You’d be happier if you ate more ice cream

(Written sometime in 2015 and never published…)

I’m re-learning how to enjoy myself.

As a kid, your primary motivation for doing pretty much everything is ‘because it’s fun’ or ‘because I want to’.  Slowly restrictions and limits are placed on your desires, and you learn that you can’t always get what you want. So maybe your motives turn into: ‘because I want to, unless I’ll get in trouble for doing it’.

And then puberty hits. Suddenly, your carefree days of maximising enjoyment become a confusing mess of trying to be cool, trying not to stand out too much, and trying to deal with those pesky hormones.

Somewhere in there, I think I forgot what I actually like doing.

Good things somehow were reduced to being rewards for things I actually had to do. You can eat that if you read this. You can go out if you work hard. But I think that’s cheapened the way that I view pleasure.

What if happiness isn’t something you earn, but something you grasp?

Or never mind the grand idea of happiness – just think about the things you enjoy every day. What if we stopped bribing ourselves, and torturing ourselves in the process, and just tried to take responsibility for the sake of taking responsibility, and enjoyed ourselves for the sake of enjoying ourselves?

Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe this would never work.

And I don’t mean to preach the same old carpe diem message, that you should watch more sunsets and learn how to breathe. That’s somebody else’s motto. I just wonder why I don’t do more stuff because it’s fun, or because I want to.

Do I not deserve it? Is that what this is about? Because who really does deserve to enjoy themselves in this life? The rich? The poor? The struggling? The lazy? If anyone ‘deserves’ to enjoy small pleasures, I think everyone deserves to.

So, coming down from the whole philosophical discussion, here’s what this actually means:

Today I ran through a sprinkler on campus, because it was hot, and I wanted to.
Then I went home and ate some ice cream, for pretty much the same reasons.
I’m going to swing on every swing set I come across this year.
I plan to sing in public, wear comfortable clothing, cook myself more breakfasts, and laugh at bad jokes.

I’m not sure why I haven’t been doing these things all along, really.

Life is far too short to not enjoy as much of it as possible.

 

I’m Bad at Replying to Messages

Everyone knows it. Everyone complains about it. I self-identify as a terrible messager. Email, text, whatever. Sometimes I take hours, days, weeks to reply. Sometimes I never do. It’s bad. I think of myself as reliable and loyal in a lot of other ways – just not electronically.

Trust me, I feel plenty of guilt about it. More than you’d think. Because it could be assumed that buckets of guilt would actually motivate me to improve. But no. I just live with the flaw and live with the guilt simultaneously.

But I have tried to figure out why I’m so terrible at replying to things. Consider this my sheepish and sincere apology to you, if you’ve been a victim to me doing absolutely nothing after you’ve sent me a heartfelt message.

Reason #1 – Numbers
At this point in my life, I live in a city in which only about 2% of the people I know and care about also live. That means 98% of my friends and family, people who would send me a message from time to time, live in a different city, province, or country. Even if each of them only sends me one quick note a year – that’s still a lot of messages. It’s a bit exhausting, and probably unnatural, for someone to maintain dozens of distance relationships and only have a few in the flesh. I won’t make up an exact figure, but the ratio of face-to-face interactions should probably be higher than electronic ones for a healthy person, and that’s what I default to.

Reason #2 – I Care About Sincerity
I genuinely want to reply to every message I receive, and I want to genuinely reply to every message, too – you know what I mean? And every time someone says, “How are things?” I want to give a real response, and then I want to hear from them. And then they’ll reply with something real, and I’ll want to reply to that with something real, etc. Which is a conversation. And is great. That’s how it should be. But it means one message turns into seven, and if those 98% are all sending them… Sometimes it just tires me to even begin replying.

[Pause: I realize this could be taken as quite whiny thus far, but I’ll get to the affectionate stuff soon, and hopefully you won’t hate me as much.]

Reason #3 – I’m Overwhelmed
I’m an introvert. Any type of human interaction is draining to me. I love people a ridiculous amount, but I cannot be around them all the time or bad things will happen. The internet and cell phones mean that human interactions follow me even into my recharge time, and that scares me. I get to the point of having nothing left to give. It’s like trying to take a nap and someone keeps waiting for you to almost fall asleep and then starting up the vacuum. Or as you’re about to take a bite of your meal, asking you a question.
Sometimes I feel quite empty and I have nothing to say. You’ve never seen me like this in real life, because when I’m around people I set aside my introversion and give everything I have to connect with people. But being truly alone is necessary for me in a thousand different ways.

