In Pursuit of Happiness, #9: Long Coffees, Small Worlds, and Snowboarding

I’m late again, but at least this time it’s just a day late instead of half a week.  To make things more exciting this week I’m going to ask you, dear readers, to do something for me:  if you decide to hit “Like” on this one on FB and/or share this post on your social media, pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top share three things that have made you happy when you do so.  It’s just another way we can make the world a brighter place!

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Long Coffees: I don’t have a whole lot of free time, and even a rare weekday off both jobs doesn’t necessarily mean I have much more of it. Such was the case yesterday: a somewhat pressing need to catch up on appointments with the various health professionals in my life meant that a day off wasn’t spent lounging around my apartment in comfy pants and no bra.

However, in between those appointments I had a couple of hours to spare, and I spent them at a great café on the downtown campus of my alma mater in the company of a beautiful, creative soul and wonderful new friend. We met at Job2 and the original purpose of this java jive was to hash out the details of a collaborative project we’re embarking upon.

It was the first time we’d hung out together outside of work, and even at work we don’t get many chances to really talk – but coffee time with her wasn’t awkward at all. We sat down, sipped our coffee, and just talked – about our project, our shared love of animals, our experiences as awkward teenagers evolving into young women in the city, and our individual attempts to make meaningful art.

 

In one of the many BBC historical documentaries for which I have previously professed great affection an observation was made about the impact of coffee and the age of exploration on the intellectual state of Western Europe. Basically, once coffee replaced ale and beer as the daily drink of choice, coffeehouses replaced pubs as the gathering places of academics, philosophers, and dreamers. And because entire cities were no longer inebriated by midday, the literal clarity of the collective mind led to unexpected leaps and bounds in the technological advancements of the western world that had been lost with the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

Sitting in that cozy university coffee shop with my friend I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the modern café still upholds this rich and meaningful heritage. The Swedish language has a great word for long coffees and great conversations with good friends – Fika – and I felt that this is exactly what I shared with my friend yesterday.

I walked out of that café feeling like not only had I finally started making some real progress in re-harnessing my creativity, but also like I had truly gained a new friend for life.

Small Worlds: I discovered that one of the recipients of a letter from my letter writing campaign – a resident of Belgium, nonetheless – knows my Big Sister’s best friend. I happened to meet him randomly on Instagram when he came across the original post where I proclaimed that I would send a letter to anyone in the world who wanted one, regardless of where they were.

 

I’m not going to deny that the world is a pretty big place when you look at it from certain perspectives, but the world can also be a very small place – especially when physical, emotional, spiritual, and ideological divides are bridged by building connections with other people.

Having been an outcast musician-nerd in my adolescence during the early days of internet discussion forums, I’ve made a lot of friends from all over the world in the last decade or so. From Scandinavia to the United Kingdom and Ireland to just a few stops down the line on the Montreal Metro, talking about common interests online have brought some wonderful people into my life and I’m incredibly happy that it continues to do so.

The world can be a big scary place, but that’s just perspective. If you choose to see instead that this big world can be full of adventure and mystery and wonder, you can start making it a smaller place by figuring out where you belong in it and meeting the people with whom you’re meant to see the world. Right now I’m still working on getting myself into a position where it’s financially intelligent and viable for me to travel, but in the meantime I am very happy and very grateful to be blessed with so many friends around the world who will make these future adventures even more precious and priceless.

Snowboarding: A few years ago, one of my best friends helped me fulfil a dream by teaching me how to snowboard. This weekend, we took a road trip two hours up to Val St-Come, where we spent a day and a half on the slopes in the fresh, crisp air of the northern Quebec. I’ve lost count by now of how many times we’ve gone down mountains together (and how many times I’ve gone down mountains with other snow-junkie friends), but every time we hit the slopes together I’m always reminded of how lucky and blessed I am to have a friend who’s patient and caring enough to slow down, keep an eye out for me on the mountainside, and tell me how I can improve my limited skills on my board.

 

I had the best time ever during this weekend trip to Val St-Come. Having booked an entire weekend off Job2 to do this trip, I am beyond utterly happy that it went so well. Swimming during alone-time on Saturday evening after snowboarding at night helped me relax and get into a fresh state of mind for the fresh powder, bright blue sky, and perfect sense of fearlessness and adventure that Sunday brought.

