Tag Archives: life

Being Alone


Bookshop in Paris

In April of 2014, I traveled to Paris, France, alone. I mostly did it because I had not succeeded in several things in my life at that point, and I wanted to prove I was at least capable of taking care of myself on my own. Plus, who doesn’t love Paris? And I did learn I could carry myself on my own for two weeks, but I also learned how much resilience it takes to be alone.

Before I left, I dreamed of wandering down romantic streets and drinking coffee in cafes, and getting lost in museums. What I did not dream of was the effort it would take each time to leave the door of my AirBnB. My AirBnB was incredibly boring compared to the beautiful streets of Paris–a tiny room crushed under the eaves of a building in Montmartre. But however romantic the streets were, I had not counted on how it would feel to venture out in crowds of faceless strangers who cared nothing for your existence. I had to find the nerve to brave every frowning waiter guarding the entrance to the cafes. I had to find the confidence each metro train would not deposit me in a place I’d be lost in forever. I had to brave the dangers of wending through crowds as a naive tourist, all alone.

To be alone is to be vulnerable. You know that the instant you are alone, completely cut off from your familiarity, even if your new context is as safe as anywhere can be. You quickly tire of braving the irritation and disdain of strangers, of risking a smile and getting blankness in return.You tire of knowing if you do not care about what you do, there’s no one else who cares either. And you realize how vague and unreal what you see becomes when there’s no one by your side to exclaim over them with you–you are excited, but is it truly real if no one sees your excitement?

So I did learn about what it took to be alone, and I was surprised by what I learned. It was more than just learning to be content with your own company–because I have always been content with myself, I didn’t expect that part to be hard. But to be alone, more is needed. You have to also be content with vulnerability. You have to have an enormous reserve of strength to continue risking and risking and risking leaving your own door. You have to face an unfriendly world with very little in the way of defenses.

This weekend, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I lost the bravery to leave my own bedroom. Not because I was afraid of the virus, like it was lurking somewhere in the house. But I had no resilience within myself to face the complexities of living–the multiple steps of making a sandwich and getting myself coffee were just too overwhelming. It was like I was transported to an unfamiliar country where I did not know the language, and I had been tasked to navigate it by myself–transported to a brave new world where nothing familiar could be counted on. And I couldn’t do it. Whatever resilience I had found within myself in Paris to keep going out to see the Louvre, to see the Eiffel tower, to see the Luxembourg Gardens, had dried up.

To cope with my fragility, I made my world smaller.

In some sense, we’re always alone. Even now, when we’re still tenuously connected to each other through the internet, just as I was still connected to those back home while I was in Paris–connected, and yet each step taken is my own responsibility. No one else can share what we experience. No one else can care about what happens to us in the same, intense way that we care. It feels important to be able to hold on in the storm when all we’ve got is ourselves, and yet too often this is the hardest thing to do. We can’t face the storm, we can only retreat into our caves.

Perhaps this is not such a strange reaction for me. After going through a hip surgery last year, I was forced to minimize my world. I couldn’t guarantee I could succeed in making myself a cup of coffee. I couldn’t guarantee walking out the door wouldn’t trigger a wave of pain that would keep me lying on my back for a weekend. This may’ve built this reaction into me–when I cannot manage, I just don’t. I limit my world to what I can cope with. And I do not know how to find a stronger, healthier reaction.

Exposure therapy is one strategy to manage your irrational fears. My irrational fear when I went to Paris was that I was dysfunctional in a way that could not survive in the regular world, and that I would always be dependent on others to carry me. And while I did go to Paris and return, I am not sure that fear has been proven wrong. I am still lacking the resilience needed to keep risking all the steps necessary to survive in life. I keep realizing I am fragile and vulnerable and that the world does crush me.

