100 Happy Days

2013 was a glum year for me – I did some amazing things, but those amazing things only kept me up for a little while before I came tumbling down – again and again and again. I found it hard to focus on anything, to feel motivated, to do anything other than feel sorry for myself. And let me tell you, it sucks. Like, really, really, really sucks. People around you tell you to cheer up, to look on the bright side, to just get over it … but no matter how many sparkly quotes you stick on the fridge – no matter how positive you try to be – some days you just feel like curling up in a tight little ball and wishing the world away.

And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. This has been going on for years – sometimes it’s a day within a month, sometimes it’s most days within many months all lined up one after the other, and sometimes it just hits me – a big fat sucker punch right when I think I’m doing OK. Do I let this define me? No. But, when I can, I curl up in a tight little ball … to think.

Really think. Sometimes I think horrible negative things – things with which a mind should not pollute itself. Most of the time, though, I try to think about fixing it. It takes more than a positive quote to mend the soul, so I think about what it is that has pushed me to this point, what it is that has led to this weeping, curled up mess.

There are recurring themes in my life and they pop up whenever my mood is down.


I am grateful for the generosity of my family and friends because I have always been provided with somewhere to live in between my adventures abroad (with an extra big shout-out to my mother who has stored my boxes during these adventures and right now is storing me in the spare room and my research in a corner of the office), yet this nomad yearns for a home – a real home with her own books on the shelves, travel moments framed on the walls, and a cat curled up on the reading chair. It would be nice if I could rely on my plans to obtain this through winning lotto or inheriting millions from a Nigerian prince, but the reality is that I need money – and lots of it. I have to pull together a deposit, convince a bank to give me money, and then meet mortgage repayments for the next thirty years. Ouch. So I’m exploring the options – and right now, they make me feel physically sick because my little home (with its book-lined walls and little herb garden) is really far away.

Employment Blegh-ness

Currently my issue is unemployment and the resulting lack of income, but typically this theme is played out in the key of “I hate my job, waaaaaaa, waaa, waaaaaa”. It is usual that I approach new jobs with open enthusiasm shared with others as “Oh, it should be good because of A, B, and C” and then the quiet inner-voice of “Stef, you are going to struggle with X, Y, and Z, so be prepared”. Within a month, X, Y, and Z – despite my self-warning – become too much to tolerate. Most recently, I managed to “tolerate” my job for 23 months after the initial month passed. Bound by a contract, I had no choice – and it was the gloomiest shadow of 2013.

Lack of Purpose

I am still figuring it all out. And by “it all” I pretty much mean “life”. I have the appearance of someone well-put-together in terms of a balance of pretty awesome life experiences, good qualifications, and a potentially solid career as a teacher (given my qualifications, work experience, and … well, I’m really good at it). Unfortunately – and I’ve said this before – I’m good at a lot of things, but I don’t want to do them every single day for the rest of my working life. So. I’m still figuring it out. I love, love my research. I love, love, love writing (I’m still trying to get good at it!).

Being aware of what weighs me down helps me pull myself back up. It’s not about accepting it, but trying to change it. My lack of purpose is a big deal. A really big deal. I have to figure it out because I’m the only one who can. And I know that once I do the other issues will sort themselves out.

That’s going to be the big part of my journey this year – figuring out my life and my life’s purpose. A friend suggested I do the 100 Happy Days challenge and I think this is a great start. Basically, I have to find one thing every day that makes me happy – and post a photograph online. I will be sharing the photos on the Dodging Commas page – you are welcome to share your moments, too!

Today is a grey, rainy day. To some it could be called colourless, the kind of day when the rain is washing out the colour and leaving the world drenched. To me, it is a green day. No matter which window I look from, all I see is green – all I see is life, soaking up the rain and feeling it clean every leaf, every blade of grass. Right now – homeless, unemployed, and purposeless – I am in a place surrounded by green, listening to the rain and watching the leaves dance as they catch every drop.

Day One, and I am very content with this moment of happiness.

100 Happy Days Day One

100 Happy Days
Day One

What has made you happy today?

And then my suitcase began to sing

On the last night in my apartment in Singapore I finally squeezed the last book into my suitcase and burst into tears.

Of all the cliches, there are two that I cannot deny:

  1. it’s a small world
  2. time flies

Where have the two years gone? Between chasing children around a tiny classroom, organising the next travel adventure, and staring at a pile of books to read and scribbled story ideas to develop, I think it’s fair to say that two years passed in a suitable whirl. I travelled to places I never knew existed, met people who reminded me of the incredible power of the human spirit, and filled my soul with stories.

All of this culminated with one over-sized bubblegum-pink suitcase (purchased especially for The Return), a carry-on suitcase that I would avoid weighing, and one teary individual perched precariously on the brink of – yet another – breakdown.

