What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

Easter is always a major time of reflection for me.

…Okay.  By “always,” what I really mean is “Well, uh, it’s been a thing for the last couple of years?”  Being a young adult is sometimes like that, though. I’m quick to declare things part of my identity.

Easter weekend has played a major role in that identity, so it stays sacred.

I like the idea of rebirth. I like spring. The whole vibe that comes with things getting warmer/more colourful/livelier makes for a very positive, spiritual occasion.  I do a lot of “resolution”-type thinking around Easter. What burdens do I need to emerge from, butterfly-style? Who do I want to become?

“Stop worrying about finding the right person. Start working on becoming the right person.”

I read that the other day, and it stuck.  I agreed with the idea, but it made me wonder: what does the “right person” look like?

What kind of woman do I want to be?

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I want to be the kind of woman who writes thank you cards. Who lets managers know when she gets good service. Who writes appreciative reviews for small businesses.  Who lets artists know when they have touched her life, and lets politicians know when they have done the “right thing.” I want to be the kind of woman who wholeheartedly recognizes little miracles—and who approaches those miracles, if they have a face and a name.Who lives through gratitude, and means it. Who has a whiteboard on the wall, with a constantly revolving list of people to notify; ‘Hey, you. You’re alllllright.’

Celebrate people

I want to be the kind of woman whose gratitude is a constantly distributed gift, an open bar; not an investment with an expected return.  Accessible. Unconditional. Loving.   I want to be the kind of woman who is thankful day by day, step by step. Whose thank yous aren’t loaded attempts to control the future, nor quiet warnings of her standards.   She will never say ‘This is good. If I am grateful for this step, can the next step be just as good, please?’.   No; I want to be the kind of woman who is grateful because it is just who she is.  And when she says thank you, she simply means to say, That step was good. You helped make it good. Grazie, gracias, merci. 

I want to be the kind of woman with an open-door policy. Who knows her neighbours by name, aim, and favourite food…if they let her. I want to be that obnoxiously sweet lady-two-doors-down, the one who makes lots of casseroles. Funeral? Casserole. Moving day? Casserole. I could be that woman, I think. That would be a good woman to be.

(Unless the neighbours aren’t into casseroles. I am also open to making cookies.

…Dream big, right?)

I want to be the kind of woman with lots and lots of stories. I never, ever want to be boring. I don’t suppose anyone does want to be boring, but…if I’m aiming to be casserole-lady, I would prefer to be fun-casserole-lady. IMG_0102I want to be the kind of woman who was there for that thing. Who has the scars, tattoos, pictures, friendships, and memories to prove it.  I want to be the kind of woman with guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.

I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of witty retorts. Who laughs a lot, and who swears every now and then–because honestly, cursing sometimes makes the punchline better. Sometimes. Not always. And not in mixed company, I guess. Hopefully, though, I can be the kind of woman who mostly keeps company which can handle crazy stories and cursing.

IMG_0070I want to be the kind of woman who exercises. I’m TOTALLY NOT that woman right now, but I would like to be.  Or at least, I want to be the kind of woman who goes for walks, and can throw a ball around with her friends/family. I won’t aspire to be good at sports, or to be anything  other than clumsy and awkward when I play outside…but I do want to be the kind of woman who plays outside.

(Besides, I hear it’s “good for you.”)

I want to be the kind of woman who dresses up for Halloween.  And who puts up Christmas lights.  Who plays pranks on April Fool’s Day–and sometimes on other days, too (’cause she’s funny, remember?).    I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of appetizers, conversation and corny holidays.  Who knows how to make a good martini.IMG_0849 Who has a solid supply of not-so-secret recipes and crowd-pleasing playlists.

(I know, I know, all of this costs money. And I know that money may not always be there.  Hopefully, I can be the kind of woman that is okay with that, too.)

I would like very much to say “I want to be a woman of faith,” but I don’t know if that’s fair. I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. I would like very much to be a woman of faith–because I currently am, bibleand it serves me well. But again, not a fair goal. I would much rather be a woman who constantly uses the brain God gave her–even if that means that her idea of “God” has to change as she learns things.

What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion.  I want to be the kind of woman who can hold herself to a code of loyalty, honesty, and kindness, but who uses those things to Love better–not to be condescending or proud.

Right now, I describe that as being “Christian”.  I can’t imagine grace is confined to “WWJD”, though.