However, life has a way of moving on, somehow. As messy as it is, I do find myself getting to the next day, and the next day, and the next. I do not know when this pandemic will end. I do not know if I will ever learn to be resilient enough to go out into the world and achieve things I want to achieve. I do not know how much I’ll have to carry by myself, or how often I’ll find others out there to walk through the next steps with. But maybe it’s hopeful enough to see I do get through it.


Take it one step at a time.


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How to Find Your Life’s Passion

pathJust do things. That’s my answer to that question.

Just do things. That’s my answer to that question. Most advice about finding your passion tends to be either ‘follow your heart,’ or, ‘don’t follow your heart, they’re lying to you.’ What neither of these pieces of advice take into account is—how does your heart know what it loves? How do you know you’ll love being an astronaut if you’ve never done it? And how do you know a career as an archaeologist won’t surprise you?

We all know people who from birth knew what their passion was, achieved it, and love what they do. But we may also know people who achieved their dream and hate it. Lawyering bores them to tears. Charity work stresses them out more than they realized it would. Etc. And both of these types of people had to experience their passion in order to find this out. Your heart’s inclinations in and of themselves do not guarantee joy in what you do.

So if life is in fact rather capricious, leading you on to think your love of numbers would make you a great accountant when it really doesn’t, how do you find a passion at all?

First, let’s clear away the issue of whether we should have passions. We can argue all day about whether we should be searching for a passion in life. It is fair to say you should be practical and support yourself. It is fair to say you shouldn’t think of yourself only, but also of other people (as someone has to do the dirty work). It’s fair to tear down the myth of ‘following your heart.’ However, it is also undeniable that passion motivates us in a way nothing else does. We can’t ignore it completely, and force people to slot themselves into open careers like some kind of dictatorial sci-fi society.

But keep in mind that you can be passionate about more than what rises up in your dreams. You can be surprised about what enjoy (and what you don’t enjoy). And by having an open mind and trying all sorts of things you can feel out your way.

I thought I’d hate being a salesperson because I thought I’d hate being measured by sales targets. Then I discovered I really loved knowing exactly how well I was performing at any given moment, just by looking at my sales numbers. I also far exceeded my wildest sales expectations (which, admittedly, weren’t very high at first).

I thought I’d enjoy learning about computers, but I didn’t want to spend the thousands on education needed to work in the field. But an agency recruited me to work in a computer store, an opportunity that I definitely wasn’t sure about. After all, agency work can be unreliable, and my education had nothing to do with retail. But doing something is better than nothing, and it was something I’d always wanted to learn about. Several positions later I am still constantly using tech troubleshooting skills that I picked up, because I confirmed I really do have a passion for that kind of thing.

I thought I’d love having a worthwhile career that contributed to society and was indispensable, so I went to nursing school. I learned all of the abstract reasoning of selflessness did not translate into me being a good nurse.

And presently I have made another major life decision—to go back to school to study theology. I know I have a passion for the subject, but I don’t know that that passion will translate into academic study on a daily basis. It may not. I’ll find out.

If you already have a passion and a reasonable opportunity to pursue, go for it. If you have a passion and there’s no open opportunities at the moment, you have an opportunity to try something else. Experience something new. Don’t go and try something you know you’ll hate, but if you can’t do something you know you’ll love, do something you don’t know if you’ll love or hate. Experience allows you to find out.

And if you’re really groping in the dark, as I’ve been for periods of my life, you can’t sit back and wait till you’re one-hundred-percent sure you’ve found your passion before you do anything. Granted, life usually doesn’t let you sit back and do nothing (bills to pay and all that), but ESPECIALLY if nothing sounds appealing you’ve just got to try things. Try to pick things that might lead to other things to try.

Because after all you don’t find your passion by looking deep inside and thinking as hard as you can about what your heart is telling you. Your heart doesn’t know what’s out there in the world. Your heart is ruling out a thousand careers you didn’t even know existed, simply because you haven’t heart of them. Go out and discover what you didn’t know before.

Passion springs from being busy, not from sitting still.


What do you think?