And then my suitcase began to sing, lilting notes so faint and delicate that I thought I had imagined it. Startled, I opened my suitcase (too upset to be cautious – the books spilled forth) and discovered a little music box that had been bumped into song.

I dried my tears with laughter and set about readjusting the contents. It all seemed to fit much better after that, so I dragged my bags to the door and fell into bed. The next day I flew to Cambodia (with a backpack I eventually gave away and clothes I discarded to donation bins), then returned after a week to collect my bags and fly back to Australia.

And that is where I am now, sitting with a view of trees in a suburban bushland and feeling far more positive today than I have felt in some time. The Return has been emotional – the happiness of being with my family and seeing my friends has been marred with the anxiety that comes with being unemployed (I’m still looking) and suddenly aware that a quick trip to Vietnam is not possible from this location.

I fell into a slump long before I came back to Australia. Things are still working themselves out, but such is life. It feels like I spend a lot of time waiting for the perfect conditions, waiting for one thing to fall into place so everything else becomes worthy of my time and attention. I realise, now, that it will always be like that – there will always be something imperfect, something not quite right. There will always be a suitcase overflowing with stuff and a feeling of not being in full control.

Today, I am taking stock of everything that gives me joy, and working out how to keep the joy in my life. This blog has made it to the list, and while it will change because I have changed, it is something to which I Return after more than a year of intermittent posts and updates.

Joy also comes from my research. I spent yesterday at a conference and came home feeling a faint buzz beneath the exhaustion. Today, that buzz is a warm vibration as I consider where I am going with my research and how excited I am to have the time to spend focusing on my books and ideas.

Late last night on the long drive home, I belted out a song (out-of-tune, of course) and could not help but feel incredibly excited about getting back to it – the blog, the research, the writing, the reading, the coming to terms with things not always going “my way” but ending up being “a way that I can make work”.

No matter how out of control things become, how overstuffed and falling out and not quite working, there will be something singing from the depths – if you listen carefully – and maybe, just maybe, that song will help things fall into place.


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeevveez

There’s a lion dancing in my driveway.

I can see the way he moves, rippling and moving in a blaze of colour, the drums loud and pounding and almost too much for a lazy morning doing laundry and packing a suitcase for a stay-cation twenty minutes away.

It’s another year.

When in Rome, you visit the Colosseum; when in Asia, you celebrate the lunar new year.

I find myself, like last year, eager to use this as my new year, my time to make resolutions and consider all that I have and haven’t done in the past year. The “usual” new year was hectic and afforded me little opportunity to really sit down and reflect. I was busy seeing people, getting on planes, looking for a new home, getting back into routine … Now, I feel much more at ease with the simple act of sitting and thinking and deciding.

This is a compatible year for me, an Ox. Actually, it’s the year. I try to make every year my year, but I’m especially optimistic about this one. I am comfortable in my space, now. I know where I am and I know what I’m doing – there is still a lot of ambiguity in my life, but this year I am comfortable with the ambiguity because the paths are clearer, more easily discerned. Like every year, I have choices to make, but this year … those choices have clear consequences.

This year …

This year I am travelling.

I already plan on visiting China and Turkey, and a return to India. I also want to visit Cambodia and Vietnam – ambitious, I know, but I have so much to see and experience.

This year I am writing.

Last year I wanted to write three novels and I see now that was a little too ambitious for me. This year, I want to finish two novels I’ve started before. They both mean a lot to me and I want to see them become whole and ready for the world.

This year I am reading.

I’ll record the books I’ve read as I did last year – I am aiming, again, for 52 books in a year.

This year I am working.

And I am making a conscious decision not to let it get to me, to breathe in and out and not let various aspects of my job bother me in such a way that I end up crying in the middle of the night wishing I was anywhere else. Yeah, 2012 did get that bad. And I don’t want it to happen again this year, so I won’t let it. That’s my choice.

This year …

It’s going to be busy; I’m excited.

And I’m beginning it with a stay-cation at a resort. I am going to read, think, and make some more decisions. And maybe dance with the lion in my driveway.

A Letter from the Future

Dear Seventeen-Year-Old-Me,

I would like to tell you that everything will be easy, that everything will fall into place and the next ten years will be a breeze – no worries, no challenges, no surprises. It would be nice if life could follow such simple processes; step one, step two, step three … For some people, it does. Finish high school, graduate University, get a job, get a promotion, find a partner, marry, get a mortgage, get a promotion, have children, get a second mortgage, watch those children grow up and find their way in the world, continue on your career path, splurge on a new car at least once, eventually retire.

Middle-class process.

But I remember you. And I remember what you think of the world, and you already know that this linear life of steps and stages, this middle-class process, is not for you. Not for us.

