Category Archives: keeping it real

Letting Go So I Can Move On

Today is the day I allow my Victoria blog domain to die. Now it’s just another lowly wordpress.com site.

Writing-wise, it was like a bad pair of jeans. Sure, it gave me something to write about, but it would always feel wrong.

Despite that, Victoria has been where I’ve reconnected with writing after losing my inspiration for nearly five years. I’ve tried on many genres of writing while here — for money and otherwise.

With both paid and unpaid writing, I now feel that life is too precious to spend it earning money doing things I don’t love, and even less worth it when money ain’t involved. I haven’t figured out the secret to only getting paid to do what I love yet, but I’m getting closer. I can feel it.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria's Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

Girl checks out the sunset on Victoria’s Dallas Road. By me. Some rights reserved.

I was never gonna be the Victoria-it-place girl. I’m glad the one blog post on about lepers got a lot of recognition and was reprinted in the Huffington Post, but the rest of the blog, I found it hard to give a shit about it.

Learning that it’s the genre and type of writing that was bumming me out is a big thing. It’s the opposite of inspiration, that. Other people can write about food joints and place trends, but it ain’t me.

I’m now learning the writing I want to do can’t be done in one spot. It’s like an REM song — I can’t get there from here.

I can’t explain it to you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria's Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I'm gone.

I shot this on day five of living in Victoria. March, 2012. Sunset at Victoria’s Ogden Point Breakwater. I will miss this place and its special feeling after I’m gone.

In future adventures in writing, I see more observational, contemplative work. That’s my jazz. I also want to try fiction again, which I’ve only written for classes before, but that I may have a knack for. After all, inside my brain is a dark and bizarre world at times. I’ve begun cobbling out the plot for an unreliable memoir of a serial killer, for instance.

I’m sure there are those who’ll scoff at the notion that I can know what my “missing piece” is and where I’ll find it, but there aren’t a lot of times in our lives when we have an unmistakable pull telling us where to go, what to do. For those of us lucky enough to decipher that code, there’s this weird undercurrent of certainty that battles the fear of change.

I may be terrified of my five-year world-travel plan, in some ways, but I’ve never had more certainty that a risk I was taking is the right one. Believe me, I’ve thought of all the freaky what-ifs, but the core of certainty remains.

“Certainty” is an iffy word for it, but I can’t find a better one.

It’s like that scene in Donnie Darko where Donnie sees that strange orb of pre-destiny extending from other folks’ torsos, in that split moment before they commit to a direction or action, affirming for Darko Dr. Roberta Sparrow’s theories on time travel.

The global nomad thing just feels that way for me and my writing. What I seek, it’s out there. It feels almost like I’ve accidentally mislaid a piece of my soul and need to go retrieve it.

I remember when I was younger I used to think relentless wanderers were people running away or seeking something. I know it’s more complicated now. Today, I feel like some of those wanderers are plugged into a bigger picture, they’re not running from anything — they’re embracing everything.  “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Abroad, writing will become a kind of clearinghouse for me. I will absorb, process, and relate everything I’m experiencing in the moment. Like French cinema, I may not get it when I’m in the theatre, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the imagery and I’ll appreciate it more in the days to come.

I look forward to trying all kinds of writing exercises, seeing what fits and what doesn’t. Same with cultures, landscapes, and cuisines.

So today I allow one more thing to fall away from me, a passing of my time here in Victoria. In ways that will remain known only by me, that blog was part of how I came to realize my nebulous dream of being a global nomad was absolutely doable. It was how I learned my limits, that living on, and writing about, life on one island was not gonna be enough for me.

Milestones are cool. For me, this is a good one. There’ll always be the WordPress.com version of the blog anyhow.

And so the slow goodbye to Van Isle begins for me today.

Out With The Old Year, In With The Year of Lasts

On Facebook, my friend Jason posted that it’s “The first day. 364 to go.”

I have been so very conscious of this day coming, for so long, like it’d be a countdown clock ticking in the background.

My New Year’s is weird and very anti-climatic. I’m doing as little as I can. Decidedly so. I’ve left the house once in over two days, and that was only so I could walk around the block at midnight with an empty suitcase.

Weird, right? It’s actually a South American New Year’s superstition. Take the empty-case stroll at the stroke of 12 and your upcoming year will feature abundant travel. What the heck, right? So there I was, 11:59, taking a walk around the block with a carry-on case. Maybe I should’ve taken my largest suitcase. I was trying not to be penis-y about it, though.

