Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why I Had to Grow Up Even Though I'm in My Twenties

Let-Go

I always detest it when people say cheerfully, “Change is good!”

I mean, change is very subjective. How can we possibly assume that all change is good?

Personally, there are a lot of changes going on in my life right now, and yesterday my head nearly popped off and rolled itself around on the ground at all the madness.

Firstly, my parents have decided to put our house up for sale and move us into an apartment.  They say home ownership is becoming too costly, they’re getting older and mowing the lawn and plowing the snow is not as easy as it looks.

Secondly, one of my sisters and I are on the outs. The last time we had a dispute it lasted three years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one followed suit.

Lastly, I’ll be attending a new campus this coming September. After spending the last four years familiarizing myself with the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, I’m afraid of petty things; where I will park my car, whether I’ll find the washrooms easily or have an accident in the hallway, and whether the doors are push, or pull.

While all of these changes seem manageable, for some reason they seem to have been interfering with my life a lot lately.

Yesterday, to avoid my head popping off, I decided to go to my old elementary school to take a walk around one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. The houses that fill the tree-lined streets are just beautiful. They’ve got big bay windows with beautiful panes and decorative doors, and long front porches that I would love to sit and drink tea on.

But when I turned into the parking lot, I saw my old school being bulldozed. As I exited my car and looked at the pile of concrete that had once been the place I made amazing memories, I had to answer one question about my resistance to all the changes going on.

What’s the real problem?

As I began walking, one foot in front of the other, step by step, I realized that the problem wasn’t that I was going to have to make small talk with people I did not know in the elevator until I got to my floor. I realized that it wasn’t about the fact that my sister didn’t care to speak to me, or that I would have to face the possibility of the door not opening if I leaned on it.

I realized that the problem was that I was going to have to grow up. And I mean really grow up.

Through all of this, my partner has repeatedly told me that I need to let things go.
“But how?” I sobbed to him with tears and boogers streaming down my face.

This was the question I would have to answer if I wanted to enter the next phase of my life with grace and dignity. I would be 23 years old in exactly 8 months and I had a lot of changes to make.

As I continued to walk, I felt the sun on my skin. Even though it was setting, it was still bright enough for me to feel the warmth of it touch me. And it felt really good. The warmer it felt, the more I was able to really understand the root of my emotions.

As I walked, I realized that I wasn’t upset we were selling the house. I knew it would be so much less of a burden on my parents. I had thought about this idea a hundred times over, more concerned with their well-being than waiting on an elevator. I realized that instead, I was upset that they hadn’t asked me about how I felt about it.

This was a good sign. It meant that, sure, I was an adult now, and wanted to be a part of our family’s decision-making instead of just dragged along in whatever worked best. Despite them being the parents and not really having to run anything by me at all, I wasn’t (contrary to popular belief) just a little kid anymore.

I was upset because I didn’t have a say.

When it came to my sister, I don’t think I was upset because she wasn’t speaking to me. I was upset about the circumstances surrounding the issue; the lack of closure. While explaining this to my partner, I told him, “I like there to be periods at the end of my sentences, not just ink that fades away.”

Truthfully, there was no period at the end of this sentence. There was no closure, no finishing statement. It was just one of those things that would hang in a cloud until someone decided to clear the air.

I walked back towards my car, parked in the lot of my old school. I stared again at the pile of concrete. I had flashbacks of recess, track-and-field day, and running long jump. I looked over to the two baseball diamonds I played slo-pitch on. The grass was growing over the gravel, what a shame.

Then I thought about how sad I had been to hear of this place getting bulldozed. When really, what did it matter? I didn’t go there anymore. It was no longer my school. It was just the school I had gone to at one point in my life.

It was then that I realized that I was too focused on the institutions where my memories took place, my house, my school, rather than the actual memories themselves. I was so fixed on cherishing the home of my moments that I almost forgot that the moments would have happened anyway.

As I walked back to my car, I hoped that my new school would have a parking lot just like this one. And I hoped that I would even be lucky enough to get a spot. I felt the fear of starting at a new place start to fade, and the excitement start to grow.

