new year

In which I’m suddenly an extrovert, write songs, am on television, and create a huge vintage freak show. Happy 2015!

New year! It’s funny I write this in such good spirits, because most of 2015 so far has felt pretty terrible. However, when life gives you things beyond your control, as long as you’re consciously doing all you can to make the best of the situation, I find the notion of acceptance a comforting one. (I conveniently had this realisation on my Google calendar scheduled “Epiphany” day. Anyone else have a good one?) Also, gratitude for all the things that don’t suck. They’re always there, if temporarily eclipsed.

I didn’t make myself any resolutions for 2015. I think New Year’s resolutions are kind of stupid (if you want to change something, do it on any day of the year), but I had the idea of making resolutions for everyone I know and love. At first that might sound horrid, but I think instead of everyone making lists of things that will likely evaporate two weeks into a new year, maybe we could all do these few things throughout the year. I kept seeing on my Facebook news feed how dreadful 2014 was to many people. So let’s make the next one awesome. 1) Stop wishing, and start doing. We only have one life. 2) Get out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but I’ll hold your hand. It’s made me physically ill, but also led me to some of my greatest loves in life. 3) Think of at least one thing every night before bed you’re thankful for. Better, write it down. Wake up happy. 4) Stop and admire the stars. 5) Every time you judge or criticize yourself, ask yourself if it’s warranted. If so, do something about it. If it’s just a nasty inner monologue, ask yourself what your dearest friend would say about you. How they would see you. Because if you’re reading this, chances are at least one person (ahem) thinks you’re wonderful. 6) Cut things out of your life that aren’t contributing to where – or who – you want to be. It’s hard to give up on what can feel like obligations, but we all have hopes and dreams, goals, great people and self-nurturing to fit into our lives. Don’t run yourself ragged. You don’t have to say yes to everything.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It's magic.

Seriously, bundle up and lie on a table in the middle of nowhere and look up at the stars once in a while. It’s magic.

Those were my thoughts going into 2015. Some crap happened, but some incredibly great things have happened too, and we’re not even three weeks in. I attempted to conquer my fear of sudden loud noises. I spent time and many hours with my best friends on the planet, who picked me up when I was physically lying on the floor unable to stop crying, brought me chicken nuggets and let me sleep with every pillow and blanket in the world, talked me through everything with such openness and transparency, love and honesty, even if it hurt, that I felt they were legitimately part of my own mind for a while. I never imagined I would find friendships so close, and for the two of them, words cannot describe my gratitude.

friends

I wrote a new song. I spent a couple of days snowed in with my dear friend and she let me spend a day with my beautiful new baritone ukulele (for which I have to learn all the chords again from scratch! Whole new instrument, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to play! Thank you to The Professor for the wonderful Christmas present! I named him Cogsworth.), writing quite possibly the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever written. The feelings I had were so intense, I had to put them to music. And I wanted it to physically move people – sound very upbeat, as well as hopefully move them emotionally. I like songs whose feel sounds completely different from the actual lyrics. Here’s a very rough draft – recorded literally a few hours after I finished writing it – but with White Foxes we’re going to add in harmony, I hear some sort of kick drum, more guitar, and hopefully it’ll end up as a piece of ass-kicking folk a la Mumford and Sons. I’ve been really excited about making music lately. Just thinking that my whole life I’d wanted to sing or write even just one song, and in the last year I’ve written enough to record a whole EP. And I get to make music with two incredible people. I’m so very lucky.

I also tried the new instrument out on a song I figured everybody would know, along with another piece of new equipment – a Zoom H1 I bought to record band stuff. My phone REALLY wasn’t cutting it in terms of audio quality. So here’s Lady Gaga’s “Applause” I tried about ten minutes before my friend Nicole arrived for a movie night. (Yep, that’s my music stand falling down halfway through and me winging the end.) Excited to actually pair the mic with my DSLR once I figure out how to keep it recording video for more than 8 seconds at a time!

applause

I also got to be part of some amazing photography projects recently, both as a subject and photographer/editor. I always feel strange referring to myself as a photographer, because I don’t consider myself one – all my work is done in post; but I’ve been watching courses with the incredible Brooke Shaden recently, and she’s known in the fine art world as a brilliant photographer, yet she freely and regularly admits not really knowing how to use a camera. I organised my first big photo shoot as a “photographer” at the end of December – an entire series of weird and creepy old timey freak show shots I convinced people to pose for and let me edit. My dear friend Kevin owns a studio in the Exchange District and incredibly kindly allowed me to not only use it, but also his lighting equipment for the day. I had over a dozen models, a fabulous hairstylist and two amazing makeup artists all show up to donate their time and skills to help make my project come to life. I’m not quite finished all the images yet, but here are a few I’ve finished so far. (Of course I had to be one of the characters too – I’d written this character in my book, and it was the perfect opportunity to bring her to life!) I think you can click on each image to see it larger. I haven’t used galleries before. And yes, that’s a cut-up doll attached to a woman’s stomach as the baby that never came out.

