Not Writer’s Block

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been frustrated with myself.  I’ve wanted to write during these past few months.  I’ve especially wanted to fill you all in on my mom’s cancer journey, but sitting down to actually do it has been damn near impossible.

For a long time, I thought what I had was a case of writer’s block. After all, what is a writer who doesn’t write? Someone who is clearly “blocked” by something, right? 

But, here’s the thing…once I start writing, words come out.  I never waste any time staring at a blank screen.  It’s just that I so rarely even see the cursor awaiting input.  I can’t ever make the time.

A few days ago, I finally got sick of my own bullshit, and opened a blank document.  I started typing away with a new determination.  (The end result was my most recent post about finding grey hair.

However, what initially emerged doesn’t look like what I posted.  Instead, it was 600 words of self-indulgent navel-gazing.  It was a lot of blather about something that happened a few years ago.  (I guess I still had something I needed to purge.) Blah blah blah.  Whine whine whine. Definitely more appropriate for a diary than online.  

It felt good to write, but I wound up scrapping it. Still, the act of writing got me somewhere.  It helped me realize that what I’m experiencing isn’t writer’s block.  At least not in the traditional sense.  It’s something else.

As I wrote, the source of the problem dawned on me all at once, finally revealing itself;  this is depression. I am actually depressed. 

Oh.  

Well, shit.  

A resounding bell of recognition clanged through my head.  It all made sense…the weight gain and lack of motivation.  Those general feelings of “meh” and “blah” that I find myself succumbing to more often.  

This new knowledge was a relief.  Thinking that “something” is wrong with you, but not knowing what is frustrating!  Now that I know, I have a better path forward.  

The past year and a half changed everything.  I’ve never really been all that depressed, but I’m not surprised that this part of me was amplified.  

You see, depression isn’t always big, earth-shattering sadness.  Sometimes it manifests as a lack of interest and motivation…just like mine!  You can find a list of common symptoms of depression HERE..  Please talk to a health professional if you recognize these symptoms in yourself.

Please do not worry about me. I can promise that I am addressing this.  I am speaking to a therapist.  I am forcing myself to do things which will ultimately bring me joy. (Like writing more!)

Onwards and upwards,

Jennnq

**NOTE:  My mom had breast removal surgery (mastectomy) on Wednesday.  At that time, things looked very good and not inflamed.  They also removed a few lymph nodes, which the surgeon said looked ok.  (She is awaiting further results from pathology.)  She has been healing very well, and is far more active and capable at this stage than I would have anticipated.

The results from pathology will dictate the course of the radiation treatment to come.   I will share more details shortly. She is doing well, and the chemo has done a good job, judging from the results so far. 

Tinsel in My Hair

While fixing my hair in the mirror, something caught my eye.  I could swear I saw a sparkle as I pushed my bangs into place.. Nah, I’m probably imagining it.  In fact, it’s probably just these old highlights.  Time to get my hair fixed up again anyway, and…WAIT!  Right there!  I’d really seen it this time.  Like a strand of tinsel hiding in the dark brown.  

I leaned toward the mirror and practiced deep breaths while I tracked down the offending hair.  I slowly and methodically peeled away the other strands until I held it, alone between my fingertips.  

Not brown.  Not an old highlight either.  This mutant colour went all the way down to the scalp.

I pulled sharply and brought the hair in front of my face.  Are you freakin’ kidding me? Surely this was not anything that belonged on my head.  

What I held before me was silvery-white. Not grey.  Shimmering and white. 

“JASON!“ I yelled, as I bolted downstairs and threw it onto his Ipad screen, forcing him to see it too.  “LOOK!  That came from ME!”   

Jason shrugged and said something very annoying, like, “well, that’s life,” clearly not understanding the harrowing gravitas of this moment..  You see, I simply cannot go grey.  This had to be a mistake.  I am NOT going grey.

I forced him to examine my glorious scalp of heretofore young, lustrous and healthy hair.  Do you know what he did?  He found another one and pulled it out!  The bastard!  He put it next to its sister and I stared at them both dumbly.  These strands looked thick, resilient and strong, but they were undoubtedly….white.

I demanded to know if there were any more.  I begged Jason, in a slightly frantic tone, to tell me the truth.

Jason, not being a stupid man, sensed the effect this was having on my now hazardous mood and elected for the peaceful route. He lied to me. 

And of course, I bought it.. Ha. I’m not actually going grey.  Just a couple of weird hairs.  And we pulled them out anyway.  I mean, I’m not even 40, there’s no way!  

The relief lasted until the next day, when I spoke to a girlfriend with an honest streak.  “Oh, you’ve got greys,” she said, as she indulged me, by also examining my scalp, “I can see a bunch.”

At first, I was upset.  I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone else.  However, I found myself intrigued enough by this new thing that it just kept popping into my mind and out of my mouth. I told some of my friends, but almost every time I had the conversation, something funny would happen.  The friend in question would lower their voice and say, actually, I’ve found a few myself…  

Excuse me?  My friends.  My young and sexy friends are going grey? Impossible.

I called my parents and told my mother over the phone “Oooh, you’ve got your father’s genetics.” she said, quickly absolving herself of any blame in this tragedy.  She did have a point.  I’m not sure the woman has a strand of grey yet.  My father, on the other hand, is plenty grey, but I swear his started later.  He offered his encouragement and declared that I should “wear it with pride.”  

Proud or not, I did some quick googling.  There is evidence to suggest that some grey can be caused by stress (hellooooo pandemic years), and because of that, some people think it can be reversed.

Reversed!  Ok, the evidence for that is shaky, but here’s what I’ve managed to gather: If you are stressed, you need to relax. (Deep stuff.)  You also need to eat plants.  Lots of plants.  (You think that’s enough plants?  No.  Not enough. More! Go crazy with them.)  Because some raw food vegans swear their diets have reversed grey.  However, even  if you stuff yourself on exotic fruits and cruciferous veggies, you still just might be doomed to snow on the roof.

Hmm…Can I get an estimate on how long this all-salad approach will take?  

