Five Sentences That Changed My Life

I don’t want to throw clichés at you.

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

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

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

Those are the rare, rare words that stick.

Here’s a peek:

Im-not-worried-about-you

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

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

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

You-are-where-you-were

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

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

These are lovely ideas.

Everything-might-happen

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

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

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

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

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

Does-everyone-realize

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

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

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

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

Who-am-I-today

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

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

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

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Taboo Tab Preview: “The Zombie Effect”

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From “The Zombie Effect” by Alex Crane:

I guess no one ever tells you babies can come from being tied down and whipped by a leather clad mistress and loving it.
Or that sex can involve more than two people and not be a fling.
Or that being a guy that doesn’t like sex doesn’t mean you’re gay.
Or that being a girl who does like sex doesn’t make you a whore.
No one ever tells you because for some reason this big ass part of who we are as human beings has been suppressed and made to feel…well, mostly just that we’re doing it wrong.
“What do you mean you’ve slept with that many people? Do you just give it away?”;
“What do you mean you haven’t slept with that many people? Is there something wrong with you?”;
“You like what? Good God, who does that?!”
And so the judgement rages on.

Today is the last day to submit YOUR story about the diversity, judgement, and reality of sexuality for the Taboo Tab‘s release.

You can read Alex’s whole article, and more stories about Sex, Lies, and Storytime when the next  Taboo Tab launches on Friday, March 22nd.

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

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

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

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

Ungh. Onwards?

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

5) Guitar

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

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

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

W.G. keeps it real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then you’re a musician.”

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

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

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

Hey Shauna,

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

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

6) Curling mousse

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What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.

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

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

 

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

Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.

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

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

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

7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash

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

New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.

…yes, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

Dear America: Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

My first day in a new place is always ridiculously stereotypical.  We’re talking caricature-worthy.  Maybe this is normal, you know, some twisted form of beginners luck.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a curse I’ve been given…by a God whose sense of humour is borderline racist, apparently.

It never fails.  My first day in France was so full of cheese and snobbery and nudity, I almost fondue’d myself (for lack of a better term).  After only a few hours in Cuba, all I could think was “Well, you guys seem awfully desperate for tips and full of cigars…”.  And during my first day living in Ottawa, EVERYONE seemed to be talking politics–I even overheard the penniless men outside of the homeless shelter discussing the Harper agenda.

It’s not that these stereotypes aren’t real.  They definitely exist outside of day 1. France has cheese. Cuba has cigars. Ottawa has politics. Never, though, is anything actually at the level it seems on the first day.  Upon arrival anywhere, I am immediately thrust into what feels like a South Park episode.  I go on to realize my first day was just a bad “So a guy walks into a bar…” joke.

Naturally, this can give me a nasty case of “get me out of here!”.  After that cursed first day, I can’t help but think ‘Canadian stereotypes? I can handle those.  Let’s do that instead.’   I can rock a poutine coma, an over-apologetic neighbor, or a morning spent shoveling the driveway (eh?).  Let’s face it, Canadians: our stereotypes are pretty much adorable.

Canada
Apparently, this is my definition of “adorable.” Hmm. May need to give that one a little more thought…

This brings me to my current situation: ‘Merica.

American stereotypes are not quite so playful. There are some pretty scary -isms lying around: American exceptionalism, racism, and lets-all-get-guns-ism to name a few.  I’m not trying to attack the United States, which has been so very welcoming to me so far.  I’m not trying to oversimplify or judge, either. But whenever I get talked at by Glen Beck, or I read an American history book which refuses to admit to losing any war ever, I pack away a few pre-concieved notions. And, yes, I have read my share of scary articles on health care, teen pregnancy, religion, literacy, obesity, bad nose jobs, and worse attitudes.

To be clear, when I crossed the border and moved to the US capital, I didn’t expect to come face-to-face with all the scary -isms. I didn’t desire or even consider that Fox News incarnate might be everywhere, least of all in Democratic DC. I assumed it was going to be like Canada, just a bit warmer and with more sugary cereal options.  And it is, or so I have come to realize after a few days. But after my first day? Hah.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

Let’s review how my first 24 hours in the States went, shall we?

First, I went outside for a walk and was given reason to post THIS within the first five minutes:

Atheism

Later that day, I saw a well-dressed white woman bully a black server at McDonalds, then inform her supervisor of the altercation in an attempt to get said server fired. Yeah, McDonalds–the only place I could find to eat when I got lost (well, that and a half-dozen Starbucks, I suppose).

