Hillary, Author at Stratejoy
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How do you want to feel?

This post is brought to you from a sunny cafe in San Francisco on Martin Luther King day. I’m here for a few days before the Elevate Retreat! At last!!

Where do you see your self (or hope to be) 6 months from now? A year from now?

I’m going to refocus the ‘where will I be’ to ‘how will I be feeling’ and that feels a little better for now. That’s a stretch I can grow into! So, 6 months from now I hope to be in a place where I’m feeling relaxed, assured, calm, optimistic, thankful, energized, and most of all: hopeful and at home in my world, whatever it looks like. I’m not going to be in a place where I feel all of this all the time, but more often than not would be a fair 6 month hope.

What’s the best book you read this year?

I LOVE BOOKS. The first book that comes to mind actually surprises me…it’s A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome. Chapter by chapter it takes you on a hypothetical walking tour of Rome in 115AD. I have no explanation for why, but I fell totally head over heals for this one – I would read it again in the near future.

Do you feel like blogging about your life made you look at it differently?

Definitely the veggie blog entry. Writing that one helped me understand why I feel like I can trust myself more as a person for not eating meat and fish – even though I miss it and will eat it sometime in the future. Overall, though, not really. I was already journaling a lot and this was a way for me to take what I was already thinking about and stitch it into a comprehensive story for myself.

Which current living celebrity do you think you’d be best friends with in real life?

I am the worst with celebrities, I don’t know who most of them are and I want to want to care. And yet.

Who’s are the top 5 people on your “list”? (You know, the list… Those 5 people you could sleep with if you magically met them and your partner would have to be okay with it, because damn! You just slept with Johnny Depp!)

My short answer is: see my celebrity answer. I’m not trying to cop out here, I promise! I am fascinated with Alexander Skarsgard because of the novelty HE IS A GIANT factor.

In the movie of your life, which actress/celeb would play you?

Well, Maggie Gyllenhaal looks like me, so she’s a contender, but frankly I really, really like Elizabeth Olsen. She’s a great actress but also she has the most gorgeous natural looking body and I would SO love for people to associate me with those curves!! Shallow? You betcha!

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you?

Only once did I get my post in earlier than the day before it goes live. I thought I’d slip into blogging, go to cafes and and enjoy writing at my leisure. It was a kind of stressed rush for me every single week no matter how I tried to change it. I also learned how much I need and value connection – this isn’t a big comment blog but when people did comment my heart squeezed.

What quote best summarizes what you’ve learned during the season?

“How do you want to feel? How do you want to feel? HOW. DO. YOU. WANT. TO. FEEL?” Danielle LaPorte (She says it most awesomely in the promo for the Desire Map

What is your guilty pleasure? What is it that totally lights you up that you’re afraid to admit to?

Looking at fancy wedding websites – and imagining myself as the wedding planner! The colours, the flowers, the tables, the decorations…how much fun would it be to plan big happy events! This is a guilty pleasure for me because I don’t say that I do it to anyone, ever. Until now!

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we started blogging for Stratejoy?

I’m processing things from my head into coherent stories so that I can understand things myself, so they don’t just suck. I’m also more focused on letting go of what I’ve been trying to do (especially work wise) and just giving myself a second chance to float again and see which direction I start to move.

How did you fit blogging into your life? – Did you have a routine? Did it add joy or stress? Did you think about it over the week or just sit down and write?

I answered this in the question about what surprised me – I was never about to come up with a routine for it that didn’t involve Monday nights in a bit of a rush! I definitely thought about it over the week, and would talk out ideas with my ever-patient lady.

How did people you know react? – did you share it openly, were family and friends supportive, did you censor yourself?

Some are supportive, a couple said they were worried about me (which I had to try not to absorb and curb the honesty in my writing). I definitely held back from sharing a couple on facebook though.
Others reached out to me over these months to let me know they relate to what I’m writing and shared their own stories with me – these have been some of the most meaningful supports and connections I could have imagined! And every time it happened it affirmed for me that THAT is why I’m putting this all out there.

Did you dig as deep as you could and open up as much as you could?

Many weeks yes, some weeks no. It’s tiring to dig and open and dig and open every week! And not necessary, either. But I did make a real effort not to post things that weren’t important and meaningful to me where I am right now.

When you’re curled up on the couch reading with a mug of something warm, what’s the book and what’s in the mug?

Evening reading involves a mug of peppermint tea with raw honey and a drop of lemon extract (I can smell its yummy deliciousness as I write this!) and the book is probably one of the recent mystery books I’m in love with, the Gamache series by Louise Penny.

What’s on your bedside table?

A stack of books. Two cups of water – one safely covered with an upside down coaster (this one is mine) and one uncoverd (this one is kitty’s). A clock radio to wake me up in the morning, and my iPad to wake me up with the necessary second alarm.

What were you like in high school? What parts of you have remained the same?

I was quiet and shy with people I didn’t know, and chatty chatster with my friends. I had bright coloured hair, lots of creatively placed earrings in my ears, and wore big baggy jeans and shirts. I wasn’t rebellious – just creative, curious, adventurous and artistic. I was also at times closely bonded with my friends and at other times intensely lonely. Aside from the hair colour, the earrings and the clothing I hid under, I’m more or less the same now I guess. More confident in myself for sure so I’m less shy with new people, but that underlying loneliness is still there and it can hold me back sometimes.

If you could give yourself 5 months ago one piece of advice, what would it be? How about you 5 months from now?

From here, I would say the same thing looking back 5 months and forward 5 months: t’s okay. You’re okay. And more than anything else, please know and remember and practice believing that there is no scarcity within you – you have enough to do whatever you choose to. YOU ARE ENOUGH!

(Image from Michelle McCullough, pictured text from Danielle LaPorte)

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Tomatoes in autumn

So, got any food-related goals for 2013? I thought so! January is the month for food resolutionaries.

This year I have no fresh start or new trademarked diet to begin. I feel pretty good about my diet these days. Delicious wine and dark chocolate included. In keeping with my 2013 theme of Explore and Expand, my goal for this year is to feel out how my values around food and my actual daily choices can better fit together.

I feel pretty confident I can do it. This month marks one and a half years on a vegetarian diet for me. Let me tell you, this was a really hard transition to make – I love meat like nothing else. If I could make that change, I can take on anything…-ish.

It’s funny, I used to feel defensive against vegetarian diets. Not because anyone shoved their beliefs down my throat –  it was the idea that someone has learned how we treat the animals we eat, has run a personal values check and seen that something is seriously off, and has made a choice to change. This was somehow threatening to me. I can see looking back that I took it more or less as a challenge, bringing to the surface my own lack of value-based choices.

I wasn’t stupid, I knew the basics of industrial meat and fish production. We all do. But I refused to engage with the reality of it because it made me uncomfortable. It was hard to enjoy meat if I connected it with how it got to my plate. It was hard to shrug and laugh and say “But it tastes so good! I could never give up meat!” like I always did. It was hard to justify paying for it.

So, not wanting to change, and not wanting to feel the discomfort of that, I just blocked it out through defensiveness or shutting down and not really listening. For years.

