The Past

The bad news: Nothing lasts forever. The good news: Nothing lasts forever.

This week, other than band practice, a tattoo appointment and a Friendsgiving potluck at the end of the week, I have nothing. It’s strange, yet not, how my introversion kicks in sometimes – I’m told more and more as of late, especially by those close to me now who never knew me when I was an entirely different person, that me being an introvert comes as a surprise. That I should be on the stage; that I love dressing up and going out in public; that I make people laugh; that I’m a social butterfly. That I’m a complete extrovert. These words make me feel accomplished, more than anything – for those that have been with me for a while will remember, perhaps not quite so well as I, the many years I spent a hostage of fear and anxiety, desperate to possess half an ounce of confidence or self-belief, wishing so much I had the social skills that would attract people into my life and make them want to be around me, to impress, or sobbing into a pillow every night convinced I was everybody’s last choice. That nobody would miss me should I not be here, because I never had the courage to allow what’s inside to be seen externally. I used to fill up my weeks with plans because I craved the company of others, yet the desire was eternally outweighed by the fear of not being good enough, and I’d end up cancelling, and lonely, and upset with myself. These days my schedule seems to fill itself, and I find myself on the other end of the spectrum – busy, social, incredibly thankful, yet sometimes a little thirsty for what always terrified me most: solitude.

It’s strange how much the tables have turned. But then again, perhaps they haven’t. I still have moments where I find myself scared – of performing a song I wrote in front of people (yet I can karaoke in front of a room of strangers), of speaking on the spot in a meeting, or of others seeing the things I still sometimes see in myself. All of the flaws. I’ve worked so hard on embracing so many of the things that drove me to my darkest hour, and I feel more gratitude than I could ever express being in a position I’d only ever dreamed possible, but still, sometimes they sneak in.

Only occasionally, though. For the most part, I’m exactly where (and who) I always wished I’d be. I have deep, deep friendships with a few – “best” friendships, after never knowing what that could possibly feel like. I have independence and a sense of self worth I never imagined could belong to me. I let everything that begins as a tiny ember in the heart of my imagination burn brightly, so bright it spills into the outside world and I don’t care whether or not I’ll be judged for it, or if it’s odd. I don’t think any of us have these creative desires for nothing, and if we fail, we fail. At least we tried. At least there’ll be a record of our mind’s existence in this world.

So it’s been a couple of years of fierce determination, but I’m finally on the right path. I make music, I write stories, I make strange Facebook statuses about the sky. I try singing, I try taking photographs, and I try being in them, then re-working them to become the magical things I see through the lens of my imagination.

All of it’s a work in progress, but with passions, I think when they’ve spent far too long being stifled by your own fear, when you have the chance, you have to grab onto the time you have and unleash them into a creative explosion. Time is so fragile, and is stolen so quickly.

Tonight I sit in my new house, my housemate upstairs and a few hours before bed, alone. On one level I feel more connected and alive than I ever have; on the other, a sense of isolation so grand it almost evokes the feelings I used to have. But I’m stronger now. I have a tenor ukulele beside me, another laptop to my right, a glass of wine on the table, a few Photoshop windows open, a website half designed, a folder of sheet music in front of me along with a stack of stationery and postcards. I have so many things to put out into the world. Songs, videos, letters to loved ones, magical images. A sense of guilt hangs over me because I didn’t include storytelling in the list, and I’m desperate to write another chapter in my book, a short story inspired by a writing prompt, and another for the Hallowe’en season. I have tonight to myself, and so much with which to fill the hours. Hours to myself I’ve craved for what seems like months. I’m simultaneously overwhelmed and concerned. Not enough time for all I want to make, yet too much to spend alone. I haven’t felt the latter in an eternity, but I’ve recently had a bit of a deja-vu, in the worst way possible.

