Stumbling Upon Epiphanies

Some moments hit us right in the feels.

For the first time in weeks, I took a morning coffee into the harbour and sat by the water’s edge, simmering in the moment before the inevitable descent of the day’s tourists. Sun dappling the water caused a hallucinatory disco ball effect as I sat lost in thought, bobbing on a wharf in the wake of early harbour traffic.

Somehow I sat for exactly long enough that I wound up stretching my calves on the stairs just as a couple in their late-50s, early-60s were walking past with their dog. The spaniel fell in love with me and wouldn’t budge, staring at me, smitten.

Naturally, Louie’s owners and I fell into chuckles and conversation, and soon she let slip they’d just found their land-legs after docking last night, the end of their six-month sail from New Zealand to here, Victoria.

Bucket list: Check.

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A gorgeous August sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road.

And maybe that’s not on my bucket list, maybe it will be one day, but I allowed myself to kinda vibe off them. They oozed this surreal afterglow of “We Did It.” He told of how they had a humpback whale pod following behind them, playing in their wake, swimming alongside them. Humpback whales! A pod! Thank god for Go-Pro cameras. Coming to a Youtube near you.

They looked happy. A picture of contentment.

And that’s not me. Not today. I’m not a picture of contentment or happiness. I’m not deeply unhappy or sad, either. Just longing for something I can’t put a finger on.

Get Busy Livin’

It comes back to age and experience, living life. These people get it. It’s not about the money, the fame, the glory. It’s about where you go, how you get there, and what you see along the way. I think my age, 40, is when you start understanding those truths — if you’re lucky. I understand life comes with a “best before” date. I’m aware.

My mother died at 57. She didn’t get a retirement. There are no guarantees.

I know too many people my age working for their “retirement.” I want my work to be my life, and to feed my life. Travel, exploring, writing, photography. I get it now. Something looms for me: The anniversary of when I nearly died a decade ago, my head injury and scooter accident. It was Labour Day weekend, 2004. I learned then how precious life was. I wouldn’t say I squandered the next eight years, but they weren’t the years I’d have chosen if I could.

The last two years, though, I wouldn’t change much. They’ve been what they needed to be. A coming to terms, of sorts. A reprioritizing. A slow and steady waking. I can tell you now, the discontent of those first eight years fuels my growing reluctance to compromise now. I know what unhappiness is, and I don’t want it again. For me, contentment is a choice and I choose it more often these days.

I know we’re all works-in-progress. Some people are more focused on progress than others. Some know where they’re going, some don’t. I didn’t. Now I do.

Sufi mystics sitting in mountain caves will tell you it can take years of silence to find wisdom. They’ll tell you clarity isn’t a flick of a switch. It’s not being in darkness and opting to turn on a light. It’d be a pretty amazing world to live in if it were that simple. You don’t walk into a forest meadow and pronounce yourself ready for enlightenment.

Epiphanies just ain’t opt-in.

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Even doggies like the sunset. From Victoria’s Dallas Road.

A Serendipitous Intersection

So somehow I spent the exact amount of seconds sitting there and staring into sunlight dancing on the water, and plodded the causeway precisely slow enough, that I was there, stretching my calves on the steps, and just happened to meet Louie and his owners, provoking a conversation that led me to understanding exactly what it is I want, where I want to be, and how I want to get there.

It helped me strip away all that bullshit in between. The noise of obligation, the drain of a hard working schedule, the tasks that lie ahead.

If that windswept look of contentment, that be-here-now look of absolute satisfaction is something that comes from me staying on this path, working as hard as I have been, and keeping my eye on my goal, then I’m ready. I can do that. I can be that girl.

Like them, it’ll never be about the money for me. Obviously there’s a certain amount of money needed for an epic adventure like that, but there’s also a new world out there. A world where work is anywhere I need it to be, as long as there’s the internet and a computer to do it from. The world can be my office.

Times will come when I forget this clarity, this awareness. It’s in stopping to write about it that I hope I preserve it for just a little while longer.

I’m writing an ebook about the adventure leading to my life abroad and the evolution taking place inside me along that journey. Are you on my mailing list? That’s where you’ll get excerpts. (Or if you’re into my cooking, there will also be some recipes along the way.) Please sign up to follow along.

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Posted in Dimestore Philosophy, Impending travels, Life 101 | Leave a comment

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30–60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

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Posted in Being me, keeping it real, Life 101, Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Which I Stop and Think About The Week

For days now I’ve been trying to put my new book to bed. It’s now the conversion for Amazon formats posing the problem and I’ll have to deal with more kerfuffling on it until nightfall — except work and real life have to be in the way first.

