The Friends Who Frolic Together, Stay Together

 

All right, friends, buckle up for story time.

Back when I was in eighth grade (and attending a Catholic elementary school, bear in mind) we had a class retreat to a place called Mount Mary. Mount Mary is a Christian retreat run by nuns, and if I’m remembering correctly, it used to be a private girls-only school before it became a retreat. It’s a gorgeous, remote property with beautiful forested land. Our retreat was only for a few days and a couple nights, but those days started early and were packed with all sorts of lovely activities.

“Lovely” activities.

I did not at all want to go to Mount Mary, but it was the kind of thing where you all but had to go, plus all my friends were going, so off I went. We had to do so many team-building activities, such as Chuck the Chicken and some sort of game that was about economics that I can’t really remember(?), and as someone who doesn’t really like being in a team and also doesn’t really like activities, it was a drag. Add in the fact that we were woken up at the buttcrack of dawn by music BLARING through speakers directly into our rooms (I didn’t much enjoy being deafened by Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA at 7am), plus having to put on plays for our peers after every meal, plus having to share a room with half a dozen giggling girls (at least I was with my friends), and you’ve basically described my version of a highly effective form of torture.

I mean sure, it wasn’t all terrible. We did go on some pretty extensive hikes through the forest that I quite enjoyed, and we did play a massive game of Survivor where I was a prey animal and survived all the way to the end, which was so friggin’ fun.

But because it was the kind of place that encouraged team-building and peer relations, we were often divided into groups where we weren’t with our friends and were forced to work with people we might not have necessarily liked. That meant that everybody got to know everybody else probably better than we perhaps wanted to. Especially me, who’s not really a “friendly” or “social” person.

Let me introduce you to the guy in the picture here. His name is Ryan, and I never talked to him all that much in elementary school. He was definitely a class clown type character, but he was also a pretty harmless guy, and him and I got seated at the same lunch table together during the retreat. And for some reason he kind of fixated on me in a way I didn’t expect.

During one of our first meals, he made a big show of pouring me a glass of water and serving me like a waiter, and spent the rest of the retreat intermittently showering me with attention and pretending we were buddy-buddy. It was ridiculous and made me laugh (and made me feel kind of good to be entirely honest, because he was actually being nice and thoughtful) and it made the horrible, torturous retreat a little more bearable. At one point he even photobombed a picture of me and my friend, making it look like he was meant to be in the photo in the first place. His comic relief was small and silly and unexpected, but it’s something I remember fondly to this day.

Then there was one day when the teachers released us in this big field with a massive hill and told us we could roll down it and the whole place erupted into giggling, tumbling, frolicking chaos. It was hard to see any sort of friend groups in those pictures because everyone was just scattered everywhere making fools of ourselves and having a fantastic time. Everyone was there and it didn’t matter who liked who.

The second-last picture I have in the Mount Mary album is a picture of me on the bus ride home, sitting next to another guy I never really talked to or considered to be my friend. But there we are, smiling side-by-side, him still wearing his name tag for some reason or another, both of us looking incredibly happy.

I went from not wanting to be there at all to genuinely enjoying the company of the people I was with.

Mount Mary was definitely one of those better-in-hindsight kind of things, and now that I look back at the pictures and all these classmates I haven’t seen in years, I am fondly nostalgic of that retreat. I maybe didn’t particularly like everyone I was with, and I probably still wouldn’t like several of them to this day, but they were people who shared some of the formative years of my life. They were people who rolled down a grassy hill with me and frolicked like happy toddlers. They were people who showered me with silly little gestures of affection and made me feel part of a caring, meaningful group.

I think the good people in your life, no matter who they are or what they mean to you, can form incredible bonds that have lasting impacts even years later. I think they can, if only for a little while, feel like a big family.

And as I’m writing POTS and working on all these character relationships and crafting a little mismatched family, I can’t help but think of the people who did the same for me.

I’m so glad that some of those people are still close friends now.

I would be so lost without them.

-Alex

Sunday Rambles

With all the LotSF stuff I’ve been doing the past few days, I had pretty much zero time to think of what I was going to write today. I mean, I spent the afternoon trying to come up with a suitable subject, and I did eventually settle on one that I like, but it’s a topic I want to invest a couple days’ worth of work into. So I shall save it for Wednesday’s post, and use this post to wrap up a few thoughts.

