This might feel familiar. This might be a little repetitive. This might be a reiteration of a train of thought already shared. This might be the beginning of a new pattern: “Keep writing about something until maybe it sort of makes sense and don’t stop until you get to the very heart of it.” This title might seem unoriginal. This title might, in fact, be completely unoriginal. But do you feel it? Do you feel a sense of excitement as you hear a tiny bell ringing in the back of your mind? Do you feel a certain level of recognition and certainty about where this is going? Do you know exactly what I am about to discuss? Do you see the pattern?
Over the last few months, since my feeble attempt to write about repetition last October, I have found myself thinking about questions that prove somewhat difficult to answer: Why do we repeat ourselves? What patterns do we repeat? How do we break the cycle? When do we find ourselves rejecting change compared to when we push against repetition, instead opting to embrace change and try something new? Who drives us to repeat patterns or invent something completely unfamiliar and original? Where do we see patterns repeating themselves in our own lives and in society? The repetition question has been repeatedly coming to mind and with each moment of contemplation I get a new idea that drives me to want to write about this topic again. But, this weird pattern has emerged in my brain where I have this spark of thought about repetition and then I lose it… almost as if my head is trying to prevent me from looking too closely at this recurring phenomenon that is so prevalent in our lives. (What’s up with that, head? You don’t want me to get to the heart of the big questions in life? Too bad, I’m trying today.)
There is obviously comfort in the familiarity of repetition. Think about the little kid who is so excited to do the same things over and over again – playing peekaboo or replaying the same movie or singing the same song or repeating the same silly action over and over. Their pure delight in the action of repetition is fascinating in our investigation of our attachment to patterns, because their little brains are just developing and I like to think of them as a clean slate and representation of who we are at our very core, before we get too sullied by the world around us. And certainly it may be that these children and babies are just thrilled by the content of what is being repeated, but I am inclined to think that there is something happening at a much deeper psychological level.
Seeing the same thing on a loop, to observe something happening over and over, it’s something we continue to enjoy in our adult life. Maybe we aren’t squealing and clapping like the toddler, but we’re just as excited to know what the expected outcome is – perhaps this explains why GIFs have become so popular? But knowing (HA! More like thinking you know) or expecting a certain result can be problematic. Setting an expectation is automatically setting yourself up for disappointment and failure because nothing in life goes exactly as planned and in every pattern we repeat, there will always be a slight difference in the next iteration. And because the evolution of a pattern is so minute in every repetition, it becomes challenging for us to recognize the shift, which might explain why we are so blind to the risk of setting expectations and so eager to repeat the same things over and over.
There is so much repetition in our individual day to day lives. We eat, we sleep, we repeat. We go to work, we follow the same routine – even if our jobs are non-traditional and crazy, that is a form of repetition in its own way, knowing that there is a guaranteed lack of consistency. When I drive to work I am on auto-pilot, I do not think about where I’m going, I just go because I know the route by heart and I drive it twice a day backwards and forwards. Sure, the level of traffic varies and the number of good or bad drivers rises and drops on any given day – but I know the essence of that drive will remain consistent.
We see the same sort of repetition in society – people are born, they are part of a family, they go to school, they graduate, they get a job, they fall in love, they get married, they make their own family, they raise a child, they (probably) get a divorce, and it all happens again and again. So there is this interesting dynamic between the personal individualistic patterns that we follow in our day to day lives, in that the way we do things and repeat ourselves feed into these ancient and traditional patterns that are repeating in society on a much larger scale. At the individual level we repeat patterns that are inherent to our own psyche. We make choices and act a certain way in a repetition and pattern that is core to who we are as a person. But at the societal level, we are doing the same thing collectively in a more universal manner, by participating in and reinforcing the norms and societal constraints of society as we know it. And this raises an even bigger question – which patterns are harder to break, those that we create in our own lives or those that are part of a much larger social construct?
There is a certain degree of paralysis when we attempt to eliminate repetition from our lives. Trying to break or push against any pattern – whether it is at the individual or societal level – is incredibly challenging and difficult because patterns are so inherent to how we behave, how others expect us to behave, and what we expect of ourselves. And when the patterns have been around for years and years, it becomes even more difficult. Right now I find myself questioning these large social patterns and I think many people do, particularly when we look at all the unrest in the world right now with people asking “why aren’t more women in power, why do minorities continue to be repressed, why is it that male white privilege dominates?”
Putting aside those hard-hitting questions, I struggle with the general question of whether patterns and repetition as a whole are good or bad. And like every repetition question I’ve posed, there is no easy answer. I think at the societal level that perhaps we should always be pushing against patterns in an effort to evolve and hopefully become better as a human race – why do what has always been done when maybe another way could be ground-breaking and change our lives? So naturally I tend to have the same idea when it comes to the individual level (don’t just break patterns, smash them!) but there is something that feels a little more challenging in that sentiment because there might be some patterns that we follow that are good for us.
But what is a good pattern and what is a bad one? Certainly the easiest answer here is bad = hurting yourself or someone else but nothing is that black and white and there are countless shades of grey. I’m not sure how we are supposed to identify which of the patterns are good and which of the patterns are bad, or if we are really meant to. The best we can do is try to remain conscious of what we’re doing so we feel less doomed to repeat the same mistakes and patterns that we can identify as resolutely bad or at the very least advisable to avoid.
So maybe the point of all this is just to observe and be aware of the repetition because it seems that we are destined for a life of pattern making. We are locked into doing things again and again, even when we recognize the pattern, even when we are really conscious of the repetition and literally saying “I don’t know why I am doing this again, I know I am going to hurt myself or something bad will happen as a result of what I am doing right now,” somehow we just cannot stop ourselves… So maybe observation and awareness is critical in an effort to just watch it and maybe learn from it in the slightest and smallest way.
This feels right if we consider what I mentioned above about the risk of expectations – that when we repeat ourselves it does change a little bit, that there is a slight difference to the iteration of the pattern. Perhaps by observing and being consciously aware of the patterns and repetition, we learn something and help ourselves to change the pattern incrementally in the littlest ways possible with each reiteration until we reach an ideal state. (I tried very unsuccessfully to convey this in my last post about repetition, so maybe with this iteration I’m going to get it right? If not, I will repeat myself in a few months when I collect my thoughts all over again.)
Let’s imagine our lives and the patterns within them to be like a slow rhythmic dance that repeats itself continually but changes ever so slightly with each return to the start… like a GIF that evolves and changes a tiny bit when it replays… like a song that sounds the same but is just a little bit different and a little bit better because something changes in it with every new listen. In that slow dance, we are looping around the room again and again but never stepping in the exact same place.
It’s a beautiful dance, but it also sounds completely exhausting that we are constantly taking these tiny little steps towards making a change to a pattern that is so intrinsic to and at the very core of our being. But at the same time, life is hard and things do not change overnight. Change is hard and nobody likes it – I know this because the biggest part of my job at the moment is dedicated to implementing a significant change in the way we operate in the company and everyone hates me as the driver of the change… But that’s life. It is one long story, one slow dance, where you grow and change little by little, year after year, month after month, day after day. I have personally seen this slow (yet strangely fast) change happen, especially in the last two years of my life, where it seems that everything has been changing in these tiny little ways through all these new experiences I am having, and I see myself learning from them and reacting differently every time with every passing experience repeating itself while being just a little bit different too.