This whole thing is weird.  Up until now, I hadn’t even considered the prospect of grey hair.  I wasn’t expecting it to show up for a few decades yet. I’ve always said that if I did go grey, I would just dye my hair anyway. That I didn’t want grey hair.  That I would never “embrace it.”

But when I first saw it, it was beautiful. It didn’t strike me as ugly at all.  When I spotted it, it shone silvery whilte.  It looked like it belonged to a unicorn or something. Like…kinda pretty.

Honestly, I’m probably going to keep dying my hair.  Not to hide the new “sparkles,” but because I still think lime green, blue, magenta and purple are more fun colours than anything I can grow naturally.  

Still, I might just let my silvers show through.  Once I earn a few more of them.  They’re not so bad.

Things About This Year That Weren’t Garbage

I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to celebrate Christmas early this year.  You want two whole months of homey good vibes?  After the year this planet has had? Go right ahead.  Sing all 13 syllables of a proper “Gloooooooooria” at full belt as you trim your tree, and keep sipping eggnog until 2021 is well and truly in.

I’m cool with that.  We all need comfort.  We also all need to show ourselves that little bit of seasonal hope.  This year will eventually end!  Maybe next year will be better!

I don’t remember another time in my life when I heard so many people saying to each other “stay safe.”  Heck, those are just normal parting words now!  So yeah, I’m on board for optimism.  That’s why even though it’s only November, I want to go ahead and highlight some of the actual non-sucky things about this year.  

Look, I know I’m on dangerous ground here.  In 2020 it is a little uncouth to say, “Wow, I’ve had such a great year!  It’s not my goal to gloat, and I feel the stress too.  That said, no matter what happens, I still believe in the power of gratitude.

Here are some things about #thisyear that weren’t utter garbage:

  • We had a huge snowstorm in January to kick off this crazy year.  The most snow I’ve ever seen in my life.  Huge snow walls all over the city.  It was both insane and awesome.  (I mean that  it literally filled me with awe.)  Somehow, we dug out from it.  It was a state of emergency that had nothing to do with Covid.  I’m grateful I have my partner, and I am grateful we were able to shovel so much snow together.
  • When this whole Covid thing started, I was lucky as heck to have the flexibility to begin working from home.  It’s a huge change, but I’m so thankful I was able to do this.  I recognize that many were not so lucky.
  • Tulips!  I don’t know much about gardening, but this year I grew tulips, and I am IN LOVE WITH THEM.  I planted a bunch more in September for next spring.  I will be so excited to finally see them!
  • I found myself better able to cope than anticipated.  I am an already-anxious person, and yes, this year has been hard, but because I have already met anxiety and depression before (hey guys, what’s up?), I already had some things in my toolbelt to deal with the new normal.  Journaling, exercise, talking to people I trust when I need to, meditation, singing, hot baths with cups of tea…I have a few ways to deal with the suck, and I never have to feel completely lost and alone.  
  • I got more into essential oils. Hooray for hippie-dippie bullshit!  Don’t worry, I haven’t fully gone off the deep end.  I don’t believe that essential oils cure illnesses, or that they can magically protect against covid or anything like that.  But I do think they smell nice.  I have accumulated a little shelf of witchy vials. I love making my office smell like limes.  Or peppermint.  Or vanilla. Delightful! 
  • I taught myself to jump rope.  I know I already mentioned this.  I am still not great at it, but I can at least do it now.  Learning something new has been great for my self-esteem.  I started in May, I think.  I’m still working on stamina! (Although right now I seem to have an ankle issue and I need to take a little break.  Not for long, I hope!)
  • I got a promotion.  It is not a stretch to say that my life has not gone as I imagined!  I have a very serious-type grownup job.  When I initially took this job, I thought I was a “square peg in a round hole” and that the whole thing was incredibly temporary.  Instead, here I am, 3.5 years later and I am feeling like an appreciated part of the team.  Not only that, but my creative perspective is valued and respected, and I am trusted to advise my coworkers.  (Are you kidding me??  How cool is that!) 
  • I got to know my bowflex.  It’s been sitting in the basement, but because of the lockdown I wound up putting in the time to learn the machine.  It’s not bad at all.  You really can do a lot with it.
  • I spent time hiking and exploring this summer.  I got a family pass for the botanical garden too! It’s been beautiful and inspiring.  It has lifted my soul.  I want to hike more.  I am still not running, so this is a decent alternative. (Plus there’s journaling.  I have discovered that for me, all hiking requires adequate snacks and journaling.)
  • I grew my hair.  That’s been happening since March, so it’s finally noticeably different to people who haven’t seen me in a while.  As an adult, I have pretty much always had short hair.  From age 16 onward.  Well, a lot changed with the lockdown, and I thought it might be a nice time to switch up my appearance too.  I can actually put it in a ponytail now.  I can’t remember the last time that happened. 