Firstly, I’m glad I did that LotSF chapter. I believe the story is an important one that I would like to continue telling, and it’s really good for me to have something like that to work on that I know I can really see progress with. I have lots of stories that I’m working hard on, but LotSF is special in that I am able to share it as I go along. It makes it feel more tangible, something I can say, “Look how much I’ve done,” and it’s great motivation to keep working hard and keep getting words on the page.

Secondly, I am so glad that spring finally seems to be arriving (knock on wood). This weekend was lovely, sunny and something resembling warmish, and it’s such a wonderful mood-booster. Despite spring signalling the start of the crazy stressful heartworm season at work, it also means that soon I’ll be able to spend more time outside without freezing my butt off. That means more LotSF inspiration and more opportunity to feel like myself.

Thirdly, I’ve been looking through old photos and drowning in happy nostalgia (more on that in my next post) and I am so grateful for the people I’ve met in my life. Especially my elementary school friends–people I’ve grown up with who are still so close to my heart. I’m very fortunate to know them and get to spend time with them, and it’s such an amazing thing to see them out there living their lives and figuring out what makes them happy.

And while I’m at it, I’m also grateful for people I’ve met through WordPress. I need to get a bit better at keeping in touch with all my digital friends, but I’m still so happy for the opportunity to have met them and gotten to know them. There are a few in particular who have influenced my life in all the best ways.

I dunno, I’m feeling so sappy tonight. I hope you guys had a good weekend.

Talk soon.

-Alex

LotSF: Chasing Fear

PREVIOUS CHAPTER

I tripped on a root, exhaustedly catching myself against a tree trunk and standing weak-kneed for a moment to try to catch my breath. I was becoming progressively clumsier as I went on, less and less steady on my feet, less and less able to keep myself going every time I tripped. My whole body felt like a throbbing bruise. Every muscle wanted me to lie down on the forest floor and give up.

And this felt so terribly hopeless.

Why was I out here, wandering the forest alone and injured?

How could I ever find my horse in hundreds of acres of trees, when I didn’t even really know if she was alive?

But I had nothing else. Nothing to lose. Nothing to do but keep moving, keep walking, keep trying to fix the mess I’d made. So I pushed myself away from the tree and focussed on putting one foot in front of the other.

Almost an hour after I’d started walking, as the sun sank lower and lower towards the horizon, I noticed them. Bearskins. Creeping silently between the trees on either side of me, easily keeping pace. Their hungry, greedy eyes were fixed on me, glowing yellow and amber in the dying light, and my hand reflexively dropped to my hip. My sword wasn’t there. I was weaponless, surrounded on every side by dozens of monsters that could easily tear me apart.

But they weren’t attacking. They kept me surrounded, they kept their eyes trained on me, but not a single one of them stepped towards me. If I stopped walking, they paced restlessly, antsy and jumpy and skittish. They were afraid of me. Afraid of my ugly, flaming magic, most likely. It made me feel astoundingly powerful, knowing they wouldn’t dare touch me, but being this close to something so brutally dangerous raised the hairs on my arms and neck. It was so incredibly eerie.

The sun sank lower, burning the sky red and gold, and still I hadn’t even come close to finding Faith. I was tiring myself out, disorienting myself in this massive forest, and keeping myself company with a pack of bearskins–company that made my stomach twist into all sorts of horrible knots. This didn’t feel like progress. It felt like it was making things worse and I was growing desperate.

But over the next little ridge, I found a river.

Judging from the size and speed of the river (plus a pretty desperately hopeful bias), I decided it was safe to assume this was the same river the gypsy camp was built alongside. That meant that if I followed it in the right direction, I would find the gypsies and possibly even Faith. Except that I couldn’t figure out which direction would take me to the camp. I knew vaguely the direction we’d ridden to fight the bearskins, but had that been up- or downriver? I couldn’t remember enough to give myself a clear answer. I couldn’t even use the position of the sun–I’d never thought to pay attention to its location when we marched out.

I was lost. Completely and utterly lost, with a 50/50 chance of becoming found.

I could walk forever, trying to find the camp, and as injured and fatigued as I was… what if I didn’t make it? What if the gypsies weren’t even there? What if the bearskins finally realized I was too weak to hurt them and attacked me?

Feeling helpless and powerless and so horribly lost, I waded into the cold water. I walked past my thighs, up to my hips, water flowing under my dusty, ashy armour, before falling to my knees and letting the river rush over my shoulders and chest. My blood mingled with the water where it flowed past my damaged shoulder and I wished it would wash the rest of me away, carrying me along the river’s course, dumping my ashes into the lake where they would settle to the bottom.

