Inconvenient Lessons Are the Best Lessons

Dreaming is a luxury of the able, I sometimes find. Those able to afford it, those able to do it.

Injury and adversity flips my switch from thriving to surviving, and I find all dreams and desires vanish as a matter of necessity. All that matters is this day, this challenge, and overcoming it. After that, maybe then dreams.

This leg injury of the past week has been an interesting life-lesson for me. A Steff-lesson too, in that I’ve learned a bit about myself.

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I don’t think I’ve ever realized before now just how drastic that flip of my switch is. I go from imagining my future to having this rather dogged what-needs-to-happen one-foot-in-front-of-the-other modus operandi on basic survival. I’ve barely even thought about “Life Abroad” this week.

(Psst, you know I started a new blog, “Full Nomad,” for my travels, right? Start here.)

And it has only been nine days for me with the knee/meniscus issue, but it’s like a spotlight on why I had no “dreams” for so long when I was living in Vancouver.

I was just trying to survive, man.

I got out at the right time. Any longer and I think I might’ve crippled myself emotionally. It just wasn’t the right place for me anymore. That may sound dramatic to some, but I really don’t care. I don’t like to think of who I might’ve become had I kept ignoring the signs of what was wrong in my life.

No one should ignore what’s going wrong in their lives, though. That’s the trick of existence. There’s a certain amount we have to abide, because life isn’t a happy-happy sunshine club every day, but there’s a point where ignoring lack of contentment starts to eat at who we are. I was long past that.

Once I got to Victoria, I realized that this wasn’t my “place” either. I do love it here. I love Vancouver too. It’s just that there’s something missing for me. That “something” is likely not anything specific, but instead the excitement of travel and the drinking-in of every culture on the planet, an alternate existence I thought I’d live in my 20s and it never happened.

But this week, I stopped thinking about all that. I just wanted to be here, to enjoy this place. Victoria is gobsmackingly gorgeous as spring blooms, and I want to be a part of it.

Funnily, it’s because I was injured three times in a row last summer and worked so much during it all that I made the decision to stay until my 42nd birthday this September. One final summer in the Queen’s beloved Victoria.

Ironic then that on what we in Vancouver & Victoria have always jokingly considered the start of spring, February 21st, that I should suffer this knee injury.

Oddly, though, it’s healing faster and better than any knee injury I’ve ever had. It’s just inconvenient long enough to teach me — or remind me — about perseverance, restraint, gratitude, and dreaming.

I feel a lot of gratitude today. I’ve been pretty much walking without any support for a couple days. I last really used my crutch on Friday night. If I go for a walk tomorrow, it’ll be with a cane. I’ll be in a knee brace for a few weeks until I’m confident my knee is fully healed, but I’m so optimistic that I can get fully past this before April, leaving me nearly 6 months to get in better condition for Life Abroad.

Today’s dream involves thinking about the travel bike I’ll buy for my trip and where it might just take me once I’m in Europe. I like the idea of spending part of Spring in France, living in the countryside where I have to cycle 3 to 5km into town for a morning croissant and to buy baguette for my dinner with cheese and charcuterie and wine. Nice slow ambling over rolling hills, lavender wafting in an early morning breeze.

Nothing in this world feels as free as cycling down a new road in a new place in the sunshine with a breeze and not a care in the world. Nothing. To do that abroad, in places I’ve always dreamed of seeing, that will be a huge ingredient in the success of my travels.

To make that happen, now another gear must shift — writing for dollahs. To work, Cinderelly. To work.

Hobbling Through Enlightenment

Note: Yeah, I have a new shiny travel blog, but I’ll still turn back here for slice-of-life postings I like to do that are not about the travels.

Crutches. Painkillers. Icebags. Elevation. These are the cornerstones of my weekend and the week ahead. Maybe the next two. God forbid it last longer than that.

Meniscus issues, it seems. I say “seems” because x-rays loom. My crazy-ass former-rugby-team-doc chiro tried a (painful) trick of pushing what seemed like a meniscus flap back into where it belonged. Two days later, I can bend my knee 90 degrees again. Not any further, and not without strain, but that’s a start. (Pro tip: If it’s a “rugby team cure,” expect to cry like a baby or punch the doc. Guy’s lucky I didn’t belt him.)