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  • Someone very close to me began taking more serious steps in their transition process.  People becoming more fully themselves is a beautiful thing to witness!
  • Trivia.  In the past few months, some of my University pals and I have been getting together for a weekly online meeting/Trivia night.  This has led to me talking to people I haven’t really hung out with in twenty years.  It’s fun to have a weekly meeting of friends.  I miss being social, so this has helped me.  At first I was awkward, but I really, really look forward to Sunday night trivia now.  
  • Forgiveness.  I have been working hard to let a lot of personal baggage go.  I have been nerdy and awkward in the past.  So what?  Sometimes I ramble, and get excited and say the wrong thing.  Who cares?  Sometimes bad things happen and I gain a little weight in response.  Whatever, it just makes me that much more voluptuous. I am not perfect, but I don’t need to rehash the past, or rethink every moment I’ve ever screwed up. 
    • The truth is, everyone sometimes says something stupid, or does something embarrassing, or feels insecure.
    • ADDITIONALLY, everyone has flaws, and no one except me is placing all of these standards on my body.  Really, having a bigger butt now that there’s a global pandemic seems like a pathetic concern.  I’m fine.  This is minor.
  • An improved relationship with my sister.  Maybe it’s how crazy the year has been.  Maybe it’s age.  I just find I can relate to her more.  (Also, she has a great sense of humour, and this big laugh that makes people turn their heads in public.)
  • Deeper thoughts about music.  My obsession with music has only grown over the years.  (I almost wish I had done music school, but would that have ruined it for me? I don’t know!)  However, it is only recently that I have been thinking about: 1) the subjective nature of the concept of “good” singing and, 2) the racism/classism inherent in what is meant by “music theory.”
    • With regards to “good” singing, there truly is no measure that applies to all singers in all scenarios.  You can’t evaluate a yodeller based on an opera singer. Just because I, or anyone else has an opinion on which styles we like better, is it ever right to judge one as “superior” to the other? On what criteria?
    • In addition to that, I have been able to seperate myself from my singing even more.  What I mean is, I have increased my understanding of the fact that I can mess up and still be a “good” singer (Whatever the heck that means).  People who are regarded as “great” singers still practice, mess up, have bad days and hit sour notes. That is normal.  In fact, sometimes it takes hitting a few stinky notes to improve.  If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying anything new!  
    • When someone talks about “music theory,” they are really talking about a very white and mostly 18th century European standard.  Even if someone in North America studies in music school, chances are that they won’t learn a lot about non-European standards of music.  I think this limited view is gradually changing, but we have traditionally evaluated and thought about music according to a very strict set of rules.  These rules aren’t “bad” but they aren’t the only ones, and when we talk about “Music Theory” we should either be more specific or more inclusive.  My mind was kind of blown by THIS VIDEO  
    • All of THAT said, I am keen to learn some more about music theory.  Honestly, sometimes music is still like mystifying wizard-stuff to me, and I think it’s time I taught myself all of that theory stuff that seemed so terrifying back when I was a teenager.
  • A greater understanding of my own perfectionist tendencies.  That shit will hold you back.  It is so much better to produce something imperfect than nothing at all.  
  • Renewed interest in the occult.  Well…ok…that’s never really changed!  But I find myself having more little rituals here and there, doing lots of reading and listening to podcasts like “Occult Confessions.”  I don’t have a coven or group anymore, and that was initially hard to deal with, but I am still finding magick in the everyday. Lemme read your cards sometime. 😉
  • Jason and I are more solid than ever.  Actually, I think I need to work on being a little more loving to him.  He is kind and understanding.  He makes me laugh.  Our late-night chats about everything are the backbone of our relationship.  We bicker, but we are faster to get over it now.  After 10+ years, I still want to grab his face and kiss it. Not half-bad!

So there you go, something personal but feel-good for these dark times.  

Stay safe,

Jennnq   

On Singing

I used to harmonize to the vacuum cleaner and the dishwasher as a child.  I was a devoted hairbrush singer.  If only I hadn’t been quite so shy!

I have always been deeply in love with music in general and singing in particular. I remember being young and harmonizing to the noises around me.  For fun, I would sing a third over the vacuum cleaner, or a fifth over the dishwasher.  My mother tells me that I was often humming away to myself as a child.

As I got a little older, I happily explored everything in my parents’ music collection.  I played every one of their CD’s.  I listened to all of their records.  From Mariah Carey to Frank Zappa to Tchaikovsky to the Grease soundtrack, I ate it up.  I also went through all of my mother’s cassette tapes, and basically took possession of the one Motown cassette she owned.  It was this amazing sampling of 60’s hits. I had no idea what an education I was giving myself at the time.  All I knew was that the tape was amazing.  So much so that I wore it out!  I played it over and over.  I especially focussed on “Baby Love” and “Please Mister Postman,” rewinding again and again so that I could practice singing them (complete with choreography, of course) into my hairbrush.

When I was around age 10, I pushed my parents to let me audition for a fancy local children’s choir.  Thinking back now, I was in such a beautiful, innocent stage in my relationship with singing.  I wanted to sing because I wanted to sing.  There was no baggage and no other agenda.  Singing was just a super-fun thing to do.   

That said, I had seen the ad for the choir in the paper, and I was absolutely insistent.  Honestly, I don’t remember the audition itself. What I do recall is later receiving a letter at our house, indicating that yes, I had made it into the choir.  I was thrilled!  My mother, as she later admitted, was breathing a sigh of relief. She’d had no idea how this audition was going to go (I had no training), and she was nervous about having to console me when I didn’t make it.

I joined the fancy choir, which is the first time I learned the basics of what I’ll call “proper” singing.  I call it that because this was absolutely the traditional “stand-up-straight-and-sing” approach to singing.  We did all kinds of warmups and breathing exercises.  We sang in four part harmony.  We were expected to sit up very straight at the edge of our seats and to open our mouths wide when we sang.  It was honestly a very rigorous and work-focussed choir.  I learned about reading music, I learned how to hold my own in a group, I learned how to focus on a conductor, breath support, enunciation and much more.  It was an amazingly good foundational experience.

Which is not to say that it was fun.  I honestly don’t recall making a single friend in that choir.  My mom dropped me off, we worked our little asses off for a couple of hours, she picked me up, and once in a while we held impeccable concerts.  There was no social aspect to this weekly gathering.  None. There were no games.  There were no icebreakers, and very few breaks.  I barely knew the kids around me.  Since I was pretty shy and there were so few chances to interact, that didn’t change!  

In retrospect, I do wish that the choir hadn’t been quite so strict.  (Singing, after all, doesn’t have to be a mere mechanical act.  It tends to sound better with a little emotion!)  Still, I am grateful.  That choir gave me the basics and taught me to work hard.  Can’t fault ‘em for that!

While I was singing with that group, I convinced my parents to sign me up for voice lessons. 

By fancy children’s choir standards, I was way-late.  I began at 13, while a lot of those kids had started music lessons while they were still in OshKosh.  Still, I was hungry to learn.  My parents found me a teacher within walking distance, and every Saturday I would make the short trek to her house.  

My teacher was this striking woman with a dramatic appearance and a full, operatic voice.  Initially, I was in awe.  This fabulous lady, with dark hair and flashing eyes, both intimidated and amazed me.  She was honestly the type of woman you might picture when you think of the word “diva,” in the traditional sense.  When she sang, she was powerful.  Her entire presence commanded a room.  I was nearly silent during our first lessons.  She’d play piano, and I would mumble out some notes.  This is partly because I was nervous, and partly because I had a fairly small voice. 