I felt the water drag at my body, urging me to join it, to give up my pointless quest, to just admit that I’d failed and run away from all my problems. Its weight was so tempting, so soothing, and I wanted to follow wherever it might take me.

This was so, so hopeless.

But it was my fault.

did this to Nolan. did this to Faith. did this to myself.

So was going to fix it, damn it.

I felt it again, the little stirring anger in my chest, that ugly black hole where my magic used to be. It burned like a coal within my ribs, urging me up onto my feet, pushing me out of the river. I was angry. At myself, at the bearskins, at the woman who’d kidnapped Nolan, and that anger drove me on, drove me up, drove me onto the riverbank. I staggered, lungs heaving, feeling an electric energy build inside me that I could neither stop nor control, and I felt heat brush against the insides of my palms. I looked down at my hands, remembered the flames.

Small, lazy yellow tongues of fire dripped down my fingers.

The bearskins stirred anxiously in the shadows of the trees. I turned towards them, raised my hands. They pressed back, away, clamouring over one another to try to escape me. They were terrified of the magic.

The anger kicked up in my chest. I wanted to summon massive torrents of flame, I wanted to hurl them at the beasts and punish them for what they’d done to me. But I bit back, reined in the fury, held white-knuckled onto the fire in my hands. I would not let this anger overcome me. I would not let it consume me.

Because while the bearskins were doing everything they could to escape me, they weren’t fleeing randomly into the forest. They were gathering at a specific point, some of them darting off into the darkness but all of them following the same path. I walked towards them and they funnelled along that path, never straying, never breaking away.

There was something there. Something they felt they could run to. Something that made them feel safe.

Maybe it was the woman who’d stolen Nolan. Maybe it was something else.

But it was better than wandering alone in the dark.

The anger, the determination, lifted me above the pain and fatigue.

Fire clutched tightly in my hands, I took off after the fleeing bearskins at a run.

***

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I did it. I actually wrote a LotSF chapter.

It’s horribly late (it’s currently 1:23am, whoops) but it’s done. It’s here. I did it!

It feels good. It feels really good. I am proud of myself. And I am so much happier with the way this chapter went than the way it was going before.

Again again, thank you everyone for being patient and all of that, I hope this was worth the wait.

For those who are possibly new to the whole thing, welcome welcome. I hope you enjoy.

And I hope everyone is having a good weekend thus far. I will see you all sometime tomorrow (or later today, since it’s already Sunday) for my regular posting schedule.

Good night!

-Alex

 

 

Some Preparatory Words

Here we are, March 31st (shhh, please just pretend), the day before I finally begin to update LotSF again.

Or so you thought! Haha, April Fools’! I’ve actually given up on the story and am throwing it in the garbage. Goodbye. Adios. Rest in pieces! *jazz hands and glitter*

Okay, no, obviously I’ve not given up on the story, but with the amount of effort it’s taken to figure out what to do with it, I kind of do want to take this big old mess and toss it in the trash. Siiigh.

You’ll notice it’s a really weird day for me to be posting (Friday vs. Wednesday), and that’s because I wanted to say a few things before the next chapter of the story goes live tomorrow. First off, if for some reason you’re new to Language of the Small Folk, here is a great place to start (the links to the story are all on that page). Second, I’ve decided to make some changes to the story that I honestly didn’t think I was going to make.

I noticed as I was rereading the story (yes, I reread things I wrote FOUR YEARS ago, oh the pain) that after the second chapter of Winter, there is a huge change in tone. It’s like, we go from the struggle of not giving up in Getting Up, and then in Guidance suddenly I’m writing about this random forest lady who gives me a gift of warm light and huh? Then the next two chapters are just… off. They’re very off. I think maybe it was the result of me not writing as consistently as I did in the beginning of this project but wow it’s really hard to read.

It’s just not right. Which is also maybe why I had such a hard time continuing the story. It somehow meandered off into some weird part of the forest that it was never really supposed to go.

I hummed and hawed about it, because the point of this story was to just go where it took me, and it was important that each chapter just be allowed to exist as an intuitive expression of my heart and soul and blah blah, so it felt… wrong, in a way, to consider going back and changing those last three chapters. But I really don’t like them. I hate them. And they make this awful, awkward lull in the story that would be really disconcerting to anyone reading the story for the first time.

