I was reading an Instagram post the other day of affirmations to remember as an artist, though most of them could apply to anyone, and can’t seem to get them out of my mind. While I’m sure that it won’t be as polished and well worded as the list I saw, here goes my own attempt:
I can never be the best artist.
No such thing exists.
I can, however, strive to be the most hard working.
I can lift others up with me when possible.
I can be open to advice and growth.
I can allow my art to help me stand my ground on my beliefs.
I can be kind, and remain humble.
I can be the most passionate.
I can embody my art in all that I present to the world.
I can be the most honest.
I can be the most respectful.
I can use my art to heal.
I can use my art to connect.
I can use my art to empower.
I can be the most authentic to my true self.
I can be the artist that I needed when I was younger.
I can never be the best artist, but I can be the best artist for me.
It’s an awkward conversation to have, telling someone that while yes, you do have the high school grades and financial means, you aren’t sure that you want to pursue a lengthy post-secondary education. That you fought for it, you really did give it all your all, and nearly lost yourself in the process. That you spent so much of high school fighting to just be alive and functional that you barely know who you are as a human these days. That when you did get to school, unsure of your passions and values beyond being able to do more than shower in a day, you did everything you could to fit the mold that your environment imposed on you. That, when struggling to be something you aren’t finally started to break you, you uprooted your life for the second time in eight months and told yourself that you would pursue a similar path in a different environment.
It’s so hard to explain that when the time came to pay for the new plan that you told yourself you would pursue, you couldn’t bring yourself to do it. That you couldn’t bring yourself to pay so much for a situation that repeatedly had not worked out in your favour.
There’s no simple way to make someone understand that in the face of an inability to meet the rigid demands of a structured institution, despite some accommodations, you felt that you needed to step away from institutions as much as possible. You can’t just tell someone that spending the better part of your adolescence within complex systems that were supposedly designed to help you nearly broke you, and you don’t feel ready to return to any of them.
So you smile and say something that isn’t quite a lie: you’re just taking some time away to figure yourself out.
I was looking at the moon out the window in the shower tonight as I wished I could capture the feeling I experienced with my words. Some day, I’ll properly combine it with sound and I’ll snag it.
I want to write the kind of songs that remind people of strangely specific, yet nostalgic moments in their lives. I want to write the kind of songs that come on late at night on a road trip playlist, when conversation has dulled and all that keeps the driver company is the sound of the engine and the glow of tail lights off in the distance.
I want to write the kind of songs that can keep lonely people company late at night, and the kind of songs that bring all of those people together at concerts as they all sing along. I want to write the songs that I needed and continue to need when alone and hiding my fear in the hospital. I want to write songs that grant people the ability to be vulnerable- if only for a moment and only with themselves. I want to write songs that make people with experiences similar to mine feel less alone, because after all we go through we sure as hell deserve to have a collective voice. I want us to be able to scream and shout and cry and reject the idea that stoicism is equal to strength because sometimes life is REALLY DIFFICULT, and feel okay for doing so.
Some day I will write the songs that I need. I hope that day comes to me sooner than I think.
It’s hard to not get too caught up in your head when so much of what you create comes from within. Once you start looking within yourself, within your mind, for inspiration, it becomes difficult to switch it off. Where does one find the line between appreciating life as is, and trying to draw as much meaning as possible from seemingly meaningless moments? Should we all just let these small moments exist in their simple joy, or look deeper and wonder why they make us as happy as they do? Does all this wondering ruin the moment? Before we know it, the moment can exist more in our minds than in does in the physical world. Is the intangible aspect of the experience any less valid than the fully physical one? Is it more meaningful? Should we analyze feelings, or experience them and then let them pass? We say to live in the present, but do we take ourselves outside of a moment by trying to experience it more fully?
We need to create and pursue goals in order to expand our horizons, be it creatively, athletically, spiritually, or professionally. However, I do wonder if they cause us, or at least me, to live even more in our heads. Constantly planning for an uncertain future while trying to enjoy the present moments, yet being aware of that effort, doesn’t leave much room for full experience. But what is a full experience really, in a way we live all of our lives in our minds. Maybe the key is just letting whatever will happen, happen.
It’s taken me a really long time to reject the concept of a predetermined timeline that a human life should have. I’m still not sure that I’m quite “there”. While deep down I believe that not following the path that the majority of my peers seem to be taking will lead to a life that suits me well and that I wholeheartedly love, it’s difficult to not let surface-level anxieties and insecurities control my actions and pull me back. I often find myself stuck in a mental game of tug-of-war between who/what I want to be (or at least what I think I want to be) and who/what I feel like the world around me tries to push me to be.
