Things We Do For The People We Like (That We Should Start Doing For The People We Love)

You know when I’m at my best? When I’m ordering coffee.

Things could be tense at home, I could be mad at my best friend, work could be stressful, I could just be having a grouchy day, and still. Still. 

“How’s it going? I’ll have a medium black, please. Thank you so much. You have a great day, too!”

Most of us have the capacity to be polite, interested, borderline flirtatious. To treat people well. To manage expectations. And most of us demonstrate those qualities in certain situations–when we’re attracted to people, when we’re ordering or asking for something, when we’re in public.

We have kindness in us. We give that kindness to complete strangers everyday. We give even more kindness to the people we particularly like, or those we wish to impress. For the most part, that’s a good thing…there’s nothing wrong with being nice to people, right?

Mostly, yes.

EXCEPT: If we’re polite to the guy at the cafe, if we pay attention to that girl we like at the gym, if we compliment our co-worker…and then go home and ignore or snap at our family? We’re really not winning the game. We’re not really that nice. We’re just good at faking it until people get close.

I think we could make our relationships much better if we treated the people we love as well as we treat the people we like.

Here are 4 ways to start.

1. Give patience.

The people we like don’t owe us anything. We have no real social contract with them. Because of this, we can’t get away with being impatient with them. We can’t. We would look ridiculous.

So if someone you like doesn’t text you back for awhile…well, chances are you’re just happy they answered at all. When someone you like makes an honest mistake or a slip of the tongue, you accept it with a heaping spoonful of “benefit of the doubt.” When they’re a little late, you smile because at least they showed up at all.

Yet for some reason, the people who have earned our patience are the ones we give it to the least.

I’m not saying we should let loved ones push us around, or be fake when we’re annoyed. But we do need to soften up a little with the people we love. We shouldn’t jump on them when they make a mistake, or make them suffer for our insecurities. Sometimes, we are more patient and accomodating for total strangers than we are for our own best friends. That needs to change.

2. Don’t make your bad mood their problem.

I am always in good spirits when I talk to the people I like.  I may tell them that I’m “tired” or “nervous about this test” or “out-of-breath because I totally just ran for the bus, man,” but I won’t present it in a bitchy way. And I certainly won’t act like it’s their fault.

It’s harder to do this with the people we love. We know they will stick around even if we’re irritable, critical or hard to please. I think we often take advantage of that. Almost all of us have been guilty of taking out the day’s frustrations on the most well-meaning folks in our lives. That’s not cool.

None of the people you love are wholly responsible for your happiness. And none of them deserve to be punished for your unhappiness, especially if it has nothing to do with them.

(Plus, if you get upset about every…little…thing, or get cranky without cause too often, no one in your life will take your legitimate concerns seriously.)

3. Read/watch what they’re into.

If you love someone, you should read their favourite book.  This is the life-rule I just made up.

(Admittedly, my personal progress on fulfilling this rule kinda sucks. My roommate’s favourite series is over 1600 pages and I am a very busy lady.  But stick with me.)

We always find ourselves interested in the things that influence the people we like. We take shameless peeks at what the people we admire are reading from across the room, because cool and attractive people probably read really cool and attractive things.  We click the links they share. We let their interests and recommendations silently invade our Netflix cues.

Gee, that is a great show. I enjoy similar shows. Please find me relatable and also intriguing.

This is okay, I guess, but it’s kind of weird.  If you’re picking out a new book (or movie, or TV show), doesn’t it make way more sense to try one that means something to a person who really matters in your life? I mean, then you get to be entertained/enlightened and improve your relationship. I feel like that’s a pretty solid win-win.

4. Put down your phone.

I am so often checking my phone for messages from the people I likewhile I am with the people I love. Not a great move, I know.

I distractedly text buddies and boys during family dinners. I read non-urgent work emails when I should be watching a movie with my friend. Too often, the vibration in my pocket trumps the person in front of me. It shouldn’t.

You don’t check your phone when you’re in the checkout, or on a date, or at a job interview.  In those moments, you are focused on the individual you are with and the task at hand. You are in the moment. You are seeing the person you’re with, and they are seeing you.

The people you love deserve to be seen, too.

Basically, this:

be good

Be good to the people you like (hell, be good to the people you don’t like). And when you catch yourself being good to someone, hold on to that. Hold on to that courtesy, the sweetness, the attentiveness, the patience.

Hold on to it, and bring it home.

