Living Between the Lines

This morning, I caught my reflection in a dark office window and took pause. There I was—black pencil skirt, red lipstick, slight heels, straight back, mug of coffee in hand. A to-do list running through my head, quickening with every caffeinated sip.

Mesmerizingly adult.

I took a long look at the big kid in the mirror, tucking a thick strand of almost-blonde hair behind my ear. I can’t tell you how exactly I felt at that moment. Might have been fear, or pride, or confusion. Might have been all three. It wasn’t that I was particularly uncomfortable with the look—this is hardly my first blazer/pencil skirt combo. But I knew that only three hours ago, I had been marching down the dewy sidewalk as the sun rose. Jean shorts, hoodie, messy ponytail. I was singing old blues songs to myself, and watched as the street light beside my house clicked off at 6:30 am.

The lady-type I was looking at now didn’t look like a 20-something kid who crashes on couches. But I knew. I knew that only a month ago, I was living out of the backpack that now carries my work laptop and homemade lunch. That these red shoes have seen their fair share of karaoke nights (and were purchased for $10 at K-Mart, if we’re being honest here). That I live in a cheap basement apartment on the other side of town. That I am no stranger to overnight bus rides, used furniture, and 2 am pizza orders.

Classy, classy, classy.

Shaking it off, I resumed power-walking to my cubicle. I proceeded to go through my emails. The language! Visual identity. Network application. It’s RGB, not colour. I had to “tighten up” some designs before a conference call.

I clicked my heels on the carpeted floor and streamed the radio through my headphones. I knew the language served an important purpose. I knew the jean shorts and the hoodie are no more “me” than the businessy blazer. But my head was spinning with all the transformations in my day.

Sometimes, my mother gives me this look that says “Wow, baby girl, when did you grow up?” It’s the same fear/pride double take I gave myself briefly in the window today. Only she’s looking at a transformation spanning a few decades; I was looking at one that took 30 tired Monday morning minutes.

We all wear so many costumes, and speak so many languages. I don’t think that makes our roles less genuine—we move pretty seamlessly through the motions. It’s an interesting process, though, playing a role (not that you’re faking it, but still, it’s playing) every time you walk into a certain place, or consider a certain person. Balancing the expectations and conflicting commitments.

In some ways, I think identity is somewhere in the cracks. It’s not in the office, or at a friend’s house, or at family dinner. It’s in those first few seconds when you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are yet. When you’re driving—just driving, and for a moment you stop thinking about where you’re going. When someone touches you on the shoulder, or the hand, and your body unconsciously warms to the contact. Or maybe, if you’re anything like me, when you stare out the window at the rain.

Unexpected meditations, split second reactions.

The different costumes and languages and skillsets are important, of course. They define a lot of things. They help us fill our hours, contribute to society, et cetra. But I know, deep down, that I am neither a 9-to-5 busybody nor a sloppy, happy 20 something with a broken internal clock. Role after role after role. There’s something else, something much more powerful, dripping through the cracks with every scene change.

If you’ve ever wondered why I believe people have souls…this is it, man. When the pressure melts away for a few seconds, all that’s left to do is practice being human.

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One Year of Blogging!

This blog is a year old now.

I can’t believe it, really. It’s exciting and celebratory to look back, but it’s weird to think “Wow, that happened. That’s over.”

Of course, nothing is actually over. That’s just my brain playing tricks again. A year well spent is an achievement, not a loss. Note to self.

As some of you Shaunanagins Facebook fans know, this is slightly old news. My official “blogoversy” was September 13, which the calendar tells me was over a week ago. My excitement that day was pretty intense, which was awkward to express. Sure, a year is a long time and a blog like this is hard work…but also, how do you go up to someone and say “Yeah, I have this website where I write about myself. I’ve been doing it for a year. So no big deal.”

But it is a big deal, at least in my teeny-tiny reality.  I wrote stuff! People cared about it! Sometimes, they even cared enough to share it.  I remember when Sex, Lies, and Storytime , a ranty essay written covertly on my office computer, was Freshly Pressed in February.  When thousands of people read it.  When they liked it.   And I just jumped up and down in the bathroom, letting my inner six year old take over because validation! validation! validation!

I was, and am, unforgivably amateur.

Emphasis on the “am.”  After this year, my resume is full of four month internships and my head is full of ideas and itty-bitty optimisms–starting points, all of it.  Traveling alone, living in a new city, test-driving jobs and instruments and beliefs and people-stuff.  A semester here, a semester there.

So very amateur. A year of blogging and exploring hasn’t changed that.  But I do feel like it has made me more aware, and that’s a gift I can’t take for granted.

