The Ebb and Flow of Youth

When I was little, I would ask permission to look both ways and cross the street to the playground beside the ball park across from my house.

When I was a teeny bopper I would unearth dimes from wherever I could, to buy five cent candies from the 7-Eleven on the other side of that same ball park.

And when I was a young adult with a reasonably extended curfew, I would stay out late in that ball park, goofing off with my friends; we’d lie on our backs and watch the stars, chase each other around the outfield, and laugh hysterically for hours.

Now, I live 1,636 kilometres from that ball park.

The friends I hung out with live anywhere from 3 to 2,000 km from that ball park.

This week I was wandering through Superstore when I happened down the stationary isle. Looking at all those coil-bound notebooks and cases of Papermate pens, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia for the days before the new year began, when my mom or dad would take me out, school-supplied product list in hand, to purchase new plastic-scented binders, glue sticks, and pencil crayons.

I was wrapping up two months of blissful laziness I strongly felt I had earned after all that hard work in class the year before. I would have awkward tan lines, a host of new scars and a couple pairs of grass-stained pants.

Most of the time, I don’t have a yen for those days gone by. I was dorky, and clueless, and gawky. My world revolved around sleep overs and rollerblading up and down the driveway. Let’s face it: I was a goof.

But carefree has a certain allure when your current state of being is a pleasing combo of stress about making ends meet, stress about starting a real career, and moments of missing home, where even a passing thought of the uncomfortable green hide-a-bed in the rec room brings on a yearning for my old room.

It’s not that I miss my parents or best friend uncontrollably (just a reasonable amount), or the days of doing nothing at all, or the old ball park and recently updated playground. It’s the entire package.

The feeling first came on during a few days of deciding not to go home for Christmas. It would be the first time in 27 years that I wouldn’t be sitting on the floor that crisp morning, dividing presents – one for mom, one for dad, one for me, one for the lil brudder. Repeat.

I have since come to the conclusion that I will pull out all the stops to make it home for Santa Day. The S.O. is cheerfully on board since, as he says, he doesn’t want to have to put up with Pouty Me if I don’t get home.

But even with that issue resolved – finances pending – little reminders of my place of birth and growth keep cropping up. Co-workers mentioning their family dinners, parks that look like the ones I used to frequent (or, more likely, don’t and I’m imagining things), music I first heard when I was in high school or still taping radio playlists with a little black Sanyo.

The way I figure it, we don’t ever completely grow up. We can move away, make our own money, stop running and screaming around ball parks … but some little piece of us will always long for easy summers climbing trees, and shopping trips where our only responsibility was to stay near the cart.

Making your bed doesn’t seem like such an insurmountable chore anymore, does it?

*Lou

Living room of yore: one rockin' jumpsuit, a retired carpet, and a cat named Calypso

Living room of yore: one rockin’ jumpsuit, a retired carpet, and a cat named Calypso

 

The awful hardship of living with a fitness fiend

Most of us try to live a healthy lifestyle at least some of the time.  The average person – I’m talking those who aren’t already health buffs – toss in a jog, or squeeze in some pushups, or pop into the gym at least occasionally, if only to prove to the frustratingly fit girl at the front counter that the $60/month membership fee isn’t entirely going to waste.

I pride myself on the days I do well (5 km run, sweaty yoga session, 12 pushups), and tend not to stress the days I do less well (two chocolate bars, half a loaf of fresh baked bread slathered with butter, icing out of the can).  I’ll admit I’m one of the more-or-less lucky ones who can boast a decently fast metabolism and ability to eat a fair bit of crap without having to buy a new wardrobe. (I am honestly, emphatically grateful that when I do put on weight, it’s in places that don’t affect my pant size. Like I said – lucky!)

Assuming that at least some of my readers are in a similar boat, maybe you can also commiserate with the terrible, teeth-grinding experience that is living with a partner who has taken up the Mantle of Health in the most confident, self-controlled, obnoxious way possible.

My S.O., having recently decided that making me pick up dog poo and send him lives on Candy Crush was insufficient punishment for my various disappointments, chose to refocus his efforts on a new, less obvious mode of retribution: he gave up junk food completely and dedicated himself to a rigorous training schedule intended to prepare him for a marathon.

