Tag Archives: community

On uncertainty

1 year ago I was a Community Animator at Engineers Without Borders Canada.

9 months ago I did a brief stint as an artist, and put on an art show in Toronto.

7 months ago I was unemployed, and not doing so well.

5 months ago I was managing a baseball website.

3 months ago I was volunteering at the Centre for Social Innovation.

1 month ago, I was a Squire at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament.

Now, I’m living in St John’s, NL. And tomorrow, I’ll start my new job as the Communications Coordinator with the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In many ways, I have spent the last year of my life learning to sit comfortable with uncertainty. For as long as I can remember, I have grappled with the idea of figuring it all out. Daily was the refrain of questions: What am I doing? Where am I going? Who will I be? What is my purpose? For a while, at EWB, I thought I had the answers to those questions. I thought that I had found my place.

But as that happiness and satisfaction dripped away, restlessness and discontent bubbled up, and I knew I needed a change.

I didn’t know what that change was, and the prospect of starting over (after having finally achieved the seemingly impossible dream of a full time role with benefits) was somewhat terrifying. But I left, because I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

When I walked into the now defunct Sadie’s Diner, to ask about putting some art up, I can’t say that I really expected it to go anywhere. I certainly never expected that a mere three weeks later, I’d be standing amidst a crowd of friends and strangers, as my exhibit had its opening night. 6 paintings, 6 canvas prints and 12 framed photos adorning the walls. Three weeks prior, I could think of a million reasons to not go through with it – the cost, and the fear of failure, chief among them – but against my better judgements, I went ahead. I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

When I agreed to manage the baseball website, when I agreed to volunteer with CSI, and when I accepted the job at Medieval Times, I had no idea where any of it was leading. I had no real long term objective, and no five step plan for using the opportunity in the moment to get to some position in the future (as appealing as one day becoming King was). But in all of these instances, I rolled with life as it came. I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

There is a beauty in relinquishing control. In letting go of life’s reigns and seeing where you end up. Working as a squire was easily the biggest departure from whatever path I may have started out on when I enrolled in an Arts and Sciences program at the University of Toronto, but there was an enjoyment in accepting: horses and knights. This is my life now.

The move to St John’s has been in the back of my mind since 2011, and so came somewhat easier. Still, though, packing up your life and moving to a new place on the Eastern-most edge of the country brings with it its share of challenges. I’ve never been one to feel particularly attached to the things of where I’ve lived – the food, the attractions, or the amenities. But from my partner, to my friends, my family, and my climbing community, there were a whole host of people that I knew I would miss dearly.

Since arriving here, I’ve been working consciously on the uncertainty, but also on the idea of expectations. It feels easy to fall prey to the trap of placing unrealistic and unfair pressures on this move, on its outcomes, and on this new life on the East coast. With all that I left in Toronto, it’s easy to give into the feeling that I need to justify it. That I need some measure of success or happiness or accomplishment in order to make it worth it.

And certainly, I want to do more with my art and I want to find my stride in work and I want to climb outside and hike and maybe do a podcast, but moving here was never going to be the solution to all of these desires.

The truth is, there will be (and have been) days where I wake up and feel like shit. Days where I don’t do or accomplish anything. But that’s allowed. There would have also been those days in Toronto. Having move out here doesn’t suddenly make their existence any less acceptable. It sounds simple, but it can be easy to forget when expectation can roll in as quickly as the fog off the ocean.

So I’m trying to remember that:

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And now tomorrow, I start this new job, and it’s exciting. As I was preparing for the interview, it felt good to dive into research and reports and resources. I felt my brain activating in areas that have felt dormant since leaving EWB last Fall. I also feel nervous. Nervous to step back into a full time role. Nervous to step back into the non-profit world. Into the comms world. I’m still working on sitting comfortably in this particular uncertainty.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unitl next time.