The first kind of awareness had to do with other people.  I learned what they wanted to read, what they did with it afterwards. I learned what they were willing to share, too, once the conversation was started. The Taboo Tab project constantly amazed me.  I couldn’t believe how many people were willing to tell their story.  It is beyond inspiring that so many people were brave and articulate enough to rise up and put a face on grief and sexuality and eating disorders. I was equally amazed by how many more people were willing to read and care about what the sharers had to say.  Every time someone thrust their story into my hands and said “Here, have it. Edit it. Show it to the world.” they made an active decision to share themselves with this project and this community. And, thanks to the amazing nature of this community, it became a safe place to talk and to learn. So much trust. So much love.

(Also, I have more stories waiting to be posted on the Taboo Tab in the coming weeks.  This “awareness”  thing ain’t over yet!)

Self-awareness also happened. Sometimes it was invited, other times not so much. I audited my relationships, sometimes more than I needed to. I tried really-really-really hard to listen and face some realities.

Like, say, the reality that you shouldn’t go around making people feel guilty just because you had a bad day, or even they hurt you once.  I call this guilt-machining. It’s basically the manipulative cousin of nagging, and has about the same success rate.

Or the reality that some questions are caring and inquisitive, but some are born of un-loving intentions–loaded, insecure, unfair, generally toxic.

Or the reality that no one’s perfect. Even when I tried to write a sign to remind myself of these things, I brutally misspelled a word. The reminder of “You’re human!” stares me down just as much as the other, more intentional messages on this piece of notepaper.  Every morning and every evening: “You’re human! It’s okay! Now be good to people!”  The reminder is taped messily beside my bedroom mirror, so it’s hard to miss.

selfawareness 101

This is all part of the game, I guess.  A year into blogging and this is what we have: me whittling away, trying to carve out some kind of worldview.  Collecting your stories and piecing them together in the Taboo Tab because, hopefully, then I’ll understand you too.

(And reminding myself to BE NICE AND LISTEN AND LOVE HARDER, for goodness sake.)

I think I have more to say, but to be totally honest…a wasp just flew into my apartment and stung me right on the pad of my middle finger. I’m icing it, sort of, in between key strokes.  To the wasp’s credit, it was only fighting back.  But dude. Ouch.

I should probably take care of my hand. So I guess I’ll leave this entry at this:

THANK YOU for an amazing year. Thank you for reading. I love all the comments you leave me, and they make my day (actually, now they make my year). You rock. Seriously.

People are Trees, Not Timelines

It was 2011.  I suppose that wasn’t so long ago, really, but it feels like forever now.

I was sitting in the basement of a local Unitarian Universalist Church, surrounded by regular attendees. I hadn’t been to any kind of worship in at least a decade, and felt like a fetus surrounded by middle aged church goers. I watched as the Minister passed around markers, telling us to “draw our spiritual journey.”

(I realize this may seem strange, but trust me–it’s business as usual at the UU.)

I drew and labeled tentatively across the page. When we finished, I partnered up with the woman across from me to go over the designs.  She showed off her intricate, curving  pathway–marriage, born again Christianity, yoga, Wicca, kids.  It was a beautiful timeline, and I smiled back at her story as she scanned my drawing curiously.

I hadn’t drawn a timeline.

I had drawn a tree.

I don't actually have original tree drawing, so I ran outside and took this blurry picture. Just for you. You're welcome.
I don’t actually have original tree drawing, so I ran outside and took this blurry picture. Just for you. You’re welcome.

A group show-and-tell circled around the room.  One by one, everyone began revealing their timeline. Curves, corners, arrows, paths, this-thus-that. Even the Minister illustrated his journey with thick, chronological lines.

And there I was, with my frizzy short hair and limited life experience, clutching an image of twisted branches while everyone poured out their major life events.

On some level, it probably had to do with my age.  When the Minister said “spiritual journey,” all my young mind could think of were moments and relationships, good meals and great ideas, quiet places and loud families. These were the things that made God seem just a liiiittle closer than usual.  So I drew roots. Branches to represent friendships, leaves to represent moments.  Some of the leaves were falling off of their perch; others were growing flowers. Text and little hearts explained (or refused to explain) what it all meant.

Basically, it was hyper-symbolic. It was not so simple –> as –> this.

And maybe it was a little strange, maybe it wasn’t quite what the Minister was looking for, but…I was proud of my tree. I liked the openness.   There were “big life” events on the tree, of course, markers of birth/death/love/war.  But there were other things, too.  The tree represented my life as a work-in-progress, with multiple facets. One big, bright leaf reflected a long, peaceful silence I shared with a close friend. Another represented the first time I got absolutely engrossed watching a play.