So I have indeed decided that I am going to remove the 3rd, 4th, and 5th chapters of Winter from the LotSF timeline.

The chapters will stay up on the blog in their original format, and I’ve changed it on the About LotSF page so that it’s clear they’re not a part of the story anymore, but for the intent and purpose of the story you can pretend they don’t exist. Erase them from your memory, banish them from the realm, forbid them from ever stepping foot in this place again. Or y’know. Something less dramatic.

Because of this, I am picking up immediately where I left off in the second chapter of Winter, Getting Up, and will hopefully be able to better match the tone and content that suits the story. I feel that this “fresh start” will allow me to write the story better and bring me closer to the ending I’ve imagined.

As always, thank you guys for being patient with me as I go about mucking the story up and changing my mind every time I turn around. It’s a bit chaotic but that’s what makes it more fun, right?

Lastly, as we gear up for the release of the next chapter, here is a lovely little summary of the story thus far, in case you understandably don’t want to read through a story that’s four whole years old (just think of the sacrifice I made for you).


After winter leaves her deaf and blind to the Small Folk, Alex is determined to find the root of the problem so she can get her magic back. With Nolan’s help, she sets off to meet the gypsy tribe, intending to help them with a simple emergency and potentially trigger her lost magic.

The feathered Small Folk are wounded and desperate; the threat plaguing them is worse than it first seemed. A pack of bearskins are on the hunt–vicious, violent creatures that feed off of fear and emotional distress. Simultaneously confronted with the devastating discovery that the barrier blocking her magic is psychological, Alex is not prepared for the battle ahead of her.

The gypsies fight as bravely as they can but the odds are not in their favour. The gypsies begin to fade, Nolan’s life is put in danger by a bearskin unlike the others, and Alex’s anger surges as the battle gets out of her control. Finally, in a burst of flame and fury, the blackness crowding her heart flares and leaves her cold, injured, and alone. The bearskins have been beaten back, but Nolan is nowhere to be found.

Stumbling through the forest, Alex is now left to figure out on her own how she can save her best friend and find Faith in the bearskin-infested woods…


Again, if you would like to read the first part of the story, the PDF is here, or all chapters are here.

That’s all for now. I will see everyone tomorrow for the oh-so-(probably not)-anticipated release of the next chapter.

All the best.

-Alex

Lost in Translation

I am actually a little disappointed to be posting this with the title “Lost in Translation” when I realize that “A Foreign Language” would have actually fit it perfectly. But alas, that was the name of my last post and of course hindsight is 20/20.

Oh well. Anyways.

I believe I mentioned at the start of the year that I rented a violin in December and was playing around with that and having a lot of fun with it. Well, it actually worked out that a barn friend of mine had a violin from when she was learning as a kid and she generously gifted it to me, which was pretty amazing. It’s a gorgeous instrument and I am very much in love, and after fixing up the strings and buying a new bow (and learning just how painstakingly difficult it is to apply a new brick of rosin to a brand new bow–it took me two days), it really feels like my own.

Actually learning how to play it though?

That’s been an interesting adventure.

I mean, I’ve learned how to make it sound like something resembling music and not a horrible hybrid between nails-on-chalkboard and dying-animal-sound, which is good, and I’ve learned to play a couple short and simple songs that actually sound like the songs they’re supposed to be, which is great, but wow what an instrument.

What an instrument, truly.

It’s quite interesting, because music is something I’ve always loved from a listening standpoint, but is something I never really felt a part of from a creating standpoint. I mean, I did take a mandatory music class in eighth grade so I did have some exposure to music, but learning three notes on the flute in order to play Hot Cross Buns doesn’t exactly equate to understanding and grasping music. And seeing as how I got a B in that class, I clearly wasn’t any kind of musical prodigy.

So jumping into the violin (which is on its own a much more difficult instrument to learn than most) without any real prior musical ability or knowledge has been a little bit disorienting. I mean, I couldn’t read a lick of sheet music a month or so ago, so trying to figure out how the little sticks and circles on the page are supposed to transform into sounds feels like trying to understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Lots of confused faces and question marks, let me tell you.

And what the heck is with this whole “an A note could either be an open A or the fourth finger on the D string or the third finger on the E string or the first finger on the G string” nonsense? Why couldn’t we come up with different letters for each? I am so confused????

But I’m slowly piecing it together and am actually making music. Which is. Wow. It’s really wow.