Maybe it wasn’t the fact that it was a new school, but that it was the last of two years that I would be a student. And truthfully, I loved being a student. I loved learning, I loved doing tests, I loved doing assignments, I loved reading. I loved the student life.

When I got home that night, I talked to my parents. I asked them if I could help in the search for our new place; townhouse, apartment, or shack. Surely, as long as I got to live with them, I would be fine.

And when I woke up in the morning, I apologized to my sister. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, it was about the fact that I didn’t want to be the one who didn’t try to make it work.

And then I googled my new school. There is a parking lot. It looks just like the one my old school had. I even located the washrooms on the map. Couldn’t find any information about the doors, though.

I can’t say I always detest people who say cheerfully, “Change is good!” But maybe I can say I envy them. Because they don’t have to go soul-searching for answers to questions other people are too afraid to find out. They can rest assured that it isn’t about the change, it’s about the process.

And if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that in life, we have to do one thing, and one thing only; trust the process.

Perhaps the reason change is so scary is because we become content with where we’re at, afraid that it won’t get any better than this. We’re afraid of who we’ll meet, whether they’ll be better than who we have in our lives already, and if the grass really is greener on the other side.

Why not just water our own?


But the refusal to believe that yes, there is better out there, illustrates a complacency that many of us, you and I included, are simply too good for.

So I can't face these upcoming changes with resistance. Instead, I can welcome them, walk with them, one foot in front of the other.

Step by step.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Life Lesson Instagram Taught Me

Instagram for iOS app updated with landscape mode and more

Lately, I’ve been trying to revamp my Instagram profile.

As if I don’t spend enough of my valuable, irreplaceable hours on this planet surfing through people’s images of a life they want us to think they live, I’ve decided to “revamp” my profile.

Seriously?

Sadly, yes. Lately, I’ve noticed this trend of people cropping their photos, putting them strictly in black and white, or using only one type of filter and I feel like their profiles just look so much more sophisticated and clean cut.

So in true Stephanie fashion, I took my inspiration to the extreme and deleted about 200 photos from my profile, aware I might regret this later. (One time I wanted a fresh start so I made a new Facebook profile and lost a lot of my old contacts, photos, and posts.)

Yet here I was, ferociously tapping the delete button.

When Instagram had finally had enough of me and told me that I couldn’t delete any more photos, I complied and searched through popular images and people’s profiles instead.

It was then that I came across a girl who’s profile looked exactly like what I wanted mine to look like. Her photos were cropped, there were clean white spaces between all her photos, and despite the variation, they all seemed to be in uniform.

But as I kept scrolling, I noticed that she must have went through the same exact phase I did in wanting her profile to look more uniform. The more I scrolled, the less uniform her photos were. The more color there was. And the larger the images were.

I thought about the difference between her and myself.

I was trying to erase the past, and she was just building on it.

I thought, maybe instead of deleting my photos, I should just start posting them the way I want them to look. Why did it matter if my previous photos didn’t follow this trend?

Truthfully, I’m just an extreme person I assume, particularly after this event. I see to the very end of things. I try and look at the “big picture” even when the outline hasn’t been placed before me yet.

While it is a blessing to be so thorough, it prevents me from living in the moment, and in this case, remembering and sharing these moments with people who explore my life through my photos, and the instances I reminisce through my photos as well.

Then I thought about how seriously we, or at least I, take social media. Here I was completely restructuring my visual profile to appear a certain way to people I knew, who would certainly remember the time my profile was a mess, and conversely, people I had no idea even existed.

I learned a really valuable lesson in all of this.

The lesson is that one doesn’t need to erase their history to reshape their future. The same way a car does not need to reverse and retrace it’s route in order to take another direction. Sometimes all you have to do is make the turn.

I think ultimately, we allow things from the past that have no place in the present to haunt us and continue to remind us of who we were, and where we were in our lives, no matter how far away we might be from that place.

We hide these things from others, and in turn, ourselves, to try and forget that they ever happened, to try and forget that we were once and still are imperfect beings, when really, those imperfections highlight the most profound and unmatched beauty of being human.