Ambiguously yours,

Tyler

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On searching for a former clarity

I feel like I’ve gotten horribly lost in the Bermuda Triangle that is the transition to stable, adult life. Not the physical me, of course, for that body currently sits on the sunny patio of Jimmy’s Coffee, in Kensington Market, scrawling these notes in a too-small notebook with a too-inky pen. No, it’s the person inside this outer shell that feels hardly recognizable.

I’ve thought this to be the case for some time now, but have been holding out hope for the return of the more familiar, more comfortable, me. With posters on phone poles and photos on milk cartons, I’ve stumbled through day-to-day routines filled with the naive hope that his return was just around the corner. That if I could just catch a break in the aimless and never-ending job search. If I could just paint the right thing. If I could just send that tough route. If I just bought the right pen and sat in the right café and listened to the right tunes, he’d return. With a sudden gust of inspiration, he’d send ink splashing across swiftly turning pages.

If I could just…If I could just.

But I can’t. And instead, the landscape of my life remains a barren wasteland of half-baked ideas and unfinished projects. The corpses of books half read and canvases half-filled lie alongside the ghosts of stories half written and photos never taken. Languishing bodies indistinguishable from the spirits of unrealized potential, all lost amid my internal clutter.

Every once in a while I think I’ve figured it out and in these moments I am Einstein, and a careful mixture of caffeine and exhaustion is my E=mc2. In these moments, it seems as though I’ve found the thing to kick-start this ailing engine inside of me. And I do, momentarily. And I’ll design or write or shoot and I’ll feel as though old-me has returned. With newfound energy and excitement, all aspects of regular life get pushed to the side. My sleeping schedule implodes, I forget to eat, and my once neat and tidy room becomes consumed by a chaos of productivity.

And then…gone. The pen stops moving, the paint starts drying, the pages stop turning, and I’m hurdled back off the wall I’d been climbing, left hanging in an empty space, unsure of which way is up.

In these brief flashes, I let myself think maybe, possibly, old me is here to stay. But with each departure the fall feels farther and farther, and makes the next appearance harder and harder to come by.

And so I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know what to think.

Each day, old-me would wake up with this idea in his head that he was the kind of person who wanted to change the world. To make a difference. But with each passing day, this-me finds it harder and harder to see just how that will ever be the case.

Each day, I wear this ring on my pinky to remind me of a commitment I made to use my skills and time to make the world a better place, and scattered around my room are remnants from my Oxfam days – times when I was knee-deep in social justice; when I was “doing things.” I hold onto all of this as tightly as I’d grip a crimpy hold on the rock-wall, hoping it’ll keep me upright and stop me from falling off. But I don’t know how strong a connection I actually feel to any of them anymore. And like finding the right pen or the right café, I don’t know if they’re actually what I need right now.

In one of my more recent flurries of productivity, I got the idea in my head to re-name, re-brand and re-start the storytelling work I had been doing two years ago. And so I spent the better part of two weeks brainstorming and designing and staring at fonts. And when I was done I sat back and looked at my creation and thought to myself: “I don’t actually know why I did this.”

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I had all these ideas for a logo and a name, and a series of meanings to bind them both, but what was missing was any of the actual drive and excitement needed to take a word and an image and make it something more. And so it, like the domain name I own, sits and collects digital dust.

And so I worry that old-me is horribly lost in the Bermuda Triangle that is the transition to stable, adult life.

If you happen to see him as you traverse your own ambiguity, please send him home. The thing inhabiting this-me is not early as fun to be around.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On Becoming An Adult

April 1st was a bit of a milestone for me, though it likely wasn’t obvious to anyone. I woke up, showered, skipped breakfast and hopped on my bike for the incredibly short ride to work. The elevators don’t become fully operational until 9am, but work starts at 8:30 so I need to exit out the rear elevator doors and swing around to enter the Centre for Social Innovation lounge and greet my team for the day. Outwardly, it will be like every other day I’ve had for the past three months here, but something will be different.

On April 1st, at age 26, I qualify as an adult for the first time.

This of course is based on highly scientific criteria that I created in my mind years ago as to what makes an adult.