But in those other 60 or so hours, I haven’t been case-marching around the block; I haven’t even been outdoors.

Now that six days of sun have bled into a week of forecasted rain, I’m feeling a spot of regret I’ve not been out in the world much. You know what, though? I’m having EXACTLY the holiday I wanted when I asked my boss at the start of November if I could have 16 days off. EXACTLY.

Do nothing often? Check. Do something sometimes? Check. Set a new world record for pajama-wearing? You betcha. Watch whole series on Netflix? Yup. Sleep as late as 10? Yep. Get up and then go back to bed for the hell of it EVERY SINGLE DAY? YUP.

I have the luxury of knowing that I’ll very likely not be around for, well, five years. I’ve deliberately chosen to stay longer than I want before I leave for my world travels because I decided to savour The Last of Everything. Every season, every holiday, every weather, everything. I wanted to live knowing that this would be The Last Time I have any of these specific experiences for a very long time, maybe ever. Like, seeing the leaves fall in the park. Maybe I’ll never live here again, right?

After all, the only thing I can tell you with any certainty is that I have about nine months left in Victoria. Then, where? I don’t know. I don’t know where I want to start my adventure. I’m not committing to anything.

Except, that is, I’m committing to selling half of what I own, blowing this town, and becoming a citizen of the planet. Hopefully I’ll have it in me to experience five years of rootlessness. If not, so be it.

But when I’m done, my expectation is that I might find a new place on the planet to live. A new tribe. A new culture. A new thing. Newness. My eyes are wide open and my future’s whatever I want it to be — when I know what I want it to be, that is.

Nine months and then all my future is an unknown. Period. Blank slate.

It intimidates the shit out of me. It makes my heart go pitter-patter. And makes me smile a little too.

That’s what awaits me this year. Up to 10 months of redundant routines, and then POW, the complete opposite.

So these days, I don’t want to have any new experiences, or at least I’m not chasing them down. I kind of want to enjoy my life of routine and comforts, because for maybe five years I’ll never have a home longer than maybe two months, but often not even for that long.

I won’t have a favourite blanket. I won’t get to spend a week sitting on my ass watching Netflix because I’ll have too much guilt that (Portugal’s wine country awaits / nearby French markets bustle / Croatia’s seashore entices me / Istanbul lurks beyond the door / Prague beckons…) and that’s only where I might go in the first six months or year.

For five years, I’ll have to be social and rely on the goodness of strangers to get me where I want to be. Recluse? Not a chance. I’ll have to talk a lot, be interested and plugged in. I’ll have to be constantly creative and engaged. I’ll need to write every single day. I’ll never get to have a favourite comfort food because I’ll never be around long enough to get comfortable. I won’t get to have favourite anythings because I’ll always be days or a couple weeks away from somewhere new with more millions of things to experience — which is the whole point of travel.

It’s okay to mourn the end of my mundanity and comfort. Mundane comfort is a beautiful, glorious, wonderful thing. Do-nothing days can be magical.

This, my wonderful spread of boredom, wine-drinking, TV-watching, slack-ass relaxation is possibly the last time I’ll get to do THIS without pressure and anxiety about all the things I should be doing before I leave, let alone for the five years which follow.

That constant whirlwind of stimulation that is proper travel, it daunts me a little because I love the end-of-travel flop-on-my-own-bed feeling, and I won’t even own a bed while I’m abroad. I mean… zoinks. Serious commitment to the cause, that — selling everything before I go.

So this Christmas holiday, I’m overdosing on domestic bliss. I’ll always be able to remember when I wasn’t sick or injured yet chose not to leave my house for over 72 hours. Except that walk around the block to summon the coming year of travel, of course. And tomorrow I’m only ending the isolation because I’m being bought a fancy meal and get to wear fancy pants (or at least my new jeans).

I like that I’m “mourning” Christmas as much as I’m celebrating it. I’ll miss this apartment and the simplicity of Christmas here. I like that I’m aware of so many “lasts” as I go through this final year. It’s a year of bittersweet savouring. It makes smaller moments seem very poignant.

