When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Yep, the East Coast is still wonderful. I checked.

My time exploring this country, in all its beauty (imperfect, tree-and-rock-and-tree based beauty, but beauty nonetheless), is far from over. Last week, I found myself on the East Coast of Canada once again. This time, though, I was exploring THE BEAUTY OF FRIENDSHIP.

(I also just threw up in my mouth, dun’worry. )

I share enough of my ridiculous awkwardness with the people who read this blog that I figure it’s worth throwing up some of my happiness, too. This one is profound, in the most simple way. I have friends, lovely friends. To me, they are home. They moved. I visited. They’re still home. And that’s awesome. It’s just awesome.

I repeat: I am also throwing up in my mouth.

With the right company, I imagine someone could be anywhere in the world and be happy. But the seafood, fall colours, ocean, and calmness of the East coast made the experience next-level relaxing. This was vacation. After the last post, there’s no doubt I needed one.

It’s different, traveling with friends. My last Canadiana experience was selfish…because, well, traveling alone is selfish. It’s supposed to be. That’s the point. That trip was all about experiences, about learning and bucket-listing; short-term connections, life lessons, et cetra. And I loved that. I’m sure I still would.

But last week, I was visiting old friends. I was traveling with my plus-one. This trip was all about people. It was about sharing experiences and sitting around the table. It was just friendship. Not the one-week-long Hostel kind of friendship (which is beautiful in its own way, no doubt), but the kind that makes you think “This. Is. Home.”

Of course, there is nothing, nothing, like experiencing a brief breeze of “This. Is. Home.”  while sitting around with a bunch of strangers in a new place. It’s literally worth traveling around the world for. It’s emotional tourism. But sitting around with people who have been there for awhile and just drowning in the “Home” feeling–even in a someone else’s  “house,” even after a long flight–that’s new.

And I could get used to it.

Hopewell Rocks. Why you gotta be so gorgeous, New Brunswick?

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.

 

 

My Parents Aren’t Superheroes (which makes them even more amazing)

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized my parents weren’t superheroes, that they were fallible. It probably happened right around the same time I realized “I’m not so special, really” and the ever-shocking “plans don’t always work out.”

In some ways, I’m still uncovering my parents’ humanness. I still expect my mom to be a rock star super-provider who can always answer the phone. I still expect my Dad to be the best cook and game-player and puzzle-maker and goofy math whiz and dude in general. Beating him at Scrabble is great for my ego, but genuinely weird for my worldview. Calling home and getting the answering machine still makes me feel strange,  even after four years of living on my own; um, don’t you guys exist purely to serve my needs?

But they don’t. And while decades of effort to serve my needs, or at least make sure my brothers and I don’t starve (slash kill each other) was successful, sort of, it wasn’t perfect. I’m realizing that they were just “winging it,” that my teachers were just “winging it,” that every adult I ever looked up to was pretty clueless (because we’re all pretty clueless).

And honestly? The whole thing just makes them way more impressive.

If a Domestic Goddess can raise a family and keep it relatively together, then whatever, that’s just what Goddesses do. But when a regular, imperfect woman does it, that’s freaking impressive. As I watch my mother run late, lose stuff, overschedule, undersleep, and drown in paperwork, laundry loads and self-doubt, I can’t help be be amazed. Somehow, she (sloppily, beautifully) created four kids that can say “My childhood was happy. My family loves each other. My home is safe.” She created that. She made that happen.

Holy, holy, holy. That’s a pretty amazing feat.

mommy

She didn’t do it alone, of course. The thing about not-Goddesses is that they need help, sometimes more than they can actually get. We are fed this narrative of heroes and saints, of people doing it “all on their own,” but really? That’s bullshit.

The most impressive thing my parents ever taught me was how to work together. To learn the neighbours’ names. To care about your community. It wasn’t “how to do it all, perfectly, always.” It was this:

  • Surround yourself with people who you can ask for help.
  • Ask for help.
  • Respond when people ask you for help.

Those aren’t the lessons of superheroes. Those are the lessons of people who are “doing their best.” People who sometimes have to call in backup. People who link arms with other people “doing their best,” because how else can you raise a kid, really?

daddy2
“Wait, you weren’t a superhero. You just loved me enough to pretend you were when I needed one.” Thanks, Dad.