I mean, I’ve sort of got Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

Which are two songs that would really only entertain infants (and even then they would want me to be a lot better at violin first) but hey. It’s certainly a start.

And, and! I’ve also got a classical song by Beethoven in my musical repertoire. Yeah that’s right, I learned how to play a snippet of Ode to Joy. I actually only learned it yesterday, so I have a clip from then and a clip from now, which already shows a little bit of improvement (such as actually being able to remember the tune of Ode to Joy).

Warning: this song sounds a little torturous. Sorry not sorry.

Personally, I think it sounds a little more impressive than Twinkle Twinkle. I actually was a little surprised that Ode to Joy was in my learning level. I mean, I guess I never realized it was actually fairly simple in practice? And I guess when you think of Beethoven you don’t really think “beginner”. So it’s kind of cool to me to see that making music isn’t quite as astoundingly, impossibly difficult as I previously thought.

Although, that being said, I’m not finding every song quite so easy to get a grasp on. The song that is my kryptonite? Jingle Bells. Yes. Jingle Bells. I attempted it four times in the following clip and boy oh boy was that fun.

Yeeeah. Not very impressive.

I think perhaps the most fascinating part of this whole experience thus far though has been actually learning the music. I mean, I still don’t really know sheet music, but I learned how to do Auld Lang Syne using tabs and that’s actually a song I’ve memorized. And it’s really interesting to me, because to some degree I’ve got the finger positions numerically memorized (0 3 3 3 1 0 3 0…) but when it comes down to really playing it, I’ve actually got it memorized more by sound than anything else. I know the tune of the song, I know whether the next note will be higher or lower, I’ve learned the finger position associated with the different notes, and so playing Auld Lang Syne feels a little bit like speaking a fluent sentence in a foreign language.

Learning music feels like learning a language.

Because with this song in particular, I no longer have to sit there and think “okay what’s the note that comes next?”, my brain just knows it, and knows how to make it. I’ve got it memorized to the point where it feels intuitive and natural and it’s such an incredible feeling. This is why I wanted to learn an instrument–I wanted the feeling of music being an extension of myself and I wanted to feel the sound pour from my hands the same way the words pour from my mind.

I mean don’t get me wrong, you can hear plenty of mistakes when I’m playing it (I am so impatient and you can totally tell, ahaha), but it just feels so amazing to play and agh I love it.

I have a hell of a long way to go with violin before it’s quite what I hope for it to be, but I’m just so grateful that I get the chance right now to start to integrate something so amazing and meaningful into my life. The fact that I’m learning this new language, that I’m finding a new way to express myself, a new extension of my soul? It’s inspiring and powerful and breathtaking and I love it.

Y’know. When I’m not struggling with Christmas songs.

-Alex

22/03/2017

Hey guys, just wanted to write a quick note that I didn’t post last Sunday and I won’t be posting today either because I have been extra tired, extra brain-foggy, and extra “blegh I hate everything I write” this week, so I’m taking a short break. I have a couple ideas brewing and I should be back in action on Sunday. 

Sorry about that!

All the best.

-Alex

A Foreign Language

There is one thing that is more neglected than my poor blog, and that of course is Language of the Small Folk.

I remember exactly where I left off. I remember it so well because I probably tried finishing that chapter a dozen times without success.

I had been writing every LotSF post on the spot, usually the same day it was published. It worked pretty well for me; I’d get into the heat of the moment, really feel the emotion of the particular chapter, and just let the story take me wherever it flowed. But for that last chapter I was working on, it really didn’t work.

I think I may have perhaps written myself into a corner.

Oops.

I mean, I know where I planned to go with it, I know how I wanted it to lead into the rest of the story, so it’s not like I couldn’t work with it. I just… lost a bit of the passion, I think, when I started into that scene, and it made it really hard to write it.

So what on earth am I going to do.

Since I’ve been blogging more, I’ve been enjoying the rigors of a schedule to give me a deadline and keep me motivated. I’ve been considering doing the same thing with LotSF–perhaps I will be more reliable and more motivated if I actually have set dates in which each chapter is due.

My idea is to post two chapters a month: one on the 1st, one on the 15th. If those days fall on a Wednesday or Sunday (a regular posting day), I’ll publish the regular post either on the day before or the day after, to keep things a little more spread out.

I mean, once upon a time I would post at least one LotSF post a week (and for a while it was every other day, believe it or not), so this leaves a lot more wiggle room than there used to be. But I think every 2 weeks isn’t so bad, and it will give me plenty of time to work on chapters in between deadlines.

