Moving.

I’ve been here before, but it still feels new. Slowly packing my boxes as I prepare to leave the place I call “home.” It’s the end of an era, I guess. Finishing college and making this move is a game changer.

I’ve been here before, of course I have. My mind immediately jumps to five years ago, when I took off for University. It’s a familiar story: By the end of high school, I had messily carved a suburban teenage “self” out of high school essays, basement parties, and bad attempts at French cuisine. The time had come to challenge that identity. So I moved to the City (mine was Ottawa; my friends scattered all over). I remember leaving my parents’ house in 2010, taking pictures off the walls as my younger brother prepared to take over the space. The process of packing up your old life, even if you’re truly ready for it, is necessarily emotional. It was emotional then, and it is emotional now.

It’s good emotional, for the most part: I’m excited, I’m ready. My family and career and soul will all be better for this.  I sat down with a friend from first year yesterday and just vomited out all the cool stuff I want to do with my life: “I want to make this website! I want to make that app! I want to run this Twitter account! I want to make education better! I want a dog and a house and a panini press!”

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!
Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

It’s time to challenge the identity again. That’s how I see these big moves. I’m attracted to the idea of putting myself in a new environment and seeing how my outlook and personality change…and how they stay the same.  “Finding myself in college” wasn’t about “doing new stuff” (though that was cool, too). It was about figuring out what parts of my identity were who I was, and which parts were just a product of where I was. Would I still like History when I left the guidance of my high school teachers? (Yes, it turned out, I fell even more desperately in love). Would I still adore my high school friends after a few years in a new place? (We had a wicked party last month, actually). Would I hold on to my lack of religious beliefs, my relationship, my bad habits? (No, no, and I’m sure I’ve traded them in for some more).

The move helped me. It didn’t save me, it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all “solution.” It just helped, for the same reason travelling or “trying something new” helps. It’s powerful to see that there is more out there. And it’s powerful to see how you respond to that. Embracing new space can show you what sticks when you shift the environmental factors—the social pressure, the family dynamics, all that. Whether you love the new place or hate it, the whole experience can give you a much more solid grasp on who you are and what you want.

And what I want now is to move forward with my life, which means leaving Ottawa. It means reclaiming a Southern Ontario “self” (this time as a job-seeking big kid) and shedding some of the capital city student life. Just some of it. I’ll still be me, of course. But with this move, I’m hoping I will get a better idea of what that means.

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Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

I was sitting at a friend’s orchestra performance. After a few rounds of clapping, I had become acutely aware of the red spots on my raw hands. “Why does that-freaking-conductor keep leaving the room and coming back in?” I wondered, irritated. Because seriously. My hands, guys. They don’t need to take this abuse.

As the applause died down for the fifth (sixth?) time, I clasped my hands and remembered the games I used to play as a kid.  My teeny-tiny hands perceived a round of applause as a call to competition. I would concentrate on being the loudest clap or, more frequently, the last clap–quietly tapping my hands together after everyone else had finished showing their appreciation, feeling a proud, silent victory when I was responsible for the last small sound from the audience.

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

I don’t want to be unreasonably nostalgic, but I think it’s a fair reflection. The line between fantasy and reality, which now feels so concrete, was blurred when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was from lack of experience, or dreamy imagination, or unrefined perception, or something else. But the line was blurred. We were self-centered, obnoxious, pushy…but we were also a lot of fun. The way we looked at the world was fun.

When I was small, I didn’t know much about life (hell, I still don’t), but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be fun.

“Play” is often considered frivolous recreation, the opposite of “Work.” But perhaps this isn’t totally true. Perhaps work and play are not mutually exclusive. A worldview that favours joy and laughter and a heavy dose of “don’t sweat the small stuff” sounds like a healthy move. A little less stress and a little more giggling and running around (endorphins, anyone?) has to be a good thing for your happiness and relationships. Challenging yourself in a joy-filled way sounds like a pretty good habit. And it’s certainly easier to see the world humbly and honestly when you aren’t busy taking yourself too seriously.

My favourite definition of play is this one:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.

Translation? Play is basically how every cool innovation ever has ever happened. Toying with ideas. Playing around in the workshop, playing instruments, wordplay.

It’s pretty simple, really. Play is experimental, constructive, innovative, competitive. It can exercise your imagination, (pretend that there’s a monster after us!), your problem-solving skills (how do we hide from the monster?), and your ability to collaborate (let’s build a fort!). Games make you push yourself, and trick you into actually enjoying it.

And they make hands red from overclapping into a fun challenge, apparently.

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

In kid-land, we played house. We played school. We played dress-up. Now we just “do” those things, somehow forgetting that they used to be games. And forgetting that in many ways, they still are.

The stakes are higher, our awareness is (ever so slightly) stronger, but life is still full of games, just waiting for us to uncover them. We’re still allowed to play.