 

This weekend’s trip to Val St-Come really put into perspective all of the changes and transformations that I’ve experienced – physically, mentally, and emotionally – over the last year. Exactly one year ago on my last snowboarding trip of 2015, I came home feeling lonely, abandoned, and forgotten because it was another life experience I had to go through without the boyfriend I had at the time.

A year ago, I didn’t know how to live for myself because I was so wrapped up in living for another person who, in the end, made me feel like I wasn’t worth keeping promises for and made me feel taken for granted every time I talked to him.

Coming home this year from this weekend away and comparing this year to the last, I couldn’t recognize myself.  It wasn’t just the fact that I’ll definitely need new snowboarding pants next year because these ones are too big (as is the belt I’ve used to keep them up), or that for the first time in my adult life I wore a sporty two-piece swimsuit with utter confidence in a public place. It was the fact that I was truly joyful for a whole weekend – joyful at being able to take an entire weekend off work, joyful at being able to spend such wonderful quality time with my best friend, and joyful at finally being good enough at snowboarding to really enjoy the rush it actually is.

 

Ask me to close my eyes and picture freedom, and this is what I see: above me, nothing but a bright blue sky with a few wisps of white cloud and before me, a seemingly endless slope of fresh powder. It’s below zero, there’s a brisk wind working its way between the woolen strands of the scarf I’ve pulled over my face, and for once my body is about to move in exactly the way I want it to despite being swaddled in layers of warm clothes and being strapped to a board. After a lifetime of being told I was too big to move, let alone be good at any sport, and after strapping myself down to relationships that go nowhere, there is nothing else for me that can describe the feeling of being free better than the pure joy I feel when I’m flying down a mountainside on my snowboard.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #8:  My Mom, Bestie Time (again), and Music (for real this time)

My Mom: Sunday is the only day of the week where I can actually chill out for more than five seconds at a time, and I spend a lot of it with my mother and sister. I also stay over at their place on Sunday nights, because it makes the task of getting to the gym for a 6AM on Monday morning much easier to accomplish.

At 5:20 this morning when I went to say good morning to my mom before getting ready to leave, my mother got out of bed and made me a smoothie to take on the go – banana, mango, and yogurt, to be exact, with just enough milk to thin it out and make it easy to drink from a mason jar on the metro.

While carrying around our ridiculously fat cat (no, really – he’s about 18lbs) and watching me scurry about getting my stuff together, Mom reminded me to take an umbrella because it’s going to rain today, to walk carefully because it might be icy outside, to bring back the mason jar I borrowed for my smoothie, and to call once in a while during the week.

Like any adult offspring, I just smiled and nodded and said, “Of course,” to every reminder. But even though I think I’m old enough now not to need reminding about things like this (well, except for the one about the mason jar, as I’m a kleptomaniac when it comes to food storage containers), I don’t mind when Mom does it. That’s just her way of saying she loves me, after all.

Bestie Time (again): Any time with good friends is time well spent, but time spent with my best friends is priceless and wonderful to me. Being one of those ridiculously busy people, choosing to spend some of my few free hours with friends is one of the ways I say how much I love them – but I realize too that the fact that they accommodate my strange and unpredictable schedule to be able to spend time with me is their way of saying they love me, too.

One of my best friends came over for dinner on Saturday night with a fantastic bottle of red (Apothic 2013). After a long week at work for the both of us and a particularly rough one for me in terms of physical health, it was a welcome kind of socializing: low-key, one-on-one, and at home. I was actually pretty bummed about missing the anniversary dinner of another friend of mine, but being able to have company on Saturday night nonetheless really re-energized this burned-out introvert.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already known each other for six years and, like the small handful of people I do consider my closest friends now, I really can’t imagine my life without him. It’s not just because he’s fantastic company and knows how to pick a really good bottle of wine, or that he’s a gym person too who’s working on his own transformation. He’s one of the funniest, most socially intelligent, caring, and supportive people I’m lucky enough to know and even luckier to call my friend.

Music (for real this time): After my last breakup in early 2015, I didn’t torture myself by lying on the couch eating ice cream out of the bucket while sob-singing along to all of “our” songs. In fact, the music on my phone underwent one of the biggest purges of its history so that all I had left on it were songs that were upbeat, empowering, and carried no connection whatsoever to the relationship that had just ended. This handful of songs carried me through 2015’s changes and transformations; they were there for every step I took on the treadmill, every plate I added to the bar, every drop of sweat I shed, and every ounce I lost last year (and also every muffin, piece of cake, chocolate bar, and Tootsie Roll I begrudgingly passed up).