If at the individual level we accept and acknowledge that we just need to take it slowly and observe the patterns and hopefully learn from them and change them ever so slightly every time we find ourselves repeating something, does the same principle apply at the societal level? Can we come to collective acceptance and acknowledgement that change is slow and that we all need to be united in taking these tiny steps to make the change by observing and being aware of it? I think yes, because in the social dialogue and discourse that we are seeing in recent years, we are doing just that. We are observing, we are questioning, and we are hopefully learning.
It’s a slow dance. We can’t break (or smash!) patterns immediately, as much as I want to. But doing new things that make me uncomfortable, repeating new and old patterns in different iterations, embracing my love of learning… These are all a very gentle twist in my dance across the room. Doing something that is new with no prior pattern or knowledge is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. We don’t have a template. We don’t know the steps to this new dance. But, watching and modifying the pattern as we go, asking these hard questions, stumbling over our feet as we try a new move on the dance floor, learning and relearning – that’s a dance I’m happy to sway to.
Last year was filled with travels in twos. Beautiful British Columbia twice – once at the beginning of summer and once at the end of the year. Flamboyant Florida twice last winter – for an escape from the brutal cold in Canada. Never-endingly-thrilling New York City twice – once in the spring and once in the fall. Mon coeur Montreal twice last summer – for a break from my life in the country. And in all these travels, in every adventure and every day spent in these wonderful places, the one thing I felt consistently was complete awe at the very existence of so many different worlds within this one world of ours.
The same thought inevitably found its way to the top of my mind whenever I boarded a plane to fly back home and I kept asking myself the same question: How can it be that I am leaving a location so magical and special, where life and the energy of that place will continue to exist and go on when I am gone? At this very moment, some of my favourite people are in these locations going about their day-to-day lives, interacting with people in those worlds and experiencing a completely different reality than the one that I am in.
What’s incredible to me is that inherent difference in space but unity in time – that these different worlds exist across expansive spaces on the same plane of time (even when there are three hours separating me from BC). I remember very distinctly thinking how strange it was to be lounging on a beach in Florida while there was a totally different world back home that was cold, grey, and snowy. I can still feel the wonder welling up inside of me as I walked the streets of NYC, taking in the enormous buildings and frenetic atmosphere around me as I contemplated that my house back home was sitting quiet and empty on a quaint little road. I hiked up mountains in British Columbia and questioned how this magical and overwhelming scenery could be part of Canada when so much of what I know from home is minuscule landscape, comparatively. And even only 45 minutes from home when I stayed in the charming city of Montreal, it was still apparent to me that my life in the city was drastically unlike my life in the country.
We go along in our lives operating in a very specific space, building a world around us that is shaped by our environment and the people in it. But with every movement to a different space, we are allowing ourselves to experience a whole new world that runs in parallel with our own and in those different worlds, anything and everything is possible. Our world at home continues to exist but in our travels and transportation to a different world, we engage with an alternate universe that is comprised of a space that is not our own but simultaneously made our own in that very instant. Even if only temporarily, that world belongs to us and we are active participants in that universe, separate and detached from our world back home.
That transportation to another world is powerful. We leave behind the familiarity of home, of routine, of the known world we occupy daily and we enter into a realm of infinite possibility. Some might refer to this as a sort of alter ego on vacation – a person who is away from home and in an unencumbered state, fully free to do as she or he pleases, shedding responsibility and the mundane while welcoming freewheeling and the unknown. The world we know is behind us and a new world is available to us to explore and fall in love with in every trip to an alternate universe.
It’s not just me feeling this, right? There is something about visiting a different world that loosens something up inside us. And certainly me on vacation > me at work, but it’s not just a simple equation that we are happier and having more fun when we travel or leave home. The underlying magic is in our capacity to remove ourselves completely from the world we know by adapting to and wholly embracing the new world we find ourselves in… Not to mention the people in it.
Have you ever stepped back for a moment in a crowded space far from home to appreciate how many people there are on this planet? And in that moment of appreciation, have you recognized that every individual has a world of their own that could potentially intersect with yours in that very instant, or even more incredibly, at another point in time in your life? Mind. Blown. In our travels to different worlds, we interact not only with a new space but with new people, who might come into our lives for a fleeting period of time or become an essential part of our existence moving forward. Who knows who will cross your path when you explore a new world?
This year is shaping up to be another filled with travels (turns out selling your house and paying off your debt gives you an unforeseen freedom and drive to do all the things and go to all the places and have all the adventures). It started early with my last trip to BC rolling into 2017, an impromptu weekend with my best friends in Miami at the end of January, a too-short long weekend in NYC just a couple weeks ago with my Miami Mamis… And the feeling grows stronger with every trip: These alternate universes within the one world I live in are astounding. I’ve already got other trips lined up in the coming months to visit friends and family who are spread out around this incredible planet in a series of different worlds and while I don’t have a magic carpet, I know the secret to accessing a whole new world – you just need to open your eyes and see it. Seriously, Aladdin had it right – don’t you dare close your eyes.
1. Starting this blog was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Regardless of whether or not my random posts are being read / enjoyed / appreciated / contemplated… This weird little corner of the Internet is a documentary of my adventures and gives me incredible perspective through the long lens of my posts over the last few years. I recently reread my Thirty Thoughts when I was feeling low to remind myself of some of the big ideas I had and I was so grateful to have that list available to recapture where I was and what I thought around this time last year. Lots of things have changed (and lots of things have stayed the same), so I feel compelled to complete this exercise a second time, adding one extra thought for this last yearlong trip around the sun.
2. Let’s all try to be grateful. The gratitude I felt as I was reading my thirty-year-old lady musings from 2016 stemmed from a conversation I’ve had with a friend several times over the last year about how we must remember to be grateful for what we have and to practice that gratitude in our day-to-day lives. I am thankful I have a roof over my head, food to eat, clean water to drink, my health, and the best family and friends a person could ask for. The rest is inconsequential, so I do my best to focus on and say a silent thank you for the things that I am fortunate to have. And speaking of gratitude…
3. Vacation days are literally the best thing ever. OK, I know this one is obvious, but I’ve realized that there are some people in the world who don’t value their vacation time, and that is just CRAZY to me. When I take days off work, I am OFF. No email. No phone calls or texts from co-workers. No thought whatsoever about what is happening at the office. Completely disconnecting is the healthiest thing I can do for my brain and I always come back to work refreshed and happy with a positive attitude. (That might also have to do with the vacation days being spent in the best places in the world with my favourite people… but that sort of comes with the vacation territory, right?)
