Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Downsizing to More

Imagine how much richer life would be if we moved the junk out and made room for new opportunities ...”

Voluntary simplicity, in its widest context, refers to living an examined life; 
in other words, one in which you have determined what is important for you and your immediate family 
discarding the rest.

I missed posting a blog last week – and then I had only today to get the last one out for this month. I missed it in large part because I was working hard on some projects to turn this:

into something more like this:

In part because my parents were coming to visit for a night. Mostly because it was time to get things settled into place; to get myself settled into place. And though there are still a few details left to add, I do feel much more settled into my cute little bachelor apartment with all it's character and charm!

It was interesting to me, the reaction I got from some people when I was apartment hunting. The landlord tried to sell me on the 1-bedroom unit she had available in the same house. A few friends raised eyebrows or offered cautious smiles and warnings about such a small place. But I was looking for space enough for just me (and my cat!) To which one friend replied, “Yeah but it may not always be just you...”

Thing is I wasn't signing a lease at this place as a (sad) reflection of my then single status. I did it because I didn't want to spend excess money furnishing a full apartment. Because I didn't want parts of a unit I was paying for to go mostly unused. Because I know I get stressed and scattered when my living space feels cluttered and full of items I don't use. Because I knew I wanted to downsize to a manageable space; a space I could fill literally and metaphorically with only the things I needed; a space that felt – safe!

Just think with me for a minute – about the space, room, piece of furniture, or whatever it might be that you gravitate to first when you come home. A space where you are able to let everything go, to rejuvenate yourself, to figure out your next plan of action. Even if that plan of action is to go to a different space or room in your home. In short, your safe space.

For me, it is my bedroom.

During my travels around Australia, I mostly stayed in 4-6 bed dorm-room style hostels. One traveling companion noticed and commented on how I would crawl onto my bed every time I returned to the room; no matter the time of day nor how long I'd been away. I realize now that it was my safe space. The space that I could claim as my own, where I could let everything go, rejuvenate, and figure out my next plan of action. In other shared living arrangements – University dorm rooms, houses shared with friends, even as far back as as my childhood home growing up with 3 brothers – the only space I was ever able to call completely and solely my own was where I slept.

A bachelor apartment made sense and was exciting to me because the entire living space could be arranged to be my safe space! I will admit there have been times in the last two months when an extra storage closet would have been nice; or a few extra square feet to fit in that drawer unit that holds my office type materials; or room for a table/desk to set my look-at-later mail and paperwork pile on.

But I am learning to function with a “if you don't need it or have a space to store it, get rid of it” mentality. My living space is becoming more manageable. My life, as a reflection, is becoming more manageable. And perhaps that has been the best part of downsizing. Not only have I been able to expand my safe space to include more of my living space; I am also learning how to live more with less!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

(I) Past Present...


“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. 
Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn't matter what we call it; 
what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” 

I could hear myself re-telling the story again – the story that had defined and impacted much of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences of dating, love and relationships ever since it's events unfolded years ago. It's a story I've re-lived so many times I could recite it backwards, upside down, and in my sleep if I needed to (and maybe even have). But it wasn't the content that caught my attention this time anyway. It was the hesitating tone of my voice, the defeated slump of my shoulders, and the cautious knots in my gut.

Why so serious? Why so anxious? Why so protective of the details? 
Why was it still such a big deal?

Suddenly I realized:
I was judging myself by my past.

This story that I eventually told to anyone who would listen – new friends, new potential suitors – had become something I used to explain myself. To explain who I was and why I acted or reacted in certain ways. To explain why I was single and not in a hurry to commit, label, or even trust.

I was essentially using that and other stories from my past as a way to define my present and direct my future. Judging myself by my past.

I realized after that story-telling experience that I didn't want to live in my past anymore. That story – like all the stories from my past – are only individual pieces of my life. Yes, they have shaped who I am. But I had done work on acknowledging how and moving on. I had started to open space for new stories to begin in my present, and to allow for a change in direction for my future.

Perhaps the next step to letting go was lifting the weight of those stories, releasing the judgment and truly living where I was: here and now.

Somewhere in the months that followed I must have started doing that. It's difficult to describe exactly how freeing it feels. But there seems to be less pressure in my life for certain things to be “a big deal”; and more space in my being to react organically to the changing directions. For example, I'm finding that this time while swapping life-stories with someone new I am more selective about what I share and when; yet less protective of the details when conversation leads that way. It no longer matters as much. Because I am who I am today, not yesterday. And I am likely going to change direction many times over before I get to where I'm going tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

But she doesn't look sick....

from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
~ Judith Viorst

For the past month and half when someone asks how Mom is doing, I am happily able to report that she is doing well! She gained some strength back during the break between treatments; and the side effects from this round and this type of chemo do not seem to be hitting as hard. Makes it easier to keep spirits up and to stay a bit more active. Makes it easier to forget, or down play; especially when living at a distance and not truly seeing or experiencing the day-to-day, moment-to-moment stuff.

That is the tricky thing about cancer though, isn't it. It hides in the deep recesses of one's being, causing harm with little outward evidence at first. Even for those in treatment it is often the side effects of the drugs that cause more pain and discomfort than the cancer cells themselves.