This gimp knee means that, for now, Netflix is my god.

elevated and iced

Today’s viewing includes the VICE doc “All This Mayhem” about the Pappas brothers and their skateboarding rise to glory and drugs/crime-fuelled crushing defeats. It’s about a blend of tragedy and redemption. Angst, attitude, and all the inevitable pitfalls that come from confusing being a student in life with being a victim of it.

We lived on the cusp of hoods and lifestyles when I grew up. A former vacationing area for the big city became an early suburb, filled with new families and financially-challenged folks who were living on the outskirts. It was an area made of equal parts the gentrifying invading forces along with the mainstay white trash.

I was offered my first drugs at 8 years old, but somehow I stayed on the fluffy-angelic line of the divide in the years to come. My brother toyed with the angst and everything else that came from the disenfranchisement of the suburbs. We were equal parts the product of our upbringing.

We were never in the leagues of those who really went astray. I remember a lot of those in my youth who were really, really angry. Some went on to crime and drugs, others went on to bleak places that were more internal than external. Some just died young.

I dealt with enough stupidity in my teens, just like a lot of other folks did. These “happy family” types piss me off sometimes even now because I’ve never really experienced that. It’s a weird world, tight-knit families.

I love my family but it was a broken family, still kinda is. Divorce, bad communications, everyone’s got their issues. The North American Way. But good, fine people, and I love them.

I didn’t really become angry until later, and I don’t really know what started it. I just got there and stayed there. I had all this stupidity happen where the easy reactions were bitterness and blame. Year after year of bitterness and blame.

These people who tell you they had some brilliant moment where it all made sense, I don’t really understand ‘em. For me, enlightenment is a gleaming of insight that takes me time and time again. The anger and confusion sort of wear away in the constant adversity like a river carving away at rock. Epiphanies make for better writing, POOF MAGIC, but I suspect most of us don’t have that change-of-state moment and instead we learn through time and repetition.

I learn more all the time, daily. Constant growth. Life is school, man. Like this knee thing right now. I’m reacting and responding better than I expected.

I mean, this is the sort of thing that throws a wrench in the travel-the-world plan. This was NOT an adversity I expected added to my list as the seven-month countdown begins. Yeah, I cried. Then I got over it. Later this week I need to find a course of action. That’s how it rolls.

That resilience, I’m not the only person who’s got it. There’s a lot of us who rock it, and I think for most of us it’s because we’ve been shit-kicked by fortune one way or another time and time again. Eventually we just realize it ain’t personal, it ain’t malicious, it’s just life.

BOOM, adversity. BOOM, overcome it. BOOM, onward. That’s life.

It’s funny, you know. A lot of the people I know who were once angry as a way of being, a lot of ‘em have gone on to become the mellow, easy-going people I like to know. They’ve been on the “dark side” and realized that perspective was a lot of the problem.

Yeah, my leg’s fucked up. Oops. That really sucks. Know what’d be worse? Being broke with a fucked up leg. Or having it happen when abroad. That’d be bad. Maybe it happening now means I change something, improve myself, and reduce the odds of such a thing happening later. Who knows. Maybe this is a catalyst for changes I need in fitness and health. I suspect it is, because I’m feeling motivated.

Adversity is the biggest teacher there is. Necessity of change is the mother of invention. Those are truisms for a reason.

I feel sorry sometimes for folks who have these smooth-sailing lives and then BOOM, some huge thing happens and they just crumble. It’s a hard road through it for them. Sometimes I see them becoming bitter and hardened as a result.

Everyone needs to open their eyes and see how hard others often have it. They need to look for examples of the extremes we can overcome when we focus and ditch the victim complexes.

Shit happens to us all. We’re allowed to cry a little and get a bit angry, but odds are we learn more about who we are as a result of those fluctuations. The trick is in the bounce-back.

So I have to bounce now. I gotta weather this little patch of suck-ass luck with my knee, find a few positives, make a plan to overcome it, and do everything I can to avoid feeling sorry for myself or acting like a victim.