I also got to be in front of the camera a few times – and my talented friends transformed me into a robot, an entire galaxy, and an evil disease infecting another poor soul.

I also really, really want to get back to working on my novel soon – it’s been too long, and I realised I’m turning thirty in a few months, and I began this project two years ago. I need to get back at it before another two go by. (But there’s so much to create!!)

Another fun thing that happened was that this very blog got featured on a local channel! It’s on television sets every day for the next few weeks, and I’ve already had people stop me and comment about it, which is very strange. My lovely coworker happened to be volunteering at the station and they were doing a series on bloggers, and though it was about two weeks after we’d met last summer, we’d become fast friends, and I ended up doing an interview.

blog

I realise I’m at about 1,200 words right now. You should know I gave up on the “rules” of blogging a long time ago, and for making it this far, thank you! I also had a bit of a realisation recently, and it honestly threw me. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know how very interested in psychology I am. I love to study personality, the human mind, how we all weave our lives into each others, and how we’re all wired on the inside. People fascinate me, and the study of psychology is something that’s taught me a lot, as well as continuing to bring a sense of personal understanding and reflection. It’s also made me feel that after so many years, it’s okay to be exactly who I am. And as strange as I feel sometimes, I am not alone. The MBTI has been getting a bit of a bad rap lately, and I’ve never been one to call is sciencebut I have appreciated and learned a lot from it. It’s a psychometric typology assessment I’ve taken routinely for the better part of the past decade, at least, and I’ve eternally scored the same result: INFJ. This is considered, at less than 1% of the population, the rarest of all personality types, and I related to it so much that I got it tattooed as part of my text sleeve a few months ago. Over the past few years, my introversion has gone steadily down, which I’ve felt good about – the closer I got to zero, the more progress I felt I’d made in conquering my anxiety, but I always remained an INFJ, also known as “The Counsellor”.

infj

For two reasons recently, I decided to take the test again. One: I found myself filling out a new type of personality assessment, and noticed I was answering questions in a way I hadn’t before. I had more confidence and answered in a more extraverted way than I have for most of my life. I found this interesting. Two: I was given the biggest compliment in the world. In preparation for the galaxy photo shoot, I was telling the team that I’d like to incorporate something my friend Kier had always told me – that even at my quietest and most afraid, I had “a universe inside.” This meant so incredibly much that somebody saw what I was. My friend Melinda, whom I only met last year and who’s done some of the most incredible makeup I’ve ever seen, told me she “never would have guessed I used to be painfully shy.” Same with a coworker who’s only known me a few months. “Can’t imagine you not being this confident person”. Shy was THE word people described me as since I moved to this country, and I hated it so much. I hated what people saw on the outside just because I was so scared of everyone and everything. I was so scared of being judged that I never let what was inside come out. I feel like in the last few years I’ve tried to put myself in situations that force me to do what I’ve always wished I could. And to have people see that as ME… that in itself was enough to throw me.

enfpI’ve been worried lately I’ve been growing less sentimental, but that’s not it. I’m still the most emotional and sensitive person you probably know, and I’d still do absolutely anything for those I love. I tell them how much they mean regularly and I make a point of trying to put good out into the world whenever I can. I think maybe I’ve just learned to recognize things and see them clearly, and not through rose-coloured glasses. I’ve also learned that I’m more than okay on my own, because I’m incredibly lucky to have the best friends in the world. And I think that’s given me a bit of strength. Anyway, back to the MBTI. I held onto being an INFJ so hard because my whole life, it was me. 100%. But I retook the test. I expected maybe my introversion would have gone down a bit more, but I didn’t expect it to flip onto the side of extraversion. A tiny percent (basically a cat’s whisker over the border between the two), but also? My J changed to a P. Apparently I’ve become more okay with spontaneity rather than careful planning. Things have become more flexible. My entire personality has apparently shifted from the sensitive INFJ to the outgoing ENFP. Reading over this description… I don’t disagree. That’s the alarming part. Have I become a whole new person? I’d always wanted to become someone with strength and courage, someone unafraid to be authentically themselves in any situation, someone who wasn’t scared to try making an impact or putting my stuff out into the world… hopefully someone who could inspire others in some way. I just scored ENFP. The Inspirer. And I don’t know what to think. I know basing your identity on pseudo-science isn’t the wisest thing in the world, but because I’d related to it so very much; because it had made me feel so unalone – a shift threw me. Even if the results and people’s recent comments paint me as… the person I’ve always wished I could be.