The tree let those things matter.

Looking back, my favourite thing about the tree is that it was strong, but not rigid.  It was alive. Parts could grow, or break and fall right off, and it would all be natural. As a young person, that was important. I think it might stay important as I get older.

(It’s also possible that I’m just kind of a hippie. Feel free to raise an eyebrow.)

By nature, timelines present our memory and our identity as rigid. They present our lives as one big story, instead of millions of imperfect experiences. I don’t know if that’s fair.  I don’t think we should restrict our identity to the things that “count” as milestones.  We aren’t necessarily tragic heroes with a beginning-middle-end. Nor are we self-aware folks on a direct journey through life.  “That was a really hard time in my life,” or “That was the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Too simple. That’s just too simple. We aren’t timelines. We can’t stop at chronology. I don’t want to compartmentalize your life, or my life, not like that.

Yes, yes, I realize all this might sound odd coming from a History student.

Let me be clear: Timelining is a great way to establish context.  It’s not a crime to treat events as “things that took place,” or even to consider people as empty, reactive vessels that “things happened to” at first.  I absolutely devour the nothing-but-chronological unfolding of the world through the lens of time.

But I also don’t, and can’t, stop there.

Even in History, reality often comes in trees. Family trees, for example. Essay outlines. Complex international relations maps.

Family tree with fingerprints from the extended fam. Can't get much more meaningful than that!
A family tree from our last reunion, with fingerprints from the extended fam. See? Trees are awesome.

We have to branch out. Timelines are great at telling base, simple stories…but they’re not so great at telling the whole truth.

And when it comes to our own identity, our own History, we deserve the Truth.  We deserve to represent ourselves as more than a timeline–more than what happens to us, and certainly more than a few life events that people have decided are “important.”

Maybe, just maybe, we could use the wisdom of trees to start looking at that.

(I know, I know. Hippie alert, part two. You can raise your other eyebrow.)

Busy Being a “Big Kid”

Whenever I talk about growing up, I use the term “big kid.” 

A costume change (see also: my foray into the “business casual” world) is “putting on my big kid shoes.”   Pushing past emotions is “putting on my big kid face.” Moving households and changing furniture is “getting into my big kid bed.”

It’s a bit strange, using such juvenile terms.  I get that.  But this “big kid” terminology works. It works because, even if it’s just a distant memory, almost everyone knows how it feels to be told that they are now a “big kid.” Step it up. Here’s your new title, now go earn it.  Be brave.  Growing time is now.

It’s uncomfortable, exciting, challenging–and yes, “big kid” moments continue long after you outgrow the physical definition of a “kid.”

It’s no longer my parents and teachers telling me to what time it is.  It’s more of a voice in my head, reminding me that this next step is BIG. And, naturally, that I need to be BIG to greet it effectively.

…though really, I don’t know what exactly being BIG means.

In a lot of ways, I’m still just a little girl. I’m a little girl in stilettos, and lipstick;  I’m a little girl who does her own laundry and sleeps in a bed across from Capitol Hill; I’m a little girl who seems pretty confident while taking the Metro. But rest assured folks–I am the clumsiest, goofiest, daydreamiest little girl ever.  I get all kinds of blisters from my metaphorical big kid shoes.  My big kid bed is a pretty lonely place.  And those steep escalators out of the Metro station? They terrify me.

And so, I think about growing up all the time:

How do I grow up without losing my sense of wonder? 

How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others? 

How exactly do I go about creating one of those “home” things? And how does a big kid respond when “home” suddenly doesn’t grow with them?

Once I establish a “home” with all the big kid fixin’s, can I bring it with me when I travel?  No? But, isn’t traveling the best way for me to grow, too?

Do I even have control over any of these things?

This list might make me sound like a total stressball.  I promise I don’t just sit around worrying all day.  I love growing up. I love learning. It’s just that sometimes, while I’m on that journey, these questions come up.

And the answer to all of the questions?  I don’t know.

"How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others?"
“How can I grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally (whew!) without one of those worlds sabotaging the others?”

I can guess the answer to that last one, though. Do I even have control over any of these things? So far, it doesn’t feel like it.  Not really. Yes, my choices matter. Yes, I ultimately am the one who decides to put on the big kid shoes and the big kid face. But if I didn’t make that call…

Well, I would be pretty cramped in those little girl shoes.

The people around me would be pretty cramped, too. As we grow up, we have to change to greet our new discoveries. We adapt. Mostly, we learn what we can expect from people, and what we can expect from ourselves.  That we all need a little help sometimes, but we still shouldn’t count on anyone. That we are more capable than we ever thought possible, but that we can’t do it alone–though, some days, we’re going to really have to try.