How selfish is that?

I was supportive to begin with. Hell, I thought, maybe this will encourage me to cut back, too. But by day two of watching him religiously utilize a calorie counter that allows you to scan barcodes of the food ingested, I was jonseing for a Caramilk something fierce.  Needless to say, I gave in.

That’s when it all went downhill.  Talk about baiting the bear. I might as well have been waving a dime bag around in front of a newly clean drug addict.  The moans, the salivation, the longing looks that were once reserved for me when I looked particularly damn good … In a matter of hours, I went from a carefree snacker to a meticulous sneaker, hoarding Skittles under my side of the mattress and eating entire boxes of ice cream sandwiches in single sittings just so that beleaguered gaze wouldn’t be glued to my most recent indiscretion.

I might be exaggerating a little.

But in all seriousness, it is real heartbreak that faces the partner scorned – or more precisely the partner facing the scorn of the broccoli-frying, brown rice-boiling leper that used to be their boyfriend.  How quickly those spinach-scented saints forget the missteps of their past – late-night potato chip benders and full pizza pig outs – and leap to the judgment of their chocolate-smeared housemates.

Alas. All that’s left is hiding under the covers with a bag of Ruffles Sour Cream n’ Onion and a Slurpee.

Or jogging. I guess I could go jogging.

 

mouth full

 

While rubbing pennies together

Some people get a Starbucks latte every morning, and eat dinner out multiple times a week.

It’s a quick and costly habit to get into, but when you’re making good money it’s no big deal.  It seamlessly becomes a routine, an expectation, instead of a treat.

But when you suddenly don’t have money – you lost your job, or you’re starting life over practically from scratch – have you noticed how much more delicious those chai lattes taste, or how much sweeter that dessert is, on restaurant tableware you don’t have to wash?

I recently moved across the country with no job lined up, foolishly expecting everything to fall into place for me in the region with the highest unemployment rate in the country.  Oh, I would land a great gig writing what I loved, or maybe rock the freelance train for awhile, picking up assignments here and there, but always enough to live comfortably.

After a couple weeks of applying to ten or more jobs per day, that sunny outlook dimmed to careful math that determined I could definitely live, and still build up some savings, if I just made minimum wage full time.

A couple weeks later, having extended my search to non-writing related positions, I further edited my expectations and found I could just survive on part-time minimum wage, as long as my cheques came before rent was due.

Yeah. It’s scary and no fun to recognize that you’re basically destitute.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not living in my car, paying for a cheap gym membership just so I can shower in the mornings. I have an apartment, and furniture because the place happened to be furnished, and I can afford food.  But I’m definitely not putting away for a mortgage, and I definitely shouldn’t be eating out or filling up on daily mochas.

And throughout this middle-class version of poverty, I won’t pretend I’ve avoided the sleepless nights, tossing and turning over the lack of dollars rolling in.  I won’t play the Sure Thing card, where I maintain everything will be fine – some great $2000 article is going to avail itself at the last minute, just before the 1st of next month.

Because the former is just untrue. And the latter is just silly.

But I do have good days. Like today, when my boss at the job I finally got told me I would definitely be getting more shifts per week (working as a hostess and delivery driver at a restaurant isn’t journalism, but the pay spends just as well, and as quickly).  On those days, I find myself viewing my impoverished life almost fondly.

Because, like I said, you forget to enjoy the treats when they stop being treats and start being day-to-day.  I go to coffee shops to write every once in a while, and believe me – that drink slaved over by the barista while I stand idly by has never tasted better.

Having almost no money makes me all the more conscious of the money I do have. I keep close track of every dollar, and still save little amounts in a Chimes tin, even though I’ll probably have to raid that green metal piggy to pay my rent.

I don’t know what is going to become of me. It’s terrifying to finish yet another bout of expensive education only to realize the most lucrative form of that training isn’t something I’m interested in.

But there are things I know, that make it worth it.

I know I want to be a writer.

I know I need to get myself published.

I know there are countless magazines, and publishing companies, and contests out there that could help me achieve that.