Moreover, we place a sickening amount of effort in performing for other people. We accept things that deeply disturb us, like social issues, vanity, and other injustices, and become so entwined in our constructed fantasy that we, at times, even forget who we are.

So when I saw this girl’s page, it wasn’t just another page. It was a story. One that I, apparently, was too afraid to tell.

But if I don’t write my own story, who will?

If I continue to self-edit, scratch, erase, and highlight all things that should have been “cropped out” of Stephanie’s story, so to speak, who is going to display the honest me to the world?

Remember when I said that I would probably regret the deletion of 200 photos from my social media profile? Well that moment came the minute I realized that those were pages from my story that were violently yanked from the spine of perhaps one of the most amazing books to ever be written.

And certainly, they couldn’t just be put back in to place.

So from here, I know that rather than pretending to be something I’m not, being too selective in what I share and how I edit it, I’m just going to build on the foundation that I’ve built so far.

With all of it’s cracks.

And all of it’s my imperfections.




Monday, 12 May 2014

To Wax, or Not to Wax?



I had been contemplating whether to buy the Groupon deal for about a week before I stopped myself to ask if it was really necessary.

The promotion was a Brazilian wax for $15.00. Or you could get two Brazilian waxes for $29.99. Or you could get four Brazilian waxes for just $49.99! Pretty good right?

It was definitely a good deal considering that most places charge between $30-$50 for one. But when you think of the idea of the service itself; having hair that grows in perhaps the most sensitive place in our bodies violently yanked from the roots, one might ask themselves, why do women wax?

I listened to a panel discussion on The Social the other day. The women talked about who women dress for. They concluded that they dress more for women than they do for men because women understand female fashion more than men do (except for Randy from Say Yes to the Dress).

Surely, Brazilian waxes are not as visible to the eye as our outfit on any given day, so we don’t get waxes for other women. Do we do it for our partner? Or…do we do it for ourselves?

Apparently, some women do.

I’ve been reading online blogs and stuff and there are some women who, only after the excruciating pain, enjoy the feeling of being bare. Completely understandable. But is hair that much of a nuisance?

I think one factor that differentiates whether you’re better off bare is your lifestyle. If you’re active, at the beach a lot, and maybe allergic to razors, Brazilians can work wonders.

I decided to pay attention to my thought process in deciding whether I wanted to purchase this deal or not. Was I doing it because it was cheap? Was I doing it because I was cheap? Was I doing it because summer was approaching?  I didn’t even know.

Increasingly, women are feeling the pressure to take it all off. And apparently, so was I. I pulled the waistband of my pyjama pants away from my body and looked at my nether region. It wasn’t ridiculously insanely crazy. In fact, I realized that I kind of liked the reminder that I was no longer a pre-pubescent twelve year old and all these years had actually counted for something.

But, I found myself enthralled by the idea of jumping on the bare bandwagon. So I purchased the deal. I went for my first out of four waxes, and had to recite every prayer I could throughout the entire process. After it was done, I felt strangely cool, like I was part of this sorority of girls that have hairless private parts.

Personally, I think people, myself included, define themselves by how well they fit “ideals”. Especially women. We’re judged so much by the texture of our hair, the straightness of our teeth, the clarity of our skin, and even what (and who) we do with our vaginas.

Maybe I’m just a little frustrated with the frivolous demands or expectations of being a woman, according to Cosmpolitan. We should get French manicures, we should wax our vaginas and we should do hot yoga in a posh and expensive studio downtown when really, we could just turn on the shower to be really hot and do some stretches in our bathrooms. For free.

I mean, who is funding all of this stuff?

That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to get a Brazilian wax. I was only attracted to the deal because, well, it was a deal that brought me closer to the ideal.

Because surely on any given day, we don’t wake up and think, “Gee, this hair that’s been there for years has got to go. It’s such an inconvenience and prevents me from doing daily activities.”

What did women do before waxing was even an option?

This, precisely, was when I realized we live in a world where there are too many options to actually savor things, and especially accept them in their natural state.