My teacher was at least more fun than the choir!  She had a sense of humour, and I have to say that she was always encouraging, even though at the beginning she had to coax the notes out of me. We also sang in a really similar range, which made it pretty easy for her to help me pick songs.  I believe that her encouragement was key to my vocal development and to me eventually “finding” my voice.  (I remember her having me sing while lying down to work on proper breath support.  Try it!  It’s challenging.) She also got me competing in a local music festival, which was good for giving my singing an overall goal.  

When I say I “found” my voice, that’s pretty much how it went. I was warming up with my voice teacher during our Saturday lesson one day, and something strange happened.  Out of seemingly nowhere, a much bigger voice erupted from me while I was singing.  For a second, my voice was big, clear and strong.  After a moment, my teacher stopped playing piano.  I stopped singing, and we both stared at each other, stunned.  She was actually wide-eyed as she asked “What was that?”  

My voice was never the same after that.  I don’t know what shifted, but after that day, it was huge.  A monster.  A thing that I could barely control and sometimes didn’t.  My singing would often leave me shaking.  It felt like a tap sometimes. I now had to spend my time learning how to control it.  Not every song should be belted, as it turns out, and that’s what seemed to happen when I didn’t rein it in.  It felt like a force that was bigger than I was. (Which makes perfect sense to me these days, as I now see that singing has always been spiritual for me!)  it was a thing that left me feeling raw and a little embarrassed afterward.  It came right from my boots.  

Maybe it was because of my teacher, but I was also taking on an operatic sound.  

The thing is, I was an insecure teenager, and I was mortified.  Of course I wanted what I didn’t have.  I wished to have a high, delicate voice.  I wanted the type of voice that would make you think “ethereal” when you heard it.  That wasn’t what I had!  I had this over-the-top, loud voice.  It commanded attention whether I wanted it to or not.  It was anything but “ethereal.”   

I felt very self-conscious about my singing sometimes.  I also had a hard time pushing myself forward for things, and asserting myself in general. (Making auditions and important conversations with the right people very hard!)  I wanted to be known for my singing, but I was pretty incapable of speaking up.  I loved singing so much, but it still left me feeling seen and vulnerable. Teenage me had a hard time with the push and pull of simultaneously wanting to be noticed and wanting to hide.

The children’s choir I was in wouldn’t let you stay past a certain age.  Once you got to be 13 or so (or if you were a boy, once your voice broke) you were out.  But, not to worry!  They had another choir for older teens.  All I had to do was audition.

Audition.  Now there’s a word that makes my palms sweat!  For me, every audition (yes, even now) is a complete crapshoot.  I find that I either wow ‘em (love when that happens!), or I wind up feeling like I want to slink out of there on my belly.  I swear, I’ve never in my life had a mediocre audition. It’s either beaming smiles or gritted teeth and “no thanks. I think we’ve seen enough.” 

Even though I had been with the super-strict fancy children’s choir for THREE WHOLE YEARS, and even though I had learned so much, (and I sat up super-straight, and I always listened, and I sang my part week after week) I still had to audition.  I was scared!

I really wish anxiety hadn’t gotten the better of me that day, but this audition I DO remember, and not for the right reasons.  It was awful.  I was awful.  I wouldn’t have been able to sing “row row row your boat” if they’d asked me.  I froze. I was horrible.  To make matters worse, for some reason they had me audition alongside another girl.  She was great.  I wished for a pit to open up beneath my feet.  The worst part?  No second chances!  I wouldn’t be moving on. Thanks for playing.  Damn.  

That one hurt.  You’d better believe I kicked myself afterwards.  Within 5 minutes of getting out of that room, I swear I could have turned around and nailed the audition, but it was too late.

The sting was lessened by the fact that at that point I was doing school choir anyway, and I still had voice lessons.  I still got to compete in the music festival.

Ok, I am gonna spill a little tea (ha ha, am I doing this right?) on this local music festival I keep referencing.  I used to sing in this yearly festival as a kid, and I am telling you, it was so flippin’ predictable, it was practically rigged.  You see, as these competitions are age-based, year after year I would find myself competing against a lot of the same soloists, and year after year I would watch the same girls win.

I know this sounds like sour grapes, but hear me out…a lot of these girls came from well-off and well-known families.  I’m not going to say that certain people always held sway over the adjudication, but I won’t believe that it never happened, either.

Yes, I saw some well-deserved wins, but I also saw girls win with mumbled-through performances, or win when they were so sick they could barely squeak out the notes, or win, as in one particularly egregious example, while chewing gum and looking bored throughout the entire performance.

I began to get the idea that even if I worked like crazy, I wasn’t exactly a favourite to win.  The effect of this was that it really helped to solidify the idea that I had  that I was some kind of underdog.  I already knew that I wasn’t a cookie-cutter pretty soprano.  Now it was becoming clear that I didn’t have the “right” family background either.  In addition to that, because I would get so nervous, I came into those competitions as a bit of a wild card; sometimes impressive, but often kinda awkward! 

 I wasn’t nearly as confident as I should have been.  The other girls weren’t always super friendly with me either, and that definitely reinforced the whole “underdog” feeling.

Anyway, I kept it up.  By the end of high school, I was in love with two things; singing and writing.  I wanted to make my life about either or both those things.  (As you can imagine, my parents were thrilled.  Not!)

I eventually went away to University, and I did not choose music.  To gloss over the rest of the story, (as this is getting to be quite long) I had a very unpleasant series of experiences with a voice teacher at the age of 18 and I quit.  I never really went back to voice lessons. 

Since then, I have had plenty of other things to occupy my time!  I’m not sad about it now, and I have never totally abandoned music.  I’ve auditioned for things of course.  I’ve jammed with bands,  joined choirs, and sung a frightful amount of karaoke since that time. (I’m actually part of an amazing local women’s choir here, and they are both work-focused AND fun…imagine that!)

Yes, I wish I had done more with it, but at least I always still have it as an outlet and hobby.  It’s nice to have as a life skill.  (A friend of mine once said: “being able to sing is like being secretly good-looking.”  I think that’s pretty spot-on!)

