Category Archives: Feelings

On focus

Recently, while sitting in the big bay window of a crowded downtown coffee shop, I told a friend that I felt a bit like a bouncy ball let loose in a frictionless room. Its not an image that I had thought about or conjured up before. But in my attempt to encapsulate the ‘off’ feeling that I’ve been experiencing as of late, it’s what came to mind.

Our conversation moved on to other topics, but in the days since I’ve been going back to this image. Why it came to mind, what exactly I meant by it, and what, if anything, it means for my current context.

To start to unpack this image, there are a couple of things to get past. The first, is the feels as of late. Have you ever felt…like your head is simultaneously empty, and incredibly loud? This has been my dominant state the last few weeks. At times when it’s present, it feels like no matter how hard I try I can’t produce any thoughts. But in that void, the silence rings out like church bells, striking by the minute instead of the hour. And in that silence, I know that I need to work through whatever is behind the feeling, but my brain has stopped functioning, and so I can’t work through anything, and the silence only intensifies. The result is my entire inside feeling empty.

Somehow, this hasn’t had much of an effect on my general levels of productivity. It just feels like shit.

Thing number two, is the last year and a half. Which has been…interesting. Going from September 2014:

  • I was the Fundraising and Communications Coordinator at Engineers Without Borders Canada
  • I was unemployed
  • I put on an art show
  • I was pretty sad
  • I started doing some storytelling performance stuff
  • I managed a baseball website
  • I was unemployed
  • I was a Squire at Medieval Times
  • I moved to St John’s
  • I started working at Food First NL
  • I committed to doing lots of climbing
  • I put on a comedy show (twice)
  • I put on another art show
  • Most recently, I’ve decided to take up cross-stitching

This is where the bouncy ball feeling comes in. With the exception of climbing, life since September ’14 has been characterized by a feeling of being all over the map. Even the moment that started this entry—the bay window in the crowded downtown coffee shop—was a discussion about some podcast work that a friend and I are starting to get into. So when I said that most recently I’ve decided to take up cross-stitching, that wasn’t really true. Podcasting. Podcasting is the most recent thing.

On paper, all of this is great. On paper, I’m keeping busy. Trying new things. Exploring new potential passions.

In practice, though, it’s different. Which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed all of this—the list above. The comedy show was fun and allowed me to tell a story I felt like I had been holding in my chest for some time. The art show was satisfying—and though I didn’t sell a lot—I felt proud of my work. The podcast stuff is new and exciting, and puts me back in touch with the storytelling work I’ve been circling around in different forms over the last several years. Even cross-stitching, which promises a return to the kind of concentration intensive, patience heavy artwork that I used to be into, when I was doing screen printing.

But at the same time, all of these one-off endeavours feel a bit…draining. Like, each one is a tentacle I’m shooting out into the world, and then dropping. Like a salamander that loses and regrows its tail.

For example. I did this comedy show, but I have no plans for doing anything with comedy. I did this art show and now I have all this left over art, without any idea of what to do with it. I have a photo website that I will occasionally and half-heartedly try and push. It goes on. And unlike an increasing number of friends who are actively pursuing ideas or careers they’re passionate about, I’m just sort of bouncing around from one opportunity to the next.

And again, none of this is inherently bad. None of it is inherently anything. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not passionate about what I’m doing. I like Food First NL a lot (the job, the org, and the people). The comedy show was fun and allowed me to tell a story I felt like I had been holding in my chest for some time. The art show was satisfying, and though I didn’t sell a lot, I felt proud of my work. It goes on.

None of this is inherently bad. None of this is inherently anything.

But that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now – how I feel about it. Whether I think it falls one way or the other. Whether I’m okay with it.

The last few weeks, and the image of the bouncy ball in the frictionless room, would seem to suggest that maybe, or at least, increasingly, I’m not.

The questions that logically follow, are where this tentacle approach to life and creativity has come from, and what, if anything, I do about it.

Both are challenging for different reasons. The latter, because that’s a very large question with a multitude of possible answers, and the former, because the answer is more clear, but harder to face.

The answer, I think, is fear.

It’s here that I think about my friend Ray. A couple of years ago Ray started pursuing a solo music career. In the time since we’ve chatted a bunch about how this endeavour is large and nebulous and challenging and, at times, frightening. And yet, she’s been killing it. In the last year, for example, she has completed a residency at the National Arts Centre, played in a variety of festivals, released her debut EP, had her US debut, opened for Esparanza Spalding…it goes on. Next month, she’s opening for Coeur de Pirate (WHAT). Her dedication is nothing short of inspiring. I am constantly in awe at what she’s able to achieve, and look up to her a lot.

When I think about the jumbled list of projects and endeavours I’ve been embarking on, I know that they too have their merits. I know that they, too, contain an element of fear and uncertainty conquering. But there’s a gulf that exists between doing a comedy show, and making comedy the thing you do. Between hanging some art in a coffee shop, and making art how you make your living.

And maybe neither of those things are the thing I want or am meant to do. And so maybe it’s fine that they’ve been one-off experiences. But I feel like I’ll never know, because I’m afraid to try.

I’ve been okay with the idea of taking on a manageale level of risk. Enough to move out here, to St. John’s. Enough to potentially look like a goof in front of a room full of friends, while performing a comedy show. Enough to potentially lose a few hundred dollars on art supplies.

But never enough for anything more than that. Never enough to commit to a world view and then risk having that world view crumble. Keeping with the flip-flop no-questions-answered nature of this blog post, maybe that’s okay, too.

But maybe that’s why I feel like a bouncy ball in a frictionless room.

Maybe that’s what I need to change.

I’m still working on figuring that out.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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ON STORYTELLING – “FOUR FORTY-FIVE AM”

A little while back I wrote this blog post about…being sad, and stuff. Then, in January, I took part of that story and added some things, changed some other things, and told it live at an event called Stories We Don’t Tell, a monthly storytelling event in Toronto.