I didn’t think then that it’s wrong to eat animals and fish, and frankly I don’t think it’s wrong now, either. So I’ve been asking myself, what changed? What finally allowed me to stay open, to run that personal values check, and to choose to change  – despite (or even because of) loving meat? And can I stay open like this and align values with actions in other areas of my life? This is hard work!

Anyone who knows me in person knows I LOVE TO TALK ABOUT FOOD. Everything swirling around our plates – what’s on them, how it got there, why we want it, its role in social connection…1001 questions. I’ve loved the food world more and more over the past couple of years, and met lots of people, attended lots of events, and read a list of blogs and books taller than I am.

The more I connected to this food world, the more I explored and learned. I had engaged with food – and now there was no hiding out from one major part of it. So not entirely on purpose, I opened up and stayed open. And then,  three books that really nudged me along to change. They are, in order of my reading them:

I think the big deal for me is that, underneath the surface choice to not eat meat and fish, I was actually aligning my actions with my deep values. Once I opened myself up I couldn’t shrug off the disconnect between my values of respect, kindness, and compassion on the one hand, and my actions supporting a system that undermines these values every day on the other hand. I couldn’t not change. And in support and awesomeness, my partner thought for all of five minutes and then committed to changing her diet with me.

I’d be lying if I said maintaining this choice isn’t hard some days. Holiday meals are a little awkward, with sad moments of not sharing communal dishes. Dinner out with friends depends on there being a veg option. And most of all: I miss meat a lot.

But I don’t miss the feeling of disconnection between what I value and what I do. I don’t miss having to close myself to what I know is true so I can feel comfortable while undermining my own beliefs. And I don’t miss knowing deep down that what I’m doing isn’t right for me. I don’t pretend to think meat is gross or terrible: I just know right now it’s not worth it.

And I wonder – where else in my life can I find, bring or use this strong willingness to change?

 

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p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

 

E&E

Welcome to week two of a fresh new year. This year is ready for all of us – carpe, carpe, carpe.

I for one am pretty happy to be out of 2012. It was a long hard slog, as my posts have probably attested to. There’s a lot I hope to let go of and leave in 2012. I want to let go of feeling stuck, feeling lost, and feeling too scared to move forward in case it’s not really forward. These are the things I’ve talked a lot about here on the blog.

I’ve worked through most of the Holiday Council (and by “work” I mean putting my feet up, pouring myself a glass of wine and listening to Molly’s sweet life-changing nothings), and I can name some good things I’d like to carry forward into 2013. This is where I want to spend my time and my energy now. Enough digging – now I climb.

First, I want to take the courage and voice I managed to raise up to apply and blog here on Stratejoy. I love it here. And every week I gulp before submitting my soul to you all (or, worse, to no one), and then experience what Brené Brown calls the Vulnerability Hangover. But writing here every week has done exactly what I hoped it would: given me a structure to explore the mess in my head and create some form of a story to understand it.

Second, I want to take the heart-expanding impulsive leap of faith that prompted me to sign up for Elevate. Ohhhh boy that was scary. Equal parts How many months? How much money? What have I committed to? and OH MY GOD THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME! It was exactly opposite to what I’ve been trapped in by – feeling like I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to commit to great unknowns, I don’t think anything will work. Instead I just thought why not?! and leaped.

Third, I want to take the perseverance it’s taken to fundamentally change my diet over the last year-and-a-bit. More on that next week, but suffice it to say aligning my deep values with my daily actions around the food I eat has been hard and really rewarding. I have discovered a whole new world of food and learned I can trust myself to do what’s right for me.

I like these feelings. Exploration just to see what’s going on without an ulterior need for answers driving me. Expansion just for the breathless hell of it. And sticking to what’s right. So my theme for 2013 is EXPLORE & EXPAND, baby. Here’s my pinterest board to prove it!

Explore: Travel through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it

I thrive on exploring. And I somehow let myself forget that since finishing my masters program – I haven’t been exploring in good faith these past years. I only “explored” things I thought should get me where I wanted to go. I let go of one of my most basic and joyful drives: venturing into the unfamiliar just to see what it’s all about. What does this disgusting looking food taste like? What kind of stories can I write? What was Rome like in the first century? I have managed to travel through the unfamiliar my whole life and only rarely leave my city.

2013 is going to be about about adventures big and small, tasting and touching and feeling and smelling new things, and good old fashioned exploring.

Expand: Become or make larger or more extensive

I’ve been defaulting to no pretty consistently for a long time. These past couple of years I’ve really curled up into a self-protective ball and tucked my head in. New people, untried activities, breaks from close-to-home routines all seem overwhelming and a threat to what hard-won stability I feel I have – and I just say no.

So while a lot of people are setting intentions to say no to more things things year – I am setting intentions to say YES YES YES. It’s time to uncurl and open myself up, and look at the faces and places and opportunities around me.

My guiding question for whether saying YES to something is exploring and expanding is simple: Does it sound fun?

 

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I talked last week about a book I’m reading right now, saying I’m a little wary of the writing style and using examples of capital-U Universe and “a co-creative Powerful Loving Consciousness”. These are great examples of commonly used phrases in the lexicon of our self-help/support world that really inspire and motivate a lot of people — and often completely alienate me.

So we are all on the same page here: I am 110% atheistic in my beliefs. I have been for probably 20 of my 29 years. In at least one of those first nine years I believed that when we flew in a plane I would be up near Jesus.

By my early teens I’d started to connect more with the early shape of my own beliefs. I started to question-and-answer things for myself and I broke with the beliefs about God that I had absorbed growing up. There was no anguished rejection here – it was simply that what I had been taught didn’t fit with what I saw and experienced all around me in the world.

I am not agnostic, and I don’t live in a space of pending belief. At the same time, my atheism is not the absence of belief. It is a set of matching and mis-matching beliefs that are always evolving and growing. I have never decided on a belief – in my experience, that’s not where belief (or disbelief) comes from. My belief in one worldview over another is informed by explanations that satisfy my questions, but it is at core a feeling – a gut feeling I trust that tells me what is and is not a right fit for me.

I am a Random-Walk-of-Life believer. I believe in chance, in coincidence, in the just-so. I believe things happen as they happen. What I’ve come to believe about the world can be wonderful, creative, empowering, and inspiring. But from the space I’ve been in these past couple of years, it’s been so challenging to feel and appreciate any of these things. Which brings me back to the book I’m reading (as well as many others), our lexicon, and a capitalized Universe/ higher consciousness.

Trying to feel and appreciate the wonders in my world and tapping into many of the writings of inspiring people to help me has left me in a place of internal conflict. Different writers call the higher consciousness 100 different things – even tell us we can call it 102 different things. But it comes down to the same basic idea: there is a higher consciousness guiding, calling, supporting us. And I simply don’t believe that. I believe in different answers.

When so many of the writings I turn to for experience and support take for granted belief in this consciousness (often suggesting that not believing is a choice and is small, controlling, self-limiting), how is a Random-Walk believer like me to find guidance in it all? Where do I find support for finding my own way on my own terms when I’m told the path is already mystically laid out for me, if I can just let go and see it? Does this mean there is nothing these writings can teach me? Or is it on me to dig and interpret and stretch and somehow gloss over the bit where my beliefs are cast off as small and self-limiting, and never really used as solid bases of their own…?