I discussed Obama, gay marriage, and women’s rights with a young Baptist woman from Mississippi. She is definitely one of the loveliest people I have met so far (we ate dinner together today, actually).  Southern hospitality is the real deal–she makes a mean cheese/bacon dip, and I have huge respect for her love of College Football and Jesus.  But when I asked “Are all the stereotypes about [insert -ism here] true?” she responded with a resounding YES.  Her personal views, no surprise, often flew in the face of things my little Canadian self took for granted.  There was a pretty clear distaste for the words “Liberal” and “Socialist.”  My American stereotypes lived on.

On day one, there was no eye contact. No opening doors. Stars and stripes EVERYWHERE.  The people in suits were all White, while the people working minimum wage gigs were almost exclusively Black & Hispanic. The cheese on my burger tasted even LESS like cheese than Kraft Singles do (yes, it’s possible) and the Mountain Dew can was way too big.

Around 10 pm on the evening of day one (Sunday), I went down to the dining hall for a tea.  By that point, I was positive that all of my American-ism stereotypes were true.  I struck up a conversation with another girl in the kitchen (“Really, you got lost today too? Where?  Oh, I’m so glad it’s not just me!”).  I learned that she was an American Studies major from Philadelphia, and was immediately intrigued.  She had a lot to share.

I had a lot to ask.

We talked about education. About national identity, racism, systems, state power, patriotism, language, religion…everything.  One hour, two cups of tea and a number of revelations later, she turned the conversation to me: “So, do you think you could ever live here yourself?”

At that moment, after that day, I really did not know.  “I don’t think so,” I responded, “Unless I had a serious job opportunity.”

I understand how silly it was to declare this on day one.  Every….single….time I visit a new country, I learn and re-learn just how misleading first impressions can be (especially with the first day curse).  America has proved no different.

Let’s look at today.  Today, I received more random “Hello!” greetings, eye contact, unnecessary apologies, and good-natured jokes than would in the average Ottawa week (sorry, O-town.  You know I’m still your biggest fan.).  Today, I saw people of every kind of race working every kind of job (yes, it was still disproportionate, but I could swear it was a full divide on Sunday).  And while steering clear of fast food, I remembered the infamous Rideau Street McDonalds in Ottawa (see also: full-out brawl when a customer called a server the N-word).  I really don’t have the right to call out any MickeyDs conflict after that.

Tonight, I think I could live here (this is obviously a good thing, seeing as I currently do live here). I’m not saying that I would absolutely want to live here permanently. I like my poutine comas.  But the thought itself is not so terrifying, really–not with DC, at least.

And so, I officially declare that my first day full of -isms was invalid: at least in this part of the country, at least for now.  I can handle you, DC.  Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

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!

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?

How My Hard Drive Crash Restored My Faith in Humanity

For the sake of optimism, I will call this borrowed-from-the-library laptop “vintage.” Vintage, as in it took a whole timed minute to open up Microsoft Word. Vintage, as in it had a full-out meltdown when Facebook dared notify me of something. And yes, vintage, as in NOT the ideal machine to be working with. Not when there are four major projects coming up in my calendar…or at least there would be, if I had access to my calendar.

Guess whose hard drive crashed a week ago?

It crashed in the middle of class. Frozen on the boot-up screen; No response from my F2 key, no life in the mouse, and (thanks, lack of forethought) no back up. Crashed and burned. I should point out to you that this is a two month old laptop which really shouldn’t be acting out. I should also point out to you, since EVERYONE on the tech support side asked: Yes, captain obvious, I DID try to reboot my machine. If only it were so easy.

They came by and replaced the motherboard. This did nothing. So, they came by and replaced the hard drive. This worked for a single day. Then, while working on some important correspondence (okay, checking my email) in the library yesterday, my cursor froze. I called Dell again.

“Well, did you restart your computer? How about the Fn key + F3?” Only about five times. Thanks, though.

I feel sorry for the people on the other end of those phone calls. Malfunctioning technology seems to bring out the worst in me. That loving, caring person that sent you a Christmas card last year? She peaces out when the laptop breaks down.

I may need to write a card to Dell’s tech support central: “Sorry I’m such an entitled-sounding 20-something, but also, I don’t want to fail out of University. ”

(Did that still make me sound like an entitled 20-something? Yikes. In my defense: Come on…a two month old machine? Really?)

I present to you my current studying/researching method. Kickin’ it old school. Last night’s hot date was with Religious Studies:

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Not too shabby, right? The reason I write this isn’t to grumble at you about my first world problems. Hard drives fail. Shit happens. Outsourced tech support from a 1-800 number can only be so helpful, and after three strikes Dell has agreed to send me a new laptop (sup, extended warranty?)

What I DO want to say is that when my technology started sucking, I started becoming more and more amazed at how great people can be. I mean, my laptop bust wasn’t anyone else’s fault. And sometimes, it wasn’t even their problem. As for the people whose job it was to fix it, they certainly didn’t have to be so freakin’ nice about it. But they were. They were so, so nice.