Because I’m also excited to know my life will be me not knowing what’s next yet believing EVERYTHING is possible. I like knowing I’ll have week after week after week of amazing new experiences in mind-blowing places. I like that I’ll meet new people everywhere I go. I love that I’ll probably never see a sunset in the same place more than two or three times for five years.

It’s so completely opposite of the life I have chosen to live here in Victoria.

That’s the beauty of life. We can be whatever we want, live whatever life we choose. Most people just don’t get creative or risk-taking enough about it. Victoria was always going to be my jumping-off point. For awhile, I was trapped by life as one of those folks who couldn’t take a risk, then I decided to stop all that, and Victoria was step one. This around the world thing was a dream I didn’t have the guts to share, at first, but now I’m confident that I’ll make it happen. Somehow.

Today, I have three quotes I’m trying to live my life by. One of them is relevant to my five-years-around-the-world dream:

“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not,” attributed most often to Denis Waitley.

Waitley Quote

Right now, I’m a reclusive writer girl trying to resurrect her mojo (and succeeding at it). I’m still trying to decide what Next Phase Steff’s catchy tagline is. I’ll know it when I see it.

So for nine months, give or take, my life’s all about the Last Time. Comfort food, quiet nights at home, old casual lounging clothes, favourite blankets, sunsets in the boring same places, creature comforts of all kinds — that’s my year ahead.

Until one day it’ll be the complete opposite. Poof! All new! All firsts! All the time! ALL THE PLACES.

When I’m not daydreaming about my future, I’m completely stuck in the moment. It’s a nice, weird dichotomy, and I know what to love and appreciate about both. (And there’s not much to dislike about each of ‘em, either!)

I’m excited about 2015, minions. I’m really stoked.

I hope you are, too. Happy new year, you.

My last sunset of 2014, from one of my "boring old" sunset spots.

My last sunset of 2014, from one of my “boring old” sunset spots.

An End to Christmas Pantslessness: A Tale Of Introversion

You, dear blog reader, are my delay tactic to avoid walking for a little while longer. It’s 1:24. A little over an hour from now, I can leave to photograph the sunset. Last year’s sunset from last night was breathtaking. Tonight, we’re on the cusp of a cold and sunny front. Wispy clouds, blustery winds, moisture in the air. Beautiful things could happen. It’s worth a trek.

Along with this keen desire to shoot a sunset comes a little trepidation. I get sucked into my periods of isolation, like I am now. I haven’t left the house since the 24th. Going out today is the start of a slippery slope. I could have plans for coffee tomorrow, resulting in the tragic wearing of pants yet again. I have acupuncture on both Monday and Tuesday to use up the last of my medical coverage for the year (free acupuncture! why not?). Still more pants. Ugh!

I mean, there are only so many days I have available for pantsless slacking. It’s not like I’m scared of humans or anything. I just have this apprehension of talking to people because sometimes I just really fucking like being inside my head. It’s not an awful place to be.

I pity people who dislike being alone. What an awful way to live. Me, I like this.

It’s not as if I’ve sat stupid on the sofa. I’ve done some little domestic things. Plus, I’ve written 4,000 words in two days — inspired words, fast words, the kind of fat, juicy writing a writer likes to do. The kind I never get to do, because I get caught in the cycle of working for money, not for love or passion or spontaneity. The curse of adulthood and life in one of the world’s more expensive regions — money matters more than art, and it’s what makes the difference when deciding between paying the bills or satisfying the soul.

As for the woes of ending pantslessness, well, I think anyone who’s a true introvert has flashes of agoraphobia and/or anthrophobia. Fear of people, crowds, unavoidable encounters, that kind of thing. I don’t have it in a crippling or even inconveniencing way. I can talk to crows, I can work a room at a party, I can host an event — all quite comfortably.

I do dread people nonetheless.

Not in a collective EVERYONE SUCKS kind of way, though. Just in a “many people annoy the shit out of me and I’d rather be at home in fat pants” sort of way.

There are people I enjoy talking to. They’re the ones I find time for, who I enjoy seeing and even look forward to seeing. They’re people who not only talk but listen. They’re well-read, curious about the world, generally positive, interested in more than just themselves, and typically know how to focus on the moment.

But it’s unlikely to find that in the average person. That’s not snobbery or arrogance — it’s attention to detail.

