Thursday, December 8, 2016

News!

Beloved blog readers,

It is my great pleasure to inform you of a few exciting updates in the Natosphere.

First off, my official website, NatalieKarneef.com, has now joined the 21st century! Please come on over, and, most importantly, join the email list (which will pop up automatically when you open the site.) 

The site has lots of fun stuff, including new coaching packages. If you (or someone you simply adore) is looking for writing coaching, there are, ahem, big packages, small packages, and even a one-off called "Start Your Engines", which is great for anyone who needs a kickstart for a project they're working on. I'm also giving away one Start Your Engines package to celebrate the launch of the new site. If this is of interest to you (or someone you simply adore!) send me a note (go to the contact page) on why you'd like to work with me. 

Also, there is a link on the site to... my new book! If you have a Kindle or a Kobo, you can click on the link right from the "shop" page. (There - I just made it even easier for you.) If you prefer actual paper books you can hold in your hand and read in the bathtub, watch this space. And that space.

Sending you all the twinkly things in the world for this holiday season, and most of all, health, love and peace, peace, peace.

Natalie 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Travels with Ruble


In my old life – the one with husband, home and supposed stability - I had an afternoon ritual. Our house didn’t get much light, but for about an hour in the afternoon, a sunbeam lit up one spot in our bedroom. If I was feeling down, overwhelmed or tired, and especially when it was a freezing cold winter’s day, I would get my dog, Ruble, wrap us both in a white knitted blanket that had been a wedding gift, and sit or lie in that sunbeam, soaking it up like vitamin D-deprived sponges.


No matter how much I felt like I’d fucked up that day or that week or that lifetime, or how shittily I felt I was doing at my career or my marriage – thoughts I had a lot back then -  the sunbeam didn’t care. It was like “Hey, girl, I got heat for you. I got heat for everyone, no matter what they’ve done. Come on in. Bring your sins. I’m here.” And for that hour, dozing or reading or meditating, real life was suspended, and everything was okay.





Ruble’s been living in Turkey with my dad as I’ve been traveling. But for a variety of reasons, it’s time for both of us to come home. So, a few days ago, we boarded a flight that would take us back to Canada for the first time in two years.

Everyone is always grumpy at airports. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, or if maybe, like me, you’ve been up since 3am and don’t want to eat a stale muffin for breakfast, and are equally grumpy. I also had extra anxiety: this was my first time traveling with Ruble, and he was supposed to come in the cabin with me, but so far, the airline had been really difficult to deal with. I was afraid they were going to come up with some reason to turn us away, or make my semi-toothless geriatric schnauzer travel in cargo.

Lo and behold, when we arrived at the airport for the domestic part of our flight, the airline people gave me grief. I showed them my foot high stack of letters and documents. I tried patiently to explain that this had already been discussed with the people at their head office. They made phone calls. I became less patient, already wondering how many more hoops I'd have to jump through before we landed in Montreal. Ruble was sniffing around the floor at leftover bits of stale muffin, so I lifted him up and stuffed him into his travel bag in the front compartment of the baggage cart, which put him at eye level with the airline guy I was dealing with.

As soon as he spotted Ruble, his eyes went wide.

“Hello!” he exclaimed in Turkish, his voice six octaves higher. He stroked Ruble’s head and beard. The ladies behind the counter cooed and made faces. A few minutes later, the whole issue had been sorted out and we were on our way.

We went to go through security. All I could think was what they must be thinking: 

“Check out this privileged white bitch carrying her dog in his own bag while the rest of the world falls apart.”


To be fair, he's not a fan of the bag, either.

As soon as the security dude saw Ruble, he got down on his knees to snuggle him. The girl who patted me down asked if she could hold him, and I swear they searched through my luggage extra thoroughly so she could carry him for a few more minutes. The same thing happened at the next security check, and the next. 

In Istanbul, probably eyeing somebody's burger

And it wasn’t just the airport staff. Never on a flight have I made so many friends, or traded so many life stories. Strangers smiled at us from across passport control lineups. Kids ran over and stroked Ruble’s back and ears. Massive bald men with hairy chests and gold chains spoke to him in singsong voices. A stern-looking mustachioed guy on our flight, who refused all meals, read from the Q’ran for hours on end and looked like the last person who would give half a fuck about any kind pet was one of the sweetest, most playful people we met that day. I landed off a 20+ hour trip on top of the world, and pretty sure I’d found the answer to world peace.

