Archives for category: life

dec 30We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” – The Doctor

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved to write upon a blank page.

She’d hold a coloured pencil crayon in her tiny hand, and pull stories out of the air.

She’d write what she imagined, and about what she knew. She’d write about far away places she longed to go, and about the place she called her home.

Those coloured pencil crayons were wild and abandoned. The words she wrote told the story of a most spectacular past, present and future.

When she was very young, she’d share the stories that appeared with those around her.

Because she was only little, she had the wisdom to know that her words, though simple, were magic too.

As she grew older, she became afraid of the words that would fall out of the sky and wind up on the page before her. Afraid of the power they carried. Afraid of what those words might do. Afraid that the story she’d tell wouldn’t be the right one.

She forgot that our lives can only be as wondrous as the story we choose to tell with them.

A year ago, she stood before a blank page for the first time since she was a little girl.

As she stared out into the landscape of possibility, it became clear that she had two choices.

 

She could run from her story. Or she could write it out.

That little girl is no different from anyone.

We are all stories.

We all have our beginnings, our middles, and our ends.

There are no right words or wrong words.

There is only the story you choose to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dec 16As I approach the end of my ‘Wunder Year’, I’ve started thinking about 2014 and beyond.

When I began writing last January, I assumed that by the time December 31st hit, I’d be a whole new person. Turns out, I didn’t need to become someone else, I just needed to learn to accept myself.

350 days in and I’m only just beginning to sort my sh*t out.

Yes, this life seems to be a series of quarter life crises and mental breakdowns. And I’m okay with it. Because the more things get shaken up, the more my fear and doubt and shame get broken apart, and the real me finds the space to break through.

Survival, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the act or fact of continuing to remain in existence, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.” A survivor is then said to be “a person or thing that survives.” Or “a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.”

In this sense, we are all survivors. I’m fairly certain, that there isn’t a human being alive that hasn’t faced some sort of hardship, and against the odds, prospered. (Functioning is okay too I suppose, but I prefer to prosper).

Some of us have survived earthquakes and storms. Some of us have survived divorce, illness, or war. I have, and continue to, survive myself.

Now, I may very well have no idea what it takes to survive anything other than the war I’ve waged against myself, but whether my hardships were real or a figment of my own creation, the threat I posed to my own survival was (and occasionally still is) as deadly as any raging storm.

Survival is a promise I have to make to myself every day. I make it every time I take a breath, with every bite of food, every downward dog, every step forward, every step back. I make it every time I look in the mirror and choose to love the image I see. Even today I struggle to remind myself that having an extra bite of my sushi doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of living.

Survival may have begun with me, but it has taken an entire community. It has taken the help of my physicians and counselors, the understanding of my friends and family, and courage of other survivors who have shared their stories and given me hope.

Which is why the words I write here, are really the story of how I survived myself.

And I hope, when you read them, you can see that there is a survivor in you too.

 

dec 15I was nine when I was baptized as a Holy Roman Catholic. Up until then, my mother had sided with the Anglicans. She says because the Church of England allowed women to become ministers. But I’ve always had my suspicions that choosing any doctrine other than the Holy Roman came with an added bonus of pissing off her parents.

Aside from a brief stint in an Anglican Sunday school – I recall only the orange punch they served and the sound of a guitar strumming Christmas carols – I set foot on sacred ground for the singular purpose of weekly Brownies meetings held in a random church basement.

My mother told L and I we were becoming Catholic because it was what her father would have wanted. He’d passed away unexpectedly that summer. The smell of incense, the stained glass, the rituals, the prayers she knew by heart from her childhood were I think a way of making peace with the relationship they’d never had.

At nine years old, why or how or what church I ended up in wasn’t any of my concern. Unlike my sister who questioned everything and would soon after being baptized declare that she was Buddhist, I only cared about one thing; being in a church meant I could sing!

As a girl, I looked for the wonder in most things. But no fireflies, no sugarplum faeries, no rainbows, no ice dancing could compare to the magic of a hundred voices raising up in unison.

No, I never got lost in the stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Nor did I bother listening to the Father’s sermons. But something shifted deep within me as I sung along to the hymns the congregation belted out each Sunday.

When we’d arrive at Sacred Heart each weekend, my first order of business was to check the numbers on the chalkboard posted on a marble column to the right of the altar. I’d pull out the hymn book (ah, those soft, thin pages!) that was hidden between all the bibles in the back of the pew in front of me and find the corresponding numbers.