4. Exercise = Improved Mental Health. In the last 2 years I have started to prioritize loving my body by treating it to exercise and good care… and while the exercise has changed (Dear Yoga, I still miss you and I promise I will come back to you one day), the resulting endorphins are consistently wonderful. It became glaringly clear one day a few weeks ago when I had a would-be terrible day at work paired with a speeding ticket on my lunch hour, and I found myself laughing it off. When I later questioned how it could be that I was so upbeat, I remembered that I had done a heavy round of resistance training that morning before work… and voila, happy me. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
5. I am happiest next to a body of water. Ocean, lake, canal, whatever. Give me a spot in the sand with the rhythmic sound of waves crashing loudly against the shore, or let me find a quiet spot along something smaller to take in the smell of damp earth under the ripple of ebbing waters… I’ll take anything.
6. Every year gets better – even during the hardest time of my life. In the last couple of years I ended a long term relationship, gave up my animals, said goodbye to the beautiful home that I built with my best friend, and pretty much turned my entire life upside-down. It was sad and hard… but somehow when I look back on 2015 and 2016, I can say with complete certainty that they have been the best years of my life. Sure, I lost a lot. But I gained so much more – a greater perspective about my life and priorities, a freedom and drive to explore all the things, new friends, and a newfound positive attitude that was missing throughout my twenties. It feels like every passing year has been better than the last and I’m inclined to believe that this upward trajectory continues as we get older. (Like a fine wine? 1985 was a good year after all.)
7. I might be a little bit psychic. Seriously. I dreamt of a poster for Montreal’s Osheaga music festival featuring Radiohead and Lana Del Rey’s names side by side, and 3 days later THAT POSTER WAS RELEASED. I’m telepathic. (And I bet I know what you’re thinking right now – that I’m nuts – am I right? Psychic, I told you!)
8. Music and dancing are core to my existence. Last year I swore that I would dance more and… oh, did I dance. 2016: year of the dancing emoji. I discovered new genres of music that filled my body with ecstatic joy, I swayed to my all-time favourite musicians (and discovered a few new ones) at Osheaga, I tore up the dance floor at weddings and parties, and I realized that the best and last boyfriend in my life will always be music. I sang at the top of my lungs pretty much every time I was alone in my car, shamelessly sang karaoke (loved every minute and am hoping to do it again soon), and even braved an open mic night after a few drinks (which I did not love as much… lack of lyrics in front of me and messing up the words to Blackbird = awkward and disrespectful to The Beatles).
9. Turning 30 was the beginning of an enormous life shift. It’s not like I woke up at 30 and suddenly everything had changed, but as I approach 32 in a few months time, I’ve realized that I’ve started on a new journey in the span of 2 years and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it coincides with the start of a new decade of my life. It’s sort of wild to think that we can suddenly change and grow and evolve every 10 years, no?
10. Having a mortgage is cool but not having one is fine too. Home ownership was great in so many ways, but selling my house and walking away from that heavy commitment was liberating. I’m glad to have seen both sides and to know what each experience feels like.
11. Living alone is fantastic. It was funny reading about my adjustment to living in an empty because my post last year was written only a few months after my ex had moved out. Forget the thought that “living alone isn’t so bad” – all said and done, I lived alone for 15 months and I genuinely loved it by the end.
12. Being scared is life affirming and exhilarating. Two experiences taught me this lesson. First, I repelled down a rock and climbed back up the rope on a hike in beautiful British Columbia. It was steep. I was sure I was going to fall and cut myself open and bleed out in the woods or smash my head or break a limb. But I didn’t. I was strong and powerful and I did it. Second, I got lost in a mosh pit in the middle of a rowdy set at a music festival and was separated from friends in a sea of people. It took 20 minutes to break through to a clearing on the side of the crowd and another 5 to find my friends, who were traumatized. But me, I felt a natural high. I actually threw my head up to the sky and yelled, “WE’RE ALIVE!!!” Does that mean I’m a little bit crazy? Maybe. But in both cases, my pounding heart and the hot blood coursing through my veins gave me an appreciation for life unlike anything I have ever felt before.
13. Being brave sometimes means you need to be a little vulnerable. Yes, doing the scary and life threatening things means subjecting your body to being its most vulnerable and fragile. But, even more terrifying is the bravery it takes to get vulnerable with your words – to really speak your truth without holding back. I can’t always get there but I’m doing my best.
14. I am always hungry. Actually starving. Dying to eat at all hours of the day. Will always answer “yes” when asked if I want to eat. Thinking about what I will eat next, when in the middle of a meal. Can I blame this on all that extra exercise? Why is my stomach growling right now?
15. Everything changes but some things stay the same. Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron. But it’s true, no? When I was packing my entire life into boxes late last year, I came across some old journals and found entries from over 10 years ago that captured a lot of things about me that remain true to this day: I hate making decisions. I am boy crazy. I feed off of and respond to the energy of people around me. While I was just a kid then with little understanding of what was ahead and how much I would grow and change, I still hit on some fundamental things about myself that are consistently part of who I am.
16. There are very real #relationshipgoals in my life. I find myself stepping back lately and observing the healthy relationships around me and thinking about how modelling after the people I love in their interactions with the people they love is a very real goal for me. The couples are all different and have their ups and downs, but they have these admirable qualities that show me what a great relationship should look like: Caring for your best friend, seeking out adventure together, sweetness in all your interactions, openness and trust in your journey together, and crazy-head-over-heels-madly-in-love love for each other. #relationshipgoals right?
17. Single or spoken for are both perfectly fine. Don’t get me wrong, although I’m writing about some serious goals for my next relationship, I’m also extremely content with this single lady life I’m making for myself. This is a pretty big deal for me because I pretty much spent all of my late teens and twenties going from one long term relationship to the next, and I’ve never really spent that much time alone with myself. It’s wonderful. Sometimes hard. Sometimes amazing. Always fascinating. And often confusing, because in this adjustment to single life I find myself going back and forth between an impulse to find a partner and a desire to continue on this solitary journey – at least for now.
18. The struggle to decide between two options is extreme for me. Certainly the debate of single vs. taken is a good example of this challenge, but it goes much deeper. I can always look at both ends of a spectrum or see both sides of a story, and I consistently find myself stuck somewhere in the middle, unable to settle on which way to go. A friend of mine helped me realize how extreme this is for me recently when she said that everyone struggles with making choices but that it seems to her that it’s somehow much harder for me… And I was so grateful that she said it because it has made me feel crazy for the longest time. It doesn’t change my inability to decide but at least knowing that I have this greater affliction keeps me a tiny bit saner. And…
19. There is always a third option. This was one of those big “AHA!” moments in a discussion with my friend where we hit on this incredible concept that we never need to feel locked into only two choices or two ends of a spectrum. There’s always another angle to consider, always an alternative we haven’t looked at yet, and always a third option. We just need to remember it’s there.
20. The dynamic of public and private is perplexing. We’re more than half way through my brain dump of random thoughts (with hopefully the teeniest bit of wisdom) and I’m starting to realize that I’m really baring my soul with this one. It’s a strange thing, to be so open and public on this blog when I tend to be very private and shy in real life, always hesitant to talk about myself and quietly protecting from – what, the world? Two ends of a spectrum and I guess I’m somewhere in between, as usual.