You can hear that live recording using the Soundcloud player below. If you like what you hear, there’s a podcast available with all of the evening’s stories, available here.

Happy listening!

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On A Heart Broken Wide Open

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 6th in a series, intended as a space for the various authors and contributors of Embracing Ambiguity to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for each writer, from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they live in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions.  Each post follows the general prompt of thinking back to where we stood one year prior, and the head space we were in at the time; reflecting on what has brought us to where we are now and the change that has occurred in that 365 days of time. Happy reading and an ambiguous 2015 to you! 


My family doesn’t keep many traditions, but Christmas Eve is the exception to our otherwise fluid approach to life events and family structure. For as long as I can remember, we’ve plated cheeses in a pleasing array, baked hordes of tiny fried things, and filled wine glass after wine glass in the lead up to Christmas Eve church service. Dressed up in our winter finery, we take up a pew in church listening to the Christmas story of a baby in a manger. The pinnacle of my year though, is the moment when the church lights turn off and slowly candles are lit down the rows of standing congregants who sing Silent Night in beautiful hushed voices. In a moment of true peace, I find myself grounded at the end of each year in this moment.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I was offered a job after five months of unemployment — marking the day as a new start, regardless of calendar definitions. I jokingly declared it a Christmas miracle, not realizing at the time how important a next step the job would be. It was the first contract, of many, working in my chosen field. It introduced me to people who are now some of my closest friends, connected me to each of the contracts that followed, and gave me a sense of self confidence that I, falsely, thought was stolen from me. In that job, I found my zen place of no fucks given and from there was able to, I think, radically transform how I work in new environments, with new people, and new ideas.

I have a tendency to pin my hopes and dreams on certain events, thinking that things will only be great if this one event happens or goes well. However, should it fail, everything comes crashing down. And so, for me, it’s easy to feel as if the more negative events carry a disproportiately meaningful weight – that they are somehow more significant. This year saw hospital visits that had me panicked and wondering what it would be like to lose someone so young. This year my bank account was never quite full enough to cover all of the bills, and there were many moments when I didn’t know where my next pay cheque would come from. This year I was rejected, and heartbreakingly so. This year, despite such a beautiful start, was still unbelievably challenging.

On Christmas Eve this year I sat next to family I hadn’t seen in many months, heart full with happiness in our reunion. Moving to a new place made coming home feel so much more important, and as the priest addressed the congregation his words grounded me once again in a year full of life lived. He encouraged those gathered to “admit our frailties”, and gently stated that “what the world needs is for us to break open our hearts.” His words pulled me away from my default assumption, and helped me see that a year is about so much more than the heavier events.

And so this year, I admit, my frailties often got the best of me. But (and this is a very large and important but) I like to think my heart, somewhere along the way, began to break wide open.

Maybe it happened in the unexpected last minute drives from Toronto to my hometown; in dancing without care at a best friend’s wedding; in stuffing ourselves with Indian food on my living room floor; or in getting on a plane to land on an island with open arms. I can’t say if the year was overwhelmingly good or bad, as both certainly existed, but I am sure that somewhere along the way I changed. I opened my self up to new people, a new place, and, once again, a new job. With a heart broken wide open, my year was shaped by vulnerability. The radical transformation I felt begin to take shape at the start of the year has carried to now, and while I find it hard to believe life is as good as it is, I’m looking forward to trying to keep this year’s Christmas Eve words in mind.

– mm

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on photosynthesis

Sometimes life throws you curveballs.

Sometimes, it’s 4:45am on a Saturday morning and you’re crying in your room after having just finished watching Warrior (2011).

Now, not to take anything away from the film – which is great – or from the performances of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton – which were greater – but I don’t think that the heartfelt MMA action-drama is what is causing the faucets of my eyeballs to leak onto my face.

You may have noticed that it has been a while since I have written anything on the blog. Or not. I guess that’s maybe assuming a lot. Either way, the truth remains – I haven’t. But it hasn’t been for lack of topics.

In early October I wrapped up my time with Engineers Without Borders Canada – two years of working there. My first real job, done. The end of an era. It would have been one thing to step away from this job for want of a change of scenery, but that’s not why I left. I wanted to fundamentally change what I was doing.

Ambiguity.

In late October I put on an art show with my photos and paintings. It is all hung at a place called Sadie’s Diner here in Toronto, and will be there until late December. I have never done anything like this before and doing it while unemployed has felt like a big risk, financially and otherwise.

Ambiguity.

The exciting and life-important thing in all of this is not that I put on an art show. The exciting and life-important thing in all of this is that I managed to find the self-trust to allow myself the chance to take a chance on, well, me, to put on an art show.

Then there’s the unemployment. It is only so long that the joke of #funemployment remains funny. Only so long until the daily grind and grey of unemployment sets in. The entry level jobs looking for three years’ experience, the unpaid internships, the rejection emails, the self-doubt and criticism – each one like a wave pounding the shore of your resolve and there are days where pulling yourself out of bed before 1pm seems impossible but for a small act of god. Or Santa. Or Captain Crunch. One of the three.

Ambiguity.

All of these things are ripe with ambiguity, and all of these things are ripe with content for blog posts.

But it has been a while since I have written anything on the blog.

I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But my head has more often than not been cloudy and the thoughts hard to come by. I’ve been feeling lost. Uninspired. Deflated. It has been overwhelming, to say the least.

Sometimes it’s hard to see a reason to wake up in the morning, and sometimes, it’s 4:45am on a Saturday morning and you’re crying in your room after having just finished watching Warrior.

But I don’t think the heartfelt MMA action-drama is what has caused the faucets of my eyeballs to leak onto my face. To try and explain what (maybe) does, I have to tell you a story.

It’s early January 2012 and I’m walking home along Bloor St. in Toronto. It’s cold, and at my sides hang six or seven grocery bags, stuffed to the brim. On my back sits a backpack filled with cans, and I’m coming back from a grocery trip to No Frills.