 

 

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On Work, Play, and Goin’ Professional

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. In some ways, I get it. I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.

– – –

I was sitting in the back seat with a friend.

It must have been 2005, I guess. I was young. She had just shared the new Black Eyed Peas album with me, and we disagreed on the quality of the song “My Humps.”

(Yeah, we were really hip to the important issues.)

I digress.
I digress.

This friend and I had become close through the local little kid theatre scene.  We had both been through summer camps, community productions, that kind of thing.  She declared that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.  I asked her why. She recited, “Because when you have a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”

And I was horrified.

Obviously, I couldn’t speak for her–but in that moment, I knew that my enjoyment of little kid theatre would be destroyed if it were forced upon me.  Even as a child, the things I did purely for capital-F Fun were precious. And so, instead of being nice and supportive, I argued back (which I’m sure was super annoying): “Wouldn’t turning it into work make it not Fun anymore, though? What would you do for Fun if you made that a job?”

I wasn’t suggesting that Work had to be unenjoyable–at least, I don’t think I was.  There were a lot of things I liked doing in a “potential career” way.  I signed books out of my little-kid  bookshelf, organized by author’s last name (not because I was organized–I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a librarian). I regularly turned the basement into a carnival, a stage, a restaurant–anything where I could charge admission. I painted rocks and sold them. I rocked the lemonade stand. At halloween, I even turned my parents’ bedroom into a “mall” and charged my brothers for space and hand-drawn business cards.  

This, to me, was what “work” would look like someday. I created something, or did something. It helped or entertained someone, who then decided it was worth signing up for. If I was lucky, they might even decide it’s worth paying for.

I loved it. But the idea of those considerations tainting something I did purely for Fun was terrifying.

ForShaunaColour

– – –

The idea of being forced to do my little hobbies for hours and hours every day is not a comfortable one–it wasn’t comfortable in 2005, and it isn’t now. Work means being accountable to other people. It means meeting quotas, training, building, attaining results, providing something to someone. And it means doing all that OR ELSE.

With some things, that would excite me–but with others, it would be draining.  I love doing puzzles in my spare time, but I would be miserable if you made me jigsaw through my 9 to 5. I like playing guitar, watching sports, scrapbooking, cooking new food–but I also like that those things are not obligitory. That they ultimately belong to me, just me.

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. And I get it, I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.  Instead, I ask this one:

What would you enjoy doing even if you were getting paid for it? Even if you had to. What would you love even if it became a Job?

Work-style accountability can take the enjoyment out of a light hobby or interest.  It’s why readers often resent the books English teachers assign.  Or why people edit Wikipedia…while procrastinating from writing a report. It’s what makes some students realize that  they really picked the wrong major, because being interested in something and wanting to do it full-time are two very different things.

Work-style accountability is not totally unmotivating in and of itself.  It’s just different. It changes the reason you do something, the way you do it. If you’re truly passionate about something in a Work way, it can be incredibly rewarding and awesome to go professional. I think everyone has something (maybe a whole lot of somethings) that they would enjoy even if they were getting paid.

Even if they had to show up.

Even if they had quotas to fill, and people to please.

Even if it became a Job.

Right now, we just have to figure out what that is.

(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

A common piece of writing advice, one which has always bewildered me, is this:

Force yourself to write. Write often. Write at least one thing per day. Discipline; Practice; Commitment-to-craft.

Strange.  I never thought of writing as a choice.

At least, I don’t recall ever choosing to invite semi-colons into my most intimate moments.  I never “pushed myself” to scribble in so many half finished journals. The act of typing as the hours slip by–four, five, six–barely stopping to recall “Wait. I am a human.  I have to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

I don’t remember signing up for that.

If being a writer were a choice, if it came down to hours logged with a dictionary and office chair discipline…well, I’m not sure why anyone would bother with it at all. I certainly wouldn’t.  Creative writing seems like strange brand of madness, rather than the product of a determined spirit.

Slicing and dicing phrases, posting it publicly, feeling unsure–that’s just how it has always been. I don’t write because have to, because I know how to, or because I want to know how to. I write because I don’t know how not to.  It’s a curse, if anything. Right now, I should be studying for a test. I should also be sending much shorter, less heartfelt emails. I should certainly be less concerned about my word choice in text messages–or word choice in general, really.  And my quality of life would definitely improve if I weren’t constantly composing blog posts in my head.