*

I wake up the next morning in my hometown, after almost three years of travel, and imagine what will happen when I run into people I went to high school with in the mall, who will all, obviously, be happily married to their soul mates and have two kids, three careers and a 401k, whatever that is.

“How are you?” they will exclaim, as their wedding rings glint in the sunlight, reflecting off their gold-plated Swedish-made strollers. “What have you been up to?”

I am not good in these types of situations. I just don’t elevator pitch well. I could say, “I’ve been traveling the world, free as a bird, and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been." But I won’t. Instead I’ll stutter and mumble something about how I’m divorced with no kids and living in my father’s house, and then make an awkward excuse and run to the nearest establishment that sells muumuus and cats.

Then I turn on my phone and find out that Trump will be the next President of the United States.

I shut my eyes and pray that it's a bad dream. I wonder if I should have stayed on the other side of the world. Then come the anger, the fear, and most of all, the blame. 

Cross-eyed with jetlag, I walk to the supermarket. I go through the sliding doors, take a cart, turn and run smack into one of my teachers from high school.

“How are you?” she exclaims. “What have you been up to?”

Somehow, I remember to mention that I’d been traveling. She thinks this is fabulous and asks where to.

“Oh,” I wave. “Places.”

We chat for a long time. She tells me some great things about her kids and grandkids, but also about some of the difficulties she’s faced over the last few years. Big difficulties. Humbling difficulties.

We hug goodbye, and I notice that I'm feeling better. I don’t have Ruble with me, but decide to act as if I do. I’m extra friendly to the woman behind the deli counter, who is extra friendly back. I grin at a tired-looking mom trying to stuff her toddler into a stroller. I say hello to people I pass on the street, some of whom are walking dogs, others who aren’t.

When I get home, I find Ruble on my bed, in a sunbeam.

I curl up next to him. Having mostly been in warm places over the last couple of years, I haven’t actually sat in a sunbeam for ages, and certainly not with my little sidekick next to me. Now that we’re back together, I’m realizing how incomplete I’d felt without him. And how much I’d forgotten the effect he has on people, not because he’s that special (well, he is, but we won’t go there for now,) but because, like all dogs, he is unconditional love. He is a reminder that no matter how grumpy we are, how much we’re up against, and how different we think we are from each other, we’re on this ride together. 

And that there is nothing more powerful on this entire planet than a kind word, a wagging tail, or a smile. 








Saturday, October 22, 2016

DAY 30!!!

My friend Leannah asked me yesterday how I would celebrate being finished this 30-day challenge.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Probably eat something?”

It hadn’t occurred to me. Just being finished felt like celebration enough.

I’ve been officially teaching writing for six months now, and actually writing for way longer than that. But the first thing all of this has taught me is that challenging yourself is a very valuable life experience. 

I would never call myself an “expert” writer, because that would be obnoxious, and also because I don’t think we can be an expert at anything non-linear, and creativity is nothing if non-linear. 

But I do have my ways. I work on my book most mornings, and on my client work in the afternoons. And every month or two (or more…) I think, hmm, I should really write a blog post. Then I put it off for a while. Then I sit down and write copious amounts of notes and worry about how much time blogging is taking away from my other writing, and then remember how much I love blogging, because it connects me to readers right in the moment, rather than writing for future readers from a room, by myself, or with Ruble, who doesn’t appreciate anything aside from cookies or someone throwing his squeaky alien toy.  


"Throw the squeaky alien. toy Throw the squeaky alien toy. THROW IT.
You have nothing important to do anyway."


I put hours and hours into those blog posts. I usually stretch out writing them over days, or weeks.

And there is nothing wrong with that. But having to write a post every day for the last month has sure as shit helped me turn that idea on its head.