So for now, I will bus my tables, and drop off my deliveries, and hope I get to start serving soon (because let’s face it, tips are the best reason to work in a restaurant). And the money will become less tight. The Chimes tin will fill up and be emptied into my savings account. And I will become a world-famous author with book tours. And trilogies. And a movie deal.

It’s a Sure Thing.

 no funds

 

Tick Tock

Time’s deceptive des/ascent is chaotic, but I think I’ve managed to nail down a pattern in amongst the madness.

Coming up on a D-Day, whether it’s moving, starting a new job, or a much anticipated concert, Time is that age spotted, balding man in the broke down 4×4 Chevy, petering along in front of you when you’re already running late. He taps the breaks, he waits for invisible cars at intersections where he has the right of way, he stops for every little old lady wanting to cross in the middle of the block.

But once the old guy finally, blessedly turns off to putt and sputter his way down a side street, you suddenly realize “Holy crap. I’m here.” In other words, once you get there, the getting-there doesn’t feel as long.

I’m six, “short” days away from hopping a plane that will take me to the other side of the country. Farewell – at least for now – to the city I have considered my “heart home” since I was 13.  Oh, it’s not the city’s fault. I’ve come to the conclusion that one should never attend university in a city they love, or expected to love. Inevitably, some of the stress of schooling seeps out and soaks into the fabric of city itself, leaving it somewhat tainted, worse for wear after all the studying and sweating and late nights finishing assignments.  As far as I can see, it’s unavoidable. The only surefire way avoid such a conundrum is to attend school in places you already don’t like.

I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course.  I certainly don’t hate Halifax – far from it – and if I’m being completely honest, the unexpectedly cold winter probably has as much to do with my fleeing as does the demanding course work. But I do think that moving somewhere for a motive besides pleasure can put a bit of a damper on the locale after a while.

That, however, is neither here nor there. What is here, is the painfully front-and-centre fact that I am wading through the final three minutes of my fourth-to-last day of work, closing in on eight hours that feel more like twenty seven. And I have work to do, but my eyes seem demonically possessed, drawn to those fateful digital digits in the bottom corner of my computer screen.  Since when are there thirteen minutes between 3:47 and 3:54?

But when I get home, I can cross another day off a calendar now heavy with the thick, black ink I’ve been scratching across its surface for 43 days. I’m into the final countdown. I’m on the home stretch. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Funny – it’s shaped an awful lot like Life.

 

My Life light is more like an explosion...

My Life light is more like an explosion…

 

The Busyness Factor

I’ve been reading this new book – Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte – for a book review.  In it, the Washington Post reporter studies our impressive (or depressing) ability to overwork ourselves into a state of exhaustion for no identifiable reason.

It’s an entertaining book, the statistics expertly interwoven with personal anecdotes, and it’s making me feel kind of lazy.  That’s silly, because I assume her ultimate point is we shouldn’t feel eternally rushed and stressed and unfinished. But even with that fact solid in my mind, I can’t help feeling like a less productive and useful member of society because I can easily bookmark 30 hours of leisure time in my week (something a sociologist known as Father Time says everyone is able to do, even if they don’t know it).

To be fair, I did just come out of an intense, eight-month post-graduate program and currently work as an intern for a magazine where “chill” is built right into their title. I guess I probably earned a regular 9 to 5-style gig, at least for awhile. Furthermore, Schulte seems to be focusing on corporate mothers and I’m about as far from being one of those as I am from being a gorilla. Nevertheless, busyness is something generally so smiled upon in our modern culture that those of us “lucky” enough to have time for back-to-back episodes of Revenge end up feeling guilty about the time we aren’t spent tearing out our hair and doing seven things at once.

It’s sad, isn’t it?  Nothing against people who live insanely hectic lives (an accurate adjective, since that’s pretty much what busyness leads to), but shouldn’t those of us who legitimately have time for ourselves be proud of that fact? Instead of spending group lunches outdoing each other with our crazy schedules (something Oliver Burkeman calls busy-bragging), shouldn’t we be patting ourselves on our collective head for leaving work at the office, or excelling at recognizing what is dire and what can wait?