Is believing in this the way they insist a prerequisite to feeling happy?

Spaces like Stratejoy are so valuable because here we can find a whole range of supports and ideas. And even in the writings I’m talking about I’m actually able to fit lots of what is said with my worldview, because I do go to great lengths to dig and interpret and stretch. But so often some of the “prerequisite” beliefs don’t fit with me and it makes it hard to follow what they build up from these beliefs.

Sometimes, in all honesty, I try and suspend my disbelief. (Which requires suspending my actual beliefs.) This seems to work best with ideas around callings, paths forward, and to some extent the meant-to-be. Needless to say the suspension doesn’t last for very long – it takes up energy – but sometimes it lasts just long enough to get me over what I’m struggling with. But so far I’ve had absolutely no success with the higher being or conscious universe.

I finally cracked open Inspired and Unstoppable last week, one of the books for Elevate. I was tentative about this book – the author, Tama Kieves, spells universe with a capital U and refers to things like “a co-creative Powerful Loving Consciousness.” But I was curious, and open to the possibility that under the flowery language there would be some concrete learnings. My openness paid off pretty quickly – by chapter two I was sniffling and scribbling madly in my journal.

The immediate pay-off to reading was Kieves recounting the story of when she realized that wanting to win first and foremost and wanting to do good second isn’t terrible and egotistical and wrong, it’s simply what she’s here to do. She describes how saying this out loud was a moment of self-acceptance that freed her from the feelings of guilt and shame surrounding her drive. Once the secret was out of her, it seemed neutral and natural. A simple involuntary truth. She describes it as the note she’s here to sing – she can’t sing any other note quite as well as she can this one, and will never be happy ignoring the truth.

So, I read this and started to cry. (Obviously. Sigh.) It pulled me back to last January when I was so frustrated that nothing I was doing was good enough or meaningful enough or great enough.

I wanted to be like the professors, doctors, thinkers, and writers I admired so much, who have big ideas and have made it to a place in life where people care about what they have to say and what they have to say actually makes a positive difference.

I wanted to be just like them but couldn’t figure out how to get there.

And then some terrible feeling happened. I became aware of what I wanted – this greatness – and I felt ashamed and humiliated and angry with myself. It was no moment of loving self-acceptance, not by far. My thoughts followed the lines of: I thought I could be something big? I thought I was meant for great things? Who am I to think I’ll become anything special when I am small and insignificant? Who am I to think I’ll become anything at all?

I was kind of heartbroken. Did this mean I don’t get to be great…? I figured that was it, the end of my big ego dreaming for my small self, better figure out something else to do with my life. And I left it there.

The problem is of course that I haven’t figured out anything else to do. Not for lack of trying – I have tried everything – but nothing has fit. I’ve been trying to work out what I’d feel happy and fulfilled doing, based on knowing that I care about motivating people to live healthier lives. But I’ve been totally unable to figure out how or what or why. I’ve been digging and digging and digging, and turning up nothing more than what I already know.

Until I read that page from Kieves’s book and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, after almost a year, I was presented with another option: I can accept that I want to be great, and can even go on wanting to be great. In fact it’s looking like I can’t not want to be great and like I can’t go on without wanting it. When I think about it like that, it seems neutral and natural and true. As Kieves says, it feels involuntary more than anything else: it’s just the way it is. This doesn’t mean I’m actually going to be great. But it does mean I’m allowed to want it without the wanting making me a terrible person. It also means I’m allowed to want to be something else, some other way, later on – if that’s what happens. And I still deeply want to help people.

My girlfriend suggested the Stratejoy blog is allowing me to follow my drive to greatness, in a non-threatening way. And she’s probably right.

Hear ye, hear ye, I’ve got some shit to say, most of it personal and messy and some of it maybe even helpful. Here on the blog what I want to do feels worthy and good, and not like a massive ego trip. I get to write about something that matters to me and that I’m confident I know a lot about (i.e., me!), and there are people who read it (i.e., you!) and hopefully take something meaningful away.

I spend hours on every blog post, making sure I’m getting it from my head to the screen as best as I can and making sure it’s something that might give those of you reading it something to connect with. Eat, Pray, Love, Panic is a perfect example of what I like to do here. These posts are not meaningful lectures that have you all running out the door to change the world…but they might be just me clearing my throat for what I have to say next, whatever that turns out to be.

When I started to realize I’m not a small, insignificant, egotistical person after all, and that it’s okay (read: non-optional) that I want to be great, I asked myself for the millionth time: So what would I feel happy doing? And for the first of these million times, answers tripped over each other coming out. I want to give a Massey Lecture! I want to teach courses and workshops. I want to give community talks. I want to set up shop in various places for a season at a time to “research” (learn and somehow get paid for it). I want to write and write and write!

And when I looked at this list, I felt happy and excited and overwhelmingly of course I want this.

Last week, I mentioned that today – Tuesday December 4, 2012 – marks fives years since I lost my dad. In my first post on Stratejoy I talked about how the first year I counted up my Tuesdays without him. This year, the days of the week have cycled back around so December 4th and the first Tuesday of December are the same day.

I’ve been feeling scared and anxious. How will I feel on Tuesday? Do I need to plan for an emotional overload? Do I need to plan for an emotional shut-down? My mantra underlying these thoughts is: gentle, gentle, gentle. Being gentle with myself does not come easily.

I’m trying to stay open to whatever comes up. On Sunday I went for a walk to the neighbourhood I grew up in and only left reluctantly four years ago. In the middle of the city, it has streets of red-brick Victorian houses, a river and valley, and a public farm. Walking through it I wonder how I will ever be able to make somewhere else my home. It also has the cemetery where we buried my dad. It’s beautiful, full of trees, with headstones all mixed together from an original potter’s field, both world wars, prominent people of the city’s history, and just regular people like my dad.

On this Sunday walk I went to the cemetery, with lush green pine and spruce branches tied up with large sprigs of holly. And then I stood there and cried for who knows how long, wiping my nose on my scarf and not failing to miss how gross that is. I imagined what I would say to my dad if I could – what I’d tell him about these five years without him. It came down to this: I have been very sad, very lonely, very lost. And then I wondered if that isn’t how he spent much of his own life.

Standing there, I let happy memories wash over me, of growing up making pancakes on the weekends while listening to old records, doing puzzles on the floor, trips to the dollhouse store for tiny furniture. Memories of special gifts – that striped book bag I thought was so cool, the two siamese kittens after my childhood cat was put down, the martini glasses shipped half way across the country for my 19th birthday. These memories let me smile and glow a little.

Then I also let unhappy memories wash over me, of growing up around depression and not knowing what it was, seeing alcoholism and not knowing what to do, and feeling angry and scared and resentful with no adults to talk to about it. Memories of life in a family of people who never communicated openly and emotionally with each other. These memories brought no smiles or glow, but felt every bit as meaningful and valuable.

I didn’t engage with the happy or the unhappy memories. I just let them surface, float along, and go back under. From there I could look over all these memories and see how wonderfully I was spoiled with my dad’s love and the feeling of being the whole world to somebody. I could also see how long he fought his demons and how isolated I was growing up, surrounded by adult problems with no adult support.

