n

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.” 
— Neil Gaiman

My Tell-Tale Heart

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

– Eleanor Roosevelt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spread Your Love Like A Fever

“I have this dream of being best friends with everyone in the world. I’ve also always been a proponent of using the word “love” more in everyday life. People in general are just a little more scared to use it I guess.”

Those words were from one of the first e-mails exchanged with who is now one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We were just getting to know each other, and he surprised me with saying exactly what I try to live by – tell everyone that means something to you just how much they mean. It’s not always easy, though – these days, you need to be cool, calm, collected; develop a thick skin, hide your emotions, or the world will eat you up. I’ve always been told I’m more sensitive than most. I remember ex-boyfriends telling me to stop crying so much, friends telling me not to invest my heart so much, people telling me if I didn’t get so emotionally attached I’d save myself a lot of pain. I was talking to my friend about this again recently – I suppose we’d been talking about our resolutions and hopes for the year ahead, and in talking about my goal of filling 2011 with passion, it brought me back to the topic we’d discussed so early on. Going all in. Being as open and deep as possible, putting hearts not only on sleeves, but on lapels, buttonholes and pockets, too. Sharing absolutely everything you are without reserve, without fear of judgment. When the other person is on the same page, outside the realm of what the world may consider “normal”, that connection with another human being can be magical. No wonder we became such fast friends.

Less than 8 months ago, some of the people I now hold dearest in my heart weren’t even in my life yet. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without them. I’d like to think I went all in with them, too – and if you’ve been reading for a while, I tend to do the same thing here. Put absolutely everything out there because that way, the ones who stick around know the real you. I thrive on interpersonal connection – not simply having people around all the time, but having a select few with whom you can share the very depths of your soul. I think as we grow up, we tend to believe what we see all around us – that quantity is better than quality: more money, more nights out, more followers, and more Facebook friends equates to a more successful life. We skip the quality in favour of accumulating more quantitatively because that’s what’s normal. We’ll send text messages rather than picking up the phone; choosing the lifeless and ambiguous messages of 140 characters over the real emotion of someone’s voice. We’ll spend hours online rather than visiting a relative, or experiencing the world. We’ll get together for coffee with a friend and talk about work, relationships, or books, but we won’t talk about how grateful we are just to have them in our lives.  We’ll say our goodbyes and leave without a hug. We’ll post status updates and Tweet about everything going on in our lives, we’ll blog about ourselves and talk some more, but we won’t listen. We won’t use the technology created to make us feel more connected to actually… connect. As a group of last year’s troubadours so aptly put it, we are the Battery Human.

I feel so passionately about making the most of the time we’re given, knowing it could all be taken away tomorrow. So, at the risk of defying social normalcies and at the risk of having it trampled, I put my heart out openly to anyone who enters my life, and give it freely to those who stay. It’s taken a beating over the years, and it’s probably got a few more battle scars to come along the way, but at least, at the end of it all, I can say I lived without reserve. I used up all the love I had and spread it to everyone who mattered. Because what good is having amazing people in your life if you never let them know how you feel? If your best friend, or a beloved relative were to be gone tomorrow, if they’ve had any sort of impact on your life at all, if they’ve ever been there for you through something tough, or if they’ve ever encouraged to believe in yourself or follow a dream… the best way to say thank you is to just be honest. Pour your heart out to your loved ones and let them know how much they mean. One of mine did this for me, recently, and it left me totally speechless; all the words I couldn’t voice bundled themselves together, launching themselves in streams from my eyes instead. A very dear blog friend I’ve yet to meet in person did it again today. Words truly cannot do justice to the feeling of warmth and appreciation I felt in reading these posts. People don’t do that, these days, tell each other they’re loved. People keep their hearts in cages locked tight by the fear of what other people may think. And to see someone offer such displays of friendship and emotion felt incredible, and I was left with a sense of deep gratitude, of true blessing, of real worth, and a sense that I want absolutely everyone I care about to feel the same way. They say that to the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world. If there’s anyone like that in your life, why not take a moment to tell them?