I used to be afraid of taking the bus. Eating in public. I threw up if I had to be in front of anybody. It’s a little alarming to see what you only ever dreamed of actually becoming… real. But as taken aback as I am, I’m happy. I’m on the right path. I don’t know where it’s going, but isn’t that half the fun?

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“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.

Let not your dreams go to waste… (battling some demons)

All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.

As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.

I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging. 

The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.

Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.

My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.

Image

I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:

“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”

Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The evolution of New Year’s Eve is an interesting one, isn’t it? I remember as a kid going over to one of the neighbours’ houses and spending it crammed in a bedroom with my younger brother and the neighbours’ kids. I’m still friends with them today, all these years later. I remember spending hours taking turns playing Prince of Persia (2D!) with them until midnight hit and going downstairs to find both sets of parents absolutely loaded, and being completely mortified. That night was probably the reason I didn’t drink a thing until I was in my twenties.

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 and all the excitement everyone around the world was sharing. I was 14, and I dressed up in the sparkliest silver dress I could find. We went to an out-of-town party in a big place where they had several halls, one designated for the under 18s. I can’t remember what was in it, but I think it was a fun time.

I remember New Year’s Eve in university, being 19 or so, having my first proper “group” of friends all come over for board games. I remember my parents coming home after their party and my dad joining us for a few rounds of Taboo. I think we played charades, too. I remember the feeling of pure content being surrounded by a group who simply adored each other’s company.

I remember New Year’s Eve newly single, sitting in my dad’s study writing out my resolutions for the upcoming year and chatting with an old friend overseas, comforted by the triumph of human connection over several time zones and thousands of miles.

I remember New Year’s Eve in Palm Springs, California, with a group of people I thought were going to become my family. I remember New Year’s Eve newly married, sad, scared and worried, because those people wanted me gone.

I remember the only time I ever ventured out on a Proper New Year’s Party. Tickets were $75, including cover and all drinks (which nobody could get anyway with the queues permanently thirty people long), but it was probably the worst one I’ve ever had. Someone had rented the Art Gallery and transformed it into an amazing venue with different themed rooms, DJs, even music on the roof, but their coat check volunteers had abandoned ship halfway through the night, and the holding space became a free-for-all looting session. Everyone was stealing everybody else’s belongings, and I remember sitting on the floor crying amidst the riot with my coat and camera missing. The police ended up getting called. I waited freezing for a good three hours before finally being able to get a cab home.

I remember last New Year’s Eve, going out for dinner with a splintered group of people who huddled in small clusters around a long table. I remember the lemon soup being the most delicious thing I’d ever had, and I remember being extremely thankful for a few people there, but more worried about being judged by the rest. I remember being new. I remember the excitement as 12:00 rang in a six-month anniversary with my boyfriend and running off on our own down empty snow-filled streets, setting off fireworks before dashing inside to warm up and drink peach champagne.

But I think this New Year’s Eve is going to be my favourite. I get to spend it with a handful of some of the best people I’ve ever known. If 2012 has taught me anything (well, it taught me a lot of things, but perhaps more so than anything else), it’s the value of actual love. Not just romantic love, but platonic love, too.

They say your real friends know you inside out, all the bad as well as the good, and love you anyway. But this year I actually saw that happen. I put my friends through a lot of crazy this year. I lost a few people because of it, but a handful were there through it all, all the tears, all the panic, all the worry and all the downright insane. There are things I put people through this year that I don’t even understand. They certainly didn’t, but they were there anyway, with hugs, reassurances in the middle of the night, and the occasional bottle of wine. They’ve shown me the meaning of the true human connection – when love outweighs absolutely anything else.