Here are some other things I've learned about art and life in this 30-day challenge:

1. Accountability is a powerful thing. Want to do something? Tell a bunch of people you’re going to do something every day for 30 days (or whatever) and suddenly, you’re doing it. What else do you think you can’t do? What else might you be totally wrong about? I cannot emphasize this enough. 

2. One of the things my friends/support group remind each other of is “done is better than perfect,” which comes from Liz Gilbert's brilliant book, Magic Lessons. Again, this probably does apply to building bridges, or performing surgery. But while patience, attention to detail and love are all valuable and important aspects of making art, sometimes, you just have to get your shit out there so that people can experience it. And then be surprised by the fact that it’s better than you think it is. And if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter, cause you’re just going to keep getting it done until it is.

3. I can't imagine being one of those people who have to constantly social media-ize their lives, because of their careers or their status or they are a Kardashian or whatever. I will very much enjoy a break from whipping out my notebook any time a friend says something funny or I get stuck on an elevator because I don’t want to forget each detail. I will looove getting to the end of the day and being able to turn off. And not do Instagram hashtags for a while. 

4. And yet, even throughout this journey, how many times do you think I got to the end of a day and thought, “What in god's name am I going to write about?” More than half the time. Probably 60% of the time. 

People who want to be writers often say they have nothing to say. I get it.

But because of whipping out that notebook - and because I had to - I made a habit of being an observer. It wasn't traveling around Europe that made me do it. It was watching for stories. Which is what I love about stories: they are all around us. They are in our eyes and in the air and in everyone we meet and in everything we struggle with. As long as you are alive, there will be stories. And the more you try to see them, the more you will. 

5. In this crazily disjointed world where we mostly connect through little rectangular screens we hold in our hands, blogs and social media can count for a lot. I’ve been amazed at the responses I’ve gotten from this project. I’ve gotten comments and reads from people I haven’t spoken to in ages, people I’ve just met, total strangers. And I write to connect, so I've loved a lot about the last 30 days. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a very long nap.

But to answer Leannah’s question: I do want to celebrate, and with something aside from this bottle of Romanian Pinot. (Trust me.) 

So I’m inviting you to celebrate with me.

First off, if you’ve been reading any of these posts, please write and tell me so. Not because it will stroke my ego. Well, a little bit because it will stroke my ego. But more because I want to know what you liked, and what you didn’t like. What you’d like more of, and what you’d like less of. What moved you, and what didn’t. This will help me more than you can imagine. People don't realize how much writers love 2-way communication. 

After years of doing this, the topics or themes I often think are the weirdest or most out there or unique to only me often get the most responses, whereas the stuff I think everyone is going to get sometimes falls flat. I would love, love, love to hear from you, even if it’s just to say, “Hi! I read you! Bye!” Facebook me, DM me, text me, call me, tweet me, email me. I will also accept messages written on cakes.   

Secondly, one more time with feeling, if you’ve enjoyed even one of these posts, and haven’t done so yet, please donate what you can to a charity of your choosing, or one of the three below. Just $2. Maybe more. I would really love that. It would be nice for all this energy to go towards making other people’s lives better, since ultimately, that’s why we’re here.

I wish I had something more poetic or dramatic to say, but this says it better than I ever could:





I really do. Thank you so much for being here,


Natalie

*


The UN Refugee Agency 
I met some refugees from Syria while in Turkey. We've all heard the stories, but the ones they shared, which I will write about soon, made me wonder how it is that we inhabit the same planet. Every little bit helps. I saw that firsthand.

The Edja Foundation
Edja was founded by the wife of Jackson Kaguri, director of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project where I volunteered in Uganda two years ago, to combat child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. As you can read about here, this is a huge issue. 

BARC - Bali Dog Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre
Living in Bali put animal rights in a whole new light for me. Wild and homeless dogs in Bali suffer terrible states of health, are not fed or watered properly, and are sometimes used as sacrifice. BARC does amazing work. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Day 29: Bucharest

I arrive in Bucharest without a clue.

Seriously: nothing. I have some friend-suggestions on where to go and what to do, but I have no plans, and it does not occur to me until I’m halfway to my AirBnb, in a taxi, with no Internet connection, that I don’t know the buzz number or apartment number of the place I’m staying, nor have I noted the owner’s contact info. I am normally meticulous about these things.

