How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

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Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

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I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.

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Drumroll, please…

Okay, so here’s the big news (a few hours too late, but it’s here nonetheless)…

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BAM! 

That’s right guys, the Taboo Tab has its very own roof now at tabootab.com. It will hang out on Shaunanagins too, of course…this blog isn’t going anywhere, I will certainly be using it to share those brainwaves you know and (hopefully) love.  I just wanted the Taboo Tab to have more space to expand and maximize its awesomeness.

And it looks pretty freakin’ decent, if I do say so myself. Clean, readable, visual…definitely worth taking a look and diving into.

(I am so excited, you guys. SO excited. This is going to be awesome.)

Want to keep up/get involved with the Taboo Tab project?

Follow the Taboo Tab page on Facebook: The Taboo Tab has its own Facebook fan page now! You can like it! (…I mean, if you want to, or whatever.)

Submit your storyWe are currently seeking  articles on the subject of Mental Health (submission deadline: February 15). We would also to hear about your experiences in the areas of Death & Grieving, Sexuality, and Body Image. If you have any experiences related to those categories, give me a shout here.

Give it a read: Even if you don’t want to submit your own articles, the Taboo Tab has some phenomenal stories that are well worth exploring. Check it out, drop a couple comments, and let me know what you think!

#iamsoexcitedimightfallover

A Year of Shaunanagins Quotes (or, how I was awkward, contradictory, and occassionally insightful during 2013)

Just went through all my posts from 2013 (all of them. yeah. I know.) to see how this little piece of blogland unfolded over the past year.

Here’s how it went down.

– – –

First, I got really motivated.

Because in the end, my goal is to wake up each morning, look the world in the eye, and say “What, Life? Yeah, I’d tap that.” – I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)

It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  – Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

Then, I became a big advocate for awareness and listening and storytelling…

Here’s what we need to do: Care about the stories. Let them speak. Respect the storytellers. Share your own stories, if you want to. And whatever your story is, however different it is than someone elses, whatever you choose to do with it: You aren’t broken. You’re just another person with a story and a body, and no matter what, those two things belong to you and you alone. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen). –  The Truth about Awareness

We care a lot about “Freedom of Speech,” which is great, but it’s easy to forget that with Freedom of Speech comes the Freedom to Listen. – Making Friends Who Disagree With You (is the healthiest thing in the world)

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness. – Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though it was pretty clear that I didn’t have many answers myself.

What are “friends,” then?  I don’t know. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

I really, really like hostels. I don’t know why.  – 10 Reasons My First Day in Halifax Will Be (Really, Really) Hard to Top

When I was a kid, I tried to run away from home (all. the. time.).  I don’t know why. – In which I am “Vagabond Chic”

For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why.  – Five Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Future of Music

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through. Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t. – The Truth about Awareness

That didn’t stop me from having some strong opinions…

Certain types of people are more favoured for success in this world. I’m not saying that’s always right. I’m just saying that if you’re talking about discrimination based on personality type, you need to broaden your argument. – The Not-Really-One-or-the-Other Vert

Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” – Kids. These. Days.

The universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates. How weird is that? – What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

I’d think sports fans, of all people, should be able relate to how deeply symbols can manifest in our lives.  How important a team is to a community.  How important it is to let that team be inclusive and, you know, not racist. – I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: As soon as we are able to pronounce our moral superiority to someone, we are able to label them as “other,” we are able to fear them, we think we can do whatever we want in retaliation…It’s messed up. It’s totally messed up.  When we let the worst of what we see and hear set the standard for our own behaviour, autonomy, and responsibility to each other, we lose. When we refuse to learn from the unsettling things we see, and point fingers instead, we lose. – How NOT to Respond to the Abercrombie & Fitch Remarks

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.
But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about. I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.
– Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Including a whole bunch of thoughts about the whole “learning” thing itself.

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? – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

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. – Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

Terms like “studying French” or “learning a new language” always sound so simple–they don’t properly embody the embarrassment, frustration and word-wrestling I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s a rewarding process, but it always plays games with my confidence. Or, at least, I always play games with my confidence. – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

I have already learned things [from traveling]. Very personal, real things. Things I can actually take home with me. I hate how romantic and empty that sounds, like I just skipped through a field of roses, and found God, and “Oh, friends, you wouldn’t understand.” I don’t want to be one of those people who talk about traveling like there’s no other way to live or learn (though, if you have the resources, I highly recommend it). – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

I did some reflecting on relationships and people-stuff…

Welcome to human relationships, friends–they’re weird. When people take their clothes off, they get even weirder. So no, they don’t need your judgement. They need your love, and they need God’s love. Please leave the close-mindedness at the door. – Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Let’s add on to that pretty little cliche, shall we?  People also come into your life just to laugh with you when you awkwardly trip up the stairs.  Or to silently inspire your next haircut.  Or to just be attractive.  Or to be intriguing.  Or to remind you that you need, need, need to come up with better ice breaker lines. – The People Who I Know (But Don’t Really Know).

