In Pursuit of Happiness, #7:  Hashtag Games, Collaborations, and Music (in a way)

I’m terribly late with this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness,” but with a giant French exam (for my business bilingualism certification) this week and a new online literature course to contend with, in addition to stepping up to double-time at the gym (thanks, twelve-week transformation challenge and Spartan Race training), I’m going a little easier on myself about missing a self-imposed deadline. After all, this time it wasn’t laziness, forgetfulness, or a combination of the two that caused me to miss Monday’s post.

Seeing how this is late enough, I’ll leave my excuses/explanations there and just get down to the heart of the matter.

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Hashtag Games: My re-introduction to the Twittersphere has put me in touch with some pretty awesome people so far, the latest being the hilarious and lovely Andi (@iheartwerebears). Because of this lady, I have been laughing my way through otherwise dull days. In addition to posting various Vines and “The Tatooine Diaries,” in which she plays an exchange student who spent a year on Tatooine, she spends much of her online time bringing out the übergeek in many other Tweeple by engaging us in hashtag games.  Right now we’re in the middle of #jurassicparklife but the first one (which I actually won, because apparently it was a contest) was #badstarwarsjobs.  (FYI I think I won on account of citing “Hutt Massage Therapist.”)

I might be a little too enthusiastic about proving that I know these movies well enough to make jokes about them in less than 140 characters, but that’s the beauty of hashtag games. They’re an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge of something other than what any given (per)mutation of the Kardashian clan is currently doing to supposedly rock the world, with the added bonus of making other nerds laugh. It’s great.

Fantastic geekiness aside, though, I actually genuinely like Andi and am really looking forward to connecting with her more and more over social media. I seriously don’t know how she has time to do all of this (because in addition to being highly active on Twitter and Vine, she’s also a mom of a couple of super cute toddlers as well as an author and crafter), but the fact that she does all this and still manages to connect with her followers makes me pretty happy.

Collaborations: Speaking of connecting with people, I have a unique privilege at Job2 of having very talented colleagues in all kinds of artistic and creative fields. From other writers to photographers to musicians to aspiring filmmakers to dancers and just about everything in between, I feel extremely blessed and humbled to be in contact with so many beautiful minds.

It’s about darn time I collaborated with some of these people, having worked with many of them for almost five years now, and I’m extremely excited to say that 2016 will be the year it finally happens. I won’t give away any details yet except to say that in one project, I’ll be combining my newfound love for calligraphy and typography with a friend’s photography skills and in another, I’ll finally be getting back into music again. So sit tight and watch this spot (or my Twitter or Instagram accounts) for what’s going on!

Music (in a way): If you were to create a Venn diagram of my closest social circle based on music I’m pretty sure I’d be in the middle of it all where everything overlaps. My Apple Music is a musically globetrotting eccentricity and that’s mainly due to the fact that in addition to having a diverse and steady diet of music when I was younger, my best friends are all, to different extents, judgey-ass nerds when it comes to what they listen to on a daily basis. I pick and choose what I like from their various recommendations, staunchly stand by the artists I love even if nobody else likes them, and generally enjoy all the discussions – even the heated ones – that arise from such artistic diversity.  Given that I recently got a 1-year subscription to Apple Music as a gift, you can probably imagine just how over the moon I am right now about having all this music available to me.

This week, though, what’s making me happy regarding this isn’t a new discovery or even a rediscovery of a band I haven’t listened to in a while, or even the subscription present (though I am totally grateful and appreciative of it for sure).  It’s not even a remotely stimulating or intelligent debate about music, though I’m sure there have been enough of those in my life to constitute a separate blog post on the subject.

It’s the fact that after exchanges like this, where I surreptitiously poke fun at his extremely underground preferences by making references to bands he shuns, the biggest and most judgmental music nerd in my life still tolerates my existence enough to still be one of my closest friends.

 

(FYI, he later admitted that off the top of his head he was 1-for-3 on the Bon Jovi  references I made.)

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Don’t forget to take note of what’s making your life happier and brighter, and come back next Monday when I’ll be on time with three new things to share with all of you!