Constantly.  It’s weird, I know, but I cannot stop.

Recently, a few people have asked me why I blog, how I update this blog so frequently, how I think of what to say.  I suck at answering those questions. The only response I have is: sputter, sputter, “Because I don’t not update the blog frequently.”

Yeah. Untangle that one.

I’m sure the sentence a day commitment, the brick-by-brick (or Bird By Bird, as the talented Anne Lamott would say) building towards a masterpiece works for some people.  It must.  For someone who finds writing fun or therapeutic, the advice of  “Anything! Anything! Write anything!” works, I suppose. It’s not an unhealthy resolution. My truth is in no way universal.

But generally, I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list.

And I want to write like that, too.

In Elie Wiesel’s testimonial novel, Night, he echoes the sentiment:

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

As a Holocaust survivor, a man needing to bear witness, a writer with a message, Wiesel’s works were just that necessary. (More necessary, of course, than anything I have to say.)

When you look at Weisel’s career, or the career of any writer, you realize–for these men and women, a typewriter is an extension of the soul.  Committing to writing like you would a workout routine or piano practice just doesn’t make sense. What happened to the madness? What about the urgency?

When I have something to write, I do it. I do it, among other things, as an offering to the readers because ‘You guys! I just thought of this thing! I put it into words that kinda-sorta-sometimes work.  I hope it helps you.  I hope it helps me.  It’s sad, I know, but this is really all  have to offer the world right now. So, will you read? Please? Can we talk?’

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words.

Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that.

So, maybe you are a writer.  Or maybe you’re a reader, or a thinker, or a speaker, or a listener…or maybe, your art is something entirely different (but equally unavoidable).  Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are.

Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to.

Five Sentences That Changed My Life

I don’t want to throw clichés at you.

Clichés, my high school teachers told me, are worse than useless. They’re uncreative. They’re filler.  Usually redundant, always unimaginative.

They were right. Of course they were right. Even the things I live my life by have never really been “clichés”–my mantras and reassurances come from quotable places, but they matter because they caught me by surprise. Yes. That. That right there. Never thought of it that way before.  

Usually I consume words, but every now and then, words consume me. (sorry. that was cheesy).

Those are the rare, rare words that stick.

Here’s a peek:

Im-not-worried-about-you

I know, how simple and strange.   “I believe in you. I trust you with yourself.”

Obviously these are terrible words to say if you’re actually worried about someone. But if you have faith in someone’s survival skills, it’s a pretty great way to share the faith without demeaning their situation.  To say that it’s normal to be falling apart at the seams, rebuilding, laughing, crying, calling a friend at 3 am, insert lifeline here–they are going to be okay. At least, you think they are.

That seems to be worth something. It was worth a lot to me.

You-are-where-you-were

This is part of the poem “Transient” by Al Purdy…a great poem, though not overly relevant on the surface. But these words, these two lines–dude. The best way I can describe it is, they let me move.

It’s a weirdly big deal, and I can’t really explain it, but anyone who knows me well has seen these words written on something (my blackboard wall, my binders, in pen on my arm).  The words are honest, and make no assumptions: Yes, I was always headed to wherever I am. And yes, the dirt under my fingernails, the person that I am, this can be “home.”

These are lovely ideas.

Everything-might-happen

Here’s some tough love. Sometimes, it’s someone else’s turn. A person you love will leave, because they’re meant to be with someone else. A family member will die, because they’re in a lot of pain.  Your business will fail and you’ll be left with nothing, because society needs to move forward and economies change.

You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out why that happened to you. Trying to figure out the reason. Thinking in a vacuum–something must have happened to you, so that something else can happen to you. Post hoc ergo hoc propter hoc.

Now, I’m a pretty religious person.  I believe that everything does happen for a reason, and I believe in resurrection–closed doors leading to more open ones.  But it’s silly to think that the exact reason for everything has to do with you, right now.

God has a lot of kids to look after.  At one point, you’re going to end up being collateral damage. We take hits for each other all the time, whether we know/like it or not. That’s the price we pay for balance, for the circle of life, and for the privilege of being so beautifully interconnected with each other.

Your fate does not only belong to you. But what you do with that fate? That’s all yours, baby.

Does-everyone-realize

The ladies down at everyoneisgay.com say awesome stuff all the time, but this line from Danielle really stuck.  So simple. So valuable.

Fact: If you worry things are going to suck, and you’re wrong, you’ve wasted your time worrying.