Everyone says they wish they had more free time, but as Schulte points out, often we don’t even know what to do with those minutes when they present themselves – often because they are precisely that: mere minutes.

I know I’m not currently the poster child for it, but burnout is a very real thing. Arianne Huffington (yes, that Huffington) wrote a book about it. And it pretty much always starts with an inability to stop. An inability to breathe in fresh air, to watch a squirrel on a tree branch or an episode of Real Housewives. To do whatever makes us calm down, and re-centre, and feel well (that’s emotionally well) enough to get up tomorrow and run our butts off again.

So hey – take time.

 

photo (5)So much to do!

Minding the Moment

Have you heard of mindfulness?

It’s becoming a rather hefty trend this year, though I hesitate to call such a movement the nasty “T” word, lest it be grouped next to denim onesies and spectacles with clear glass. But you know something has some clout when within months of one another, Huffington Post calls 2014 the Year of Mindfulness, Time puts the word on their February 2014 cover, and Esquire hails it something to give up in the new year, along with “liking things ironically” and “chillaxing”.  (Though four months earlier they published articles entitled “The Mindfulness Project” and “Meditation: A Call to Action,” so I think they’re saying it ironically.)

My introduction to mindfulness came almost accidentally.

A few months ago, while trying to figure out how to classify the kind of magazine I want to work for (and, more immediately, intern for), I came up with the phrase “mindful living.” I don’t know if I actually knew what mindful meant, but to me it implied holistic health, incorporating Eastern teachings and body/mind practices into our Western existence – that sort of thing. Most likely, I had glimpsed the word here and there in recent weeks.

Incidentally, what came up when I typed this term into a search engine was a magazine called Mindful, which happens to be published in the same city I attended school, and is where I am currently doing my internship.

But my internship isn’t the point of this post.

Mindfulness is basically the act of being in the moment, of not dwelling on past or future events but focusing on the now.  Integrating that celebration of the now that some Eastern religions follow, but without any of the religion bits. Mindfulness is all about secular accessibility for everyone.

So I’ve been dabbling in this idea of improved contemplation. When it comes to dredging up past events and reliving them, complete with all the feelings they caused at the time, I’m a pro. All I have to do is flash back to that time I was … oh no. I’m not going there. Suffice to say, I’ll live it over and over again – one of the joys of having a really good long term memory.

And yesterday, when I was thinking this would make a suitable weekly blog post, it occurred to me that mindfulness is kind of exactly what My Transient Reality is going for. Noticing the little things in a big picture world. That big picture world seems to be all “rush, rush for the future and nostalgia for the way it was.” So, in that sloppy metaphor, isn’t mindfulness noticing the little things?

So far I’m doing 10-minute meditations each evening, and just trying to remember to appreciate where I am, when I’m somewhere. Anywhere.

I’ll keep you posted.

Image

Hey look: Life!

You know when you’re reading the first book in a series and you’re really, really excited to get to the last chapter so you can start the second book, but you’re also a little apprehensive because it means you’re that much closer to the end?

This week feels to me like the snail’s pace turning of that page just before the epilogue, and while part of me is straining to flip it! Flip it!!, another inside bit is scrambling to backtrack, re-read the chapters before, start all over again – anything to avoid having to close the back cover.

Chapters in our lives are as multitudinous and inescapable as they are unpredictable. We might be expecting a brief, ten-page foray into the world of post-secondary school, only to find ourselves riveted within one hundred pages of post-grad, and thesis, and doctorate. We may assume our current romantic entanglement will be one book in and of itself, only to find the next page a blank, all future installments suddenly erased.

Alright, the book metaphor has burned itself out.

I think most people are at least a touch afraid to face the next step in their lives – at least on those occasions where the Next Step is one clearly delineated by, say, a graduation or a resignation. But we have to remember that we’re always taking next steps, even when we aren’t dwelling on them.

Add to that the fact that everyone’s big next steps are different. To one person, moving in with their partner could be absolutely earth-shattering, while to another it could be the most natural progression in the world. One guy might start new jobs every six months and think nothing of his latest relocation, while the other suffers weeks of sleep deprivation leading up to the change. Our individual reactions to specific situations don’t alter the fact that life moves forward at some pace or other.

