How 2012 Tried to Kill Me (And What I Did About It..)

So today I got a reminder that I have been keeping this blog for one whole year. And what a terrible year it has been. Some of the personal stuff from my life has spilled onto these pages, mainly through feelings or sentiments, but most of it has been kept firmly bottled up inside of me. What I find most interesting about this blog is that a year ago I started this project feeling as though I needed to connect with myself more, and I embarked upon a journey of self discovery. Then “life” happened, and I started having to face emotions and fears that I never thought I would be facing in 2012, and for most of the year felt as though my own understanding of myself was diminishing rather than developing.

Let’s speak plainly: nothing really terrible happened inasmuch as nobody that I loved died, my marriage weathered through another year of global disappointment, and we still have our home. But I had challenges to my health (which are still largely unresolved even after 12 months), questions to my sanity at the hands of so called friends, and the threat of financial difficulty. I was made to feel like a true failure in 2012, to the point that I almost gave up faith in myself.

As a result of this terrible year, most of the time I attempted to keep this blog I felt as though I was projecting untruths, because even if my answers were truthful I felt myself becoming more and more a stranger. Most of the questions, I have also learned, are engineered to encourage self-criticism, even melancholy, and those that focus on the positive require a saccharine and sentimental reflection on the past that has been entirely too difficult for me to face. I avoided at all costs questions about home, because home really is unattainable for me right now, and dwelling on it does more harm than good.

So now I am writing this blog post without knowing whether I will try and finish “the questions”. Why? Why would I consider stopping when I have just said this year left me a stranger from myself? Surely I have an ever-more pressing need to continue? Well, not really.

You see, even though 2012 tried to kill me, I persevered. I didn’t do it very gracefully, and there were very few defiant, movie-worthy speeches (except one that I delivered in the pharmacy the other day, but let’s leave that one for the moment), but I really, honestly did find out that I could be true to myself when the moment mattered. I faced a decision that I had to make for my own good, and put all my eggs in that basket when everyone else doubted me, and I prevailed.

Today I sat down with one of my very best friends and told him the story of my year. Firstly he was shocked that he knew so little of it (I’m a marvelous actress, it comes with the territory of being an immigrant); secondly, he was proud that I was able to make the decisions that I had made and be true to myself, despite obvious pressures from people that value money and image above all things. He is facing a crisis of his own, and I told him my story to show him that, even when you are doubting yourself, you still know yourself better than anyone else. And that no-one can act in your best interests better than yourself.

So, I am going to start 2013 with a little more faith in myself. In 2012 I really did discover who I was all over again, but it wasn’t through these questions, it was through having to fight for myself. I hope I will never have to tell anyone about the agony of the last 12 months, and I am sincerely hoping to but it behind me tomorrow at mid-night, but if I do ever tell it I will use it as a demonstration that I refuse to lose who I am.

I might be a little chubby, or curse too much, or snap at people that don’t deserve it, but I am also not morally bankrupt, and I believe in the American Dream still, and I think that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and with respect. I will not let the world change me, and I will not start believing that the world is a place where only changed people can prevail.

I’m sorry if this post is a little preachy, or pointless, but I am ready to actually say to the world that I LIKE ME. I know that a lot of people probably don’t like me, but I do, and I believe in myself, and in 2013 I am going to keep moving forwards.

Shoeboxes at Christmas

 

Children Opening Their Shoeboxes, courtesy of operationchristmaschild.org.uk

One of my favorite childhood traditions was putting together shoeboxes at Christmas. These shoeboxes were to be filled with gifts and sent to Africa where children would open them on Christmas morning, children who otherwise would have nothing.

Every year as sure as purchasing advent calendars and helping my father pot the tree came the choosing of the shoeboxes, usually stored away throughout the year whenever one of us got a new pair of boots or sensible Clarks sandals. We children would solemnly select our shoe box from the collection and then busy ourselves with imaging the child that would receive it. My mother always allowed us to choose the type of child that would receive our boxes (we could select between genders and from certain age categories), and would the help us choose appropriate gifts to put in the box. Of course, there were toys and books, but also we had to think of gifts like toiletries, clothing, medication.

