Overwhelmed.

It’s nearly October, and I’m tired.

I’ve been writing a lot of “advice-y” posts lately…where I try to sound wise or knowledgeable, where I share so-called insight. I know what I’m doing! I organized it into a list! Read me! Read me!

That seems strange to me this week.

I haven’t written since August 11th. I’m not apologizing; I’ve never liked the idea of churning out meaningless article on a weekly basis (I did try it once, but it felt disingenuous). I’m not apologizing, but maybe I should explain.

The readers of this blog have followed me through so many periods. You’ve joined me for ridiculous commutes, new jobs, viral rants, self-doubt. You’ve followed me through awkward holidays, musical train rides, and SO much “AHHH ADULTHOOD WHAT IS THIS?!?!” (seriously, like every other post).

Through all of it, all of it, I have been busy. Disgustingly busy. Here’s a confession, friends: Between internships and capital-J jobs, I have worked for twelve different organizations in the last three years. Twelve. Not one at a time, either. Jobs have been stacked like pancakes–four, five, six at a time. And that’s not including writing gigs, community service projects, tutoring, babysitting (counting those, my commitments are nearing the twenties). It isn’t counting this blog, either.

Oh, and it’s not counting school…which I attended full time.

This isn’t a braggy point. It used to be. The full schedule–being needed, being professional, knowing how to organize my time–it used to lend me a lot of confidence. I used to be really proud of my superhuman job-juggling skills, but now I’m not so sure.

Now I’m tired. Just tired. And I’m wondering exactly how long I’ve been tired; how long I’ve been ignoring the more unhealthy aspects of my commitment-a-holic ways because doing anything different is frightening.

So healthy, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities have been phenomenal. It was exciting to grow in my faith enough to become a church youth leader. It was exciting to have writing deadlines to meet. It was really-freaking-cool to turn from a goofy history geek to a historical tour guide (aka professional know-it-all). And being paid to go on Twitter? Kind of the best.

But there was a problem. There was a big problem. I didn’t just like my full inbox and ringing phone–I defined myself by it. I measured my value in reference letters, scheduling conflicts, social media stats. I cared about klout at age 20 (Why. Why.). I said things like “I’ll pencil you in” and “Can we push this deadline out?” and “Hold on, let me grab my blazer.”

It was nice to be needed. It was affirming to watch my hobbies turn into volunteer commitments, for those to turn into paid jobs. But the lifestyle that came along with it was less-than-ideal. I developed fears, ridiculous ones: An empty schedule is frightening. Not being needed is frightening. Not moving forward actively, obsessively…well, that must mean I’m moving backwards, right?

Faulty logic. I’m learning that now.

Perhaps we spend too much time and energy building an “identity” and not enough time just building ourselves. Yes, sure, I was really good at being a blogger, a workaholic, a stressball. But I got too busy being those things. I didn’t smile at people in the elevator. I ran for the door after class ended, instead of staying a moment to socialize. I ate fast food, drank too much coffee, snapped at tech support.  I got really good at being “Shauna Vert, Communications Professional.” But that got in the way of being “shauna.”

Sometimes being “shauna” will mean writing, or working, or juggling. But sometimes that will mean going on long walks or cooking a lasagna or watching football and holding hands. Hell, sometimes it will just mean sleeping. It’s not just my title. It’s not just my job.

Of course, it will always involve doing-stuff-for-people. It has to. But that’s because I love people and I love doing stuff…not because what I’m doing defines me. We should honour our commitments, but we shouldn’t morph into them.

So, yes. It’s nearly October, and I’m tired. But I had a day off yesterday. I have a vacation in two weeks. I love my jobs–all four of them–and I like my classes. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.

I didn’t take a break from this blog because I was “too busy” (though, sure, that was a factor). I took a break because a) I didn’t really have anything important to write about, and b) I didn’t want to write anything, really. I didn’t want to, and now I do, and that’s fine.

That’s fine.

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Our kids are learning a new definition of “Let it go” (and it’s the best thing ever)

There’s an unspoken deal between me and my Sunday school students: If they’re doing any sort of craft or activity, the Frozen soundtrack needs to be playing in the background. It’s important to them. They adore the songs, and so do I (or maybe I just like seeing how much they adore the songs). And, of course, they belt out “Let It Go” with the passion that can only be found in a Disney-infused 8 year old.

let it go
(It’s basically this, all the time.)