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, I thank you for allowing me to indulge in such reflective navel-gazing. (Whoa, it’d be weird if your navel was reflective! 🙂 ) 

A Suddenly Quiet Extrovert

Header Image: created by Rizon Parein for United Nations

Lately, trying to write anything at all has been nothing but a series of starts and stops.  I’ve revisited this piece off and on for the past week.  I write a little.  I rearrange it.  I delete it.  I get tired of it and shut off the computer.  I come back the next day and try it all again.  

Ironically, despite the “extra” time that I now have in my schedule, my creative output has dwindled down to nearly nothing.  It has not meant more words on the page.  In fact, I’ve been feeling like writing has become this insurmountably hard thing.  

I hardly know what to say.  I’ve never gotten deep into thought over what would actually happen during a pandemic.  I think I might still feel shocked.  It’s weird for me to not be able to write, but lately it’s like I can’t find any words. It’s shut me right up.  Anyone who knows me knows that this is atypical.  In fact, I feel like I am half-forcing myself just to write these words. 

Half-forcing, while the other half remains desperate to communicate. 

Hey everyone!  How are you?  I hope you’re doing alright considering the state of things!  Did I mention that I miss seeing you?  Did I mention that I love you?? Do you even KNOW how much I  LIKE you?!??? *Explodes into a rainbow of emotions*

I’m done putting this thing off, though.  I’m going to post on this stupid blog tonight, come hell or high water.  Even if I can’t muster up any sense of flow.  Even if I can’t manage to polish this post up to some kind of ideal standard.

Ugh.  I don’t even care if it’s pretty anymore.  

Look, I’m half-afraid to post because I feel like my privilege is showing with every word.  I feel like a total moron complaining about my “lack of productivity” while the world is in turmoil. It’s like… 

No one cares about your damn blog, Jennnq.  

Fair enough.  But then again, I guess I care.  I don’t have much to offer beyond words on a page, but they matter to me.  Even if they serve no more purpose than my own brief entertainment, that’s ok.  That’s something.

When this whole thing started, and I began working from home, I’ll admit that I thought of the silver linings.  There’d be no more commute.  I’d have more time with my family.  (Well, immediate family, anyway.)  There’d be more time to write and for creative projects.  Less time spent on trying to look nicer.  Less time spent packing lunches.

I never counted on how I would feel.  I never counted on becoming reacquainted with insomnia and my sleep schedule upending itself.  I never counted on how emotionally frozen I would feel.  I’ve lost motivation and focus.  

But like, it’s a pandemic, not a fun little experiment in telework.  Therefore, I am reminded that I must cut myself some slack.  The news and reality of what is happening in the world weighs on my soul, just like I’m sure it does for everyone else.  I was wrong to assume that I could corral my life into a tightly orchestrated routine.

Maybe it’s affecting you in weird ways too.  Maybe you haven’t had much of an appetite, or maybe you want to eat everything.  Maybe you’re a little more emotional over things.  Maybe you are feeling more surreal and detached.  Maybe you are having trouble sleeping.  Maybe you are sleeping too much.  Maybe you’re channeling your energies into something constructive.  Maybe you just can’t handle that right now.    

However you feel, this is a reminder that that is ok.  If you are still having some big crazy feelings about the pandemic (and also of course the current US situation), then that is normal.   Your unique response to the pandemic is ok.  If you haven’t been your best self, that’s alright too.

I also want to say hello.  (Desperate to communicate, remember?) I’m still here, although I’ve been quiet.  I really miss being around groups of people.  (Right now I actually have this crazy craving…I really want to go to an all-night sweaty dance party.  I want to be 25 and dance forever to techno music.  It’s totally impossible!)


I have a feeling you’ll be hearing from me more often now.  I am hereby forcing myself to write.  I’m so done with being frozen into nothingness.  I’d like to return to being my fiery self. 

Time to Refocus on Fitness

I miss the gym.

I’m one of those nerdy kids who discovered fitness late, and then became addicted.  I started running, and I got so into it that I eventually ran a marathon. I love weight lifting so much that I once did a bikini competition.  I’ve worked at two different (very different) gyms.  I’ve read countless books and articles about fitness, and have even written a couple of articles myself!  Even now, while I’m not attending any gym, or working toward a particular event, those past fitness experiences inform who I am.  They have taught me a tremendous amount about what I’m capable of, and who I want to be. 

Fitness changed my life.  It’s kinda funny, because for years and years I just wanted to be a skinny girl.  (I was also a teenager in the 90’s, when ultra-skinny models were being shown just about everywhere.)  My desire was partly fueled by society, and partly by my own warped little mind…don’t we all want what we can’t have?  The women in my family are built short and curvy. We’re more inclined to big bums and thick muscles than to having long, lean limbs.  So of course I wanted to be long and lean.  Imagine having the grace of a ballet dancer!  Imagine having the height to be a model! This was frustrating to me as a short, kinda chunky teenager.

I’m not going to tell you a sob story, because Lord knows I’ve already done that plenty of times here. 😉  I’ll just say that my young experiences with dieting were not great. It was always a fight to make my body lose any weight at all.  It always left me feeling grumpy and unsatisfied. Worse, even if I barely ate (NOT RECOMMENDED) I still didn’t come close to looking like my ideal.  I was always disappointed with the results. I never gained any length in my bones obviously, and if I actually managed to lose weight, it was always off of my top half and not the bottom.  Weight loss didn’t make me look long and lean. Instead, it turned me into something like a short, sad triangle. Bony shoulders and a big bum. Not a great look.

As I became more involved with fitness, my confidence grew (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).  I gained a deeper understanding of what my body could accomplish. I began the long, slow process of changing my feelings and ideas toward my “ideal” body.  I had never become “skinny” anyway, and the self-abuse wasn’t worth it. (Also “weight loss” without a focus on overall fitness is a horrible idea.)  Even if I ran mile after mile I never magically got long slim legs. However, my short, muscular legs could still take me mile after mile, and that was something! I never woke up with a teeny, tiny, tight butt, but I did discover my own natural capacity for strength.  These things did a lot to change my mind about what I wanted from my body. I became less fixated on the number on the scale, and more interested in what kind of athlete I could be.   

