To My High School English Teacher

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I feel like it will surprise you – though it shouldn’t – just how many of our lives you’ve touched, influenced, impacted over the years.

I remember before entering your class that your reputation for strictness and propriety had preceded you. What hadn’t (a pity, but it certainly made us sit up straight and cross our legs at our ankles from Day 1 and say ‘yes’ not ‘ja’) was your enormous spark. I can still recall the mischievous look you’d get when you’d say something to challenge us. To make us think, wake up, imagine, throw us off kilter. I remember how passionately you described how wonderful it would be to be a butcher – a career you’d have in another life if you weren’t a teacher – and how your eyes glittered as you delved into the feeling of the meat beneath your hands. I’m not quite sure we knew what to make of you that day. But it was truly great.

Entering your class was a chance to express ourselves – to be heard and to be valued – in an atmosphere that never one hundred percent felt like it was acceptable to do so. And I loved that it came from someone who seemed, at the outset, to be a strict adherent to the rules. But I realise that I learned from you that the rules provide the structure within which we can go wild – with a measure of safety as we grow and figure out who we are.

You instilled in me a lifelong passion for Blake. I still love revisiting Strictly Ballroom. Poetry, analysis, critical thinking, studying, good grammar.  I remember you read a poem I’d written (something about donkeys, that I was submitting for the school magazine) and it thrilled me that you at first thought it was something you’d read before (I then felt sad that it was something that sounded hackneyed, but I remember the thrill more). I remember staring at the Brad Pitt posters and more – as? – important the Anatole France quote “To imagine is everything” and feeling like it was possible to write and think and challenge. To be more than a uniform and expectations.

You gave us power – power beyond ourselves – at a time in our lives that had so little. And it has shaped me forever. It made me realise I could study English and Film, and that to teach and write really were viable options. I carried those seeds of confidence with me through a Creative Writing Honours degree, a Masters in English, and now as the owner of my own communications business and as a teacher myself.

Thank you for the gift of encouragement, for your humour and grace, for the reminder that “to imagine is everything.” And that Brad Pitt really was a babe.

Keyboard Warriors

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keyboard-warrior

I can’t even begin to express how much I can’t stand the rise of the keyboard warrior. It seems the more and more we sink into our devices, the more we lose touch with people and how to address them in a normal, considerate way.

The amount of nastiness and backlash and shaming out there (as much as it doesn’t surprise me) is insane. And I’m not talking about trolls. I’m talking about people – friends, family, acquaintances letting rip in a social media setting. I know I am hyper sensitive (both in what I say and how I interpret the world), but seriously, is it too much to ask for people just to be kind to one another? Or barring that, at least silent?

What frustrates me more and more is how people who like to crow about how they stand up for causes (e.g. animal rights, women’s rights, or whatever) are often the very first to bully others or to post something so hypocritical that it’s all I can do not to a) vom in my mouth b) block them immediately c) write a sarcastic response d) all of the above.

I can’t see a solution, other than trying to keep my cool and follow the maxim of “if you can’t say anything nice…” and wait for us all to devolve into creatures with only thumbs (for texting) and an index finger (for clicking).

Ugh.

A Shout Out

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I want to acknowledge just how fucking hard it is to emigrate.

While I know that choosing to immigrate  is nothing like fleeing a country as a refugee; however, it is, by far, up there with some of the most stressful life choices you can make or experience. And you have no one to blame but yourself. Or that cute Canadian boy you met when you were just supposed to be away for a year…

It has taken me about about 7-8 years to feel settled. That’s longer than I was in high school. That’s longer than it took me to get three degrees. That is a Long.Bloody.Time. And I still have days where I think… wait, I live here? What the actual fuck was I thinking?

Moving countries means leaving everyone you know and everything you know. It means leaving behind your culture, your orientation, you language, and your career. It means leaping into a new way of doing things, a new pace, new people, and new challenges. I was extremely lucky that my degrees are recognised in Canada, but many peoples’ aren’t and so they have to figure out what starting from scratch really means.

And even though now I feel like this is home and it’s not just where I’m meant to be, but where I want to be – make no mistake – it’s still a challenge. Sometimes daily, sometimes just in an occasional twinge.

I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss the sun and the huge blue skies and the colourful riot of birds. I miss the huge smiles of people on the streets. I miss Table Mountain. I miss the sound of the ocean. I miss fresh fruit. I miss Woolworths. I miss Royale. I miss Franschhoek. I miss the bushveld. I miss weekends in Hermanus. Did I mention the SUN?

Immigration is hard. So I want to give a big shout out to all of you who may be in the same boat as me. Know that  it takes a lot of time. It takes effort. It takes luck.

But know this: you have made it. You will continue to make it.

And you have a depth of courage that you haven’t even begun to plumb yet.

T.Hanks

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Happy HanksgivingAs we prepare to expand our stomachs, groan with indulgence, and mutter a few words of thanks (pretending to be grateful while we reach for the Pepto Bismol), I am sparing some thoughts for what I am truly grateful for today, this weekend, this month,,, this moment.