And I do want to connect with you. Desperately. I miss so many of you all the time. I think of you frequently. I remember our inside jokes and the things you like and the places we went together. I love that you still think of me too, and send me beautiful words to let me know. I love that you want to hear about my life and how I’m feeling. It’s incredible. I feel like I have an army of friends behind me all the time, and I know that I’m loved and supported.

But sometimes it’s going to take me three months to reply to a message.

I’m sorry.

The Stigma of Contentment

If I left my ambition at the bottom of my sock drawer and chose to live a simple life instead, would you look at me differently? Would you look down on me? Would you feel sorry for me? Would you try to fix me?

In the centre of the swirling and sprinting, I’ve decided to stroll. But I think you think I’m crazy.

Because I’m not breaking myself to become a bigger version of myself; I like the size I’m at. I like having a very concrete knowledge of how much is enough, and living within that. I like knowing the beginning and end of what I need to do, and trying my best to do that.

I like being able to breathe.

I like being intensely aware of where I am so when I start to run I’ll know exactly where I’m going.

I am going places. But you’re not going to get me there. Jesus and I have a long road ahead of us and we will not be rushed.

(Is my significance only measured by what I accomplish?)

I refuse to have my joy brushed off me like a harried mother wiping the dirt from her daughter’s dress.

I am free to dance in the mud and squat in the flowerbeds and I feel sorry for you because I think you’re missing out on a lot but mostly I want you to let me be.

Mostly I want you to let me be.

I’m happy, but I don’t think you believe me. I think you think I’m crazy.

And that’s too bad.

Spring

I feel a thaw is coming.
There’s a rustling in the branches,
Faint percussion in the sunshine –
Cymbals and timpanis rolling into
Better days

I’m waiting to get better,
Impatient for the tables to turn
Into horses and take me onwards
And upwards, full forward
And beyond

I want to gallop into springtime
– But leaves don’t grow overnight.
I want to hurricane-fly into full bloom
– But I’m too fragile to take flight.

Flowers and healing come gently

Gently

Pens and blank pages

A blank page is loaded with three emotions for me – fear, anticipation, and inspiration.

Sometimes I write because the world tosses a creative thought into the air in front of me, and I grab a piece of paper to scribble on.

But often the creative urge is deeper than a conscious experience. So I know that I want to write something. I just don’t know what it is.

Enter blank page.

I sit and stare and feel and wander among these different emotions.

There is the anticipation of making something new, turning a formless idea into an existing thing. What’s amazing about creating is that it nearly always takes on a life of its own, meaning I’m just as curious about what I’m about to make as everyone else.

There is the fear that nothing will come. That I will struggle for hours and be stuck with the creativity inside me, like a sneeze that bothered you for a few stressful minutes, arming you with a tissue in your hand, destroying your ability to concentrate on anything else, and then sighed its way back into the shadows.

There is the anticipation that this will be the piece that changes everything. Or the piece that begins the bigger journey, or gets the most attention.

There is the fear that what I put down on paper won’t ever come out right. That I will wrestle with the colours of ideas but never get to the honest part of them.

There is the fear that what I write won’t be good enough. For myself or for anyone else. That even if I do find the perfect words, they’ll fall flat of my grand expectations.

There is the inspiration that rests on  every blank piece of paper in the world. You can make anything you want. You were born to create. You have the magic every human possesses, to express who you are through what you do. I’m waiting.

My life is a blank page right now. It’s like I’ve finished one chapter, turned the page, smoothed down the crease, and picked up a pen. No title, no plot line.

And there is fear, and anticipation, and inspiration. I wander among them every day.

I’m waiting.

5 Things Wrong with BBC’s #FeesMustFall Article

I could start writing about this movement now and keep writing for about a month, so I decided to start small. International media sites have had some interesting portrayals of what’s going on in South Africa since October 19th. By ‘interesting’, I mean non-existent, biased, confused, lazy, and misleading, for the most part. Here’s my breakdown of some of what’s wrong with BBC World’s coverage of #FeesMustFall as of 11:59pm on October 22nd.

  1. The headline:

“S Africa student protesters charged”

Really? You only have one chance to catch a reader’s attention, and tell them the story in six words. Is that sentence doing the best possible job of encompassing what’s happening? Is it even the most dramatic occurrence? I mean, every university in the country has shut down, thousands of young people of every colour are actively protesting, and the government has proposed an exorbitant fee hike, but yes. A handful of people got arrested and then let go. It must be important.