Because we’re all athletes.  We just vary in skill, and some of us aren’t currently in training. 😉

Thankfully, logic and some semblance of confidence have taken over.  I know now that I’d much rather look like a woman in a fitness magazine, with six-pack abs and killer shoulder definition than just “weigh less.”  I’d rather use my thick thighs to help me lift things and lend to my overall physical power than hate on them. (This has been a long time coming, believe me!)  I don’t have to force myself into some kind of impossible mold. I can strive for self-improvement, while still appreciating what I have. 

So yeah, fitness has helped me heal a lot, and now I feel like I have to ask it to help me again.

Because…I’ve gained a little weight through this whole crazy Covid thing.  This is neither surprising nor uncommon. I also know that this is honestly less about the number on the scale, and more about how I feel in my own body. The weight is maybe 6 pounds. Not at all a big deal in the overall scheme of things (in fact it’s embarrassingly minor), but this weight is NOT helping me feel good day-to-day.  

Here’s the thing though…. no matter what, I absolutely refuse to go into some kind of self-punishment mode.  I’m not doing that anymore.   Instead, I am committed to operating from a place of self-love and honesty.  

Honestly, feeling this way does not make me happy.  My fitness rituals do make me happy, so it’s time to get back to making them non-negotiable.  It’s back to 6x a week workouts. It’s back to logging my food on My Fitness Pal.  It’s back to making time daily to do the things my physiotherapist tells me I need to do to heal my back.  (Because I really really want to be able to run again!)

I matter.  My happiness matters.  In short, it’s time to give stress the finger, and continue working to be the person I want to be.

Even if I sometimes feel like stress-eating.

Even if I can’t run anymore and have to hike instead.

Even if getting up early to make “me time” is inconvenient. 

I need to be my healthy, hard-working self.  I need to feel strong. I need to do the things that build my confidence.  I need fitness. 

Also, shout-out to all of my iron sisters.  I know right now it’s hard if you’re used to working out a certain way and you can’t anymore.  Let’s keep doing our best to figure it out. You motivated powerful women totally inspire me! 🙂

Let’s come out of this thing stronger than when we went in!

An Unexpected Peace

I surprised myself this morning by waking up feeling dead calm.  Not stressed at all. Not even the slightest hint of anxiety.  I felt healthy and centered.  Wow, this was unexpected. What a gift! 

Nearly my first thought upon waking was, what have I done lately to deserve this?  Have I kept a perfect diet? No.  Has my sleep been optimal?  No.  Have I been meditating lots and lots?  Nope!  Honestly, I haven’t done anything really out of the ordinary. Nothing special.  Nothing that I can put my finger on that’s distinctly repeatable.  In the end, I have to sigh and accept it; I have no way to bottle this feeling and save it for another time!

Oh, well. In my current state, this doesn’t bother me much.   All things are transient.  I will feel stress again.  I will feel even more fantastic than this again someday, too.  I can only be here. Now.

(Whoa, who am I, and what have I done to the real Jennnq??)

Another, slightly more disturbing thought also came into my mind.  This must be a bad sign.  I am high energy by nature.  It’s not generally a good omen when I get quiet, focused and serious.  It usually means that something bad is happening.  A small part of me fears this strangely “balanced” feeling, because I tend to get really out-of-character levels of focus when things are about to get REALLY bad.  Like, personal tragedy levels of bad.  Like life-changing and scary levels of bad. 

I’ve only met her a few times, but there is a very different side of me who takes over when things are dire.  She’s a version of me who sidesteps self-doubt because she simply no longer has time for it.  She knows that shit is happening RIGHT NOW, and therefore, she must act RIGHT NOW.  She looks people dead in the eye and tells them what to do, if that’s what is required.  She’s not a bitch, but she will assume a leadership role if no one else is stepping up.

 That’s not me.  Not the normal me, anyway.  Although I’m a little bit proud to know that she’s hiding in there. Strong and resilient, beneath this nervous, colourful outer layer.  

But why now? Why am I like this now?  Is my brain just sick of anxiety?  Has all of my past meditation paid off all at once?  Perhaps it is best just to enjoy this feeling for what it is.  This is much better than freaking out. (I suppose that I will have to stop thinking of this side of myself as a harbinger of doom!)

I wish I could tell you how this came together for me today. Since I can’t, all I will say is that I genuinely hope the same for you.  I hope that you are also finding some moments of peace and tranquility.  What a mess out there.

The Upside of Jealousy

No one is proud of being jealous.

It never makes you look any better.  It’s not exactly endearing or cute. Because it’s such a negative feeling, it is often assumed that jealousy is to be fully avoided.  After all, being jealous does nothing to improve your life, right?

Worse, since it is seen as a “bad” feeling, most of us will do our damndest to pretend it’s not there at all.  We’ll shove it aside, ignore it or try to out-think it. I’m not jealous!  Of course I applaud my friend’s successes!  We assure ourselves that we’re happy for that coworker who just went on her dream vacation.  We can’t stop smiling about so-and-so’s fabulous wedding. We’re genuinely excited to see that acquaintance’s impressively-ripped fitness selfies! 

Except of course that we’re all human, and watching other people succeed can make you feel like your own life is lacking.  That’s ok. Experiencing jealousy is completely normal. Wait, let me say it again, just in case you missed it…

Getting jealous is normal.

It doesn’t make you bad, or immoral.  It is not proof that you are a terrible person or a terrible friend.  It doesn’t mean that you are weak, or that you have failed. It only means that you’re jealous, which is a thing that happens sometimes, and when it does happen it’s worth exploring.

Why? Because far from being something we should shove aside and deny, jealousy is actually useful. Jealousy shows us what we’re missing and where we can improve. It can illuminate your path for you.  What if your jealousy is really a compass, trying to show you which way to go in life?

You may notice that you never get jealous of people doing things you have no interest in. Instead, people tend to develop envy around others with similar backgrounds, experiences and life goals. You’re more likely to be jealous of someone who is a lot like you, but who has accomplished something that you haven’t. .  