I find, sometimes, that the most worthwhile ventures are the most difficult ones to finish off. Little conundrums keep coming up, as if to poke you and prod you and ask “How badly do you really want it? Huh? Bad?”

A friend recently filed for divorce and her papers came back from court with an “error” that prevented processing — 6 months after she filed. My thoughts then were that life was giving her the opportunity to say “Yes, this divorce is REALLY what I need,” whereas six months ago she was probably pleased to file but somewhere deep down inside was hesitating.

Fraught with delays, I find myself with the same kind of second thoughts. I’m more confident in my book now, more agitated about it finding an audience, and more ready than ever to take the next step and begin another one anew.

That certainty and determination can escape us for a while, but when teased with interference from external forces, we get truly motivated and confident about it being what we want.

So that much I know, and for that reason I’m trying to take deep breaths and accept that this is all part of what just needs to go down before I can rise up and face something new.

Weirdly, in the end these delays may offer me another advantage. After all, when’s the last big-bad-news week you’ve seen on this scale? It only happens once or twice a year that a week seems to tumble all over itself with bad news. Robin Williams is dead, Ferguson is inflaming, and people seem collectively distracted, hurting, and angry.

It’s a sad, sorrowful week and the focus deserves to be on these matters, not on little me and my book. I’d feel like an asshole marketing myself in the midst of all that’s going on in the world right now, so if this buys me a few days before the big new release, then so be it. I know I’d rather pay my respects to the dead and distraught this week.

***

I’ve been avoiding the topic of Robin Williams because I really don’t want to consciously “go there” much, but I guess that’s the point of the mental health discussions that have ensued.

I think sometimes about being an introvert, and as much as I love honouring that side of myself, I know it often is as unhealthy as it is healthy. That’s the price of it. Every passing year I tell myself I’ll find a truer balance between being alone and being social, but I still default to my party-of-one mode that feels most comfortably.

Then I hear about someone like Robin Williams and I wonder how much healthier his soul would’ve been had he just been able to take more time alone — because how much time alone can a world-famous family man have?

Today we’re learning he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and it all makes a little more sense to me, why he’s gone now. I imagine there are fewer things in the world that make you do battle with yourself more aggressively than Bipolar Disorder and Parkinson’s, and now he was to be dealing with both. I can imagine the desolation and worry that would come from such an ominous double-dose of mental affliction. I can understand why there might be a night or a morning when it would be all too easy to say “I give up.”

The day after his death, I was scrolling through Facebook and someone posted an image that said “Share this if you would stay up all night to talk someone out of suicide.”

And I didn’t share it. Not because I wouldn’t stay up all night for a friend who needed it, but because I understand suicide in a way that is not readily understood by most people. Having been in the position where I thought nothing could ever improve and that I could never care about life again, I get that feeling.

The difference is, I was only 32 and it’s far, far too young an age to just give up. Eight years later, I’ve significantly increased my income, increased my satisfaction with life, moved to a new city, and have a book about to be sold on Amazon. I’ve really turned things around, and would I have known then what would be here today, it would’ve made it easier to believe the page could turn.

But for someone 63, had lived an incredible life, wasn’t just depressed but bipolar and felt constantly out of control, who then got a diagnosis of Parkinson’s… Gosh, all I could say would be “I understand and hope you stick around to fight things for a while… but… I understand.”

Suicide is sometimes not “killing yourself” but instead opting into euthanasia. If you support euthanasia for ALS or something, then you should also understand suicide as a reaction to long-term despondency and depression. They’re both about ending a life consumed with pain.

And they’re both terribly tragic, but they’re both harder on the person left behind. It’s not about “giving up the fight,” it’s about choosing when to end a fight that’s not going to have a winner.

In the end, I’m thankful we had Robin Williams’ genius in the world. He was a voice of a generation, and I feel like this Time article was exactly bang-on.

But when the most unique voice of his age, the best physical comedian alive, and one of the biggest hearts in the world feels like it’s all over… well, it’s his show, his curtains.

I hope his legacy looms large. I hope we have learned more about ourselves. I hope we all share a bit more, laugh a little harder, and love a little longer. Those were lessons he exemplified.

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Robin Williams, Depression, and The Fight

Every now and then, a three-line Facebook update becomes an opus. An article tripped my switch this morning on the dearly departed Robin Williams and the “myth” of battling depression.