In my article A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood, I wrote this:

“My latest definition of “growing up” has been the process of realizing 1) how very alone and 2) how very not alone we are. Growing up means always playing with loneliness and interconnectedness, because life is a whole lotta both of them.”

As I sit here, feeling homesick, feeling loved, feeling alone, feeling like I have community (and trying to articulate those feelings, because that’s what big kids do), one thing is for sure:

It’s big kid time. This is what growing up feels like.

[note: this post was inspired by the Daily Prompt]

– – –

Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real
Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

The Truth about Awareness

We don’t properly realize how things roll until they stop rolling that way…at least for a minute, at least long enough for us to gain perspective. I mean that in the simplest way possible. I never realized that most women’s washrooms were on the left until I accidentally walked into a poorly placed men’s washroom—twice. I didn’t know that my fingers automatically typed names of past friends (okay, more-than-friends) upon the first couple keystrokes, until I stopped needing to type those names. And who can blame me for thinking everyone everywhere would know what poutine is, or have the lyrics to “If I Had A Million Dollars” memorized?

(PS. Non-Canadian readers:  You should probably Google those cultural gems.)

My current life rolls along relatively untouched by too-soon death, something I didn’t really consider until these “Death & Grieving” articles came along. I shouldn’t be so surprised that reading all the articles made me feel so…aware. I also shouldn’t be so surprised that this awareness felt new.

But I was surprised. Caitlin Corbett (of “On Grieving”) and Niki Dignard (of “I am a Suicide Survivor”) are two of my go-to girls in Ottawa. Caitlin and a glass of wine. Niki and a new restaurant. We talk a lot, and we laugh a lot.  Sometimes their losses come up, and we talk about those.

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through.

Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t.

The stories in the Taboo Tab hold a truth for everyone. For some, that truth is “Wow, I’m not alone.” For others (and for me) that truth is simply:  “Wow, there are people around me going through this stuff right now. [Insert prayers, love, and increased social consciousness here].”

Either way, we get to be aware of one another.  Awareness is a communicative art, one that we need to constantly work at. Why? Because awareness is AWESOME.

Eh? Eh?
Eh? Eh?

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen).

When it comes to loss, Caitlin and Niki are people who Know–and when things get rough, people who Know are the best.

Usually, when I talk about my own pain, I wind up trying to convince people that it’s actually really hilarious and I’m really, really “over it.”   These people who Know see right through that.

People who Know: The survivors, the brokenhearted, the vulnerable. The ones willing to let you be vulnerable right alongside them. The ones also willing to put you in your place, quietly reminding you of the could-be-worse.  They are more honest. Less judge-y. Keeping it real, because at this point, that’s really all they can do. And aware. So, so, so aware.

Me: “I have this loss. I have these feelings. I’m going to laugh/cry/be sick in front of you now, okay?”

People who Know: “LOSS? YES. Yes, that is horrible.  I Know. Chocolate? Hug? Awkwardly timed joke?”

They Know. They can comfort and relate to others who Know.  And by sharing their stories, they can help turn people who don’t Know into people who Listen…maybe, even people who Understand.

If the people who Know speak up, and if we let them–if we listen (unselectively), we share, and we try, try, try to “get it,” then we’ll know enough to build compassion and community. We will gain perspective. We will realize truths.

And that is the Truth about Awareness.  It is how we move forward together. Awareness is how we learn how to love each other better. And forgive each other better.

Read enough stories, meet enough people, ask enough questions, and realize: We’re all so different. But we’re all so, so, so the same.

– – –

Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving

Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

As I walked down the neon city streets on Thursday night, the words ‘How DID I get here?’ went through my head. And they stayed there. And repeated themselves, over and over and over.

I don’t have a lot of clear, I-can-see-the-words-in-my-head thoughts, but these words were bold–big letters dripping with disbelief (sans serif letters, for you typography geeks).

‘How DID I get here?’

It wasn’t the defeated kind of ‘Ungh, HOW did I get here?.’  I know how that kind goes. That kind is behind the way-too-long minutes (hours?) spent sitting barefoot on the bed, ‘oh, I don’t even know. Maybe I should read a book or move to a different country or something.’   That kind has seen me walking uncomfortably to the edge of nowhere (which I have yet to find, by the way), face buried in cheap sunglasses. That kind powers searches for nearest place where it feels okay to cry out “Um, God? Hi. Can you or your kid or someone who knows what they’re doing please take it from here?”

No, on Thursday it was nothing like that.