While I’ve been very grumpy the last month and a bit (sprained ankle, too much work, election campaign ads, the flu), I am aware that I have many things that I am thankful for in my life and I do want to take a conscious moment to acknowledge the many positive things that I have in and are aware of in my life (in this non-parallel but heartfelt list):

  • despite hating most of the options and being ashamed of the choices of the parties, I can at least vote in a democratic process
  • my ankle is on the mend and although I’ve had on and off pain from past injuries on the same leg and it may cause longer term problems, I don’t live with chronic pain every day of my life
  • family – as crazy and sometimes annoying as we all can be, it’s an excellent thing to have
  • the family I can choose (my friends)
  • technology to contact said family and friends
  • my insane high maintenance dog who brings me joy every day
  • the ability to walk safely down the street by myself and catch (mostly) working public transit
  • access to clean water and a choice over what I eat
  • that I’m so busy with work that it’s making me tired
  • a supportive, hilarious, loving partner
  • a home that, while is not strictly our own, we can call home
  • choices
  • a mind of my own.

Yes, my friends, there is a lot to be thankful for any day of the week.

Happy Thanksgivin’er.

Tick Tock

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dragging anchorI’ve been musing so much on time lately. It feels like things change so quickly and time goes by in a flash, and yet some days it feels like nothing has changed, nothing has moved, nothing has grown. Is this the inevitable process of life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, too. How do we sustain our friendships? Our relationships of all kinds? These also take time. It’s hard not to just have everything fade into the background in the busy-ness of the day to day. And I find it really hard to accept being left behind, too.

One of the biggest challenges of moving away from my home was that I left my friends behind. I know that many of these friendships would’ve changed as we ourselves changed, but loneliness was one of the biggest things I had to face and accept when I moved here. And as great as it is to have all these technologies at our fingertips that can keep us in touch, in a lot of ways, I feel even more detached, because it also means there are many more ways to be ignored.

It’s hard, too, because not only do friendships and relationships with others take time, but the relationship we have with ourselves also takes time.

Sometimes being a grown up sucks.

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Here I am on the eve of my birthday.

And what a year. It’s hard to believe that it’s already this time again. As Gretchen Rubin says, “the days are long, the years are short,” anvintage-photography-birthday-caked damn is she right.

It’s been a whirlwind. Work has been so busy, and it’s been exciting and fun and draining. It’s so fu
nny how when you let go of something and stop holding on so tightly, suddenly things come to you. For a few years I’d been mulling about wanting to do a specific thing with my work and, although it took a while, after thinking that and not being sure of how I’d make it happen, suddenly opportunities started to crop up. I just decided not to worry about it, and it’s suddenly become a big focus for me.

And what’s been wonderful is that in amongst all this, I’ve been feeling so much better. I feel like I’ve let go of a lot of things, and remarkably, my big healing started when I opened up after Robin Williams’ death. Putting myself out there and seeing how wonderfully people responded, shifted so much for me. And I just noticed (in adding that link), that was almost exactly a year ago.

It’s sad that we all feel we have to hold these things so close to our chests because there’s so much fear of judgement from friends, family, strangers, the workplace. And we all feel we have to pretend to be so strong. This is so damaging – I think to all of us, really. I wish I’d been more open sooner, but then part of the cycle of depression is also that you have to reach this place on your own. No one can tell you when or where or how. Just like making a decision about whether to take medication or seek counselling or whatever you need to do to heal. It’s not like I haven’t felt judged (ironically by people into healing) but this has been my own journey and I’ve done what I’ve needed to do. That’s what counts.

I’ve also learned acceptance. That I may have bad days, really fucking awful days, and that, as Andrew Solomon so wisely expresses, I may be in remission from depression the rest of my life. And that’s okay. Because that’s me and my journey, and it doesn’t make me a failure or less of person. And it also doesn’t mean that one bad day means I’m back down the rabbit hole either. Balance, ne?

And so now I’m ready to tackle a new year on the earth, with a happier, healthier mind. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

10 Years and Counting: Some Words for Immigrants

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No Man is an Island

Because no man is an island.

Last November (eek! still not used to referring to 2014 as last year. Criminy!) marked a full decade since I first arrived on Canadian shores. I still distinctly remember arriving at YVR and having a moment of utter terror at the sheer ballsiness of moving to the other side of the world without out much of a plan.

Of course I came armed with a few numbers of friends of friends, but on the whole, this was a solo mission. I was elated, freaked out, tired, and disoriented. Little did I know, I’d find myself still here, 10 years on, somewhat slightly less elated, freaked out, tired and disoriented. It’s taken a long time since emigrating to really feel settled here. Like more than five years kind of long… Finally, however, this feels more and more like home and while I’ve never doubted my choice to come back, it has not been an easy journey.

Vancouver is like a gorgeous girl who knows she’s gorgeous and spends a lot of time pretending she’s not. She also spends a lot of time making sure her beauty seems effortless. She does that annoying thing of acting less intelligent than she really is. She goes to yoga a lot (obvs!) and likes to wait until she’s made sure that nothing better will come along before committing to anything. She will not emerge from her clique easily. Like her sister, Cape Town, she can be fickle and frustrating. But she can also open her heart to you – and it feels that much more precious because it’s so hard won.

So here’s some advice for you.  Prepare yourself. Gird your loins and steel your nerves. It will be hard and often lonely being with her. She’ll be annoying and make you so angry you want to hop back on a plane to all that is familiar and comforting and home. You’ll feel like you’re going crazy and that no one should ever leave you to make your own choices, because clearly you’re incompetent. You’ll then have days when you marvel at your own audacity. It’ll be rewarding and challenging and hard hard hard.

But persist, because she’s worth it. And so are you.