Friendship is a pretty amazing thing from a scientific standpoint – investing time, emotion and energy into a relationship without any evolutionary gain. The capacity to care is beautiful. It’s also pretty incredible when those relationships are completely open. I did some things this year I’d be embarrassed to write about here, but when you know someone is truly there for you, those things don’t become embarrassing because they’re crazy, they become embarrassing because you feel you let the other person down. Because they think you’re awesome, and sometimes, you’re not. 2012 was the year I realised with some people, I truly could be exactly the version of myself I am right now, and I didn’t have to worry about being judged. And for that, I’m simultaneously sorry and grateful beyond words.

I’m not going to make resolutions for 2013 – I have a pretty good 30 Before 30 on the go, and I’ve always maintained that you shouldn’t wait for an excuse like the turning of a calendar to start making things happen. I look back on 2012 with a deepened appreciation for those dearest to me, and I make them a hope and a promise: that they will always know how cherished they are, and that for their sake, I will always remember what I’ve learned, where we’ve been, what we’ve shared… and use that to be the best possible person I can be.

And for anyone reading these words, Happy New Year. I hope your 2013 brings introspection, courage, adventure and education. I hope your understanding of yourself and the world around you deepens and with it, an appreciation. I hope you chase your dreams, even if you’re afraid, because every day in this upcoming year is another chance to do something amazing. I hope that even if you screw something up, there’s something to be said about people that try. Besides, with the biggest cock-ups come the biggest lessons, and lessons are awesome. I hope you learn great things, read great books, and hear songs that set your soul on fire and make you proud to be part of the human race. I hope you remember small kindnesses and compliment strangers, and I hope, at least once per day, you find one thing to smile about.

Time Capsule: A Decade in Review

It’s the end of the first decade of a new millennium.  At the end of the year, bloggers usually write some sort of reflection on the year that was.  But I feel like I’ve kind of been doing that continually all year long, so instead of rehashing 2009, I couldn’t think of a better way to end the year (and indeed, the decade) by reflecting on my world of the last decade.  I’ll try and be brief – but here’s my take on the noughties.

2000: This was a big year for me.  Looking back at old picture-stuffed, handwritten diaries, I see my departure from the country I call home.  I see paperbound notebooks, scrawled with messages between friends wishing me luck with boys, with Canada, and with an entirely new life.  I see wonky teeth gone forever and braces finally removed.  I see nervousness, and excitement as I left my life behind and started fresh on an entirely new continent, initial feelings of anxiety quickly surpassed by those of enthusiasm, as I was thrown into high school, and everybody wanted to know the new kid in town.  It seems a million years ago, but we were all still using Napster, Britney Spears was the freshest thing since sliced bread, and Madonna was getting ready to take over the world all over again.

2001: My first proper year in high school.  I started a rigorous advanced program and made two friends I stuck around with for the rest of my high school years, one of which I’m still good friends with today.  I discovered my love of literature and the English language, and decided I wanted to be a teacher.  My first long-term relationship began, with a dark haired Rodrigo Santoro look-alike recently landed from the Ukraine.  Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were still together, the world was taken by a storm of fantasy as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings hit the screens, and elsewhere in the world, three thousand people lost their lives as planes crashed into the twin towers. The world was in mourning.

2002: I discovered I could sing, met some guys in a punk band and got up in front of the school and sang Offspring and No Use for a Name covers. I had my first proper breakup after a year and a half, and started learning about my relationship behaviour, an unfortunate pattern I’d soon become very hurt by, and wouldn’t truly realise for another six years.  I got my first job as a “Language Services Facilitator”, very scared of the working world and grown-up responsibility, but very grateful to not be working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart like most of my fellow classmates.  The music world mourned the deaths of TLC’s Lisa Lopes, The Who’s John Entwistle, and the legendary Joe Strummer.  My new city of Winnipeg is put on the map as My Big Fat Greek Wedding becomes the most successful independent film ever.

2003: I finished high school and headed to university with every intention of becoming an English teacher.  I took English literature, medieval history, psychology and the history of art, and it was through friends I met here that I met Sweet for the first time. We dated for a month (before he unceremoniously dumped me right before Christmas!), and I also first met my best friend. Myspace and Facebook were launched, and changed the face of communication forever.