To accept ourselves as perfect beings in our natural state.

While I did have three waxes left, I really wasn’t sure if I would use them. I probably would because I would hate to think I spent the extra money, but probably not because I didn’t have a problem with being au natrel.

I don’t think women who wax have a problem with being au natrel either. Maybe just a preference. But maybe the difference between our desires highlights the beauty of us all.

To each his her own. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

So You're Young and in Debt, Now What?


There comes a point in everyone’s life where whatever money we have is just not enough.

Particularly when we hit post-secondary education, marriage, home-ownership, parenthood, grandparenthood, and the list goes on and on and on.

But being young, we’re at an advantage. Except of course when it comes time to pay the exponentially growing cost of tuition.  Believe me when I tell you that school debt is just the least of your worries.

In fact, school debit is considered “good debt”, according to money guru Gail Vaz-Oxlade. With such low annual interest, we’ve got other things to worry about. Like those evil credit cards that carried the cost of our textbooks, ridiculous hourly rates for parking, and maybe an outfit…or three.

Here’s a little anecdote. When I turned 18, my mother suggested I start building credit for myself. When I applied for a credit card, the bank asked me if I was going on to post-secondary education. When I informed them I was beginning university that September, they gave me $5000.00.

Do you see anything wrong with that story?

Nothing?

The problem is that I said, “the bank gave me $5000.00”, instead of “the bank lent me $5000.00”.

And that, precisely, is the problem with young people and debt. The reality is that too many young people view credit as part of their income; money that was given to them. We forget that while we might have all this money available to us today, we’re going to be paying that back tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after that.

If you’re young and in debt, here are a few pointers on how to not let debt consume you.

Start saving as soon as possible.
Its important to get into the habit of putting money away, even if you are currently in the process of paying off debt. Some people’s logic is to pay off debt first, then start saving. This sounds like a great idea, but we are all prone to unexpected expenses, and without an emergency fund, we end up using credit for emergencies! That often lands us right back where we started.

If you can put away just $25 or $50 every paycheck you’d be surprised what you would have in just a few months. While saving for the first time can be very hard, you get accustomed to living on a few bucks less each time. Chances are, this money would have been spent on frivolous things like McDonalds or drinks at a party.

Tip: Have a set amount of money automatically deducted on your payday and put into a separate account so you won’t have to depend on your self-discipline.


      Come up with a realistic repayment plan.
Going online and doing some number crunching helps to map out what your repayment future will and should look like.  With a credit card cost calculator, you type in the total amount owed on each credit card, along with the annual interest rate, and the calculator will tell you how long it will take you to pay off using your minimum payment, and then it will tell you how long it will take to pay off using a different monthly payment.

If you have an idea of how long you want to give yourself to pay it off, you have the option of entering how many months you intend to pay your debt off in. It will give you a monthly figure, and if you can work that into your budget, you’ll be debt free in as short as you will allow yourself to be.

Tip: For a good credit card calculator, try: http://www.debtcanada.ca/budget-calculators/credit-card-payment-calculator

 Don’t worry.
Debt can be a pretty scary thing, but letting it intimidate you and stop you from living your life is pointless. Instead, be proactive about your debt. Challenge yourself to get it paid off in one year or two years, or however long you need.

If there’s anyone who knows the sacrifices that must be made in order to pay off debt, it’s me. Remember that $5000.00 that the bank gave me? I’m still paying it off 4 years later.

The first two years were the hardest because I was so down and out about being in debt that I ended up drowning myself in my own misery. But after doing a lot of research on money-saving, I felt a little more empowered to take a different approach to my debt.

Perhaps the highlight of my financial life so far was when it came time to renew my credit card earlier this month. I kindly declined the bank’s offer to reactivate my Visa for another four years.

It was a hard decision to make, especially when the voices in my head kept asking questions like, “But how are you going to pay for parking?” and “How are you going to buy stuff online?”

But I made it anyway.

Tip: Never miss a minimum payment on a credit card! No matter how much debt you have, if you can prove you are responsible enough to make your monthly minimum payment on time, your credit rating will not be jeopardized by the money you owe. All the bank wants to know is that they are still making money off of your minimum payments.

