Taking on a Genre I Never Thought I Would

May has been a trying month for me, for multiple reasons. The week of May 22nd to 26th was especially hard with multiple deadlines that I hit only at the last minute, a too-full social calendar, a bad week of sleep, and the tail end of an illness. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed, I decided I wanted to try my hand at creative nonfiction.

I love the work of Roxanne Gay, and Bad Feminists is one of my favourite books. I’ve always thought memoir would be an interesting genre to write since I do immensely enjoy the occasional memoirs I read. I need to read more memoirs, for the record. In any case, when I think of writing one, these issues come to mind: I’m too young to write a memoir and I do not lead an interesting existence. I really don’t.

However, my mental health issues have reared their heads mightily this year. Just over a month ago I realized I was in a tailspin. Thankfully, I’m on the upswing, but I know I’m still at the delicate stage and I need to be really cognisant of my emotional state and how I’m processing.

For the sake of catharsis and trying to figure out the roots of my bigger issues, I thought writing a collection of personal essays wouldn’t be a bad idea. I started the project…and it’s going to be a much more difficult endeavor than I ever imagined. I joke to friends and colleagues that compared to people who share a lot, I’m not merely a closed book, I’m glued shut. Unsticking myself is excruciating.

Sharing any aspects of myself is difficult for me. I do not like attention on myself. I do not like being opened to scrutiny. I do not like feeling like I am being judged. All of this stems my anxiety. And the best way I know how to deal with those issues is to face them head on.

Another part of the problem is that as a writer I do not know a great deal about writing creative non-fiction. I know enough that a lot of fiction writing elements crossover, but I also know every genre has its own nuances.

I don’t have enough on my plate right now, so I’m starting a massive undertaking. But I’m also excited to learn something new and share what I learn here.

Interesting Finds

Hi everyone! May has been such a disorganized month I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. But I have a ton of internet items to share!

This article hits home in a big way. As someone who has dealt with weight and body issues since 4th grade, I feel nothing but pity for someone who’s self-worth is so intricately tied to their size. It’s a hard, vicious battle. And no one should be made to feel that they’re worthless because they don’t hit some sort of stupid ideal. I was disturbed when I saw the first preview of Revenge Body while watching TV and I’m even more disturbed now. https://bitchmedia.org/article/body-kardashian/khlo%C3%A9%E2%80%99s-revenge-body-and-strict-demands-family-business

This might just be the best way to keep track of your reading pile. Bullet journal junkies, this is for you.  http://rivetedlit.com/2017/03/21/bullet-journal-for-books/?cp_type=enpm&rmid=Riveted_Weekly&rrid=6512055

I kind of want to invest in a big stick. And use it. Someone just please end the mansplaining. http://www.teenvogue.com/story/worst-mansplaining-stories-on-twitter

This comic from the Oatmeal really speaks to me. If you were to ask me on a routine basis whether I feel happy, I’d truthfully say no. But I’m not unhappy. http://www.upworthy.com/this-comic-from-the-oatmeal-illustrates-how-were-missing-the-mark-on-happiness?c=ufb2

I love The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t know if I can watch the show because the book alone disturbs me on such a visceral level. This article brings up something I never thought of when I read the book, or when I’ve read other dystopic fiction: ensuring diversity and addressing race and prejudice properly and realistically. It’s incredible food for thought. https://theundefeated.com/features/hulu-handmaids-tale/

And just to maintain the terror, here’s one superb take on The Handmaid’s Tale and why it has been reintroduced to audiences at such a good time. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/27/handmaids-tale-timely-terrifying-hulu-series-margaret-atwood?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+week+in+patriarchy&utm_term=223717&subid=22649583&CMP=patriarchy

Finally to wrap things up with irony, here’s a fact I bet you didn’t know about a certain species of dragonflies. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129185-female-dragonflies-fake-sudden-death-to-avoid-male-advances/?utm_campaign=RSS%7CNSNS&utm_source=NSNS&utm_medium=RSS&utm_content=news&campaign_id=RSS%7CNSNS-news&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+week+in+patriarchy&utm_term=223717&subid=22649583&CMP=patriarchy

Learning from Meditation: The Power of Not Doing

Last week I posted my first goals check-in on Anxiety Ink. While I was writing my update I was happily surprised by how positive my first quarter turned out. I tackled the new goals well and finally paid attention to ones I’d neglected for a long time. One of those neglected goals was to learn how to meditate. For years I’ve heard about the positive health benefits of mindfulness. Even in my yoga classes, which I started in January, the meditation portion is one of my favourite parts.

