Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Bridget,


You arrived on my doorstep yesterday. Well, not you as such, but the latest installment of your diary, which I’d pre-ordered from Amazon. I know they are harbingers of evil and I will be going straight to hell for this, but it'll be worth it. 



I can't remember the last time I was so excited to read a book. I realize, as a “writer,” this is not something I should be shouting from the rooftops. I’m supposed to be going gaga for whatever won the latest Man Booker, or at least something that sounds literary. And yet I ripped the box open and had started the first page before my ass hit the armchair. For just an hour, I told myself. Then for just one more chapter. Then, until I finished lunch. The next thing I knew, I’d gotten to the last page.

It was like spending the day with an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in years and had missed more than I'd realized. I first discovered you in my early twenties, when my roommate told me about your diary, and was shocked that I’d never heard of it. I was so broke at the time that I read it at the bookstore during breaks from my job. I did eventually buy it, and it is now the most battered, worn out book I own, due to having been stuffed in a backpack and dragged across several continents on my post-graduation “finding myself” trip, after another roommate told me that one should always travel with one's favourite book. I'm revealing a lot here - again, I feel like I should claim that I brought along Siddartha, or Zen and the Art of something or On the Road at the very least. But what it comes down to, and what I remembered, still in that armchair, straining my eyes because the light was fading but in too deep to turn on a lamp, was how much better you make me feel about myself. Not because I’m better than you (and yes, I realize you're not a real person, but let’s not go there) but because you make me feel like it’s okay to be human. What better travel companion is there than one who reminds you to laugh about the fact that despite visiting three continents, being given a Sanskrit name and learning to pee in a squat toilet, you did not actually manage to find self?

You make me feel like maybe it’s not so weird and shameful to obsess, or to fantasize about future 5 minutes after meeting someone. Or to feel lonely sometimes, even when I shouldn’t, or to feel like I’m both too much and not enough. I get so convinced that everyone else has it figured out, and god, do I ever appreciate I'm not the only one who pulls that stunt. I spend so much time chastising myself, telling myself no one else would go to visit a friend - a new friend, whom they're still hoping to somewhat impress - and get salsa all over their pants, and then go to pick up a takeout and realize they’ve forgotten their wallet at home and have to go back and ask said new friend to borrow money to buy dinner. Or invite people over for macaroni and cheese and suddenly, painfully realize, once the wine has been poured, that they forgot to get macaroni. Or be late for a meeting because they remembered the street address backwards. I realize these are not problems of a global scale, but what I don’t notice, when I’m having them, is how loudly I shout at myself. Yet there you are in your chocolate-smeared coat, or stuffing grated cheese straight from the fridge into your mouth, or obsessively checking Twitter, or feeling hideously sub-fashionable among the youth. And when you share all that, it feels like I’m not failing as badly at life as I thought. Also, you make me laugh. A lot. 

Around the time your first diary started to make it big, TIME Magazine suggested that your diary, along with the existence of Sex and the City, signaled the end of feminism. That going on about men, shoes, weight and cheese, instead of careers and the joys of boot camp yoga and how great it is to be alone and depend on no one, meant we were all moving backwards, reversing at warp speed to the 1950s. But I saw it differently. I still do. Your writing is a salute to all of us - women, men and other - who are trying to Be Good, struggling to Do it Right, doing everything we can to Become a Success, and feeling like most of the time we just aren’t making the grade. Who berate ourselves for not being exemplary parents, patient enough partners, workaholic enough careerists, or feminist enough feminists. Who, to choose an example completely at random, get excited to be invited to the "networking event," then hide in the bathroom until our friends arrive because we suck so badly at small talk. But because of you, instead of going home that night feeling small and weird, and not even close to Strong, Smart and Sexy, whatever the hell that means, we feel like maybe we're okay, and that was even kind of funny, and what sort of world do we live in anyway where froth served in a plastic spoon is called food?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that even though you're a character in a book, to many of us you are real, in the best possible way. From armchairs around the world, we raise our glasses to you in salute. And, as you so beautifully put it, we Keep Buggering On. 





Wednesday, October 16, 2013

365 Attempts

For the past year, a bunch of other Montrealers and I blogged once a week as part of a group blog experiment called 365 Attempts (at life.) 

The last post on the last day fell to me. Here's what I wrote, but with some extra pictures that I didn't include in the original post, because I love ya.


My fellow bloggers have spent the week writing beautiful posts about the experience we’ve shared during this experiment over the last year. Thus, in my final - and the final - 365 Attempts post, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I didn’t realize it was a secret - I thought it was common knowledge. But after speaking to several friends, I learned the truth: very few of you know about the easy way to put a duvet cover on a duvet.

I hear more and more tales of people struggling upside down, grunting and swearing, emerging from the duvet cover without success but with a hairdo that could rival Russell Brand's and retreating to the kitchen for a large glass of wine while shouting at their partner to do it their goddamn selves. Not necessary! If you, too, struggle with this, the following instructions will help.

image

personally, I love his hairdo and also Russell Brand is one of my heroes, so I mean no offence by that statement


1.  Turn the duvet cover inside out.

2.  Reach both hands inside the now inside-out duvet cover and take hold each of the far corners, that is to say the corners that belong to the top end of your duvet, with each hand. (At this point I also recommend you climb inside and make ghost noises, but this is not essential for the end result.)



3. Now grab the corners of the top end of the duvet itself with these same two hands, from inside the inside-out duvet cover.