For those of you who haven’t heard the single (and suffered the inevitable weeks of song-in-head syndrome) or seen the movie, it goes something like this:

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know”
Well now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway

Context: Queen-to-be Elsa is cursed to turn everything she touches into ice.  She lives in hiding for years and years to spare the world from her so-called destructive quality. When the curse which she has suppressed for so many years is unleashed, she “can’t hold it back anymore” and begins a process of  embracing who she is and the curse she has (first by running away, then eventually by using the power of love to use her so-called curse to save the day).

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:49:52

My girls sing this song, and I can’t help but smile. Not because I think running away and locking yourself away with your problems is a good move, but I am so grateful that they’re learning this definition of  the words “let it go.”

Because you know what definition I learned?

I learned that “let it go” was synonymous with “behave.” These were words I heard when I happened to be sad about something longer than I was supposed to be (God forbid!).” Or when I cared about something more than I should. When I was suffering. When I needed to pretend something wasn’t bothering me.

“Let it go” was  always about hiding. For those three words to become a call to emotional honesty and an empowerment of true identity…that’s huge. It’s huge for my students, and it’s huge for me.

Essentially, the “IT” in let it go has changed.

When I was growing up, let it go = let go of your feelings, let go of your history, let go of your dreams, let go of your true self.

For the Frozen generation, let it go = let go of expectations, let go of trying to please everyone, let go of hiding. Oh, and love everyone else through their truth, too.

Guess which one is a way, way better message for our kids?

Watching those same words which used to assault me into “moving on” encourage my students to move inward and to express themselves? Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Frozen soundtrack, you are welcome in my classroom any day.

On Work, Play, and Goin’ Professional

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. In some ways, I get it. I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.

– – –

I was sitting in the back seat with a friend.

It must have been 2005, I guess. I was young. She had just shared the new Black Eyed Peas album with me, and we disagreed on the quality of the song “My Humps.”

(Yeah, we were really hip to the important issues.)

I digress.
I digress.

This friend and I had become close through the local little kid theatre scene.  We had both been through summer camps, community productions, that kind of thing.  She declared that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.  I asked her why. She recited, “Because when you have a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”

And I was horrified.

Obviously, I couldn’t speak for her–but in that moment, I knew that my enjoyment of little kid theatre would be destroyed if it were forced upon me.  Even as a child, the things I did purely for capital-F Fun were precious. And so, instead of being nice and supportive, I argued back (which I’m sure was super annoying): “Wouldn’t turning it into work make it not Fun anymore, though? What would you do for Fun if you made that a job?”

I wasn’t suggesting that Work had to be unenjoyable–at least, I don’t think I was.  There were a lot of things I liked doing in a “potential career” way.  I signed books out of my little-kid  bookshelf, organized by author’s last name (not because I was organized–I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a librarian). I regularly turned the basement into a carnival, a stage, a restaurant–anything where I could charge admission. I painted rocks and sold them. I rocked the lemonade stand. At halloween, I even turned my parents’ bedroom into a “mall” and charged my brothers for space and hand-drawn business cards.  

This, to me, was what “work” would look like someday. I created something, or did something. It helped or entertained someone, who then decided it was worth signing up for. If I was lucky, they might even decide it’s worth paying for.

I loved it. But the idea of those considerations tainting something I did purely for Fun was terrifying.

ForShaunaColour

– – –

The idea of being forced to do my little hobbies for hours and hours every day is not a comfortable one–it wasn’t comfortable in 2005, and it isn’t now. Work means being accountable to other people. It means meeting quotas, training, building, attaining results, providing something to someone. And it means doing all that OR ELSE.

With some things, that would excite me–but with others, it would be draining.  I love doing puzzles in my spare time, but I would be miserable if you made me jigsaw through my 9 to 5. I like playing guitar, watching sports, scrapbooking, cooking new food–but I also like that those things are not obligitory. That they ultimately belong to me, just me.

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. And I get it, I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.  Instead, I ask this one:

What would you enjoy doing even if you were getting paid for it? Even if you had to. What would you love even if it became a Job?

Work-style accountability can take the enjoyment out of a light hobby or interest.  It’s why readers often resent the books English teachers assign.  Or why people edit Wikipedia…while procrastinating from writing a report. It’s what makes some students realize that  they really picked the wrong major, because being interested in something and wanting to do it full-time are two very different things.