It was my kind of mass when I knew the numbers by heart without referring to the book. It meant I’d get to sing so loud even God would hear me from his throne in the heavens.

As a student at St. Mary’s Highschool (even after it became quite clear my own beliefs didn’t line up with any one religion) like many students (my sister included) I never skipped the masses we were forced to attend. I didn’t even care that most people warned me that joining the school choir was akin to committing social suicide. I cared only for the moment in which my voice would blend into the collective and waft upward towards the sky where I imagined the angels were listening.

In a childhood where I was always trying to be and say and do the right thing, singing in that Cathedral was where I felt free.

This past Sunday, I stepped into a church for the first time in a decade.

No mass was being held, there were no rituals or sermons. We were there only to listen to the music, and sing when it was our turn.

It was the second year of “Christmas at the Madison” a benefit concert organized by my mom (hence why I was on the program) to support a local shelter for formerly homeless veterans.

At the culmination of the evening, the minister of the church who’d so graciously offered their space got up to play some of his original songs.

An Anglican minister with an electric guitar – things were about to get interesting.

As his first notes rang out, I began to feel it, the old familiar lump in the back of my throat that appears when I’ve been living my life off-key. All the things I try to stuff down, all the truth of me threatening to dislodge. I willed the hot tears not to make their escape, but something in his words was shifting up the landscape deep within me.

“The soul is gonna bust out whether you want it to or not” he said as he tuned his guitar to prepare for the next song.

Busting out is exactly what it feels like my soul has been attempting.

That part of me that I try to lock down and cover up with the practical is trying to break free. What used to be a whisper is becoming a scream.

And it’s terrifying.

“We’ve all got that something within us that will eat us up until we let it out,” and he began to sing.

His words spoke more truth than any gospel. I’ve witnessed it in the people I know who’ve taken big leaps of faith to answer their soul’s call.

I’ve also seen the toll it takes when we ignore the things we are meant to do. When we hide the people we were born to be.

I thought that I could extinguish that flame that’s been telling me to live this life at the top of my lungs. That the embers would become ashes and I could keep playing things safe and small.

But the soul will always break free. And all that passion and all that light that’s pent up within you just keeps getting hotter until you find tears streaming down your face while an impromptu congregation of atheists and believers alike sings Silent Night.

I don’t think I’ll ever get lost in the stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John or align with any one particular denomination. But maybe I don’t have to have faith in any one doctrine to start having faith in me.

nov 21For so much of my life, I thought that before I could love myself, I’d need to banish the parts of myself that were unlikable.

I thought I needed to cast out the darkness, the imperfections, the shadows – before I could be loveable to myself, or any one else.

I really didn’t trust that the deepest kind of love was unconditional.

So I spent years and years of my life trying to fight off anything that felt too close to being loved.

Because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be yet. I wasn’t quite worth loving – at least not as I was, just yet.

I didn’t know that to really know love, you have to be willing to stand in the broken.

You have to stand in all that you are – all your flaws, all your failures, all your shit – and declare that there is nothing so wrong about you that isn’t worth loving.

It’s not an easy thing to do. To love yourself even when you know you’re not that likable.

Hell, I struggled to stand in my own broken self tonight.

The temptation to wallow in my shortcomings and curse my parents for thinking it was a good idea to bring my wretched being into this world got really strong. So for a solid 30 minutes I lamented my very existence and felt the warm embrace of self pity wash over me.

Until I remembered – ok, was gently reminded by J – that self hatred is highly unproductive and generally gets me less of what I want.

Because what I want, what we all want, I think, is know that we are loved. And it’s true what they say, you really can’t feel the love of any one until you love yourself. And loving other people the way they deserved to be loved? Heck, it’s just impossible.

So, sometimes you’ve got to start small. Even if at first you just start by loving the pinky toe of your right foot, eventually, the love will grow. That’s the awesome thing about love. Once it gets started, it becomes uncontrollable.

Tonight I started with loving the easy bits. I love my elbows. I love my eyebrows. I love the fact that that after 326 days, I’m still writing. I love my commitment. I love my brain. I love that even when it’s really easy to sink into the darkness, I keep swimming.

Until suddenly, I found myself starting to love my shadows. I love that I still struggle. I love the parts of myself that are real and scared and small.

And then I saw it. I saw this human being in front of me that truly believes there is something about me that is unconditionally appealing. And this guy, I think he’s on to something.

Because truth be told, he’s not perfect either – and yet I love him (without much rhyme or reason sometimes) too.