  1. This headline was more prominent on the BBC World’s website:

“China communists ban golf memberships”

Right…

This headline had equal prominence:

“Schweinsteiger may sue over Nazi doll”

I love Schweinsteiger as much as the next guy, I really do. I just don’t think this is as newsworthy, I’m sorry.

Why isn’t this getting more attention?

[Update: As of 1:19am on October 23rd, this article had been taken off the home page completely, so it’s become even less important, yay.]

  1. The caption for this photo:

“The protests are the worst to hit universities since the end of apartheid”

To “hit universities”. Like they’re meteors. And “the worst”. Because protests are bad. Disruption is evil. Speaking out is negative. Come on. So many synonyms were possible – “largest” being the most obvious, and most true.

  1. Speaking of spin:

“On at least two occasions, police foiled attempts by the protesters to reach the headquarters of the governing African National Congress (ANC), pushing them back to their campuses.”

The definition of “to foil” is “to prevent (something considered wrong or undesirable) from succeeding”. Ah. So the police stopped this terrible development from occurring. Well done, police. Way to stop a bunch of kids from speaking to their government. Oh, but you actually didn’t succeed, so sorry that didn’t actually work out.

  1. The flattering lighting they’re putting the President under:

“In a statement, Mr Zuma said: ‘It is important that we work together to find solutions. Nobody disagrees with the message that students from poor households are facing financial difficulties and possible exclusion.’ Correspondents say his intervention shows how seriously he is taking the protests.”

WHAT THE HECK. How seriously he’s taking the process?!

Can you please look at the indifference on Zuma’s face at 0:07? Does that look like he’s taking anything in life seriously?

Equally as terrifying is the indifference the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, displays. Not indifference, actually. More like spite.

To be fair, BBC’s Africa highlights section is much more accurate and nuanced.

But beware, everyone. The media’s doing some crazy stuff out there. Follow #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing for the real struggle stories.

FeesMustFall

Heroic Lattes

The smell of trees has been getting to me lately. I’ve chosen my walking routes to spend more time with them, because there’s something about trees.

They make me want to live a beautiful life, full of other comforting smells and exquisite views and heart-aching music. I want to expand the pores of my imagination and be dazzled by everything I can experience.

So there’s a life I see – breathing in cool autumn air, riding bicycles along gold-lit pathways at dusk, sipping tea at cafés and reading leather-bound novels. I see it, it’s beautiful.

It reminds me of the opening montage of one of those “she looks successful and happy but actually she wishes she had true love and is therefore empty” romantic comedy movies. Or the ending montage of a coming-of-age, indie-inclined film.

But those aren’t my favourite genres of film, to be quite honest. I like epic stories. The ones with impossibly devastating low moments that slowly, incredibly, turn into impossibly magnificent victories for the heroes. Stories full of justice and friendship and sacrifice and triumph. The final scenes that make your heart actually hurt because you can’t believe that everything turned out that spectacular.

Stories are hard, though. The best stories are full of bad moments. But the whole seduction of story-watching is that you, the watcher, know that it’s all going to be okay, but the character doesn’t. So you sit, you watch, and you urge them onwards (but not towards that creepy bog area; characters should never go there, and absolutely never touch creepy bog water). You desperately need them to keep going, because that’s what heroes do.

The problem with the journeys of many of our heroes is that they neglect to show you the mundane portions of heroic life. A scene or two portraying their struggle to find food and shelter satisfies your tiny prick of curiosity as to how they survived in such trying circumstances. Then you accept that their heroicness encompasses even the bare necessities of life, and you move on to more epic events. But hunger always come back, and coldness, and dampness, and images of all the beautiful, comfortable places where one could be instead of here. Is that the most heroic part of these stories? That they kept going, when it would have been so much more comfortable to stay?

That’s the fork in the road I have the privilege of pausing at.

There’s a life I see – full of justice and friendship and sacrifice and triumph. With moments of luxury and safety, but noticeably littered with difficult choices and painful struggles and genuinely walking into the world’s crossfires. The climax won’t involve me sipping a latte heroically; there will be victories more tangible than that. I will fight for goodness to win over evil, not comfort to win over reality.