If you think that’s easy for me, or for anyone else, you’re a moron. It’s not easy. But it’s doable, and it’s a choice. It’s a lot of self-talk, deep breathing, and weathering through periods of feeling like everything’s hopeless. Because that happens to us all. That’s the mindset. That’s the challenge.

It’s also where the victory comes too, though. So, yeah, this blows a little, but methinks I’ll get past this. I have something to prove to myself.

I also have the fortune of knowing it’s my own stupidity that caused my injury, from when I heard the little voice in my head saying “No, don’t sit like that, you know your knee hates it–” and chose to ignore it.

I caused this. Now I have to solve this. That’s the school of fucking up. It’s also “Success in Adulthood 101.” It’s called responsibility. Like my favourite saying goes, life’s tough — get a helmet.

(Or a crutch. Check.)

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My Evolving Thoughts on Valentine’s Day & Being Single

I’ve blogged now for more than a decade. I have written ALL the Valentine’s Day postings. Angry, disaffected, anti-commercial, Catholic, whatever. Been there, done that.

I used to hate Valentine’s Day and now I guess I don’t care. I’m sad some people “need” Valentine’s to keep the romance alive. I can almost see their impending break-up. I’m happy kids enjoy it. I dislike big business profiting off it. Enough said.

In life and in love, I tend to be a romantic. I always will be. Fancy meals for no reason, unprompted kindnesses, attention to detail. I don’t need a day for it, and I wish others didn’t either. I’ve always been the thoughtful girlfriend, fond of surprise dinners and other things. I’ve never understood how people can let that slip away in their relationships.

Tree in Sicily by Djacoby.

Tree in Sicily by Djacoby.

Some of Us Learned the Hard Way

For those of us who’ve had the opportunity to cheat death in any way — serious accidents, surviving disease or illness, that sort of thing — there is a very clear lesson we often learn: This moment is the only one that counts. Then the one after it, and the one after that.

Memories are nice but they mean fuck all if they’re all ya got.

In a relationship, if your best days are behind you because you’re doing nothing to honour it in the present, you might as well call it quits. You’re done. It’s over.

If that idea makes your heart sink through your belly, then lucky you, there’s hope. It’s time to sit down and make love a priority. Date night is critical. Romance is critical. Valuing each other is critical. Surprise and fun and trust, all critical.

Some folks can’t understand that and don’t know how to make ‘em happen. I don’t know how to help those people.

When Single Becomes the Status Quo

God knows I’m single and I have been for a long time now. My last two relationships really fucked me up in that I sort of lost who I was and didn’t know how to get back to myself. Other things had brought that mix of phenomena into my life too — job woes, financial troubles, serious injuries, other things.

I had a lot of shit to solve, and solving those things while involved with someone — oy, that’s a tall order. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t write, I wasn’t photographing, I wasn’t even cooking creatively. I was surviving life, not living it.

I never intended to stay single my whole time here in Victoria, but that’s somehow been the case. At first, I needed the space, but then in the last year, my thinking was “I don’t want anyone to hold me back.”

For a while there I had been telling myself that this life dream trip of mine was just an elaborate means of saving money. It was a last and desperate step. Would I have easily fallen for someone and opted out of the harder route of anteing up for an adventure of a lifetime to instead cop out and live with someone for savings and love and steamy sex?

I can’t tell ya. Like I say, I’m a romantic. There’s no telling how much I’d think a good relationship trumps an adventure. I do know this time I’ve been using for myself this year has really helped me remember what’s important to ME. What I want out of life, what I want to see, and what I think I owe myself.

Now five years around the world isn’t a “last and desperate step”. It’s my greatest and boldest step. It’s awesomeness wrapped in optimism and dipped in unbelievable with a side of fuck-yeah.

Norman hunting tower in the countryside of Erice, Sicily, by Terry Feuerborn in 2011.

Norman hunting tower in the countryside of Erice, Sicily, by Terry Feuerborn in 2011.

Acing The Art of Being Older, Wiser, And Not Giving A Fuck

I do know one thing about the loves I’ve had. I don’t think there’s a man I’ve been with in my lifetime that could be the man I’d need today. I’ve changed too much. I think few are the relationships that let us continue growing and becoming better people. It’s hard to have two trajectories rising at the same rate, you know what I mean?