Maybe this is what it really means to be human. To recognize that we’ve all got our broken. We’ve all got our own darkness, our own failures, our own twisted thoughts and dirty secrets. And without all that, well, we’d all be kind of boring.

So stand in the flaws and the failures and the shit, and declare yourself lovable because of it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nov 6Growing up, I was never without a canine companion.

Maxie was the first. She was a big Afghan/Retriever cross with a long coat the colour of autumn leaves. I learned to walk by grabbing a hold of her collar and pulling myself up. Once I had my balance, she’d begin to walk slowly round the room, patiently taking me with her.

I was in kindergarten when it was her time to go.

On her last day, we drove out past the city limits to a friend’s farm. It had been her favourite place in the world to roam. I can still hear the crunching of the leaves beneath my feet as we said our goodbyes.

Bella was next. My sister, being the con artist she was at six years old, convinced my mom that we should go to the SPCA “to take a look”.

We came home with a giant black ball of fur.

My parents had recently gotten divorced and Bella was supposed to be my mom’s dog. But because my sister and I begged and pleaded, Bella began accompanying us on the every other week we spent at our Dad’s.

Bella must have sensed that my dad was not a ‘dog person’ because she fell in love with him instantly. One day, when my mom came to pick L and I up, she just refused to leave.

I have seen my dad cry only a handful of times in my life, but never as hard as he did the day that Bella passed away.

After Bella made it known who her master was, over the years my mom took in the likes of Jazzy the Jack Russell, Magoo the Cocker Spaniel and Mollie the Bijon Frise. We must have been a big dog kind of family though, because the three of them all serendipitously adopted themselves out to the homes of dear family friends.

Then, when I was fifteen, my sister (still a con artist) convinced my mom to go check out a litter of Golden Retriever puppies ‘Just for fun’.

A few weeks later, after she was old enough to be weaned from her mom, Ellie came home with us.

And she has, quite literally, been the glue of our family ever since.

Until you meet her, it’s hard to describe how awesome Ellie is. She has a magnetic kind of personality that instantly makes you feel at home when you’re around her. She wags her tail and does a little dance whenever someone new walks in the room. She is generous with her love – as long as you keep petting her. Her loyalty is unparalleled. So too, is her love of fresh snow falls and chasing a stick in the river.

Ellie is more than a dog, she is a best friend. She is a confidant, a playmate, a shoulder to cry on. She is a guardian angel that just so happens to have bad breath and four muddy paws. And she is as much a part of our family as my mom, or my sister or I am.

This past week, Ellie wasn’t herself. My mom called to tell me she was taking her to the vet because she was worried, and for the past few days, I put on a brave face.

Yesterday, when I saw my mom’s name light up on my phone, I braced myself for the worst.

“She’s okay,” She said.

And I realized I’d been holding back tears for a week.

She has bad arthritis in her feet. Pain that has robbed her of her desire to chase squirrels and roll around in the snow. She’s healthy as a horse otherwise, she’s just not able to do the things she once loved to do.

1000 miles away, I feel helpless. I can’t give her a belly rub or bury my face in her fur and tell her how much I love her.

It’s hard to be away from the ones you love when they are hurting. Especially when you can’t pick up the phone and assure them that you’ll be there soon.

I like to believe that Ellie is descended from parrots and giant tortoises. That her Golden Retriever like features are simply recessive, and that like her octogenarian ancestors, she will live forever.

This past week has been a horrible reminder that while now is not her time (thank god!), eventually, the time will come.

So for now, I will keep counting down the days until I get to hold her in my arms. And when the time does come to say goodbye, I’ll remember that like Maxie, and Bella and Magoo and Jazzy and Mollie, I will hold her in my heart forever.

 

 

 

 

 

oct 18When I get home from work on Fridays, I generally feel like putting on my pyjamas, pouring myself a (large) glass of wine, turning up my Eva Cassidy album and singing in my kitchen at the top of my lungs.

But alas, the bright lights of this city call, and tonight I must don a pair of (gasp!) heels, put on lipstick and leave the warmth of the den I call home.

I swear in another life I must have been a squirrel, because the second the weather starts getting cool, all I want to do is hibernate and cut off all socialization with real people.

Actually, I don’t know what animal I was in another life because that option sounds super appealing all year round.

When it’s already a party in your head, who needs the company of other people?

Ordinarily, even though I enjoy spending time in the company of me, myself and I, I still feel like kind of a lame-o when I spend a night at home alone.

It’s as if I timeline to those friday nights in highschool where I waited anxiously for an invite to a party…only to discover that I wasn’t that cool.