Now, the thing about coming back from a grocery trip at No Frills, is that I don’t live anywhere near a No Frills. But I’m a student and I’m poor and I have this stubborn belief that I should do the things I’m capable of doing. It’s why I carried a mini-fridge from Canadian Tire to my dorm room in first Year University. It’s why I moved the contents of my apartment – from desk to shelves to bed – by longboard, twice. And it’s why I’m walking back from No Frills, six or seven grocery bags at my sides and a backpack filled with cans on my back. Because I can.

So I’m walking along Bloor St and it’s cold and it has probably been half an hour already, with another 10 minutes or so in front of me. I’m walking along Bloor and my hands are crying out – the weight of the bags and their thin plastic handles are digging into my fingers, punishing my stubbornness. I’m carrying all this shit, just passing the Tim Hortons near Bloor and St George, when I feel the phone vibrating in my pocket.

I had only just recently acquired a cellular communications device and so this idea of always being in reach was still new to me, and so, my first thought was: “Who the hell could that be?” As you may or may not have noticed (depending on your imagination and reading comprehension) I’m not in the most opportune position to be taking a call. But when you don’t have caller ID and you don’t have voice mail and your first thought is, “Who the hell could that be?” the question of “Did someone die?” is too real a possibility to let the call ring out.

So I awkwardly fumble for the phone in my pocket, and still holding the three or four bags in one hand I lift it to my ear and answer, “Hello?”

I don’t recognize the woman’s voice on the other end but she identifies herself as a staff member with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and she asks if I have a minute.

To take a step back, this call wasn’t quite as totally out of the blue as it probably seems, for myself and a group of friends had done some work in partnership with the Legal Network just a couple months prior, at the start of December 2011. Bill C-393 was going through Parliament at the time and we had organized a demonstration at Yonge and Dundas, to coincide with the Bill’s second reading and to try and put pressure on the government to make some crucial changes. As well as organizing the event, I filmed it on the day of and put out a video that we later sent to every Member of Parliament.

There’s a long and anger filled rant that I could go on about this Bill and the issues surrounding it, but I’ll spare you. The important takeaway is that it was an issue I was very passionate about and that the Legal Network – and their Executive Director, Richard Elliot – were something of an intellectual crush of mine.

So she identifies herself as a staff member with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and she asks if I have a minute. I lie and tell her that I do, trying to play it cool so she can’t hear the strain in my voice from the three or four grocery bags that I’m still, for some reason, holding up to my ear with the phone.

She tells me that they want my help with something, but that it’s “sort of top secret” and before she says any more she asks me, “Are you in?”

Yes. This is probably the coolest thing that will ever happen to me.

Now, I have no idea what to expect or what they could possibly want from me, but I say, “Yes, of course I’m in.” Partially because I love their organisation and have an intellectual crush on their Executive Director, and partially because of the off chance that this might be my one chance…to become a super spy.

When she proceeds to explain the situation I don’t get my dream of being a super spy but what I do end up with is a pretty close second.

I’m told that one of their staff members managed to record some footage with popular artist K’NAAN (of Waving Flag fame) backstage at a recent show. In the footage K’NAAN gives his support for Bill C-393 and the Legal Network wants to use this footage to kick off a massive petition campaign, to coincide with the Bill’s final reading in the House of Commons.

The only problem, she tells me, is that the footage is in a few different takes and it isn’t that great and they need it in a finalized and shareable format by tomorrow and they didn’t know who they could get to do it and so they thought of…me.

I know.

This is probably the coolest thing that will ever happen to me.

I’m told to await an email with the footage, which will come once it’s uploaded, and so I hurry home with my six or seven bags of groceries and backpack full of cans, to wait.

And now I’m home in my shitty basement apartment and the groceries are put away and I’m at my desk in my cramped, windowless bedroom (gotta love the Toronto rental market) and I’m hitting the refresh button on my Gmail. And I’m hopped up on adrenaline and caffeine, too excited by the events of the day to do anything other than wait, so I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

A couple hours go by with no email and no word and I begin to worry, but then the phone rings, and it’s the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the footage is almost uploaded.

Finally the email lands in my inbox and I eagerly open it and download the footage and I hit play AND

What I’m met with is a grainy, poorly framed, 7 minute clip comprised of a few different shots, in which K’NAAN (bless his heart) repeatedly makes mistakes regarding the more intricate technicalities of the bill. All the right facts are there, they’re just in different takes and so I set out on the task of stitching together something usable.

It takes most of the night to edit and the rest of it to get the video uploaded, but come morning I send it off to the folks at the Legal Network who in turn send it off to K’NAAN’s people (I know…) for approval.

It takes a couple more hours but it comes back with the a-ok, barring one minor change: K’NAAN’s name is to be written in all capitals.

I could go on forever here about the bill, but the quick summary version is that the video got 21,000+ views, the petition got 50,000+ signatures, and the bill made it through the House!

I wish I could say that this ends on a high note, but the quick summary version ends with an even quicker punch in the gut, in that the Bill was later killed on paper in the Senate, thanks to some political shenanigans from the Conservative party.

But this post is not about politics and the problems with it in this country. Instead, I share this story for a couple reasons:

  • It is a pretty cool moment in my life that I don’t often get the chance to share
  • Because lately, I’ve been feeling as though I’ve lost something

When I first picked up the phone on Bloor St. that cold January day, and when I was asked if “I was in”, I was prepared to say yes, no questions asked. I would have done literally anything they asked of me in that moment.

At the time I was in University and working part-time and struggling with course loads and probably a bit of depression (or at least, Seasonal Affective Disorder – the shitty basement apartment with the windowless bedroom will do that to you), but despite all that I was completely and thoroughly wrapped up in this issue. It became my primary focus that semester, so much so that I can still – nearly three years later – rhyme off all of the details surrounding the bill and its journey through Parliament. I can’t tell you a damned thing about what I learned in class that semester. Hell, I don’t think I can even tell you what classes I had that semester.