Singleness isn’t the end of the world. It’s harder to handle at the beginning, I think, but it can be wonderful, too, if you don’t make yourself seek reward or happiness through others.

I think writing makes that easier for me. I’m able to use this — my words — as a filter for my life and my memories. That’s the gift of writing. It’s the existential pause button that lets me stop and sift through it all. Without it, I’m not sure I’d find the same enjoyment out of life. I’m not sure I want to find out.

My Valentine’s Isn’t Special

Today is another overworked-Steff weekend for me. I need to put THIS writing-for-self aside and write for the big machine. Money makes my world go around. Or rather, will make me go around the world.

I still need to remind myself of why I toil so often and so long. If it’s not work, it’s personal projects in preparation of my time abroad. Yesterday, I found new inspiration as I pored over photographs of Sicily, wondering if it might be where I am a year from now. I can’t fathom what life is like, living in an area so old and steeped with passion and tradition. As a writer, it makes my heart swell. What a Valentine’s gift to myself that would be.

But gone are the days when I’ll rail against Valentine’s Day. Make it what you want it to be.

Self-love, romantic love, love of the moment, love of nature — it’s all the basis of a life well-lived. Whether you’re alone or single, a wonderful meal, a gorgeous sunset, some time in a park, a great movie — all these things can be savoured without being a part of the big marketing machine.

Whatever you do, whoever you’re with, wherever you go, I hope you do something this weekend that reminds you of what your passions in life are. And if you’re not pursuing them, it’s time to ask yourself why not, and remember that it ain’t ever too late to wake up from oblivion.

Maybe that’s what Valentine’s Day should be to you. It kind of is for me.

Oh, Just Don’t Even Bother: 50 Shades

50 Shades of Grey is a steaming pile of dog shit that can’t even compete with what your pooch is laying down.

Book, movie, whatever.

I’m that asshole who’s saying this without giving either the time of day. Do you know why? Because I work 6 days a week and life is too short to go out there reading and watching everything just to be fair before passing judgment on it. SUE ME.

But here’s the deal. Nearly every sex blogger on the planet is crying foul about this book/movie/steaming pile of shit, not just because of the bad writing.

When you get people like Jian Ghomeshi citing your book/movie/steaming pile of shit as an example of why he plays violent with sexual encounters like he does, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

BDSM is rough sex played by the rules. Yes, there are assholes who break rules, like Jian Ghomeshi and Christian Grey. They’re the kind of people that the online world and backchannels of BDSM will light up like a Christmas tree. Warning signs will be posted wide and far, if there’s any justice in this world.

Then you have the ridiculously subpar prose that shouldn’t have won any prizes, let alone space on any shelves.

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Example one: “Oh my,” I gasp as I bask briefly in the intensity of this visceral, primal attraction. “I feel it, too,” he says, his eyes clouded and intense.

Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin.

How are you supposed to get aroused by this? Really? Wow. People really need to improve their sex lives, and this ain’t where to start.

Example two: I want to clean my teeth. I eye Christian’s toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth. Hmm… Glancing guiltily over my shoulder at the door, I feel the bristles on the toothbrush. They are damp. He must have used it already. Grabbing it quickly, I squirt toothpaste on it and brush my teeth in double quick time. I feel so naughty. It’s such a thrill.

Wow. So risque. Actually, just gross. I’m not a germaphobe but sex is bad enough with all the crazy fluids exchanged. At least it’s fun. Using someone’s toothbrush isn’t sexy or hot, it’s just unhygienic to the nth. And it’s ridiculous writing.

How Not To Write

Wanna be a better writer? Butcher your adverbs. Kill them. Slaughter them. Leave them weeping in your wake. Look at that, all the descriptive ways I’ve suggested violence in just 4 phrases, nary an adverb in sight.

And this writing WON AWARDS? I’ll take a fucking flamethrower to the UK National Book Awards office one day if this happens again.

You want hot erotica? Scour the web. They’re out there. They’re making well-written stuff. They’re better than this hack.

Respect yourself. Aim higher. Don’t reward this bad content. And definitely do not confuse violent non-consensual sex with rich pretty-boys with what BDSM really is. It’s not even close.