But it wasn’t the excited ‘WOW, How did I get here?,’ either.  I have had a few of those moments recently.  When Sex, Lies, and Storytime started spinning around the internet and loading up with comments, I literally ran into the bathroom and freaked out in front of the mirror: “Ohmygod. Am I actually a writer now? I’m a writer now. People are reading what I write.” (<< that is the toned-down, less embarrassing version.).   Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little DC room, practicing guitar and keeping up with some internship work, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the power of music and ‘Wow!’ the fact that I was a part of it. I felt lucky. I felt good.  ‘How did I get here?’

Thursday night was fun, but it wasn’t profoundly exciting. Nor was it profoundly upsetting.  It was ‘How DID I get here?,’ a mix of amazement and…confusion, I think.  Not good confusion or bad confusion, just the genuine I need to place this moment somewhere in my brain. Where do I place it? Where does it fit?  

The thought wouldn’t budge.

‘How DID I get here?’

I haven’t faced those words a whole lot these last few years. I used to play the ‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. But the last few years, I have just been living in Ottawa.  Ottawa, which feels so strongly like Home.  I never really had to consider my life there through the disbelief lens. It was just “adjusting,” and then “adjusted.”  There were times I felt a little lost in what my life looked like, but I knew exactly how I got there. And I knew exactly where I was going.

Except, I didn’t. Because it turns out, I was going to the United States. I just never knew it.

I didn’t know I was going to end up in Washington DC….I still don’t understand quite how I ended up here, really.  I know I applied for a  few internships. I know I got a position at the Smithsonian. My days are spent in an office across from the National Mall.  I eat breakfast every morning.  By 5 pm, I have usually overdone Diet Coke and brainpower. My Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum.  My Sundays are spent spiritually addressing the fact my Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum (easier said than done, but it’s important for me to be there).

It’s not a particularly mind-boggling lifestyle, but I can’t quite figure out how it ended up being my lifestyle.

I guess I’m asking you, then…Do those words (or something similar) ever go through your head? Do you ever go hunting for a comprehensive narrative as to why-how-why your life is what it is?

Here’s my theory: Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box.  Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”.  And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time.

I think a lot of us look for timelines and reasons why-how-why when really, it’s not supposed to make sense. Not as much sense as we would like it to make, that is. And so I go back to this, as I always do:

“You are where you were always going, and the shape of home is under your fingernails.” – from the poem Transient by Al Purdy

IMG_0259

Why Technical Difficulties are Secretly Awesome.

I’ll just come out and say it: I have a not-so-secret love affair with technical difficulties.

Actually, I have a not-so-secret love affair with just about anything that messes with the usual formula.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally buy into fabricated media events.  If the TeeVee claims something is a “big deal,” that’s usually good enough for me. I’ll bring the dip. We can yell at the screen.  Time to compare beer commercials, friends!

Yes, I love the Super Bowl. I woke up at 4 am to watch Canada face Russia in the World Juniors.  A girlfriend and I were glued to mesmerizing colour-changing maps on election night.  And, of course, I’m down for half-watching big debates (I mean…if you’re watching them, too).

I even watch awards shows. I am forever cynical about entertainment industry elites hanging out and patting themselves on the back, but: ohmygawd Tina Fey and Amy Pohler are hosting?!  Also: my favourite show really needs to win. And: dat dress (!!).

You see what I’m saying. Sometimes, I even tweet about these things. Yeah, I’m one of those people. Shameless.

My main attraction to these media events (besides the fact that they’re, you know, fun) is my  big ol’ soft spot for live television.  After all, I have been there–and I miss it.  I have hung out in the control room. I once tried (awkward teenager style) to keep everything together backstage.  I have whispered into more than one headset to fix more than one glitch just in the nick of time.  Boredom, stress, breathe, we got this.  

I have seen the red light.

When I watch live television, I always have this mini-awareness of what is going on behind the scenes.  It takes the form of an inner narrative, full of quirky crew members and missed cues and shouts of “The show must go on!” (okay, that last one doesn’t actually happen in real life). Obviously, this narrative gets super interesting when connections fuzz, microphones fail…or, say, when there is a twenty minute blackout right in the middle of the Super Bowl.

Cough, cough.

I like the glitches. They make us all just a little bit more aware of what is going on behind the scenes.  It’s a subplot.  We can watch problem solvers covertly move to fix whatever went wrong.  Glitches make us realize just how many people and extensive technicalities are involved in making a media event.  When the “stakes” are so “high,” just one small error can change the whole situation. Maybe it’s a human error, maybe a technical error.  We shouldn’t know, really, because their job is to keep us from knowing.

I like to know.

Now, I don’t need to know what is going wrong, exactly. It’s always best to avoid the blame game.  But don’t you think it’s healthy to be aware of just how much is going on, period?  Glitches are our friendly reminder that a lot of people are involved, that they are talented, and that they are unbelievably valuable to things running smoothly (or, at least recuperating smoothly).