I plan to resume the story with the new posting schedule starting on April 1st (April Fools’, I know, sorry). So hopefully that gives you guys plenty of time to reacquaint with the story and gives me time to get everything ready.

Now of course, I have a feeling it’s been so long since the last update that most of the people who were reading it don’t remember so well what happened last. My own memory is pretty foggy, and I’m the one who wrote the darn thing. So when I do post the next chapter up on April 1st, I’ll be sure to include a brief summary of the story so far, just to get everyone up to speed (and remind myself where exactly I was going with this).

But in the meantime, for those of you who might be new, or maybe just want to read the chapters again (which would be insanely flattering), I’ve compiled the whole first part of the story (named Spring) into a PDF that you can read or download here. Plus, the links for all the chapters for both parts (Spring and Winter) can be found on the main About page for LotSF here.

Thank you for your patience and huge thanks to those who have read every chapter. It means the world to me that you guys enjoy the things I put so much passion into (even if that passion seems to come in fits and bursts).

All the best.

-Alex

Exciting News!

Well. I have some pretty good news.

I got accepted into college!

Yup, for the second time. I liked it so much the first time I just had to go back for more.

It’s so strange to be going through the process a second time. Part of me has this laid-back, “been there, done that” attitude that contrasts so starkly to the anxious and excited high schoolers who have just applied for the first time. The other part of me is just like them–am I gonna get in what if I don’t get in ugggggh when am I going to find out?

But yes, I got accepted, and I could not be happier. I’m so excited I actually wish I could start classes sooner and waiting a whole six months feels like torture.

You might remember that when I was in university last year and the year before, I was doing an animal bio major as a prerequisite for entering the vet college, and that lovely major featured thrilling courses such as biochem, physics, and statistics–three of my absolute favourite subjects, of course. You might also remember that I took this past year off of school because depression is a thing and stress really sucked and trying to do biochem and stats while you’re already feeling crummy is pretty friggin’ hard.

I was really worried about what I was going to do next, because I really wanted to go back to school and keep learning things and pursue veterinary medicine, but I didn’t feel confident that I’d really be able to tackle those difficult courses and keep up with the studying and homework.

However, I found a pretty perfect solution to the problem.

May I present: vet tech college.

A vet tech is basically what a nurse is to a doctor–they do a lot of the same things and have a lot of the same knowledge, but the tech is often more hands-on (running tests, drawing blood, etc) and the vet is often more knowledge based (diagnoses, treatment plans, etc).

This also means that the actual education required for each differs quite a bit; a tech does 2-3 years of college with lots of hands-on work, while the vet does 7-8 years of university with lots of theory work. So instead of taking courses like biochem and statistics for three years before I can even apply to the vet program, I’ll be jumping straight into courses such as medical exercises and animal nursing. Which will not only be slightly easier than memorizing the structures of amino acids, but will also be so much more interesting.

The other amazing thing about this program? They offer it in an alternative format, which means that I can keep working at the vet clinic (and learning/practising a lot of the skills that I’ll be taught in the vet tech program anyways) during the fall and winter semesters while taking a couple online classes, and then when all the other university students are off during the summer and looking for more working hours (therefore able to cover my shifts), I’ll be going to the campus to do the actual hands-on courses.

I’m actually so thrilled that I found out about this program and was accepted into it. I’m excited to be able to learn practical skills in the field that interests me and I’m just really happy that it feels possible for me to go back to school again without worrying about the stress I had before. I think this will be a lot more manageable and make me a lot happier in the long run.

There’s a part of me that feels like I might still want to go back to vet college and get the full doctor’s degree, but why not take this opportunity while I have the chance? I mean, in the grand scheme of things I am ridiculously young, so I’ve got my whole life ahead of me to go out and learn more and do whatever I’d like.

And it’s not like I’m going to be bored. In my time working at the clinic I’ve come to love doing things like lab tests and nursing care–things that the vet often doesn’t have time to do. So heck, maybe this is actually a better fit for me than being a vet. Who knows?

All I know is I am incredibly excited to be embarking on this new adventure and I can’t wait for it to start.

-Alex

A Fish that Doesn’t Swim

I’m certain that this will come as a shock to you, so it might be best if you read this sitting down.

Several people in my life have told me that I am, in fact, too hard on myself.

I know, I know, why would they say such a thing? That’s not like me at all!

Except that I know it is, and even though I know it’s true, it still doesn’t seem to help.