I would like to tell you that you celebrate this fact, but there are days when you will wish you had gone with the easier option, the career and the marriage and the mortgage.

But then there are days when you are in foreign countries that do not feel strange but feel like home.

I know you. I know you’re terrified of getting it all wrong but you present a facade of knowing what you’re doing to protect yourself. I know you have days when you smile and laugh but secretly hate yourself so much you wish you could simply disappear. I can’t wave a wand and make things easier for you, and I can’t tell you that they will get any easier, but I can tell you that everything you want right now, you have. And everything you hope for your future, you get.

There are days when you will envy the lives your friends have made for themselves – envy their wedding gowns, envy their laughing children, envy their lived-in homes with photographs on the walls and cats curled up on the backs of sofas, envy their supportive husbands.

There are days when you are told that your friends envy your life – envy your freedom, envy your lack of financial commitments, envy the lack of any commitment to anything other than your need to do something different.

There are days when you will regret every decision you have ever made.

There are days when you will recognise that everything you have ever done has brought you to this place – to the steps of the Taj Mahal, to the produce market in Chiang Mai, to the corner cafe in Lyon, to the gelato stand in Syracuse, to the ruins of a great city in Peru … And you have no regrets.

You get to do everything you wanted to do, some things you never thought you’d ever do, and a few things that seemed like a good idea at the time … You learn new languages and experience new cultures. You meet fascinating people and collect their stories. You fall in love. You fall out of love. Your heart will break into so many pieces that it will take years to pull it back together again – but you do.

The next ten years will not be easy. You will love, learn, travel, write, experience … and you will mourn, hurt, worry, fear, whimper.

You will never be homeless, though you’ll spend a few nights in interesting places. You will never be poor, though you’ll have some moments when you panic over your bank balance. You will never truly suffer, though you’ll feel the weight of the black dog in your lap pinning you down on more than one occasion.

What you will realise ten years from now is that happiness is not a permanent state of being. Happiness is in a constant state of flux. Happiness flows in and out of your life because it is not permanent. What I can promise you is that you will come to understand this, and you will come to recognise moments of joy and delight and happiness – some last seconds, some last days, some last weeks. And you will know that, ten years ago when you were seventeen and eager to hold the world in your hands, you could not have dreamed it would actually come true.

You are passionate, wild, and wonderful. Stay that way – for us.

– Future Stef

My name is …

I could insert the obligatory opening line here about how NaNoWriMo has taken over my life and I am caught up in a whirlwind of words and a neverending typing frenzy, but that would be dishonest. NaNoWriMo has done amazing things to my life – the takeover has been a welcome change.

Stef the Writer is back, and writing.

Really writing.

I am, once more, the writing writer; I just wish I didn’t have to wait until November to remember who I am, to remember what it is I do. I am suddenly inspired and motivated to get my words onto paper (or the screen). This morning I shot out of bed with a renewed sense of joy and enthusiasm, and promptly set about getting things done.

This morning I hit 25,000 words on my novel, actually showered at a reasonable hour (i.e. before lunch time) and got into my comfortable clothes (that would be a t-shirt and loose pants that are a delightfully garish shade of bright blue acquired in Thailand), then buckled down to do some lesson writing that I had been putting off for two weeks.

While preparing some materials and resources, I stumbled across this page with a “Name Poem” template that provides the following format:

Line 1 – Your first name
Line 2 – “It means” then 3 adjectives that describe you
Line 3 – “It is the number” then any number you choose
Line 4 – “It is like” describe a colour but don’t name it
Line 5 – “It is ” then name something you remember experiencing with family or friends – something that makes you smile
Line 6 – “It is the memory of” then name a person who is or has been significant to you
Line 7 – “Who taught me” then 2 abstract concepts (such as “honesty”)
Line 8 – “When he/she” then refer to something that person did that displayed the qualities in line 7
Line 9 – “My name is” your first name again
Line 10 – “It means” and in 1-2 brief sentences state something important you believe about life.

I like writing poetry. I write terrible poetry that I never show to anyone, but I do enjoy experimenting with new formats and ideas. This template seemed particularly fitting given my current rush of inspiration and desire to re-define myself (a recurring motif in my life, I know) as a writer. It made me think of all the times I caved in to the little voices of self-doubt, and the times I didn’t. Most importantly, it made me think of what it means to be me, how I want to define myself, rather than accepting other definitions and trying to change myself to fit those instead of defining myself as I am.

So … What does my name mean?

It means quirky, witty, eternally discombobulated.
It is the number 11.
It is like leaves and grass and the deepest of seas;
It is dancing in the rain and singing at the top of your lungs.
It is the memory of my mother
Who teaches me resilience and passion
When she laughs and loves and works and demands I do the same.
My name is Stephanie;
It means I travel and learn and discover. It means I write.

What does your name mean?