Years ago, when I was messed up, an emotional wreck and had yet to deal with my anxiety problem and insecurities, I lost friends. I hadn’t yet experienced a true, authentic, adult connection with another (platonic) soul, and those I had meant everything to me. I used to feel so much that I didn’t belong that anyone who stayed was absolutely cherished. But in the end, nobody did. I convinced myself it was because I was too much of an anomaly for this world; I felt too deeply, I was into too many different things, I was both silently passionate and loudly awkward, and I didn’t seem to fit in to anyone’s life well enough to stay. This was half a decade ago. In the last few years, I’ve learned how to fend for myself. To acknowledge the true power that lies in simple acceptance, rather than trying to control. To remain calm, and to train myself to capture any stray thought that may wander into the land of old and reform it into something new. Something real. To insist on living in the worlds inside my own head only if they are worlds of wonder and awe and inspiration. Not imaginings of others’ thoughts or intents or worst case scenarios. I used to believe every fear inside my head was intensely real and react accordingly. No wonder I was such a mess. Now I sit on the other side – though my feet sometimes dangle – and I know exactly what’s true. I believe in myself. I know my own worth. I continually learn, create, and push myself, and by doing so, somehow I’ve ended up with incredible people in my life. Intense kinship, for lack of a less fancy word, the likes of which I used to wish for so desperately. Yet tonight, I feel alone.

I lost people recently. One person in particular, who’s been in my life for over a decade, and has been one of the biggest parts of it in recent years. Relatedly (because it sounds otherwise), I’ve spent this entire year single. For the first time in my life, it was through choice. I’d experienced such depth of connection that I was sure nothing could possibly live up to it, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. In my younger years, my self esteem came from being with someone else. I was terrified to be alone. This year, I knew because I had experienced it, that what I wanted was possible. That maybe I actually deserved it. And I wasn’t going to take anything that I knew wouldn’t be that. My dearest friend, who I’ve come to see over the years as family, confessed his feelings for me a few times this year. Each time, I felt terrible saying they weren’t reciprocated in that way, but that he was the most important person in the world to me. He’d always say it was mutual, and that he’d get over it because we were going to be best friends “for life.”

Anyone would be lucky to have a best friend like this. We shared everything; celebratory wine on the good days and emergency car wine on the bad. Lengthy handwritten birthday cards, text reminders every day that no matter what, somebody cared about you more than anything in the world. Adventures in creativity, in other cities, pyjama nights and our innermost secrets, knowing they would always be safe. Trusting the words that no matter what, we would always, always have each other. Last week, this was taken away, and it threw everything I knew into disarray. My best friend is gone, because I said once and for all, I wasn’t “available” in that way. Ironically, this person was always the one to stand up for me if ever I was wronged, saying “talk is cheap,” and to look at people’s actions. His action in leaving my life defies every word he ever said, and I feel like somebody has died. Except worse than died, because I know he’s still right there, just choosing to no longer be around. I’ve been strong, but I’ve also broken down a few times. Old thoughts of years ago have stirred in my soul and I’ve begun to question again if anything could possibly ever be sincere. I believed with all my heart for years. But at the end of the day, everybody, even those you feel bound to for life… everybody leaves. And life is better for having had them.

I know in a former life this would have broken me. That I would have believed myself to be so very broken that nobody could possibly want to stay. But being on my own this whole year has brought a kind of strength – a lesson that sometimes, you kind of have to be your own superhero, because nobody is going to save your own day but you. It makes me sad to say that, because I was always the most hopeless of romantics, the most fanciful of dreamers, the believer of fairytales and human goodness and bonds that would transcend most anything. It hurts my heart to admit that I of all people have become jaded. Yet at the same time I feel a tiny bit proud, knowing after so many years of darkness, I can hold myself up and know that I’m good enough on my own.

Tonight, for the first in a very long time, I feel lonely. But I also know that I can choose to accept that. See the countless things in my life that I have now that I wished for for so long. Recognise that I have no control over anything but my own actions, and with reminders of appreciation, accept. I feel lonely. But I feel incredibly grateful, for too many things to list, and because of that, strong.

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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.

The Butterfly Effect

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

– Terry Pratchett

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

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

His voice is soft. “Why, darling?”

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

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

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

The Stranglehold of Memory

Be kind to me
My robot heart is fragile too
Keep it well, keep it true
My robot heart
– Hawksley Workman

There’s something that’s been bothering me a lot lately, and it comes in the form of discrepancy. I think we all tend to feel unsettled when we’re not at peace: when our actions and thought patterns defy what we want them to be, it causes inner conflict. I find that usually, simply recognising the existence of that discrepancy is enough to move toward doing something about it. But what happens when the gap seems impossible to close? Sometimes, when a behaviour or thought pattern has been so deeply engrained for so very long, it almost feels impossible to do or see things any differently. The stranglehold of memory exerts such a strong force over our minds that even when logical actions and reactions are staring us in the face, we can’t help but surrender to the reflexive patterns we’ve followed our whole lives.