Though personally, I was a hot mess with the whole social interaction thing.

I can’t seem to get it quite right. Yesterday, I parted ways with a dear coworker by saying: “Have a good one! And by ‘one,’ I mean, like, life!” Yeah. That sounded exactly as awkward out loud as it did in your head. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

Another friend, who evidently sucks less than I do, tried to strike up a meaningful closing conversation over dinner:
“So, where do you think you’ll be in five years?”
“Pregnant and sad.”
What kind of response is that? [I wondered. As I said it. Out loud. I didn’t even miss a beat, you guys.]
  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

I probably won’t even stay in touch (empty promises 1; Shauna 0).  I want to, but I don’t really know what “stay in touch” even means. –  An Unauthorized Guide to (Sucking at) Saying Goodbye

“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days. – How I Learned the Ukelele on a Train (and other transient tales)

Sure, a year is a long time and a blog like this is hard work…but also, how do you go up to someone and say “Yeah, I have this website where I write about myself. I’ve been doing it for a year. So no big deal.” – One Year of Blogging!

I also wrote a lot about identity…

I don’t think we should restrict identity to the things that “count” as milestones. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We have to branch out. Timelines are great at telling base, simple stories…but they’re not so great at telling the whole truth. And when it comes to our own identity, our own History, we deserve the Truth. – People are Trees, Not Timelines

We all wear so many costumes, and speak so many languages. It’s an interesting process,  playing a role (not that you’re faking it, but still, it’s playing) every time you walk into a certain place, or consider a certain person. –  Living Between the Lines

In some ways, I think identity is somewhere in the cracks. It’s not in the office, or at a friend’s house, or at family dinner. It’s in those first few seconds when you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are yet. When you’re driving—just driving, and for a moment you stop thinking about where you’re going. When someone touches you on the shoulder, or the hand, and your body unconsciously warms to the contact…When the pressure melts away for a few seconds, all that’s left to do is practice being human.  –  Living Between the Lines

“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 that mantra walks in and gives me a role to play. Today. – Five Sentences That Changed My Life

Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are. And most importantly: Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Though I had a little bit of trouble explaining myself.

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

Mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours.  It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure. – (Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

 “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.” – Because Easy Answers are Boring

Oh, growing up. That is something else I wrote a lot about.

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. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

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. – Busy Being a “Big Kid”

We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 year old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going. – Because Easy Answers are Boring

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. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

And, apparently, my brain played a lot of tricks on me:

When I have never done something, sometimes I assume it’s because I could never do it. This is one of the lies my brain tells. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Of course, nothing is actually over. That’s just my brain playing tricks again. A year well spent is an achievement, not a loss. Note to self. – One Year of Blogging!

Ten thousand hours, the song repeated to my tired brain. If you’ve practiced for ten thousand hours, you should be an expert. That’s how it works, right? – Quebec, You Make Me Self-Conscious (But I’m Just Being Silly)

My faith also seeped into a couple posts:

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: Life is a joke. And life is sacred. – Taking “Canada Class” (or, how my sense of humour runs my schedule)

I intentionally attend churches which disagree with each other. I do this for the same reason I wear one earring that says “Oui” and one which says “Non” every Sunday–because Truth usually hangs out “somewhere in the middle.” – A Tale of Two Churches: Living in DC During the Gay Marriage Showdown

I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. 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 Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid. – On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

My faith is getting more and more present-tense oriented (“Will everything be okay? Let’s go with yes. Even if it’s not okay, it’s okay. Right, Jesus?”).  – That Awkward Moment When You Start Finding Yourself

After awhile, all these wonderful friends and prayers and instincts sent the message that “You can trust God. You can trust some people. You can trust yourself.”  No one learns to believe something as crazy as that alone. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

Also, I seemed to think that abstract ideas could “meet” each other?

Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. – Living With No Regrets (is bullshit)

 The Taboo Tab is working.  It’s showing the next generation what happens when creative writing meets community meets compassion. – In Which I Ask You For Help (and may I say, you are looking LOVELY today).

What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion.  – What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

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. – Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

But through all my awkwardness, I stayed intensely grateful. Especially to you readers, because you’re awesome.

Every time someone thrust their story into my hands and said “Here, have it. Edit it. Show it to the world.” they made an active decision to share themselves with this project and this community. And, thanks to the amazing nature of this community, it became a safe place to talk and to learn. So much trust. So much love. – (On the Taboo Tab) One Year of Blogging!

THANK YOU for an amazing year. Thank you for reading. I love all the comments you leave me, and they make my day (actually, now they make my year). You rock. Seriously. – One Year of Blogging!