  • You own alcohol you do not drink. (Bonus points if you have some sort of hutch where you keep it).
  • You have a dental plan.

I’ve fostered this theory for years, waiting to finally shout my achievement from the rooftops and as I left the unopened bottle of red wine and assortment of random liquor sitting on my counter and headed to work on the fateful Wednesday, I had made it. I started my first consistent full-time job in January and my dental plan kicks in after three months, unknowingly anointing me as a fully- fledged adult. But to be honest, for those of you who haven’t hit this stage in your life yet, it doesn’t feel that different.

Is it handy to have something on hand to offer an unexpected guest upon their arrival? Of course. Is it great to know that if half of my teeth fall out of my mouth I’ll only have to personally cover some of the expenses? Yes, definitely. But despite the years of thought, discussion and refinement that has gone into this anointment, it will pass with little fan fair, for one main reason.

  • It’s bullshit.

As a child, we have all of these perceptions of adulthood and what it consists of. We see these ‘grown-ups’ doing grown-up things and build our perception around the things we see them doing. Adults have fulltime jobs. Adults do their taxes. Adulthood becomes about doing things and therefore we come into our formative years with the belief that once we do these things we’ll feel this magical transition and suddenly it will be upon us.

But then it doesn’t happen and you start hear voices rise up stating that their biggest surprise was that no one knows what they are doing. You begin to see the world as the patchwork of people just like you, and it’s incredibly frightening. You realize that what makes an adult has nothing to do with what the person is doing but rather why they are doing it.

Adulthood is nothing more, and nothing less than reacting to responsibility. I’ve spent the last three years trying to find my way after graduating university, slowly building myself into some semblance of what I thought I saw as a child when I looked up. And I’ve made progress. But the secret that‘s only a secret because it never really soaks in is that even if you have dental, and alcohol you don’t drink, you’re still able to be fucking terrified in the face of something you don’t feel prepared for. Which is a problem, because life is going to keep giving you the responsibility to do these things and the only way to be prepared for something is to do it.

In an adult life you’re scared again and again and slowly, if you’re lucky, you learn to feel this fear, listen to its concerns and carry on. Knowing at the very least, that if life punches you in the teeth, you’re an adult.

Which means you have dental.

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On Numbers

Adulthood was a numbers game to me, that’s how I saw it growing up at least.

I would be an adult when I turned 18.  I would go to post-secondary school for 4 years and get 1 degree.  I would eventually meet someone and be in 1 loving marriage, and with that have somewhere between 2-3 kids and be 1 happy family.  I would have 1 successful career making hopefully 50,000 a year, and if I got good enough at what I did, maybe more!

Clearly I didn’t know anything about adulthood, and numbers were a way to help make it easier to comprehend.

Reflecting on all of that now, my math was WAY off (Reminder: I am an engineer by training, so I take pride in getting the correct numbers).  I put such face value to these numbers, not understanding the depth and meaning behind them, and how it would ultimately translate into reality and life.  And it is probably because of that simplistic and naïve view of adulthood that made it such a weird, confusing, muddled, stressful, and ridiculous time in my life so far.

In the short stint into adulthood so far, there were so many numbers that I didn’t expect, that completely blindsided me.  Instead of the 1 degree I anticipated, I ended up pursuing 2, and one of which was at a higher level than I anticipated.  That meant 7.5 years in school, 2.5 of which was an unfamiliar blank space that haunted me at the same time as the blank space of young adulthood, feeling like I was falling behind in life.  What about the nearly 3 years of depression I struggled through, and the approximately 20 one-hour sessions of counselling to try and figure out ways to manage it?  Nearly a handful of ruined friendships because I was in such a dark place and did not know how to properly confront those problems. 0, count that, Z-E-R-O, “proper” relationships, as it were.