The thing is, everything that makes me a good writer also makes me a tough friend to earn. I’ll notice inconsistencies. I’ll notice waffling, small hints of hypocrisy, insecurity, pettiness. And I can’t stand stuff like that. I’m definitely not imperfect — I’ll dislike people and let it show a little, but that’s just honesty. Not everyone will like me, either.

Take as an example when I see someone without the guts to say something to someone’s face but yet they delight in saying it behind their back, I’m repelled from wanting to be friends with that person.

It’s very true that my eye for detail and memory for odd facts, coupled with good intuition, all make me apprehensive of making widespread friends.

I don’t need a lot of friends, though, is the whole point. That way, I can afford to be picky. The people I like, though, I really like ‘em. People who inspire me, make me laugh, and let me blow off steam when I’m talking to them, man, they’re keepers.

If I’ve ever seen the far side of midnight with you because: Good Conversation, you’re in that group. If you’ve dined in my home more than once, yup, you too. If I’ve gone out of my way to find the time for beers with you, then you’re in that crowd too.

It’s not really a small list, either.  I just see people infrequently, so it can seem like a fickle or short list. Not really. The world’s full of groovy souls, but as an introvert, I like to spend about 90% of my time alone. Literally.

Introversion isn’t a curse. I like being an introvert. It can be weird, because being around the RIGHT people, for me, is a super-energizing thing. It fills me with ideas and gives me the desire to write, which then flips the switch to me needing to be introverted and isolated again. Being around the wrong people can drain me and compel me to get lost in TV and movies. It’s a cyclical existence when one is a sometimes-social introvert.

I just had a few such great days over the holidays. I’ve seen many people this past week, but unfortunately it followed a really brutal three-week schedule, and I lost my social steam. (Which I saw coming and prepared for by committing to zero plans following Christmas.)

All this has made me think a lot about how introversion informs my life choices.

Like right now. I actually have enough money to sort of go somewhere, have a couple day adventure. Maybe rent a car, see the countryside. Me having “enough money” at Christmas is a remarkable change in historical trends, and yet I’m more than happy to spend it at home with Netflix, naps, fat pants, booze, and bedhead.

I realize that this dream I have of living around the world for five years means I will frequently have to rely on the kindness of friends and strangers more than I’ve ever done before. I know it’s a tall order — someone as introverted as me having to make that shift for a half-decade. That’s why I’m so enjoying this time alone now — because it won’t be a possibility for a long time, once I go.

I’ve enjoyed more seclusion than ever, living here in Victoria. It’s self-imposed. It’s lovely. I could have more friends here, I could have made an effort. I chose not to do so. I understood then, as I understand now, that this period of self-isolation might be a rare opportunity in my life. Will I be able to live in a city while enjoying almost complete isolation again in my lifetime? Likely not. Even falling in love and finding someone wonderful will mean that all comes to an end — the ability to self-isolate.

I am enjoying isolation today with the distinct knowledge THIS may never be a lifestyle I ever enjoy again. That’s not fatalism. It’s just choosing to enjoy the moment and appreciate it.

Of course I’ll still have periods of this. That’s very different than having three years of it. I’ve learned more about myself in this silence than I ever thought I could. It’s a wonderful thing for a writer.

My future travel life will require people, but I’ll find periods of isolation. I’m thinking of a house-sitting ad like “antisocial hermit writing books who likes wearing fat pants and bedhead seeks remote, isolated cottage for house-sitting opportunity” or such.

In the meantime, I fully understand this may be my last homebody Christmas for a long time. I’m savouring it. So, despite the weather having turned, despite pants being required for the next three days, despite it all — I shall venture out into this blustery winter day now.

I’ve begun my ebook write about my travel ambitions, things I’ll need to achieve beforehand, logistics of how I plan to live for five years abroad, and more. If you’d like to be on the list for when it comes out, sign up here. I’m too busy to send out frequent newsletters, so don’t worry about getting bombarded.

Rain-Streaked Daydreams of a Would-Be Nomad

It’s one of those Wet Coast days I think might wash away all my sins if I stand in it long enough. The kind of rainy day that makes my head thick and my eyes heavy.

I sit by a window, umbrella-head after umbrella-head passing me by. Between pulled-taut hoods and umbrellas, I’m not sure anyone with a face remains. It’s like some surrealist daydream. The bobbing umbrella-heads.