And I don’t know why this was the case. I say that not because Bill C-393 and access to medicine is not an important issue, but because it’s one that I had no real connection to. I didn’t know anyone who had suffered from HIV/AIDS, I just saw something that, to me, seemed painfully and glaringly obviously unjust, and felt compelled to try and do something about it.

There was no pausing to reflect and no thought about whether I could handle this extra time commitment. Just action. Just fire and passion.

I tell you all of this, dear reader, because at the beginning of October I wrapped up my time with Engineers Without Borders Canada. In late October I put on an art show. And as we sit here at mid-November the joke of #funemployment has lost its humour. The days have become grappling contests between the often harsh self-criticisms of “you need to be more productive” that wail like bomb sirens, and the simultaneous and unshakeable desire to do nothing at all.

There was a time when then-me would have relished in this free time, would’ve taken it as the opportunity to do what I wanted when I wanted. Time to photograph, to video, to write, to volunteer, to protest. In these long weeks it seems that all I can motivate myself to do, however, is rock climb and drink gin and tonics while playing Batman: Arkham City.

And so it feels like I’ve lost something.

And somewhere deep down I have this horrible fear that this – this complacency and loss of fire – and not the full time job with benefits and a desk – is the marker of my transition to “adult life” that I’ve thought so much about these last couple years. A fear of some unavoidable dividing line cutting through my life, where on one side there is youthful optimism and spirit and on the other side there’s a tame and docile curmudgeon stocking up on for-sale toilet paper and toothpaste.

Case in point, the other day my roommate asked me to come with him to a march happening at the University of Toronto, in support of fossil fuel divestment, and I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to do it (for context, the march was happening at 12:30. This wasn’t a 7am affair). There was a time when then-me would have said “Of course I’m in!” There was a time when I would’ve been out filming, running alongside the march and climbing on top of newsstands to get a better angle. A time when I would have stayed up all night editing the footage to be able to put a video out by the next morning.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something.

For a long time my “anthem” was Frank Turner’s Photosynthesis. There’s a part of the song that goes:

“All your friends and peers and family solemnly tell you you will, have to grow up be an adult yeah be bored and unfulfilled. Oh but no ones yet explained to me exactly what’s so great, about slaving 50 years away on something that you hate, about meekly shuffling down the road of mediocrity, well if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me. I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up, but most of all I will not grow up.”

This was my jam. This was my quote on my staff page of the EWB website. This is still a quote on my “About” section of Facebook.

And last week, I couldn’t pull myself out of bed to take part in the divestment march.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something. And I’m left wondering what it is I stand for and where it is I’m going and whether any of this actually means anything or matters, or whether I’m just a self-absorbed 20-something millennial obsessed with a bullshit notion of “finding myself” and “making a difference.”

And so as heart-wrenching as Tom Hardy’s turn as “Tommy” in Warrior was, I don’t think it’s what had the faucets of my eyeballs leaking onto my face at 4:45 on a Saturday morning.

Instead, it was likely this unshakable feeling that I no longer know which way is up. It was likely the knowledge that the moments in my life that stand out as the most meaningful were driven by action and not pondering thought, and the simultaneous fear that I don’t know how to “just act” anymore.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something. But I also don’t believe that it’s gone. This notion of the line of adulthood, from which there is no return once you cross, is silly. I know that. There’s no reason that the higher level of responsibility that comes with being an adult has to be mutually exclusive from being the idealistic, energy ridden millennial from early January 2012.

And so I don’t believe that it’s gone. That said, I’m finishing up this post in a coffee shop in Guelph and I can barely bring myself to fire up the computer to add in these last minute additions – the Grey of today has long set in and the grappling match is well underway. So it’s hard.

But I won’t sit down. And I won’t shut up. And most of all I will not grow up (but also, I will. Cause that’s ok).

And so while I feel as though I’ve lost something, I’m working on getting it back.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

 

 

 

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on an island in the sea

I live on an island in the sea in a used-to-be-more-vibrant pink house that from the front would not be out of place in a documentary about crack dens.

I sleep on an air mattress that deflates every two nights regardless of if I sleep on it or if I remember to put the cap back on the nozzle in a room that is painted an oddly comforting shade of olive. I don’t even like olives.

I share this apartment with two housemates, one of whom I’ve been calling the wrong name for the past three weeks. Thankfully he is kind and thinks this is amusing.

I walk to work via the same route everyday, listening to the Google Maps lady’s commands but still turn the wrong way out of the house each morning.

I went to my first hot yoga class last night and grab a corner spot in what I thought was the back of the room. My proximity to the mirrors should have given it away, but it was not the back and I was not prepared to bend my legs like that.

So far my completely out of the blue decision to move to St. John’s is working out. I have a job I love where I with people I respect, in a city that has been nothing but welcoming (despite the face locals make when I say I moved from Toronto). It’s only now just sinking in though that maybe this decision was a bit… unusual.

It’s hard to know what the “right” thing is to do when it comes to life decisions. Do I make the move? Do I take the job? Do I live with these people? Or harder yet, how can we be sure that these decisions will serve us well? Am I just running away? Will this hurt my relationships? Am I letting my family down?

I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. But instead of an overwhelming feeling of doubt or indecision my gut has been telling me that this is right. That this change is good. Sure it’s overwhelming, strange, and difficult too, but ultimately it’s good. I don’t know how I know this, but I have a friend who reminds me that the feelings in the pit of our stomachs are real and should be listened to.

Despite my overwhelming instinct to rationalize and reason through most thoughts and feelings, I’ll admit that letting go and allowing myself space to think and feel without boundaries has led me to one of the most wonderful opportunities in my life to date. A week worth of gaffes later and my gut-brain is still staunchly in favour of it all, which is a win after a few years of feeling a little off kilter. I know it’s unusual to find this kind of comfort and resolve in a decision, and for that I’m infinitely grateful.