I’m twenty-seven years old. I really shouldn’t care about being popular or exciting anymore.  I should be owning the fact that I like dancing to showtunes by myself on a Friday night ’cause it sure beats yelling at my friends across a noisy, crowded bar.

But tonight is kind of special (it’s a surprise until tomorrow…no J is NOT going to propose) so I’ll head out into the night with a happy heart and leave the Eva and the showtunes and the hibernation until…well, hopefully tomorrow.

 

 

 

oct 2My mom used to call it her “high horse”.

She’d get on it when my sister and I had left our toys littered around the house or picked on each other to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore. She climbed up in the saddle that time we thought it would be hilarious to fill our cheeks with milk and then slap our palms to our faces to see how far the milk would go. Or when we had a rice fight in the dining room.

The problem was, my sister and I couldn’t help but think her high horse was rather comical. My mother is one of the most easy going, happy-go-lucky people I know. When we were young, seeing her get mad was so surprising it was laughable.

According to my mother, on one of these occasions when she’d hit the roof, I responded by putting my hands on my seven year old hips and saying “Mommy, mother’s are supposed to set a good example, and you’re not doing that right now.”

She responded by saying, “You know what Alexis? I don’t care”.

And then she proceeded to throw every single one of the toys on the playroom floor into a big black garbage bag which she threw in the garage and told us we could have back after we’d kept our room clean for a whole month.

A month later, the big black garbage bag filled with all of our most precious toys was gone.

She had accidentally mistaken it for the actual garbage – and off it went to the city dump.

My sister and I were distraught. We could barely look at our mother for weeks we were so angry.

They say there are crucial moments in each of our childhoods that determine how we see the world.

Well this was one of them.

I say that, because of all the ways in which my mother would let us down when we were teenagers, nothing compared to the moment when we realized that our toys were forever gone.

Bozo was gone. Blue Baby was gone. Balthazar the bunny, gone.

In that moment, as the three of us sat on our porch and cried – my sister and I because all our childhood memories had just been carted off in the back of a dump truck, and my mother because she felt so horrible about it all – it sunk in that nothing in life is certain or permanent.

Until then, we had just assumed that Blue Baby and Bozo were forever. We didn’t know that in the blink of an eye, everything we held onto might be gone.

I didn’t know it then, but the loss of those toys was my first glimpse at the impermanent nature of life.

A terrifying concept for a seven year old, and still, somewhat terrifying to consider now.

What if all that I love is gone tomorrow?

As we sat on the porch, I knew too, somewhere deep in my seven year old soul, that I was also learning something valuable about letting go.

This weekend, I am changing over my closet. In the process, I know that I need to rid myself of those clothes which no longer serve me anymore.

Whether it is because they are now too small or because I just don’t wear them anymore, I know our parting is inevitable. I have too much stuff that’s taking up to much room. I’ll be donating the items to worthy causes, but still, parting is such sweet sorrow.

So tonight, I thought about Blue Baby and Balthazar and all the other toys we lost along the way, and I remind myself that as I rid myself of my excess belongings, who I am, remains unchanged.

Life without my once beloved sweater will still continue to go on. Once it’s sitting on the shelf of a stranger’s home, nothing about me will change whether I have the option to wear it or not.

The day we lost those toys, nothing about my sister’s and my childhood changed at all. We might have decided it did, but that the things we make life mean when we are six and seven years old, aren’t necessarily the truth at all.

Balthazar and Bozo might be lost and gone – but our memories of the joy they brought us, continue to live on.

 

oct 1Last night I made a conscious choice not to fulfill on my commitment of writing every day for a year.

The process of writing this blog has allowed me to discover what the word “balance” looks like for me. How do I juggle work, relationships, fun, exercise, creativity? What do I need to do to ensure that I keep all the balls in the air and still get to sleep at night?

What I’ve discovered, is that depending on the day, balance is a whole new ballgame.

Yesterday, after an eleven hour day at the office, I knew that in order to love my life, I needed to spend some time with J.

I’d been away all weekend and he l was leaving for a week-long trip early this morning, so last night was our one chance to connect and really be with each other. I wasn’t going to sacrifice that with going to workout or writing my blog or even unpacking my suitcase that was laying open in the hall.

But choosing to simply be present with him for a few hours wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do.

We live in a world that constantly tells us that we need to “do it all”. We’ve got to keep all the balls in the air while we run a marathon, cook our own meals, become the C.E.O, empty the dishwasher, publish our auto-biographies, save orphans in the third world, attend opening night galas, separate our recyclables and brush our hair.