Well, that’s not entirely truthful. I’ve definitely learned how to tone it down recently. I no longer feel the need to call myself a lazy loser if my only accomplishment for the day is reading thirty pages of a book, or threaten myself with visions of future doom and destitution if I don’t manage to write anything creative by the end of the day. Life is stressful and difficult and tiring as it is without adding on all this internal pressure to do more, do better, be better.

I know I’m not alone in this idea of being too hard on myself, and I’ve seen it in some of my friends too. These impossibly high standards, this very strict definition of success, this merciless idea of what is “acceptable”. It’s an understandable trap, the desire to do more, because it comes from all the best intentions. We believe we can do amazing things, we want to do amazing things, and we want to constantly push ourselves to do the best we possibly can and always strive to improve.

It’s great to want to improve and make or do something you’re proud of.

There is, of course, a point where it goes too far, as is the case with most things.

Because when you start pushing yourself for more and better and greater, you sometimes forget that you’ve actually achieved quite a lot.

And when you start basing your worth as a creator or a person on how “well” you think you’re doing or how much content you’re producing?

That’s a dangerous game.

One big thing I’ve experienced while being depressed is that it is absolutely impossible to live up to any of my high standards while simultaneously fighting through a mental illness. In fact, it’s impossible to even be able to do what I was doing before, which I used to think was “barely adequate”.

No focus, no energy, no motivation. It makes those already sky-high standards feel truly exorbitant.

So as somebody who is often too hard on myself, not being able to accomplish very much is beyond frustrating. It started to eat into my sense of worth, my sense of value. If I’m not producing 2000 words in a day, what kind of writer does that make me? If I’m not writing stories to share, then what am I doing with my time besides wasting it?

It was really easy to fall into this trap of “wasted time”, as if every minute of the day had to be spent doing something “meaningful”.

It’s probably pretty obvious that beating up on yourself like that isn’t a good way to feel better when you’re depressed.

So. Slowly (and painfully), I had to learn to not be hard on myself. Which felt a little bit like telling a fish not to swim, or a dog not to wag its tail when it’s happy. I had to let go of this idea of “wasted time”, I had to let go of this idea of my value being in how many words or stories I was writing, I had to let go of this idea that it’s not okay for me to spend my time reading books and watching YouTube videos and eating snacks in bed.

Because it is okay to do those things. Of course it is.

There is no right or wrong way to spend your time, as long as it’s something you feel is good for you.

Just because you’re not producing or accomplishing something does not at all decrease your worth as a person.

Not gonna lie, for a long time it felt like if I stopped pushing myself, if I told myself it was okay to spend my evening lying in bed listening to music instead of writing, then I would never do the work that makes me feel happy and meaningful and I would never feel better. But making myself feel guilty for not being able to do very much work wasn’t making me feel good at all.

It does feel better, to just accept your limitations. To be gentle with yourself. To admit that broken bones can only heal if you give them lots of rest.

I know that the world favours the capable, that it praises those who can do big, remarkable things, and it feels lonely and disappointing to not be one of the achievers. But it doesn’t stop you from being beautiful or wonderful or incredible or important.

You can be sprawled out on the couch for hours watching Netflix and still have a gorgeous head full of astounding hopes and dreams and beliefs.

You can be wrapped up in a blanket in a dark room and still have a breathtaking heart that is brave and loving and kind.

You can spend your time doing nothing but breathing and still have a laugh that makes the earth shiver and a smile that makes the sun soar and a body made of atoms that started their lives in the hearts of stars.

Your worth will never be tied to how much you can do, you hear me?

You have my full and wholehearted permission to stop being hard on yourself.

I know, it’s like telling a fish not to swim. But you’ll get used to it.

Turns out, floating is kind of nice.

-Alex

The Good, the Bad, and the Doubtful

Oh, crippling doubt.

A very familiar presence.

I’m pretty sure that the very second you begin to even faintly consider yourself anything of a writer (or any type of creator, really), you automatically sign yourself up for daily/weekly/monthly deliveries of doubt. Doubt that you’re any good, doubt that your work is inspiring or meaningful, doubt that you’re doing the best you possibly can. That little voice at the back of the head nags you, telling you it’s pretentious or passionless or clumsy or juvenile. And from what I’ve gathered, doubt isn’t really the sort of thing that goes away, even after years and years and years spent creating.

And doubt is exactly the thing that came creeping up on me not long after I’d published my last blog post, Infinite Imaginings.