I’ve spent a lot, even most, of my teenage years watching others my age move “forward” and meet milestones that I thought I too would accomplish. Most of my classmates identified their key interests, completed grade 12 in one year, graduated at 17/18, began driving, and went on to post secondary school immediately after. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve shed hours worth of tears over each of these moments as I watched them pass me by. While so many my age were gearing up for the next phase of their lives, I’ve spent a lot of time simply trying to stay alive and functional. A life spent largely in hospital does not leave much room for basic humanity, much less lofty long term goal setting and pursuing complex interests. Due to so much time spent out of school I had to spend an extra year completing a final course, a course for which I ultimately still submitted my final project from a hospital bed, mere weeks before I was due to move hours away to attend university.
Once at university, I maintained the expectation that while I hadn’t before, I could now stay on a standardized path, that with enough hard work I could fit the mold that my new school expected of me. My school reinforced my own toxic beliefs, leading me to believe that the only way to a successful career was through their rigid rules, regardless of personal cost. I was not able to meet their expectations, and my attempts only led to anxiety and constant illness. Cue more tears and anger, both at myself for “failing” and the institution that was supposed to be helping me learn, yet who’s rules put up endless roadblocks to meeting my goals. Cue more screaming that it simply wasn’t fair that I couldn’t seem to meet many milestones in my young adult life that my peers appeared to do with ease.
One of the best choices that I have made to date was to realize that my surroundings were working nearly entirely against me instead of with me in pursuit of my goals, and remove myself from them. I have since allowed myself the space to know myself outside of institutions, be it hospitals or schools. I have since allowed myself to figure out who I want to be, and how I want to become it; not what a board of executives dictates I should be and do.
Severe illness does funny things to your perspective; all of a sudden the little details matter so much more, and the parts of your life that seemed so important become nearly arbitrary. The prestige of a post secondary education matters far less to me than it used to; as long as I can create and I can live an otherwise relatively financially secure life, I nearly don’t care what my educational background looks like. My life has taken countless infinitely frustrating turns that I had no control over, yet in that frustration I am finding peace, and opportunities that I would never have imagined. Maybe I’ll head back to post secondary, maybe I won’t. For now, I’m pursuing education in my own individual ways, and finally enjoying this wild ride, having accepted that I can’t force nor anticipate the turns and the drops. Hey, maybe the best moments happen when you finally let go of some control.
Somehow August is done and summer is coming to a close already – how did that happen? It feels like ages ago and yet no time at all since I was rounding up July. In the past week or so it’s begun to properly to feel like fall; it’s about 15 degree celsius outside and drizzling rain as I start to write this out.
August was a busy one, as anyone who checks in here periodically might have noticed by my sporadic posts. I don’t know what I’d do without my photos and videos, honestly I can barely remember what I did yesterday morning sometimes. I mainly spent my time coaching PaddleAll four evenings a week while working three days a week testing software, the rest of my time spent pursuing music and other personal projects.
One of my long distance best friends came to visit from Montreal for five days, the longest time that we have spent together since I can remember. We’ve been friends for ten years, nearly all of that time over Skype calls and texts, and she is my rock. I got lost on the city bike paths by the Rideau Canal, and ended up with some lovely photos. I began climbing at my local rock climbing gym more regularly again, and sometimes got my timing just right so that I had part of the gym all to myself (best feeling!). I’ve been enjoying evening walks with my family, and have gotten many lovely sunset photos as well as seen parts of my city that I didn’t know existed. I spent a weekend in Montreal celebrating my little sister’s birthday exploring the Botanical Gardens, as well as walking in the Montreal Pride parade, and got super sunburnt. While in Montreal I played dress up in a store that was way beyond my price range, and generally explored the city. I went climbing at Montagne D’Argent with a friend visiting from Waterloo, and made several new friends in the process. I finished off the month with the Ottawa pride parade, and more coffee and exploring of my city with my family. I’m definitely looking forward to fall weather ahead, new projects to pursue, and seeing what the next month brings!
There’s plenty of events in life that simply happen to us, with no choice made in the process: illness, death, heartbreak, loss. Admittedly, those are absolutely huge moments in someone’s life, yet we often go so far as to say that those moments define us.
I don’t personally believe that events in and of themselves can define a human being. I do, however, believe that the way that human chooses to react to them, lying in the rubble of the aftermath, can absolutely become a pivotal moment in their life. To me, within the inevitable pain and suffering that life brings, there is potential for great beauty, should we choose to cultivate it. Hardships have as much meaning as we make of them, and in this way we are authors, and our lives are wonderfully complex stories, always with more blank pages waiting to be filled.