My profs have been legendarily helpful. The tech support ladies and gents (yes, the ones at that damned 1-800 number) were lovely, even when I pulled out my entitled 20-something “With all due respect…” lines. There was that sweet hardware-fixing guy, Rick, the one who showed up EXACTLY when he said he would. And we can’t forget my parents, who were expert in helping me stay chill…even though that is no longer their job. Because, you know, I am an adult. Hear me roar.

…Right, mommy?

Specifically, I’m an adult who gets more than a little overwhelmed muddling through a laptop mess. But as with most messes, this one has shown me that people care. Even when it’s something small and technical and it was me who messed up by not making a backup—even when it really, really is not their problem—people care.

Thank you, people. I’ll continue liking you more than technology.

20 Things to Do in Ottawa this November

I know the exact conversation we will ALL be having in exactly two days. It’s the same conversation we had last year. And the year before. And the year before that. You know, this one:

“Wait…wasn’t it just Halloween? Why is there Christmas music on? Why is there tinsel on that cash register? It’s NOVEMBER FIRST, you guys! What gives?! ”

I’m a big ol’ holiday season nut, I’ll admit it, but the commercial transition between seasons is always a bit over-the-top. Truth be told, I find November pretty boring. It’s a bit too far from Christmas for decking any halls, so I just see it as the mellow spot between Halloween season fun and Christmas season fun. Mellow is alright, I suppose, but…I kinda like my fun.

Luckily, Ottawa is full of fun no matter what.  I know this.  I know this firsthand. I know this in spite of people telling me it isn’t, because after living and breathing this city for a few years I can assure you that it’s anything but boring.

My proof: A calendar-esque list of 20 things happening in throughout November that are worth checking out.  I’ll also be tweeting these out each day as a reminder that cool stuff is happening.

Yep, that’s right, cool stuff in Ottawa. In November. Don’t even question it.

November 1: Thursday nights from 4 to 8, admission to Ottawa’s national museums is FREE.  It should be an interesting time to check out the Museum of Civilization, as it (controversially) prepares for rebranding into the Canadian Museum of History.

November 2: I’m all about those Halloween leftovers, like Pheonix Players’ presentation of The Death of Dracula. It’s only $15 for students, and is on until November 3rd.

November 3: Last day of the Haunted Walk Halloween season! If you want one last taste of Halloween, take a special evening tour of Ottawa’s creepy past. The 3rd is also the last chance for the Zombie Adventure at the Diefenbunker. Yeah. Shooting Zombies in the Deifenbunker. Amazing.

November 4: If you have never seen the Ottawa burlesque scene, here comes a chance to check it out! Ottawa Burlesque Playground Presents Movember Mahem at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuks.  These shows are always such a creative, brilliant, sexy, entertaining time–and a portion of your $10 ticket goes to a Movember drive!

November 5: Hit the market for some local talent with The Rainbow Bistro‘s Monday night open mic.

November 6: Get your hockey fix!  The Ottawa 67s play Kingston at Scotiabank Place at 7 pm.

November 7: My favourite local improv troupe, GRIMprov, holds a show on the first and last Wednesday of each month at The Imperial on Bank Street.  $5 is a small price to pay for some side-splitting hump day hilarity.

November 8: Check out WWII play, Padre X,  at the Canadian War Museum. $7 for youth, $10 for adults. Runs from the 8th to the 11th.

November 9: Opera Lyra’s presentation of Cinderella promises to be a great introduction to Opera for performance fans young and old. I’ve heard great things about OLO lately! (Note: If your budget’s too tight, or you want to introduce a young’un to the scene, a 20 minute excerpt of the opera for kids will be performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the 25th.)

November 10: Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street presents its monthly late-night showing of The Room, aka the worst movie of all time. This also makes it, of course, the best night out with your friends of all time.

November 11:  Remembrance Day in the capital is always a big deal. Be sure to go early to get an okay view of the national ceremony and pay your respects at the War Memorial.

November 13: Back to the Mayfair for an epic double feature tonight: Kill Bill Vol 1 and Kill Bill Vol 2 hit the big screen at 7 and 9:15, respectively.

November 14: I feel like Wednesday night karaoke at the Bytown Tavern is Ottawa’s best kept secret. There are always a handful of really fun, spirited, off-key singers from all walks of life every time I go. Not too full, not too empty.  Cheap drinks and a total judgement-free zone? It’s a party.

November 15: All Gershwin, All Pops is the latest installment of the NAC’s Pops series. I have gone to see Pops shows several times since moving here–$12 student Live Rush tickets for the best seats in the house are hard to resist. World-class talent backed by the full NAC Orchestra always makes for a brilliant show.

November 17: Photojournalist Louie Palu will be at the Canadian War Museum from 2:00 to 3:30 to talk about his experience in Afghanistan.  Admission to Kandahar: Photographing the Frontline is free.