21. “Girls doing whatever the fuck they want” is a bitching motto. Speaks for itself. My thanks to The Wing for this one.
22. There are parts of my job that I actually really love. It feels sort of strange to say it, but it’s true. There’s been this huge project at work that I’ve been leading for almost a year and it’s sort of taking over my life, but somehow I’ve gotten to the point that I’m starting to enjoy it. We’ve hit a stride and we are making progress. Organization and producing work are my strongest qualities and I’m getting to stretch those muscles on a daily basis. I’m working with really smart people who get the goal of the project. I am challenged every single day and pushed harder to produce, and it feels great.
23. But… I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life. It’s nice to be in a place where I feel like I don’t hate my work but I still know that this isn’t my forever career and that I’ll need to eventually make a change. But, see above point #18 – I’ve got this little problem with making big life-changing decisions, so I’m still feeling a little stuck. Will it ever be easier? I’m not sure, but I’m really trying.
24. Letting go and letting things be is sometimes best. While I’m still totally lost and unsure of where I’m going and what I’m doing, I’ve decided that easing up is better than forcing it. Trying to define and decide and figure everything out is doing nothing for me and a friend recently suggested that little steps are perfectly fine. This revelation isn’t really new but it’s something I seem to always forget and rediscover on an annual basis – going back to nonetofigo (no need to figure it out, it’s a thing, don’t question it), doing one thing at a time and believing that it will all become clear and that things will reveal themselves naturally.
25. Different types of love are possible. Alright, I’ll be honest, I stole this line from Dark Island Disk off of Radiohead’s new album (did Thom know I needed this beautiful collection of songs last year?) but the words are perfectly true. We can love and be loved in so many different ways, yet I think we often feel constrained by the concept of a traditional love story. It’s not always boy-meets-girl-they-fall-in-love-they-break-up-they-get-back-together-and-live-happily-ever-after. It can be complicated or obvious or challenging or simple or hard or fun or gut-wrenching or thrilling or feel both right and wrong and everywhere in between. It can be different from one day to the next and it can change with alarming frequency. And in all these different types of love – whether confusing or crystal clear – there is still a persistent and underlying joy in the act of loving. Thom!! How do you always know!?
26. Marriage and babies are starting to make me feel like a grown up. Let’s be clear. I’m not married. I have no babies. I don’t think either of those things are anywhere close to possible in my current world but seeing people around me going down that road definitely makes all us big kids seem a little bit more adult. It’s totally weird.
27. “Tell me about yourself” are 4 words I often dread. How can I possibly summarize all the things about me that I feel are important, and how do I bypass all the boring things that I think are meaningless? I’m generally terrible at small talk and meeting new people – socially awkward for life, yo. And yet, I absolutely love getting to know new people. There’s something exciting about someone being a blank slate, like a mystery that you get to solve in your own unique way. It is fascinating to encounter another person and know nothing about them, slowly piecing together who they are by hearing their stories and asking the kinds of questions you hope they might ask you. (My questions are usually food-related, are we surprised?)
28. My head is always in the clouds. I mean… I might be a tiny bit obsessed with skylines, and my favourite sunsets are those with a cluster of clouds. The layers of colour and dimension are out of this world when clouds pile on top of each other and I suppose I am attracted to the dreamlike quality of these fluffy puffs of air that are constantly moving and changing and reconfiguring in a beautiful slow dance across the sky. I can’t help but stop sometimes to tilt my head up to the sky and take it all in. Am I just a dreamer who refuses to be grounded in reality? Or does this just mean I have a deep appreciation for beauty? Probably both.
29. There are things that are impossible to describe or explain but can be felt with complete certainty. This is probably what most would describe as a gut feeling. But it’s something more – it’s an unspoken communication that is felt. Whether that communication is individually with ourselves, with another person, or with the entire universe – it is intensely powerful and a little bit magic. Sometimes we can’t find words to express a feeling or a thought but it’s there, like it’s on the tip of our tongues… And that inability to put it in words isn’t a failing, it’s the nature of the thing being so huge that we can’t even define it. If that idea feels wild but somehow makes sense (because really, how can I put into words a thing that is founded on being unable to speak the words), then just wait, because…
30. There is an unspoken third element in every connection we make with another person. You are an individual human being on this planet with your own unique experiences and perspectives that you can and do try to share with others. And every other person in the world is exactly the same – we all see things differently, even if we are aligned in our values and beliefs, and no matter how hard we try, we will only ever understand others through our own lens. But, we crash into each other every single day and those differences somehow fuse together to create this powerful and unspoken third element that connects you with that someone else. So when you make a friend or find a lover or pretty much interact with any person anywhere at any time, you create a relationship with this person that is made up of that magical connection of you and them combined – and that third thing binds you together in a way that cannot be explained, only felt.
31. The universe is magic and gives us exactly what we need. Have I made this statement on this blog already? I think I probably have and I don’t care if it’s repetitive. (I love repetition, remember?) There is no doubt in my mind that things happen for a reason and that the universe is constantly conspiring in our favour to make magic, happy coincidences, powerful connections, and all the good things in between. And, in the darkest times when I question all the ugliness and bad feels in the world, I still know deep down that this is the universe at work, turning and moving toward something new and better. I know, I know. I went all magic crazy with my last 3 thoughts but… Magic is something you make, and I think we all need some magic in our lives.
Last week was the end of a long chapter in my life. The house I lived in for 6 years transferred ownership to my buyers and I officially moved out. I will never pull into that driveway again, never dash up the stairs to grab the scarf I forgot in my closet, never make a huge mess in the kitchen while putting together a delicious meal, never enjoy a glass of wine with loved ones on the couch in the living room, never plant another garden in the backyard… It is with absolute certainty that I can say that this experience would serve as the perfect definition of bittersweet. All week long I found myself sitting in the middle of two extreme emotions: liberated joy and crushing sadness.
The latter was the stronger of the two feelings in the last few days as I went through the closing of the sale and emptying of the final things in the house; but there was a constant optimism underlying the sorrow attempting to remind me of the great things ahead. Emotions are tricky, aren’t they? The logical side of me was rolling her eyes at the weepy side and biting her tongue even though she wanted to shout: “Hey dummy, you’ve been waiting for months to sell your house and move on from this break-up, why are you so sad!?” Conversely, the emotional side of me was angry at the rational side and more than once she wailed: “Why doesn’t logical me and everyone else understand why I feel sad, and isn’t it OK to feel this way anyway?!” Fortunately I am somehow comfortable living in the middle of juxtapositional craziness and although I felt completely disheveled, I was equally fine with oscillating between the sad and happy, rolling with whichever felt stronger and appreciating that what I was feeing was all valid.