I’ve seen tears well up in my non-Goddess mother’s imperfect eyes–frustration, fear, anger, saddness, joy. I’ve seen tears in my Dad’s eyes, too. Sometimes I was even involved in causing it, and not in a cutesy “I’m so proud of you!” way. That’s the worst.

I have power. They have power. I can hurt them. They can hurt me. We are peopleAnd we won’t be here forever.

As Rachel Held Evens wrote:

“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain. All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them.”

Learning I could hurt my parents (and that I shouldn’t, because they’re basically love incarnate) was a big lesson, no doubt. Same goes for learning that when they hurt me they probably didn’t mean to. Sometimes they were doing things “for my own good.” Sometimes they were doing things just because it seemed right at the time.

Either way, they were just “winging it.” And I have to thank them for that, because they prepared me for a pretty weird and wonderful life of clutching hands and following love and pretending to know what I’m doing.

That’s all any of us not-Superheroes can do, really.

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

I feel fake.

Not all the time.  But lately, at least on the internet, I feel like I’ve been putting my “best self” forward. And that’s fine, I guess. But it’s not particularly genuine.

I have business cards! I was at an awards show! I wrote some stuff, and people read it!

I’m proud of all those things, I really am. And I’m glad I can share them. But between the collection of #humblebrags, the over-edited status updates, and the filter-on instagram version of my life….

I mean, it looks like I’m the kind of person who puts on pants before noon. Who watches intellectual TED talks, instead of mindlessly binging on Dr. Phil.  Who always, always gets along with her picture-perfect family.

And that’s simply not true.

1939781_677342468978693_1865372605_n

So here’s the reality, friends:

I’m insecure, overzealous, and uncoordinated. I swear, sometimes when I shouldn’t (sorry, mom).  I don’t exercise enough…unless you count running late, I guess. I make jokes that aren’t funny, and I laugh at them. Out loud.

(Yeah. I’m that person.)

I suffer from foot in mouth syndrome, fear of missing out syndrome, there-are-always-clothes-on-my-floor syndrome. I also make up syndromes a lot, apparently.  I’m messy. I play mind games without meaning to, mostly with myself.  Sometimes, I have trouble being happy for people.  I can be a bad listener–or worse, a good listener but  a terrible responder.   I am sensitive to a fault; I use big words when I do not need to; if there is a mirror nearby I will be looking at myself.  I’m kind of awkward. Definitely impulsive.  Occasionally preachy. I don’t know how to hide irritation, even when I should. I cry at commercials, laugh when I’m nervous, and rarely think before I speak.

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

It’s not that I’m proud of these qualities. Not even a little bit. But I’m not ashamed to recognize them, either.  They mean I’m here, I’m awake, I’m aware, I’m human, and I’m trying to be better.  They mean that even through imperfection–serious, serious imperfection–I can still live, love, and be loved.  We all can. And we can love other people through their not-so-perfect, too.

That’s amazing.

The judgement machine of the online world sometimes makes that difficult, I know. We put a filter on everything. We compare our everyday lives to everyone else’s “greatest hits” (thanks, Facebook).  We blog about the times we win, not the times we lose. We talk about the times we have been wronged, not the times we wronged others. We manufacture our own stories in which we are the heroes.

But we aren’t heroes. We’re People. We make choices. We have personalities. We have bad habits and imperfect histories and honestly, we’re pretty boring most of the time.

may-your-life-someday-be-as-awesome-as-you-pretend-it-is-on-facebook-520x357

So let’s take solace in the fact that we won’t always be perfect.  The fact that we will annoy people. We will try to be helpful and it won’t work. We will apply for jobs and not get them.  We will suffer failed relationships, send regrettable text messages, and come in last place.

I’ll be a mess. You’ll be a mess. We’ll be a mess. And that’s okay.

Life isn’t about being perfect every time you show up–life is about showing up, period.  And tomorrow is about being a better you than you were today. If we were perfect today, then tomorrow would be pretty boring.