A Roasted Chicken Kinda Day

Some days — grey-sky, nothin’-doin’ kinda Sundays (or stat Mondays) — are made for puttering around the home, listening to some podcasts, cleaning, cooking. And those are the days made for roasting chicken. Thank you, cosmos.

Got me a fatty of a bird I’m gonna roast up soon. Tuck some sundried tomato & basil butter under the skin, roast it on a bed of celery, carrots, leek, and all kinda onions. Puree most of ‘em after for the most veggie-licious gravy ever. That, a little stock, some pretentious jelly for flavour. Boom. So good.

I will miss days like this when I’m abroad, but I know I’ll also do an amazing job of making a “new version” of this. I picture myself on a rainstormy day finding a way to make comfort food that smacks of home. I’m bringing maple syrup with me, bitches. The Quebec stuff. Real deal. Oh, yeah.

Food is an emotional thing. Just like roasted chicken, things like Yorkshire pudding evoke my childhood. Pouding chomeur takes me right back to being 8 and standing on a chair to look in the oven at the carmelly-mapley Quebecois version of a sticky toffee pudding baking on Sunday nights.

I can’t buy that memory anywhere else. Same thing with the roasted chickens, stews, breads, all those smells I remember from my childhood kitchen. My mom and dad weren’t the BEST cooks, but they sure put their effort into it and we ate pretty well. And all the muffins you could dream of.

Here’s a story for you. Best.

We went away for a day when we were kids, only to come home and find a ladder against the left-open living room window. The grand theft item? Muffins my mom had made. A couple of the neighbour kids came in, helped themselves. Couple glasses used for milk left on the counter was the big evidence. AHA! My first Sherlockian encounter.

It was the neighbours in the kitchen with a butter knife!

Chicken with all the fats.

Chicken with all the fats.

T & D, trouble-making brothers up the block, were sent over to meekly apologize. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went home with muffins in-hand post-apology too. It was that kind of a neighbourhood.

I’m hoping I luck into reasonably well-stocked kitchens. I’m tempted to bring a silicone muffin tin with me on my travels. (I already have the meat thermometer I’m bringing!) I mean, muffins are serious and there ain’t a storebought muffin in the world I think holds up to a solid home-baked one. Emotional food, indeed.

That will be one of the great aspects to my travels, for me anyhow, is that I want to learn how to do all the cookin’ of what I’m eatin’. I want to be pushy and friendly and get myself invited to family get-togethers. How cool would that be? Politely elbow my way into the kitchen. Watch how it gets done.

And I will just die if I get to go to those big meat-a-paloozas. Grill pits, underground fire pits, brick ovens, over an open flame. Whatever, man. If it involves primal meat cooking in the great outdoors, I will find a way to get there. I will need to connect with serious foodies in every town and not take no for an answer.

I can do this!

But for now, I’m capping this grey day with a roasted bird. It’ll be nice salads and other treats, all week. I’m enjoying cooking these days.

Enjoy the home pleasures while I can, right?

By the way, I’ve got the domain reserved for what will be my travel blog. You can go ahead and bookmark it, and it’ll take you here in the maintime. It’s called The Full Nomad.

Going full nomad” is gonna be a “thing.” Mark my words!

Dark & Beautiful: The Brain & Creativity

brainsbrainsbrainsThe human brain is a marvelous and terrifying thing.

I once heard that science knows as little about the deep sea as it does the human brain. The last frontiers. Is that true? Really, the only thing that matters is that I can buy its truthiness. Science can’t even really explain why some PMS makes me want to club a baby seal, but other times I’m fine. Hello?

Yesterday, for instance, I managed to be productive and focused, but inside I was terribly, terribly depressed and angry.

Fortunately, logically, I knew it was just hormones and weather. I realized there wasn’t an actual reason I should be either depressed OR angry, and I knew where I was in my cycle. The way I was feeling wasn’t rooted in reality, and I understood that, come morning, odds were highly likely the mood would vanish.

And poof, just like that, it’s gone. Today I’m hopeful, creative, charged, and just bought the domain name for the creative and existential project to consume the next half decade of my life. If that’s not optimistic, even at the low, low price of $8.99 per year, I don’t know what is.