Despite all the great information at my fingertips, I never took that step to learn how. Mid-March I was playing around on Pinterest and was led to a blog where the author mentioned a meditation app, Calm. I figured that was the easiest way to try it out because my phone is always on and it’s always near me.

I took their 7 day meditation challenge and I’m hooked. I want to try out a few more apps before I commit to this one –there are only a few meditations to sample without paying– but I love the concept of a meditation app. It’s just too convenient.

The biggest lesson I have taken away from my foray into meditation is the power of not doing. I know that goes against everything we learn as productive members of society, but it’s true. Our minds and bodies are not designed to be occupied 24/7. Doing so, regardless of your natural energy level, leads to burnout.

I’ve suffered burnout, and it’s awful. And I am very close on the heels on of my second bout, which is likely what spurred me to get my butt on the meditation train.

The ten minutes I take a each day to sit at my desk and simply be are the best, most refreshing moments of my day. Hands down.

If you’re like me, an anxious, overachieving, type A perfectionist, you likely suffer from some kind of guilt if you’re not doing something. There’s always something that needs to be done, and sitting on one’s butt doing nothing isn’t getting it done. But that’s the thing, no matter what you do, there will always be another thing that needs to be done. It never ends. So why not take those moments of peace for yourself?

I leave the house and go to work five days a week. Depending on the day, I have household or pet chores to tackle when I get home, a workout to accomplish, blogging that needs to be handled, and now coursework on top of all of my regular stuff. Not to mention the people who need my attention in my life.

When I step back and take in all of the things I do in a single month, from the big items to the minutiae, it’s a wonder I haven’t snapped. We live in a society that believes if we’re not stressed and doing a hundred things at once we’re not working hard enough. That’s crap. All of us deserve to take a moment and recharge every day.

For me, those ten minutes of not doing have helped with my sleep, helped me cope with my anxiety, they helped me bounce back 90% faster from an extremely emotional day, and they have helped me focus better on tasks.

I’m taking my 10 minutes and I’m not feeling guilty about them.

Public Service Announcement: I’m Heading Back to School!

On Friday, the entire story of how I arrived at the point of determining that I need to go back to school will be live on Anxiety Ink. The short version of it is this: I want to acquire new writing skills and eventually find a career that challenges and utilizes those skills. So I have enrolled in a professional writing certificate program specializing in marketing and public relations.

Because I work nearly full time, and I do not want to try to figure out my vacation to do the courses on campus, I am doing distance learning. I’ve never taken any online courses before so this will be interesting in itself.

My first course starts in April and I am so excited.

However, even coming to the point of enrollment, I am floored at the cost. And that’s what I want to touch on a bit today.

Right now, I work at a day job where I make just above minimum wage with a limited amount of hours I’m allowed to work. I’ve made it work, and I am on track to pay off my Canada student loan this year and then my Alberta student loan next year. I graduated in 2013 and gave myself a 5 year window to pay those suckers off.

Now, having done some minor job searching, I’m feeling underpaid and under-challenged, though I realize I’m unqualified as far as being able to head in the career direction I currently want to go in. I don’t mean for this to sound conceited, but there is not much I can’t learn. As long as it doesn’t require advanced physics or neuroscience or a non-Latin alphabet, I can learn it.

Nevertheless, people don’t want to take you on if you don’t have a piece of paper that says you’ve been educated. Because I earned my BA Honours in English, I understand the skills required and acquired in that process. I also know how those skills can be applied to a variety of jobs. Unfortunately, that opinion is in the minority as far as the job market goes.

I don’t regret earning my English degree, though I am wishing I had minored in either business or communications or something else. Anything to show people that I can excel in the workforce. It’s irritating because I can –I’ve been working since I was fourteen– but I can’t find anything long-term to suit my degree.