(And right now, by pretending I have it all together, by pretending it’s only smiles and professionalism and good news, my internet-self is probably pretty boring. Hopefully this helps to keep it real.)

Love.

(The real reason) Why I am So Excited About Christmas

This is the first year I can say, with 100% honesty, that I am not excited about Christmas presents.

But I am excited. I’m up at 5 am with a tinsel-tinted adrenaline rush, and I feel like I should explain why.

– – –

I’m excited for a big family breakfast. For cheesy Christmas specials on DVD. For rum and eggnog at 12:00 sharp.  I’m all warm and fuzzy about the fact the family dog is sharing my makeshift mattress on mom’s office floor and that’s cool, puppy, my feet can hang off the bed. Really.

IMG_2219[1]
Really, really.
I can’t wait to see little Mikey’s new haircut with bedhead. I will probably force a selfie upon him, if it’s particularly magnificent. And my father will probably photobomb it, because he’s hyped. We’re all hyped. We’re buzzing with the unspoken amazement that this year, finally, we’re all happy and healthy for the holidays.

Finally.   

I’m excited for the tacky, blurry photo evidence.

I’m excited about the snow, now that it’s not threatening my commute home.  About a real day off.  About my new discovery that singing a loud, off-key version of “Wrecking Ball” on my ukelele can pretty much persuade my brothers to do anything I want because “SHAUNA. STOP. PLEASE.” 

I’m excited for the beautiful weirdness of love looking like a family sitting around a souped-up tree.  I look forward to trading symbols of “I CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS,” I suppose. But that’s all they are. They’re symbols this year, and not particularly necessary ones. They’re excuses to hug people and to appreciate people, and that’s all. That’s all.

I’m excited for the hugs, too.

IMG_2183[1]
Snapshot from the train ride home.

I don’t have too many expectations for Christmas 2013. I’m sure our poorly-mixed drinks will spill, often. People will disappear for naps, cutting well-intended board games off prematurely. There will be chipped nail polish, CDs that skip, and burnt food (because our oven is a menace). The zoo that is our family home–four kids, one dog, two hamsters, a bird, a snake, and an open door policy–will need tending to.

And, as always, I’m going suggest that we read the biblical version of the Christmas story.  And everyone is going to agree that this is an okay idea, I guess, but it’s not going to happen because we’re a little busy laughing right now.

And that’s okay, too, because we’ll write our own version.

We will tell it through awful puns and funny faces, through unseemly snapshots and battle cries of “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING” and “THAT’S SO AWESOME.” It’s the story about what happens when perfect love pays a visit to an imperfect world, and we’ll tell it. We always do. 

chive-merry-christmas-funny-40

And that is what I’m excited for this year. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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

Originally published December 22, 2012.

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.

Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

It rained a lot in British Columbia.  It wasn’t really wet, as rainy weather goes; In Victoria, “rain” seems to mean “a mist gracefully puttering from the sky.” The light sprinkle was a little lacking in pyrotechnics, at least by my standards.  “Do you ever get, like, storm storms here?” I asked my uncle.

He shrugged. “Not really. Maybe 3 or 4 since I moved here, if that.”

I shuddered at the thought. “Man, I could never live like that…love storms way too much.”

Never. Overstatement, I know.  Of course I could live like that.  Besides, Vancouver Island’s water action trumps any old rainstorm because it is surrounded by the freaking ocean.

Downpours and lightening strikes might lose this round (though I do still love them).

Later, as I dipped my toes ceremoniously into the chilly West Coast ocean, I wondered why I cared so much about rainstorms. I wondered, too, why hitting both oceans in one month felt so profound and incredible–it’s just water, right?

My whole trip across Canada was watermarked. I don’t just mean I saw a lot of water flowing through the country (though, that too). I mean my internal responses to oceans and rivers and even rainy weather were hella powerful. Eventually, I caught onto the pattern.

And apparently got SUPER excited about it.
And apparently got SUPER excited about it.