Filed under Randoms & My Life

Blah Days

Five Reasons Today is Blah, and, Is There Any Hope For the Future?

 Yes, I get these too. Far too often, probably. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, after five and a half weeks of excitement in Brazil, that I’d have a blah day once in a while when I got home again. Still, blah days are this awful middle ground when you don’t feel great (or even energetic, for that matter), but you also don’t feel down enough to be depressed. You don’t really feel like anything. It’s kind of yucky, actually.

 My current blah day probably has something to do with:

 Lack of sun:

If it’s grey outside, I’m grey inside. Since I grew up on the sunny prairies, I need a lot of sun in my life. Rain makes me feel all cold, sticky and wet, even if I’m not actually standing in it. Fortunately, in Brazil, there was always hope it would clear up quickly, even though I was technically there in the rainy season.

If the weather changes this weekend, I’ll probably feel better too.


sun! by liz west. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0


School starts next week. Actually, I love school, so it’s weird that I’m so ambivalent about this. But lately I’ve realized being a student is such a selfish existence – you’re studying so you have a better future, you’re spending money (or going into debt) so you have a better education. Not that a good future or good education is a bad thing. It just makes you so inward-focused. If I don’t do some volunteering, or contribute to society in some way this upcoming semester, I’m going to feel like a useless human being.

 Missing being around people:

I’m not that good with people. I’m not exactly outgoing, mind-blowingly witty, or the type that brings people together. That doesn’t mean I don’t like being around people – in fact, I find people-watching fascinating. That’s probably why I’m a writer (instead of a party planner or something). While in Brazil, I was around large groups of people almost twenty-four hours a day, and now suddenly I’m not. At least until school starts again…

 Guilt at not writing:

When you’ve got the blahs, you feel like nothing you write will ever be worth anything to anyone. So why bother trying? Which is why I ended up writing about blah days, instead of the world-changing, thought-provoking topics I should be writing about… (just kidding, since when has this blog been world-changing?)

By photosteve101, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

 The good thing about blah days is that they always go away eventually. What causes the blahs for you? And how do you get over them?


Filed under Randoms & My Life

My Typical Day in Brazil

I thought I’d give my faithful readers some idea of my life in a different culture, since some sort of explanation as to why this blog isn’t being updated as often might be nice!

Recife, Brazil. Photo by Esther S.

I wake up in the morning around 7:30 (thankfully my fellow Canadian, Esther, has an alarm clock, or I’d never know what time is it…) For breakfast, Brazilian usually keep it simple  bread (pão), maybe with cheese or eggs, and coffee. How I love the coffee part… the coffee here is always strong and sweet, and you can add milk if you want. I probably would never wake up if it weren’t for coffee.
Of course, the bread is a no go for me as a celiac, so I’ve eaten a lot of eggs. And rice. Somehow, even though they eat rice all the time here, everyone still thinks it is incredibly weird to eat it for breakfast. But what’s a celiac to do?
In the mornings, I spend of a lot of time practicing English with the people I’m staying with. They’re very enthusiastic students! Many people in Brazil do want to know English, as it’s very useful since so many books, etc., are in English. But I’ve never been anywhere where the average person knows less English than here. In Europe, it seemed like everyone knew enough English to help a poor, hapless tourist from Canada. Here, even in the airport, it is hard to find someone who speaks English fluently. Fortunately, the friends I am staying with do know a lot of English, and enjoy practicing.