On his unexpected adventure, Bilbo Baggins on many occasions thought something to the effect of, “I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” How dull would The Hobbit movies have been if he had gotten his wish? And Bilbo’s book would have been entitled “Here and Still Here: A Hobbit’s Tale by Bilbo Baggins”. Sometimes he wasn’t the hero we wanted, when we rolled our eyes at how whiny and unsure and plain old reluctant he was. Come on, Bilbo! Stop being such a hobbit. Go on an adventure.

And on he went, against all odds.

He wasn’t always the hero we wanted, but he’s a lot like a hero I could be. In over his head, a bit pathetic at times, but fierce when he needs to be, choosing loyalty and courage over tea and scones. That’s the best I can do. I think you’re probably the same.

Come on, friend. Stop being such a human. Go on an adventure.

And on we went…

Happy 148th birthday, Canada

When I first moved to Cape Town, I constantly compared my surroundings to what I had experienced in Canada. Living on your own for the first time is complicated enough, and doing it in a country that’s entirely new to you is even more overwhelming. So I kept track of my missing comforts.

And people asked me to name differences too, to say which place I preferred, as if my two months of South African living gave me the authority to rank this nation against my own.

But months passed, and the comparative spirit gradually faded. The visits to Canada became less of a relief and more of a treat. I lost the sense that Cape Town was a city I was observing, and felt like I had learned to settle down here, like I had fashioned a new home.

My new-found international identity actually made me more critical of Canada when I touched down there. I could see some of the cons that came alongside all the surface positives of a first world, squeaky clean environment. My ranking system was reversed, and I felt smug and worldly because of it. Who needs a home anyway? I’ll just float, and find my footing as I go. A country is a fickle source of identity, and I’m okay without it.

I still feel like that’s true. I shouldn’t idolise a place. Nowhere is perfect, no group of people has perfected the art of living.

But I’m Canadian. That’s my country. Although I can see the cracks, Canada is still the place I love the most. I’m biased, just like everyone else in the world, and I’m unashamed. I’m fully aware that my love is arbitrary. Goodness and badness are everywhere in different colours and costumes. And they sprouted up as a result of historical circumstances and human choices with unforeseeable consequences. The randomness of it would actually be quite hilarious, if nationalism hadn’t caused so much trouble over the years.

My being born in Canada does not objectively make it a better country than others, that I now have to defend with fierce loyalty.

So this is a subjective admiration. It’s the low rumble of familiarity that gives me comfort, the scent of browning leaves and rotting pumpkin in the swirling fall breeze, the collage of soft plaid and scratchy wool garments waiting in biting air for buses, the salty smoke of barbecues and campfires rising as mosquitoes descend on long summer evenings. It’s the crack of hockey sticks and slice of skates, it’s tulips and thunderstorms and beavertails and maple trees and the identical smell of every single Tim Horton’s. It’s polite police officers and polite cashiers and polite truck drivers. It’s towering mountains and sweeping prairies and intricate lakes and trees and trees and trees and trees, framed by oceans, spotted with cities, vast as can be, proud as ever. It’s the true north strong and free. My Canada, my home.

Quicksand

Nothing is ever completely familiar.
There is knowledge that will forever be just over there,
Just beyond where your squinted eyes can see
Just below the layers of earth you’ve clawed away.

Whoever you think you know –
And I mean the real kind of knowing,
Exhaling, easy laughing, looking and seeing, hearing and listening – They’re never quite a perfect fit to be your foundation,
To be your completion,
To be your home.

Turn around for a moment,
Now, look – they’ve changed.
And you’re not the same either,
But you still want them to know you,
Only differently than before,
But that’s impossible.
That’s magic.

That quicksand will take you if you walk on it like dry ground,
Optimism in Faithfulness’s clothing.
Build carefully.

Regarding who’s listening

There’s a temptation to write poetry to please the masses
Or just a certain demographic
Or even just one person

And I could do it
I have words tattooed into my fingertips
My fingerprint is a haiku
I can stamp out feelings and metaphors,
I can stir a warm breeze of inspiration around in your mind without drawing my eyebrows any closer together than they normally are

Lately I haven’t written much at all,
And I think it’s because I’ve been missing the bridge between aspiration and affirmation –
Inspiration
It’s my view that there’s nothing wrong with wanting someone to hear what you’re saying
Words are for communication
Art is for expression
Souls are for relationship
But we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, even slower to yell

I want a voice full of substance, truth, and life,
Regardless of who’s listening
But thanks for listening, I guess.