Perspective

I mean, how many people have the opportunity to point at Planet Earth and go “I want that,” then set into motion the mechanics of taking on the whole wide world for five years with no roots, anywhere, no limits? One in 100,000? One in a million? Lucky, indeed.

It’s knuckle-cracking elbow-greasing time when it comes to this little going-Full-Nomad project of mine. A friend has offered to help me set up my blog. I’ve decided not to host that content here on The Cunt. This place has been great for me, and I’ll likely still use it to unleash my wrath and rail at the gods from time to time, but I’m in a different place now. I’m a different person now. I need a new creative home.

Despite my older, mellower ways, it’s pretty safe to say I’ll never be Mary Poppins. Nor would I want to be. I like my wrath and fury, my joy and faith. I like the mix of pathos that swirls in my brain. My yin to my yang is right there. I may tilt and pivot, vacillating from seeming extremes, but I’m usually able to hold onto a small measure of awareness that, whatever the tempest, life is generally a smooth-sailing place for me. Or at least a place I manage to navigate without peril.

Storms are Genesis

Chimp_Brain_in_a_jarEarlier, I saw a quote from Kurt Vonnegut about how it’s impossible to be a serious writer if you don’t suffer depression. I’m sure if he were to expound, he might have said something like it’s the variations of emotional themes which make great writers what they are.

They’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve lived to tell another tale.

Throughout history, writers have been the teller of the tales. They’ve kept the legends alive, passed the records of humanity from one generation to another. It wasn’t until humans began to write that we really had a record of not only the social structure but the emotional worlds in ages long past.

Writers record the human condition. We try to grasp what happens around us, record how it affects us, and inspire the next step. Today, different mediums allow for writing/recording/inspiring to happen visually, in audio, and of course on the page/stage/screen.

But all of it starts in the brain, when someone sees something and has a thing or two to say about it. Poof! A synapse fires, a thought is born, a project springs forth.

That inspiration and the ability to create something of where there was nothing, it blows my fucking mind.

The human brain is a marvellous and terrifying place, indeed.

The Psyche and the Fulcrum

Surviving nearly a year of dark, fearful deep depression baffles me. Survival didn’t seem an option then. I’m grateful my forays to bleakness are seldom now, rare even, and I’ve the faculties to buckle up and hang on until it’s over, which is never more than a day or two.

I have no illusions. Once I’m gone “Full Nomad,” there’ll be days where I find myself fatigued and homesick, wishing I had a bed all mine. But it’s days like today after I’ve told myself “It’ll be better tomorrow,” and I wake up, and it really is better, that convince me I’ve got this. I’ll have brief downs and see myself through them.

Done and Done

That’s another funny thing about the brain. The more we realize and act upon our strength, the more our brains can sell us on our toughness when needing a pep-talk down the road.

It’s fantastic we’re as resilient as we are. One of the greatest gifts ever given is adversity. It never feels that way at the time, but no matter what the loss or the price is, a healthy person will become better, stronger, more resilient as a result. I know I’m grateful to have proven already I’m “tough enough.”

Like the saying says, we don’t know how strong we are until we have to be strong.

That part is inspiring and comforting. What’s terrifying is the brain’s ability to shut out all hope and languish in darkness. Science needs to unlock mental illness. I’m glad it’s getting more attention.

And Now, More Mysterious Than Ever Before!

Strength and resilience aside, the flipside to the possibility of that terrifying darkness is the jaw-dropping experience of creation. Some brains conceive rocketships to the stars, incredible food combinations, cures for disease, life-changing books, or soul-charging songs. Poof! Magic. Inspiration, creation. And so the creative cycle continues.

With every new experience, a new creative door might open. I can’t begin to imagine what seeing the world and blowing my perception wide-open will do for my brain. What will I create? What will I learn? What will I experience? How will it influence my thoughts for the rest of my life? My creativity? How much will it increase my resilience?

I’ve already lived through incredible extremes of the human brain. Or like to think I have. In less than eight months, I start the project that I hope will shake me to my foundations and awaken me from my white middle-class life, and change my world-view for the rest of my days.

Waiting will be a bitch. Luckily, Trusty Brain shows me positives in proceeding slow and studiously, while laying proper groundwork for a long, successful journey.

Way to go, brain.

Brains