The stress that can come from not being in good financial standing can do a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, our minds, and our overall wellness. But being in good financial standing doesn’t mean not being in debt.

It means doing something about it. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

How to Unblock Writer's Block


I’ve come to the conclusion that writer’s block is a heap of shit.

I know a few writers, and if there is anyone in the world capable of coming up with a diagnosis as to why we couldn’t produce something, and articulate that quite eloquently, believe me, it’s us.

Sure, I think we do lose our flow every once in a while. But when I realized I had allowed myself to go four whole months without writing only to blame it on “writer’s block”, I knew my dance with the devil had come to an end.

I had to ask myself, “Why aren’t I really writing?”

I knew I was capable of doing some pretty amazing things with words. People had reached out to me about how deeply some of the things I said resonated with them. That was an awesome feeling. But I hadn’t had that feeling for a long time and I wanted it back.

So I sat and mapped out the next 3 months of my writing. I felt like a Jenny Craig eating coach making meal plans for a client.

That’s when I realized that maybe; writing is just like a meal plan. It certainly requires the discipline to plan and follow it.

I had to look at the target areas. Was I looking to eat less calories? Was I looking for foods that had fibre? Foods that would be good before or after an exercise? In other words, what was the purpose of my writing?

One of the greatest writers I know once said to me, “I write a lot better when I care.” Upon hearing these words, I thought to only write about things I cared deeply for. But when I did an inventory of the things I cared for, I realized the list was quite short, and quite repetitive, phrased differently each time of course.

The thing is, as a writer, whether you write poems, songs, blogs, or books, you’re going to have to get comfortable writing about things you couldn’t care less for. It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it forces us to write. But it’s a curse because, well, it forces us to write.

I realized that the only way to beat writer’s block is to charge through it like a Spartan.
In the same way that the eating coach’s client would have to be realistic about how frequently they could exercise, we have to be realistic about how frequently we will be able to write. After thinking of school, work, sleep, and all the other not-so-exciting things that transpire in my life, I concluded that I should be able to write and post something at least once a week.
Here are some tips for kicking writer’s block in the gut:

      1. Write in bulk.

Whenever I feel my creative juices flowing through my body straight to my fingertips, I try and write as much as I can. Sometimes, that means writing three posts at once, only publishing one, but being two weeks ahead.

If you’ve got a day off, try and get into the writing zone. This is useful especially if you have a list of topics to write about. Pick the ones that you are most into and start writing.

       2. Don’t make excuses for yourself.

      Do you think a doctor could turn a patient away for the same reasons writers can’t write? Do you think the client’s meal plan will work if they workout but only eat junk?

      Writing is easy but writing is also very difficult. We have to be willing to dedicate time, effort, and consistency to our writing and our audience. Speaking of the audience…

      3. Pay attention to your audience.

When my readers reached out to me to ask why I hadn’t posted in so long, that’s when I realized I wasn’t just writing to write anymore. I was writing to inspire, to connect, and to share my experiences and my insight with people, despite failing to believe it counted for much at times.

Why wasn’t I counting on myself the same way my readers were?

I figured that if I set up a schedule, I could stay a couple posts ahead and publish weekly. This step, of course, isn’t possible without adhering to the first two.

I realized the efficiency of this new tactic today when I realized that this was the third consecutive week in a row I had published a post on a Sunday. While I don’t usually write about well…writing, I thought I would try my hand at it.

At first I felt that the post wouldn’t be appealing to readers who prefer to read and not write, but this kind of thinking is exactly the kind of thinking that doesn’t encourage us to push ourselves. You have to take risks. While I may lose some audience on this one, I might gain an audience of writers. Even better, my audience of readers might try their hand at writing.

So in the end, everything balances itself out.

While writing provides us with a lot of freedom, that freedom, like any freedom, comes with responsibility. And while it can be pretty difficult to get through those droughts where we can barely type emails, let alone a real piece of writing, that is the burn your meant to feel after a really good workout.

Remember: if you keep writing, your readers will keep reading.