As a family we would talk about what these children might need, and it was through these discussions that I first learned the difference between being poor and living in poverty. Looking back as an adult I realize that we didn’t have much growing up, although I failed to see it at the time, but there was always warm water and clean clothes, toothpaste, bandages, and sanitary products. These were the things I learned others did not have. I remember my mother teaching me about the differences between my hair type and the hair type of girls like me living in Africa, and helping me choose the right type of products to send over, as well as brightly colored hair clips to compliment their skin tones.

After our boxes were full we would wrap them in bright christmas paper, choose a christmas card and write a short message with a photograph of ourselves. My brother and sister typically just wrote “Merry Christmas” and signed their names, but I always wanted to write more, after weeks of thinking about this faceless child I felt a profound connection with them and wanted to express that. To this day I wish I had copies of those cards that I wrote aged six, or twelve, or fifteen.

This might sound like a strange Christmas tradition to a lot of people, especially a strange memory to rank in my favorites, but to me it symbolized Christmas. It was part of how we did things, and part of our Christmas day was talking about which toy we thought they would play with first, whether they liked the books we sent, and how we hoped they were able to be with their families as we were with ours. It may sound overly sentimental, but it was genuine to the point that I took the tradition to university, where I helped organize the Shoebox Appeal for our campus. The following years I made charitable donations to schools in the developing world instead of giving “conventional” Christmas gifts.

Why do I bring this up as one of my favorite memories? Why do I indicate this as one of the reasons I respect both my mother and father so much? Let me explain. Other than the previously mentioned fact that my family had very little monetary excess when I was a child, my parents managed to raise my brother, sister, and I in a way where giving was more exciting that receiving. Neither of my parents practice any religion, and yet they managed to educate us in the exact meaning of Christmas in a way that was applicable and appropriate to all three of us. Both my brother and sister are atheists, I am a Christian that chose to be baptised as an adult, and yet we still agree that Christmas should be celebrated in the way our parents taught us.

Of course, I have plenty of other favorite childhood memories, and plenty of other reasons to respect my parents, but this one seems the closest to my heart. Every time I buy a pair of shoes I am still loathe to throw away the box, I find myself ferreting them away in corners and daydreaming about wrapping paper, toothbrushes, and books. It is the spirit of Christmas to me, and I am reminded every year of how fortunate a child I really was.

 

 

To learn more about the Shoebox Appeal visit: http://www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk Visiting this website taught me a lot about how the mission has developed over the years. I wish they would start this in the United States

How corporate America stole my abililty to speak freely

Aside

It’s been two whole months since my last post. I got sloppy. 2012 has not been my best year to date. I reached the point where answering questions about where my life was going, or what my legacy should be became painful to even think about. I didn’t want to articulate what was actually going round in my head, and trying to force out what I thought I should want to say because exhausting; I got the point where I could barely remember who I was, as though I was writing the account of someone I met once on a train and thought we might be friends if we lived closer. I still feel like that: like who I am is in another room and I am opening doors trying to find her.

When I first started this blog my aim was to rediscover how I express myself; to encourage deep thoughts; to realise interesting things about myself and feel reunited with my i. Perhaps I aimed too high. Perhaps I’m way too out of practice at these things. I work in the corporate world, people. Worse, I work in Healthcare. Even worse, I work in Healthcare in a foreign country. I am used to expressing myself according to very limited terms and conditions. I measure my opinions. I live in the midwest, the key is to blend in. And truthfully, I don’t disagree with blending in, it’s something that, as adults, most of us have to do to some degree. It’s compromising, or justifying, or being collaborative, or some other business lingo. It’s a mindset that you train yourself for, or that you get unwittingly trained in through the “needs must” school of life. It’s hard to admit that it’s nearly impossible to break out of this identity, it’s like a bad habit, I self-edit constantly.