Anything less than perfection equals a major fail.

For a moment, skipping my workout and choosing not to write felt like I’d just signed my life away to mediocrity.

That destructive voice whispered that if I were a better, smarter, stronger, more perfect person I could have managed to do it all.

Thankfully, over the course of this year, I’ve become far better at reading my inner voice’s bullshit meter. So I pushed away the guilt I was supposed to feel and spent a few blissful hours wrapped up in the arms of the man I love as we watched back to back episodes of 30 Rock.

And when I woke up this morning, I was no more or less “perfect” than I would have been if I had managed to do it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

sept 24 Today was one of those days where I just couldn’t help but be blown away by the people I get to share my life with.

Do you ever look around you and wonder how the heck you were somehow invited to the same party as a whole lot of seriously rad people? ‘Cause I feel like that on a daily basis.

I could probably write an entire blog about just how incredibly cool my friends and coworkers are. And I’m not talking cool as in “They’re ridiculously good-looking and stylish” (although they are), what I’m talking about is the fact these people are up to changing the world. They’re creating bold goals, asking tough questions, open to possibility and have an immeasurable capacity for generousity.

Today I was lucky enough to share the stage with a few of these amazing people. As I listened to them share the stories of their triumphs, their failures and their learnings, I was reminded of what it means to play big in this world.

“I didn’t know I could complete an ironman. Until I did.”

For some reason, as my friend L uttered those words, I got it like I’ve never gotten it before.

I got that it doesn’t matter whether it’s learning how to cycle or learning how to walk on the moon, we don’t know we can, until we do. And the simple fact that we don’t know, means that anything is possible.

Her statement made me think about the “I cant’s” I like to use.

I can’t drive standard. I can’t ride a bike. I can’t make a million dollars. I can’t have a family and a career. I can’t do a handstand. I can’t figure out my taxes. I can’t love my body, I can’t… and the list goes on and on.

The thing is, I don’t actually know any of those things with certainty – I’ve just never done them before. I’ve either tried and failed, or haven’t attempted to do them at all.

Which got me thinking about how in a lot of ways, I’m playing really small.

Thank goodness for days like today, and people like L, who remind me that the goals worth setting are the ones that are more bold, more audacious, more thrilling than you ever dreamed could be possible.

 

 

 

sept 18Last night a friend sent me a story about a tribe in Africa. In this particular tribe, when a woman decides that she wishes to have a child, she goes off on her own to sit beneath a tree and listen. She listens until she can hear the song of the child that want’s her as its mother.

When she makes love to the man that will be the child’s father, she teaches him the song that she heard, and they sing it together.

Before the child is born, the mother teaches the midwives and the women of the village the song too. When the child emerges into the world, the first thing it hears it’s very own song. As the child grows, the whole village comes to know the song, and they sing it to the child to honour them on special occasions.

If at some point during their lifetime, they commit a crime, are acting out in aggression or experiencing unhappiness, the villagers form a circle around the child who is no longer a child and sings their song to them. They sing the song to them instead of punishing the child as they know that the child has lost their identity. They sing the song to remind the child of who they have always been.

And when the child has grown old and weary, the villagers gather once again, and they sing them their song, one last time.

The story that my friend sent me concluded by saying that whether we were raised in this tribe or not, we each have a song. We can hear it in the moments when our actions align with our purpose. When we stray from our true path,  the song grows faint. We must pick up our song again if we wish to find our way home.

What my friend didn’t know was that when she sent me this story, it was as if she were a villager, singing me my song at the moment I needed it most.

Somehow, in the past year, I have lost my song.

See I used to live for the hours when I would be left home alone. The second it was just me and the dog, I’d blast the music and start singing. I’d sing showtunes and ballads and old folk songs and country tunes. I would sing at the top of my lungs and yes, I’d usually use a brush as a microphone.

Later on, when I finally had the nerve to sing in public, it would take me some convincing to get up on stage, but once I was up there, you’d have to drag me off.

The friend that sent me the story has known me since the day I was born. We have grown up together – she is a part of my village, if you will. As I read the story about the villagers singing the child’s song, I heard her voice singing me home.

For if I know one thing to be true, its that when I stop singing, I am not living on purpose anymore. When I stop singing, I am merely chugging along.

I don’t have to sing well or for anyone to hear me, but in order to be my best in the world, I have to at least be singing my song as loudly and as proudly as I can.