Sometimes you will write things that are not very good

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything of substance on the blog. It’s not because I haven’t been writing. It’s because I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that’s very good. And that’s ok.

I tried writing a blog post about solopreneurship (a work in progress), about modern ideals of femininity (still needs more fleshing out), and about how I’m recovering from an injury at the moment, and losing my mind from lack of physical activity (epiphany just this moment… lack of writing well, and lack of physical activity are perfectly aligned *crying*).

Not everything that you write will be good, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing. If you’re not writing anything that’s bad, it probably either means a) that you’re not writing very often b) that you actually have no critical eye for your own work, and it’s all kind of mediocre. And as for the former, sure, you could write a pretty good thing every now and then, but if you’re not writing regularly, and sometimes badly, then you’re also probably not getting any better.

Don’t beat yourself up for bad writing.

Not every song on an album is a hit single; not every song written makes it onto the album; and not every melody hummed is turned into a song. So why put the pressure on yourself that every note scribbled on your laptop or in your notebook needs to turn into a finished piece that you share with other people? You don’t. And that doesn’t make those scribbles any less valid. Those scribbles are you growing and learning and getting better at your craft. Those pages are the shoulders of your own giants that you will one day stand on when you’ve practiced enough to write something truly great. I’ve spent my entire life writing; in the early years it was mostly in stacks and stacks of teenage journals. If you looked back on those journals, it would be embarrassing. They are the worst. You wouldn’t look at them and say, “these are great examples of writing! This lady is FOR SURE going to be a professional writer when she grows up. Let’s publish this shit!” But they did give me the space to have years and years of garbage writing without anyone’s judgement (including, my own).

So write badly. Write pieces that go nowhere and never get finished. Abandon a story that is going nowhere and lights no fire in your heart. And then start again. And again. And again. And practice every day until you write something great.

Podcasts I love

This week I had a few people on my FB posting asking for new podcast recommendations. I knew that I listened to a lot of podcasts, but didn’t realize just how many more I listen to than most people I know. So here is my super giant podcast list. Over the next few weeks (and months) I’ll start putting in my own descriptions, but for now, here’s the list of podcasts I’ve listened to in the past, are in my current binge-listen rotation, or that I’ve just started listening to. These categories are really loose, but wanted to at least break it down a little bit for y’all before I put those descriptions in. I’d also love to hear your own podcast recommendations in the comments!

Interviews
modern love (also narrative)
wtf
here’s the thing
sooo many white guys

Straight up storytelling
snap judgement
risk
the moth

Pop culture/comedy/social commentary
2 dope queens
the read
comedy bang bang

Design
99% invisible

Creativity/Entrepreneurship
creative pep talk
how I built this
startup
work in progress
work mode
creativemornings
unstyled

Long form investigative story-telling
radiolab
this American life

Somewhat new agey
good life project
tara brach
magic lessons

Science, tech, history,  social sciences
the memory palace
reply all
science vs
colour code
invisibilia
two scientists walk into a bar
stuff mom never told you

Other
all songs considered

An update

20170110_082747-PANO.jpg

There’s been a lot of change in my life in the past few months, and there’s going to be even more in the months to come. I wanted to make an update post to keep people that I know in the loop about what the heck I’m up to these days.

  1. I’ve had an injury. The week after I made my post about how active I was and how much I love being active, I got a stress fracture. I was told to immediately stop any activities that had a high impact on my foot (ie: running). I tried yoga, but the upward to downward dog transition hurt my foot. I tried swimming, but the foot paddling associated with anything but the breast stroke also caused foot pain. I tried to walk less, but I’m such a big walker, and honestly it’s been a crazy struggle. 4 weeks later, I’m not feeling that much better, and I’m wondering if the end will ever be in sight.
    I’m going to try to get back to going to the gym, but with no box jumps, skipping, steps ups, etc etc etc, and see how it goes.
    I’ve seen so many runners that I know deal with injury, and it’s so fucking difficult. On the plus side, it has made me MISS running so much. I constantly think about how much I love it and how much I want to get back out there. Distance is definitely making the heart grow fonder in this case. So much fonder.
    I’m trying to remember to see the long game (patience!). In the big scheme of things, one month off (or two…) is so short when you compare it to a lifetime of physical activity.
    This injury was also a good reminder for me. I knew that it was time to replace my shoes. I could tell that they were worn. But I put it off. And with the level of physical activity that I was putting in, that was a fucking stupid decision. I will never do it again.
  2. I’ve started freelancing full-time. This decision came about in late 2016 after a series of personal breakdowns and revelations, and I finally realized, “I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT” and went for it. I spent the next few months taking every meeting and coffee that I could get, and now things are starting to come together. I’m so god-damn excited about the year ahead. I’m excited for the variation in projects and clients, and the feeling that I never have to be stuck in a specific job if I don’t want to ever again. BUT WHAT DO YOU DO, ALTAIRA? Well, I’m still kind of figuring that out.
    For now it mostly falls into a few buckets:

a. Writing. I love writing, and I’m good at it, and I can pretty much write about anything. I’m hoping to do more health care communications work, some work related to environmental and social issues, and also some work making online resources on various topics. This will be balanced with a healthy dose of blog posts on things like running and mental health and creativity. Writing all the time.

b. Research. I’m good at digging for things online, I know how to identify legit sources, and I’m basically a professional lurker. If you need something from the Internet, I can find it. I love going down knowledge rabbit holes and digging forever until every bit of useful information has been found. Whether it be for an environmental scan, or a policy paper, research holds a special place in my heart. It is a good partner to writing.

c. Other consulting. This third basket is a mixed bag of other things that I like doing. This includes some consulting about events (how should it run, what issues might you come up against, what are your goals), some strategy, and I’m hoping in the future to help teams develop online courses/workshops etc to supplement their own consulting work. I’ve helped to shape countless workshops and online education modules in the academic world, and I’m ready to take those skills and apply them to creative projects.

d. Workshops. I’m also running a series of workshops here in Toronto called Just Write. The purpose of which is to give participants the tools that they need to turn off the part of their brain that tells them that they can’t, and to just start the writing project that they have been thinking about, because that is the first and most difficult step. The next one is THIS SATURDAY. If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to register. This month’s workshop is only 45 bucks and will include a really great yoga session by City Yogis.

  1. I’m (mostly) moving back to BC. You heard me. May 2017, I will be packing up my Toronto life and moving it back across the country to Gibsons, BC. I’ve known for a few years that I would be planning a move to BC’s Sunshine Coast, and now the stars have finally aligned and it’s time to go home. I. CANNOT. WAIT. If we’ve ever spoken about my homeland in real life, you will have noticed how my eyes light up when I talk about the smell of the forest, and the damp air coming off the sea. I’m ready for bonfires and vegetable gardens, for trail runs and swims in the ocean on my lunch break, for easy west coast hangs that blend from morning into night, for long table dinners in apple orchards and afternoons spent holding baby sheep. READY. FOR. IT. In large part, this readiness has been facilitated by my decision to freelance. I was always hesitant to move back, because even though my heart ached for the West Coast, the thought of leaving my Toronto life completely behind, and visiting a week or two a year was just too much to bear. So at the moment I’m building up my Toronto clients, with the plan to have a home base in Gibsons but to come back and live in TO 2-3 months a year. The Sunshine Coast has so much possibility, and I cannot fucking wait for the projects, events, community building that I have started brainstorming for the year ahead.
  1. I’ve met so many wonderful people. WEST COAST HIPPIE MOMENT. When I finally gave in to what I really want from my life, I started to meet even more of the best people. I already have some truly wonderful, supportive, funny, generous friends in my life. But the connections that I’m making have just started to explode off the fucking charts in recent months. It’s blowing my mind a little.
  1. Everything is always working out for me. My fam, Jacqueline Jennings Pierrot has started using the term, “coming out of the spiritual closet” for people connecting with their purpose, and generally getting into new age spiritual practices like tarot readings, crystals, positive vibrations with the universe etc. One morning, on my most recent trip to BC, she was like, “I’m listening to this positive thinking podcast, I know you think that it’s stupid, but whatever, it’s totally working”. One of the things that she said from the podcast as a positive mantra was, “everything is always working out for me”. And my immediate reaction was *EYE ROLL* *FUCKING GAG ME* and J was like WHATEVER. And then I started saying it as a joke, because it was too self help, new agey for me, but then actually everything started just working out for me in exactly the way that I hoped it would. Soooooooooooooo… EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS WORKING OUT FOR ME.

Update COMPLETE. Big thanks to everyone who keeps reading my blog, and sending kind words or letting me know in person that a post that I wrote really resonated with them. You’ve helped me to write more consistently and honestly in the year that’s passed, and encouraged me to dig more deeply in the year ahead.