I’m think I’m in the right place.

– Mica

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On running (and the downfall of pride)

It is a dreary, wet, and cold October morning, and there is paint dripping down my face. The helmet atop my head is two sizes too small, and has my skull locked in a vice grip. The small camcorder haphazardly taped to the top of that large child’s helmet is now getting wet, and so I’m not even sure that this little experiment of mine will work. Oh, and we can’t find the starting line. Well, we can see it, but getting there is another matter.

Confused yet? Fair. If your first thought upon reading the above was not “the start of Tyler’s short lived and disappointing running career” I could probably forgive your error. But that’s just what it is. Every word of it, the truth.

It was a Sunday and it was early. The helmet was on my head because I needed a way to mount the camera, and the camera was atop the helmet because I had the bright idea to film my 5k race, in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Both of those things were the case because I was, at the time, interning at EWB, and because interns are keeners, I was filming my race to make a video for EWB’s Run to End Poverty. Oh, and the paint…orange was EWB’s colour. So, naturally, I painted the helmet orange. Apparently, however, when you glob on large amounts of paint the night before, it takes a somewhat long amount of time to dry. This hadn’t happened, and now the rain.

But back to the race. After stumbling around confused, we found the start, and the race began. I had always been generally athletic, but this was my first official race. I hadn’t really trained, hadn’t really slept the night before, and I really had to pee. Did I mention the rain?

All this aside, I loved it. The race was a blast. I never really had opportunity to realize it before, but in those short 5K I saw just how into the competition I could get. The thrill of passing people drew me on, faster and faster, and in just under 24 minutes, it was over.

For a while after the race, that was that. It was fun, my video turned out surprisingly well, my shrunken head returned to normal size, I hung my race bib on the wall, and went back to everyday life.

But as the New Year rolled around I found myself thinking about running more and more, and began to play with the idea of training for the full marathon in next October’s STWM.

Now, on a few occasions during my young adult life, there were times when I ran consistently for general health and wellbeing. But I never considered myself “a runner” – I never formed part of my identity around the activity. That changed in March of 2013, when – with the help of my Uncle Bryan and Elevation Personal Coaching – I officially began to train for the elusive 42k.

It didn’t take long before I was hooked. The thrill of pushing your body beyond what you thought previously possible, and the ability to actually see your progress kept me coming back for more. Over time, running became a bigger and bigger part of my life.

I was building my schedule around fitting in runs, I was eating better, and more, to match my level of exercise. Hell, I had even bought protein powder.

Pretty soon, I started to eagerly anticipate Sunday mornings, when my world became one of a still rising sun, a cool crispness in the breeze, carbohydrate gels and logged kms, in my weekly long distance runs.

I will never forget my first attempt at 15k – the first time I experienced “the runners high”. As I rounded the last corner in my route, coming into a 3 block straightaway to my apartment, I was on top of the world. I didn’t feel tired, or sore, or worn out. On the contrary, it felt like I could’ve kept going for another 15K.

Part of my enjoyment from running came from – and excuse me while I ditch humility for a second – I was fucking good at it. I was managing the upper distances without too much trouble, and more importantly, to me, I was fast. My uncle and coach had dubbed me “Flash” and I became obsessed with the idea of speed.

It eluded me at the time, but looking back now I can’t help but think that running became a proxy for other things in my life. After some rough personal-life times and the stress of work-life times, as well as a general late winter/early spring malaise, it felt good to be doing something I enjoyed, and doing it well. In part, I think, because it was real and tangible. Unlike my work, which was ambiguous, short term and at times, hazy – where success was unclear and in an environment of brilliant people, often overshadowed – running was real. My times were definite and quantifiable; in the immortal words of Shakira: “Ooh, my Garmin don’t lie.”

I had something I was succeeding at, and was proud of it.

But my uncle’s nickname of “Flash” was not – I think – just a reflection of my finish times. It hinted at my tendency to be young and dumb and overzealous. Things were going great, I was feeling good, and so when Bryan would say things like “Keep the pace above 4:45” or, “Take it easy on this one,” my brash brain would, at times, respond, “but whyyyy?!” I could do it so much quicker. And I sometimes did. But with a body as complex and susceptible to injury as the one we’ve got, speed isn’t everything. And pride will be your downfall.

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning. I was in cottage country with colleagues. I’d avoided drinking the day before, in preparation for what was to come: an empty country road, a backpack full of water, and 21K. Now, I had done this distance before – this was a revisiting. A step back. A refresh. My instructions were to do it at a reasonable rate; just take it easy and enjoy it. But my pride had other ideas.

I wanted to crush it. I wanted to push myself and see just what was possible, and what I could do if I went all out. And so I did. I pushed and I pulled from deep within and in less than an hour and a half later, I was done. I didn’t tell Bryan. I think I knew that he would be less than pleased. But I did it. It was possible. And what’s a little extra effort now and again, anyway? Well…

I was sore. Not unreasonably sore, I convinced myself. Just sore. Looking back now, this was likely the beginning of the end. For it was a week or two later, 23K-ish out on the Toronto Waterfront that my right knee gave out. I’m not even really sure what happened, it just kind of…hurt. A lot. And I stumbled. And then running was impossible. And then walking was hard. But there I was, 20K from home, without money or a way back. So I walked. Slowly, and gingerly; in pain, both body and pride.

It was awful, long and slow, but I made it home and reported the news to my uncle. A few weeks off was the prescribed solution, along with a lot of ice and elevation. Despite my best attempts, however, a few more ups and downs made it clear that I wouldn’t be ready to run in October.

It was now my turn to be crushed. To have trained so hard and for so long, and now…this. Watching from the sidelines on race day pained me in a deeply physical and emotional way. All the success, excitement and hope for what was possible was gone. In its place, a feeling of stupidity and hopelessness about running.