It’s difficult to reconcile the thinking part of me that thinks: ‘Half a decade? He’s been gone for so long…’ with the feeling part of me that still feels the shock of him disappearing from my life, that feels like he was just here yesterday. Or maybe these aren’t thinking and feeling parts, maybe it’s the surface, day-to-day functioning part that had to adjust very quickly to being without him, and the deep, core remembering part that will always have been with him yesterday.

In the spirit of the Holiday Council, I’m asking myself three things: From the past five years, what has surprised me? What would I like to take with me into the next five years? What would I like to leave behind?

This Thursday is my birthday. It’s my champagne birthday (29 on the 29th) and the last birthday in my twenties. And I really want myself to want to celebrate! But for another year I just want to keep it off people’s radar, avoid the countless ‘happy birthday!’ Facebook posts from people I never talk to, and hunker down with some tea.

Until a few years ago, I always liked doing things for my birthday. (The picture for this post is of the flaming apple, gin bottle full of lit incense, and vodka lovingly left outside of my dorm-room door on my 19th birthday.) I know when I started to change from a dinner + drinks with friends kind of birthday girl to a ‘I hope no one remembers’ kind of birthday girl. As I wrote about in my first blog on Stratejoy, the night of my 24th birthday was the last night I was ever with my dad, living and breathing and wishing me a happy birthday. He died suddenly five days later, and so each year the day itself is tied up with loss. He was also the one in my family who actively made birthdays special – thoughtful and silly gifts, meals in nice restaurants, a bit of a fuss about the day. Without my dad, my birthdays don’t feel like something to celebrate.

This feeling that there’s nothing to celebrate has been pushed along by that pesky feeling I’ve had for at least a year or two that I’m wasting life and not getting anywhere – another birthday is a little like another deafening tick of the clock hanging above my life. It feels better letting it pass by with minimal extra acknowledgement.

But there’s another aspect to it, I think related to my post a couple of weeks ago about my lack of close friends. On my 26th birthday there was a crystallized moment of the feeling of loneliness among friends. I had invited two fairly separate groups of friends, and after the initial hello-happy-birthdays, one group leaned in together talking at one end of the table, and the other group leaned in talking at the other end. I remember sitting there alone with no one talking to me. For a long time.

That was a bit of a turning point. Birthdays feel bitter-sweet and the ways I used to celebrate just don’t do it for me anymore.

I didn’t do anything last year. I didn’t plan anything, not for other people’s benefit and not out of a sense of obligation to myself. And it was a relief! It was really nice! I did the same with New Year’s Eve last year and with Halloween this year. It has been nice just shrugging these days off as something to party over. I don’t particularly want to do something this birthday either. But then I worry, am I being a spoil-sport for my own birthday? For ALL fun days? OH GOD WILL I EVER CELEBRATE ANYTHING AGAIN? And so on.

This year the dates have worked themselves back around and the days of the week are the same as they were the year my dad died: my birthday falls on Thursday, and on Tuesday afternoon he’ll have been gone for five years to the day. I want to be gentle with myself this week and into next, but I also want to be able to use this time somehow to push forward a little. So I’m challenging myself to find something that falls between (or outside of) doing nothing on the one hand and having a group party on the other. Basically, I’m challenging myself to make a fresh start at what celebration is to me and for me.

So. I’m taking Thursday off work, and I have one goal for the day: just effing enjoy it. I am going into my Sweet 29th with (my very own) style, people!

And here is what enjoying it will look like:

 

In the spirit of the upcoming eat-athon holiday I bring you a post about…Canadian Thanksgiving? Well, I don’t celebrate American Thanksgiving so this is the best I can do for this week!

In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday of October – the weather is still crisp and the fall harvest is in, with pumpkins and corn and apples piled up at the local markets. It’s also generally treated as last call for long-weekend trips before winter sets in.

Growing up, we spent our Canadian Thanksgivings in small-town Indiana, where my paternal grandparents had lived since leaving Scotland in the ‘60s. Every Thanksgiving, my dad would drive me and my sister down for the weekend, listening to oldies music and passing the blur of yellow-orange-red trees as we headed down through Michigan. He’d pack up a cooler with sandwiches, cans of pop, and kit-kat bars so we wouldn’t have to stop for dinner on the way, and then invariably he’d stop at McDonald’s around dinner anyways. We did this every Thanksgiving from before I can remember until I graduated from high school – even when it snowed early, even when my sister and I were angsty teenagers, even when my grandfather died and things weren’t “the same” any more.

Despite not typically meshing well with more conservative religious communities, I loved being in small-town Indiana for each and every Thanksgiving. While I may not have agreed with all their values or their politics, the people of this town remain – to this day – the kindest, most gentle people I have ever known. Our grandparents’ friends (mostly from church) were always touchingly happy to see us – since it wasn’t American Thanksgiving yet our visit was often the most exciting thing to happen at their church that weekend. “Canadians! Here for their Thanksgiving!” The church pastor always welcomed us in his remarks and we were always popular at the coffee reception after service. I don’t think they got too many Canadians to their little corner of the Hoosier state and they liked to be updated about north of the border – even the Michigan border would do.

Because my grandparents were from the UK, the date of Canadian Thanksgiving was the traditional date of their Thanksgiving, too. No stories about pilgrims and indigenous peoples, it was more about bringing family and friends together to eat and give thanks and go to church. And because it was weeks before American Thanksgiving, we were free from the aggressive food-and-decor advertising bombardment that comes later in the month. We were free to simply be there and eat together.

At Easter, we’d eat at my grandparents’ place or at their closest friends’ home just outside of town. But Thanksgiving was always at my grandparents’. The five of us would sit around the table and, while my grandmother sat across from me and my sister criticizing our elbow-to-elbow table manners, I knew she was feeling deeply happy we were there for her to feed. From one end of the table my grandfather would say grace in his quiet, mild voice (often consisting of just “Grace! Let’s eat.” for my benefit), and from the other end of the table my dad would get to enjoy a meal as a father and a son for a while.

The table that we sat around every Thanksgiving in Indiana is the table I sit at in my apartment today. My grandfather died before I reached high school, my grandmother passed away in the spring of my first year of college, and my dad went a few years after. I took the table because I didn’t know what else to do with it. Over the years it’s become watermarked, scratched up, and definitely the worse for wear. My girlfriend has suggested more than once that maybe it could not be our table any more – she’s very reasonably wondered if we couldn’t replace it with one a bit nicer, like the one from her dad’s antique shop. And I have to let my throat loosen a little and stop my eyes from tearing up before I (very unreasonably) say “No! I need this one!”

This is the Thanksgiving table and the table of family traditions. (This is my table of ghosts.)

 

 

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This post is awkward enough that I’m not actually going to share it on Facebook and twitter. Really.

I named my post last week Lost Loser Seeks Fairytale Ending. This week I’m going to expand a little on the loser part of that. Why I am a loser. Sure, I could asterisk this and correct myself with ‘why I believe I am a loser,’ or ‘why I feel I act like a loser’, but that wouldn’t really reflect how true this is to me. So, it stands: Why I am a loser. Part one of umpteen entries, I’m sure.

I am a loser because I have no friends.