 

Finding my chill

Over the past year, there have been some reoccurring themes in my life. Messages and lessons that pop up again and again.

2016 mostly involved me being hit over the head with patience. Patience. Patience. So many things that happened forced me to take a step back, and just breath, try my best not to spiral into an anxiety pit, and know that things would work out if I just let them. It continues to be a struggle, but I’m learning to be ok with waiting. I’m learning to be ok with planting seeds, and not giving up on them if they take their sweet sweet time coming to fruition. This has also gone hand in hand with getting better at just feeling ok. Things will be fine.

If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you’ll know that I have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, that can at times make it difficult to believe that things will be ok. So when projects, jobs, relationships, you name it, aren’t progressing at a good clip, I can start to feel like nothing will ever progress; I will never be more successful; I will never have a partner; I will never have the kind of life that I hope for that blends stability, adventure, family, generosity, creativity, and travel; I will die alone with nothing to show for my life. Basically, I can go to a place where nothing is possible. As you can imagine, this is neither healthy nor productive. It also fosters a manic energy that leads to me flitting from priority to priority, spinning my wheels, and never really progressing along any one path, but rather a million teeny tiny paths, taking the teeniest, tiniest steps forward.

Then, in late November, I attended the CreativeMornings Global Summit. I was feeling a little lost and unsure of where to turn next in life. What kind of job should I take? What are my priorities? What do I actually want from my life? I felt untethered.

The very act of being in the presence of so much of my tribe was heartening (the CM Summit brought together 250 organizers from every corner of the globe.) But in particular, a talk given by James Victore got under my skin, and hit me deep in my gut. The main messages and takeaways were that the things that are weird about you are where you get your creative vitality from, so just embrace them; you don’t need energy, you need purpose; just start – whatever it is you’re doing; and Action Action Action – not one action. three actions. All the actions, full steam ahead.

I went back to my team’s Air BNB after this talk, and fell apart. What was I doing? Why was I aiming for Plan B, C, and D in my life, instead of just going for gold? Why did I keep settling for jobs, projects, and people that left me feeling unfulfilled, and like I wasn’t reaching my potential?

I decided that I was done, and that if I really wanted to leave behind the reoccurring feeling that I was going nowhere, I would have to start making real moves towards going somewhere that I actually wanted to go.

Post-Summit, I was sitting with some other folks from the global CM community, eating tacos, and Kevin Huynh (former CM COO) asked us, “What’s a question that you want me to re-ask you in 2 years to see how much progress you’ve made?” My first, somewhat jokey response was, “Are you still in turmoil every day about what you want to do with your life?”, which I then changed to, “Have you learned to balance stillness and action?” I wasn’t 100% sure what I meant by that, and in the weeks that followed, I thought about getting in touch with Kevin to change my question – I thought that it sounded pretentious and vague, and wasn’t sure how I was going to answer it 2 years down the road.

But then something happened – Action and Stillness began to show up unrelentingly in my day to day.

I did a tarot card reading with some friends that said that I needed to learn stillness to fuel action in my life. Another friend identified me as having a Pitta Dosha under the Ayervedic body types – Pitta is the fire constitution that again, needs to find inner stillness to be able to use their fire constructively. I was injured and started doing yoga again for the first time in years; it reminded me how fucking chill I felt when I left Vancouver for Toronto and had been practicing yoga 5 times a week, and that I need to balance all of my intense physical activity that requires action and fire, with the inner calm of grounding activities. I spent a lot of time in self reflection, and the times that I have felt the most powerful, are also the times that I have found certainty and calm within myself; the times that I was able to quiet all of the chatter right the fuck down, and feel still, are the times that I also felt that everything was possible. It’s interesting what happens when you actually start to listen to yourself.

Stillness and Action.

Action.

Action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings on the year behind and the year ahead

img_20161230_163105_035

Another year comes to a close. 2016 brought so many triumphs, epiphanies, setbacks and moments of growth. I’ll be ringing in the new year at Bodega Ridge, with friends, food, bonfires, and surrounded by so much silence and loudness and spirit and nature. In a year where my need for connection to forests and the sea have been crystalized so clearly, it seems fitting for new beginnings to unfold in this setting. I continue to struggle to find the balance between my life in Toronto and my life out here on the West Coast.