Sometimes those changes happen in quick succession, until that banging becomes a thudding tempo in our heads we’re absolutely desperate to quell. Bam! Finished classes. Bam! Start internship. Bam! Finish internship. Bam! Fly home. Bam! Drive to the other end of the country.

Bam! Hold up, before my hair starts turning white and my dreams become an indistinguishable mass of realizing I’m not wearing pants. It’s disconcerting, and unavoidable, and tantalizing, and exhilarating – all at once.

And I’m certainly counting down the days, and feeling my stomach knot at random moments. I’m definitely planning to eat whole bags of chips and find little opportunities to separate myself from the inevitable by getting lost in a novel or a tv show. Those are my ways of dealing, and while some of them are small works of escapism (Houdini I am not), they’re all normal and I’m accepting them as such.

So – deep breath in, because that’s all we can do. And deep breath out, because it’s not worth losing hair or sleep over. It’s just life.

Yeah, it’s coming on faster than Keanu driving city transit, but at least you’re alive.

Thoughts on Walks

rain-for-web

On the streets of Halifax, there huddle a fair number of panhandlers, extending their Tim Hortons cups and repeating “Spare change? Have a good day,” like a mumbled mantra, over and over. I walk past, saying “No, sorry,” if I’m in the mood, or nothing, if it’s been that kind of day.

I don’t give change on principle. First of all – I don’t have a lot of money. Sure, I could part with my loonies now and again, but if I gave change to one person, it would be difficult to say no to the next.  Secondly – I know it’s a generalization (and perhaps an unfair one), but I’m concerned with where that money is going. My own tea money could be buying coffee or soup from the nearest and cheapest shop, but it could also be going toward a mickey of rye or a box of cigarettes. While I understand that for some people, smoking is their one, final tendril of joy, I take issue with supporting that.

But donate or not, the journalist in me wonders how these people got where they are. Are they literally homeless, hoping to up their meagre take before slinking into the alleyway best keeping the wind at bay? Are they on social assistance, just enough to pay rent in their waterlogged and peeling-painted apartment, hoping to subsist on more than just rice this week? Or are they either of the above, coupled with some heartbreaking habit or disability, and for whatever reason overlooked – and ultimately failed – by the systems put in place specifically to help them.

I won’t know, unless I go around asking, and even then the factuality relies on general human honesty. It doesn’t matter, in the end. Each of those options describe someone deserving of assistance. Unfortunately, it’s not assistance I feel I can give, at the moment.

Yesterday, a youngish man approached me, seeking spare change for bus fare. I use a pass, so I could quite honestly say I had none. The kid next to me answered in suit but, perhaps because this second option was of the same gender, the applicant was a bit more insistent, adding it was for coffee, actually. He moved on upon receiving a firmer negative, and I rummaged in my bag until I found the Tim Horton’s cup rim I’d won a coffee on few days ago. I had been holding onto it until someone asked me for change.  It wasn’t that generous of me – I don’t drink coffee, so I would never have used it.

The man wasn’t terribly grateful – either he wasn’t sure what I’d given him, or he had wanted real money for something else – but I’d done something, and that felt good. Maybe I’ll walk around with a thermos and cups some chilly day, or cheap umbrellas on an evening like this one. (I saw a man on my way home from school, cup out, resigned to the rain. They probably get their lowest amount on such days, when everyone’s watching their feet.)

Someday, when I have money, I’ll donate to a worthy charity. Someday, when I have time, I’ll volunteer at a shelter or a soup kitchen. Someday, we’ll all do something to help those in need.

Procrastination is a disadvantaged person’s worst enemy, I’d imagine.

 

*Lou

A New Leaf

There’s a tendency – and I hesitate to claim myself the only victim – to start out gung ho on a project, only to have enthusiasm taper off until whatever it may be – regular journaling, a photo a day, a young adult novel – is relegated to a very occasional time-killer practiced as desperate filler once every miniscule surface in the apartment has been dusted.

I do this with many, many things. When I was a flaky kid, I took a mere, single season of children’s choir (in my defense, it was very religious, and the director was not nice), karate (I think I broke my baby toe on a bench and it never properly healed), and gymnastics (how was I supposed to know I’d one day become yoga-obsessed and could have really benefited from the ingrained flexibility).