One of the reasons it’s causing me such distress is because it goes against everything I try to stand for. As I mentioned not too long ago, practising acceptance of the past and focusing on the future is something that helped me get on with life after everything was thrown up in the air. Reminding myself that we only get one life, and making it a priority not to waste a second on things that have already happened has allowed me to be more productive, more proactive, and more positive. But I find I keep slipping up. I allow my mind to default to panic and disaster mode at the slightest sign of history repeating itself, despite all present-day evidence to the contrary. The trouble with investing your whole heart into people is that you give them full permission for the potential to hurt you catastrophically. And when people have done just that, and repeatedly, it’s hard not to put a guard up. One thing I’ve reiterated many times lately is that no matter how many times my heart has taken a beating, it’s not going to stop me from putting it straight back out there. But what happens when you do that, yet your mind is unable to let go of the fear it could all happen again?

“But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while,
even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller’s Wife

A good friend recently gave a good analogy. Imagine if you were assaulted or mugged in a dark alley one night. You’d probably be a little scared of dark alleys for a while, even if they were the most beautiful alleys on the planet. It’s the oldest of lessons: touch a hot element and get burned, and you’ll learn not to make the same mistake again. But that goes so very much against how I want to live life: I want to take risks and hope for the best; I don’t want to cage myself in and become a prisoner of fear. I want so desperately to be able to get to the end of my life and look back without regret – to say I gave it my absolute all, and have “oh wells” rather than “what ifs”. I want to live with passion and zest for life, believe in happy endings and in the innate goodness of people. I want to believe that people care about each other, and I want to believe in love. Not just settling for unreliable friends and acquaintances, or a partner you wish understood you. Not just settling for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t make you excited every day. But finding those fairytale endings, those brilliant friends who’d cross oceans to make you feel better when you’re down, that perfect partner who knows you better than you know yourself, with whom you never have to wonder, that amazing job that seems designed for the most unique skill and interest set that belongs to you alone… I want to believe in it all, but I can’t stop my mind going into panic mode at the tiniest imperfection. I can’t shake the feeling that investing my heart into things in similar ways I’ve done in the past is going to result in disaster, so instead of accepting and believing that sometimes in life things can work out, I default to it’s happening all over again in some futile form of self-preservation mechanism. I inadvertently doom my own existence by allowing past events to dictate a future that by all rights has every potential to be wonderful.

I realise life isn’t perfect, I realise I’m not perfect and I realise people aren’t perfect. I realise that nobody can live a fairytale existence free of hurt, pain or disappointment – that’s just real life. I realise I probably need to lower my expectations of the world – not even expectations; hopes… any situation can go brilliantly or terribly, I just don’t know how to break free from the worry that’s become so at home in my mind after a series of life blows. It’s human nature to want to protect ourselves, but I’ve always maintained that by guarding ourselves we miss out on the incredible depths of emotion that could be felt by opening our souls to another human being. Greater openness involves greater risk of destruction, but living a half-life isn’t really living at all. So how does one break away from the risk of self-fulfilling prophecies? If you always expect the worst, it has a habit of becoming manifest. We inadvertently plant seeds of sabotage that will allow us to feel comforted should things fall apart, giving ourselves the option to later say our fears were fully justified. But doing this destroys the present moment. Kindness is questioned, assumptions are made, and the path that could be walked in bliss and beauty is strewn with imaginings of worst case scenarios, or detours to hunt for signs that history is doomed to repeat.

Why is it so difficult to let go of former hurts and simply embrace the opportunity for a fresh slate? Why are we conditioned to allow the past to dictate and curb our present ability to live? Why must memory exert such a frighteningly strong stranglehold, and why is it so difficult to simply choose to shape the future instead? I want to live in the now, free of the worry of the then invading all over again. I just don’t know how to break free. My mind is being a frightful rebel to what my heart wants it to be.