Now it’s obvious why I’m not posting this on Facebook, right? Where my friends will see it and then I may receive offended and/or confused and/or concerned wtf, Hillary? messages. So, if you are one of my friends…and you are reading this despite me passively hiding it…well, hi there.

Anyways. I have no friends. A least, not the type I wish so deeply and embarrassingly I could have. I don’t have people around me who I feel closely bonded with. Who I feel I could tell anything to or be told anything by. Who I can go through life transitions and changes with. Who I can scamper off to shop in New York with. With whom I can correct grammar. Basically, I don’t have people around me who I feel relaxed, open, and at home with.

This has been the case for most of my life and it is very, very lonely.

Technically speaking, I have three friends who I feel real with. One has now started a family and moved to another continent permanently. One has a job schedule that makes spending time together difficult, indefinitely. And one has formed a group of friends I’m not really part of so one-on-one time is now more limited. This is why, in the sense of having the friends I bond with actually around me, I have no friends.

I do spend time with people beyond my girlfriend. We have couple-friends, who I adore. And on my own I go to parties, I drink wine and eat cheese and chat and have fun with roughly the same group of people. These are as close as I have to friends, and I care about them and enjoy their company.

But honestly, I am always on, always trying. Trying to be interesting, trying to not want too much, trying to be someone to include. Part of me worries my idea of having friends I feel bonded with is a fantasy. Worries that these types of relationships don’t exist outside of movies and coming-of-age lit, and that in reality adults just don’t get these kinds of friends

Is this an extension of my Eat, Pray, Love yearning? Except, I see the friends I do have having these bonded relationships with their other friends – I see it in facebook trip pictures and hear it in casual comments. I am an expert now on sensing friendships I don’t have. So I know that a) they exist, and b) I don’t have them.

This feels childish to me. I know if I want to make friends I feel some kind of bond or connection with, I need to get involved in things where I’m likely to meet like-minded people. I need to actually go out and meet people. Except for I don’t want to. Or, more specifically, I don’t want to have to. That’s where the loser bit comes in. And the tired bit. I don’t want to have to go out on the prowl for friends to bond with.

I’ve known for a long time that I’m not a real “member” of the groups of people I spend time with, because even when I’m out and having fun, there’s a part of me held back in reserve that doesn’t feel part of it all.

But I think it’s more recently that it’s starting to hit me as a this-might-be-forever deal. Why don’t I already have these friends? Why have I never really had these friends? Because I want them, I have always wanted them…Is it possible at this point I might forever be a loser with no friends? (Ok, slight exaggeration of time here, but you get my point.)

This is part 2 of this post. Read part 1.

So, how did I come to believe that I’m supposed to drop everything, travel to a far and distant land, and start over?

To be fair, some small but core part of me didn’t fully believe this – it’s the bit that loves my girlfriend, knows Toronto is my one true city-love, questions my sense that the world is “out there” and not “right here.” But a big part of me has believed this for I’m not sure how long. Again – how? Simple, embarrassing, and a little sad: I believed in fairytales. I believed all this because I was reading stories like Eat, Pray, Love that were happy, perfect, and exciting – and they worked! Each of these people got to live happily ever after! They found out who they really are and what they’re supposed to do.

In comparison, I felt isolated, lost and alone. I didn’t want to be who I felt I was: a life-loser in a masters program I hated, with no idea of what I wanted to do, feeling like a crappy girlfriend, upset with my mother, missing my dad. I felt ashamed to be this person, and angry with myself. I was wasting all the supports and resources in my life, incapable of amounting to anything. I say this in past tense – but it’s still here a little.

So to recap: lost and a loser versus finding myself and learning Italian. Tough choice. How could I have not fallen for these stories?

I’m not quite sure when or how the want turned into an expectation and then into a pressure. I think it was tied into feeling like I wasn’t amounting to anything when I really should be. The stakes were pretty high for me in figuring something out – my sense of myself as a capable, motivated person who should do great things was at risk. When I felt I wasn’t able to work anything out in my life, it made sense to look to how things had worked out for other people who I viewed as capable, motivated, and doing great things. I wanted so much to be who the story writers were and wanted so much to not be who I was, that I took what they wrote to be not only true but also possible for me. I started to see these stories as the only way I was going to get to where the authors had ended up, which looked pretty good to me. I just had to do what they did to go where they went.

It’s like that Matsuo Basho quote: Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wiseSeek what they sought. Yeah, I went for the footsteps.

I have to pull back my scope here for a minute. I am 100% responsible for working up my own crazy. Full-stop. But there is also a massive post-millenium self-development publishing industry heavily profiting from me feeling more or less exactly the way I felt. There are Eat, Pray, Love tours you can take. Sure this tells me I’m not alone here, but it also tells me there’s a lot of money to be made selling these feel-good life journeys about women in their 20s and 30s getting lost-and-found. And readers (like me) do not want to read about some woman screwing up her life indefinitely – getting found is the crucial part of the story. Writers know this, editors know this, and publishers know this.

And so for over a decade there has been a whole world of varying but often formulaic personal stories about women travelling and learning. These stories have nice beginning-middle-end arcs that always wrap up with a satisfying and happy conclusion. But they are always essentially retrospective stories – even those written in present tense. To fit the formula, people and events and even breakthrough thoughts are marshalled into a narrative arrow pointing from life breakdown directly to now, a great and permanent place.

I never questioned how nice and neat Elizabeth Gilbert’s story was, everything lining up and fitting together the way it did. A year travelling, 4 months in different places to learn life lessons in turn about passion, then spirituality, then love, tying up each lesson as she goes? I’m pretty sure life doesn’t actually happen like that. But tightly edited stories written in hindsight do. Life never looks the same when you’re going forward as it does when you’re looking back. So the blind and stumbling learning that was likely the reality of most of that year is nowhere to be found and the story about it that was told was in effect a fairytale. And because they feel good to read, these fairytale stories are the ones that sell.

I also never really questioned what Elizabeth Gilbert did after eating, praying, and loving. No one really reads the follow-up books. We like our heroes to stay exactly where we left them at the end of the story. Living happily ever after. The idea that there’s a further horizon to the story, that they’ve kept living their lives and moved on from the concluding moment, kind of ruins the effect. What could come next after a perfect place? Not change…!

So for me, more kind of embarrassing lessons from the school of hard knocks. I feel like I should have known better than to believe in a genre of fairytale stories publishers make billions shaping and selling. Embarrassment is not a helpful feeling, but it’s there anyways.

After all this, I still want to travel. Travelling, experiencing other people and cultures and places, has to be part of my life. No questions, no apologies. I want to take my love of travel back from the pressure that it’s been surrounded by and let myself daydream and scheme about road trips from Germany to Greece. With no expectation that they will be anything bigger or more meaningful than a damn good time.

 

 

Daily life for me is often a field of panic land-mines, and I’m never quite sure what feelings of failing-at-life are going to get triggered and when. But over the past months I’ve been carefully trying to stay open to my thoughts, no matter how panicked, to see what’s going on behind them.

The more open I’m able to be to my panic, the more I find myself surprised when I find out what’s behind it. While the ticking clock of life’s milestones passing me by was a pretty obvious source of distress for me, there have been a lot of sources of panic that I didn’t expect – at least not in the way they’ve turned out. I talked about one of these in my first post: the gradual twisting of motivational lines like “Don’t let life pass you by!” into deep sources of fear and anxiety that life is passing me by every second I’m not absolutely loving it.