I needed a ton of help, coming from all sides–from upsides, downsides, from inside, outside, from everywhere. Is this getting cheesy? I’m sorry. I promise it’s honest. I just owe a million thank yous. – Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words. Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that. – The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

Because, this:

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.’  What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

Oh, and here are my 5 most hit/shared/commented on/liked posts of the year:

1) Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”

2) 7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

3) Meet the Neighbors: A Guide to Canada for Americans

4) What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

5) Kids. These. Days.

– – –

That step was good.
You helped make it good.
Grazie, gracias, merci.

You Don’t Have to Finish That Book. Really.

Twenty pages left, and I can’t finish this book.

This is deep and psychological, you guys. I’m sure it is. I was fine with reading it—20, 30, 100 pages at a time. I almost missed a bus or two, completely engrossed. Yet here I am, barely making it through a paragraph of the last couple chapters. I even considered returning the borrowed book to my best friend’s shelf because ‘oh, I’ll be back to finish it.’

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But I won’t. I know I won’t, because I did the same thing with that biography this summer. With almost every Stephen King book I’ve ever started. Nearly with 1984, though I finally finished that one on my third try.

So here I am. My friend is showering, and I’m staring at the familiar blue cover. Twenty pages. Not even. You loved this book. It’s almost done. What’s the hold up?

Because I don’t want it to be done?

Because I know, I know, it’s one of those content-y books, where the juice is in the middle and I’m avoiding disappointment?

Because my attention span SUCKS?

As I opened the book and attempted a way-too-conclusive-sounding paragraph (last night, and the night before, and just now before writing this), I couldn’t make myself care. After a couple sentences, I just closed the darned thing altogether with a sigh of oh, this isn’t any fun anymore.

Cue massive wave of guilt:

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What I find interesting about this isn’t my inability to finish the book—like I said, my attention span SUCKS (in all caps). It’s the fact that this so-called failure bothers me so much. Like I’m doing a disservice to the author by not letting them finish their 300 page point. Like I’m abandoning something. And what if the book is like Of Mice and Men? What if it doesn’t hit you until the end?

(Of Mice and Men is only 100 pages. Mostly dialogue. Not a fair comparison.)

Still: Guilt, guilt, guilt.

But this guilt is all nonsense. Not finishing a book doesn’t hurt anyone, not really. It’s okay to skim articles, to fall asleep during a movie, to only watch the last period of the game, to not finish a book. It’s okay. This is playtime. This is you trying to be enlightened, or entertained, and you have a right to that.

On his productivity blog, Chris Bailey wrote a similar simple but honest story:

“In my second year of University, I decided to subscribe to The New York Times (Sunday delivery). Every Sunday morning, before my roommates woke up, I would wake up early, press a fresh cup of coffee, and sit down with the paper, skimming the week’s articles. This continued for a couple of months, until May, when my roommates went home for the summer.

That’s when I realized something. I didn’t actually enjoy reading The New York Times. In my head, I liked the idea of being a guy that reads The New York Times every Sunday.

Like Chris, I want to be a person who reads things. Important things. And of course, I want to care about and finish those things.

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If only.

But I’m not that person. I’m a hyper-interested person, emphasis on the “hyper.” I play the field, sampling a chapter or two of every book that catches my eye. Then I feel bad about it, because isn’t that, like, literary promiscuity?

But there’s nothing to feel bad about. Really. And I would much rather be a person who is honest with myself then a person who finishes every. single. book. out of pride.

So give yourself a little permission, bloggy friends. Permission to read when you have something to read, to write when you have something to say, to go to the party when you have someone to see…but also, permission to not finish the book, to not force words that you don’t care about, to leave the party early.

(…unless you’re reading Of Mice and Men. You should really finish that shit.)

The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

A common piece of writing advice, one which has always bewildered me, is this:

Force yourself to write. Write often. Write at least one thing per day. Discipline; Practice; Commitment-to-craft.

Strange.  I never thought of writing as a choice.

At least, I don’t recall ever choosing to invite semi-colons into my most intimate moments.  I never “pushed myself” to scribble in so many half finished journals. The act of typing as the hours slip by–four, five, six–barely stopping to recall “Wait. I am a human.  I have to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

I don’t remember signing up for that.

If being a writer were a choice, if it came down to hours logged with a dictionary and office chair discipline…well, I’m not sure why anyone would bother with it at all. I certainly wouldn’t.  Creative writing seems like strange brand of madness, rather than the product of a determined spirit.

Slicing and dicing phrases, posting it publicly, feeling unsure–that’s just how it has always been. I don’t write because have to, because I know how to, or because I want to know how to. I write because I don’t know how not to.  It’s a curse, if anything. Right now, I should be studying for a test. I should also be sending much shorter, less heartfelt emails. I should certainly be less concerned about my word choice in text messages–or word choice in general, really.  And my quality of life would definitely improve if I weren’t constantly composing blog posts in my head.