Now that I’m a marginally less flaky adult (quote, end quote), I’m not as eager to drop activities (since I’m usually paying for them), with the exception of gym memberships, which are notoriously difficult to utilize to th

eir full potential. But my tendency hasn’t dispersed, it has simply relocated. Now, I lose …  not interest, exactly, maybe it’s momentum – in the very examples I offered above: keeping a journal, taking regular photos, writing my book. 

When I step back from the needless floor-scrubbing, and really think about it, it’s upsetting.  I often wonder if I possess combustible passion, ever disconnecting and reordering, or if – as a friend kindly suggested – I just have so many passions that it’s impossible to keep up with all of them, all the time 

Either way, this distraction has unfortunately made its way into my blog-keeping. I was reliable in the beginning: I posted weekly, sometimes even daily. Then life kind of stepped in and took over, and suddenly I was only posting articles written for something else that might arguably apply to the loose content boundaries of my website. Or when something really phenomenal happened.

And that’s exactly what My Transient Reality isn’t about. It’s supposed to revel in the ordinary beauty of everyday life, not hang stale for months while its moderator/author waits for something extraordinarily exciting to occur 

So this moderator/author has a new goal, one that might be pushed aside when next the dust settles on the windowsills but, alternately, might just be fastened like a sticky note on the mirror, now that it’s been verbalized.

One post a week. A quandary, a query, a musing, whatever pops to mind. But with regularity, and with gusto.

Always with gusto.

Image

Questioning love, in 126 minutes

I recently saw the new Phoenix/Johansson movie Her, and I’m feeling particularly introspective.

I generally shy away from the dramatic genre.  When I actually sit down to watch one I often enjoy it, but until until I’m suitably drawn in I maintain a preference for a light comedy where I can zone out and laugh, or an action flick where I can imagine I’m rescuing Tom Cruise.

Her is funnier than I expected, which in itself says something.  There’s so many trailers these days that I watch almost as shorthand.  Oh wonderful, now I don’t have to see the movie.  A real time saver.  But I was surprised by this movie, which I find doesn’t often happen anymore.  I had no idea what would happen next.  What a groundbreaking concept!

So the funny got me through the first fifteen minutes without regret.  The story, the characters, the acting, and the artistic effects got me through the rest.

This movie is beautiful.  Colours play some intimate role that my overtly practical mind hasn’t been able to grasp. (Maybe I’ll sit straight up in bed at three am with all meaning perfectly clear.)  Long-held close-ups of inanimate objects evoke the sense of something still, something deep, something you’ll take away later and think about, which really, any movie claiming any kind of profundity should make you do.

The movie is set ever so slightly in the future.  My constant eye-out for fashion was rewarded by interesting, subtle shifts like a return of the high waist, flat-fronted men’s trouser of the late 19th century (I’m thinking Oscar Wilde here).  In the feminine wardrobe, a little bit of the sharp, geometric shapes we often associate with futuristic, though nothing blatant.

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that the tag line could have (but shouldn’t have) been “what is love?”  Because that’s really what the movie explores.  How do you define love, and how does love define you?  Is love what everyone else thinks is acceptable, or just what you think? Does love require the physical to be real and – metaphorically – tangible? Is love the same for everyone, at the root of it?

Her doesn’t seek to answer these questions for viewers, it just poses them.  Different characters reactions to the unconventional relationship in the story outline the options, but don’t force them.  Each reaction is believable and understandable, and some viewers will lean toward one or another simply on account of human nature.

The question of “human” comes up as well.   What makes us human, and what separates the traditional human concept from the increasingly realistic simulations cropping up within our intensely technical world?

In a time where actual, physical, face to face interaction is rapidly being replaced by IMs and DMs and voice messaging, do our concepts of humans – and thusly human relationships – begin to change? Should they?  And if physical closeness in general is fading, mustn’t intimacy inevitably change as well?

So – what is love?  And if we do figure it out, for just us or universally, who’s to say it isn’t going to change with the next system upgrade?

her