Oh, you delicate heart
There’s deep enough wells for our tears
When we break ourselves carelessly
Through a tumbling down of our fears

A Heavy Post on my Spiritual Belief System

There have been a number of occasions where I’ve felt a little hesitant to post things on my blog, but I usually go ahead and do it anyway. Most of you know that sometimes have a tendency to become the definition of all sorts of cliché: heart on sleeve, to thine own self be true… but I think that despite overuse, there’s a reason those words stick in our collective memories. They stick because they’re words to live by.  I know that by speaking out on certain topics, I may risk alienation, attack or judgment. But I also know that the moment I choose to keep quiet, I cease to be real, and allow fear to control my actions. As an amazing man once said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  We all have opinions, voices, and feelings, and if our intent is simply to leave our mark on the world by saying “this is who I am,” or put something out there in hopes of bettering it, then I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of. In the blogosphere, so many shy away and play it safe. We forget sometimes that we’re all behind computer screens and unlike in day to day living, we are in total control of the image we project to the world. It can reflect the best fifty percent of a person’s real life, yet if it’s all that’s written about, an audience will believe it to be a hundred. But my words are my footprint, and it’s important to me that they don’t just reflect a toe. 

With that caveat, I feel the time has come for me to write about one of the most personal things to each and every one of us. It’s impossible I think for anyone to agree absolutely entirely with another person’s belief system, but I don’t think anyone should be judged for what they accept to be true. Religion, faith, and spirituality are such a taboo topic that it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start, but over the last few years, I’ve been searching for my own spirituality, and trying to find what makes the most sense to me. I must admit how difficult it is to make this public, because it’s not something I’ve really talked about with anyone at all. I suppose I should start with a little bit of a back story.

Growing up, religion wasn’t something that was ever really a big part of my life. My parents were on their own spiritual journeys and hadn’t really arrived at anything concrete, and though they visited temples and read books and filled the house with bronze statues of Hindu goddesses, spirituality seemed more of an ongoing quest than an established belief system. We never went to church, even at Christmas – we’d usually escape to a cottage up in the mountains, where the holiday season would be spent watching BBC specials, visiting country towns with cobblestone streets, and throwing ourselves down hills on two-man toboggans in utter glee at the sight of real snow. Christmas, as a child, wasn’t about going to church or visiting ten different family functions – it was about escaping with mum and dad, and celebrating our togetherness on our own.  The funny thing is that growing up in our house, it seems Christianity was almost condemned.

Soon after we arrived in Canada, one parent’s religious life took a sharp turn from spiritually curious to full on born again Christian. It came suddenly, and along with it, sadly, a noticeable divide in our family – but that’s another story for another time. Suffice to say, the course of events at the time furthered my initial belief that organised religion only drove people apart, and it was something I wanted nothing to do with.  Fast-forward through my early twenties, and after a series of pretty damaging relationships, I hit rock bottom. It’s not something I’m proud of nor something I’m ready to fully share with the world. But it was a wake-up call that I needed something else in my life because my own coping mechanisms were inoperational. I needed to know why these things happened, why people came into my life to leave such destruction in their wake, why I kept getting in too deep with the wrong people. I needed to know the purpose of it all, and for the first time I found myself praying. To whom or what, I had no idea. I just sat alone in my apartment, looking out of the window in the middle of the night, and praying for change and understanding.

In walked my then ex-boyfriend of about five years. Someone I hadn’t seen for years, and someone who also seemed to be the most religious person I knew. Something about him was different – he brought a calmness and a spirit of composure I hadn’t seen before. It seemed that no matter what life could throw at him, he would be okay, and the biggest reason for his comfort, steadfastness and assurance seemed to be his faith. I didn’t understand what it could be like to think of everything in life happening according to the reasons and schedule of some higher power, but I was curious. So I started asking questions, somehow landed myself at a job that happened to be a faith-based organisation, and started going to church with my new boyfriend.