Work-style accountability is not totally unmotivating in and of itself.  It’s just different. It changes the reason you do something, the way you do it. If you’re truly passionate about something in a Work way, it can be incredibly rewarding and awesome to go professional. I think everyone has something (maybe a whole lot of somethings) that they would enjoy even if they were getting paid.

Even if they had to show up.

Even if they had quotas to fill, and people to please.

Even if it became a Job.

Right now, we just have to figure out what that is.

Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred.

Because of this, I love-love-love my education. But also because of this, I have a habit of taking courses because they sound funny.

Just funny. Not relevant to my interests (though, usually, they also fall into that category).  Certainly not relevant to my degree.  While sifting through possible electives, I eagerly dropkick away any chance at learning “something important” in favour of being able to chuckle inside my head.

Life is sacred; Life is a joke.

Last year, I took a class called “Jesus of Nazareth.” I could have taken something in my program. Or, if I felt so inclined, checked out comparative religion, the history of Christianity as a whole, or really anything with a more convenient time slot.

Nah.

Instead, I chose instead to sit in a windowless lecture hall from 4-7 pm every Wednesday, tracking the historical Jesus and wishing I could read Coptic.

Why? Because I wanted to be able to yell “I’m going to Jesus class!” to my roommate as I sprinted out the door at 3:30.

She laughed. I laughed.

Tuition well spent.

This summer, I decided to take a class called “Canadian Society” for this same reason. It’s not as funny-sounding as Jesus class, I know, but between “Canada class” and “Cold War class,” I am getting a few of the raised eyebrows and “*snort* what?!” that I so crave.

Of course, my incessant need to bring out the sacred/funny in everything isn’t the only motivator. Canada Class is also supposed to prepare me for my trip across the country in August. Not because I expect travel advice from a jeans-‘n-teeshirt wielding sociology prof, but because it relates to the whole point of my trip:  to crack the code of the “Canadian experience.”  I want to understand what it means wear my Maple Leaf with so much pride. I want to come home with a nuanced, complicated, amusing, and (hopefully) optimistic view of the country. Somewhere in there, I hope my jokes about Canadian-isms will improve.

A little bit of funny. A little bit of sacred. A whole lot of time on the train.

I pulled out the term Canadian identity while discussing my plans with Michelle last week.  “Our Grade 12 English teachers would be so proud,” she grinned, tossing me a friendly eyeroll.

This is the price I pay for hanging out with people I knew as a teenager. Michelle can pinpoint the exact childhood influence which planted the words in my mouth.  In this case, my summer plans are the victim of too much Rick Mercer, a Grade 12 English unit, and hundreds of hours spent standing for the national anthem in public school.

I’m sure studying Canadian history for several years helped, too.

So did living in the United States, answering questions on behalf of “Canada” and “Canadians.”  I leapt eagerly to represent my country, but I often fell flat. I filled my friends in on Ontario 101, disguising it as Canada 101. Sure, I had studied other areas using geography textbooks and google searches, but who am I kidding? I haven’t seen this country. I love it, it’s a part of me, I talk about it all-the-freakin-time, but…I haven’t seen it. My insights are incomplete.

I want to get it right next time.

So here I am. Taking Canada class. Taking a train across the country. Sociology is new to me, and I find it frustrating at times–I like patterns, but my brain tends to reject most large-scale generalizations.  I’m much better at finding the exception to the rule.  So I sit in fifth row, silently Wikipedia-ing counter-arguments to what the professor says (I don’t bring them up, not in a 100 person classroom, but I like to know that they exist). I wince every time someone makes a massive blanket statement or misconstrues a historical event.

But I’m learning about Canada.  I think I am, anyways.  At the very least, I’m learning how to think about Canada.  I’m learning that approaching the collective identity of a MASSIVE nation won’t be easy. Especially not in a single month.

canada
This will be interesting.

This is all to say that, yes, there is a reason behind my crazy plan to take a month off and backpack across the country.  Yes, I am doing the prep work to make it happen–and that prep work includes “Canada class.”  I guess we will see how that goes.

The prep work also includes booking train rides. This I have been able to (finally, finally) figure out.