It took a while, but I eventually got over myself, and life moved on. I resolved to come back better and, more importantly, smarter, next year. But when next year rolled around the universe had other plans. Despite months of rest, my knees just never felt the same, and life events threw curveballs in many attempts to get training back on track. After a number of these false starts and several long winded Facebook explanations to my uncle, I went silent. I stopped running and stopped communicating.

I had given up, and I retreated.

I was scared about the state of my knees and their ability to carry me on the wind again. Was embarrassed to have done this to myself. And, I felt like I was letting Bryan down. It was hard enough to admit all of this to myself, and so I never tried to convey it to my uncle. For a long time, I beat myself up about it, until eventually I pushed it out of mind and tried to focus on other things – work, writing, photography.

Recently, however, I went for a run. Not a timed, training run. Just a run. It wasn’t very far and it wasn’t very fast and I didn’t have carbohydrate gels and I didn’t post the results to my online training diary. And it was…nice. I was relaxed and without pressure. There was no expectation, no target to hit and no fear of what was next or whether I’d be able to run again in the future. Just me and the trail. For so long, running had been a means to an end – I was training for a marathon. There was an end goal in mind and running was (quite literally) the vehicle that would get me there, across the finish line at the 42K mark. Now, for the first time in a long time, running was an end in itself. It was a nice change, and one that sparked a realization about my relationship to a lot of what I do in life. It was in this moment that I was reminded, in particular, about this crazy hectic panic filled transition between “now” and “adult life.”

Because I have very much been treating that transition as a means to an end. Work has been the thing, the experience, and the connections that will lead me into whatever my “place” is. I’ve seen work as the path leading me to my real purpose – the big shiny pot of gold at the end of the terrifying rainbow of young adulthood. In approaching it this way, it has been needlessly stressful. Every slight hiccup, diversion or stumble along the path has been so much more than that, because of how it was detracting from my pursuit of “the end.” I have consistently failed to see these things for what they are: a challenge, a learning opportunity, a potential for skill development. That’s not to say that these moments wouldn’t still be stressful through this different mindset, but I’d be able to take them as they were, instead of as what they could be.

So maybe, if I can get over myself for long enough, work too can become an end in itself. I can take pride in the everyday small projects and wins. And maybe, I can start to find enjoyment in it again.

For now I’ll keep running. Not far, or fast. And without my Garmin. I’ve accepted that there probably isn’t a marathon in my near future. But someday. And when that time does come, I’ll be smarter. And I’ll listen to my coach.

(ps sorry Bryan)

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On lettuce

If you asked me last year, or even last week, if I thought I would ever find myself contemplating eating an entire head of plain lettuce I’m quite certain my answer would be no.

In fact, if you had asked me to make three statements of things I knew for sure about my life I believe they would be in order: I will get married, I will have a fulfilling job and I will never eat an entire head of plain lettuce.

I mean I don’t even really buy lettuce, and regardless salads are pretty easy. So why would I ever do this? If you had asked me then, I would have said I wouldn’t.

Just in the same way I know that I will get married. I love people, I’m good at relationships, it’s shown itself to be the case that at least some people can love me. So eventually those stars will align. That is pretty obvious I feel.

The bottom line is that lettuce just isn’t enough by itself. And it is only once you find yourself staring at the pile of chopped lettuce on your cutting board that you think…maybe. I mean, what other options are there? I didn’t plan for this, I just sort of stumbled into it and now it’s here and I don’t know what to do with it.

It is the dead end job of foods.

I try a bite. It really isn’t that good. In fact, I’d argue it’s bad, but I’m not in a position to complain. I came home knowing what was here. But the rain, but the broken bike, but faint hope that Tyler might be home to save me from myself, but every excuse in the book.

It’s only as I begin to shove large chunks of it down my throat while washing it down with a beer I don’t like because I bought it for someone else that I fully realize that I have only done this to myself. I could have acted differently, I could have avoided this, but I didn’t. And now I see that each of my minute decisions over the past few days, weeks, months have lead me to this place. Every time I was too lazy to stop on the grocery story, not checking ahead to find out if we had onions, entertaining the idea of eating it in the first place. It was all me.

This is my personal nightmare.

The only thing I fear more than a life that ends too early is one that extends long enough for me to know for certain that I have wasted it. I have an odd skill for deluding myself. An odd talent for accepting what is in front of me as what was always going to be.

I toss a bit of the lettuce into a pan with vague plans to fry it with something but I still continue to munch away on what cannot fit. I guess this is just where I am in life.

I finish the lettuce.

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on friendship

If I have been blessed with one thing in my short life thus far, it is the abundant presence of wonderful people. From my family of 10 (if they ask, I never said that…and yes, 10. 7 siblings and 2 parents) to a number of acquaintances, friends and surrogate family members. At times, these people have been the glue that has held my often haggard and confused 24 year old frame together. They have been my encouragement, my inspiration, my push toward new and exciting challenges.

I can say without question that I would not be half the person I am today without the presence of these people in my life (#nurturevsnature). Alongside them, I have found the courage and strength to go from a relatively silent, mullet rocking vested youngster to a semi competent adultish human, comfortable exploring the concept of leaving my mark on the world around me. It was through great friends that I got into videography. That I pursued art. That I found Oxfam, co-founded Canadians for CAMR, came to EWB. It was alongside friends that I organized protests, fundraisers, concerts, and more. Friends have been there for birthdays, shark movie nights (If Brooke Hogan isn’t the scientist in your shark movie, you’re doing it wrong), #justpalletthings, and all else in between.

When life has gotten overwhelming, I’ve been able to turn to friends for advice, and they’ve kindly been a sounding board for my (sometimes) irrational panic and anxiety. With the calm of an experienced sailor, they’ve been able to tie my head to the mast that is my scrawny frame, correcting course and setting me off in the right direction, wind at my sails.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch friends approach and ultimately cross that line between friendship and family. When your shared experiences and realities link you like individual brush strokes, coming together to paint a beautiful whole. When sitting together in silence is not feared but revered, and in that vacuum of sound an affirmation: we’ve something great here.