Water. Water falling–from the sky, from a cliff, through the cracks. Water rushing past the train. Reading by rivers, walking through rain storms, tears. I’m a leaky faucet sometimes, and have no complaints when the world is, too. Watching the country I call home pass by my forever tear-producing eyes, with its tiny streams and life-giving lakes and salty oceans, I can’t help but take off my shoes and breathe it in because this is what being lucky feels like.*

Traveling across Canada, I became very aware of the water surrounding me, and intensely grateful of what it meant–for myself, for the life around me, for the very definition of Canada. I walked along a lot of rivers, you guys. I used 8 different showers, in 8 different cities, and had many people to thank for it. And, of course, this happened (and was awesome):

A Mari Usque Ad MarI also had those leaky faucet moments, of course. The only thing worse than being a history geek is being an emotional, embarrassingly patriotic history geek. Being an emotional music lover is just as fatal, especially since this damn beautiful country kept throwing me history and music…and water…and wonderful people. All at the same freaking time.

So I wept a few times, all warranted. Most notably, I broke down in the middle of a museum. Also in a train station. Also on the train itself.  They were tears of privilege–I missed my guitar, I loved my country, I felt strongly about how my family got here.

And when I cried, it rained. Or I made my way to a waterfront. Or the train passed by a river. I was surrounded by water, and it started feeling really special.

I’m not sure what to make of this alleged connection between water and my soul and this country and the world.  No guarantees, but I may just be re-entering “finding myself” territory. This experience may change my habits, or at least my outlook.  I might try to get a little more quality time with the canal, appreciate the taps and tubs and scenery I take for granted, light that candle that smells like the beach.

Like I’ve said before, this was never my intent with this trip…but here I go. Growing as a person. Making connections. Damn it. Sorry, guys.

At least there were a few funny, awkward stories in between the oceanfront epiphanies.

My phone tracked everywhere I took a photo last month. Pretty amazing.
My phone tracked everywhere I took a photo last month. This is the result. Pretty amazing.

Another thought bubble from the cross-Canada trip, one that I can’t seem to pop:  Until last month, I probably would have claimed that I could never live out of a small, tattered school bag. Could never deal with not knowing where I was sleeping the next night. Could never sleep on a train. And, oh man, could never feel close to someone less than an hour after meeting them.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, double wrong.

When I have never done something, sometimes I assume it’s because I could never do it. This is one of the lies my brain tells. Maybe your brain tells it, too. I am forever grateful for the people who reach out and pull me out of that. Because as much as I was “traveling alone”? None of this was done alone. It didn’t start alone, and it hardly ended that way.  I still remember studying with a girl in my history class, telling her about my trip. She looked at my small, black backpack, filled with a few books and a laptop, and said “Yeah, I traveled Europe using something about that size. You could do it easy.”

So I did.

I still remember when my co-worker, Julia, dropped off her ukelele at the office; “You can bring it with you if you want, I never use it anyways.”  She insisted that she was sure I could learn how to play it, and suggested I cover it in stickers from across the country.

I did that, too.

An old high school acquaintance Facebooked me after reading my blog, offering her air mattress in PEI. Another friend told me his wonderful folks could host me in Saskatoon. West Coast family members welcomed me with open arms.

So I stayed with them.

Friends before me had conquered enough of the train that I felt I could take it on.

I trusted their judgement. And they were right.

After awhile, all these wonderful friends and prayers and instincts sent the message that “You can trust God. You can trust some people. You can trust yourself.”  No one learns to believe something as crazy as that alone. And certainly, no one can confirm it alone. I needed a ton of help, coming from all sides–from upsides, downsides, from inside, outside, from everywhere.

Is this getting cheesy? I’m sorry. I promise it’s honest. I just owe a million thank yous. Even though my trip was through my own country, more of a backyard bash than an exotic adventure, it taught me some crazy things.  And now I know Canada–I don’t care for it any more, or any less, but I know it now.  I’ve reconnected with water, profoundly so. I am filled up with stories. I’ve visited my aunt and uncle in their hometown and it’s about damn time, really.

And now I’m home. I took the bus to work today, past the Ottawa river. My heart lept at the sight of it, just a bit–a new response, to say the least.  I gazed out the window and smiled.

A Mari Usque Ad Mare.

* By the bye, the “being lucky” thing is pretty serious:  lack of access to safe drinking water affects a LOT of people around the world.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, consider paying it forward: http://thewaterproject.org/

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.)

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!