So, grace. Lots of grace.  I want to be the kind of woman who is radically patient with people and with herself.  Who has the courage to love the world, even when it seems particularly cruel. I want to be the kind of woman who can (gracefully, gracefully) step in and help someone who is hurting, and understands that “help” and “hurting” have many different faces.

I want to be the kind of woman who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. I want to be the kind of woman who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing.  Who has about 10 questions for every answer.  No, I don’t want to be the kind of woman who puts her job and education before family–family should always, always come first.  But I do want to be the kind of woman who brings the family (and the edgy jokes, and the free spirit) along for the ride–and makes sure the ride involves lots and lots of learning.  I want to be the kind of woman who lights up when she talks and hears about the world, and whose curiosity is infectious.

Yes; That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

What about you?

(Happy Easter/Joyeuses Pâques, everyone!)

– – –

A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.
Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.
Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.
Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

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

The Taboo Tab is Finally Here!

The Taboo Tab is live! 4 storytellers, 10 pieces, one mission: To talk about something that needs talked about.

This month, we will address the topic of “Death and Grieving.”

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We don’t talk about death and grieving much, do we?

Spoiler alert #1: Everyone dies, eventually. And most leave loved ones behind when they do.

Spoiler alert #2: Sometimes, things happen that we can’t explain, control, or “move on” from on command. Sometimes, the worst happens. Sometimes, it’s not okay right now. We need to be allowed to share that.

People die. People grieve. People break down at inopportune times. But, as they struggle their way back up, some people share their stories. These are some of those people.

As contributor Caitlin Corbett says in her article “Better“:

“We should not wallow in our sadness, but we should not deny it either. I know that I’m damaged and I make no secret of it, and by accepting this and moving on from it I understand that everyone is damaged in their own way. And that’s okay. It is my hope that I will always be open to accepting other peoples’ damage and that I can give them a safe space to be damaged. That is what we owe each other.”

Some of the most beautiful and insightful pieces on death and grieving I have ever read. Join the conversation.

Check it out today: https://shaunanagins.com/the-taboo-tab/death-grieving/

Taboo Tab Preview: “My Father Died, I Dyed My Hair Blue”

blue

 

From “My Father Died, I Dyed My Hair Blue” by Caitlin Corbett:

“When someone dies, neither the grieving or the well-wishers know what to do about it. We know we have to have a funeral, but after that it all falls apart.

We don’t wear black. We don’t shave our heads. We don’t go into seclusion. Nothing is different.

Except, of course, everything is different. We just have no way of showing it.”

 

Read the whole article, and more intimate stories on Death and Grieving when the  Taboo Tab launches on Friday, February 22nd.

Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

As I walked down the neon city streets on Thursday night, the words ‘How DID I get here?’ went through my head. And they stayed there. And repeated themselves, over and over and over.

I don’t have a lot of clear, I-can-see-the-words-in-my-head thoughts, but these words were bold–big letters dripping with disbelief (sans serif letters, for you typography geeks).

‘How DID I get here?’

It wasn’t the defeated kind of ‘Ungh, HOW did I get here?.’  I know how that kind goes. That kind is behind the way-too-long minutes (hours?) spent sitting barefoot on the bed, ‘oh, I don’t even know. Maybe I should read a book or move to a different country or something.’   That kind has seen me walking uncomfortably to the edge of nowhere (which I have yet to find, by the way), face buried in cheap sunglasses. That kind powers searches for nearest place where it feels okay to cry out “Um, God? Hi. Can you or your kid or someone who knows what they’re doing please take it from here?”

No, on Thursday it was nothing like that.

But it wasn’t the excited ‘WOW, How did I get here?,’ either.  I have had a few of those moments recently.  When Sex, Lies, and Storytime started spinning around the internet and loading up with comments, I literally ran into the bathroom and freaked out in front of the mirror: “Ohmygod. Am I actually a writer now? I’m a writer now. People are reading what I write.” (<< that is the toned-down, less embarrassing version.).   Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little DC room, practicing guitar and keeping up with some internship work, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the power of music and ‘Wow!’ the fact that I was a part of it. I felt lucky. I felt good.  ‘How did I get here?’

Thursday night was fun, but it wasn’t profoundly exciting. Nor was it profoundly upsetting.  It was ‘How DID I get here?,’ a mix of amazement and…confusion, I think.  Not good confusion or bad confusion, just the genuine I need to place this moment somewhere in my brain. Where do I place it? Where does it fit?  

The thought wouldn’t budge.

‘How DID I get here?’