However, not all the numbers were negative.  I completed 1 thesis (totaling over 160 pages of written analysis) in those extra 2.5 years, and I’m in the process of writing a scientific journal publication to accompany the hard work I put into that masters, and I’m proud of those achievements, especially when it was such a difficult time in my life.  I volunteered with a great organization for 3 years, getting more involved with each subsequent year, on 3 difficult and personally important projects, working with countless amazing individuals that brought me inspiring friends across all 10 Canadian provinces. I was fortunate enough to find 1 great starting job so far that keeps me on my toes and constantly challenges me, in the midst of struggling whether or not I should stay in the field of engineering or attempt other passions, or whether to stay in the City I was born or move to a city that is new and full of wonders.  At this job, I’ve met great coworkers and friends, and have been fortunate enough to have a good handful of mentors to help me grow personally and professionally.  I’ve attended 3 great weddings of friends already, and 1 of whom I had the honour and privilege of being a part of as a groomsman, with many more to come.

But these are the things that I have been able to understand through numbers with adulthood so far.  And it really is such a minute piece of the puzzle of it all.  How can I even come close to quantifying and giving numbers to experiences?  I can’t put a number to travelling to across the Pacific Ocean with my dad after high school and meeting my extended family for the first time.  No numbers can describe being taught by friends how to ride a bike or camping for the first time or learning how to ski because you never had those opportunities as a kid. Numbers aren’t the things you remember from roadtripping with friends across the Western US, the late night discussions about the world and its complex issues, and the skype calls or google hangouts just to see faces you’ve missed from across time zones.

I am coming up on 9 years of being an “adult”, and simultaneously sharing that anniversary along with 9 pieces of random rant-filled thoughts to this appreciated space I’ve stumbled upon, alongside wonderful friends exploring the same ambiguous time of young adulthood.  This piece, my tenth, reminds me that adulthood is so complex, so abstract, and so unpredictable, that mere numbers could never help me comprehend what it means to be an adult.  Adulthood is not a zero-sum game, nor an accountant’s balance sheet, nor a set of mathematical equations. Adulthood is messy, full of questions with not enough answers, and ultimately unexpected experiences.  Adulthood has meant that with each passing year, I gain control of my environment and choices a little more, I get better at pretending like I know what I am doing; I embrace ambiguity just a little more.

– Jeff

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The Summary Post – New Years

Over the last month, eight of Embracing Ambiguity’s authors took the time to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 seemed to offer hills and valleys for each writer – from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they lived in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions. Throughout the month, each author reflected on the question of “Where were you one year prior?”

The resulting blog posts are filled with a variety of emotions, but all take an honest and challenging look at the 365 days that made up 2014. In case you missed any of the posts, we’ve compiled them all here.

Happy reading!


ON MILESTONES | Author: Jon Farmer

“2014 was a year of transition and learning, and looking back, some of the best parts of the year were things that I couldn’t have predicted on January 1st. That realization calms me down and gives me hope. A year ago I didn’t know how many friends I would make, places I would travel, or things I would learn. I had no idea how the projects I was working on would turn out or how much fun graduating would be. I didn’t know my sister would get engaged or that we would spend Thanksgiving together in her home in Alberta. I had no idea that I would work beside a glacial lake in the shadow of Rocky Mountains or that I would find a new sense of calm somewhere in the 3 months of travel that followed. I entered 2014 with things to do but some of my greatest growth appeared in the unplanned spaces.”

Read more here.

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ON SAYING YES | Author: Stefan Hostetter

“If anything, what changed was how I saw myself and how I understood the nature of work. In 2014, I began to see employment not only as something you can go out and find, but also as something you can build given the right opportunities. I spent the year saying yes to nearly every request made of me, rarely knowing if it would end with me being paid for anything. Often it results in a bunch of work and not much else, leading to a friend stating that ‘Stefan works for free’. But in the end, it proved to be a surprisingly effective tactic if your goal was to only get by…Saying yes to work showed me that I could create value in this world and gave me the opportunity to prove it to others.”

Read more here.