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #5: FlipFolding, Besties, and Instagram

FlipFolding: Okay, so for those of you who watch The Big Bang Theory, you’ll probably vaguely recall a very early episode in which Sheldon Cooper is folding his T-shirts using a handy-dandy device. Known outside of TV-land as a FlipFold, its makers claim to have tested this domestic tool on toddlers and husbands to ensure that it can be easily used by anyone to turn an Everest-sized mountain of laundry into neat piles of folded garments in minutes.

I am not a fan of laundry at any stage of its life cycle that doesn’t involve me wearing it, so of course as soon as I saw that episode years ago I had to have one. And after an equal number of years hinting about wanting one and whining about its absence from my life my best friend finally delivered this Christmas by giving me my very own bright yellow FlipFold!

I have already gone crazy with this thing. Pretty much as soon as I took it out of its packaging, I was already going to town on the swirling vortex that used to be my T-shirt drawer. Before retiring for the night I spent about ten minutes folding all my old work T-shirts into neatly uniform (haha, get it? Uniform…*cough*) piles that can now be easily packed away into storage boxes to make room for more T-shirts to go crazy with on FlipFolding. 

This weekend has essentially been all about gleefully exclaiming that I am the proud owner of a FlipFold and I am definitely not done singing this thing’s praises.

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Besties: Which brings me to the second thing that’s making me happy this week, which are my best friends. Of course, the one who gave me the FlipFold is totally winning this week (just kidding; I don’t keep score but if I did she’d definitely be leading the board right now!), but I’m very blessed and lucky to have a small handful of wonderful best friends as opposed to countless acquaintances.

From watching me flip out over a FlipFold to taking care of my fat cat over holidays to giving me lifts home after 10PM to being there when I’ve had a bad day and just need to vent, my best friends are true gems and I love them all dearly. They’re reasons that I get up in the morning and I treasure every moment of time I spend with them.

I’ve been fortunate to have enough time to go around each week for these wonderful people and I love that there’s always enough time to make significant, meaningful, and warm memories that I’ll cherish until we’re all old and grey. The mere fact that they all put up with my incessant request for “bestie selfies” already makes them significantly wonderful human beings.

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Instagram: Speaking of selfies, my Instagram feed is notorious for having a “#pointless #selfie” every couple of days. Keeping in tandem with my efforts to turn Tweets into meaningful connections (hello there, @MrsFridayNext and @LolaBlakes!) I’m trying to use Instagram to build similar connections to people who post more than just pointless selfies all day long.

So, yes, I’m not one of the billions who follow any permutation of Kardashians or their accompanying baggages. I’d rather spend my scrolling time on people who make social media worthwhile.

Enter @naturalhealthmomma, who I encountered on Instagram when I first began my journey towards wellness and wholeness in my life through working out, eating clean, and loving the little moments.

Known off-screen as Sara, she’s a wife and mother whose story of motherhood, clean living, and faith somehow brought her into my Instagram feed. I’m not questioning what the universe wants me to get out of reaching out to Sara, because so far all it’s brought me is inspiration for cleaner and healthier living, faith in what seems to be impossible, and joy in being given the opportunity to glimpse the ups and downs of her journey.

What began as a diagnosis for PCOS, coming off synthetic hormonal control (aka The Pill), and a long haul of medical procedures resulted in twin boys, Rocco and Maximus – and they became her inspiration to venture further away from the chemically saturated world of the 21st century and into a cleaner, more natural, and homegrown lifestyle.

Sara’s blog over at www.lovelifenaturally.org is full of recipes and ideas to help you get started on your own journey into the world of clean living, and her Instagram account offers you an intimate glimpse into the way she’s chosen to implement these concepts in her family’s daily life.  While we’re all aware that social media and Internet portrayals of our lives are the “best face” we present to the world, I honestly feel that Sara’s web-based documentation and presentation of her life encapsulates the genuine goodness that “living and loving life naturally” can offer.

Go check out her stuff and, until next week, don’t forget to find little bits and pieces of happiness in your own lives!