Currently, my August looks like this:

Halifax –> PEI –> Moncton –> Quebec –> Montreal –> Toronto –> Winnepeg –> Saskatoon –> Edmonton –> Vancouver/Victoria –> Calgary

…And home in time for dinner.

Whew. Ready, set, go.

Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

I just typed a big, ugly rant into my Facebook status box.  It started with  “I know this is a first world problem and all…” and tumbled down from there. The rant was well deserved, if spoiled; it targeted my University’s summer course selection (which sucks). I think it sounded something like “afnv;fdkvldnklv;dfnvdf!!,” but now I’m paraphrasing.

I didn’t press Post. I deleted the rant.  I don’t know if that signals maturity or defeat.

My soul is pretty much owned by “learning” right now, something that clearly takes many forms–mostly interesting ones, but not always. Sometimes, it feels like  “learning” feeds my stress levels more than my brain.  My eyes glaze over, and all I can see are schedule frustrations, lost notes, dull readings, “shi-it, did I just fall asleep during that lecture?”.  This kind of “learning” is often done in temperature-controlled windowless caves;  As if not being able to see the world will somehow help us learn about it. Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows?  Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction? 

education
This is where you are supposed to learn about the world, while totally cut off from the world. Because THAT makes sense…

Let me be clear: I don’t think that University is a bad thing, and I certainly don’t believe that I’m “too smart” for all this traditional school stuff.  I appreciate my windowless cave education, I do. Absorbing important information hand-picked by a well-studied mentor (read: professor) seems like a worthy investment.  Of course I learn things.  It’s not a grossly unproductive system; we are tested, we write stuff, and some of it does stick.

Classrooms are good. I can dig that. But if classrooms are the only place that I’m learning? Then we have a problem.

Windowless cave education is best when it is supported by side projects that supplement the “learning”–extra-curriculars, excursions, experiences. Real-world stuff.  But there are only so many hours in a day, only so many dollars in the bank account.  During school terms, I am barely able to get those forgettable papers written, juggle my minimum wage gigs, and see my friends on the side.  I never read for fun. I rarely visit museums.  I can’t afford much time volunteering, or “getting involved”, even if that volunteering will bring me closer to my interests and career goals.

I miss a lot of “learning” while I’m in school. That seems strange, doesn’t it?

I can’t help but wonder if my windowless cave education is any better than the free education I am getting right now: taking an online class through coursera, attending Library of Congress lectures, visiting the Smithsonians, volunteering at the Holocaust Museum, interning in the music/heritage industry. Even blogging (to you! right now!) is quite the experience. So is playing guitar on the rooftop, watching someone’s experienced fingers pluck the strings to a new song. Or getting lost in the city.  Or braving a conversation with someone I know disagrees with me (and loving that person all the same).

You can’t tell me this is a less profound “learning” experience than the one I had last semester, theory-memorizing and paper-writing.  I don’t mean to make the latter sound useless. Theories and papers have served me well; they just haven’t served me wholly. Windowless cave knowledge is a starting point…but if we lack opportunities to apply that knowledge, aren’t we missing something? 

Even though I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in several months, I’m no less in education mode here than I was in the windowless cave.  Being in a new place, working, writing, dialoguing, and attending stuff–hell, I might be learning more here than I do in school.  It’s a tough comparison.  But I do wish I could bring this flexibility and motivation to find/learn/discover with me when I go back to school in May.

I’m not going to I argue that everything I do is University-calibre learning. I hope it’s not. My brain would explode.  Something doesn’t have to involve “learning” to be a good way to spend time (I love sports and music and sitcoms way too much to make that argument). I’m not saying  that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity.

illusion-comic-education
…not this kind of activity.

As per my last post, I am aiming to be a woman whose life involves lots of “learning”, inspired by lots of activity.  I want to be a woman with “guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.”  I want to be a woman “who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. Who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing.  Who has about 10 questions for every answer.”

I can totally achieve that. I can.  School is going to be a part of it, obviously…so is stress, responsibility, boredom, bureaucratic systems.  I’m not rejecting it ALL; ‘Course selection was difficult this semester, so Fuck The Man!’.  That is obviously not fair.

But school can’t be all of it.  It can’t be. When Mark Twain said “don’t let schooling get in the way of your education,” he had a point.

We’re just lucky that the best teachers know it.