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.

Homelessness

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?

At least my Mum thinks I’m cool …

“Hey …” I look at my sister cautiously, knowing that I need to phrase my next question carefully even though my little sister is the person least likely to judge me.
“Yeah?”
“Is it OK to like Dubstep?” She swivels her head to look at me and my heart starts racing. Oh no, I’ve said the wrong thing.
“I guess,” she shrugs. “I like Dubstep.”
“Really?” I breathe a sigh of relief. “OK. Cool.”

I’ve never been one to follow fads and fashions, and fortunately my sister isn’t the only person in my life who doesn’t give a damn what music I listen to and how I style my hair. For years my sister scowled darkly when I drove around with Metallica blasting from the car’s speakers, and then – a couple of years later – she informed me that “they were alright”. Her taste in music has vastly improved since the days when all she would listen to was Ministry of Dance CDs, though I’m not one to judge.

Alas, I get confused about what is cool these days. In fact, more than anything, I get confused about what I’m supposed to like and not like. I’m constantly being bombarded with memes referring to bands I should and shouldn’t like, and status updates that indicate the sentence I just used in my text or the thought process that just skipped through my mind are either outdated, uncool, or only used by a certain type of person who is regularly ridiculed for being that type of person. I’M SO CONFUSED!

This is what I can only describe as a “hater” culture. We take pride in not liking something, even if we secretly do. It’s “uncool” to like Justin Bieber, and yet we talk constantly about how much we don’t want him to be famous that he gets even more famous. I’ve never listened to a single Bieber song and yet I know the chorus to at least three. Seriously.

I think the best example of this is Nickelback. You heard me.

Here is a band that everyone loves to hate. Saying you like Nickelback provides instant ridicule and jostling about your “cool” status. I don’t actually understand why I’m supposed to not like a band who, for years, were actually deemed pretty cool. But this was before the Internet, before the birth of the meme as we know it (and back when the term “meme” referred to a bunch of questions posted on LiveJournal sites in which you were tagged and had to answer on your own site and thus the meme was passed on), and before it became cool to hate.

Yeah. I’m so cool, I hate everything! Nothing is good enough for me!

From what I understand, it’s cool to hate Twilight, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, Hipsters, Instagram, Apple (iPhones in particular), and people who can’t spell or structure Facebook updates in a coherent manner. In fairness, I have a strong preference against two of those things. The rest …

I don’t understand this new aspect of society, this celebration of hating stuff for the sheer thrill of being able to say “Ergh, I hate that.” It’s an aspect of online culture that I find terribly frustrating and fascinating. More than anything, I’m worried about being cool. I’ve never worried about being cool, but I worry about it now because it seems that being “cool” is just so darn hard these days. Can someone just give me a list of who and what we’re hating this week? Please?!

How much is this culture stifling creativity? I admire writers and artists who get their work “out there” because they are exposing themselves to this culture of hate, this culture of trolling.

The thing is, we seem to have lost a sense of ourselves when it comes to online persona and how we present ourselves. It’s like high school all over again, but this time we’re competing over who hates XYZ the most. We have this desperate need to be cool … or is that just me, in my delayed adolescence, yearning for some kind of group I can fit into?

The truth is, I don’t hate Justin Bieber. Kid’s doing pretty well, so who am I to judge? Do I like his music? Well, no. Not what I’ve heard, anyway. But hey, for a while there I loved listening to The Spice Girls, so let’s not be too hasty with our judgements.

Here’s another confession: I like fiddling with photos on Instagram. I appreciate the artistry that photographers put into composing an image, and I have absolute respect for photographers who don’t use digital editing techniques. I, however, am not a photographer. I don’t understand the first thing about filters and … stuff. What I do know is that if I press the button on my camera, an image of the scene before me magically appears on the little screen on my camera. Sometimes my photos turn out looking pretty good. I also know that sometimes using Instagram makes my photos look fun and quirky. So there you have it, I like Instagram.

I’m not sure the world is ready for me to reveal my feelings about Nickelback, but let’s keep in mind that Chad Kroeger has had a few little liaisons with the Santana, so he can’t be all bad, right?

Am I cool? Maybe not. Do I care? Well … The jury’s out on that one. What I am becoming very certain of is the fact that I’m too tired to hate, and I’m too tired to have memes and social media make my descisions about what is cool for me. Maybe I’m not cool, and maybe I never will be. I am, however, happiest when I’m not worrying about what I’m supposed to hate this week.

5 Things I Learnt from Travel

Washington D.C. (USA), Oingt (France), Mexico City (Mexico). Photography by Stef Thompson

Pack Light

The wisest packing advice I have ever received is to lay out everything you think you need, and then halve it. You never need as much as you think – there are plenty of Laundromats to be found and, unless you’re going to the darkest jungles of the Amazon, you can buy an extra bar of soap at most convenience stores. Instead of making room for an extra pair of shoes, make room for souvenirs and memories.

Be Flexible

Perhaps one of the more important lessons for any person to learn in life is the art of being flexible. Flights get cancelled and trains run late, museums have obscure opening hours and hotels aren’t always located as centrally as you thought. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t just go awry, they go completely bonkers. Knowing where you’re going and having accommodation booked (especially in peak seasons) ensures you have a direction to aim for and a bed at the end, but be open to spontaneity. Say ‘yes’ to everything (without compromising your health or integrity) and be open to change. Everything is an opportunity.

Memories Can Buy Happiness

A lot of travellers mind their pennies when they travel and adhere to a strict budget. This can be very restrictive when it comes to being flexible with your plans – you might dismiss an activity because of the cost, or refuse a fancy meal because a tin of tuna for dinner tonight means an extra trip to the museum tomorrow. Spend money on things that delight you – don’t scrimp when it comes to making memories. When is the next time you’ll be in Paris sipping coffee by the Eiffel Tower? When was the last time you hired a car and drove around Sicily? Go home with memories, not spare change.

Tread Softly

Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” This is never more true than when you are travelling. Practise responsible tourism and tread lightly – you are a guest in this country; others actually live here. Some travellers can be inconsiderate, rude, and plain obnoxious – don’t be one of them. Wherever you go, research the country, language, and culture so that you can be open to practices to which you are not accustomed. Celebrate differences and appreciate that every individual has a story to share. When you come home, appreciate the visitors who demonstrate the same respect for your home, your culture, and your language.

A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

Learn how to say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language; a genuine smile communicates everything else.

Inspire Me

When was the last time you danced in the rain, jumped in a puddle, or lifted your face to feel the rain fall? When did you last lick the bowl when baking a cake (properly – making sure you got every last drop of cake mix)? When did you last drink pink lemonade with an umbrella in it? When did you last colour in a picture (staying in the lines and giving the trees pink leaves and blue trunks instead of green and brown)?

Delight in something wonderful, something that inspires your inner child and inspires you.

No one is watching.

No one is judging.

What are you going to do?