I love the arts. I will never not admire the arts and what they give society, but those outside of them do not value what they can bring. Heck, I’ve met people inside them who think they’re bunk.

I graduated with an astronomical amount of stress and debit with no career options. I was fortunate enough to find a job close to my house and have parents willing to let me live with them largely cost-free, but I’m ready to move on.

It’s a good thing I am an excellent saver despite my meagre earnings because this certificate is going to cost me upwards of $3500 in the end. Couple that with my outstanding debt at about $12,000, and the price of my education leaves me scratching my head.

It’s unfair, we live in a world that says we need a college education to truly advance and build a worthwhile career, but that doesn’t account for the insane costs that not many of us can handle. I’m in a better position than most, though I don’t come from an affluent family. I’m good with my money, I’m driven, but if something were to happen to one of my parents tomorrow I would have to drop out of this program because that would place an enormous financial burden on my shoulders.

We have to spend money to make money…I’m $30,000 in, where’s my cut?

I value education, I always have. But between the costs of education, the cost of living, and the availability of jobs that will pay me well to use the skills I’ve spent years developing, I’ve got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Feed Your Need to Recharge

The Toltec's are the eagles, the Mayans the jaguars.

The Toltec’s are the eagles, the Mayans the jaguars.

Last month, and probably the month before that, I talked about my vacation plans for the end of January. I also admitted that my January trip was the first relaxing vacation I had taken in nearly a decade. Honestly, that is far too long.

I’m a person who goes until they run themselves into the ground. I did it in high school. I did it in university. And now I’m doing it mixing the day job with the writing and blogging. I suppose it’s all well and good, until you take a break and find that getting back on the horse after a minor rest is a lot harder than you ever imagined it could be.

I have a lot of goals this year. And while I intend to conquer them all, I also intend to let myself have breaks before I hit the dirt. Acknowledging your need to recharge is the first step. The next is to feed your need to recharge. Which I did, and I am really excited to share some details!

If you look closely, you can see the pikes the Toltec's put these skulls on. Inside the formation archaeologists found the real thing the stones depict.

If you look closely, you can see the pikes the Toltec’s put these skulls on. Inside the formation archaeologists found the real thing the stones depict.

 

On January 22 my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. (after staying up too late and not sleeping properly at all) so that I could be up and ready to be picked up at 4:45. Four of us had planned this trip, and only two of us are accustomed to such early wakeups, for the record. Our plane took off around 8, just as the sun was

starting to peak over the horizon, to take us directly to Cancún.

I’ve never felt humidity like I did standing in line for Mexican customs. But I was revved. I could smell the ocean. Once through the gates we went and found our shuttle and prepared for our hour long drive south to our destination. I have never been so grateful for air conditioning and bottled water.

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This trip served as my very first to the tropics and my first experience with an all-inclusive resort. My seven night stay was amazing. I took a lot of entertainment with me –books, my blogging notebook, my sketchbook, an empty notebook, and magazines– because I honestly expected to be bored. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that the only thing I opened was two of the four paperbacks I packed.

I hadn’t realized until we staked out our spots in the sand overlooking the Caribbean just how badly my brain needed to disengage. When I sat in the sun, I either dozed or people watched. I did a lot of people watching, which is in itself a writing necessity, so I shouldn’t feel too guilty. Not once was I bored.

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We planned two excursions, a full day at Chichén-Itzá and a half day tour through Río Secreto. Other than that we were lazy on the beach, explored our massive resort, ate at a few à la cartes, and popped into the little shops set up on the grounds.

The breakfast tamale was bright pink with pineapple and raisin chunks. The other was a yummy chicken tamale. The texture was odd, but overall they were tasty and filling.

The breakfast tamale was bright pink with pineapple and raisin chunks. The other was a yummy chicken tamale. The texture was odd, but overall they were tasty and filling.

The history nerd in me loved Chichén-Itzá, even though we had to get up at the butt crack of dawn for our two hour bus ride. Our tour guides were fantastic, I’ve never been so impressed. We were given traditional tamales half-way to our destination while the leader gave us a long rundown of Mayan history. We were then taken to a little shop to check out goods made by the local Mayans. After that it was on to our destination.

