passion

On saying no to massive opportunities

I had an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that left me a little exhilarated and simultaneously thrown for a loop. I’ve never been much for public speaking, so the fact that someone from TED (as in Talks) was nominating me to be a speaker at the upcoming TEDx Manitoba was kind of insane.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 4.52.00 PMI responded, naturally, in complete freak-out fashion, thanking them as graciously as I could while also making sure they knew all about my throwing up incidents after being on stage and the performance anxiety that though I am challenging, musically, is still very much there. I wasn’t sure they’d got the right person—if they’d found me through my blog, surely they’d know I’d be a nervous wreck in front of an audience of hundreds? They assured me they’d be with me every step of the way. That people needn’t have any prior speaking experience, that they too had had someone throw up with nerves in their preparation… yet every single person they’d ever chosen ended up being brilliant. They told me they believed in my story; that I had the power to engage through writing and tell stories that inspire people. I was flattered and humbled beyond belief: all I do is live my life out loud. I have a desperate desire to know and to be known, to seize every moment we’re given, to do something positive in the world and be a friend to every stranger who’s ever feeling they can’t do something or that life is too much, because I spent too long feeling that way myself and I want everyone to know that the key to the life they want truly does lie in their own back pocket. Every dragon to slay on the way to reaching it is masked as real, but evaporates the moment you choose to venture forth into the world, face fears head on, and allow yourself the freedom to try what you’ve always wanted. Accept that judgment is inescapable, but that if you have a passion or ten or two hundred, you should be allowed to go forth and explore them. I’ve said it before, that ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for. I was incredibly touched that someone from such a huge organization hand-picked me and believed in me, despite my fears. And I was torn. But not because I was afraid.

Everyone I told was incredibly excited about the opportunity, telling me I absolutely had to do it. That this sort of thing doesn’t just come around, and that I’d always regret it if I didn’t do it. My initial reasons for hesitance were rooted in a bit of anxiety—it hasn’t stopped me, but every time I get up in front of people it’s immensely difficult to switch off my biggest fear: that people will see only what’s on the surface. That they wouldn’t see a girl whose head is full of ideas and imagination, a heart so determined it never stops learning and doing, a mind that never stops thinking and imagining and challenging itself. Someone who’s been at the absolute bottom and knows it well enough for it to become the catalyst to doing everything so as never to go there again. I’m not proud of those years. But I’m proud of these ones. And in the way I wish someone had reached out and scooped me up back then, I want to be that beacon any chance I get. To help people. To pour passion into everything, to soak up the infinite wonders of the world and be inspired to create some of my own. To encourage people to see the vast potential on their very own doorstep. To show them all they have to do is leap, and that it’ll be scary, but it’ll be brilliant. And no matter what, it’ll be okay. Because if we have a desire within us to do certain things, we should leap on that and make it happen. Don’t let something that could shine so brightly fade into regret. (I might not be the best singer or even a good ukulele player yet, but I’m working on it, and the journey is bringing me so much happiness—this is a Bastille cover, and it’s the only one since the accident I’ve actually been kind of proud of)

I debated doing TED internally for a few days, and then I briefly convinced myself I was going to say yes. It’d probably be the biggest challenge of my life, but it’d also probably be one of the most rewarding if I made it through. And I would make it through. I don’t know if I’d do it gracefully, but I’d get through it. But the idea of doing it didn’t sit right. Not because I was scared—I’ve spent the last few years diving into things I’ve been afraid of for the sake of growth and adventure—but because of the idea of time. And wondering if it truly would be that rewarding after all. Would it be, just because it was hard? There’d be no guarantee I’d have any kind of impact on anybody, and if I want to inspire people, I can do that from here. With words, and without standing in the spotlight feeling uncomfortable. When I’m passionate about something (which, let’s be honest, is a lot of things), I have no problem launching it out into the world. Even if it’s not perfect. I did an image this week and covered a song last week and for the first time in a while, felt kind of proud. Not because I’d somehow reached a level I dream of being at, but because I’ve been trying. That leads me back to another reason I felt uncomfortable saying yes: TEDx would be in June, and I’d have to come up with a speech, learn it inside and out, and somehow be okay being on one of the city’s bigger stages in front of hundreds of people. This wasn’t something that excited me. This was two months of fear and dread. Two months I could spend sharing the same message in a different way—a way I felt comfortable with and relatively decent at, that could reach the same number of people.