That said, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Particularly the last handful of times I went into the empty house, after I had moved out and was returning to pick up the last of my boxes or clean up before handing over the keys to the new owners… I left the house in tears more than once and felt sick to my stomach every time I drove away. There’s something quite heartbreaking about saying a goodbye that you know is permanent. It was the same feeling I had when I said goodbye to the dog and the cats that my ex took after we split – there’s this terrible finality in walking away from something or someone you know you will never see again. And in this case, this goodbye was to a really beautiful house that I cherished very dearly as a wonderful home for many years. And even though the life I shared with my former partner is over and I know that he and I are both better off in our new lives, I still have happy memories of the time we had together in that home.
So my goal with this post is to pay tribute to the house, my home, which I loved and will always love. And if Julie Andrews has taught me anything (apart from the best word in the world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), when I’m feeling sad, I just need to think of a few of my favourite things. Here are a few from the first house I ever owned.
The floors. Hardwood oak, medium brown, with beautiful and unique swirls in every individual piece. I still remember the first days of installation – pulling each strip of wood from the piles of boxes, delighting in the idea that these gorgeous pieces were just like a fingerprint or snowflake, unique and unlike any other in the pile.
The mudroom. Square slabs of slate in shades of grey, blue, yellow, green, and even a speckle or two of red – all with a magical feel of the cosmos that would take me away into reveries of outer-space whenever I allowed myself to stop for a moment to recognize their beauty. One side of the room was comprised of pale grey built-in cabinets framing the washing machine and dryer with a large and sturdy matching bench opposite, all designed for optimal convenience in this welcoming room that served as my main entry on the side of the house.
The dolomite. The kitchen was already perfectly installed when we purchased the house (IKEA kitchens for the win!) so there wasn’t really much to do in this room apart from dressing it up a bit. The dolomite tile that I chose as backsplash was absolutely stunning: a soft white with the faintest whispers of grey streaking throughout, along with a pale grey grout… it was special. And then to top it all off, functional hand-build shelving was added on either side of the stove, just above the backsplash.
The closet. One of my favourite decisions made in the early days of the purchase was to tear down the wall between the linen closet in the hallway upstairs and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, leaving me with all the space a girl could need for a (dare I say it?) dream closet. Pure white, good lighting, hooks for days, bead-board and ample shelving – it was the best closet I’ve ever had. (And that’s saying a lot, because the first place I ever rented had a spare bedroom that I used as a full closet.)
The fireplace. Remember that cosmic tile from my incredible mudroom? It was reclaimed for a fireplace-makeover in the first few years at the house. Where the fireplace was previously a pale indistinct purple-beige with absolutely NOTHING going for it, the refreshing makeover gave the mantlepiece new life with a crisp white on top contrasted by the bold and bright colours of the slate along the base.
The colours. Fossil Grey, Stratosphere, Seagull Grey… I can’t remember all the creative names of the paint colours I chose over the years but the colours are imprinted in my memory. Deep blues upstairs, a pale baby blue in the kitchen, varying shades of grey throughout the main floor, pure white in the bathroom and closets, and a pale greyish green in the mudroom all gave me joy from the first stroke of the paintbrush until the very last time I walked through the house.
Why were these my favourite things? I chose them. Living in this house allowed me the experience of my very first time decorating my own place, choosing the finishing touches, playing interior designer, and leaving my mark in every room. But, as much as I had a role to play in choosing the aesthetics in each room, my ex played a much larger role by installing them and adding special touches that I will always remember with gratitude. Strangely it occurred to me as I was writing – all the things I listed are vestiges of his handiwork. He was (and is) a talented craftsman – a quality that I continue to admire to this day. Just as I loved my house and will always love it, I loved him and always will. We weren’t right for each other, but he was good to me and we made a beautiful home together.
Saying goodbye to this house was as much a goodbye to the structure as much as it was a goodbye to him and all the beautiful work he did. “A few of my favourite things” could turn into an ongoing series about all the amazing work he did in that house – the raised bed for my garden in the backyard, the sturdy bannister that he installed after tearing out the weird wonky original that was there when we bought the place, those handmade cabinets and countertop he custom built around our washer and dryer in the mudroom, the inserts he installed in the oversized windows to give them an extra touch of character… It was a good home that we made, even though it wasn’t meant to be ours forever.
On that very last night in the house I walked from room to room, running my fingers along on the walls, taking in every corner in the hope that I would never forget those precious spaces. And now, as I write these words, I feel a fond appreciation for the home we made together and the lovely work he did for us in that house. More importantly, I know that there was great love in that home and that is something truly unforgettable. He worked hard and we worked hard together – regardless of how it ended, that house remains a monument to that love and work, and that is what I said goodbye to. These are, they were, they always will be, a few of my favourite things.
*Disclaimer: Most of this post was written over 7 months ago, when I wrongly believed that my house was sold. (Oh, how young and naive I was.) I started to write a congratulatory (and somewhat panicked) summary of how I was feeling in the midst of this transformational moment in my life… and then I abandoned ship when the sale didn’t quite pan out. Since then, I have lived through the highs and lows of additional offers that have fallen through, each time becoming more anxious and eager to sell. And now, over a year after listing the property, my house has actually sold.
Or, should I say, the house? It isn’t mine anymore. It is betrothed to another. It is no longer mine. It is surreal and strange to feel that using the word “my” isn’t even appropriate anymore. This is just a place for me to sleep and house my clothes. It is currently a hot mess of boxes and empty cupboards and I will be out of here in about 3 weeks. It is all very odd but satisfyingly clear that this is exactly how it was supposed to happen.
When I reread the extremely premature post that I started before the sale was really a final sale, and considered the title of the post (which is left exactly as it was when I started to write in April), what strikes me the most is that I really got it right with that concept: Sold. Or, Everything’s Changing. EVERYTHING IS CHANGING. And everything is ALWAYS changing… because the things I expressed in April have evolved and shifted and grown in such a way that reading my April segment feels like I’m reading from a different story altogether. The story-teller is the same, but she’s changed a lot in half a year.
April 2016: Written prior to the first heartbreak of an almost-sale.
My house is officially sold. It is so unreal that I sort of need to say it again: My house is officially sold. This is huge. This is really and truly and finally the beginning of the end of my 7-year relationship (and 6-month divorce). It didn’t occur to me until very recently that this break-up isn’t really over until the house is sold, the closing papers signed, and all of our things divided and moved out. While this house is still owned in both our names, while his last few things sit collecting dust in the basement, while the cats he will eventually take live here, we are still in a twisted post-divorce relationship. By default I am and continue to be intrinsically connected to my ex no matter how much I think and feel that I am ready to be separated from him. Until the day we walk away from this beautiful home forever, we are still part of each other’s lives and it was a total shock when I finally had this realization. (How was this not glaringly obvious from the start?) Here I was thinking I was moving forward, when really I have just been teetering on the verge of that final major change without quite falling off the ledge. Well. Now I’m in a free fall. Everything’s changing.
With this change comes an influx of varying thoughts and emotions that change more often than I can keep track: Relieved that the house has finally sold. Sad that I have to leave the (now broken) home that I have cherished for over 5 years. Happy that I can finally move on from this break-up. Heartbroken that I soon have to say goodbye to my cats. Satisfied that we were able to sell for the price we wanted. Scared (with a side of panic) that I am moving into the next phase of my life which is completely unknown and unplanned. Excited for the immediate possibilities just ahead of me now that I won’t have the burden of a mortgage and house to care for. Stressed about packing my entire house in less than a month. And just exhausted by the range of emotions.