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ON BLANK CANVASES | Author: Jeff Ku

“From entering 2014, furiously wiping clean of what remained from the year before, I had produced a blank canvas, and I had started putting pencil to paper; sketching and outlining what I wanted to start seeing my life to look like.  The image isn’t totally clear yet, but there are shapes taking form.  It is just a matter of adding colour and seeing if looks right.  Let’s be honest, I’ll probably have to paint over some parts, and redraw lines and maybe even change up the medium.  But it’s a start, and that blank space doesn’t seem as daunting as it once did.”

Read more here.

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ON SAYING SO LONG | Author: Maya Fromstein

“2014 was a hard year. It brought many of my demons to the surface, despite my best efforts to have kept them hidden for the past 13 years. I learned, and am still learning, to differentiate between myself and these demons. To call them out when they act up, and to distance the blame, shame, and guilt that they bring with them…The struggle, tears, and relief all tangled together in one terrifying and new and strange and comforting bundle. I learned that vulnerability is distinct from weakness. That self care is different from selfishness. That depression is not only sadness, and anxiety not only stress. I learned that I am worth fighting for.”

Read more here.

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ON WAITING | Author: Molly Grove

” I am waiting for some big change that will alter my not only my day to day life but also my future…Not idle waiting, though I do watch more than my fair share of Netflix. Not inaction. It is a lack of control over outcomes. It is doing all that you can and putting that out to the universe and waiting to see what returns to you. You can do the best you can to bring things into your life, but in most cases, we cannot control what is coming for us, and that is scary. So you do everything you can, and then you wait.”

Read more here.

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ON A HEART BROKEN WIDE OPEN | Author: Mica McCurdey

“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.”

Read more here.

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ON THE ROAD TO EL DORADO | Author: Tyler Blacquiere

“For the last few years I’ve raced along the Road to El Dorado and after this mythical concept ofadulthood; something I naively assumed I’d see glimmering in the distance, a golden city on the horizon line, once I had figured it out, once I knew what I was doing. But I think the most adult thing I’ve been able to do these last few years, specifically, in the darkness of these last few months, is admit and accept that I have no fucking clue. Accept that my El Dorado is filled with fool’s gold.”

Read more here.

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ON MY 4-STEP PROGRAM TO FINDING MYSELF | Author: Michelle Reeves

“But that newfound solitude lead to more introspection than I had ever experienced. I feel like I know myself much better than I did last year and I am more confident in my independence now. In that sense, the Year of Michelle successfully reached its initial objective. My personal growth curve has been getting steeper and steeper every year and I hope that trend keeps up for a long time.”

Read more here.

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on saying yes

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 2nd 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!


A year ago, I lay on my back staring at the ceiling of my old apartment feeling totally lost. About a month before that I had found myself pacing for days through my apartment, a 6 foot ball of anxiety. I had interviewed for a job, while scaling up a few projects, and found myself on the precipice of a new life, terrified.

I was scared that I would get the job and therefore not have time for all of these new things I was doing. I was scared that I wouldn’t get the job and simply wouldn’t have money for useful things like food or rent or Netflix. I decided that if I didn’t get the job, I would give up looking, commit to these other projects and find a way to make it work. And in 2014 that’s exactly what I did.

Today, I sit legs outstretched staring at the wall of my new apartment, just beginning to allow myself to feel a sense of place. A few weeks ago I found myself living a flashback of 2013. I had interviewed for a job, while scaling up a few projects, and found myself on the precipice of a new life, oddly calm.

I went back and read last years review to fully appreciate where I sat then and found documentation of just how lost I had felt. I began 2014 with almost no attachments, and to borrow the metaphor I used then, just the urge to chase a few subway cars to see how long their platforms could be. As I paced, waiting to hear how I would begin my 2015, I tried to understand what I had done this year to change my outlook.

The simple answer it seems, is that I lived it. I made less money in 2014 than I had since I left home for university, but it never felt like hardship. I was lucky enough to find small contracts through a number of sources to get me through each month. And to have some savings to drain when I needed a bit extra for whatever reason, which helped with the anxiety of starting each month unsure about where income to pay that months rent cheque might come from.