Constantly.  It’s weird, I know, but I cannot stop.

Recently, a few people have asked me why I blog, how I update this blog so frequently, how I think of what to say.  I suck at answering those questions. The only response I have is: sputter, sputter, “Because I don’t not update the blog frequently.”

Yeah. Untangle that one.

I’m sure the sentence a day commitment, the brick-by-brick (or Bird By Bird, as the talented Anne Lamott would say) building towards a masterpiece works for some people.  It must.  For someone who finds writing fun or therapeutic, the advice of  “Anything! Anything! Write anything!” works, I suppose. It’s not an unhealthy resolution. My truth is in no way universal.

But generally, I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list.

And I want to write like that, too.

In Elie Wiesel’s testimonial novel, Night, he echoes the sentiment:

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

As a Holocaust survivor, a man needing to bear witness, a writer with a message, Wiesel’s works were just that necessary. (More necessary, of course, than anything I have to say.)

When you look at Weisel’s career, or the career of any writer, you realize–for these men and women, a typewriter is an extension of the soul.  Committing to writing like you would a workout routine or piano practice just doesn’t make sense. What happened to the madness? What about the urgency?

When I have something to write, I do it. I do it, among other things, as an offering to the readers because ‘You guys! I just thought of this thing! I put it into words that kinda-sorta-sometimes work.  I hope it helps you.  I hope it helps me.  It’s sad, I know, but this is really all  have to offer the world right now. So, will you read? Please? Can we talk?’

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words.

Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that.

So, maybe you are a writer.  Or maybe you’re a reader, or a thinker, or a speaker, or a listener…or maybe, your art is something entirely different (but equally unavoidable).  Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are.

Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to.

In Which I Ask You For Help (and may I say, you are looking LOVELY today).

Alright everyone, I need your help.

Whew. Well.  There’s something I don’t say every day (though I really, really ought to. Who doesn’t need a little help sometimes/always?).

I have a goal for this blog. I do.  I have an agenda, like anyone else. It’s written at the very top, full disclosure style, and it’s pretty straight forward: Keep it real.

Leave the judgement at the door; Keep those brainwaves flowing; Express yourself before you wreck yourself.

A lot of you agree with this goal (or you just like to read, or you’re interested in seeing the world through someone else’s eyes). I am even more convinced of this after seeing the overwhelming response to the Taboo Tab:  over 100 Facebook shares and interactions.  Thousands of hits.  Emails in my inbox confirming just how many people felt/cried/laughed alongside the contributors, and had that same profound response: “Wow, that’s so me,” or “Wow, that’s so someone else. And I get them now.

We ought to keep this going, don’t you think?  Keep it going for the people who need to know they aren’t alone. For the teachers bringing the Taboo Tab into their classrooms, showing the next generation what happens when creative writing meets community meets compassion.  Ministers sharing the series with their affiliates, and considering it as they provide guidance during life’s most pivotal moments.

This is working. The Taboo Tab is working. We are learning about each other. We are hearing each other. Finally, finally, finally.

To keep it going, however, I need your help (and no, I am not asking for money. Just a couple minutes of your time &  talent.):

This is what me needing your help looks like.  Click the picture to support!
This is what me needing your help looks like. Yes, all I need is for you to click a button. Easy, right?

Firstly, I am seeking contributors for the next Taboo Tab.  The subject is “Sex, Lies, and, Storytime.”  I want to hear your story, if you’re willing to share. I can’t publish everything, but I am looking for a diverse and powerful group of stories that together show the complexity, diversity, and experiences of judgement in the challenging area of sexuality.

Why does this fit on the Taboo Tab?  Admittedly, sex is everywhere. We talk about it all the time. The problem is that we rarely discuss it in real, human terms. Conversations about sexuality aren’t always sensitive to the diversity of emotionally loaded experiences, of decisions made, of confusion felt.  And how can they be, if we never hear stories which differ from our own?

I know this resonates with people, and am excited to go all out in addressing it.  We’ll do it together, just as we did with Death and Grieving a few weeks ago.

Submit to the Taboo Tab here: https://shaunanagins.com/the-taboo-tab/

Secondly, I really need your vote for my Community Achievement Award/scholarship nomination.  This award recognizes Canadian young people who use media to support and bring together their communities in a creative way.  If that sounds like what you see happening here, I urge you to take a minute to show your support: sign on, and click “Support this Nomination” on the CampusPerks website: http://awards.campusperks.ca/en/entries/czr6u . Leave a note about your personal experience of the project if you would like.

The minute you take to lend your support means so, so much to me.

Okay. I did it. I asked for help.  The Taboo Tab and shaunanagins.com is a big project, and I am forever grateful for your readership, you comments, your contributions, your emails, and your openness.

And yes, I have a real-deal post coming for you tomorrow. Much love.

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?