When I first shared that I was going through this separation, I wrote about my need to take things one day at a time. Those digestible days started to roll into one another and soon weeks turned into months and I started to see this break-up in phases and steps. But all along, I felt this wonderful comfort living in a limbo where I was somewhat stuck between moving forward and staying completely still in the tightly bound restriction of my unsold house. So here I am, now freed of that constraint, and the certainty of change has me paralyzed.
Most people dislike change. Or at least this is a general assumption I have made to make myself feel better about my utter repulsion at uncontrolled change. It is uncomfortable and scary and I won’t deny it – I hate it! But… I am trying to embrace it, first, because I have no choice and second, because I know that the benefits of this particular change will be positive and exciting. When I shared my Thirty Thoughts at the beginning of the year I wrote about pushing to get out of my comfort zone and this is the biggest push I can think of. The fact that I can’t control it makes it an even better adventure, because I will have to force myself to let go and live my mantra of nonetofigo by going with the flow and making choices when they are immediately in front of me. Scary! Trying to frame it as exciting!
As I have inched toward that sold sign being displayed on my front lawn (FYI, selling a house is a crazy process), I have tried to mentally prepare myself for the discomfort of change that is just ahead of me. Going to yoga really helps, mainly by keeping me grounded and helping me release stress – that hour on my mat is an exercise in breathing slowly while focusing on my body and spirit, and after each session I feel calm and happy and at peace with whichever emotion might be at the top of my heart on that given day. Lately I have taken this further by setting an intention at the start of each session. This is something a few of the instructors encourage for your hour of practice and it’s a simple statement you repeat to yourself – may I be happy, may I be calm, may I find strength, etc. I always make a point to choose an intention that reflects how I’m feeling off the mat – to love myself and enjoy my time alone, to release my stress and anxiety, to say yes and try to live with yes energy, and so on.
When it became clear in recent weeks that the sale of my house was imminent, I found myself regularly repeating “may I embrace change” at the start of each session. Hopefully it’s preparing me for what’s ahead and incredibly, the very first time I set this intention I was offered the opportunity to embrace change almost immediately. It was a Monday night session of yoga with a new instructor I had never seen before and mid-way through the hour she announced that we would be doing wall yoga for the rest of the session. Wall Yoga! Talk about a major change in my usual yoga routine. I laughed to myself internally, repeated “may I embrace change” and (delicately) jumped into the harness.
It was terrifying for about 3 minutes… and then so much fun. You literally hang off the wall in your usual poses and completely let go, allowing the harness and gravity to hold you in place while pulling you downward in perfect harmony. It is one of the most liberating things I have ever done in my life: The act of relinquishing all control, releasing the fear of falling, and finding that magical spot between hanging and holding myself firmly in the pose, all while taking those deep and calming breaths… it was amazing. Yoga already makes me feel so powerful in body and mind, so pushing sideways off a wall with just the tips of my toes brought me to superhero level.
The universe was clearly trying to send me a message when I set that intention for the first time. Embracing change doesn’t have to be terrible. It can actually be the greatest feeling in the world. I don’t think I could make this statement without having gone through the process of evolving from being totally scared of letting go in that harness to being completely enthralled with the powerful energy I felt once I got past the initial discomfort. And I know this experience was meant to happen exactly when it did, just as I find myself on the very edge of this immense change in my life.
So although it is difficult, I am trying my best to put a positive spin on the coming changes. The safety of my limbo between the break-up and my new life has put me into a lull that I’ve been happy to settle into – you can’t make major choices or changes when you still have the responsibility of a shared mortgage with your former boyfriend, and that’s suited me just fine. It’s like I hit pause on my life while the house has been listed so I could go through the process of grieving for and moving on from the relationship.
Now I’m approaching the end of that cosy little pause; it’s time to hit the play button and I’m going to have to start making decisions about what happens next. There are some big questions looming… Where will I go? What will I do? Who will I share my life with? Have I really learned from the failings of my last relationship and will I be better in my next? It’s a lot to think about and with every question comes the implication of another change in my life. It’s scary. But sort of exciting. As my sister told me on one of my bad days when the prospect of all this change had me in a panic, the possibilities are endless and that’s not a bad thing! I have all the freedom in the world to do whatever I want – the only limitation is what I choose to impose upon myself.
My intention to embrace change in that yoga class and the ensuing adventures in wall yoga feel like a microcosm of my entire life and current situation. Saying yes to change instead of no, feeling that very real fear when confronted with making a change, going through the uncomfortable process of changing, and then realizing that the change is better than anything I could have imagined was exhilarating. I’m starting to believe that this could apply in all areas of my life and I think I’m actually getting on board with my sister’s excitement about the endless possibilities (instead of letting the crippling fear take me over). It’s a choice to say “yes, this is scary, but yes, this will be thrilling too.” It’s a decision to let go and accept that it’s impossible to control everything. It’s the difference between jumping and falling off that ledge. I like to think of it as somewhere in between – I want to jump fearlessly into the unknown and fall with an open heart toward whatever will come, knowing that wherever I land will be a place filled with people I love, fuelled by the positive energy that I bring with me.
November 2016: Written after a year of divorce and growth.
So much changed in the 7 months since I first thought my house was sold. My 6-month divorce extended into a year-long debacle that dragged on for so long that I would sometimes forget that I still had a house for sale and an ex-boyfriend still in my life. People would ask me if it was hard and stressful to still have this going on, and it became such a standard part of my existence that I would just shrug and say, “meh, not really”.
And yet, when I got the call from my agent – the call confirming that all the conditions were lifted, meaning that this was really done – I cried. I laughed and I shrieked and I cried, and I felt as though a physical weight had been lifted off of me. It was a weight that I had carried for so long that I didn’t even realize it was there, dragging me down and telling me that this was normal, this was real life. The shift was unbelievable. Suddenly I felt so light and so free – able to breath, able to stretch, able to lift my head and consider everything available to me in this enormous and amazing world. No more limbo.
Reading the incredibly long thought process about my impending (and then aborted) exit from limbo shows me how much things really do change. (And also how they sort of don’t?)
- I don’t have cats anymore. I said goodbye to them in July and it was heartbreaking… but I survived.
- Moving in less than a month? HA! What was I so worried about? I have 3 weeks this time and I’m thrilled to be ripping off this bandage as quickly as possible.
- I haven’t been to yoga in months… and this trip down memory lane has reminded me how much I was getting from that practice. Why did I ever give it up?
- At some point between April and November, I started to embrace the things that scare me. There’s something exhilarating about being afraid and pushing through that fear – there’s nothing quite like breaking through to the other side. To me, it brings out these amazing feelings of being powerful and alive.
- I feel dubious about how optimistic I was by the end of my April post. Was I fooling myself into thinking that I was ready for these big changes? Was it a beautiful lie I told to find comfort when so much was uncertain? I’m not sure that I really felt ready to move forward… compared to now when I’m practically counting the days until this is all behind me.