But lately I’ve found more sources of panic that I guess I figured were happier places, like travel. I knew I wanted to travel, to spend a good chunk of time exploring the world more. And I knew I felt distressed and frustrated not to be doing it. I also know that over the last little while I’ve gradually stopped dreaming of other places because panic was taking over the fun and I didn’t know why. Once I opened myself to this panic, I started to see where it was coming from. And the bizarre truth is when I think about travelling, I feel panicked that I have NOT packed up my life and taken off to an NGO in Africa or a school in Asia or a kibbutz in Israel. When I think about career exploration, I feel panicked that I have NOT quit my job suddenly to work for myself. When I think about my values and priorities over the next few years, I feel panicked that I have NOT realized my whole life just isn’t for me after all.

In working out and naming some of these surprising sources of panic, I’ve been able to see the relatively unsurprising element underneath them all: pressure, applied firmly and steadily by me and my interpretation of things around me, to do what I’m supposed to do to figure this all out.

What I’m supposed to do. There it is, showing its ugly face: should.

And where did I get the idea that I should flee my life to create a new, happier one? That I should be spending time doing some random things in other places to help me find my answers? That there are steps to work my way past the unhappy unknowns and in following them I’ll come out the other side of this with battle scars and a calm, confident and mature understanding of my life…?

How about almost every personal development book or blog since Eat, Pray, Love. Stories of adventure, getting lost and found, starting new, curing life dissatisfaction with Indian street food. Every one of them seems to follow the same formula: realize you are unhappy; realize you need to quit/drop everything; realize you need to go far, far away; realize 101 truths about yourself while far, far away; realize your place in life. Stories of finding truths and love and meaning always somewhere “out there” and never “here.”

I’ll write more next week about how these stories are written, but for now I’ll just say the Eat, Pray, Love formula makes for a pretty lovely if essentially retrospective story. I understood that I was lost, lonely, and scared, and I looked to our contemporary heroes of Being Lost and thought I could – and had to – follow their footsteps to get out of this alive and happy. What they did seemed to serendipitously lead to a relatively happy ending, so I should be able to do it too…

Something in me began to believe that finding my way out of these feelings required a spiritual awakening, divorcing my husband, selling my house, and planning an amazing adventure that would magically end with self-discovery and probably husband #2. Never mind that I quite like my girlfriend and I want to live together in our apartment, or that I don’t really care to go to an ashram, or that I am not already an established writer with publisher support to pay for my travels…Nevermind all that, because it worked for Elizabeth Gilbert and everyone after, so it’s what I should be able to to do for me too. Isn’t the universe supposed to conspire to help me here or something?

As I’ve sorted through all this, the panic seems to look something like this: if I am not Eating, Praying, and Loving my way out of this mess I’m doing it wrong and in denial about it. I’m just too scared to do what deep down I know I need to.

Sometimes when I’m open to the panic and then I see what’s inside, I think…Really? This is what I think? This is what scares me? Because in the light of day it looks like a sad and embarrassing jumble of nonsense. I wonder how I could have come up with something so silly!

I’m forming some pretty solid answers to how I came up with this. And that will be for next week.

Some years ago, in the months before my dad died, I read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. I love his writing, and this was no exception. Despite all the violence and love and adventure in the story, it was a relatively quiet and unassuming line that stopped me in my tracks across the pages. In the middle of a narrative of rebellion and revenge, he wrote:

“In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was.”

I don’t know why this grabbed me the way it did, but in my mind I returned again and again to this matter-of-fact big life lesson: there is no control group that holds steady throughout change to tell me what could have gone differently in my life. I have no idea what might have been at any point in my life, I only know what was and is.

The concept of having no control group helped me a lot when my dad died. From that first moment of realizing what my mom was telling me, I camped out in the reality of the present: this enormity had happened, I had no way of changing it, and there was no use thinking otherwise. What was, was, and that was where I was going to work from. I had the feeling that somehow the world had nudged McCarthy’s phrase toward me just in time for me to desperately need it.

I thought I was pretty well off in grasping this concept. But in the years since then, a comparative might-have-been has slowly but surely slipped into my perception and coloured my understanding of myself, my past, and my place in life. I’m starting to see that as I drag myself toward 30, I’m dragging along with me a heavy sense of loss and longing for the life I didn’t get to have but dreamt of as a teenager and early twenty-something. More or less, the life where I got to feel in any way happy and beautiful and confident and alive. Unlike losing my dad, unhappiness in my life wasn’t a sudden event clearly beyond my control – my life had been under my control all along and in hindsight its unfulfilling reality was full of alternatives.

Without realizing it, I engaged in a comparison between real past-me and might-have-been past-me and I wasn’t able to catch it in time to prevent the havoc that unsubstantiated comparisons can wreak on your sense of self. The game is obviously rigged here, since real-me only knew what she knew but might-have-been-me gets the benefit of everything I know ten years on. My understanding of what would have made me happy in the past has been overlayed with the things I wish now that I had done then. As feelings of missed opportunity and lost youth weigh me down, I wish for my past self that I’d had that handsome moody boyfriend and gone somewhere else to teach English and really bonded with close friends. What my actual past self did pales in comparison – that’s what brought me to here, wishing I’d done some things differently. It’s not that I want these things for me in the present, but a part of me wishes I already had them so maybe now I wouldn’t feel like I missed out on life then.

If I examine it, I notice this life I wish I’d had is shaped by feeling lost and lonely at the time and feeling unaccomplished and under-experienced now. This might-have-been life is filled in with details that look suspiciously like a collage of movie scenes and my take on other people’s experiences. I see a young couple playing on a park bench and my heart wishes so much I’d had that youthful puppy-dog love. Or someone out of college tells me they’re going to another country to build schools and my heart wishes I’d gone on this life-changing experience too.

I’ve struggled to find my way out of these feelings. They feel bad, often non-sensical, and I don’t want them to get space inside me. And a few weeks ago, a friend unknowingly put up a small exit sign for me. She said: “You know, all these life things I expected to have and was so sad for so long when I didn’t get them…I can see now that it doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been happy with them anyways.”

This seemed important. It put real-me smack in the middle of might-have-been-me’s comparative life. So I asked myself: Would I – the real me, just as I was – have been happy with a moody high school boyfriend, and was I ever the type to make doe-eyes on a park bench? Well…no, to both. When I think about it that way, a little part of me pushes back with all its might against the tyranny of might-have-been. This part remembers the real past-me feeling like no matter how lonely I was, I didn’t know someone I actually wanted to date, and thinking white people going to volunteer en masse in low-income countries for “the experience” was ethically questionable at best.

It seems like in leaving the real past-me out of my longing for that might-have-been life, I glossed over the fact that I didn’t have a lot of these things precisely because I didn’t want them. And by stamping a TOO-LATE label on them I’m side-stepping the other question: Do I – the real me, just as I am – want these things now? For most of these ideas, the answer is probably no.