Turtles that live outside the place I am staying at. Photo by Esther S. (Yes, I do not own a camera)

Turtles that live outside the place I am staying at. Photo by Esther S. (Yes, I do not own a camera)

Lunch is the big meal of the day here. As I’ve spent more time here, I’ve come to realize I love Brazilian food. It’s not known world over like French cuisine is, or anything, but I enjoy it. Just give this celiac rice and beans, and she’ll be happy 🙂 But there’s usually plenty of meat and salad to go with the beans and rice. They take their meat pretty seriously here… and somehow their beans always taste fantastic. And their rice too…
While practicing English with the Brazilians, I am still attempting to absorb as much Portuguese as possible. On rare occasions, I find myself understanding a whole paragraph. But more often, the random phrases I understand just confuse me. (Why are they talking about chickens? And policemen? And jiujitsu? And sharks?) If I understand enough to respond in Portuguese, it’s even better. It’s such a rush to have a conversation of more than two sentences in another language.
Between all of this language stuff, I still find time to take a dip in the pool, learn about cooking in a Brazilian way, play Risk, and just get to know Brazilians better.
Well, hopefully that’s enough to give you an idea. You can probably tell I’m enjoying myself. Unfortunately, before I know it, I’ll be on a plane back to Canada!

Olinda, a lovely seaside town. Photo by Esther S.


Filed under Brazil

The Portuguese Echo

As you may know, I’m currently in Brazil–which means I need to know Portuguese to communicate. The area I’m in (northeast Brazil) has very few people who know English. I tried to learn as much Portuguese as I could before I got here, but it’s been a challenge for sure!
At first, when I arrived Portuguese sounded like, “blah, blah, blah–word I know!–blah, blah, blah–voce (means ‘you’)–blah–agora (means ‘now’)” etc. But it gets better the more you try and try to understand it. Now, I’m so used to struggling to learn Portuguese than every word that crosses my mind comes with a Portuguese echo (if I know the Portuguese equivalent). So, like this: I (Eu) acho (think) that (que) I (eu) hear (ouvir) a Portuguese echo (um echo Portugues).
If you know Portuguese at all, you know I’m missing all the accents and cedillas and so on. I don’t know how to do it on this computer (English computer, you see). Wish me luck with this strange new language!


Filed under Brazil

3 Things That Scare Me About Travelling to Brazil

“Praia Juaquina, Florianopolis, Brazil, December 20 2008”, by Mike Vondran. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License, 2.0 Generic

In psychology, they tell you that the closer you get to an event, the more your excitement increases – and the more your anxiety increases. In fact, your anxiety rises faster than your excitement. Yes, that’s why they make you buy your plane tickets ahead of time. You can’t back out so easily.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about travelling all the way to South America. But…

1.) What if I don’t make it there?

One of my worst nightmares is getting stranded in Chicago or something. Or worse, in Sao Paulo, 1,300 miles away from where I’m supposed to be (and from anyone I vaguely know). I’m flown before, to Europe, but not by myself. And flying has never scared me before, but suddenly I notice the hundreds of things that could go wrong… bags stolen, strip-searched by security, suspected of drug-trafficking or being a terrorist, missing a flight… Oh goodness, now I sound neurotic.

2.) What if I can’t handle the stress?

I’ve never travelled so far alone before, so I hope I can keep a cool head on my shoulders to deal with whatever issues come up. Travelling is fun, but not always completely stress-free. Last year I had some issues with anxiety and stress. This year seems to be better… let’s hope it stays that way!

3.) What if I can’t speak Portuguese?

Yeah, I’ve been trying to learn, because in Brazil that is what they speak. Because not everyone I’ll be meeting will necessarily know any English. But I’ve been learning online and off audio tapes, so what if my accent in incomprehensible? I’ve got visions of people staring at me and thinking I’m crazy or something. In addition, I have a condition known as celiac disease, which means I can’t eat a speck of wheat. I hope I’ll have enough Portuguese to be able to tell people, “no bread, please.”


All the same, the day of departure is coming up fast! I’ve scheduled a few blog posts to show up when I’m gone, and for Polly, the Princess, the Enchanter and the Jadess to continue, but if I have computer access in Brazil I may add a couple travel posts as well.  Stay tuned for that!