For instance, there is a much greater chance of my experiencing jealousy over someone’s successful writing career than over how well they play football.  I may be able to admire a player’s physical strength, ability and speed, but I can’t imagine watching a football game and feeling envy! But then, it’s not as if I ever dreamed of becoming a football player.  It’s not something I have any emotional connection to.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is deeply emotional.  It awakens a dissonance within us. It reminds us of the distance between our actual achievements and our dreams.   This internal dissonance between reality and our goals is a wonderful clue as to where we should focus our efforts. You don’t need to internally reprimand yourself for being jealous.  The important thing is how you deal with it.

Because, yes, there’s definitely a wrong way!  There’s a reason why jealousy has a bad reputation.  Shoving down your jealousy until you can’t take it anymore, denying it or letting it fester will almost certainly produce disastrous results.  Instead, we must strive to hold jealousy up to the light for further examination.  

Notice that I am not talking about blaming yourself, I am only saying that you should acknowledge those feelings.  Observe them without judgement. Ok, this person has inspired this uncomfortable feeling. Why? What’s this person got that you ain’t got? (Be as specific and detailed with yourself as possible!) What do you feel is lacking in that area of your life?  What can you start doing to change that? This type of analysis is insanely valuable. Your jealousy is really motivation in disguise. Use that jealousy to help you uncover what is making these successful people so successful, and then channel that fire into your own efforts.

A funny thing happens when you analyse jealousy, too.  It tends to fall apart. Seriously! Typically, once you’ve teased apart your jealousy enough to understand your own motivations, you’ve taken all of the vitriol out of the feeling.  After all, YOU got jealous because something is unfulfilled in YOUR life. Now that you’ve acknowledged this (instead of burying it), it’s easy to see that the target of your jealousy is not the problem.  If anything, they were just the messenger.

Once we take on the jealousy and work through it, it will lose its power.  Then the jealousy becomes a little friendlier. Softer. Much more socially acceptable. Boil jealousy down into its component parts, and I believe that you’ll ultimately be left with inspiration. And feeling inspired to work toward the life of your dreams is something you can be proud of!

 

That Awkward Time I Lost a Marketing Job Because of THIS BLOG

Back before I got started in my current position, I had applied for a job with an exciting local marketing firm.  It seemed like a really cool place to work.  I could easily imagine myself as a part of their creative team.  My days would be spent collaborating with my brilliant colleagues, sipping coffee, having great ideas, and putting together snappy writing for high-paying clients.  

important

I had dropped a few applications at marketing/PR firms around the city, but I really liked this place.  I loved their crisp, colourful website.  I loved the good things I had heard about their reputation and work.  I also loved how they seemed to treat their employees.  

Creatives are a special bunch.  We tend to wither in grey cubicles.  This place didn’t have any.  It had open rooms for discussion and one hell of a break room.  (Apparently their employees also have video game tournaments sometimes? Not really my thing, but it’s evidence that they seemed to encourage fun at work.) 

Their firm definitely appealed to me…the opportunity to write for a living while also actually enjoying my time at work?  YES, PLEASE!  I applied to this company and I included a portfolio of my work.  

My stuff is pretty varied.  Sure, I can write an ad for a truck, but I might also write an essay about something that matters deeply to me. Or a poem about an interesting experience.  Some of my work is philosophical.  Some of it is a bit more frivolous.   Some of it, quite honestly, is centered on fitness-related topics.  I like to write, and whether it’s about a political injustice, or the proper way to supplement with creatine monohydrate, I’ll try my damndest to produce something meaningful.

Right.  So they got my rather varied portfolio, a little time went by, and I actually got called for an interview!  Huzzah!

The big day came, and I was nervous.  I dressed nicely and did my best to maintain composure. I made a valiant attempt not to appear shaky or to sweat through my clothes.  I arrived on time, checked in at the front desk and was asked to wait.  No problem…except it was at this point that I noticed a bit of a red flag.  I had to stand and wait, because there was no chair.

Huh.  Why would you have this ultra-modern firm, with this spacious reception area and with all of these beautiful décor items, and no freaking chair?   In a reception area?

I couldn’t help thinking that this was a huge oversight. What if not everyone is able-bodied?  What if people visiting this office are sometimes tired?  Pregnant?  What if they just want to be able to sit comfortably?   Nope.  Too bad. Shit out of luck.  Once you’re in this waiting area, you’d better be prepared to stand around, awkward as heck, waiting to finally be ushered in to your big meeting.

Whatever.  I paced around a bit, and shifted my weight from foot to foot (all the while continuing to sweat, obviously) until I was finally called in.

I was shown to a brightly lit boardroom, which was about 90% occupied by a giant, white, plastic-y office table.  There, I sat (ahhh, finally!) across from a manager and the creative director.  

It was a really decent interview.  They liked my stuff. I said a lot of the right things.  My nerves had wrapped themselves around my excitable personality and I was doing that whole “silver tongue” thing I sometimes do.  (It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, everything comes out of my mouth sounding just a little smarter than I anticipate it will.  It’s a weird, unpredictable superpower! ) So yeah, everything just kinda came together.  This interview was easily one of my better professional interactions.

Afterward, I left the “no-chair” marketing firm practically bouncing.  I was so convinced that I had crushed it!  Now I just had to wait.

Nearly two full weeks went by before I got called back for another interview.  It was enough for my excitement to have cooled a bit, but at least I was still in the running!

So, I went back for interview number two.  Once more I waited in their insufficient reception area.  I resisted the urge to mention the chair situation. 

THIS time when I finally got to the plastic-table boardroom, they were even more open and honest with me.  The interview proceeded in a relaxed and jovial fashion.  I successfully made them laugh.  They told me more details about the actual position.  They really seemed to like me.

sally

Turns out they wanted someone to write online copy.  Ok!  I can do that!  They wanted it to be very tourism-oriented.  No problem!  Hand me a sou’wester!  They were looking for celebration-of-Newfoundland-type stuff.  Sure! I’ll write about puffins, white caps, and craggy cliff faces to beat the band!

Unfortunately, it is at this point that I made a mistake.  

THEY were telling me about how they wanted this tourism-style blog thing, and I got excited and wanted to be impressive, so I was all like, “blogs?  I love blogs! I have a blog! YOU SHOULD READ MY BLOG!.” (Ugh. Why? WHY???)