4. Perform a swift flourish in which you shake the duvet cover so it inverts itself to be the right way out and falls over most of the duvet.


5.  Deposit the duvet on the bed and pull the remainder of the cover over the remainder of the duvet.

6. Have a large glass of wine anyway. You deserve it. 

You can also use the same method with pillows and pillowcases.

You’re welcome.


*

Now, about blogging once a week for the past year.

When I was in my early twenties - as opposed to the very late twenties I’m in now - I spent a summer cleaning houses.

I actually liked the job. There was something soothing about scrubbing a tap until it shined, or vacuuming a carpet until it was fluffy and spotless. But I think the other reason is that that was the summer my parents split up, and being in other people’s homes gave me a sense of hope.

I would walk through their living rooms and think about the family who lived here, all crowded around the TV together. I’d look upon their kitchen tables and master bedrooms and imagine them, parents and young children living under one roof, laughing and enjoying each other’s existence. The following year, back at university, I had the good fortune to live in (the rattiest building in) a beautiful old neighbourhood. Every night as I walked home, I would gaze into the big bay windows of the grand, Victorian houses I passed. The cosy living rooms and book-lined walls and big couches, the people sitting down to dinner, smiling as they put steaming platters of food on tables… I was certain these people were fulfilled and completely at peace, and that one day, I would be just like them. 

I graduated and went traveling. I came back home and fell into the clutches of a full-fledged depression. I recovered and left to travel a second time, and broke up a perfect-on-paper relationship with a guy I was by all accounts supposed to marry. Some shitty things happened, and some great things, and I finally came back to follow my dreams and become one of those people. But no matter how hard I tried, it just wouldn’t happen.

My life didn’t feel fulfilled or at peace. Sure, I had moments, but the goal isn’t moments, is it? It’s 100% A-okay. It’s true love and a wedding with lots of mason jars and a design-blog-worthy home interior and perfect children and a mantelpiece full of accolades from your Top 40 Under 40 career.

The fact that I wasn’t measuring up to this never hurt me more than the summer I got married. Tony and I were arguing night and day, and I was goggle-eyed with anxiety because this was supposed to be the happiest time of my life and instead I was terrified and angry and lost and not actually sure if I would make it down the aisle. I barely shared this with anyone, though, because I was sure I wasn’t “supposed” to have these types of feelings. Certainly not before getting married, but really, not ever. And yet, I shared it on my blog. I guess it had to come out one way or another. I didn't relate the whole shebang, event for event, but just wrote a little bit about how scared I was, and how much pressure I felt to be bridey and happy. And some people said, “Yeah, I felt that way, too.” And each time they did, I felt a little bit less crazy.

I began to share more after that. Every time, I pushed the envelope just a bit. I’d write a post, click “publish,” and then lie down on the floor and think, “I can’t believe I just admitted that. I’ve ruined my life.” And yet, those posts were the ones that got the most responses. The more I shared, the more people shared back, opening up about their own frustrations and family dramas and personal tragedies, or just saying, “Thanks. I needed that today.” And likewise, whenever I read someone else’s truth, I felt more at peace with my own. The more truth that floated around, the more I recognized that the perfect life I was pushing myself towards didn’t actually exist, and that all of this pushing was making me kind of crazy. And I wasn’t the only one.

That’s why I wanted to do this project. This world we live in is far too lonely and alienating as it is. I really believe that the more truth we share, the easier it is on all of us. 

So here are my parting words to you, dear 365 reader, aside from – shameless plug – I will still be writing at nataliekarneef.com so please come visit me there anytime:

As much as you can, please, tell the truth.

Even if you’re not a blogger, or a writer, or even a talker. Even if the idea of it scares the motherloving pants off you, just try it once, as an experiment. Open up to a friend you don’t know well, but would like to. Share something with a colleague, or a neighbour, or an old friend you haven’t heard from in years, or a good friend you haven’t spoken in months, out of pride or hurt or anger. Reach out and say something from inside your heart. Sing the truth, or dance it, or put it on a cake. That’s what we were put on this earth to do, not to play it cool or pretend we’ve got it all together or keep it all in so as not to trouble anyone. Keeping it all in will kill you. That may be a strong statement, but I believe it with all of my heart.

Tell someone what you’re afraid of, what keeps you up at night, how you really feel about your mother. And then do it again. Hell, tell me! I’d love to know. No one has a squeaky clean life. No one. Okay, maybe a few people, but we won’t talk about them. The rest of us have messy, certifiably insane families, and are laden under the weight of addiction and jealousy, and are rife with indecision and co-dependencies and secrets we’re certain we’d be burned at the stake if people found out. But we wouldn’t. And if someone you tell is still so afraid that they judge you for telling the truth, there are 199 others who will hug you and pour you a cup of tea. I promise.

Stop airbrushing your life. That Instagrammed breakfast looks great, but it’s probably not an accurate representation of your morning. You are far more delicious and unique than the outfit you’re wearing today or the lunches you make your children or what you pin on Pinterest. We care way more about  how you got your stretch marks and scars and cracks, and how you survived them. Because we have them, too. We’re all on this boat together.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for reading us this year. It was an honour to tell you the truth every Saturday, and to read Tanya’s and Kenneth’s and Carlo’s and Courtney’s and Antz’s and Johnny’s and Nat’s truths throughout the rest of the week. You guys are seriously awesome.

With love,
Natalie