Fact: If you worry things are going to suck, and you’re right, you’ve wasted your time worrying. So you’re miserable twice as long–waiting for the thing, dealing with the thing, recovering from the thing.

Constructive concern is a go. Any other “worrying” gets served with this lovely question:

Who-am-I-today

This is my mantra.   I close my eyes and repeat these words in my head as I rock back and forth–because I’m totally sane, obviously.  It’s an every-other-day thing, at least, and I have no shame in my brief reality checks. These words bring a great deal of focus: “Who am I today?”  That’s all that really matters, in the end. Screw the coulda/woulda/shoulda.  Screw worrying.  Screw the fact that I do both of those things…until the mantra walks in and gives me a role to play. Today.

“Who am I today?”  A student. An employee. Sometimes a writer, always a sister and daughter.  I’m pretty alright at those roles, once I remind myself what they are–and who I am.  Right here, right now.

What phrases give you pause, comfort, or something-in-between? Which sentences shape your life?

Three More Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me)

Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post“You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”

As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right.  Here’s how that one ended:

Bonus lesson: Don't step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you're trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy...
Bonus lesson: Don’t step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you’re trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy…

Ungh. Onwards?

[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]

5) Guitar

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What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”  

This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up.  Seriously,  if you only read one of these, read this one.

The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced.  The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational.   Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”

W.G. keeps it real.

A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the  degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.

“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”

Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar.  But…I’m not any good.”

You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line?  The chatter stopped.  One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.

“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’  Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”

“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.

“Then you’re a musician.”

You know what? He’s probably right.  Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents.  I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.

It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay. 

The fact is, I listen to, learn about,  and talk music all day.  I get inspired.  When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me.  It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :

Hey Shauna,

A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”

Is that not the most beautiful thing?  I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.

6) Curling mousse

IMG_8790

What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.

My hair.  Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?

Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.

 

Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC.  It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.

Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.

The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks.  If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak).  Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating.  My hair doesn’t define me.  Imagine that.

Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too.  One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly.  It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight.  All I have time for is a mousse.

When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off.  The only option left is to join ’em.

7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash

IMG_8787

What it taught me: Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.

New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.

…yes, actually.

I first discovered this trick in high school.  I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself.  I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.

I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances.  I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.

Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.

(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!

Travelling Abroad Advice for Canadians: Crazy (But Accurate) Edition

Today, I spent some time on the phone with an expert on Canadian safety and protocol while traveling abroad. He was…quirky. The phone call was informative, for sure, but it was also hilarious.  Here are some highlights:

“Make sure you give copies of all your papers to someone who loves you. I define ‘someone who loves you’ as ‘someone who put up with you for your teenage years and still talks to you.'”

“You have to Register with DFAIT if you’re a Canadian going anywhere abroad for more than 2 weeks. Otherwise, you’re just being stupid.”

“If you find yourself in North Korea, you go to the Swedish Embassy. If you find yourself elsewhere and there’s no Canadian Embassy around, go to the Australian Embassy. Don’t try the American Embassy…if you think they’re going to help you, you’re dead wrong.”

“You have to be careful.  Washington DC is kinda like Vanier.”

“And now comes the part where I talk to you about Love. Ready? Okay. When you are in love, your brain chemistry changes.  I get it. You’re 20.  If you call me and you’re in trouble but you say ‘Oh, but I’m in love!’ I will not judge you. You have no control over that. It’s just your brain.”

“Canada is the only country in the world where we elect people, they pass laws, then people don’t follow the laws, and no one cares. Other countries aren’t like that. You should probably follow laws outside of Canada.”

“You’re a student of history, so I love you already. Everyone should be a student of history.”

“I might seem like a nice guy right now, but I can be an asshole when I negotiate. I will bust in on a gang and get you out of there.”

“I believe in the Trudeau years when everyone could do whatever they wanted and just had to be accountable to the consequences. Like, you can be involved with drugs while you’re living abroad if you want, but if you do I won’t care about you. ”

Word.

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Four Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the 4 lessons they taught me)

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Black heels meet the favourite things, in true Shaunanagins style.

This is the first in a series of three posts–I actually have a top ten (pictured above) but dividing it up seems like the best way to go.

Yes, “couldn’t live without” is an overstatement. Basically, these are the items which would make it into my suitcase no matter what (or where). There are reasons and stories behind these things, most of which translate into serious “lessons learned”…lessons which pretty much explain why these items are even with me. After all, I haven’t even had most of these things for more than a couple years.