I had no idea that the Mayans had deserted the city long before the Spaniards came. And I got a refresher on the fact that the Toltec’s invaded Mayan cities before the Europeans had a chance. I was entranced learning about the local history from people of native descent who had much different information to share than the European-based textbooks I’ve been reading all my life. There was a whole world rising and falling in the Yucatán prior to the arrival of the Spanish fleets. As someone raised in a commonwealth nation, I sometimes forget that the world didn’t start and stop with the actions of Europe.

Once we were done touring the ruins, we returned to the hotel that owns the entryway into the site, Mayaland, and were served a rather traditional lunch. I didn’t think I’d enjoy lime soup or suckling pig tacos, but I was mistaken. I had promised myself to at least try the local cuisine while I was south and was happily surprised by most of it.

Once our lunch, and much needed time in the shade, was over, we hopped back on the bus and drove to a cenote. My waterproof camera failed me that day because it decided to be temperamental, so most of my pictures are blurry. I’ve never swum in a pit, nor in anything so deep, as that cenote. I had scoffed at the fact that we were required to wear lifejackets before I descended into the depths. After I leapt into the pool I was grateful.

The best image I have of the cenote from the relative top.

The best image I have of the cenote from the relative top.

Our time in the mineral water was too short, but our guides wanted to take us to one last stop: Valladolid. Our bus parked for 25 minutes next to the city’s main square and we were let out to explore. The square was beautiful, as was the San Servacio church across the street. What struck me most was the look at real Mexico. Being on the resort was nice, but there was no culture. I might as well have been at a hotel at home. The brief glimpse of the life in Valladolid was important to me.

The centre of the square. The fence enclosing the whole thing was designed to keep Mayans out, only the Spanish were permitted to enter.

The centre of the square. The fence enclosing the whole thing was designed to keep Mayans out, only the Spanish were permitted to enter.

My friends and I finished our ice cream and waited until the last moment before getting back on the bus and heading back.

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The church, which I did not enter because my one friend did not feel properly dressed for it and I concurred.

That was a wonderful day, one that will be permanently etched in my mind. The history I learned, the ruins I finally got to see firsthand, and the landmarks I was taken to are certainly going to inform my writing. History is always told by the victors, but you have to remember that there are other voices to find.

Our second adventure was short and no less interesting. Río Secreto is a relatively new site in Mexico, the underwater pathways were accidentally discovered in 2008. National Geographic has the rights, or whatever you want to call them, to the area so I was not allowed to take pictures inside and I was not paying the exorbitant fee for pictures that they were charging.

We did a roughly two-hour tour in wetsuits, lifejackets, and water shoes underground in part of the river system. We saw stalagmites rising from the ground, some meeting the incredible stalactites that are still forming, creating massive columns of minerals. The ancient coral from the Yucatan’s time under the ocean millions of years ago was still sharp –I crashed into a low hanging part that I didn’t see thanks to my helmet and sliced my hand on some, so I know it’s sharp.

A shot of Rio Secreto from perceptivetravel.com.

A shot of Rio Secreto from perceptivetravel.com.

During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, at a specific time that I've forgotten, the shadows hit this snake just right and his tail is visible up the staircase.

During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, at a specific time that I’ve forgotten, the shadows hit this snake just right and his tail is visible up the staircase.

We saw bats, a spider that has evolved to live in the pitch-black, we saw the tiniest red ants I have ever laid eyes on, and cat fish. At one point, in the centre, our guide had us all turn off our headlamps so that we could see for ourselves that no light enters that place. I’m glad we were in a group because there is some kind of primal fear that fills me in such darkness in strange places.

It’s secret places like that that I need to remember to include in my stories. We have so much magic in our world half the time you don’t even need to make it up.

As I think back, during my vacation I felt like I was in another world. It was too easy to forget that it was January while I dunked my head in the warm ocean and searched for shells in the sand. My life back home seemed unreal.

I thoroughly enjoyed being out of time and space for a while, but I’m glad I’m back. I have so much writing I want to do and goals to tackle now that I have a new mental calm. I really do feel recharged.

What do you do to fill up your creative batteries? What’s the last relaxing trip you took?