Now, it did happen to be a Catholic church, and though I went on many occasions, I never felt truly connected. But I wanted to. I kept trying, kept going through the motions, but that’s all it ever felt like. So I stopped. As the months turned into years and my relationship with this man grew more serious, I started to worry. How would we possibly fully unite as a couple when our core belief systems were different? If we ever got married, how would we raise children – would we give them his religious upbringing, knowing I was pretty set against parts of it and couldn’t believe them, let alone teach them, or would we raise them more like my own experience, giving them the freedom to grow into the faith of their choosing based on an openness to everything? I think this freedom is a good thing, but I also wonder how different some of my more challenging years may have been if faith was something that had been introduced to me at an earlier age. It was a big worry, and probably the catalyst that launched me into focusing on finding a belief system I could get behind.  When I look at other inter-faith marriages, I can’t help but wonder how they do it. People convert to foreign religions for the sake of their partners, but how do they suddenly fully support this new set of beliefs that are sometimes the polar opposite of their entire upbringing? People also get married and keep their own individual belief systems, knowing they differ from their spouse, and manage to make it work too. I wonder if they also struggle with the thought of how to integrate this divide into the raising of a child someday.  But that’s a bridge to cross further down the line.

Over the last few years, I definitely think I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve visited different churches, read different books, and found things I can believe in, as well as things I simply can’t. And that’s okay. The biggest thing I’ve learned personally is that labels don’t work. There are so many denominations under the umbrella of Christianity that I can’t help but feel are self-defeating; to me, what’s important in the religion you choose to follow is that you live your life in accordance with who you believe your God would want you to be. By sticking a label of “Catholic”, “Anglican”, “Seventh Day Adventist” or whatever onto yourself, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of Christianity (such as faith, belief in a higher power, forgiveness, service toward others, etc.), people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that simply doesn’t work for me. The album cover of one of my favourite bands seems to capture it perfectly:


It’s okay to be different and to believe different things; our differences are what make us such a diverse and interesting race! But when those differences are seen more as factually right than a personal belief system, we breed intolerance, division and judgment. I acknowledge that there are lots of different belief systems out there. I fully support ideas and teachings and ways of living from many spiritual and religious sectors – most of the fundamendal principles of Christianity make sense to me, as does a lot of Taoism and Buddhism. I believe in God; a creator. I believe that the figure of Jesus probably was historically here and brought an amazing message to the human race, and aimed for those teachings to carry on in the hopes of people of this world living by that example. By living with love and compassion to all, by refusing to living according to the opinions of others, and by loving everyone unconditionally. Even the haters. But I also believe that people today have allowed secular distortions and personal opinions intertangle with history for their own personal agendas. I believe that the ego has a lot to do with a lot of people’s “religious actions” and that truly, the God I believe in is separate from that. I believe in souls. I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe the universe is big enough, vast enough, amazing enough and delivers enough to be called God. But it doesn’t matter; ultimately I believe in a higher power who sometimes has a hand in orchestrating our life’s events in the hopes of messages being heard and lessons being learned, with the aim always being to somehow better the human race and make this a planet of love, not hate. I also believe in science. As the same brilliant man I mentioned earlier once said, “science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” Popular scientist Carl Sagan had a further reflection, which sums up my feelings perfectly: “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”


I think it’s a shame that sometimes people get so caught up with the secular politics that they forget what’s really important. When asked if I “practice my faith”, I’ve been met with scorn when I say “define ‘practice’”. To me, practising my faith isn’t going to a building and listening to someone else speak for an hour if it doesn’t evoke some sort of intrinsic meaning. The God I believe in doesn’t judge if you practice and believe in your own way. To me, I practice my faith by educating myself, by praying on my own terms, and by living the life I believe I was meant to. I practice by pushing myself beyond what’s comfortable and seeing just how far I can go with what was bestowed upon me, because if everyone boxed themselves into what’s comfortable and never challenged themselves to reach their potential, the rest of the world could be deprived of some wonderful gifts.  I practice by spending my Christmas Eves driving around the scariest area of the city trying to help those without warm homes or families. I practice by never actively causing pain or suffering or hurt to another. I practice by working in a position that pays peanuts but ultimately allows me to help society’s less fortunate become something more. I don’t believe in a judging God who sends people to Hell if they don’t go to church, or sends them to heaven if they dress up in nice clothes every Sunday, drive by the homeless shelters, spend an hour in a flashy church with its own TV channel yet perpetuate intolerance of others. I believe in open-mindedness and respect of all, regardless of sex, religion, orientation or race. It positively broke my heart once  reading a post by a friend of mine:

Overwhelmed, I broke down into tears as the Father stood up to speak. I swear the lady beside me with the Gucci Purse and Dolce glasses must have thought I was either crazy or just really touched by the homily. What struck me as fascinating however, not to mention psychologically revealing, was the fact that I was crying not because I was sad, happy or finally at peace; but because I was furious. Feeling the anger rise inside of me, I became enraged at the fact a person could ever think to say “Peace be with you, but not with you.” Inflamed, I felt like standing up and screaming as loud as I could into the heavens, “SCREW YOU GOD FOR TURNING YOUR BACK ON ME WHEN I NEEDED YOU THE MOST.” But instead, I knelt down like everyone else and prayed until I got distracted by the fact that I needed to cut my nails.

I remember the day in grade twelve when I went to see my counselor for the first time to tell her I thought I was bisexual. (Missing story detail: my high school was all-boys and Catholic). The second I took the seat across from her, my eyes zeroed in on a pamphlet pinned up against her wall that read “So you think you might be gay?” Relieved by the sight, I felt hope that all my life’s questions might be answered within the three folds of that photocopied paper. A week later when I arrived for my next appointment the pamphlet was gone. Not able to help myself, I asked her where it went. “Father Director came in the other day and once he flipped through it, decided it did not accord with Catholic principles and took it down.”

Reconciling one’s Catholic identity with their gay identity is more often than not, a losing battle. I mean, you try getting off with another man while thinking about eternal damnation and tell me that you don’t throw in the towel. But it is in my belief that faith is a dark mystery that one should not be born into, but rather fight their entire lives to shed light upon. Because ultimately, the one thing I had in common with everyone else standing beside me (other than a nice outfit and knack for repression) was that I believed I could be a better person, and hopefully make the world a better place in the process. 

On the subject of homosexuality and religion, over the weekend I came across an excellent short video. Representative Steve Simon (DFL Hopkins/St. Louis Park) says a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment is largely about religion. He says if sexual orientation is innate as science is showing us, and not a lifestyle choice, then God created gay people. He asks how many gay people must God create before we accept that he wants them around.  A commenter on the YouTube channel said it brilliantly: “Believing in something and actively degrading an entire subset of a population are two entirely different things. Go ahead and believe homosexuality is wrong, I could care less. But when you try and take away rights, and make homosexuals inferior by law, that is when we fight back.”   Earlier, I mentioned Ghandi, and he doesn’t simply inspire the words on my e-mail signature, but said it perfectly when he uttered the words “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” There are a lot of absolutely wonderful and inspiring Christians who do incredible things, who truly embody and live out the values that will make this world a better place. But I think there are also a lot who have it all wrong.  To me, labels don’t work. I can’t stick one on myself if I am not 100% certain that I can be behind absolutely everything in a denomination’s mandate. There’s a lot from lots of belief systems that makes sense to me, and there’s a bit that doesn’t. So, when Facebook asks me what my religious beliefs are?  The box is a little too small. I’ll say spirituality. Equality. Kindness. Non-judgment. Servanthood. Faith in a higher power. Faith in fact. But above everything, respect, interconnectedness, unconditional love, harmony and open-mindedness. Because without that, I don’t think the world can ever move forward.

I lay out my beliefs today not to convert or to challenge, simply to state that this is who I am. If you’re comfortable, I’m interested to hear about your beliefs and how you arrived at where you are today. If not, then all I can say is thank you, for your time and understanding. I promise never to write such a long post again. 🙂

Surfing on a Wave of Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come

One of the biggest things I’m thankful for in this day and age is technology. While babysitting for a friend a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting as his wife was getting ready about how strange it is that we are getting to the point where people our age are now contributing to a new generation – one that will have access to technology from birth.  I remember, as a child, sitting next to the radio for hours (nothing’s changed there, then), cassette tape at the ready and my finger eagerly hovering over the play/record button, waiting for the chance to capture a favourite song. I remember when my parents brought home our first computer – I must have been about twelve or thirteen, and having absolutely no idea how web pages or e-mail worked. I remember a girl in my maths class being the first to get a CD burner, and being one of many kids who’d submit her a list of twenty songs… along with a five-dollar bill. I remember the days of Napster, and even though it took two hours to get a song, thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world. Don’t even get me started on the first time I was able to watch Doctor Who the same day it aired in the UK!  Heck, I remember how it felt three weeks ago when I got my first smart phone, being absolutely blown away by the fact that I could make my own ringtones, check Facebook, read blogs, watch videos, get directions and, best of all, stream live British radio which I could listen to on the go. It’s bizarre to think that my future children won’t experience any of these firsts – that they’ll have access to these things right from the get-go.