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Strange Flotsam in My Bedroom – A Photo-essay

Cleaning your room can unearth the oddest things you forgot you had. I’m a bit of a packrat – a bad habit – so it was high time to do a deep cleaning and clear some stuff out. It’s a wrench to part with some of these things. In fact, most of these I ended up keeping. Such as:

To my surprise, my old piggy bank still had money in it! A grand total of 16 cents, but still…

This is apparently a tooth-holder. For putting your baby teeth in when waiting for the Tooth Fairy to come. I got it as a gift in playschool.

To illustrate my skill as an interior decorator, here is my brilliant idea to fill an old Jones Soda bottle with my dad’s old marbles. Doesn’t it just ooze with originality?

Now THIS is a pen. It would be a pretty neat idea for a pen too, if the pen actually worked. The long, skinny part detaches from his foot, which acts as kind of a pen-stand.

The dude on the left is the aforementioned pen. The dude on the right is – er… a souvenir from Holland. It actually opens in the middle, and you eat ice cream from its belly. My sister and I got one for dessert, after eating dinner at a pancake restaraunt (yes, they eat pancakes for dinner in Holland).

And lastly, my lovely bookshelf is made of vintage apple crates I rescued from my grandparents’ garage. The crates have come in very handy, actually. The one thing I’ve learned from all this cleaning is – I have too many books! Is that even possible? Maybe it’s time for me to go buy a Kindle or something.


Filed under Randoms & My Life

Subscription Disorganization

Or: Aaaaaaaaaah, How Do I Keep Track?


Stress, by Abie Sudiono. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

I haven’t come up with a good organizational system to keep updated on the blogs I follow yet. Not that I’m the most organized person on the planet – see last week’s post for the messy system I came up with to keep my notes for my novel straight. But it seems like there’s a million different ways to keep up with people’s blogs, and none of them work quite as well as I’d like them to.

The easiest method is with WordPress (the blogging platform I use, in case you didn’t know). If you have a WordPress account, you can just click on the little “subscribe” button at the top of the blogs you find interesting. Of course, this means you have to be signed in to WordPress to read your subscriptions, but I usually catch up with them before or after I make a post myself. The downside is this only works for WordPress blogs. Blogger, Tumblr, etc. you have to find another method for.

The other tool I use is Google Reader. If you have a Google account (for Gmail, GoogleDocs, etc.) you can get into Google Reader and type in the web addresses of the blogs you want to follow. The handy thing is you can organize blogs into folders according to topic or whatever you want, which is what I’ve down. My problem is I’ve got lots of blogs on here, and I forget to check this (mainly because I have to sign in to check it). As a result, my Google Reader currently says I have 500 or so updates to read, which I’m never going to catch up on. Also, if I read a blog without going through Google Reader first, it says that update is still unread, even though I’ve read it.

Another method is through email updates. There are only a couple blogs that I follow this way, mainly because I don’t really want to clutter up my inbox. If I get really lazy, I sometimes use my browser to bookmark blogs, because I don’t have to sign in to do this. Unfortunately, bookmarks don’t tell you about updates. And they’re not there if you happen to use a different computer.

The last way I keep up is to click on the person’s name every time they comment on Stories and Stuff, just to see if they’ve updated since I checked last. Sometimes it’s a good reminder, because I realize somehow I’d lost track of one of the blogs I’m interested in.

As a result, I often read blogs in batches, catching up on the last five posts someone wrote all at the same time. So if you’re wondering why sometimes I have five comments all at once, when I haven’t dropped by for a little while, just blame it on my disorganized system of staying updated.

What about you? What methods to you use to stay up-to-date, and how well do they work?


Filed under Randoms & My Life

A Freshman’s Observations on College

Revised and Updated with the Wisdom of Attending for Five Years…

University of Oregon by Jeff Ozvold. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

While cleaning my room, I stumbled across a list of observations I made about college way back in my freshman year. Needless to say, not all of it applies to every college, or every faculty or program, but it was entertaining. So I have posted it, with any updates I made in red:  

I’ve graduated from blackboards to a world of overhead projectors, PowerPoints and videos. Which don’t work half the time. Then the prof has to call the tech guys, who don’t show up till half an hours later, while we all fiddle in our seats and marvel at the way technology has simplified our world.

