And we are all terrified (but in a good way)

I have been witness to a lot of happy dances this week. I’ve “liked” an obscene number of Facebook statuses. I’ve high fived and comforted and clinked glasses with many excited-slash-nervous students–my friends for the last four years. Everyone’s too tired from the essays and exams to really process that they’re graduating, that this is it. We all talk about it like we know what it means, but we all have no idea. We’re excited, definitely, but we have no idea.

I sit in the student bar, splitting a pitcher, smiling, counting the days, complaining about the weather. I’m not graduating. I have a semester left in my program, thanks to co-op. I graduate next winter, maybe even next spring. I’m just a cheerleader in the middle of this mass exodus. And that’s a big difference, no doubt. A girl I met in residence, who grew so close we even road tripped to my parents’ house, is moving to New Brunswick with her boyfriend soon. Another good friend, an old University roommate, just celebrated her acceptance to grad school. She’s moving. She’s going to be a teacher.

A lot of people are going to be teachers. Or lawyers, or people-with-Masters-degrees. Or they’re just going to find a job, travel some, hope that they’re enough for whatever system they’re thrown into. People are moving to Toronto, to Montreal, to wherever they got accepted. Some are just going “home.”

I wonder how, after 4 years of University, anyone really knows where “home” is.

The people with plans and grad school acceptance letters seem very comfortable with the whole thing. They have a next step in the foreseeable future, and that’s great. I’m happy for them, and I’m jealous of them, and–deep down, really deep down–I’m quite okay with not being them.

Plans and I don’t have the best history. It’s always been about more about possibilities than plans.

Everyone is tired. I see the congratulatory hugs, the crying fits from rejection letters, cheerful bursts of “YOU GUYS, I just finished the last class of my University career EVER.” It’s exciting, it’s anti-climactic, and it must be exhausting. No one knows how to express what they’re feeling. They don’t know who they can relate to. They don’t know if they’re doing it right, if they did it right, if they’re going to do it right. They just know they’re done. They’re staring down the barrel of “So, sweetie, what are your plans after you graduate?”

I feel like I’m cheating the system somehow, by not graduating at the same time as everyone else, by not having a concrete plan for when I do. But I know it’s always been more about possibilities than plans. I like that. Possibilities have more room to move than plans. They’re more fun to chase, easier to move on from. I’m surrounded by them. We all are, and that makes us damn lucky.

And maybe that’s what people are having trouble expressing. The fact that University was one massive possibility, and we picked it, and we’re going to finish it. The fact that there were a million different possibilities within that University–programs, courses, people, dates, clubs, crams, apartments, attitudes. We tried them out. Stuff happened. We learned which possibilities work for us…and which ones really don’t.

And now–at least in a way, at least for some of us–it’s over. Those possibilities are gone. They’re replaced with a million more possibilities, this time in the real world, and that’s awesome slash scary. It’s scary for the people navigating falliable “plans,” and it’s scary for the people grasping at “now what”s. It’s scary for the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Of course it is.

Possibilities are overwhelming. Watching a possibility become reality can feel surreal.  The thought that the possibility you’ve been dreaming about and working towards might not happen is horrifying. And, of course, there are a million more possibilities where that one came from.

But knowing these people who are graduating, knowing what they’re capable of, knowing how much they care…I can only imagine what kind of badassery will come out of the right person meeting the right possibility. I’m excited. I’m scared.

But I think we’re terrified in a good way.

 

Advertisements

Why I Love People, But Hate “Networking”

I think we have a issue with objectifying people.

Not just sexually. Not just women. Not just in the media. All of those are problems, to be sure, but I think objectification is a problem that goes way beyond all that.

subjectobject

A couple months ago, I was given a lesson on “networking.”  I learned I was supposed to fish for connections, to groom people into becoming opportunities. I was supposed to be nice to people for the sole purpose of achieving my personal goals. It all seemed really fake and icky.

(Can I use the word icky as an adult? Is that allowed?)

I tried to express this to a friend, who laughed at me because dude, you network all-the-freaking-time.  She was right, of course. I talk to people. I have a LinkedIn account, and I use it. I’m the queen of “let’s do coffee!”  But there was still something weird about how the word “networking” was being used in professional-land.

Isn’t that, like, making friends with an ulterior motive? Can I just get to know people? And maybe some of them will do cool stuff, and then I can learn about that cool stuff and maybe get involved with it, if it makes sense? Is there a word for that?

26795_comic_12_6_07_network1

Objectification means looking at people in terms of what they can do for you. For a service they can provide. For how they can help you reach your own goals.