- The big questions still plague me (Where will I go? What will I do next? How will I do in my next relationship?) and so do the people asking them (CAN I JUST MOVE OUT OF MY HOUSE AND END MY 8 YEAR RELATIONSHIP PLEASE?) but they don’t bother me as much. Nonetofigo, one day at a time, I’ll get there.
- I feel no panic whatsoever. Complete uncertainty, yes. Extreme excitement, absolutely. But there’s an absence of panic for sure.
I’m ready. Bring on all the changes, let’s see where my next adventure takes me.
The other day I was listening to my (perfectly) curated “Fall Fall Fall” seasonal playlist made by yours truly on Spotify and as one of my favourite tunes came on I had this unexpected epiphany about the song that sent me into a spiral of random and interconnected thoughts about repetition. Herein is my attempt to summarize those thoughts in a (hopefully) coherent and eloquent manner for no reason other than getting it out of my brain and onto (virtual) paper. Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected. Or if anything, it feels interconnected. Let’s start by playing this song on repeat:
This lovely track by The Morning Benders has been a favourite of mine for a few months – it inevitably makes it onto most of the playlists that I put together and whenever I hear it I always get all sorts of feels. It’s got all the good things you want to hear in a great song: A slow build up at the beginning, a rolling drum that prevails through the course of the 5 minutes of song, a bridge that sucks you in by dropping most of the instruments and focusing mainly on layered vocals before building back up with all the sounds… It’s a goodie. I’ve listened to it countless times (often on repeat) and love love love it. But something clicked for me the other day when it came on that I had never noticed before. Right around the 40 second mark, after that awesome introductory build up at the beginning of the song, the music swells with strings and a very familiar melody comes into play… Do you hear it?
Did I imagine it, or is there something resonating in those strings that sounds just a little like the strings in this endlessly classic love song? It isn’t exactly the same but there’s this slight familiarity that suddenly became very apparent to me in that moment and I haven’t been able to shake it since. This isn’t to say that I think “Excuses” is copying “At Last” – it’s been years since I’ve read sheet music but I’m sure if you put these two songs side by side they would differ – and it’s quite possible that nobody else will hear this the same way that I do. But to me, the connection is there and it only made me love the song even more.
This newly born enhanced admiration is fascinating. Why is it that I love something even more now that it reminds me of something else that I’ve loved for ages? Is it the familiarity? Is it like the comfort of an old and trusted friend? Is it the fact that repetition is something that I love and embrace whenever possible? I’m certainly guilty of incorporating repetition into my life on a regular basis – songs are repeated multiple times across the playlists that I create on Spotify, I’ve re-read books that I adore countless times (can I get an amen from other HP fans out there?), I will happily watch my favourite TV shows or movies multiple times to the point that I can throw out obscure quotes without any prompting, and I even feel the act of writing this blog to be one of the most feel-good repetitive activities in my life. And now, as I write these words, it is starting to occur to me that it’s not really surprising at all that I love repetition, because it allows me to fill my life with things that I know I adore with complete certainty.
If we apply this idea universally, I think it explains why we see (and more importantly, accept) repetition in so many areas of our lives. We all love the chorus of a song because it’s same words repeated over and over, allowing us to recognize, appreciate, and sing along. It seems like every other song on the radio these days includes a sample from an older song that we all know and love… And because these new artists are drawing from classics that are timeless, they are sure to pull in a wider audience – even the kids who don’t know the original may feel a nostalgic familiarity when they hear the music, perhaps from that one time on the radio when they were quite young or at a distance from an older sibling’s bedroom. Reboots of old movies and sequels seem to achieve the same thing – it’s like all of Hollywood collectively had a realization that remakes and extensions of stories = box office gold. What’s not to love? A classic story is timeless, so retelling it with a slightly new spin is just another way to relive it again and again.
In my English Literature days at university, one of my graduating seminar courses was all about those epic stories that we retell over and over thematically with only minor changes in the plot. The fight of good against evil. The flawed hero. The journey to a distant land and triumphant (or sometimes bittersweet) return home. The evolution of a character from naive youth to wise (or disillusioned) adulthood. Do we tell the same stories and love them unconditionally because their formulaic beginning, middle, and end are predictable but still surprising in their minor variances? What’s that saying? “We are creatures of habit.” We embrace the repetition because we know what to expect and are delighted when what we thought would happen transpires exactly as we predicted.
It’s such a funny concept, because we love that predictable and comfortable feeling of repetition but we are equally thrilled when we are presented with something completely new. Every album by Radiohead is drastically different than the last and nothing ever sounds like anything they’ve done before… And while that consistency of newness is an act of repetition in itself, that novelty produces a feeling unlike anything I can get out of listening to a favourite old song on repeat. The same goes for a film or any type of story that shocks us with a surprise ending or twist along the way that goes against the conventional story-telling that we’ve come to expect in our repeat-saturated society. I love a movie that ends with the main characters not reuniting after a ridiculously romantic grand gesture. I adore stories that end abruptly with no clear indication as to the resolution or aftermath of the climax. I like it when we abandon the repetition every now and then.
This tension between the conventional and unconventional has been on my mind for a few days. I know without question that I love repeat offenders. But I know that I have an equal passion for that which is brand new and unfamiliar – I’ve even written about embracing that type of discomfort on this very blog in the last year. And while the focus of this post has been purely around stories and music, my line of thinking extends to how we live our lives and interact with each other. So much has changed in my life in the last year and while I’ve settled into new routines (thereby grounding myself in repeating familiar daily and weekly activities), I’ve also found myself venturing into unknown territory that’s far from the standard mould of life that I (or society) believed was the only way of living. I followed one template for life (and lived it well) for many years and then it fell apart… Leading me to question if that template is the right one for me, or if there is a different template that exists that I ought to follow, or if I just need to live life without any template at all… Which would be a life of zero repetition in the act of doing things differently and embracing the new or unknown. (Scary! Maybe Exciting!)
As I run through the list of things that repeat in my life that I love passionately, #1 on the list has to be the changing of the seasons. The consistency of observing one season melt into the next is probably one of the most beautiful markers of the passage of time in my life. Spring will always follow Winter. The leaves will always change colour as Summer transitions to Fall. The sun will set in a different spot in the sky throughout the course of a year. In this corner of the world, I know with certainty that the seasons at their very core will always be a constant in my life and that’s incredibly comforting. But, at the same time, I know that every season will be a little bit different than the last… We can know without question that it will eventually snow here, but when and how much is unknown.