My workout playlist was literally the only music I listened to for all of 2015. A couple of weeks ago, I received a one-year subscription to Apple Music as something of a late present, and I decided to dive back into my lost love of music. (This came up in last week’s edition of “In Pursuit of Happiness,” actually, when I shared with you the exchange I had with one of my good friends about Poison and, mainly, Bon Jovi.)

Having very quickly overdosed on downloading all the music I truly love, I found I didn’t want to hear just the old familiar sounds of the music I’ve always rocked out to. I wanted to dive into something new and discover more artists whose songs and sounds would maybe help shape and define this newest version of myself that I’ve been working on.

Thank goodness then, then for two things. The first is the NPR Music app, whose alternative rock stations introduced me to the likes of Screaming Females, The Frights, The New Basement Tapes, Cage the Elephant, Beach House, and The New Tarot. But something equally fun as discovering new music on your own is having good friends recommend things to you – which is why the second thing is that there are the judgey-ass music nerds in my life, and in particular two of them.

You’ve already met one (in last week’s Happiness post) and the other is a guy I work with at Job2 (he’s in a band with another person we work with). What they both have in common, besides the privilege-chore of knowing me, is an uncanny ability to recommend artists that are consistently good. Even though there’s almost no overlap in what they recommend to me whenever I bother them for music that they haven’t posted on Facebook and even though they’ve never actually met, I think it would be really interesting and entertaining to put them in the same room and listen to them discuss music together.

The former is arguably more judgmental than the latter but both are equally knowledgeable about what’s going on in the underground and who you should be listening to from down there. My current favourites from them are Automelodi, Antigone, and Three Trapped Tigers, and I have a long list scribbled onto a Post-It somewhere in my agenda of more that I should apparently give a chance. And I’m looking forward to doing exactly that this week.

By the way, if you don’t have any judgey-ass music nerds in your life, I highly recommend you go befriend at least one. Listening to their sighs and observing their eye-rolls at your music, sitting through their rants about the mainstream, and enduring the litanies in which they wax poetic about artists nobody knows about is well worth your effort for all the goodness they’ll bring to your musical life. Trust me, I know things.

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So until next week, tell your parents or parental figures you love them, have a cup of coffee with your best friend, and tune into some artists you’ve never heard before – because that’s what I did this week and I wouldn’t be sharing it if it hadn’t succeeded in bringing some happiness to my life!

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.

The Art of Moving On 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When we fall, we have to get up at some point – especially when we fall for somebody who belongs to someone else.

It hasn’t been an easy year for my heart.  In all honesty, this year I’ve probably cried more than I ever have before and I’m ready for a fresh start.  But I don’t want to wait until the New Year — it falls in the same category as Valentine’s Day for me, in that I don’t understand why we have to set aside one day in particular to do something that we can do any day of the year.  Whether it be showing our significant others that we truly love them or making resolutions to truly change ourselves, do big things really have to wait for one designated day of the year for us to actually buckle down and do what needs to be done?  After all, there’s no time like the present.

Moving on with life after any kind of rejection is hard, especially when the person in question is a good friend and there’s no other reason for you to walk the other way for a while.  It’s especially hard when the rejection happens not because of dislike or spite but for the well-being of both parties in question, and when walking away from what could have been entails also walking away from what was already there —  a confidant you could trust with more than you ever thought you’d tell another person; a friend who was always there when you needed them to get you through anything; a person you connected with on so many different levels that it’ll be hard to find somebody else who gets you so easily and speaks so fluently to your truest self.

Moving on and getting over somebody is no small task and is a form of art unto itself, because getting up the next day after losing so much and functioning properly in the world without letting anyone see what’s wrong is one of the greatest performances we can ever put on.  We orate to our friends over drinks and soliloquize to ourselves in front of our mirrors about how we’re okay and doing just fine when the truth is, we’re barely able to keep ourselves from falling apart all over again. We craft an outward image that’s polished and immaculately put together to disguise the broken mess we really are, and hope that the smiles we put on reach our eyes and fool everyone into thinking they’re not just a mask we’ve put on for the day.  We rehearse our lines in the dark and quiet stillness of the night after we’re done crying until we can almost convince even ourselves that we’re doing just fine.