So we “network.” We date. We care about people selectively–because they might be useful to us someday, because they fit into our personal narrative.  We greet people with expectations. We ask “who can you be to me?” instead of asking “who are you?”

And when we do that, we miss each other.  We miss each other on a human level, and it sucks.

We’re so busy trying to write our own story that we sometimes straight-up ignore people who might not fit into it, as though their stories don’t matter at all.  We hold onto our agendas so tightly that we forget to hold each other. If someone isn’t a potential employer, or a potential partner, or someone we can get the notes for next class from…why bother with them at all?

There is something very inauthentic about that.

So here I am. Trying desperately, desperately to approach all people as people.  Not opportunities. Not props in some story that I think I have control over.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hella hard.  But I think it will be worth it.

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/

Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community

On Saturday morning, I woke up to snow on the ground. My feelings about this were mixed, as always, but two things were fully certain: 1) I needed to celebrate this; 2) My Facebook friends get WAY too worked up over precipitation.

In my own overzealous logic, I decided that this snowfall called for an urgent, impromptu pre-Christmas party. Where? My place. When? NOW. The decorations are coming out, ladies and gentlemen.

I searched high and low for the perfect cheese fondu and hors d’oeuvres to compliment this fluorescent…thing from the 80s. It was a serious, serious mission.
Also a serious, serious mission.

This got me thinking. As crazy as the work/school side of December is, we all know that it is ultimately a friends & family time of year. We’re going to hang out. We’re going to eat, drink, and be merry. So why not do the kind of partying that makes a positive impact in the community?

Turns out, there are several incredible ways to do just that–all it takes is a little creativity and pre-planning. Here are some of my favourites:

Hosting for Hope. If Chatelaine magazine and Homesense get together to advocate something, I take note. That’s how I learned of Hosting for Hope, a program which invites people to throw beautiful seasonal get-togethers (awesome) while supporting local shelters for battered women (double awesome). If you plan on hosting a holiday party, why not sign up? A $50 donation through Hosting for Hope will get you a $25 Homesense gift card, and after asking guests to donate in lieu of a hostess gift–tada! Your party just made a huge difference in someone’s life. Triple awesome.

The Mitten Tree. The church I attend, Mackay United, has been collecting mittens and scarves for un-mittened/un-scarved folks in the community with a mitten tree. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine who knits, she suggested we get together to make some warm clothing to donate. I’ll pass her idea on as a challenge to you: if you know how to knit, and your friends know how to knit, then just skip the lame coffee date and have a knitting date instead.When you’re done, you can donate your creations to organizations that keep people warm.

Blood Donation Party. I actually know someone who did this every year, and it worked out quite nicely. Before throwing a holiday party to see old friends, he invited people to come to the blood donor clinic. This was a tradition, the same time every year, so people could count on making the appointments together (with some new faces every year, of course!). Those who were able to give blood could catch up with each other while they joined together to give the gift of life.

Christmas Hampers Project. Centretown United makes hampers to provide necessities for less fortunate families in Ottawa, “Because some holiday wish lists are more basic than others.” Apply to adopt a hamper by November 30th, or get some friends together to donate your time. The project needs volunteers for packing hampers from December 17th-20th and delivering them on the 21st. Get more information here.

Food Bank Events. The holidays are a big time of year for the Food Banks around the country. There are several different events in support of the Ottawa Food Bank that you can check out for a night out this season, like the Hintonburg Public House Holiday Fundraiser or the Santa’s Souper Singers concert. Food bank events for the city are listed here.

Spread Some Joy. One of my best Christmas memories is of visiting a local senior’s home with my girl guide troupe, armed only with homemade cookies and badly sung Christmas carol renditions. Homes like St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa are often looking for people to come in and keep residents entertained and smiling. If you and a friend like playing board games or cards anyways, why not bring your hobby to a retirement home? Who better to include in good times than our senior citizens?

Running on Empties. December 15th marks the 25th annual Running on Empties fundraiser! The Christmas Exchange program will have volunteers posted outside of every beer store until 5:30. You can sign up to be one of these volunteers, or take a moment to bring in those empty bottles (say, the ones left over from your Hosting for Hope party!) to help them reach this year’s $20,000 goal!

Alright readers–now it’s your turn to let me know what you plan on doing to hang out/help out this year! Any of these ideas strike your interest? Anything I’ve missed? Keep the conversation going in the comments, on my page at www.facebook.com/Shaunanagins, or Follow my blog with Bloglovin. When it comes to partying hard and loving even harder, there are never too many great ideas.

Special thanks to Sam Polzin for providing the photography in this post. Look forward to seeing some more of her work in weeks to come!