As someone who consciously “chose” to fight it, with a strict regiment of drugs, exercise, therapy, and diet, I both agree and disagree with that article. Here’s the Facebook status I found myself writing:

****

Excellent article but also defeatist. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking you can fight depression.

But I think talking about that fight means also acknowledging that some fights can’t be won. That’s just the way it rolls. The writer’s right. Suicide makes perfect sense when you’re in depression. I understand it completely. When people go “I can’t understand how he could–”

My answer to them is: Then you’ve never been properly depressed.

Suicide is completely logical. I’m sorry but glad if you don’t understand it. It’s tragic to the rest of us because we can’t fathom a world with less of that person in it, because we valued their contribution to our lives even if they couldn’t see it. Because we’re not depressed.

But to the depressed person, two thoughts occur: One, my pain will stop. Because that ever-cloaking nothingness, the void and emptiness and woefulness that is a true depression, it’s more painful on a deeper, ebbing level than you can ever understand if you’ve never been TRULY depressed. And two, my burdening of those who love me and worry about me will finally cease — I’ll be doing them a favour; they’ll hurt a bit and then they’ll move on.

Thank god I haven’t felt that in eight years. I hope I never feel it again. I’m relieved to know now — eight years later, that I was statistically destined for depression because of my traumatic brain injury, which they now know results in 8 out of 10 TBI sufferers going through catastrophic depression within the next decade of their life.

My depression hit me in my third year after my brain injury, but it had been building for over a year.

So when they say “it isn’t a fight, you don’t fight it,” I say bullshit. I say there are many deep, suicidal depressions that can be fought because they’re a matter of body chemistry.

And for those for whom no amount of fighting can help, I feel huge amounts of sympathy. I know there are people who will always be on the edge of that veil of darkness, for whom there are no resolutions right now. What a brave life they lead.

Yes. Some depressions that cannot be fought as we know them now, because too much of the science of brain injury/illness is beyond our grasp. Just because we can’t understand it today doesn’t mean we won’t understand it soon, and for that, I believe diet/exercise/therapy/support/honesty and all of that combines to help for the average depression sufferer.

I think we’re beginning to learn how pervasive illnesses of the mind are. I think we have come a long way. I have faith we’ll go further still.

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Eat Good Food! Buy My Book!

late summer nightsHEY, MINIONS.

The day is here! I’ve released my first-ever book and it’s a cookbook. I’ve been cooking since I was 5 years old. I’ve taught cooking camps to kids from ages 8 to 17, and I’ve been paid by folks to teach them one-on-one too, so I’m not your normal “hobby” chef.

In fact, I’m really political about cooking. I believe cooking is the most valuable skill you can learn and it’s one of the biggest acts of rebellion you can make. I believe your purchasing choices for local foods, quality ingredients, and the shunning of big-food processed products is as political as you can get on a day-to-day basis. The food industry is a giant now, and the more we little people do at home with real ingredients grown or craft-made by local artisanal foods folks, the more we can shake the foundation of Big Agriculture.

My goal when I wrote this cookbook was to INSPIRE you, not just give you recipes. I want to empower you to see that recipes can be infinitely adjusted and personalized to suit your taste. I want you to see that cooking simply doesn’t mean being boring. I want you to feel like you can spend $10 to make a meal you’d bleed $40 to eat in a restaurant.

Eat Yummy Things and Live Better

Cooking isn’t about eating — it’s about having a creative outlet, taking a little time out to reflect on your day while you chop and simmer and stew. It’s about telling yourself you’re worth the time it takes to make something nice — whether you live alone or have a a slew of people in your household. It’s about feeding yourself food that’s from the land you live on and going to bed with that happy, full feeling that comes from eating well. This relates to the idea of the Qi of food — that which is grown on the land you live upon will provide you the energy you need to live and be there.

If I change a few people from being the kind of folks who think “eating well” means getting food from restaurants and instead make them into people who think they can do it better at home, then I’m gonna feel like I’ve met my goal.

All That and Just Plain Good Writin’

But in the end, all of this matters jack-shit if my writing isn’t engaging, funny, or clear. From early response, my first readers are indicating I’m meeting those standards — and more! Please check it out. Support me by spending a measly $5, and help me inspire a small-scale revolution that starts in your kitchen. With over 25 recipes and at 63 pages, I think it’s worth the price of a coffee. (You’ll receive free updates in the future, too!)

If you’d like to give it as a gift, you can do that too — just click the little “present” icon in the purchase box.

BUY MY BOOK HERE.