2004: At nineteen years old, I decided I was ready to move out.  I left home against all common sense, moved in with my then-boyfriend, an internationally travelling showman, juggler and contortionist, and realised how rubbish I was at being left behind.  I worked part time at the post office, and went to university part time, ultimately dropping out due to lack of money, lack of time, and our eventual breakup.  This year, I worked as a postal clerk!  X Factor mania began its reign of television supremacy, and a tsunami took the lives of hundreds of thousands.  This was the year I discovered the magic of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival , found my love of theatre, and have been back religiously every summer since.

2005: The BBC relaunched Doctor Who, my favourite and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, “longest-running science fiction television show in the world, and as the most successful science fiction series of all time.”  I was hooked for life.  I temporarily moved back into my parents’ house, living out of boxes on a sofa in the basement for a few weeks until I found my first apartment, into which I moved with my very first flatmate.  I discovered the horrors of joint cohabitation, but couldn’t afford to live alone, and so began my string of exasperating roomies.  2005 was also the year I got fired for the first and only time in my life, and I decided to go off to another province to work in a holiday resort for the entire summer.  I soon realised what a relentless homebody I was, and came back after about three weeks.  I took the first job I could find, and began my brief stint in the world of retail.  Elsewhere in the world, the first video is uploaded to YouTube, and within six months, the site was hitting 100 million views per day.

2006: I quit working in retail, and got my  soul back! I landed a job as a graphic designer (and soon after, office manager) at a print shop and though I stopped feeling bad about never finishing my English degree, I still longed to be learning again.  I pursued graphic design, learning on my own and getting better and better, and stayed there for three years.    This was the year I got my beautiful little cat, too, but it was also the year my parents split up.  An extremely close relationship with my dad began, but my relationship with my mother went in the opposite direction.  In 2006 I really got into British music in a big way, and discovered my love of bands like Muse, Kasabian, Keane and the Arctic Monkeys.  Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy takes the world by storm and becomes quite possibly the biggest song of the decade.  Twitter is launched – and it takes another three years before I eventually hop on the bandwagon.

2007: was the beginning of the worst year ever.  I (stupidly) got engaged to someone who started off great, but ultimately wound up lying, stealing money, doing drugs, and becoming abusive.  I lost a lot of my self-confidence  and started questioning the person I was.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I wish I could go back to my 2007 self and give her a slap in the face and tell her to stop being so naive.  But 2007 had lots of good moments too – I visited England, France,  went to the best concert of my life and saw my favourite band of all time.  I had my tonsils out over Christmas of this year – THE most painful experience of my life, and found myself alone, in pain, and completely detached from the real world.  Luckily I reconnected with Kyla, resurrecting a wonderful friendship after years of absence.

2008: I had my first year of really being single and living without a flatmate.  I learned that I didn’t have to take every offer that came my way and just say no and be by myself for a while, and let my heart heal.  I went out dancing every week and threw myself into the indie music scene, staying up until 2:00 on weeknights.  In late spring, Sweet came back into my life after about 5 years not being in it, shortly before another trip back to the UK.  I visited old friends, fell in love with Ireland, and discovered I missed Sweet more than anything, and came back into his arms, where we officially decided to give it another go.  My best friend got married in a beautifully intimate ceremony, and I experienced my first moments of real, true love.  I had to give up my second cat, Chloe, and wept for days.  Heath Ledger passed away and the world was in shock.  I was encouraged to leave my comfy job at the print shop and go for something more, so I took a chance, quit, and spent the end of the year in California.

And now I’m wrapping up the decade with what’s been, so far, the best year of my life.  I started with a goal of escaping the shell of a person I was, taking risks and ending up exactly where I want to be.  I moved in to my first house, had an amazing year with good friends, growing closer with my dad, got a job I absolutely love, got engaged, developed my faith, and met my all-time favourite author in the flesh, a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.  I enjoyed a bunch of amazing music, programmes and movies.  I’m in the final of a national blogging contest and I’ve just started writing for an online music magazine – I’m doing what I love, and being given more and more opportunities to do it.  2009 has been an incredible, life-changing year, and I’m starting the new decade with a spirit of excitement, determination, and gratitude.  Next year already holds a lot of anticipation.  My first trip to the Caribbean, to the biggest city in Canada, to England and to wrap it all up in December, our winter wedding.  I can’t even imagine what I’ll be writing over the next ten years, but I know I can’t wait to share it all with you. 🙂

Happy New Year!!