Too bad. I could have used them.

1) Cucumber cleansing milk (from The Body Shop)

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What it taught me: If it’s the right product, and the right price, you should probably buy two.

I worked at the Body Shop last year, and quickly learned that their skin care lines are amazing. My best find during my time there was this cucumber cleansing milk. It was $4, it smelled fresh, and it softened my skin instantly.

Oh, and they discontinued it.

I don’t wear a whole lot of make up, so it takes me awhile to go through my perfect shade or find the right skin care product. After I run out, I almost always discover that my products are discontinued. With this moisturizer, it was a double heartbreak–come on, $4? When will I find that again?

Needless to say, I’m making this bottle last.

The cucumber toner is still available through their website’s outlet section (presumably on a “while supplies last” basis). I would get one if I were you. Maybe two. Then go to the mall and buy your favourite lip colour, if you have one, or stock up on your foundation shade. Because if your skin is as pale or annoying as mine (sexy, right?) then you probably don’t want to lose your secret ingredients–and you probably will.

2) Homemade, wood burned Canada flag

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Lesson learned: Appreciate other people’s talents.

Think about how hard it is to draw a maple leaf. Now imagine wood burning it.

Let us all have a moment of silence to remember the Canada flag drawings we have effed up in our lifetimes.

(Thanks for the Christmas present, bro.)

3) TiCats hat

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What it taught me: If you want to connect with someone, you need to find a way to care about the things they care about.

It was Christmas break. As my family gathered together, my mother turned to ask me a rather out-of-the-blue a question. You could tell this one had been bubbling up for quite some time; Limited segue, loaded tone, genuine curiosity.

“Okay, Shauna. I know you do, but…when exactly did you start watching sports?” She turned to my father, adding: “I watched Football with her, like, a few months ago and she seemed to really know what was going on.” Back to me. “How did you learn that? When did that start?”

I offered several explanations. I played touch football for a couple months in middle school, didn’t I? The neighbor boy and I used to throw a basketball around sometimes, and “Well, mom, I’ve never missed a Superbowl.” But as I traced back in my memory, I could find only one explanation: because I love my brother, that’s why.

I’ve always enjoyed watching sports, but I have only been following actual teams for a few years. I think it started with some uneasy phone calls back at the beginning of my University life. Time after time, conversation fell flat with 3/3 of my brothers. I missed them terribly, but we had nothing to really share. The only lead I had was with the youngest, who kept trying to talk about sports.

Sports. I like sports, right? Watching hockey is fun. I’ve always been interested in football. We could totally connect over this. So I turned on Sportscenter, Googled some NFL stats, watched a few games. I gave him a call.

Then he started calling me. We messaged each other during a game. Now, our relationship sounds less like “So, what’s new…nothing…yeah…okay…” and more like this:

A 13 year old's response to my email asking "So, is the Pack back?" after they won a game in September. I don't care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.
A 13 year old’s response to my email asking “So, is the Pack back?” after they won a game in September. I don’t care how much/little you know about sports, this is hella impressive.

Clearly, he cares about this. I found it to be something I could care about, too–there were sports I liked, I fell for a franchise, I started following up. I was already interested, but I honed in on the interest because it was something he loved. Our relationship has never been better.

After helping me to build a friendship with my little brother, football helped me build yet another bridge–this time, with my grandfather. For the first time, here we were: same city, same team, same ability to be glued to the game. Quick visits turned into NFL/CFL marathons stretching to 8 hours.

The best part? I ended up having inside jokes and a solid relationship with my grandfather, who I barely saw for the first 20 years of my life. My grandmother’s sighs of “This is a silly game. Why don’t they just give them all a ball so they stop fighting over that one?” in the background were hilarious. It was so easy. We just had to share something.

Truthfully, I inherited my TiCats fandom from my dad, who inherited it from my grandfather. I carry it through not just because I like it, but because the people I love like it–my brother, my dad, my grandfather, even a couple childhood friends. I carry it because it matters to my relationships. I’m clinging to commonality. It’s one of the best calls I’ve ever made.

(…also, I’m more than a little emotionally involved when it comes to my teams.)

4) Red lipstick.

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Lesson learned: It’s called “classy is as classy does.” And it works.

Okay, so maybe not everyone is a fan of red lipstick. But please, try to understand: this is no ordinary lipstick. Pictured here is a lipstick infused with lady superpowers.