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal :)

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal 🙂

I had lunch with a dear friend (whom many of you will know from elsewhere on the Interwebs) recently, and she was, as was everyone else, very excited for me. We hadn’t got together in a while, but she’d posted something at the very same time I last wrote about being overwhelmed by All Of The Things, and her antidote was a very well-timed one that constituted the need to get together and discuss! She, like most people, was excited for me—but then we had an illuminating talk over afternoon breakfast and she left me with a phrase that’s embedded itself in my head and may be the very solution to feeling overwhelmed. I’d thought I was feeling overwhelmed because of all the projects I wanted to do, but it wasn’t that at all.

If it’s not a ‘hell yes’, then it’s a no.

Her simple phrase put everything into perspective and made me refocus on exactly what I’ve been advocating forever—we’re only given so much time in a day, a week, a life… why spend it on things that don’t contribute to the life you want to be living? I want to create. I want to inspire. I want to always be learning and expressing and exploring and adventuring and challenging and growing. I want to spend my time with people of the same kind of mindset. People who get that the world is so full of infinite possibility and so is everyone in it. I want to let every piece of imagination inside this head out into the world in some form or another. Because it’s not there for nothing. I’ve debated before whether to spend that time trying to prove you can do anything and everything, or enhancing what you’re innately good at and possibly becoming extraordinary at one or two things. I’ve always felt drawn to the former, I suppose because I felt like I had something to prove. But in recent years, I’ve discovered passions. Making art and storytelling through words, images, or song. Seeing incredible sights and spending time with a small handful of people I feel lucky even exist. And I’m completely sold now on the latter. I don’t have to do everything. I just have to do the things that are a “hell yes”.

10169103_10152303690992552_1677748315_nI’ve never wanted to be a public speaker, but if I have a message to get out there, or an idea (and I have lots!), I have countless other ways through which to do it. Ways that make me happy and, you know, not throw up. I want to know and be known, absolutely. But I don’t have to do it in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

It was an incredible honour to have been nominated for something so huge, but I’m not going to regret not doing it. I know if I took it on, I’d feel overwhelmed, because my time would be invested in something that I ultimately don’t really want to do—and more importantly taken away from the things I do. Like writing, and making cool images, and getting better at music. I decided mid-conversation that I wasn’t going to do it, and you know what? I don’t think I’m actually going to regret it at all. Someone believed I could do it. Someone believed I had something worth sharing. And that’s an incredible honour. I’m just going to do it in a way I feel is the best use of this gift of time—and of what I’m naturally better at. I thought I’d let people (and myself) down if I didn’t do this, but in choosing not to, for these reasons, all I feel is grateful. Humbled. Relieved. And excited.

And just maybe, through following your own path, you create your own massive opportunities along the way.

 

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5 Songs That Changed My Life

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.08.41 AMToday the lovely Melissa over at Press Play is featuring this post as part of her 5 Songs That Changed My Life feature. Melissa’s life is FULL of music, and she shares the same passion for it I do, except she gets to work in the industry and do things like meeting Ed Sheeran too!!

I had to sign up for it the moment I heard about it. Nothing has had a big an impact on my life as music. I’m a pretty emotional person, and it’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life – I always liked to imagine a sort of emotional spectrum, and where I think it’d probably be easier to lay close to the centre, in the neutral zone far away from the depths of feeling (because things can get pretty dark sometimes), I don’t think I ever could, because you can’t have the soul-igniting, heart-exploding highs in life without also experiencing the lows. And I wouldn’t trade those for anything. I am going somewhere with this – and it really does tie in to music. For every experience I’ve ever had in life, every feeling, every hope or dream or period of exhilaration or loneliness… for every emotion this heart is capable of feeling, there’s a song that can speak straight to it. Music isn’t just the language of love, it’s the language that penetrates your very soul if you let it, and I cannot convey the amount of enthusiasm and respect I have for those who’ve written words and put them to music in such a way that it’s like a direct channel to my soul. (I swear I’m not this weird in real life… just incredibly passionate about the magic of what us humans can create and express in this form of art.)

1. Frank Turner – If Ever I Stray

It was really hard for me to narrow it down to just one Frank Turner song, because he’s one of those modern day songwriters that just gets it. Just gets exactly how it is, exactly what’s wrong with the world, exactly what’s worth singing about, exactly what’s important in life, and there’s no overproduction or forced melodies – it’s a simple English bloke singing songs about what really matters, and he has a way of doing it that just makes me want to ingest every lyric and with them wallpaper the insides of my head. A couple of favourite lines from other Frank songs include “it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go; no-one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do”, along with “I face the horizon, the horizon is my home”, and “It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old,” but I find this track a great reminder for when things may get difficult in life, or you’re feeling low or questioning choices you’ve made… this song always helps me really re-focus on the good things to be thankful for that exist every minute of every day.