When the big inauguration screens at the Washington Monument started cutting out, it was ironic and disappointing…but it was also kind of enlightening. I looked at the faces around me, trying to figure out how to react to this. We were suddenly aware of our dependence on the people who set up the screens, streams, and footage.  We may not have been overly impressed at that moment, but it sure added to the subplot. Somewhere, someone was kicking themselves and wondering what to do.  A few dozen other someones were probably scrambling to fix the glitch.  It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to think about during the President’s first speech, but it was worth thinking about.  And in the end, I was able to just watch the speech later.  No harm, no foul.

So, yes, the lights went out during the Super Bowl. I laughed at the commentators as they awkwardly tried to fill 20 unexpected minutes, and I chatted with the friends around me: “What just happened? Do they have a back up generator? Can you imagine being the people on staff right now?”

Maybe I’m being nostalgic about my control room days.  Or maybe, I’m a shit disturber who just likes when stuff breaks.  But overall: keeping it interesting, keeping things imperfect, and keeping us aware of one another’s efforts?

That’s pretty awesome.

Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to chat about the twenty-something lifestyle–or at least, figure out what exactly that means.  So many magazines/blogs are written for capital-T Teenagers, or maybe just overgrown Teenagers, who care about boys and boys and hair and boys. So many more magazines/blogs are written for capital-A Adults, with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a dishwasher.

I am neither of these things. I am a twenty-something woman–whatever that means.  I like boys and hair just fine, and family is great, but I’m not really in a position to zoom into any of those niched-out worlds. In my world, I read cracked.com, watch College Humour, and try to understand your favourite webcomics (usually, I even get the obscure jokes…or pretend to).  I try to care about the news.  I scroll down to the comments after paragraph #1 bores me.  I read almost anything put into a list, especially if it makes me laugh.  I enjoy the odd Capital-A Adult blog, if it’s candid enough.

But what of this directly relates to me? Not much.

Fact is, I can’t seem to buy into any “chicklet” journalism.  I also can’t fully skip into the world of those who seem to have their shit fully together, all tied up with a neat little mortgage and morning routine.  I’m not there yet. At all.

And so I’m here, writing about what “getting there” means.  I find myself constantly straddling  the “I totally know what I’m doing,” and “Dude, I know NOTHING.”  Maybe that’s just how life goes, but I’m feeling new at it.  I am new at it.

And, like many people who are “getting there,” I’m definitely new at doing Christmas like this.

I’m new at doing Christmas like a lowercase-a adult who’s very much in between traditions. Last year, I hosted our immediate family Christmas at my apartment–which was good, but weird. This year, I came down to my parents’ place for Christmas.  My parents live in the suburbs of a medium-sized city. The transit system is awful. The backyard is big.  I lived here for eight years, or so they tell me.

This is weird, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

The family is different. We’re older. There used to be people here who aren’t here anymore.  Some have passed away, or otherwise walked away, but some just grew up.  Capital-T Teenage Shauna isn’t here anymore. Neither is the overzealous-about-family-crafts Mom.  All four kids used to live at this house, but now only half of us do.  The puppy is has clearly become a fully-grown dog in my absence.

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

It’s not that there isn’t enough love in the room.  It’s just that it looks and feels different, even though the room is the same.   Any expectations that I hold onto about good ol’ family Christmas are at risk.  I have to get my head around that.

I know that different is okay.

Today, I started feeling kind of odd as I hung new decorations, coordinated with the new furniture, with my newly adult-ish family. I didn’t expect it to feel quite so “new.”  I lived here for eight years, right?  I know these people. It’s December.  We got this.

…right?

It wasn’t wrong. The new stuff looks good.  It’s alright that we waited so long to decorate, that we were only half there, and that we didn’t go all out.  And it’s not a bad thing that we decided to grow up a bit–it has definitely done wonders for our conversation and cocktails. It’s okay that people and traditions change, or even that they sometimes leave altogether.

But it’s also okay if different doesn’t feel perfect right away.

People and traditions stay around so long as they’re good and healthy and make sense. And they leave when they’re done. This is the natural order of things.  It’s change. It makes room for other things to come in, it makes you appreciate that which is stays around, it gives you a basis with which to develop your own traditions.

But the process of un-learning and re-learning what to expect (or how to stop expecting) can be unsettling.  I felt that today.  After hanging those new decorations for a few minutes, I decided to take a breather.  The whole scene wasn’t really working for some reason.  Commence attitude adjustment in my old bedroom (now dad’s office). I looked out the window, read a couple Psalms, considered a nap.