As a marketing and operations professional, I focus on impressions and working as an art form. I advise people, reprimand people, mentor people on the right or wrong thing to say. Most of what I preach I don’t practice, and even less do I actually believe is true in the real world. But the business world isn’t the real world, and that’s the fundamental lesson behind my life. How many people would write emails to their friends like they write to their colleagues? Or how many people would dress to go to a ballgame with their friends as they dress on “casual” day at work?

I’ve learned a lot from my job, especially my current position, and wouldn’t want to change any of it. I’ve build a knowledge base on everything from database systems to healthcare operations; public speaking to individual mentoring; from how to dress at a conference to what is the “right” answer if someone offers you wine at a business event. But I haven’t learned anything about myself. I’m English, so people label me constantly. Mostly people run the fine line between considering me an awful prude or an outrageously liberal alcoholic (I’m neither, by the way). I’m a monarchist or a communist, a label-loving Londonite or a Welly-Wearing hoorah henry with a country pile. Different people take away a different version of me, and I am constantly shifting between each identity.

My failing was that I thought this would be easy. Things have always been easy for me, I’m one of those people that worked hard but not too hard in school. I got excellent grades because I understood how to check all the boxes, not because I actually wrote the most insightful answers. This is why I’m excellent at my job, because it’s all about educating people on what they should be saying or doing, and I’ve always been good at playing the game. Life is about displaying that you know what you’re talking about, rather than knowing what you’re talking about. The truth is, I’ve realised, that I know how to act like I know who I am, but really I have no clue.

So I’m starting from scratch here, and it’s probably going to get a little ugly.

When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?

Quote

Ah. A question about talking. Perhaps one of my specialties. I talk a lot, as I have previously disclosed; normally my talking is a sign of nervousness, or my deep rooted shyness, but can also be a tool I use to fill the silence. I hate silence, and not just because of Doctor Who (whovians unite, everyone else scratch their heads).

But seriously, silence is something that I crave and hate simultaneously – it’s one of the complex layers of my fascinating personality. I grew up in a loud household in the middle of fields. Basically, a cell of silence with a nucleus of very loud noise. Silence in my house meant one of two things: a) there has been a major fight, or b) you’re the only person within earshot of yourself. The latter was the most common, and the most terrifying. I had recurring nightmares of being alone in the house and burglars breaking in. But that’s a story for another time, another time with wine.

The point of my digression is simply to punctuate the point that I am not a quiet person. As the result of being “a talker”, I am positively irritated by the stereotype that people that chatter are ignorant, or that ignorant people chatter. I have found neither of these things to be true. I actually think educated people find it impossible to not express their opinion, often taking many extra minutes of everyone’s time to ensure that their entire audience is sufficiently informed. This takes a lot of speaking. I find that, mid conversation, most people that don’t understand what is being discussed just sit there baffled. Verbal diarrhea is the curse of the educated, not the uneducated.

So, moving swiftly one from that, probably pointless, assertion, the question remains: what is wrong, or right, about talking?

Today’s question seems to indicate that saying, rather than doing, is the lesser action. This actually really pisses me off (excuse my language), as a lover of literature and history. Our world has been thought out, assembled, destroyed, and salvaged by the tongues of great public speakers. Cicero, Shakespeare, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King, Jr are men whose words have changed the fabric of the modern world.

Shakespeare, it has controversially been alleged, was actually illiterate, and dictated all of his plays to actors in his troupe. In fact, many of his plays were not written down for several years. The same is true for the ever-enigmatic Homer, of Odyssey and Iliad fame, whose epic poems were sung from generation to generation, and whose very existence has been questioned. Pause and imagine it, especially if you have ever read those marvellous texts out loud: these songs were powerful enough to last thousands of years, influence almost every famous work of literature since, and even maybe give life to a man that never existed.

When Adolf Hitler took to the stage, he would wait in silence for up to an hour before speaking on some occasions. The mere anticipation of his speeches created uncontrollable frenzy in the crowds, causing people to faint even before he uttered a word. The effects of his ability to influence through his words has left a scar on society that seventy years of actions has been unable to remedy.