The reason this intrigued me was because recently, I found a collection of a whole load of television programmes I used to watch as a child. I burned them to a DVD, and set about introducing my husband to SuperTed, Gladiators and The Crystal Maze (why don’t game shows today involve adventure and strategy games against futuristic robots or in medieval dungeons??). When I first saw that these were even available, my husband said he hadn’t seen me as excited about anything as when I saw Sooty again, and I have to admit, I was ecstatic. 🙂 Now, I know I’m not the only one to cling to things that I enjoyed in my youth – parents across the world still play the records that were popular when they were young, grandparents do the same, and the mere mention of a popular eighties cartoon to many of my friends is almost enough to make them salivate. So what causes this phenomenon? Are we simply programmed to archive the memories of youth under a rose-tinted light?

I recently read about a study that came to the conclusion that “many 25-40 year olds don’t plan for the future because they prefer to reminisce about past times.” It showed the effect of nostalgia on current pop culture too, and the result is unmistakable: many movies, fashions, and music of late all have a significantly retro feel. Remakes of Star Trek took over the silver screen (huzzah!), children’s stories became box office hits, American Apparel lined high streets across the country with eighties-inspired gear like leggings, headbands and spandex, and the sound of new wave was born all over again. Now, as excellent as that all is, the more interesting question is that of why: why do the memories of a generation’s youth evoke such positive feelings – and why do we remember everything that filled it as being full of the best life had to offer? I think it probably has something to do with the fact that nostalgia, quite simply, makes us feel better.

I’m no psychological expert here, but my guess is that when our free time was unencumbered by chores, work, or bills, when we didn’t know anything of the world of world politics or international poverty, we had a happier and more carefree outlook on life – and that carefree outlook on life attaches itself to the memories of things that filled our youth, and thus we remember things perhaps more positively than they actually were. (Pulp’s Common People excluded – that song will remain epic regardless of generation!) According to that logic, when we re-watch a favourite childhood television programme or movie today and realise how dreadful it was (the Stargate film, anyone?), the disillusion should shatter, no? Apparently not. Today, even after watching the primitive eighties animation on YouTube, I get filled with a case of the warm fuzzies. Exposure to the things I watched while living the happy-go-lucky life of a child seems to evoke a sense of deja-vu of the mind, and consequently after said 5-minute cartoon, my thoughts are transported to a time when life was simpler and impressions were fresher  – and I end up feeling more positive.

It seems somewhat of a paradox that in the current technological age where a new model of iPad is out quicker than the entire lifespan of the Dreamcast, the Internet and range of ever-expanding TV channels are used widely to re-live experiences from the past. We watch all the programmes, films, and music videos we listened to when we were young, and the entertainment industry is capitalising on it, creating new versions of old favourites. We listen to a song we haven’t heard in twenty years and remember all the words, yet we can’t remember the phone number of someone we called last week. And the evolution of social networking sites have allowed us to get back in touch with people we knew ten or fifteen years ago – often, in the prime of our youth.

Yes, reliving things from the past can evoke positive emotions today. But on the flipside – if we remember things in a rosier hue than was perhaps real; do we run into the danger of stifling the possibility of new things, or worse, airbrushing our own personal history? If the entertainment industry is recycling old styles, shows, and trends, are we discouraging the potential for new ideas?  If the new wave and punk sounds of the late ’70s/early ’80s are being recycled twenty-five years later, then that bodes terribly for the future of music – in middle age, every radio station may be flooded with another wave of rap, auto-tune, and Ke-dollar sign-ha. By continually reminiscing about the “good old days”, is there ever going to be anything new? As well, the very essence of who we are as people is based on our accumulation of memories – if those memories are in fact distorted, then how can we look back on our life and say it was really what we think it was? Maybe I’m going off on too much of a sci-fi tangent, but the question fascinates me. I think it’s incresibly interesting how generation after generation latches onto the same period of their life and holds it in such high regard, and I’m interested to know why. Nostalgia can be a great thing – and though the consequences of reminiscence can evoke short-term positivity, I think there’s also a danger of overdoing retrospect. We may end up mentally re-writing our own existence, or hanging onto a rose-tinted past so tightly it suffocates any possibility of original thinking in the future.