But we can’t keep this up all day long, let alone forever, and so in time we find others to confide in.  There has to be at least one person  who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, and eventually they help us pare down our costumes and our lines until we’re playing our true selves and saying what we really think again, and truly able to smile and say we’re okay.

It’s one of the greatest performances any of us can ever put on.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in possession of a good but broken heart must find a way to mend it and move on, and what better way to do it than remembering that the world is a stage and we, merely players?  It’s okay to hide behind a carefully-crafted dramatis persona until you’re put back together again, and it’s okay to find something new to love when an old love fails.  It’s okay to walk away to get over a friend you’ve fallen for if your friendship stands a better chance of surviving past a separation instead of a constant one-way stream of feelings.  It’s okay to do whatever it takes for you to be happy again and to be whole again.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #2: Parody, Comedy, and Sisterhood

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and Monday saw me dashing through the rain from one job to the other with no time in between for anything but a granola bar – a thankfully rare occurrence – which means this week’s dose of happy is a day late.

I’ll have to work on sticking to my self-imposed writing schedules in the new year.

 

1. Yelping with Cormac: After two years of having The Road by Cormac McCarthy recommended to me by a friend, I finally bought it a few months ago. A few weeks ago, I finally got around to reading it. The recommendation came with a disclaimer – “Don’t read it if you’re even just remotely moody; it’s so bleak and you’ll be depressed” – that went largely ignored when I sat down with a cup of tea to read it.

This friend will tell you that my catchphrase is, “Trust me, I know things,” and I would have probably listened to his disclaimer if he had quoted me at the end of it. And yes, this is me trying to shift the blame a bit because it’s rare that I’m challenged so much by the atmosphere of a novel that I can’t read it in a straightforward and timely manner.

About halfway through The Road, I stumbled upon an unexpected trove of humor that made getting through the second half of the novel so much easier: Yelping with Cormac.

Those of you who are familiar with any of McCarthy’s works will know that “hilarious” and “light” are not adjectives found anywhere near this writer’s name, but as a spoof-homage to him Yelping with Cormac is a hilarious and light parody of Cormac McCarthy’s distinctive style. It’s a fantastically accurate mirror of his particular way with words, and yet when the Cormac Touch is applied to a review of Urban Outfitters or the Apple Store it becomes a new kind of magic altogether.

Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.

2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: I’m really picky with my television shows, especially when it comes to comedy, and I don’t own a television – which is why I’m always rather late to the party for any show that started its run in the last five years. However, thanks to Netflix, I’m fully on board (and caught up) with Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

I pay close attention to the credits that roll over the opening scenes of an episode, and when I saw Phil Lord and Christopher Miller right there in the pilot I knew I would enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They’re the guys behind Clone High and The Lego Movie, to name my two particular favourite Lord Miller projects.

But it’s not just the Lord Miller touch that makes this series highly enjoyable. In a knee-deep morass of New York cop shows that are heavy on the dark drama of big city crimes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a much-needed step up onto the dry ground of fresh perspective and new storytelling. If you were to find a Venn diagram of cop shows, ensemble comedies, and real-world farce, you’d see Brooklyn Nine-Nine right at the middle where all the best bits of each genre come together.

3. The Following Quote and My Oldest Sister:

“From the earliest times, the custom of breaking bread together has been symbolic of sharing and accepting and loving one another. A ‘companion’ is one with whom we eat bead…to eat together is to love. The Noche Buena feast, after going to Midnight Mass, ought to be one of the most beautiful Christmas symbols. We pray together and then we eat together…because we love each other.”
– Father Galdon, SJ

Of course there’s a story here. Because of my work schedule and company policies regarding vacation time during peak periods, I’m actually stuck in Montreal until Christmas morning. It was rather upsetting at first because this will be the first Christmas in many years that most of my family will be under one roof for the holidays, and I was faced with the prospect of spending a very quiet and very lonely Christmas Eve on my own.

With our mother away since American Thanksgiving and our schedules taking us all over the place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my oldest sister and I haven’t had the opportunity this year to decorate the family nest or even come together over our beloved Advent wreath once a week. Add that to the fact that Montreal is still waiting for a proper holiday snowfall, and you can probably see why Christmas Eve this year was starting to look like a scene out of The Road.