I haven’t faced those words a whole lot these last few years. I used to play the ‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. But the last few years, I have just been living in Ottawa.  Ottawa, which feels so strongly like Home.  I never really had to consider my life there through the disbelief lens. It was just “adjusting,” and then “adjusted.”  There were times I felt a little lost in what my life looked like, but I knew exactly how I got there. And I knew exactly where I was going.

Except, I didn’t. Because it turns out, I was going to the United States. I just never knew it.

I didn’t know I was going to end up in Washington DC….I still don’t understand quite how I ended up here, really.  I know I applied for a  few internships. I know I got a position at the Smithsonian. My days are spent in an office across from the National Mall.  I eat breakfast every morning.  By 5 pm, I have usually overdone Diet Coke and brainpower. My Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum.  My Sundays are spent spiritually addressing the fact my Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum (easier said than done, but it’s important for me to be there).

It’s not a particularly mind-boggling lifestyle, but I can’t quite figure out how it ended up being my lifestyle.

I guess I’m asking you, then…Do those words (or something similar) ever go through your head? Do you ever go hunting for a comprehensive narrative as to why-how-why your life is what it is?

Here’s my theory: Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box.  Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”.  And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time.

I think a lot of us look for timelines and reasons why-how-why when really, it’s not supposed to make sense. Not as much sense as we would like it to make, that is. And so I go back to this, as I always do:

“You are where you were always going, and the shape of home is under your fingernails.” – from the poem Transient by Al Purdy

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

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

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

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

Too bad. I could have used them.

1) Cucumber cleansing milk (from The Body Shop)

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

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

Oh, and they discontinued it.

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

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

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

2) Homemade, wood burned Canada flag

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Lesson learned: Appreciate other people’s talents.

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

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

(Thanks for the Christmas present, bro.)

3) TiCats hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Red lipstick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

I’m going to describe to you a hypothetical scenario.  (Just hypothetical, mind you. I am not admitting to anything.).

You check Facebook. You see a post from an old friend.  This post suggests that they’re doing cool stuff, and they’re doing it well. Yes, someone else’s life is awesome.

You’re a good person, of course, so your first thought is: Hey, that’s cool! Good for my friend!

(…except that it’s not.)

You start clicking through pictures.   They have really cool looking new friends (who, you assume, are way cooler than you). And they’re hot.  When did everyone get hot? When did everyone start doing cool stuff?  By this point, your friend has completely trumped anything hanging around your profile–three months worth of George Takei “shares” and one music video from the 90s, to be exact.  You look up.  You are surrounded by all the laundry you have to do, clutter on your desk, a bleak-seeming text messaging inbox, the way your hair is growing in funny.

In a few hours you might be happy for them–but right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

Dude. Stop.

Here’s the thing about jealousy.  Jealousy has a stage name.   It’s called inspiration.

I’ve learned this the hard way (okay, here comes the admitting part).  I have spent way too much energy wanting/waiting/wishing/generally being useless.  I think a lot of people have.  It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  To pick a totally random example (Judi), you could see a picture of an old friend tobogganing down volcanoes in Nicaragua (Judi).  At that point, it’s very easy to say “Well, I’m not in Nicaragua.”  It’s easy to feel a little bit smaller than you did a second ago, to just move on with your day.

But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  You could add to your bucket listYou could surround yourself with people who live amazing lives.  You could learn from them.

Every year, I have the same overarching goal:  to make next year’s Me someone that this year’s Me would crumble in jealousy of…or at least dread going up against in a job interview.  I couldn’t even go about that without my jealousies-turned-inspirations.  The fact is, I would not be in Washington DC right now if someone (Judi) didn’t offer so many envy-inciting stories about interesting jobs in new places. And I wouldn’t even be writing this had I not been struck with admiration(-cum-jealousy) after seeing other women’s mega-blogs this summer.

“Maybe I could do that. Right? Maybe?  I don’t know.”

There was literally one way to find out. Just one.

Jealousy may be ugly, but inspiration is beautiful.  Is someone else is trying new things? Noted. We should also go try new things.  Did someone else accomplish something big? Noted.  Let’s go start something big.  Do you wish your butt looked even half that good in a pair of skinny jeans?

…yeah, me too.

Skinny jeans aside, we have a choice every day (cliche alert) to get bitter, or get better.  I’m gonna try to be on team “get better.”

Who’s in?

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.

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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.

Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Person A,

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

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

Dear Person B,

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

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

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

Yeah.