This rain, these days… in some ways it’s all I’ve ever known.

photo 3

I drift off between the wet tires splashing and my clacking keys, wishing it was the clickety-clack of a train rumbling under me instead of the Wet Coast Writer soundtrack that it is.

I have a tentative date of November 1st, 2015, for when I set out on a bold adventure I hope will last me five years. Trains, planes, and automobiles: Steff Style. If I don’t leave earlier, that is.

I have ideas of where my path will lead but I’ve learned life’s more fun if you misplace the roadmap. Maybe I’ll plan it out, maybe I won’t.

For now, I have a rough idea of my first year abroad with pretty simple rules — stay nowhere less than two weeks or more than three months. I’ll tell you more about that one day.

I have many places on my list. Many weird little things I want to do, like ride as many funiculars as I can everywhere I can. Forage for food in every region I stay longer than 4 weeks in. Write ebook upon ebook, but in the classic travelogue or literary journal style, not the “I got your deets” type travel-writing one sees everywhere on the web.

I want to write about places and times, peoples and experiences. My culture-shock and awe. I want to dream of adventures to come then embark on a completely different journey than planned, and to be changed in every way by the world I get to explore.

I’ll sell half of what I own before I go, strategically “loan” my antiques to friends and family. I’ll start over with a simpler life when I return. I wonder sometimes how living around the world for five years and opting out of this rooted life, tapping into a roaming nomad life will change me. What new values will be sculpted? What parts of the old me will crystallize? How much metamorphoses do I have in me?

It’s a big goal. I don’t have anything emotional invested in making it to the end of that five years. Instead the end of the journey will be something organic. Like love or a really good sale — I’ll know it when I see it.

I want to live in locations as far flung as Tangier, Zagreb, Prague, off the beaten path in Spain, Cape Town, the vineyards of Mendoza. I want to sit in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, photograph Madagascar’s baobab trees, dip a toe in the Congo river while I read The Heart of Darkness. I want to walk the beaches of Fiji, visit family in Australia, live in the mountains of Ecuador. I want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, drink tea in Osaka, and ride a scooter in Vietnam.

The list keeps getting longer, because that’s what good lists do.

photo 2 (3)

So today I stare wistfully through my rain-soaked window, knowing that all this familiarity and routine is not long for my world. I relish in being bored and stuck in routine lately. I cherish bad hair and pajama days. I know it soon won’t be an option soon. Not for the better part of five years.

In the end, this life of mine where I’ve felt trapped in this costly part of the world is proving to be a gift — the gift of losing connection, of sensing opportunity, and of daring to take a chance.

I’ve deliberately made my departure date further away, because I think I want another summer here in Victoria. Like I say, I’m not married to my plans. I’m going to listen to the wind and go where it leads. Those winds may gust sooner than November, like say on my 42nd birthday in September. I’ll listen for the breeze and heed its way.

Paul Theroux once wrote that tourists don’t know where they’ve just been, and travellers don’t know where they’re going.

And so I daydream of all the many places I would love to see while committing to none of them. Wherever I start, it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. With every day that passes, I grow a little more ready for it.

For now, I’ll return my gaze to the screen, fall back into the routine of the dayjob, and sigh wistfully about a future I’m not sure I can wait 11 months to begin.

As that day draws near, I’ll begin issuing ebooks of all kinds on my travels — the days leading up to it, the dreams I have for it, the plans and logistics of it, and more. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for when I begin issuing those books, that’s here.

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.

One Month Down, Eleven to Go: The State of the Steff

Why, hi there, you.

I’m just checking in. It’s a nice morning. My coffee cup is full. I thought, “Why don’t I go say hello to my minions?”

Yoo-hoo, minions! Hallo-o-o-o-o, minions.

Your friendly neighbourhood blogger is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.

My year of Being Better is underway. I promised myself I wouldn’t make New Year’s Resolutions, and I didn’t. Instead, I would become a better version of myself by the year’s end. In, well, hopefully every way.

A better writer, a better exerciser, a better eater, a better sleeper, a better relaxer, a better coper, a better friend, a better daughter. You know. A better me.

We get so hell-bent on timers in this digitally-powered world we live in. We have reminders to set reminders. From iCal date-planning to the extreme, to actually CHOOSING to get Facebook and Twitter notifications, as if life wasn’t full enough of micro-management.