Suddenly my phone went off. It was a friend of mine from Ottawa:

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

I responded: Haha what a random message! But thank you.

She texted back: I was just thinking of you. Moving off to washington. I look forward to creeping photo albums.

This friend is not a person I knew back when I lived here.  I am not even a person I knew back when I lived here.

Would I trade my new life for some old decorations? Not a chance.  That doesn’t mean I have to be completely comfortable with this updated version of Christmas.  Not right away, at least. I just have to accept that it is the product of a lot of moving forward, and that moving forward is good.  This friend, and all my Ottawa friends, are great. My upcoming opportunity in Washington is fantastic.

I went downstairs.  I sat on a new chair, in front of a new computer, and pulled up a YouTube video I had just discovered.  My brothers, now old enough to face profanity, laughed through it with me. I suggested that after decorating (whatever that means this year) all six of us gather in the living room and watch the Christmas episodes of Community.  Unanimous agreement.  And so, armed with gluten free snacks for our growing number of celiac family members, we sat in front of the television.  Netflix streamed to us the meaning of Christmas according to NBC:

Maybe this Christmas is different. Maybe it’s going to be a little different each year.  I’m not going to like all the changes that happen in life. I might even sob in the face of some of them. But tonight proved that–with a little flexibility, a little creativity, and a lot of love–I can laugh in the face of some of them, too.

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

The Downside of “Doing”: Why I can’t relax, and why that needs to change

Of my many, many weaknesses, this has been the worst lately: I. Can’t. Relax.

I don’t know when it started, or if it has always been this way.  Deep breaths and a clear mind sound like something I could’ve pulled off as a kid.  But it’s hard now. Relaxation hasn’t been available to me for a long, long time.

To be fair, I haven’t exactly been trying.  My priority, contrary to relaxation, has been getting things DONE–and in that, I have succeeded. Yes, I know there’s more to “figuring shit out” than just doing stuff or finding distractions.  But keeping busy seems to work for me.

Sort of.

It has become habit, at least.  I actively avoid being lonely (being alone is okay, but God forbid I feel lonely).  I avoid silence.  Work.  Live.  Work some more.  Do. Do. Do.  But the question is, why live that way?

Because if you stop, you might not like what you see.

Or worse, what you feel.

That’s my best guess, anyways.  I don’t really know what I’m so afraid of.  What I do know is that haven’t learned how to relax or even stop moving because I’m terrified of what that entails.  This isn’t something that I particularly want to admit.  But I really want to level with you, because I know know know I can’t be alone in the self-inflicted chaos.

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Being too busy isn’t all bad.  The to do list, the full plate, the sense of duty  to everyone and everything around me–it was my saving grace for a long time. Not just in a “Wellllll, shit went down, and I starting doing things to get my mind off it.” It’s more complicated than that.  Yes, shit has gone down. And, yes, I have gotten super-busy with stuff  in order to take my mind off of it.  I don’t suppose there’s anything too unhealthy about emerging from a challenge with a sense of purpose. The problem is now, I’m worried I won’t  find that sense of purpose at all because it is buried under stuff.

It’s so easy in this world to make your own superficial stress to distract you from real, harsh, felt stresses. For some reason, that is seen as “moving on.”  Isn’t that ridiculous?  I’ve had some of the best bounce-backs of anyone, on the surface.  Internally, I’ve had some of the worst.  Shit goes down (loss, sickness, the usual growing pains), and I greet it by getting a new job, upping my grades, making more friends, and obtaining WAY more obscure pop culture knowledge.  Awesome. That looks pretty badass when I write my CV, when I call mom and dad, when I run into an ex, when I talk to a gravestone.  But when I really think about it (if I give myself a moment to think about it) staying busy has done little to change the fact that I still can’t face rejection, broken-heartedness, or guilt. I still don’t know how to deal with a sick family. I know even less how to deal with a healthy one (weird, right?).  I am happy, I do believe that, but I don’t think I’m happy because I’m busy. And I KNOW I’m not busy because I’m happy.  The things that keep me busy may contribute to my happiness, but I could learn how to better spend my spare time–how to properly be alone, how to unwind, how to zone out, how to be with myself, by myself.

I would love to be able to relax.

I don’t relax because the go-go-go-go is a socially acceptable way to stay in control.  Because I live in a world where we value shutting up and moving on.  We value restlessness. We value people who make the most of their lives–and that means activity, even in the face of of adversity.  We value people who get things done.

Yes, that’s admirable. And I will never not be an active person.  But my self-worth, my sense of purpose, and my dreams for the future have all become way too tied to my accomplishments. I have become my inability to relax.  And I need, need, need to learn how to turn it off.  I need to give myself the time and space to be lonely, be silent, be empty…and to be okay with that.  I need to learn what really matters.