I hope my friend continues his dream of being best friends with everyone in the world. If you have a friend, why not give them the very best you can? I hope he continues to use the word “love” more in everyday life, too. I’m going to try to do the same. People may be scared to use it, but I don’t think anybody in the world wouldn’t appreciate… feeling appreciated.

Aisle 7

Today, I’m really excited to have one of my absolute favourite bloggers helping to hold down the fort while I’m away. Hannah Katy‘s blog is in a word, inspiring. In another, breathtaking. Her posts are always full of incredible thought and insight, and writing so beautiful it makes you want to compile all her posts together into a book you can keep forever. She has a passion for helping others and for making the world better, and is one of the best friends anyone could ask for.  I know you’ll enjoy her writing as much as I do, and please check out her blog – I guarantee it’ll be top of your Reader. 🙂

We were sharing awkward love stories like giddy children trading Silly Bands.

I told him about the time I fell for a boy who liked Dave Matthews Band better than breathing. I gave up sleep to study the lyrics of Mr. Matthews and memorized the backs of every one of his albums just so the boy might talk to me.

He told me about having an entire relationship – start to finish – over the internet.

“How do you feel about dating sites?” I asked. “The world’s favourite statistic these days is that 1 out of every 5 relationships begin online.”

“I don’t like them,” he replies. His words master a tone of nonchalance. “I think it takes an element away from meeting someone for the first time. There is no spontaneity to meeting someone through a dating site.”

My ears perk up. Before I ever wanted a career in New York City or a novel for the LA Times to rave over, using their biggest words and most luscious metaphors, I wanted a spontaneous love story. A “Gather round children, I want to tell you how your grandfather and I met…” kind of story.  A story that breaks boundaries and shatters sensibility.

“I know exactly what you mean!” I say. “I always think about it, like where I might meet him. I could be in aisle 7 of the grocery store and we bump into one another and we both just know!”

My hands are moving furiously. Passionately. Suddenly I am overwhelmed with this keen need to articulate how absolutely breathtaking it is to me that at any moment I could walk outside and meet someone who wants to give me forever. And then some.

“I don’t have anything against dating sites. I just think I might be too nervous to use one myself,” I tell him. My hands have settled. My speech has calmed to more fluent syllables.

Am I alone in finding it nervy to know that someone could be looking up and down a profile page? Judging. I can feel the beads of sweat already forming as I begin to wonder how this 500-word synopsis can even begin to do justice to the Aspirations that Keep Me Up at Night. The Dimples in My Smile. The Stories of Mine that Wait in the Creases of My Eyelids and the Crook of My Collarbone. I wonder how I can even begin to share online the musings of a little girl who used to connect the dots in her freckles and who fell in love for the first time with an archaic typewriter and the tap tapping that taught her heart to sing.

The path towards finding a soul mate in this busy world seems almost unbelievable sometimes.  Who would ever think that one day we could go from being single, one, uno, to the next day meeting the individual  who is about to hold in their arms a giant cluster of our childhood dreams,  pet peeves, embarrassing moments and dark secrets. And yet they still have room enough to hold us too.

I am holding out for something. For Some Random Coffee Shop. The Check Out Line of a Grocery Store. I have to believe that there is a perfect time and place that exists, and it sits and waits for him and I to arrive. He (whomever he is) and I have the same invitation to the exact same moment. We simply have not chosen to RSVP yet.

“Whenever that moment arrives, I will be ready,” I tell him.

Ready for that unexpected bump, the most intentional of unintentional stares, and the extension of my hand in exchange for a name that just might rewrite my storyline for the better.

Our conversation about “first meetings” sticks with me well into the night. As I do the dishes I am recalling the first meetings of my parents, my grandparents, my next door neighbors and my best friends. I am sorting through my collection of first meetings and arranging them alphabetically in my head as I brush my teeth. And I wonder if I am silly to want a first encounter so badly, to want a first meeting of my own to place into this delectable collection.

I climb into bed, doubts sinking deep into the pillow, and go to turn off my phone.

“1 New Inbox” the screen reads. I go to check the text message.

“Hannah, don’t give up on it. You are going to make some guy in aisle 7 of the grocery story feel very lucky one day.”