And yet, from the moment I land, I feel at home in this city. Like I kind of fit. Not physically – people here are olive-skinned and on the shorter side. I just feels as if there was a Nat-sized landing pad here, waiting. I can’t explain it.

My cab driver turns onto a street bearing rows of Soviet block-type apartment buildings. It takes us a while to find the mine, since they all look exactly the same. But we do, and she drops me off, and I stand at the front door with my backpack at 10:30 at night, wondering what the fuck I am doing, and more to the point, why I’m not all that concerned about it.

I try to see if there’s any free WIFI floating around. There isn’t.

I try getting on the AirBnb app to see if the information is available offline. It isn’t.

I stand there and look around at the empty street, still worryingly unperturbed.

I search my email, and am overjoyed to find one containing my reservation info. And there: some extra digits after the address. Victory! But what do they mean? I try punching them in various sequences into the number pad next to the door, which is so decrepit I’m afraid it’s about to implode. Nothing happens.

There are some random letters at the bottom of the number pad, so I try those, too. Still nothing. I stand there for a while longer.

Then three dudes get out of a cab, come to the door, let me in, tell me what floor my apartment is on, and wish me a pleasant stay in Romania.

If the elevator in this building were in Canada, it would have been condemned three times over. It looks like it was welded together by a grade 12 shop class, and you have to close the inside set of doors by hand before it moves. I get to my apartment. The lovely owner shows me around and then takes off for the weekend. I decide to go and buy some food at the 24-hour supermarket. When I get back into the elevator, it goes down and stops on the first floor, but the door won’t budge.

Huh.

I press a random button. The elevator goes up. I realize that you have to wait for a little “ka-ching” as it clicks into place, and THEN you open the door. How this elevator even knows it’s an elevator, much senses when its doors are open, is a miracle, but there you go.

*

Today, I go into town.

I check out churches, a courtyard that once belonged to Vlad the Impalor (aka Dracula,) some shops. I sit at a lot of cafes. I know I should be more proactive, hunting down museums and monuments and secret, hidden spots, but it occurs to me - and this is in no way a complaint - that I don’t have the energy. I would be happy to trot along next to someone who had everything mapped and planned, but I'm a little bit traveled out. For now.

Maybe it’s because I’m coming to the end of this journey. Not just this whirlwind European tour, but my whole time abroad. For now. I’m heading home in three weeks. I don’t know how long I’ll stay, but something is telling me it’s time to be still for a while, and be close to my family and the people I’ve known the longest. And Ruble, who’s coming with me. 

This is why I’ve tried to squeeze in so much over the past month. A last (for now!!) hurrah.

So even though there’s a loud voice shouting “SEE ALL THE THINGS UNTIL YOUR FEET ARE BLEEDING STUMPS,” I’m pretty okay with just cruising. I’ll get a few sights and trips in over the next couple of days, but if I don’t see everything in Romania worth seeing, I’m cool with it. Traveling feels a little like breathing, now. Which is maybe why I feel okay putting it down for a while.

*

If Bucharest were a human, I think she would be a beautiful, strong woman who has been through some serious shit. She’s a survivor, this city. Her outskirts are endless rows of Soviet-era buildings, like the one I’m staying in, but her middle layers are these stunning, turn-of-the-century apartments and banks, many of which are half worn through and graffitied everywhere. 






And then there’s the Old Town in the centre, where everything is ornate and magnificent, and you understand why Bucharest was once known as Little Paris.


I let myself get lost in the labyrinth of streets. I people-watch. “Friendly” is not a word you’d use to describe Bucharesters, but despite that, I still feel something welcoming about the place. My great-grandmother came from this country, and my grandmother and mother from the one next door, so maybe that’s why.

Back at my Airbnb, the elevator doors do their thing, and I rise up to my little haven in the sky. As I unlock the door, there’s a familiar swell of gratitude for the freedom and the privilege I’ve been given to spend the last two plus years traveling, and for the fact that I’m looking forward to being in the place that I can, sort of, call home.

And also for the hard-won wisdom of knowing that, while it sometimes takes a while, I, too, almost always ka-ching into place.