So maybe that’s the trick to finding a balance between repeat offenders and new inventors. We can embrace repetition by acknowledging and nodding to things that occurred in the past while simultaneously valuing and striving for something just a little bit different and somewhat new within the act of repeating. For all I know, “Excuses” is an intentional riff on “At Last” (I think that they are both hopelessly romantic in their own way within their respective eras). This blog is often an unintentional source of repetition – whenever I write a post, I question if I’ve used the same words too many times or if I’ve repeated certain phrases or ideas in older posts, but even in that doubt I know that there’s a unique story in every post, even when it refers back to something I’ve already spoken about. And anyway, I think I’ve decided that repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing… In fact, I actively embraced it today. (Did you notice the repeated use of brackets? Didn’t I already have a blog post title that refers to repeat offenders? Did I use the word repetition a lot? Did I ask several open-ended questions?) Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected.
Here is my latest confession: I’ve turned into an Instagram junkie. No shame – it’s slowly become my creative outlet in 2016 in the absence of writing. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to keep this blog alive (at least not right now, in this new phase of my life that’s focused on staying active and getting myself out of the house as much as possible) but I still feel an unyielding desire for artistic expression and creativity that needs to be addressed… And Instagram somehow satisfies that need in a simple and beautiful way. Is that lame? I don’t really care.
There’s something strange and fascinating about my addiction to this tool that I see as a medium for art, because it is simultaneously a vehicle for human interaction and individualized narcissism. (Not to mention that it’s owned by Facebook, an entity that I begrudgingly embrace only because you basically can’t exist in modern times without being on the book.) Art, social, and ego. In my world on Instagram these three very different concepts exist and play together in an interesting way, highlighting and sometimes undercutting each other.
At the most basic level Instagram is a social tool, giving us yet another way to interact with our friends by letting them know what we are up to in a single frame. We will often take this a step further, bringing them in on the action by tagging them when they are in the photos. The act of tagging someone in a picture on Instagram is a modern expression of love to a certain degree – to tag or mention someone in a comment is a deliberate connection with that person in our online world. And in this tech-pervasive society, our online connections are fundamental if not an extension of our offline human relationships – hasn’t it become the status quo to maintain a relationship both online and offline? What’s even more interesting to me is Instagram’s capacity for human interaction beyond our existing connections – by applying a hashtag that is used by thousands (or millions), we can gather likes or new followers and this human interaction with strangers is fulfilling in a very different way.
At a deeper level, Instagram is a tool that feeds our narcissistic egos by allowing us to show ourselves off in a very calculated way. I still believe that everyone filters themselves online by choosing to show a specific narrative about their lives that they want others to see, and this is perfectly epitomized in the act of sharing a photo of oneself with the public. I would never willingly post a picture of myself that I do not absolutely love and while I certainly do not post that many pictures of myself on Instagram, I completely understand why people do. The one time I indulged my narcissistic side and posted a photo of my solitary self grinning at the camera, the overwhelming positive feedback in likes and comments was incredibly rewarding. It gave me a little boost that was totally unexpected, so I agree with and encourage the narcissism (in moderation) because it is healthy to feel good about ourselves and engage in self-love. And sometimes it can be difficult to do this alone, so using this tool to receive positive encouragement and reinforcement can be a good start.
The simple act of tapping that little heart can potentially brighten someone’s day and have a huge impact. This is a beautiful illustration of social and ego playing together on Instagram and it’s one of the reasons that I have come to adore this little application. It is truly a vehicle for beauty, human interaction, and self-love… And as a student of Communications who exited school just as social media was ramping up, it is endlessly thought-provoking and entertaining to look at Instagram from these different angles and through different filters (pun absolutely intended).
The role of the hashtag feels fairly significant in all of this. This is something I learned quickly in my adventures on WordPress – adding tags to a blog post has a direct correlation to the number of people who actually read the post – and the same logic applies on Instagram. Where that element of human interaction is concerned, the hashtag is inarguably a means to an end if your goal is to connect with strangers in this online world. Of course, there are opposing views on the matter, or at least I get the sense that people tend to have varied (and very strong) opinions about the hashtag. Personally, I have mixed emotions.
On one hand, the hashtag is a great way to expose yourself and get your photos in front of a wider audience because a “real” hashtag will invariably get you more likes (which I suppose is sort of the point in view of that element of human interaction and connecting with others). On the other hand, it feels like a contrived attempt at getting the most likes and comments possible to feed the ego, and on top of that it seems completely silly and strange that our entire society now communicates with these little clips of text. I’m even guilty of taking the hashtag offline into verbal communication or text messages… Why? What is it about a hashtag that says something more than the simple words themselves? Is there something more concise or definitive about putting that symbol in front of a word (or many words)? #whydoesthisfeelmoremeaningful than just writing the words themselves?
Ah, the hashtag… An enigma and polarizing entity that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. As a result, I often find myself presenting a mix of both “real” hashtags along with silly and over-the-top “unreal” hashtags that are so unbearably long that nobody could actually make them into something reusable that people would follow. Which is sort of the point, to laugh at the medium of the hashtag and ironically participate while also accepting that this is the norm and way to get that exposure and feeling of community that comes with sharing a photo with strangers. Social and ego, playing together again. My profile is public for a reason – like others, at least I suspect, I am trying to build an online persona that is a mix of a filtered and somewhat unreal version myself while being an equally genuine representation of who I am, what is important to me, and what I find to be beautiful in the world.
This online persona is a projection of who I really want to be. She is happy-go-lucky, open, friendly, artistic, and maybe she does something other than a corporate day job. She is mysterious and creative and has a good eye for framing shots, and just like everyone else online, she knows how to apply a good filter. Her profile is public because she is unafraid of sharing who she is and she wants to embrace the world with open arms. She uses hashtags like #sunset and #montreal unabashedly, not to get more followers but in the hope that she will connect with people.
But of course in this online persona and in real life, I do want to be honest… So let’s get real, I obviously apply a filter on nearly all of the pictures that I post on Instagram… But doesn’t everyone? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make the world more beautiful and that’s really what the filter allows me to do, at least until Apple finally invents a camera on their phone that can 100% capture the true beauty of the incredible scenes that I frame with my iPhone.
Beyond the feeling that it’s impossible to capture the real thing, it’s equally appealing to me that you can apply a filter onto a photo and all of a sudden something looks that much more beautiful – it can be more glossy, or have a softer edge, or feel classically retro, or be more vibrant and colourful. Suddenly there is something a little unreal about it, and even though you know it is unreal, it still feels somewhat truthful. It is a challenging concept though because this means that I am publicly presenting and giving myself a filtered memory of that moment. When I look back on these pictures, I will have to acknowledge that they are not entirely representative of that precise moment in real life. But memory is already a bit of a haze as it is, so what’s wrong with giving it a nice glow?
With that being said, here in the photos I have shared you should know the unfiltered truth behind them. Some of the nights that I went to watch those sunsets I felt very sad and lonely. Some nights I felt really, really good about myself and thought that I was on top of the world. Some nights I felt very witty and clever and pleased to be taking such beautiful pictures. Some nights I was just content to be watching the sunset while listening to good music. Some nights I felt frustrated and angry with myself for being too focused on posting a picture. Some nights I felt like I was perfectly aligned with the universe and exactly where I was supposed to be. On all of those nights, I am fairly certain that none of these emotions were conveyed in the captions included with those pictures. That’s Instagram. #Filter. #NoFilter.