Like authors, we create the richest personal storylines when we pay attention to the small joys, and work through sorrows fully yet without wallowing (though great stories can also come out of learning why wallowing won’t help move you along). While overarching long term goals are necessary to further the plot and provide direction, true satisfaction comes from the culmination of seemingly mundane moments and decisions. Upon noticing and appreciating more of the small joys and sensations of life, it nearly immediately becomes more satisfying, and less stressful (easier said than done, I know, trust me).
When times are good, take that extra ten seconds to appreciate crisp autumn morning air, take that extra twenty seconds to enjoy the smell of your coffee, take thirty seconds without headphones to walk around and enjoy the sound of your surroundings. Put your phone away for half an hour, your work emails will still be there when you get back to it.
When times are not so good, have patience with yourself. The novels we loved so much as children were ruined when a friend told us how it would end. The worst part of the story often occurred right before the most victorious ending, as we too will have. Life’s plot may seem unfair and extremely painful right now, but the most amazing next chapters have yet to be written and, in our own unique ways, we will all do so. It’s easy and entirely reasonable to dwell and wonder why circumstances are the way they are, but I find that remaining stagnant in that state does little to help me. I prefer to take my time to cry, wonder, feel, and process, and then create as much as I can from those feelings, thus giving them a purpose and a place in this greater story of life. Creating, in my case mostly writing and music, allows me to purge any emotion that I feel in excess, and give it a time capsule on paper (or screen). Writing and music are my novels, my life is the storyline, and I am the author. I believe that this ability lies within all of us, and I encourage anyone to look within themselves and find it.
Excuse the late night rambles, I hope this makes sense…
Maybe this is a strange opinion, but I believe love and, subsequently, heartbreak, to be truly amazing privileges. Those who manage to find themselves in situations where they can experience it are so incredibly fortunate to feel such strong emotion. Never do we feel more alive than when we care so completely and invest so fully in another human, and then the connection tears apart. Emotional pain so significant that we can nearly feel it in the very fibres of our being, that can only be captured in metaphors which compare it to extreme physical trauma, is a brand of beauty unto itself.
How lucky are we, to have oxygen coursing through our veins, allowing us to interact with the world around us? How lucky are we, to form complex connections with other beings, to care and be cared for? How lucky are, to have the energy, the cognitive capacity, the emotional capacity to mourn the occasional loss of some of those connections? How lucky are we, to be able to live, to love, to laugh, to lose?
It’s truly beautiful. The ups, the downs, the great times and the hard ones that we sometimes accept in exchange for them, are all beautiful. Heartbreak is awful, and we are so fortunate to be able to experience it.
I lie on the grass in the courtyard at work on my lunch break, it’s a sunny day but fall is beginning to creep in and touch the air. The light warms my skin, and the air gently brushes over, cooling it slightly. I close my eyes and hear the breeze rustling the leaves, a bee passing nearby. I could be on a camping trip, vacation, cottage; but the sound of distant traffic and the whir of my feeding pump beside ties me to my real situation. I inhale, exhale and touch the bracelet that reminds me to stay grounded and with my spirit, to stay connected with my breath. I will myself to absorb more of what the sun offers me, for the days are growing shorter and soon it’s gifts will be few and far between. Memories of the year prior are still fresh in my mind, and often distracting, but for these few minutes I am keenly aware of how present I am. I am proud of my ability to keep out whispers of my past, if even for a moment. As I begin to stir, brushing off the ants that have started to wander over my still body, I realize that for the first time in a long time, I’ve been feeling moments of true peace. I grab my notebook and try to capture the feeling in some lines on a page; who knows when it might come back.
I’ve now had a surgical feeding tube for over a year. While I admittedly harbour some resentment for being attached to a pump and bag for the majority of my nutrition, I’m ultimately SO much more grateful for the life that has been returned to me.
In the past year I have:
Gone to university and overcome all of the struggles that accompanied it
Rekindled my love for music and art, and discovered a passion for creation and human connection through those creations
Been able to rock climb consistently again
Been able to coach my favourite canoe/kayak program for a full summer, for the first time in years
Taken up yoga and embraced the spirituality that accompanies it
Changed universities, decided that life is too short to do something that makes me unhappy, and not go altogether
Had a chance to breathe and process all of the massive changes to my life from the past few years
Begun to create beauty from my pain
This has not come without cost, to me and to the government. In order to keep me alive and well, I have used approximately:
365 feed bags
a 2,000 dollar feeding pump
2, 555 packets of my formula, Vivonex TEN. This has cost, and thank the lord the government covers this cost, 383,250 dollars.
50 bottles of Pedialyte
380 anti nausea tablets
350 pain tablets
I have gone from being in hospital, as a minimum in a clinic or the emergency room multiple times a week, to truly living. I am exercising, I am creating, I am learning, and I am so grateful. This tube is not a cure, but it is an incredibly helpful treatment. This second chance at life is not lost on me, I refuse to let it.