“If ever I stray from the path I follow
Take me down to the English Channel
Throw me in where the water is shallow
And then drag me on back to shore!

‘Cos love is free and life is cheap
As long as I’ve got me a place to sleep
Clothes on my back and some food to eat
I can’t ask for anything more”

2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work

I knew I’d have to pick a Kate song, and though this isn’t my favourite of all, it is the one that without fail always leaves me absolutely sobbing. As you listen to her remarkable voice sing a chorus that absolutely penetrates your heart, you can’t help but feel a sense of urgency in life, to not let it go to waste… to tell those you love how much they mean to you, to live these moments we’re given and build a life you can look back on without regret… to always express. Always, always express.

“I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking
Of all the things I should’ve said that I never said
All the things we should’ve done that we never did
All the things I should’ve given but I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away”

3. The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home

This song just stirs something within me that transcends the lyrics themselves, which I wouldn’t go so far as to say have “changed my life”, but every time I hear this song I feel drenched with a cold awe. Every once in a while a song will come along, stop you in your tracks and burrow its way into your ears, then your heart, then every fibre of your skin, making every hair stand up straight on the end of a thoroughly haunted and mesmerized goosebump. This is raw and beautiful, and something about this voice, and the soaring beauty at the chorus end as it fades into the softest of next few words… it’s beautiful. I don’t think there’s an official video, so I wouldn’t read too much into this one, but just close your eyes and turn this up and lie down somewhere comfortable and enjoy something magical for the next six minutes.

4. Mumford and Sons – Roll Away Your Stone

Again, it was far more difficult than it should be to narrow it down to just ONE Mumford song… this is my all-time favourite band. I remember when I first got Sigh No More… it was  the perfect balance of heart-wrenching, goosebump-inducing, earnest longing with a heavy dose of bluegrass and roots, dominated by thumping kick drums and a killer banjo (yes, really) that had me cranking my speakers and jumping around the living room. It was an extraordinary debut; a stunning combination of the expertly crafted upbeats and raw, emotionally ripping passion, each song fully able to stand alone as a fabulously crafted masterpiece… I went to see them before the first album was released in North America at an intimate little venue in Toronto back in what must have been 2009? It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I remember writing at the time: There was an excited, energetic buzz filling the room; they commanded the crowd dressed in vintage waistcoats, rotating instruments, and had the crowd jumping up and down pumping fists while on the edge of their seats two tracks later in awe at the raw passion, soul and mastery of lyricism in front of them.  It was nothing short of stunning, and I hope they get the worldwide recognition they deserve. I’m SO glad they exploded.

This song is one of my favourites not just because of the build up that leaves you breathless, but because of the artfully constructed words, the melody, the combination of everything all in one song that hit really close to home. To me, it’s about being afraid… the fear of being isolated with only your own heart for company. In the past, that’s been a daunting, dark, prospect, and I think the verses capture the fear incredibly. And then the song just builds up into a “fuck it, there’s a whole world out there and it’s brilliant and I’m going to fill my soul with that instead” crescendo of awesomeness that just makes you want to shout YES right along with it.

“Stars hide your fires, for these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
And you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine”

5. The toughest one! There are at least another twenty songs I could probably list; but I’m trying really hard to focus on ones that have had impact rather than ones I’d just love to broadcast to the world because they’re damn good songs. The honour of the last spot I think has to go to Laura Marling, because her words, especially from such a young girl, are so incredibly wise and beautifully poetic. Hope in the Air was a close second, and is a brilliantly written tale that’s a story in itself (and contains one of my favourite lyrics and haunting melodies ever):

“Our hearts are small and ever thinning,
There is no hope ever of winning,
Oh, why fear death, be scared of living”

But I ended up choosing Rambling Man – it speaks to me on so many levels, from the opening verse to the defiant chorus all the way through (excerpts below).