So she doesn't look sick. In fact, when Mom and Dad returned from their summer vacation she looked amazing! How can she be sick?

Living this experience one day at a time, it is easy to forget that so many good days in a row will eventually give way to a not-so-good day. I don't say that to be pessimistic nor to take away from the enjoyment of the good days.

Rather I mention it because when a not-so-good day hits... it is yet another rude reminder... and how prepared you are for that reality will influence how hard you are hit with it.

I was not prepared. Because she didn't look sick.

Though this time I was home and able to lend moral support if not actually getting my hands dirty. This time I was home, which is difficult in a different way then being at a distance. As they say, sometimes watching someone in pain is more difficult then going through it yourself. A sign of deep love when you wish for anything that would allow you to go through it instead of the loved one. Anything that would take away their discomfort.

The wonder of modern medicine and it's ability to ease those not-so-good days is something we should not take lightly. Mom bounced back quickly and kept her appointment for the following morning! A true sign of the strength I have witnessed in her all my life; a sign that the rock she is for our family is still there even in her own time of need.

A sign that the not-so-good day(s) will eventually give way to the good day(s)!

And aren't these lessons we can all take in this life?! That not looking sick is not necessarily a sign of health. And more importantly - to enjoy the good days and persevere in the not-so-good days, because one always gives way to the other eventually!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Party-pooper is a name I've been called before

The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. 
The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.
~ Albert Einstein

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord... When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. 

When I was younger if I didn't want to do something, rather than wish my comrades well in their chosen activities and go on my way, I would pout a little and get angry. Frustrated that things weren't going the way I'd planned or wanted. I'd like to think that I have grown and matured past this kind of reaction and behaviour... yet for the last few days I have been hearing that voice in the back of my head yelling “But I don't want to dump ice-water over my head!” Complete with fists clenched, mouth in a pout, and the stomp of a foot.

I have never really been one to jump too quickly on the fad-band-wagon. Or at least I have been very selective about which ones I do join. And I have had mixed feelings about this ALS ice-bucket challenge since the very first video showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. Knowing a nomination was at some point inevitable... I vowed to find a diplomatic way of politely declining, while feeling some camaraderie support among others who either did the same out-right or with a creative variation. Like this guy. Or this woman. Or these people.

Truth is I find it frustrating that, as one friend pointed out over drinks, we are a people who respond to gimmicks and ploys such as the ice-bucket challenge; that perhaps in some way we even need them in order to feel justified in giving of our money, time, talents, etc to benefit those in need.

I appreciate that a tremendous amount of awareness and finances have been raised for ALS! That truly is fantastic, and I do not mean to take away from the success. In fact even with this blog, conversations about ALS and donating of time and resources are continuing. But do we really need to instigate a world-wide dumping of water in order to achieve this? When so many struggle hourly to find clean drinking water? When our own natural resources in such a relatively rich country are dwindling faster than anyone would care to admit?

Despite the raised awareness – which again I struggle with, as my own experience of the multiple videos gracing my newsfeed really has taught me nothing about ALS specifically (until I did my own Google search for this blog) other than that the organizations supporting and researching are in need of money; as are so many other non-profit organizations and charities these days – it seems as though for some of those videos the donating is secondary to the opportunity to make a video that was better then the friend who nominated and to become “famous” on Facebook or even YouTube... if only for a moment.

The only thing ALS support organizers have done differently than any other charity is find a gimmick that works. For now...

And good for them! I have heard from those who participated how fun it was to gather friends and family together to complete the challenge. I have heard arguments that it's working, and at least it is something which is better than nothing. I have heard specific heart-warming stories of how the surplus of donations has been used to support those struggling with ALS on a daily basis. And I am glad for all those things! Please do not let my party-pooper attitude take away from your own experience of this challenge, nor from the success it has gained.

But tell me, what happens next week? Next month? Next year? What happens when everyone who can be has been nominated and the last of the videos aired? For all of you who have completed the ice-bucket challenge and made your one-time donation to support ALS, what will you do next? What will I do next?

I'd like to see this gimmick give way to a bigger, deeper challenge for us all:
Don't let the spirit of fun, something better than nothing, and heart-warming stories of success fade with the chill that the ice-water gave you. What can you/we do next?

I used to tithe 10% of my income every month. A practice I stopped years ago. In responding to this challenge and my own nomination earlier this week I am feeling challenged to, in one way shape or form, start doing that again. Whether it is with regular financial contributions to various organizations, or giving of some other resource, talent or excess that I have to share as the Aussie newscaster suggested in the video link above. The what, how much and where to is likely less important than the acknowledgment that I have excess; less important than the awareness of someone other than myself who is in need; less important than the actual doing of something which is better than nothing.

And so Big Brother - “thank you” for the nomination, the opportunity to share my views on the ice-bucket challenge; and the inspiration to challenge myself to continue it's spirit in the days to come. I will make a donation to ALS, but this party-pooper will not be dumping an ice-bucket over my head. And only in part because I hate the idea of subjecting my body to ice-cold water!

* I nominate everyone who has already or will participate in the ALS ice-bucket challenge to join me in continuing it's spirit in the days to come; to find your own way of always answering the “What can I do next?” question!