If January 2015 started the same way that December 2014 did, I would have completed the final piece of the slow build of consistent projects to reach my goal of earning $1000 a month. The figure I had deemed as enough to sustain my life on. This fact alone could be said to be enough of a reason for my shift from terror to calm in the wake of an incoming job prospect, but I don’t think it tells all, or actually even that much, of the story itself.

If anything, what changed was how I saw myself and how I understood the nature of work. In 2014, I began to see employment not only as something you can go out and find, but also as something you can build given the right opportunities. I spent the year saying yes to nearly every request made of me, rarely knowing if it would end with me being paid for anything. Often it results in a bunch of work and not much else, leading to a friend stating that ‘Stefan works for free’. But in the end, it proved to be a surprisingly effective tactic if your goal was to only get by.

Saying yes to improv classes lead to working on a set with Chris Hadfield.

Saying yes to running environmental networking events lead to bringing five buses of Torontonians to the Peoples Climate March in NYC.

Saying yes to a writing club lead to story telling events that now cherish.

Saying yes to making a last second video lead to what may well be the Green Majority’s big break.

Saying yes to work showed me that I could create value in this world and gave me the opportunity to prove it to others. There are thousands of people, places, and communities that make up the reasons why 2014 ended up the way it did. Hundreds of privileges that I took into the year, some small, some huge, that made it all possible.

But I’ll remember 2014 as the year I said yes, started walking, and didn’t look back.

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On Teeter-Totters

Since being let go I’ve started volunteering at a breakfast program for community members in need and taken up singing in a choir. In doing so, I’m trying to balance The Struggle, and I teeter-totter between knowing if I’m living up to my potential or not.

E.B. White says, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” I sing because I need to do something that makes me happy, but to really feel like I’m contributing to the world I awkwardly hand out bananas at a drop-in breakfast. Maybe an oversimplification, but its the most recent in a string of examples of what a challenge navigating this tension between so-called “improving” the world and “enjoying” is.

When I was working, and working at something I thought was more aligned with improving the world, I told myself that it was just as important to enjoy the day to day. In this framing, working justified enjoying, and I would never give up working, but I certainly could (and did) give up enjoying.

Maybe the time I have now is meant for me to dedicate my more creative side — Cook and bake to my hearts content; Write and blog and tweet with intentionality; Paint and create to shame the best of pinterest boards; Read all of the things. I have so called free time, and I am lucky enough to live in a city with thriving arts communities, so why not dedicate it to artistic pleasures?

And yet I can’t but help to feel guilty when I do nothing with my day other than read interesting articles and make homemade chicken pot pie. Working is fulfilling and busy, and because its something of a necessity (EI only lasts for so long) it addresses White’s described tension for me – you must strive to improve the world, that struggle is most important, and then sometimes there are things to enjoy.

Of course balance would be the ideal, where I would do something I love and live a life where I can push for change and feel just as good about that as singing in a choir. I want it all – I want to embrace this tension in the fullest and then clasp my hands in triumph when I can stand in the middle of the teeter-totter without falling. Aren’t we all working toward that moment? Is it so hard to do?

I don’t know how I’m going to get there, though I have a feeling this is a life long pursuit and my first step might be in getting off my couch, and back on that teeter-totter.

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on facebook pages

Hello folks!

Just wanted to make a short note to let you know that in addition to operating this here WordPress Blog, we’ll also be running an EmbAmb Facebook page from here on out! Our aim in doing this is two-fold:

1) Increase the audience of the blog

(but more importantly)

2) Increase the amount of conversation and discussion that is happening. We really want people to engage and chat with us about the ambiguity in their own lives, so we hope that Facebook will let that happen in easier fashion. It’ll also allow us to post shorter updates, interesting links from elsewhere, and all manner of other things!

So if you follow the blog, join us at: https://www.facebook.com/embracingambiguity

 

And be sure to check out our latest post, “On Thunderstorms and Optimism”

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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