In fact, if we aren’t playing, maybe we’re doing it wrong.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

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

A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood

I originally wrote this list in July.  The idea was simple: I was really happy.  I could kinda-sorta-maybe identify why I was happy.  I decided to list 100 things that I was doing in life that kept me smiling.  No, I’m not really into empty self-improvement rhetoric, but I do like it when lifestyle trial and error works out…and I really like it when I can sum that up in a list.  1, 2, 3. ‘Sup, early 20s?

My Semi-Informed Guide:

1) Drink chocolate milk.

2) Google useless things.

3) Grow plants.

4) Make sure your main pair of shoes is comfortable.

5) Happily respond to all correspondence (letters, texts, emails, calls).

6) Don’t expect others to always respond to you.

7) Say thank you – and mean it.

8) Use lots of pillows.

9) Play new songs on repeat until you’re sick of them.

10) Do things that scare you (BOO!).

11) If you need to cry, CRY.

12) Play air guitar.

13) Go to church.

14) Spend time with children.

15) Cheer loudly.

16) Do the dishes right away.

17) Share meals.

18) Always have an extra beer in the fridge.

19) Let hugs last at LEAST 3 seconds.

20) Write songs.

21) Appreciate travel time (ie. car/train/plane rides).

22) Watch things that make you laugh.

23) Call home.

24) Send Christmas cards.

25) Celebrate people.

26) Don’t fear messes.

27) Find doctors who listen to you, and listen to them.

28) Tell the truth.

29) If someone asks you to grab a drink, say yes.

30) Keep your legs smooth.

31) Talk to God often, and candidly.

32) Find people you can be inappropriate  with.

33) Do things by candlelight.

34) Be shameless about puns.

35) Buy/eat local and seasonal.

36) Watch the game.

37) Dress for the weather.

38) Ask people how they’re doing – and care about the answer.

39) Take long walks.

40) Use fresh herbs.

41) Make a playlist of happy songs.

42) Laugh at yourself.

43) Keep a calendar, and keep it flexible.

44) Donate blood.

45) Don’t cut good conversations short.

46) Pay attention to the lyrics.

47) Answer the phone.

48) Know which old letters to keep, and which ones to throw away–be able to remember, and be able to let go.

49) Play games.

50) Use hand sanitizer.

51) Appreciate your parents.

52) Avoid making concrete decisions about the future – you have to consult your future partner/job/self/life first.

53) Watch the montages before Sunday Football.

54) Watch blooper reels.

55) Find a way to record memories.

56) Stand for the national anthem.

57) Sing every day.

58) Take that extra shift.

59) Talk to elderly people. Laugh with them. Listen to them.

60) Welcome questions, curiosities, and contradicting ideas.

61) Don’t underestimate “shallow” conversations.

62) ALWAYS offer to help someone move or renovate.

63) Embrace technology.

64) Compliment often and publicly, criticize constructively and privately.

65) Be receptive.

66) Play catch.

67) Find reasons to bite your bottom lip.

68) Listen to the radio.

69) Ask taxi drivers about their stories.

70) Care about your job.

71) Exfoliate.

72) Find a pen you really like and use it.

73) Make corrections in pencil. You could be wrong, too.

74) Trust your gut.

75) Know how to hold your liquor.

76) If a friend is experiencing a loss, be there. (Don’t try to fix them. Don’t be a hero, Just be there.)

77) Be a role model.

78) Take cold showers.

79) Watch TED talks.

80) Give lots of high fives.

81) Smile at people on the street.

82) Make eye contact.

83) Maintain a good gender ratio in social situations.

84) Give your seat to elderly, disabled, or pregnant people.

85) Have ambition.

86) Own a tool kit.

87) Dance at your desk.

88) Make secret wishes at 11:11.

89) Hold hands.

90) Hang out in the rain.

91) Give credit where credit is due.

92) Learn names.

93) Use seatbelts and a helmets.

94) Be compassionate.

95) Keep the energy in your home positive.

96) Decorate for holidays.

97) Go out and support artist friends.

98) Don’t let birthdays and Valentine’s day matter too much – just appreciate each other daily.

99) Be nice to service people.

100) Assume everyone has good intentions.

For all those who wonder where I get it, this is my family’s contribution to the list…
101) Bond with your famjam by recreating Epic Meal Time.

Why did I decide to revisit this list now?

First of all, because I’m craving chocolate milk.

Second of all, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what “growing up” means. 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.

So, I decided to revisit this list.  Because, while blindly navigating that alone/not alone process, you sometimes pick up survival skills. 

These are mine.

Survival skills. At a haunted, jail specifically.  Go hard or go home? (see #10.)

I’m not perfect at seeing them through (see also: number 16), but I have noticed that when I do see them through, things feel better.  Essentially, these 100 points can be summed up in three rules:  Have fun. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.  My version of that means a healthy dose of pillows and hugs and values and pub nights and prayers. Your version could mean pretty much anything, I suppose, as long as you can be happy while following the 11th commandment: don’t be an asshole.

Also, my roommate complained to me that this list is too fem-centric, so I invite you to contribute some “bro”-centric points to even the score. Or just some you-centric points. This is just how I choose to roll, but I would love to hear how other people keep the positive energy high.

P.S. I am so serious about the blooper reels.