I doubted that it was inspired enough, I doubted that it was written as well as it could have been–I doubted that I did justice to the message I was trying to convey. I felt like maybe I could have been more creative and imaginative, creating deeper, more unique stories for the things I talked about. I felt like maybe if I’d spent more time and really pushed the message, really polished it up, I would have made something so much better.

Of course, there’s the catch: it would have taken more time.

As you’ve possibly noticed, I’ve been trying very hard to blog on a more reliable schedule. I’m aiming to get a post up every Wednesday and Sunday, which means that I’ve been keeping myself busy writing blog posts and juggling this with some of the other projects I’ve been working on. Right now, I don’t have a queue–I’m writing most of these posts the day before they’re due, allowing me to do a quick edit on the posting day and to add any last touches I might think of. I also don’t really have a backlog of ideas–again, these ideas are being thought up one or two days before I’m actually posting them.

It’s not as tight a schedule as when I used to blog every other day (how the heck did I manage that?!), but it’s still a lot tighter of a schedule than, say, posting once every three months. I have to keep coming up with ideas, I have to keep writing them, and I have to keep moving on to the next one just as soon as I’m done.

That means that there’s not too much room for doubt.

I would love to sit down and spend a week or two working on a blog post, carefully crafting it into the best possible content I can produce, and I hope that if I come up with an idea that really inspires me, I will, but if I did that for all my posts, I wouldn’t be able to keep up this schedule. And of course there’s always the risk that if I let the doubt get to me, if I let myself believe it’s not good enough, I need to do better, I might just end up never posting it at all. I might never think it’s good enough to share and then what’s the point of writing it at all?

It’s a really tricky balance, I think, trying to push for the best you can achieve while also allowing yourself to just create.

You really have to be okay with making mistakes, or with producing things that aren’t the best.

I mean, obviously in 20 years I’ll have a different writing style and maybe it will be “better” than the one I have now. Obviously in 20 years I’ll have learned some things and will have more insight and experience to offer. Obviously in 20 years I will be more capable of many things than I am at this very moment. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write and create things now, even knowing that it won’t be the best I’ll ever achieve.

Because sure, if I look back at all the things I’ve written on Valourbörn, I can find lots of examples of posts I’m admittedly a little embarrassed about. Ideas that weren’t as meaningful as I thought, concepts that I wasn’t very passionate about, messages that just came across clumsy and shallow and not at all what I wanted to be. That tends to happen, when you create things–you make a lot of bad content, you make a lot of mistakes and misjudgements.

But I can also think of lots of posts that I am still really proud of.

Posts that ended up being more inspiring than I first thought, posts that were very significant and personal and honest, posts that made people laugh and smile and feel things. I’ve made plenty of “bad” posts that in hindsight I would have scrapped, but I’ve also made so many posts that remind me why I started blogging in the first place.

I mean, one of the first ones I think of it The Shadow’s Heart, which is a post I wrote on a whim that received a lot more love than I expected. There was the one about not eating dog poo that I thought was pretty fun, and the whole caramel pears debacle that everybody else thought was fun. There’s the story of The Christmas Slug that my mother brings up every year, and The Warrior Within, which holds a special place in my heart. And then, of course, there is the Epic Saga of the  Quest for the Styrofoam Balls. All of these posts make me smile when I recall the passion and energy and heart that went into them.

But the only reason I even have those good posts is because I wasn’t afraid to write the bad ones.

I wasn’t afraid to follow an idea, to take inspiration as it came, and write as honestly and freely as I could.

I wasn’t afraid to tell doubt to shut up for a minute and let me work.

It’s kind of another reason too why I won’t let myself delete any of the old blog posts I’ve written that I’m not fond of anymore. If I let myself delete them, if I deem them “not good enough”, then I’ll be less confident about letting myself make those mistakes. I’ll be thinking “Is this a post I’m going to delete in a few months?” and it will make things worse.

(Plus, it’s always nice to have contrast–it makes my good posts look that much better next to the mediocre ones.)

So sure, maybe I still think that perhaps my last post could have been a little bit better, but at least it’s out there. At least it’s been written, at least it’s been shared. And I mean if you think about it, the only reason I’m writing this post is because I wrote the last one. So it’s provided me with inspiration and more content to produce.

And of course, as is often the case, it applies to more than just blogging or writing or creating.

To do anything good, you can’t be held back by doubt.

You gotta just go for it.

-Alex