And yet. At the same time, I’ve watched the opposite. I’ve seen friends grow apart with age or distance. I’ve seen the Skype calls and email updates dwindle, fade in and out like shitty signal strength until relationship are, at most, the occasional Facebook like, and at least, a happy memory of something once great. Despite the (most often) unintentional nature of these drifts, I’ve felt the pangs of guilt that accompany them. The subconscious and constant nagging that “if only I’d done a little more” we’d still be the best of buds.

But in the hustle and bustle of day to day life (especially this life, this non-profit life EmbAmb centers around), in the rush of projects and the fear of looming deadlines, you slip. Skype dates get moved and emails remain in draft. Tomorrow becomes next week as next week does next month, and winter dissolves into summer like snow into rain. Friendships fade like an old Polaroid, the dim remainder of a once vibrant scene.

As is perhaps obvious, I have given this a lot of thought lately. It has caused me to fret and self-criticize, the familiar chorus of “if only I’d…” This is, in part, because two very good friends of mine are about to set off on a cross country adventure, from the busy streets of Toronto to the gorgeous cliffs of St John’s NL, which they will call home for the foreseeable future.

As I contemplate their imminent departure, I find myself met with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I’m incredibly happy for them. Really and truly, I am. Happy that they’re pursuing their desires, excited for this next stage of their lives, eager to see what magic they will bring to the Eastern shores of this giant place we all call home (Canada. The answer is Canada).

At the same time, however, I can’t help but also feel a mixture sadness and worry. Now, I know. In this modern age of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Skype, etc., ad nauseam, I know this isn’t “goodbye”. I know. And yet…

To say that these two have played an important part in my life these last few years would be a dramatic understatement. I can’t begin to calculate the number of times these two have – separately, and at times, in power couple tag team fashion – secured my spiraling emotions and helped me plant my feet firmly beneath me.

I was lucky enough to share a place of employment with them for some time, and in that time they helped me wade my way through the complicated muck that is early adulthood employment. Helped me navigate everything from the hectic environment of a small but growing charity, to a small but growing sense of self as I slowly but surely morphed into a real human adult person. Together, they have helped me discover confidence in places I didn’t know I had (metaphorically) and have helped me see the image behind the stereogram.

They have crossed that friend/family line, there alongside me during the struggles and joys of real life as much as work life, encouraging me in my interests, sharing in adventures and opening their hearts and homes. There was also the time I woke up incredibly drunk on their couch but, conveniently, I don’t remember most of that episode.

So in the context of all of this wonderful, why the worry? The easy option is that I just can’t help but worry about losing these wonderful parts of my life. Or, at least, having them shrink to a once a year visit, or to Facebook and Twitter updates. The harder option points to the irrationality of that fear. Says sure, there’ll be less backyard, or rooftop, or living room…or patio, sangria, or famjam dinners, but friends and fam they’ll remain.

I want to believe that the second of those options is the one that will ring true. And to be clear, I do. But…there’s that inch of worry that sees the “what if?” In grappling with this “what if”, I think I’ve come to a realization.

I spend so much time worrying about failing to keep up with people – or, regretting having failed to do so – that I’m unable to see how easy it would be to rectify. And, hopefully, how willing others would be to have it happen.

In the past week I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve more or less lost contact with. People in different part of the country and world who’ve gone from being integral parts of my life, to names and smiling faces I see on social media, reminders of the lives I’m no longer part of.

And yet, I know – at least, I hope – that if, for instance, I’m ever in Calgary, I could call up a certain former Oxfam Co-President and we could hang out like nothing had changed. Like we were still in the heyday rush of planning a Hunger Banquet, hanging back after club meetings to pound our chests like gorillas (but actually), ranting to one another to let go of stresses and anxieties.

In the same way, I know that I’ll always have a home in St John’s. I’ll always be able to make a call out East and find two attentive ears – well, two sets…four ears – and open hearts.

Because friends are never gone. Friendship is not something with packaged on or best before dates. There’s no start and end point. Instead, I’ve come to see friendship as a mobile home that trails behind you your entire life. Over mountains and across countries it’s there, faithfully following. Inside, the sum of life experiences, memories, learnings, laughs and tears. The Perkins tent of the road (mad bonus points for catching that reference). It’s there for you to go back to at different times, and at different stages in life, for an instant and familiar sense of comfort and warmth.

What I’ve come to realize is that I shouldn’t fret change, but treasure the addition of another room, another guest in my mobile home. There are few things in life that remain as accessible and ultimately constant as good friends. And that’s pretty damn special.

So travel safely, my friends. Here’s to good times and new adventures.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

***Addendum***

After showing this post to a good friend of mine, and fellow EmbAmb author, she raised some good questions. I’ve decided not to tackle them in this post (perhaps in On Friendship Part II?), but for your consideration:

– What’s so important about friends being in the same city? What changes when they leave?

– You mention that it would be easy to reach out, and that friends who have drifted would be open to it. Why don’t we make that happen? What holds us back from reaching out?

If you have any thoughts on the above, I’d love to hear em!

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on learning about, and from, failure

The other day I caught myself saying, “when I left my job” instead of “when I was laid off”. This week marks the one year anniversary of that event, and it’s remarkable how much my narrative about it has changed.

For a long time shame held me back from candidly talking about my unemployment; a shame born out of a fear that I had somehow failed. After all of those long hours, sleepless nights, heart and soul conversations about money and change and potential and better worlds, why was I let go? It must have been because I was too critical. I didn’t deliver. I wasn’t good enough. For a long time I waded through neck deep amounts of internalized failure shit, and I thought awful things about what it meant to be laid off (but really what it meant to be a person).