“Oh, naive little me
Asking what things you have seen
You’re vulnerable in your head
Where you’ll scream and you’ll wail till you’re dead”

But give me to a rambling man
Let it always be known that I was who I am

Beaten, battered and cold
My children will live just to grow old
But if I sit here and weep
I’ll be blown over by the slightest of breeze

And the weak need to be led
And the tender I’ll carry to their bed
And it’s a pale and cold affair
I’ll be damned if I’ll be found there

But give me to a rambling man
Let it always be known that I was who I am

It’s funny how the first chords you come to
Are the minor notes that come to serenade you
It’s hard to accept yourself as someone
You don’t desire

As someone you don’t want to be

Transformation is an incredible process, and I adore her determination in this song to become more than those negative voices in our own heads that tell us our limits, not our capacities. To get to the other side, and above all, to be known.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

They do not exist, and thus they are all that matters

Another month has gone by in the blink of an eye, and once again I find myself missing writing dreadfully. I feel a bit like Tuvok in that Voyager episode where he’s asked to “fire at will,” and responds with something awesome like “I have the will, Captain, but not the means.” Life has been busy (and wonderful), but I’ve felt the pull toward writing sirenesque and impossible to ignore.

I think the time has come to acknowledge the fact that there’s been a shift in my attitude toward blogging: for the last couple of years, it had become a huge part of my life. I loved carving out my own little space and filling it with thoughts and ideas, immortalising them in a way upon which I can later look back, probably laugh at how young and terribly naïve I was, but remember fondly the hopes and dreams, slip-ups and victories, events and emotions that were my life here and now. Through blogging, I got to know all sorts of wonderful people who lived all over the world, and was lucky enough to meet some of them in person. Through blogging, I landed jobs, created a reason to be accountable to my biggest goals, got published in a magazine, and won a trip to Mexico. I got to express myself coherently and somewhat eloquently (the latter’s debatable) when I was too scared or shy to do it in person. Blogging has done wonderful things for my life, and for all of them I am more than thankful – but the time has come for something that’s sat prisoner at the back of my mind for too long, tapping on the jailbars and calling for release. I have become the jailer of my biggest passion, and the time has come to set it free.

I adore the written word. I love reading beautiful prose and lock away beautiful sentences like treasure. I love, when I have time, to sit at my rickety old desk with a glass of port or oversized cup of tea, turn on the fairy lights hanging overhead, light a few candles, and write away the next few hours. But as much as I’ve loved blogging, I’ve felt limited. Not in terms of expression – anyone who’s read for the last little while knows I don’t believe in keeping silent about things that matter – but in terms of style and creativity. Enormous fervor for the English language is tangled around every thought and feeling that floats across my imagination, and I can’t help but feel it’s my biggest calling in life to try to find the words with which to get it out. When I die, I’m quite sure that they’ll find the inside walls of my heart decorated with love letters, pages of Chaucer, and the inlays of hundreds of CD covers, all their lyrics borne of creative geniuses intertwining around the fibres of my soul. Words are my passion, and it seems that when you feel this strongly about something, it should be explored to the absolute limit. It shouldn’t be limited because it’s more comfortable to stay where you are, or because the ephemeral duties of the day-to-day are given priority.

In life, I’ve always been a fan of the saying “that which matters most should never be at the mercy of that which matters least”, and once again I find it situationally apt. I’ve buried the language I love beneath what’s easier, and made excuses about not having time. But I want to write fiction. I want to build characters and create worlds, to write handwritten letters and tell tales that will move people the way I’ve been moved by great literature. And the time has come where I can no longer keep this inside. I’m transitioning from blogging into creative writing, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Step one comes next weekend: after seeing a photo somewhere on the Internet, I’d designed a new tattoo (sadly my back shows no sign of becoming a cooperative team member, so that project’s on hold for the foreseeable future) which I’d fallen in love with – a circular alphabet in a script that looked like it could’ve been scrawled by Shakespeare himself, which I wanted on my inner forearm as an eternal reminder that I should be writing, and of the immense power that lies in words. Unfortunately, the script was so ornate that the size I wanted would render it illegible, and I really wanted it somewhere I could see. So I met with the artist, who asked me all sorts of questions to make sure she understood why I was getting what I was… and by the end of it, we came up with something that captures the spirit just as effectively: a beautiful, old-fashioned quill. And I have every hope that it will not only reflect my love for the written word… but guide me for the rest of my life toward what I truly should be doing. I’ll still stop by every once in a while and update my blog, but today marks the turning point to the world wherein my true passion lies.

“There are only two worlds – your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. these worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters.”

– Neil Gaiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the next chapter commence!