When was the last time you looked someone in the eye and said “Hey, what was the last record you listened to all the way through?” or “What was the last long walk you took?” or “Do you take the time to ride the bus to nowhere?” or “Who can you share comfortable silence with?”.  Better yet, when was the last time you looked yourself in the eye and asked those things?

(Bat Out of Hell.  I can’t remember. Sometimes. I don’t know.)

We don’t seem to value who or how someone is when they’re doing “nothing,” and I’m worried that I’ve turned that onto myself.  I seem to be actively avoiding the person I am right before I fall asleep, or when I first wake up…when I’m waiting in line, when I’m praying, when I’m staring out the window, when I’m relaxing (which I never do).

It’s easy to avoid her when she never stops moving.

I have worried more about my CV in the last two years than I have worried about my soul–and, either way, I have spent more time worrying than I have relaxing. Relaxation, as I mentioned, is not in my vocabulary.  Yes, there have been times where I have needed that defense mechanism of being busy or distracted all the time. But now?

Now, I just need me. I just need to relax. And I know that will not come easily.

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Resolution 2013? I think so.

Dear “Away in a Manger”: You’re wrong. That baby totally cries.

I believe in crying.

I have lived through months where I needed to cry almost every day and night, and I have lived through months of only really needing to cry at movies (or songs…or commercials…). I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I don’t understand, when things are just too much. My tears wash things away. I have been blessed with the ability make it rain a little bit every time I need it. And sometimes, I really need it.

I cry. And the things that make me cry, so often, are the things that make me pray.

I’m not trying to isolate all my readers who don’t pray. I know a lot of you don’t. But to me, prayer and tears go hand in hand. The things that make my eyes leak are usually the same things that bring me to my knees.

Jesus wept, too. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, it makes perfect situational sense, and it’s super powerful. Of course Jesus wept.

The Jesus I met at Christmas when I was a kid, however, apparently did not weep. You know, Baby Jesus. The one who had just been born. He didn’t cry. He was a special baby. He was a perfect baby. God’s son can’t cry.

I’m calling bullshit. Right now.

(…sorry, that scene still makes me giggle like a middle schooler. I digress.)

We try to paint Jesus’ birth as divine, thus peaceful, thus quiet. By that logic, He didn’t cry. But why? Birth is messy and loud and painful. Babies cry. Ironically, that crying baby is how we know that all is well. That is how we know that they’re alive.

Crying is a part of the gift of life–and it stays that way. Every now and then, I cry out to the world, to my mother, to God. I cry because I’m scared, happy, empathetic, in pain. I cry because I’m feeling so much I’m leaking. Through crying my feelings are legitimized, communicated, and dealt with. Through crying, I know that I’m alive.

So, why not let baby Jesus cry? Would that make his birth TOO real, TOO human, TOO chaotic? Calling bullshit once again. Come on. First of all, when have blessings or plans or love ever been anything less than chaotic? Love is chaotic. Life is chaotic. Jesus definitely shook things up. And birth?

God doesn’t make things easy. He makes them profound. And, as far as I can tell, nothing embodies that combination of chaos and love we call Life quite like the messy, painful, beautiful process of childbirth. That cry from the baby means he or she is alive. It means he or she is feeling. Why would we want to take that away from Jesus, of all people?

Maybe it’s because, for some reason, we have categorized crying as a weakness instead of a gift; Something we do because we just can’t handle life, rather than something we do to HELP us handle it. Tears equal temper tantrums. This is sometimes true (see also: my reaction to yet another computer glitch last week. erlack.), but not always. Sometimes, we genuinely need to react. We need to turn to faith, friends, family, ourselves–and sometimes, we need to cry. Certainly, we need to cry when our lungs capture that painful first gasp of air.

Isn’t that amazing? From our first breath, we can communicate through our cries. Tears are part of a complex universal language. It’s what we use to greet the world. It’s what many of us use to feel and to question it. And it is a huge part of the messy, messy reality of childbirth.

So, no, I don’t understand why we try to paint Jesus’ birth as less profound than a regular birth. I say “less than” because I think that to remove any element from the true birth process would just take away from it. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing the way it is. It really makes no sense to remove the noise and the tears, to remove that first moment that the baby cries out “I’M HERE. I FEEL THIS. I’M ALIVE.”

What Would Baby Jesus do bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?
WWBJD bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?

What would Baby Jesus do? He would cry. Just like adult Jesus cried. And don’t for a minute tell me that would make His birth any less divine–after all, what could be more divine than the first sound of a new life?