In January I started working on a conference about failure, in particular how to build a productive relationship with failure. I took on the social media role and spent near every day reading other people’s 140 character insights on what it meant to fail forward, scoured blogs for content, and tried to  sell people on why they should attend a day long event on failure. While I in no way planned for this to help me out of my internal failure funk, it did, because there is something powerful in surrounding yourself in the thing you want to avoid the most.

I found myself in the midst of a community of admitted failures who were brave enough to move beyond their emotional response to failure (shame, and all of the baggage that it brings) to pinpoint what went wrong, and how they were involved. A decisive resolve to own your failure helps to shed some of the negative hangers on of it – like assuming the whole thing is your fault, or taking it personally when it’s not intended to be.

At the same time a coworker noted how few things seemed to ruffle my feathers and I joked that being laid off helped me find my zen place, but really I had begun to differentiate between small f and big F failure, or as I think of them, oops and oh shit moments. An oops is forgetting a sign at the office on your way to an event, or not putting the toilet seat down in the communal bathroom. They are mistakes that maybe it would be best not make again. An oh shit is sending out an e-mail from your boss’ personal account to the VIP mailing list without clearing it with her first. Here there’s an opportunity for a revised external communications process, with room for a certain someone (me) to ask better clarifying questions about work tasks. My zen developed from being able to shrug off the oops’, and try to learn from the oh shits (though at the time, nothing else hurt more than the layoff, so to some extent I was still shrugging off the oh shits).

Two weeks ago we hosted the failure conference and I was blown away by how excited the participants were to talk about failure. Personal, professional, it didn’t matter – they dove in to conversations about failure like they had found an oasis in the desert. They wanted to take on the challenge of learning both about and from failure. They wanted to move forward, fully recognizing what had gone wrong, with the intention to do it differently the next time. They inspired me.

One year out from my layoff and I’ve had 5 contracts, planned, or helped to plan, 14 events for 20 to 700 people, but the failure conference has by far been the most rewarding. Today if you were to ask me about failure I would proudly share all the things I’ve learned from that work. Today I say “when I left” because it doesn’t matter now that I was laid off. That’s not what defines who I am, or the work I do. Losing that job remains one of the more painful things that has happened to me, but like any other failure (either mine or someone else’s) what matters most is how I learn from it.

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On owning that ponytail and working that up-do

***Note from Tyler: I did not write this. The author wished to be kept anonymous, so I’ve just posted it under my account***

 

A boy graduates from university. He moves to a new city and with no contacts – knowing nobody “in the biz” – manages to land his dream job. He spends three days a week gardening in a serene environment, encouraging children to learn about PLANTS. A young girl goes up to him and – I kid you not – she asks, “Can you show me the edible flowers, please?” A young boy, when asked if he’s hot because he’s wearing a black t-shirt in the sun, responds with: “Why? Does the colour black absorb heat?” I mean, for real peeps, what more could you want out of life. For the summer this graduate lives on an island near the city, out of a camper. He is mobile. He is heavily bearded. He wears a comfrey leaf as a gardening badge of honour. He is living “the life.”

———————————————————————————————————————

A beautiful girl beams with a smile that light and love seem to pour out of. She is graceful, intelligent, and wildly capable. She is surrounded by oh so many people who love her, and has the bravery and compassion to give space to the one she loves when he needs it most. Of course (of course!), she works full time at a job that is putting her on the right path to reach her end goal, and her co-workers seem to be total jokesters, and a pleasure to be around. As if she needed more reasons to be self-confident, she speaks three languages fluently and has hair that doesn’t quit.

———————————————————————————————————————

I could go on with other anecdotes that I collect in my storybook of “Why Everybody Else is Better Than I Am”. Seems petty, and melodramatic, but if I’ve ever met you, you can rest assured you’ve got your own chapter. For my entire life, comparing myself to others has made itself a central tenet, and I continually beat myself up for the countless ways in which I didn’t/don’t measure up. The seaweed truly was always greener on the other side of the sea, and it killed me. Well, it didn’t–but it did push me to a path of self-destruction that I lovingly and deceivingly labelled as motivation, drive, “an edge.”

Although I have been theoretically taking this past year to heal, I can only truthfully (and I sometimes even believe myself when I say it!) say now that I am finally on a new path. I can definitively say, on most days, that I have left my previous path behind me. Them shoes been worn for a long time, folks. I am now on a path to recovery. A path to health, well-being, happiness, and success. My old path only had one end goal–”BE THE BEST”–and scenic routes were punished. I am not sure what or where my new path is leading me toward, but I do know who I want there with me and that it sure as hell won’t be linear. I understand that on some days I may be tempted to turn back and return to the path I had walked so well, and that on other days I might only make it forward on my hands and knees or in a loved one’s arms.

But what is most important for me to understand, appreciate, and turn compassion towards, is that my path is my own and it is no one else’s. No one else can be farther ahead, even when it seems like that is so painfully obviously the case (and the only possible Capital T Truth), because they’re on their own fucking path. And that’s what makes each of our paths so beautiful dammit! Everybody walks at their own pace, in their own direction, with their own swagger, on their own path. I am not in anyone’s footsteps. I am not anyone’s runner up. I am moving in the right direction at the right pace. And it’s “right” because I said so and I am the only one who can.

In the great words of that SNL skit, I am trying my very best (and receiving all of the help along the way) to “Own that pony-tail! Work that up-do!”

Because at the end of the day, that boy – with the figured out dream-life – asked a nearly perfect stranger to hang out sometime soon. He was vulnerable and in need of a friend.

And that girl – who could not appear more content with life – struggles every day to give herself the love she so effortlessly shows others, with a voice that tells her she doesn’t deserve to eat three meals a day.

Neither of these outweigh the positive things they have going for them, not by a long shot, but it does show that there is always more depth to be discovered. Their seaweed has its own shit going on, too, even if everything else seems “perfect.”

 

I am on my own path now.

I am no one’s runner up.

 

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