What do you think? Why does each generation seem to latch onto the same period as “the good old days”? Are we conditioned to Photoshop our past to make us feel better in the present? And what effect is nostalgia going to have on the future of the entertainment industry? Lots of questions… I suppose I’m feeling rather pensive today. Pardon my ramble, but if you can’t do it on a personal blog, where can you… And bonus points for anyone who knows where the title of today’s post is from 🙂

Shelving the Past

Recently, I had the pleasure of going for dinner with one of the most insightful people I know. We only see each other once every few months – he’s often travelling, touring, or teaching yoga day and night – but every time we get together I leave feeling incredibly uplifted and inspired.  We got onto an interesting topic last time we got together – the past – and how we have the tendency to hold onto it.

People always say the past helped them become the person they are today. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – the past can be full of hardships and mistakes, as well as growth, deepening of relationships, and happy memories. Of course the past helps us become who we are today. But there’s a difference between allowing it to shape who you are, and allowing it to define who you are. We all have the choice between looking back on past experiences and archiving them in the vault of memory, or pinning them to our proverbial jackets for all to see in every walk of life.

We talked about the things from the past we’re guilty of dragging around with us into our present. Traced negative self-talk back to events in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood to find its origin. As you know, two of my bigger struggles are speaking in front of people, and dealing with how I look. The self-destructive things we allowed to be planted in our youth and grow into poisonous weeds that tangle around our every thought, holding us back from reaching our true potential.  I was in the middle of trying to explain how it feels to have a continual loop of self-detriment running through your head, worrying that the nerves and thoughts about yourself on the inside are going to spill out somehow and everyone will see exactly the same things you do – when my friend interrupted me with a smile.  “But they’re just stories“, he laughed.  “They’re all just stories we choose to keep telling ourselves; they’re not real.”

I’ve always been an advocate for the power of choice. Not blaming things or other people when things are crappy. Not waiting for tomorrow to roll around before deciding it can be a good day after all. Choosing hard work and determination over fear of failure. Questioning rumours rather than contributing to their continuation. Swallowing pride over perpetuating a grudge. But I’ve always had trouble with choosing not to beat myself up over things out of my control. I listen to the voice that tells me I’m not fun or attractive. That I’m too quiet, too awkward, too ugly. I let it hold me back in social situations and I allow it consume my thoughts. But after this conversation with my friend, I felt I really could let go. Close the door on the past experiences that lead to these unhealthy thinking patterns, acknowledge them for what they are – “just stories” – and choose to let go of them.

All sorts of things can happen to us throughout life, and unfortunately, as often as there will be people to lift you up and enrich your life, there will be people who hurt you. They may be deliberate, or they may be completely unintentional – but they can fester in the mind and take over a lifetime if you choose to let them. But there’s something incredibly powerful when you come to the realisation that you are choosing to perpetuate those stories you tell yourself, and you can choose to close the door. When you realise that you’ve had the choice all along to either be defined by the past, or keep it where it belongs. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us day in, day out, telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to believe we are the sum of our past mistakes and hardships. Labelling ourselves “awkward,” “ugly,” or “a sufferer” of this or that. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe it.  And in doing so, how we limit what we can become.

When you realise you alone have the power over those stories, it can be as simple as closing the book. Storing it on a shelf somewhere, always there, but up high and out of immediate sight – instead of carrying it everywhere, a heavy weight dragging down on the soul.  Choose how much credit you give those stories, and ask yourself if they’re really worth perpetuating. Choose to learn from the past, and then to let it remain there.  Choose whether you want to limit yourself by others’ definitions, or to let go of them and set yourself free. None of us need be a slave to stories.

Is there a book you’re dragging around with you that would be better off shelved?