The Downside of “Doing”: Why I can’t relax, and why that needs to change

Of my many, many weaknesses, this has been the worst lately: I. Can’t. Relax.

I don’t know when it started, or if it has always been this way.  Deep breaths and a clear mind sound like something I could’ve pulled off as a kid.  But it’s hard now. Relaxation hasn’t been available to me for a long, long time.

To be fair, I haven’t exactly been trying.  My priority, contrary to relaxation, has been getting things DONE–and in that, I have succeeded. Yes, I know there’s more to “figuring shit out” than just doing stuff or finding distractions.  But keeping busy seems to work for me.

Sort of.

It has become habit, at least.  I actively avoid being lonely (being alone is okay, but God forbid I feel lonely).  I avoid silence.  Work.  Live.  Work some more.  Do. Do. Do.  But the question is, why live that way?

Because if you stop, you might not like what you see.

Or worse, what you feel.

That’s my best guess, anyways.  I don’t really know what I’m so afraid of.  What I do know is that haven’t learned how to relax or even stop moving because I’m terrified of what that entails.  This isn’t something that I particularly want to admit.  But I really want to level with you, because I know know know I can’t be alone in the self-inflicted chaos.

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Being too busy isn’t all bad.  The to do list, the full plate, the sense of duty  to everyone and everything around me–it was my saving grace for a long time. Not just in a “Wellllll, shit went down, and I starting doing things to get my mind off it.” It’s more complicated than that.  Yes, shit has gone down. And, yes, I have gotten super-busy with stuff  in order to take my mind off of it.  I don’t suppose there’s anything too unhealthy about emerging from a challenge with a sense of purpose. The problem is now, I’m worried I won’t  find that sense of purpose at all because it is buried under stuff.

It’s so easy in this world to make your own superficial stress to distract you from real, harsh, felt stresses. For some reason, that is seen as “moving on.”  Isn’t that ridiculous?  I’ve had some of the best bounce-backs of anyone, on the surface.  Internally, I’ve had some of the worst.  Shit goes down (loss, sickness, the usual growing pains), and I greet it by getting a new job, upping my grades, making more friends, and obtaining WAY more obscure pop culture knowledge.  Awesome. That looks pretty badass when I write my CV, when I call mom and dad, when I run into an ex, when I talk to a gravestone.  But when I really think about it (if I give myself a moment to think about it) staying busy has done little to change the fact that I still can’t face rejection, broken-heartedness, or guilt. I still don’t know how to deal with a sick family. I know even less how to deal with a healthy one (weird, right?).  I am happy, I do believe that, but I don’t think I’m happy because I’m busy. And I KNOW I’m not busy because I’m happy.  The things that keep me busy may contribute to my happiness, but I could learn how to better spend my spare time–how to properly be alone, how to unwind, how to zone out, how to be with myself, by myself.

I would love to be able to relax.

I don’t relax because the go-go-go-go is a socially acceptable way to stay in control.  Because I live in a world where we value shutting up and moving on.  We value restlessness. We value people who make the most of their lives–and that means activity, even in the face of of adversity.  We value people who get things done.

Yes, that’s admirable. And I will never not be an active person.  But my self-worth, my sense of purpose, and my dreams for the future have all become way too tied to my accomplishments. I have become my inability to relax.  And I need, need, need to learn how to turn it off.  I need to give myself the time and space to be lonely, be silent, be empty…and to be okay with that.  I need to learn what really matters.

When was the last time you looked someone in the eye and said “Hey, what was the last record you listened to all the way through?” or “What was the last long walk you took?” or “Do you take the time to ride the bus to nowhere?” or “Who can you share comfortable silence with?”.  Better yet, when was the last time you looked yourself in the eye and asked those things?

(Bat Out of Hell.  I can’t remember. Sometimes. I don’t know.)

We don’t seem to value who or how someone is when they’re doing “nothing,” and I’m worried that I’ve turned that onto myself.  I seem to be actively avoiding the person I am right before I fall asleep, or when I first wake up…when I’m waiting in line, when I’m praying, when I’m staring out the window, when I’m relaxing (which I never do).

It’s easy to avoid her when she never stops moving.

I have worried more about my CV in the last two years than I have worried about my soul–and, either way, I have spent more time worrying than I have relaxing. Relaxation, as I mentioned, is not in my vocabulary.  Yes, there have been times where I have needed that defense mechanism of being busy or distracted all the time. But now?

Now, I just need me. I just need to relax. And I know that will not come easily.

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Resolution 2013? I think so.