As a real, live, working human being, when I take to my online blog, I am not usually looking to create interest in the many products, services and experiences available in this fine province.  I’d rather rant, journal, play with words and use this space to just…think about stuff. 

I’m also not much of a photographer.  These facts taken together mean that my blog does not look much like a tourism ad! 

I don’t know if there was a communication issue, but apparently that was somehow what they expected.

Within a day and a half of having access to my blog site, I received an extremely curt email.  Two lines to tell me they were “going in a different direction.”  (No video game tournament for me.)  

Bummer. After 2 AMAZING interviews.  After I had become genuinely excited about this prospect.

This sucks so much, because there is not a doubt in mind that I could have written all that kitschy stuff.  If I had my time back, I would have clarified exactly what they wanted an example of and offered to produce it.  (Especially since I know that they had liked at least some of the things in my portfolio.)

Lesson:  Not every style of writing will work in all situations.  (My deeply personal blog was not a boon here, but a turnoff.)  Also, I still need to work on being ASSERTIVE.  I could have helped myself out a couple of years ago by communicating better.  I also should have taken control of the situation by getting the details and going ahead and producing a sample.  (And I should have been VERY CLEAR that my blog was filled with personal reflections, thereby modifying their expectations.)

Upside to console myself with: I at least saved myself from working with a bunch of heels who can’t be arsed to get a couple of chairs and a decent coffee table for their waiting area.  

I don’t care how sleek your design is, there’s just no excuse for that! 

 

 

The Hard Truth of Managing Your Own Happiness

(How to Avoid Feeling Like a Smooshed Grape)

I’ve gotten to this slightly jaded place, where if you start talking to me about vision boards, or even mention the “law of attraction,” I start to feel a sense of cringe.  A small part of me wants to roll my eyes. I guess I’m feeling more sceptical about all of that fluffy-bunny woo-woo stuff these days.

I don’t fully mean that of course.  In fact, I’m making fun of myself just a little here.  I’m pretty fluffy-bunny woo-woo. I’m no stranger to crystals and pendulums, herbs, essential oils, tarot cards or healing energy.  I love all of that stuff. I just don’t think it’s wise to make the mistake of thinking that anything can replace hard work, motivation or perseverance.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m still a little resentful of some of the new age philosophy I bought into as a teenager (and stuck with throughout my early twenties). I’ve got a little baggage going on, because I now believe that I was only getting half of the answer.  Somehow, I had absorbed the message that if you just visualized hard enough, things would fall into place.  

This is perfectly encapsulated with the whole idea of “the cursed how’s.”  I remember reading things that were literally telling me that I didn’t need to worry about the steps to accomplishing my dreams, aka “the cursed how’s.”  I only needed to focus on the end result. The Universe would take care of that pesky bit in the middle.  

Utter malarkey, of course.  

Yes, visualizing is good.  Yes, I think you should practice it.  Heck, you should get SO GOOD at visualizing that you are able to practically smell your dreams manifesting.  You should get as involved in your visualization as possible. You should try 100% to make it real for yourself.

And THEN, and see, this is the bit I was missing, you have to come back down to earth and make a plan as to how to get there.  You MUST consider the “cursed how’s,” because your day only has so many hours in it.  You have to turn your goals into step-by-step actions. Houses don’t buy or clean themselves.  Abs don’t magically arrive just because you visualized the perfect body. Getting caught up in a daydream of end results is not the same as rolling up your sleeves and putting in the effort. You cannot wait for the Universe to pluck you out of obscurity and say, This one.  I pick this one. This one’s special.  Trust me.  Tried it. It doesn’t work.

Please bare in mind that all of this is coming from a self-confirmed New Age hippie.  I believe we can do a lot with our energy. I think there’s more to the world than meets the eye.  Yes, I even believe that you can attract a better life by improving your energy. However, you also have to accept your role in the transformation.   As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.”

All of this doesn’t just apply to big life stuff, like dream houses, finding true love, or losing 50lbs. I think it also applies to your daily emotional wellbeing.  Like, you have to take charge of your own happiness. You have to build it yourself, and protect it, and work on it, or it may not stick around.

I don’t know… maybe other people have a more robust, durable sort of happiness, but mine is not.  Mine needs tending to like some kind of fussy, exotic flower garden.  

I journal to deal with my “flower garden” of feelings, and the other day I wrote this: 

I feel like I am being smooshed like grapes for wine.  Like someone is dancing on my soul. Like they are gleefully crushing it beneath their disgusting bare feet.  (Ha. These days, I’m not even so hung up on the wine, just the smooshing.)

Ok, so my soul is being smooshed.  What now? Do other writer-types feel this way?  Do they feel like their 9-5 is sucking away their creative potential?  Their time? Their energy?  

Ha ha.  I’m writing this while sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and Sheryl Crow’s “If it Makes You Happy” just started playing.  Personally, I think that was a little heavy-handed of the radio.

Yeah, my personal journal rants and a little dramatic, but the bad feeling of being “crushed” was, I think, due to my lack of organization/motivation in keeping up my own happiness-inducing habits.  For me, those habits, those “cursed how’s” are so important. My fussy, exotic flower garden requires: adequate and regular sleep, cardio and strength training contained in 4-6 workouts a week, time for writing, time for reading, time for singing, healthy well-balanced plant-based meals, time for meditation and time spent with friends and family.  If I start lacking in any one area, I am off. Life is bad. My emotions get…well, you saw the journal entry!

The only way to get it all done, and to avoid the “my soul is being smooshed” feeling, seems to be to schedule my life, and then maintain the motivation to actually carry through with my plans.  

I’m drawing attention to that last bit because I feel like that’s where I tend to fall down.  I can come up with a great schedule/plan and then get distracted, or get busy with something else, and all of a sudden it’s 10:30PM, and my real goals for the day are yet to be accomplished.

And I wind up feeling like a smooshed grape.

Vision board away.  Feel free to send your hopes and prayers.  (You can even send ‘em my way!) Maintain a rule of “good vibes only.”  Just remember, it’s still you who has to put in the grind and the effort.  You are the only one capable of rowing away from the rocks.