There is no control group for life, no way to gauge the alternative to what was. But comparisons inevitably sneak in, and when they do I will have to deal with them:  the real me got what she got and was how she was, and that’s a done deal. If there is anything I long for for her, tough luck. Her choices stand. But if there’s anything I long for right here and now for ME? That is where I can actually get somewhere.

 

What I remember most about taking my first Myers-Briggs test is sitting in the corner of the school computer lab, excited at the prospect of finding out who I really am, what I’m really like, what I should be when I grow up. Then I remember my sense of panic and growing frustration as I realized the test was a long list of either/or choices, and my answers were almost always ‘it depends’. I agonized over each forced choice and finally, finally clicked submit so I could at last find out who I really truly was…only to get a four-letter acronym and a description that didn’t sound much like me at all.

Had I answered some of the questions wrong? I went back and changed my answers for some of the toughest choices. Hit submit. Slightly different acronym, same problem. I tried again, and again, changing one or two answers. This wasn’t telling me who I was at all! I felt cheated while my friends printed out their ‘Good careers for you’ and ‘Your ideal mate’ sheets. Finally I tried a different tack. I read through all of the descriptions to see which sounded the most like me. But for the most part, nothing was just right – or even mostly right.

I wanted answers about myself from these systems so badly that I’ve repeatedly tried to complete the questionnaires for over a decade – even after I was once reduced to tears of frustration trying to pick just one answer. I filled out values scales. I went to a two-day enneagram workshop. I just needed to know who I was.

Friends and colleagues seemed to have little problem with the question format and felt their results fit. I thought maybe I was just flaky. Or I wasn’t digging deep enough. Or I was copping out of identifying my real answer. But I realized over time that my problem always boiled down to one thing: I rarely have one equivocal answer, to anything, ever. Absolute YES and NO feelings – whether carefully thought through or spur of the moment – are hard to come by for me. This might sound flexible and easy going but it is truly, madly, deeply TORMENTING. I can see 1001 different perspectives for any given problem. And that means when I’m forced (or force myself) to give one best answer, I feel like I’m lying, and worse, missing some of my truth – the truth that will get me the answer I’ve tried hard to find.

I took the MB & enneagram tests last week and again today to give a example of how, a decade on, this remains the same. Last week: MB is INFP, enneagram is 6. Today: MB is INFJ, enneagram is ‘not clear from the test results’ but likely a 4 or 9 or 4wing3 or 4wing5. These could change again next week.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, just as I eventually realized I was using the whole ‘live life to the fullest!’ theme to put massive pressure on myself, I’m also realizing I’ve been struggling with the whole ‘name your values!’ and ‘connect with your authentic self!’ themes to find some buried truth about myself. That will make sense of things just as soon as I see it in front of me.  Because that truth exists.  If only I could find the questions that would let me give the right answers so something somewhere can tell me exactly who I am.

I know this pursuit is unreasonable. I also know now it’s probably impossible. I think what it comes down to is comfort. I long for the comfort of reading something and feeling understood. Feeling like I am part of a type-group, not some lone wolf, and therefore a little more real. Feeling like I can know myself after all. Feeling like there are answers to the question of Me and once I work them out I can move forward and have the best looking blog ever. But I have countless printouts of all the personality and values and skills assessments and inventories I could ever need and not one of them is useful.  Because when I fill them out again, I give and get different answers. My self-research is non-replicable, my results inconclusive and not significant. Useless data!

So my next step in all this is to just chill out and STOP LOOKING FOR MY SECRET ANSWER. (That requires caps-lock so I know I mean it.)

I don’t know what to do now really. But I encourage you all to make your own acronyms. Minimum 7 letters, no repeats.

 

Right now, this very minute, I’m sitting on a back porch in rural Ontario, with harvest sunshine warming my hair, the smell of a wood-fire on the breeze, a glass of crisp Niagara sparkling wine, and every colour of autumn on the trees around me. I feel at peace.

In moments like this it’s hard to remember that the soreness hovering around the hinge of my jaw is from grinding my teeth over years of distress.

That juxtaposition of calm contentment and deep panic perfectly sums up the strange place my mind lives in these days. I’m not sure quite how to describe it. I can tell I’ve managed to climb up a little from where I’ve spent the past months. I have enough perspective now to recognize a story of things that inevitably led to exactly where they did. But I still don’t see the way forward from this, I don’t see where to go from here.

Right now, I hold still. Not as still as I was – not paralyzed, my fingers are definitely wiggling – but I’m not sure what to do, and I’m scared that’s not going to change. Last week I talked about doing small things to try to rebuild a sense of basic happiness and reinstate some calm. But I also feel antsy, impatient – I don’t want to stand still forever. How do I figure out how to move forward, to make decisions and take action, without tapping right into the underlying panic I’ve worked so hard to move out of?

This balancing act makes it difficult to take even small steps forward. Realizing how vulnerable I am to my feelings of panic and failure right now has been humbling. I’m not sure how to navigate and negotiate self-compassion, understanding and forgiveness on the one hand, and wanting to just get on with it and build dreams to work toward on the other hand.

This is made all the more difficult by a long-standing feeling that I don’t know what I want to do – in terms of career, travel, family, home. No dream job comes to mind, no Ah-ha! moment of wanting to pick up and travel the world, no sense of when will be a good time to have children. This ginormous I-Don’t-Know leaves me feeling a little sceptical that passion, joy, and certainty are ever going to be part of me. This feeling is joined (and supported) by the fear that if I do work something out and start doing it, after some time I won’t want to do it any more. It won’t really be right after all. And I’ll have to start again. I’ll never get to feel “YES! THIS IS EXACTLY IT!”

If this fear sounds like a bit of a wet blanket on dreaming and moving towards those dreams…it’s because it very obviously is. I won’t put myself into any one idea because I’m scared it’s not going to be what I want (not for long enough to make it worth it). I will have wasted more time that I can’t get back. So I don’t even really have dreams – I have tentative ideas that I think would be pretty fun but even they seem to form with “Yes, but…!” warnings stamped all over.

But so you know I’m not all doom-and-gloom 24/7, and to remind myself there IS a forward here, I’ll share a few of my dreams Might-Be-Funs.

I dream about:

My intention for the next few months is to work through the fear and uncertainty leaving me to shift my weight between “Don’t move because you’re safe here” and “Don’t stay here because there’s life to live”. This will be no small task. At the same time, I’ll try to pull some of my dreams a little closer, however small they are. (The smaller the better right now, I’m guessing!) I will also try to thrown some fun in – pictures, stories, recipes, the joyful bits that are all mixed up here too.

Please know that I am my own blind-spot here! Consider each and every post an open request for advice. You can comment, email, facebook message, whatever works – and share your experiences with me, to offer tips or observations, or even to just say hi.

 

Last week I cracked my shell open a little and let you know who I am and what brought me to now. It was hard to write – I’ve never actually described in words where I am in life right now and what happened over the past five years to push me here. It was even harder to share the blog link with people I know in real life – the ones whose judgement is personal. But here I am, week two. This week I’ll let you know more about why I thought it would be a “good idea” to share the world inside my head with the general blog-reading public.