You are suddenly surrounded by people who care about good grades. On the other hand, there are enough people that make you wonder how did they ever get in nursing?!?

This applied to when I was in nursing, of course. Though I truly hope some of the people I knew never graduated that nursing program…

No class takes as much time and effort as the prof would like you to believe it does on the first day.

I still don’t understand why nursing profs liked to scare us so much… though the classes took up enough time and effort as it was.

They tell you to buy fancy-spancy calculators for Math 30, but when in college they tell you you need a SIMPLE calculator that’s not programmable. Because our profs aren’t technologically advanced enough to wipe the memory…

I did finally get to dust off my fancy TI83 for Statistics class this year.

You will be reminded again why English is useless.

And reminded again, and again…. and I say this as someone who likes writing.

Professor-jokes are not any more funny than teacher jokes.

They will decide to implement a completely new class for your year because of what a few students said the year before. It will be the stupidest class ever, so they’ll decide to take it out again for the year after you. Lucky you.

There will always be someone who makes flashcards for everything.

I still think making flashcards is a waste of time… more time making them than studying.

Exam anxiety is contagious.

Significant digits go out the window when calculating drug amounts.

You will not be a loner all year, like you thought you would on your first day.

Though it’s entirely possible some of the friend you made in first year you’ll never see again.

If your class project requires you to find complete strangers and teach them how to hand-wash, you will somehow end up at the restaurant your partner works at, teaching her brother and her best friend.

The nursing faculty will swear to you that the program you’re learning (Context-Based Learning) is best program for learning since sliced bread. You wonder why, if that’s so, they’re putting a completely different program next year?

Never start a program in a transition year, unless you like being a guinea pig.

Just because you’re in college, doesn’t mean everything will be more organized. Your classrooms WILL be switched every week, and always to a room on the other side of the campus, ensuring half the class gets lost on the way.

Sadly, university is even less organized.

Evaluations of your performance are completely subjective, with most of one group getting “A”s because they have an easy prof, while the instructor in another group will insist no one in first year nursing deserves an “A.”

This might only apply to nursing, but actually was true.

Having a nit-picker for your first instructor has some benefits – at least you’ll learn how to cite using APA. And never, ever forget…

When you get a prof who actually knows her stuff and doesn’t use PowerPoint, you will be so thankful that you’ll tell everyone she’s the best prof in the world. This realization is only heightened when she is absent and the substitute spends an hour and a half showing you pictures out of your textbook.

If you got a nice new shelf in the summer to put all your junk on, it will be filled up with books by the end of the year and you STILL won’t have a place to put your junk.

Choir is suddenly a viable recreational option because you miss your highschool band class. Your new yearly music trip now consists of going to sing in Neerlandia.

People will complain the college’s Student’s Association does nothing, and you will be amazed because it is a thousand times more active than your Student Council was in high school.

There is no way to avoid coffee addiction.

Yet it’s still all too easy to sleep in class.

You will learn how to procrastinate like never before – making this list, for example.

Oh yes, I’ve come a loooooooooong way… (now if I could just get that novel done)


Filed under Randoms & My Life

Yes, That Is My Novel Splayed All Over The Walls

This is my current workspace:

And that is AFTER I spent a couple hours last night organizing my notes. Since I have a lot more free time (in theory) than I do during school, I am trying to get a large chunk of writing completed on my latest novel. I’m posting this pic because I like how it displays the messiness of my thought processes.

For a long time I didn’t have a dedicated place to write. Since I can write just about anywhere, I didn’t see a need for it. But it is useful to have a place to spread your stuff around without having to pack it up all the time.

Where do you write? Do you tack your story ideas to the wall (bulletin board) just like me, or do you have a better system?


Filed under Randoms & My Life