November 18: The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is happening at the Convention Centre all day Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Convention Centre…it’s awesome. So is vintage. So, this is double awesome.

November 20: Tuesday is open mic night at the Laff. I know the place had quite the rep back in the day, but as far as I can tell the 2012 Laff is one of  the chillest, cheapest places for a beer and some tunes…places really don’t get any more come-as-you-are than this.

November 24: Saturday Night Drag @ the Lookout. ’nuff said.

November 28: Wednesdays are Pro/Am night at Absolute Comedy. I’ve been to Absolute on a Wednesday more than once, and I have to say…a solid comedy show for $6 makes eternally grateful that I don’t have classes Thursday mornings.

November 29: Anyone else down for geeking out to old war stuff? The Canadian War Museum is hosting a special presentation of Hamilton and Scourge: Archaeological Exploration of Two War of 1812 Shipwrecks. The illustrated talk starts at 7 pm, and it’s free!

There you go, Ottawa–twenty things to keep your November exciting.  Hopefully, this will tide me over until Christmas spirit can be in (guilt-free) full swing. I promise you, come December, I will be outrageously jolly. Till then I will just be…well, out!

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November Events Added by Readers (aka YOU!):

November 2: Shannon Lecture Series presents Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski’s “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-194.” Dr. Lorenzkowski will be at Carleton University (303 Paterson Hall) at 3:00.

All month: Mo’vember is here.  Personally, I’m not usually a huge fan of the mustachioed look…but, hey, it’s for a good cause right? Register now!

November 15 to December 2: 27th European Union Film Festival presented by the Canadian Film Institute.

November 21-December 8: Pride and Prejudice, part of the NAC’s English Theatre series, hits the stage for 2 1/2 weeks starting November 21st. Live Rush tickets available.

November 29: The Rotaract Club of Ottawa presents the Roaring Twenties Cocktail Fundraiser with proceeds going to rebuilding an orphanage and daycare centre in South Africa. Awesome awesome awesome!

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

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

My Semi-Informed Guide:

1) Drink chocolate milk.

2) Google useless things.

3) Grow plants.

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

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

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

7) Say thank you – and mean it.

8) Use lots of pillows.

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

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

11) If you need to cry, CRY.

12) Play air guitar.

13) Go to church.

14) Spend time with children.

15) Cheer loudly.

16) Do the dishes right away.

17) Share meals.

18) Always have an extra beer in the fridge.

19) Let hugs last at LEAST 3 seconds.

20) Write songs.

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

22) Watch things that make you laugh.

23) Call home.

24) Send Christmas cards.

25) Celebrate people.

26) Don’t fear messes.

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

28) Tell the truth.

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

30) Keep your legs smooth.

31) Talk to God often, and candidly.

32) Find people you can be inappropriate  with.

33) Do things by candlelight.

34) Be shameless about puns.

35) Buy/eat local and seasonal.

36) Watch the game.

37) Dress for the weather.

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

39) Take long walks.

40) Use fresh herbs.

41) Make a playlist of happy songs.

42) Laugh at yourself.

43) Keep a calendar, and keep it flexible.

44) Donate blood.

45) Don’t cut good conversations short.

46) Pay attention to the lyrics.

47) Answer the phone.

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

49) Play games.

50) Use hand sanitizer.

51) Appreciate your parents.

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

53) Watch the montages before Sunday Football.

54) Watch blooper reels.

55) Find a way to record memories.

56) Stand for the national anthem.

57) Sing every day.

58) Take that extra shift.

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

60) Welcome questions, curiosities, and contradicting ideas.

61) Don’t underestimate “shallow” conversations.

62) ALWAYS offer to help someone move or renovate.

63) Embrace technology.

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

65) Be receptive.

66) Play catch.

67) Find reasons to bite your bottom lip.

68) Listen to the radio.

69) Ask taxi drivers about their stories.

70) Care about your job.

71) Exfoliate.

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

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

74) Trust your gut.

75) Know how to hold your liquor.

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

77) Be a role model.

78) Take cold showers.

79) Watch TED talks.

80) Give lots of high fives.

81) Smile at people on the street.

82) Make eye contact.

83) Maintain a good gender ratio in social situations.

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

85) Have ambition.

86) Own a tool kit.

87) Dance at your desk.

88) Make secret wishes at 11:11.

89) Hold hands.

90) Hang out in the rain.

91) Give credit where credit is due.

92) Learn names.

93) Use seatbelts and a helmets.

94) Be compassionate.

95) Keep the energy in your home positive.

96) Decorate for holidays.

97) Go out and support artist friends.

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

99) Be nice to service people.

100) Assume everyone has good intentions.

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

Why did I decide to revisit this list now?

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

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

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

These are mine.

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

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

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

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