This lipstick is my secret weapon. If want a productive, no-nonsense, superwoman day, this is step number one. Then comes a pencil skirt. Then a pair of pumps. The hair goes up. The coffee comes out. Being an attractive, busy, shit-together lady is a go.

I will forever defend the power of red lipstick and a little black dress. And no, I’m not talking about its powers in the MRS department. The red lipstick isn’t for dates. It’s to signify go time for me–red lips and heels happen when I’m doing homework, doing dishes, filling out applications, and working through to do lists. Things just get done when my ladyself comes out.

Yeah, I’m kind of a lipstick feminist. Classy is as classy does, friends.

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As I mentioned, this is the first in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!

Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

I have this mildly unhealthy habit of checking my blog stats WAY. Too. Often.  Thankfully, WordPress only gives me really basic information–I steer clear of Google Analytics, since the geographic detail feels a bit too creepy.  Here, I just get the basics: I can see what different countries readers are coming from (‘sup, Yemen?), and I can see how they’re getting here. Usually, people find the blog via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes, Stumbleupon points people my way. Mentions or comments on other blogs can also spur a few hits.

And a few times each day, someone finds my blog through a Google search.

The search terms are usually predictable enough: “Things to do in Ottawa,” “Blackboard wall,” “Stocking stuffers that give to charity,”…you know, straight-forward subjects directly related to blog entries.  Every now and then, though, I see a search term that makes me FEEL THINGS.

These search terms are the desperate, doomed-from-the-start pleads to the internet for guidance.  These searches come from the same place that bring us 11:11 wishes, untimely text messages, bad “poetry,” and worse habits.  There’s a knot in someone’s soul and they can’t massage it out.  The default solution? ‘Maybe, just maybe, Google knows.’ 

And then, if they find my blog, a ‘Maybe, just maybe, this Shaunanagins website knows.’

Full disclosure: I have totally been that person, sitting alone and unsure of something (everything?) at approximately 3 o’clock in the morning.  I will shamelessly admit that I have turned to Google for validation, or just a gentle reminder that it’s allllll good.

“Coping with stress”
“How long does it take to get over [thing I am under]?”
“How to deal with learning curves
“What is good about being single?”
“a;gnfdbldfkb mdfl;vdf”
“Plane tickets to Seattle.”

(No, I’ve never been to Seattle.  The alone/unsure/3 am combo sometimes ends in weird places.)

It is this past experience in the field of “Well, shit.  Life. I guess I’ll just Google it?”  that makes me FEEL THINGS when I see search terms designed to…massage out those soul-knots.  This month, two such search terms really stuck with me:

“i can never relax. what do i do?”
and
“don’t exactly know where home is”

Heavy.   I feel you, Person A.  As for Person B…I have so much to say on that topic, it’s a little ridiculous. All I can say for right now is that I feel you, too. Or at least, I felt you for awhile.

Dear Person A,

In response to your search i can never relax. what do i do?” : Dude.  I wish I knew.  I guess turning off your computer would be a good start.  Maybe drink tea and do a puzzle?  Or go to a used CD store, pick up some new music, and put it on.  Close your eyes and listen.  Or, hey, just read. Maybe read a blog. Maybe this blog, brought to you by another person who can’t relax.

That totally killed my “Turn off your computer” thing, didn’t it?

Dear Person B,

You told Google that you “don’t exactly know where home is.”  My response to this could, and should, be a full blog entry.  It should be a series of blog entries. What I can say in short right now is that Home is the place where things grow. It’s the place where you grow. And sometimes, growing can be uncomfortable. So, sometimes, Home can be uncomfortable. But if it’s safe and loving, if whatever needs nurtured is being nurtured, you’re on the right track.

Oh, and Home doesn’t have to be a geographical Place. It can be a person, or an attitude. And if you get spiritual, that there’s a whole new dimension to the concept of Home.  But for now, just focus on finding a safe spot, geographical or otherwise, that has positive energy.  A Place that you can move and shake in.  Do not worry if, while moving and shaking, you stumble away from that Place for awhile. A life well lived will always bring you back Home eventually.

Okay, I feel so much better now.  I know Person A and Person B will probably not be back to this blog, but maybe other people with similar pleads to the internet will.  And maybe they will also be able to help me learn how to relax, or figure out where home is. Because we’re all just floating, you guys. And we’re all alright.

Yeah.

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.