You know, if y’all like that shit so damned much, you can keep it. I set reminders for when missing something would cost me money. Otherwise, I roll with it. And I’ve never, ever had any smartphone notifications turned on besides texting. Because life is meant to be lived, not full of alarms.

On this quest of betterment, I’m not micro-managing myself. I’m not setting a timeline and measuring my progress constantly. Instead, I find myself now and then remembering where I was a year ago today (packing and panicking ahead of my move to Victoria), maybe 4 years ago today (just beginning to make progress after my first back injury), even 8 years ago today (recovering from a head injury).

What was life like at those times? What were my goals? How would I stack up now?

Uh… everything is better now. I’m better now. I have far to go, sure, but don’t we all?

I’m in a lucky place because I know exactly how far I’ve come on the inside. I need to be in a place now where that shows on the outside.

I need to eat better and exercise better because it’s not an option. Either I feel good and enjoy life again, or I continue hiding out in the Cave of Mordor (what I call my apartment).

I’m much further along both those paths than I expected to be just one month into the year. How very exciting, minions. Do you see my excitement? I see my excitement. Yes, I do.

Soon to be my shiny new bike.

2012 ended with an incredible gift: The complete, final realization that my bike is continuing to be the main reason my back issues exist.

There’s a point in chronic injury where pain or discomfort (whether a livable level or something debilitating) is so omnipresent that you just lose your ability to discern what improves it or hurts it. It’s when you’re so unable to tell what the spikes are from that you just don’t know what to change to move beyond that.

I rode an upright hybrid bike recently, and better yet, one fitted to my measurements taken by a great bike shop. This was like a Dutch-style bike with a step-thru frame, suspended front forks & seat, nice big tires with semi-slick tread, and elevated close-to-body almost-wrap-around handlebars, and it was almost a religious experience. All this pressure inside my back kind of fell away, the strain on my shoulder and neck reduced.*

To imagine cycling, that thing I love, being comfortable? Even painfree? Or… dare I even think it, beneficial?

This weekend, it looks like I can buy this bike. Let’s see.

Today, I’m showing my old bike, Mighty Murphy. (Named, of course, for Dervla Murphy, the old Irish travel writer who cycled Africa’s Ukimwi Road in her 60s.) Hoping it sells. It feels like I’m breaking up with my past. Like I’m stomping my foot and pulling a Gloria Gaynor moment. You’re not welcome ’round here no more!

And it’s kind of like that. The painful breakup of a relationship. That bike is two worlds for me. It’s the thing that makes me one of the rare people who can say I know what it’s like to lose 80 pounds through nothing but hard damned work and powered by ME, but it’s also the thing that makes me one of those rare people who can say they know what it’s like to live with chronic pain for more than four years.

“Love/hate” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Had I not gotten sick at Christmas and laid low with a massive marathon of three seasons of The Wire plus an endless tirade of overrated TV on the PVR, my back wouldn’t have gotten the rest it needed so I could get on my bike in the new year and actually discern what was really going on inside me.

Then I had pain again, and I saw how I couldn’t stand straight when walking, and finally everything made sense.

Some might think the solution would be getting off the bike. But that’d be like telling me to live life without writing or photography or cooking. It’ll never, ever happen. I need that to be myself.

So. The new-ish me, the bettering me, the under-progress me is pretty pleased to be starting a new phase as “the urban cyclist” this weekend.

A shiny bike, a clean slate, and roads I’ve never seen before in a town that’s been my home for less than a year.

Being better, becoming better shouldn’t be an ordeal. You shouldn’t be punishing yourself for failing to meet expectations or demanding greater than what you’ve done. All progress is progress. Our lives are long. We can always keep becoming better. Growth has no end-point. Stop thinking you need to be the person you dream of being tomorrow, and be present in the moment while you’re getting yourself there. Maybe you’ll never be this person, this version of you again. Remember the moment.

Relax, grasshopper. Enjoy the ride. Like I am. Or soon will be.

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* Buying a bike isn’t a “Ooh, shiny. Look, it’s green!” thing. You need to get FITTED for it. The right bike for ME could be entirely wrong for YOU. I not only have been fitted by a fantastic bike shop, but I was referred there by my Ironman-competing masseur and I got my bike style approved by my physiotherapist. The last time I bought I bike, I bought what I thought was pretty. It’s cost me thousands of dollars in lost income, pain, and more. Do your research. Don’t listen to anyone except professionals. Period.