When I applied for Season 7 I wasn’t (and still am not) sure about blogging like this. I have nothing to say, why would anyone want to read it? And isn’t this a little self-indulgent? I’m taking a leap of faith here, based on a gut feeling this is right. I am going to put this – all of this – into words. Now. It comes as a relief at this point. In moving my thoughts to words they aren’t just mine. Which is good, because I’m ready to not own this story alone anymore. I didn’t know it until I typed it, but there it is. Knowing you’re there, reading this, valuing it and bringing me into your own life, is helping guide me back to the land of the living. In reading, this is a little bit yours now too.

Why now? Because I’m feeling a little excited about life. I’m thinking maybe the future isn’t just a Ticking Clock of Personal Failure after all…I’m thinking it might even have some fun in it! Shocking idea, I know. But trust me that this has taken me months and months to come to. All this time I’ve been shut up in my head, too scared to say out loud what’s in there. Not sure how to. But now I feel compelled to talk about it all. So why not go big and blog about it.

In blogging for Stratejoy, I hope for two things. First, as Caiti from Season 6 said, moving thoughts out of your head once a week is in itself helpful. I’m hoping the writing schedule will keep me moving forward on things that are hard to dig into. I’m hoping to smooth out some of the kinks in my heart, and to build on this whole life-could-be-fun idea.

Given my deep panic about not having a career, children, a house, and all the Please-Enjoy-By-30 milestones checked off, it’s no surprise that uncovering what I actually want for my life is tentative, slow going. I’m starting to get it that figuring out my own idea of my good life is the prerequisite to working towards that happiness. But there’s a bit of a catch here, because I can’t be deeply unhappy and figure out this idea. (It just doesn’t work, the energy isn’t there.) And I can’t be happy when I’m so far off my life course. (That’s where the panic comes from.) It’s been a long time coming, but wanting to live a life that feels right to me is starting to seep in, and I’m determined to do whatever it takes to keep it going.

So I’m creating a bit of a work-around here. First: I have to stay with myself, be just where I am – no pushing forward because I don’t know which way forward is yet. Second: I have to work little pieces of happy into the unhappy – simple and short-term things that I can fly in under the Panic Radar. (Spanish classes, canning workshops, evening walks, weekend trips.) Third: I have to repeat and practice until having a little happy becomes normal. Writing every week for a few months seems like a good way to check in with myself and chronicle how my practice is going.

The second hope I have for blogging is that putting my own experiences out there will be useful in some way to you – as a support, a guide, a warning, a companion to your morning coffee. When I said last week that I was “out in the wilderness” for some time, I meant it. I was lost and lonely in my own life. And the problem with loneliness is it’s self-reinforcing – you feel isolated, no one’s lonely right there beside you. I’m figuring out the only way back from this feeling is through other people. So I’m putting myself out there, hoping that maybe a few of you will feel less alone knowing I’m out here too.

For my months of blogging here on Stratejoy, I promise this: I will not give you tied-with-a-bow life lessons that erase the actual pain of learning to make for a nicer story arc. I will only share things in the way they happen.

Your comments (and facebook messages, and emails, and texts) last week were motivating and meaningful to me. Please don’t be shy to let me know you’re here! I want to hear about your journey and experiences too.

 

INTRODUCING HILLARY:

 “Over the months I kept a push on time: move forward, get over this, don’t take too long or you’ll get stuck here.”

 

 

On November 29, 2007 I turned 24. I remember it clearly: I had dinner out with my sister and later opened gifts from my dad. I remember when he left that night to go home (my parents were long divorced) I made sure to call down the steps, “Love you, night-night” and wave him off. I’d done it for the last twenty years.

When I turned 24, I’d been finished college for a year and a half at a school on the east coast in a program I loved. I had a good job and a recent promotion. I was still unfailingly nervous about relationships, but was braving the first dates of my life. I’d gone on my First Big Trip – two months road-tripping around Europe with a friend, drinking and eating and loving the world. I lived at home and didn’t mind. If I was a little shaky on life direction, it was okay, I was relaxed about it – the future was open, I had all the time in the world.

Four days after I turned 24 I came home from work to find my mom sitting at the dining room table, waiting for me. It was a Tuesday. She told me dad had a heart attack earlier that day. I asked which hospital he was at, asked how I could get to him. She looked up at me, shook her head. My heart paused. My life paused.

Oh.

I never asked why, never pleaded or raged. I accepted my dad leaving me and tried to push through that first year by counting my Tuesdays without him. Keep going, it will be okay. But within six months my mom introduced me to a newly-met boyfriend who she was going to marry and move in with. My lifetime-home was sold out from around me, my mom disappeared as a familiar support, and my sister was struggling as much as I was. The threads I was trying so hard to hold together snapped and I started to disconnect.

I was too scared to let go of myself and really feel my loss – my dad, my mom as I knew her, my home, all lost in a matter of months. I was determined to be normal – I travelled, went to work on time, got an apartment, tried to keep my relationship with my girlfriend stable. Life had to keep going because I didn’t know what else to do. Over the months I kept a push on time: move forward, get over this, don’t take too long or you’ll get stuck here.

After my dad died I thought differently about life. We don’t have a lot of time here, so we have to make it really count. No second chances!  No compromises! Live life to the fullest! Great learning, right? But as my drive to push-until-it-works sputtered and failed, my sense of life’s value warped. It started to haunt me: if I’m not living my life to the fullest I am wasting it and can never back the time I’ve lost. Every day, every hour that I wasn’t doing something fulfilling, important, and meaningful, I was wasting my life.

It was as panic-inducing as it sounds.

Over the next few years, that sense of time I had at 24 disappeared. Now it was Here-Comes-30 and I’m not married, I feel romantically stunted, I have no children, I cannot figure out a career, and I harbour unresolved travel dreams. That covers the entire life-story I grew up believing I’d follow, and I realized I was more lost than I thought. (Cue: more panic.) For the last year and a half I’ve been living with a ticking clock over my head. Tick – no career – tock – no children – tick – no hope – tock – no time.

In November of last year, I found myself in a therapist’s office, shell-shocked and afraid after four years out in the wilderness of my life. Initially I was there to fix myself from being an inadequate girlfriend. When my therapist asked me what I most wanted out of therapy, I said every time: movement. Gently, she expanded my attention to all parts of self – sex and romance, yes, but also life relationships, adulthood, career, family, loss. She suggested nothing about me is a problem to fix, I might just have to trust I am how I can be.

I’m gradually learning this to heart, realizing I’m going to have to learn how to let go after all. Learn how to feel it all – the shock, the grief, the fear. I understand now that I don’t get to move forward without doing that. I don’t get the joy, the humour, the love, without it. Strangely, learning this has meant I’m not paralyzed by fear any more. I’ve blinked one eye, wiggled a finger. Laughed at myself a little. Signs of life are slowly emerging.

And this is where YOU come in. There’s no end of story here – my transition is still in full swing, ticks still ticking and tocks still tocking. But I’ve been slowly learning to have patience with myself, to listen to myself, and to make peace with myself. It is hard work. But I’ve learned so much and come so far, just to wiggle a finger, and I know I still have so much more to learn and so much farther to go.

I figure I can’t be the only one in the world to feel like this. So I’ve decided to crack myself open and share my experience with you ladies of Stratejoy – as honest and raw as I can be – in case it helps one of you to wiggle a finger or two yourself.