That is, until my favourite oldest sister told me she would fly out with me on Christmas morning.

So, while I might not get the magic of Christmas Eve with my nephew and the rest of my family, I won’t be alone during Christmas Mass and I won’t be sipping a lonely cup of hot instant coco in a strange hotel room at the airport. I’ll be welcoming the Holy Child at Mass and then sitting down at our old, worn dining table to toast His arrival with my sister.

Unmasked, unguarded – and somehow, still safe

We all have secrets and guilty pleasures. It’s a broad spectrum, but we all fall somewhere on it. We think that keeping secrets is a way of holding on to the things that make us authentically individual – truly ourselves – but of course there are secrets we never tell because we’re afraid of them taking over our lives by permanently altering the way others perceive us.

But regardless of what our secrets are and why we choose to keep them, we do so to the point where we hide a huge part of who we are from even the people who know us best.

In my particular case, my nature is so introverted and then further encased in a shell that it’s inherently difficult for me to open up to anyone. This means that when I do confide in somebody it’s because I feel safe with them, and I don’t expect to be hurt by the person in whom I confide the secrets that hurt enough already.

People constantly surprise us and the ritual of confiding in others is a prime opportunity for us to be reminded of this fact. Exhibit A: you tell the same thing to two different people in more or less the same fashion, but they’re both going to react differently – and that will tell you a lot about who they are and maybe even what you are to them.

I once told an ex about the particularly harrowing nature of one of my previous relationships. I trusted him, loved him more than any other person I knew, and wanted him to really know me, and I wanted to demonstrate all that by opening up and telling him things I had never told anyone else. Eventually, instead of bringing us closer together it pushed us apart. My story – and some of the most defining moments of my life that it included – of who I was before him became, I think, fodder for his insecurity, jealousy, and minor prejudices. It got to a point where I did not feel whole standing in front of him; instead, I felt torn apart, over and over again whenever he asked me for reassurances on the subject, and eventually felt incomplete – like I was less of a person for having made mistakes in my past, and now had to tilt at windmills to prove I was worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the same story again to another person – a good friend this time – during a particularly rough and emotional day. It was one of those situations where things just came out and I realized at the end of it that I had pretty much emotionally exploded all over somebody and told them a secret that I had sworn to never tell anyone ever again. It had cost me one close connection and for a few minutes I was utterly terrified that my unintentional and unfiltered blurting had just cost me another one. (Oh, and did I mention I did this over text? Way to go, right…)

“And now I have the horrible feeling that if I was standing in front of you right now, you’d be looking at me in an entirely different way, and I’m hating myself for that,” I said quickly, as it had been a minute or two of text-silence.

“I don’t see you differently. We’re two friends who are telling each other things and being open. It would take a lot to change my opinion of you,” came the response.

I suppose my friend really meant that, as we’re still talking as we’ve always done, and maybe even perhaps on slightly more familiar terms now.

One story, two different people – and two different reactions whose juxtaposition made me realize that I’m too hard on myself and think too much about what people might be thinking.  And that realization caused me to see that not letting anyone in might protect my heart from pain, but it also prevents my heart from experiencing joy.

Anyone who’s had this kind of experience – this unexpected acceptance by one person when the same situation resulted in rejection by another – will tell you that it’s difficult to say how it feels to know that despite revealing something so deeply hidden, you are still cared for and still seen as a whole person worthy of time and attention.  You feel a kind of unexpected joy at the equally unexpected relief of not being the only one who knows something that weighs so heavily on you.  You feel like a person again because another human has accepted you, warts and all, and will still be there for you.

I’ll probably always be guarded. I’ll probably always need my shell, and I’ll probably always be very cautious about opening myself up to another person. But it’s nice to know that I don’t always have to hide – that I can be safe enough in somebody else’s presence so as to be vulnerably open and totally myself with them. It’s nice to know that in at least one friendship I don’t have to wear masks or pretend I’m a little less flawed, that I am accepted entirely and can therefore be exactly who I am and express exactly how I feel.

After all, while the truth sets you free – “this above all: to thine own self be true.”  And by being open and honest, I am being more of who I really am, and I have once again been surprised by joy.