Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

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

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

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

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

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

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

My favourite definition of play is this one:

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

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

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

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

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

On Fear.

“I am scared of things changing. And I’m scared of them staying the same.”

Recently, these words tumbled out of my mouth, confession-style. There it was: I was scared. It was unconstructive, and it was awkward, and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I knew I was scared.

My friend offered a mini-pep talk, but she didn’t sound totally sure.  I grabbed a kleenex as I teared up.  She teared up, too–because fear is contagious, because empathy is the real deal, because it’s freaking January and the lack of sun is cramping our style/emotions, guys.

I was scared. It was good to talk about it, good to recognize it.  But the fear itself?

I knew, and I know, that fear is not a good thing.

It’s not good that many of my biggest stressors are fear-based. Just fear-based. Not things that are actually happening.  Not things that exist outside my head. 

It’s not good that these fears often do the opposite of protecting me–instead, they just kind of make me inaccessible.

It’s not good (in fact, it’s straight-up dangerous) for fear to be anyone’s main motivational force. And, of course, it’s never fun to be facing the world scared kitten style.

Not the best role model for coping skills.
Probably not the best role model.

But despite all this, the fear was there. It was real. It is real.

And so I began searching for where that fear fit…and where it really, really did not fit.

What is fear, why is it here, and what should we do with it?

I guess it’s easy enough to define fear, at least in simple terms.  Fear is really just an evolutionary instinct which helps us to recognize situations that present physical, emotional, or mental danger. My momentary burst of “I AM SO SCARED OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING INSIDE IT AND WHAT AM I EVEN DOING” was a (twisted kind of) fear response.  Simply, my brain and body recognized that something could go wrong, and made me aware of that–whether I liked it or not.

Fear responses can be pretty great for survival. We can use them to identify and respond to threats–potential predators, unhealthy consumption, I probably shouldn’t put a fork in this toaster. Fear is a great tool.

Again: It’s a great tool.

But the thing about tools is that you are supposed to control them. They aren’t supposed to control you.

The problem with fear is that it can grow, it can get overzealous, and it can control you.  Our fear impulses don’t only warn us against being electrocuted or poisoned or thrown in jail.  They warn us about other “dangers,” too.

Here are a few popular ones…

Loving always, always leaves us in danger of losing.  Scary.
Trying consistently leaves us in danger of failing.  Also, scary.
Living has a 100% probability of ending in death. Yiiiiikes.

Essentially, if fear is doing its basic, natural job, it’s going to be fighting all this loving/trying/living stuff.  After all, what is more fatal than life itself?  

Fear is the natural enemy of living. And loving. And caring. And trying.  Giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding those things.

(Actually, giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding pretty much everything.)

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The problem is that you can’t avoid many of these things. You can’t. Locked up hearts still break. Not giving something a shot can still leave you feeling like a failure. And not living your life isn’t going to make you any less likely to die.

Whether we fear it or embrace it, we’re all going to lose, and fail, and change, and die.

Which of course begs the question…

What is fear’s place in our lives? And how do we keep it there?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of fear.

In fact, I tend to think of “fear” as being the opposite of “love”…or at least, the closest thing to an opposite of “love” that the English language has.

But that’s the English language.  And it’s not perfect.  Those opposites are certainly not perfect.  Love and Fear are pretty vague terms which don’t always reflect on each other– you and I both know that.

But they both are often involved.  And when they are, love should dominate.

Here’s how:

Fear, from an evolutionary perspective, exists for a reason. So sure, sure, it’s allowed to be a juror on your internal decision making panel.  Instinctive self-protection, caution, whatever you want to call it…your fear can make a quick statement.  Of course it can.

But then your courage gets to make a statement. Same with your reason, empathy, experience, goals, and values.

And Love? It gets to be the final judge. Love should always be the final judge.

You have a lot of internal jurors at work inside of you, a lot of tools at your disposal. Fear can be one of those tools, it can be.

You just have to control your fear before it controls you.

Sidenote: this video was what got me thinking about this and it is awesome and will blow your mind.  So you should all watch it. kcool.

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.

Because Easy Answers are Boring.

 “What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.

I smiled at the question.  She smiled back.

“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”

My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.

We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge.  Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”

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I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some).  I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”

She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Wait–what. What?

At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?

Answer: Probably not.

[Insert prepubescent panic here.]

As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting.  “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”

DSC_0381

A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.

“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”

I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are).  So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”

“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”

“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”

“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”

It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.

Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.

But maybe, that’s the best part.

Big thanks once again to image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
Big thanks once to my image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
 

Living Between the Lines

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

Mesmerizingly adult.

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

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

Classy, classy, classy.

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected meditations, split second reactions.

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

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

Busy Being a “Big Kid”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I even have control over any of these things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

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

I know that different is okay.

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

…right?

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

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

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

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

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

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

Growing up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now

I just sent the following email to my father:

Dear Dad,

I love coffee so much.

Signed,

Your daughter who swore she would never drink coffee.