When Winston Churchill told the world that we will fight them on the beaches, fight them in the streets, never surrender, he projected the words with such a sense of magnificence and gravitas that everyone who heard him agreed. By that point, the prime minister was at an age where being able to physically fight on behalf of his country was not an option, but by talking to his population he was able to salvage a massively diminished and terrified army. This is not to discredit his military service in the first world war, which was also a huge testament to his character, I just personally believe that the words he spoke in the 1940s killed more enemy soldiers than the bullets he fired in the 1920s.

Finally, Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the history of the world with his incredibly famous speech. Even in the future, when I hope we have reached a point where his gender, race, or creed do not distinguish him, he will be remembered for his words. His speech, although directed to a specific group during a specific sociopolitical time, has transcended that moment and become universal. Before I even knew that much about the civil rights movement in north America, I knew Dr. King’s speech. The actions of the movement I learned about over a decade later: the protests, the riots, the tenacity and the very real fear. Even though these moments are important, and should be remembered, the movement had a voice, and it’s words went “I have a dream”.

By now I’m sure my point in clear. I want to be remembered for my words. I want to be a writer, I want for children to read my books aloud to their siblings or in their classrooms. Although I feel as though today’s question is meant to be a call to action for lazy protesters or people already remorseful that their New Years Eve diet is kaput, I think my answer is: Yes, I hope I will have said more than I have done. I want my words to matter.

In the words of the ever-poignant Belle and Sebastian:

Said the hero in the story:
“it is mightier than swords
I could kill you, sure,
but I could only make you cry with these words”

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Interesting question. I am going to interpret the question to mean something along the lines of: how old a life are you living?

As a society we are constantly looking at aging celebrities, college friends, family members and thinking “that person needs to grow up”. When I was a teenager I was often told I was “responsible”; I always knew exactly when and what time I would be meeting people, or which bus I would be on coming home. These were the pre-mobile-phone days, where definite plans needed to be made and adhered to. In college I kept a list of emergency numbers with me at all times, always completed my coursework at least 24 hours before the deadline, and, although I liked to go out and have a good time, rarely stayed out all night. I wasnot the type of person that needed to grow up, if anything, I needed to “grow down”.

When I got engaged at the tender age of 21 my mother said she wasn’t surprised that I’d gotten engaged so young. This fascinated me – the hubs and I had barely been dating six months, and I had always expressed the intention to not get married before thirty. But, looking back, I was always racing towards the idea of domestic bliss. I think I’ve always wanted to know exactly what the future looks like – I’m not spontaneous, and I’ve even been known to read the end of books first so as to know what I’m working towards. I feel comforted by knowing what the outcome is going to be. This is how I have been my entire life. I used to tell my friends that my ideal was “the four M’s – middle aged, married, post-menopausal, with a mortgage”. I remember how they would shriek in horror, professing that I must be crazy, and couldn’t imagine a life like that. Back then, I found that hard to believe – how did anyone not find that appealing on some level? the normality of it? the comfort.

However, now I am married and with a mortgage, approaching early middle age (twenty seven is my dreaded number, the age I’ve always feared, and it’s only a few weeks away), and with my biological clock firmly ticking (my doctor told me that “you just need to accept your body is slowing down” the other day). I think, on paper, most people would think the husband and I were in our late thirties. Walking round our home we have new furniture, carefully selected decor palettes, and all matching plates, mugs, and dishes. Last night we chose to stay home and eat soup rather than go out on the town!

How do I feel about it? Well, I alternate between loving it and thinking I’d trade it all in for the chance to backpack around the world. I think that everyone fears growing older once they’re actually doing it – especially as I’m doing it so much faster than my friends – because it doesn’t come with instructions. I don’t know how a person my age is “supposed” to act, or whether I’m doing a good job at it, but the only thing I can do is keep doing it and stay true to myself.