Early Readers are Raving

My friend, Steffani Cameron has just launched her new e-book. It is a cookbook. A no nonsense, everyone can do it, get your grill out and eat good food kinda book. Possibly the best $5 you will ever spend. Get one & good things will happen.” — My friend Angie Quaale, who is a celebrity chef, BBQ champion, and owner of Langley’s Well Seasoned store.

Your humor is priceless. Enjoying the reading, as much as the recipes. Never laughed so much (in a)  long time.” — A new Twitter follower who received it as a gift, @ddsnorth

 

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Posted in Autobiographical, Books, Cooking, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Of Luck, Books, Loss, and Learning


Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve had family visit, some weird things go down, emotional highs and lows, and it’s just before 7 on a Friday night after a mentally-grueling day. Tomorrow, I finish my final edit on my first ebook and send it out into the world. My baby gets its walking papers.

Speaking of lows, Wednesday was the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death, and that oddly wasn’t a low this week. In fact, it’s the first time since she died that I didn’t think about her in a “Mom died today” kind of way on her death anniversary. Newer and stranger still is that this doesn’t make me feel guilty. After all, I’ll never forget my mom and I’ll never not be sad that she’s dead, but it’s like I said many years ago, that with each passing year that pain just becomes a little less dominant but a little more permanent, like a scar or faded tattoo, it’s a new part of me.

It’s just a thing. Death, grief, you don’t ever stop missing people you love. That’s the nature of it.my sunset

But I guess there comes a time when we realize we are as much shaped by our losses as we are our successes, and that becomes okay. Well, if you’re like me and you’re happy with the person you’re becoming in the face of all the things you’ve been over the years, then yeah, it becomes okay to be forged through fire and come out of it as steel, whether it’s by people dying or other adversity. It’s really okay.

The older I am, the happier I am about being a strong(er) person.

Stronger, But More Grateful Too

So, it’s a crazy week, right? I’m publishing my first book and now lapsing into reflection about the many years that have passed, the hardships I’ve known, and how tonight I’m thinking about a bike ride to get some pizza, some wine, some sun. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but two years ago I would’ve killed to be able to casually plan to drop $30 on a Friday night pizza/wine combination. Money was still very tight for me 24 months ago. I was having a lot of “budget days” then. And cycling into the sunshine for it, that’s another thing I feel grateful for. Life after back injury is no small gratitude.

Many times over the last 15 years I would’ve given so much to have my “lows” this “death anniversary” week merely be insomnia and a rough day at work. I chuckle at the thought of that being the “low” this week. It’s a good thing, to move on.

I’m sure some reader, somewhere is all “Pfft, you should’ve moved on years ago,” and to them I would merely say fuck you. One doesn’t choose to move on. One can try. One can even force the issue, but the reality is, you don’t move on until you move on. I’ve tried, I’ve forced it, I’ve rammed it into myself. It didn’t take. One of those things.

Last year, I had a friend tell me her daughter’s death day, year 14, was the last time it had wracked her with grief, and year 15 was when she had finally processed it and made peace with it too.

You don’t choose catharsis, catharsis chooses you.

Of Lucky Numbers and Me

My mom sold real estate in Chinatown, probably the only fishbelly-white redheaded woman ever to do so before year 2000. She ate a lot of wontons, loved stirfry, was the token white lady on the company tour to China, and loved immersing in their culture.

She was always thrilled when she’d find or get a new listing that had three or more 8’s in the address, including postal code, because she knew it’d be popular with the very traditional Chinese customers, who were often the high-rollers. It’s an “auspicious” number, foretelling great wealth and good fortune. Abundance in life. Lemme tell ya, I’ve had auspicious abundance since last year, when I moved into my apartment that has three 8’s in its mailing address.

Well, I registered my book today. The ISBN number not only has three 8’s, it also has four 9’s. Nine, it turns out, is the auspicious Chinese number for “long-lasting” and loyalty.

I don’t see these numbers as applying to just this one ISBN, but rather to my future as a writer.

Shush! It’s my fucking superstition, I get to interpret it any way I like. I’ll be auspiciously abundant and with great longevity.

The numbers have spoken.

And now I have some numbers to translate into pizza and wine. Hello, Visa card! (It has 8s and 9s too. Huh.)

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  • About Steff

    This is my interstellar craft of truth and wit. Buckle up. If you want celebrity gossip, this is not the blog for you. If you want comfortable postings that’ll fill you with happy fuzzy thoughts about the world at large, or self-help guru shit, this is not the blog for you.
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