In middle school, my father embarked on a quest to get me to drink coffee–or give it a fair try, at least. This quest didn’t last long. I recall it ending mostly in frustration on his part (see also: all good-intentioned interactions with a pre-teen daughter ever). I was thirteen, dammit! I knew what I liked! And if I didn’t like something…then I didn’t like it. And I would never like it. Ever. Not even if you covered it in hazelnut syrup and cream and sugar.

[Please note: Hazelnut syrup/cream/sugar have A LOT more bargaining power in my post-pubescent life.]

Alright, so I’m a big kid now. I’m not who I was in middle school. That’s…a big relief. You should be relieved, too. Consider: I recently discovered a letter pre-teen Shauna wrote, heavily detailing her affection for Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5.” Also in the letter, 13-year-old Shauna cited the following hobbies: Singing to herself, making stupid videos with her friends, talking about boys, and “letting it all hang out.”

Pfft. Please. I now sing catchy 90s tunes to myself while I do my taxes. My latest boy talk was about my unrequited man-crush on Anderson Cooper. As for stupid videos: post-production, bro. Because I’m an adult now, and that’s what adults do.

It’s like Steve Martin and Martin Short had a sexy, gay baby. Am I selling this yet? No?

Alright, we’ve established that my tastes have changed at least a bit in the last decade. And we’ve established that 13-year-old Shauna was…well, thirteen years old. But there was one very profound thing she said in her letter–yes, the one with the Lou Bega, and the hobbies, and (this just in) the words “everything I do is just awesome.”

Here’s the profound part: Thirteen year old Shauna had a rough outline for her future. She knew what she liked, and she really knew what she didn’t like. But, in an unprecedented moment of maturity, she gave it a big ol’ subject to change disclaimer. Sure, 20-something Shauna was strongly encouraged to keep writing (actually, the term used was “make magic with words,” because it simply had to be as dramatic as possible). But…that was it. There were specific dreams and ideas, but they were beautifully tentative. There was a lot of encouragement, a half disturbing and half adorable, “You’re awesome! Because I’m awesome, and you’re me!” but no specific expectations.

Basically, I was sucking up to my future self. I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. It’s incredible how often those words apply. And therein lies the (very brief) wisdom of my 13-year-old dreams: the best (or, at least, most successful) long-term goals have been so, so vague. Not vague as in “uninterested,” but vague as in “unlimited.” They have had to be. The world is changing constantly and life throws so many curveballs. Somehow, even uncaffeinated 13-year-old Shauna realized that if you marry goals that are too specific, you end up closing more doors than you open.

So few of the amazing opportunities I’ve had were even on my radar a few years ago. Things that didn’t even register to me as possibilities for my life have gone on to define my life. When I went on an Ottawa walking tour as a teenager and my mother pointed at the guide, saying “You could totally do something like this,” it didn’t register as an actual possibility. No one would hire me for that. My French isn’t good enough, right? I’m clumsy and silly and auditions freak me out. They don’t hire people like me to do things like that. I would want it too much to actually get it.

I’m now entering my second year as a tour guide for that same Ottawa walking tour company. Amazing.

I am, however, taking a temporary leave from guiding for four months. I’m taking a temporary leave because the Smithsonian’s record company has taken me on as a Marketing intern. Try telling high school Shauna, buried in research on blues music and the Harlem Renaissance, that she would EVER be on the Smithsonian’s radar–never mind be working for Folkways. Just try it. She wouldn’t even know how to go about something like that. And yet–it’s happening. It’s happening right now.

I’m not saying this as an “I’M LIVING THE DREAM, BRAH. SUP WIT’CHU!?!” I couldn’t even say that if I wanted to, because 1) my pronunciation of “wit’chu” is awful, and 2) until we’re presented with “THE DREAM,” we often can’t even know what in the world it looks like. All I know is that I applied to everything. I tried out a bunch of cool-seeming things with varying levels of success. I dabbled in new technology. I avoided the word “No.” But how could I have ever known what kinds of things I would end up saying “Yes” to?

I had no idea. No idea I would ever like coffee. No idea that my affection for Mambo Number 5 would (somewhat) fade. And certainly, no idea that such jobs or internships even EXISTED for me to pursue.

My brother Michael, now in the 10th grade, has figured this one out. He told me this summer that when he grows up he wants to be “Happy.” Just happy. I had some reservations about this “happiness as a goal” thing at first, so I told him not to focus too hard on being “happy.” I worried that he might miss the real moments of joy in pursuit of some non-existent fulfillment ideal. He shook his head at me; “Your big words have no place here, lady.”

He might be onto something. I still think that happiness can sometimes be what happens while we’re busy trying to be happy, but…I do love the vagueness and optimism of Michael’s aspirations. Happy doing what? He doesn’t know yet. Something he loves. Growing up to be what? Whatever comes from being himself as successfully and actively as he can be.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. You really, really never know what could be out there. I certainly had no idea. But now I’m getting ready to face it, latte in hand.

Who would’ve thought?