Thoughts for the new year:

  • Whenever I talk to people about the writing workshops that I’m running, their eyes light up. It’s encouraging and empowering, and I can’t wait to see how these workshops grow in 2017.
  • I’ve relied on my science brain, and pure facts for a long time, and though I’m a really emotional, intuitive, sensitive person, I often try to distance myself from this aspect of my personality. Why? This year, I’m going to do my best to lean into the feeling side of myself more.
  • I did a tarot card reading for the new year with an old friend and a new friend, and one thing that came up was how I use charisma and humour to keep an arms length in intimate relationships, to avoid coming across as vulnerable. This practice is not helping me on any fronts, and I need to start allowing myself to be open up to people more deeply. Especially in romantic situations.
  • Also yes I am into tarot card readings, and burning sage, and crystals, and the universe, and all of that modern spirituality garbage, and I should probably just be real with myself about that and accept it. AMIRIGHT?!
  • I have all of the skills and experience that I need to take the next steps in my career, and life in general, and I just need to stop doubting myself. I don’t need to study more, or get a certificate, or take a workshop, I just need to do it. Action. Action Action.
  • I’ve spent half the year with mild injury and it’s been frustrating, but also a good lesson in balance, taking care of myself, and listening to my body. I always knew that physical activity was important to me, but it was taken to a next level in 2016. I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, and in the year ahead, I intend to be even stronger. I intend to lift weights, and run up mountains, and swim in the ocean, and row, and play sports, and bike, and adventure, and do all of the things, and feel strong and free and empowered in my own body. And through writing, and example, I want to help other people to feel this way too.
  • In the same vein as vulnerability in person, I’m going to become more vulnerable in my writing. I always tell myself that I should be writing more academic, well-researched thought pieces, and that’s fine, but in reality I think that the thing that I really have to offer in my personal writing is from the more personal.
  • I am very self-critical, so I can also take offers of help from other people as critical. Again, why? I’ve been doing a lot of self work in the past months checking my own feelings when it comes to self judgement and perceived judgement from others. It’s been hard. I grew up feeling that nothing was ever good enough for my parents, and this feeling carried over into adulthood. It’s hard to shake. It’s a process. And in the process of becoming less critical of myself, I’m also hoping to become less critical of others.
  • More listening to my gut.
  • More courage.
  • More adventure.
  • More stillness.
  • More work.
  • More strength.
  • More friends.
  • More sweat.
  • More vulnerability.
  • More connection.
  • More life.

Happy New Year all. May you find your north star, your tribe, and your bliss – whatever that may be – in the year to come.

Leading a life of leisure

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and she mentioned that she recently made an effort to start learning Japanese again. It’s something that she’s always wanted to do, and though she has no immediate use for it in her daily life, it makes her feel really happy. Building on my last post, and the idea of physical activity just for the sake of being physical, I challenge you to make time to take up one hobby that you’ve been thinking about forever and ever JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT.

Just because you take up writing, doesn’t mean that you have to be working on a novel, or posting to a blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re terrible at drawing if it brings you pleasure; you don’t have to have a show one day, or even ever share it with anyone if you don’t want to; just do it because you like it. Do you like crafting? That’s great! You can do it without ever making an Etsy store. Do you like cooking fancy dinners? Do it just for you! You can have a dinner party if you want; or don’t. Have you always wanted to learn the cello? Take lessons! For fun!

Too often, there’s the expectation that every hobby we take up, or activity we partake in, has to be associated with a goal, or outcome, or has to turn into a side hustle. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want. But it’s also important to remember that it is completely legitimate and valid and NICE to do things just because they make you feel happy. It’s good to have goals – goals can give you a sense of purpose in life, and help you to feel accomplished and like you’re contributing something to the world. But it’s also good to do things without any expectation that they have to be productive.

You don’t even have to rationalize your ‘just for fun’ activities if you don’t want to. You don’t need to share an article about how painting in your free time makes you a better parent because some study found that it increases your ability to empathize with your children. You don’t need to justify learning a new language because actually you noticed that your industry is expanding into this market and it could be useful in the future. You don’t need to do crosswords, because you read somewhere that it will help you to stave off senility by increasing cognition, and also will somehow enhance your sex life through self perceived increase in intelligence and therefor projected confidence. You can take up activities for those reasons if you want to and that’s fine. But you can also just forget all of that shit; every last bit of it; and do something because it makes you smile. That is absolutely fine too.

Physical activity and personal fortitude

20161202_090652.jpg

At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.