A Saturday Night in the City Lights

I always wanted to go to the city.

Something about those thousands of lights, the buzz of bars and clatter of plates in restaurants and the quirky scent of side shops make my senses smile as I walk along the street.

And the people. The people! So many of them and just as many types. The casual ones. The classy ones and the weird ones. The ones who bounce with energy and the ones who amble along in contentment. I see possibility and potential.

I went to a club.

It was dark and dirty and smelled of toilet water. Bright multicoloured lasers danced along the walls and ceiling as the speakers blasted an endless pulsing gush of rhythmic bass and melodious treble into my cranium. I was going to own this night. This was my chance to outdance the dancers and to bring smiles to the ladies!

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My companion was amongst the crowd, throwing his arms into the air and bouncing with the bodies around him. He and I would run into eachother frequently throughout the night but we were not meant to stay by eachothers’ side. I turned and went to another section of the club. I went upstairs. I went to the bar. I went to the garden filled with people chatting and laughing underneath gas heaters. I was an explorer witnessing a new part of the world.

I was exhausted, physically and socially. After flailing my limbs to song after song in the endless flow of loud music and smiling and shouting jokes at stranger after stranger at crazy-eyed man after pretty girl after man that I could’ve sworn used a time travelling machine to transport himself directly from the 80’s, after hours and hours of this, I was tired. But I would stick around a little longer for my friend. This was his first night here in a long time. I closed my eyes on the dancefloor and decided to continue moving half-heartedly to the repetitive music.

Then something grabbed my hand and pulled me sideways. And suddenly I was looking into the shining eyes of a beautiful woman in red. She bounded with smiling energy. I moved my feet oddly and awkwardly to keep up with her graceful gusto. She just smiled all the more. I will lose all my memories of that night as time goes on, but I know her face will be the last to go.

I drove us home at 4am. There was no energy to laugh nor to even talk about the night.

I didn’t own the night like I expected. I didn’t outdance the dancers nor did I make many ladies smile at all. I wasn’t swept up in a tide of joy and I ran out of steam sooner than I thought.

But that’s okay. I’ll get better at this if I do it more.

And if not?

There’s other places, and other nights.

I see possibility and potential.

 

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A Student’s Storm

Many of us forget what it was like to be a high school student.

We see the lack of motivation when they spend countless hours in front of a screen, socializing, playing games or simply zoning out. We want to ask them why they care so little about the things that matter and worry so much about things we know no longer have a major influence on our lives. Why don’t they study more? Why can’t they just focus on something for once? Why don’t they care?

But we’ve forgotten that they don’t know what we do. They don’t know how to do life any other way.

A student I tutor is in this struggle right now. He is in the midst of his HSC trials. He does not know where to go after school ends. His life up until this point has been in a bubble, one which has spoon fed him decisions about things to do and when to do them.
So when I walk in and ask him to take charge and tell me what he wants to do once he leaves school, he can only reply with a blank face.

One that I know all too well, because I had that same face 6 years ago.

How can I blame him when he hasn’t yet been taught to stand on his own two feet and make things happen of his own accord? How can I get mad when his school has emphasized the importance of algebra and the difference between similes and metaphors, yet cannot say anything to the question of life purpose? Why should I blame him if he thinks the world of his friends, even if some likely treat him like dirt?

His mind is a swirl of conflicting ideas, and now all of a sudden this new ideal is being thrust upon him. Time to be an adult. That’s hard to do when you’ve been practicing being a child all your life. He does not yet know that the best rewards come from hard work. He does not yet know that he has the power to achieve everything he wants. He does not yet have the understanding that self-discipline is a building block to being who he wants to be.

And ironically, we assume we know the answer, when we are infact still students ourselves. There are people asking of us “adults” the same questions, except worded slightly differently. We still depend on others. We still look at problems with fear and spend endless amounts of time doing things that those older than us deem unimportant.

The student’s storm is ours. And forever will it be. That is okay, so long as we do not turn our back on anyone who is struggling out in the wind and rain.

Struggle

Why being pathetically unemployed is what I needed.

I recently found a new job. Hooray!

Is it time to start patting myself on the back and putting my feet up as testament to a job well done?

Well, actually, no.

I’ve come to realize something in my past couple of months of unemployment. I am responsible for what happens in my world.

When the work at my previous job dried up unexpectedly, my mind flicked a switch which allowed a stream of thoughts to swirl around in my head. Foremost was, “Finally, I’ve got some time to relax! I’ll be able to do the things I always said I would because now my schedule is free!”

Here’s what really happened:

I would awaken at 11am. My mind would feel lethargic from it’s binge of gaming or Youtube browsing well into the early hours of the morning. Breakfast would be skipped as it was already lunchtime. After an hour of miserably lugging about the house, my mind would eventually get moving, but too quickly. All of a sudden, a panic would seize me, accompanied by a desperate urge to make up for all those hours of lost time that I could have spent productively working on my dream.

The discomfort would be too much, however, so to videos and games I would return, to escape the pain of the present. Suddenly it’s 2pm. By now, I am ready to go. Properly.
I might get things done till about 4:30pm. “Businesses close at this time, so why should I continue working?” And alas, the rest of the evening is spent playing games and watching videos. There was just one problem with all this.
I hated myself. I hated that I had allowed myself to become so lazy and unmotivated.

But is was necessary. For I had to go through that might slump to get to this realization.

I am responsible for what happens in my world.

Till this point in my life, I had always relied on others to ensure I do what I was told. I feared the day that this guiding force in my life was retracted as I never knew how to approach life on my own, as an individual.

It was during this hazy slump of unemployed moping at home that I experienced just how little I could do if given the opportunity. It shocked me. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be more social, more confident and more adventurous.

But it’s obvious that just wanting to do something was not enough. I found I had allowed myself to become paralyzed by not knowing how to approach my goals.My life began to slow. And when it slowed something great happened.
My mind began to reveal negative thought patterns that had swirled around in the background, only to be ignored previously because I was too busy. Now I had no choice but to confront them. This was an incredibly hard aspect to face. It required me to eliminate every ounce of ego surrounding the issue and simply (and humbly) own up to truths about myself that I didn’t want to accept. Doing this, however, finally allowed me to stop denying problems in my life and begin exploring ways to solve them.

I began to start asking for help for things I didn’t see myself capable of asking. I started seeing a therapist. I saw the dentist. I got my car repaired. I explored the notion of starting a psychology degree. I set myself personal goals and began listening to motivational speeches. I have set myself a weekly schedule to monitor my progress through the week. I’ve begun to do things I would always put off. I’ve slowly developed discipline. I have begun to take charge of my life.

And as a result, I’m actually feeling great.

It’s this idea that I can do these things, even when I was unemployed, where nobody is there during the day to hold me accountable, that makes me feel more confident. I never believed I could do it on my own. I never thought I could give myself permission to feel okay with myself unless I fit the mold of what society sees a 22-year-old, almost graduated man to be. I am letting go of this, and a peace is taking its place.

It’s a peace from knowing I am working towards a future. Where exactly it’s going, I can’t say for sure (who can?), but I have a few ideas now that I have forced myself to look into it. By making a deliberate effort towards these things consistently, I have started to develop a faith in myself that I don’t think I’ve had before.

I must acknowledge that I haven’t done this alone, though. I still have my family around me. I still keep in touch with friends and my therapist. These people all help me along the way. But I see now that these are people I have chosen to have in my life. They are all a part of a world that I have chosen for myself as a human being. They all help me to keep moving in the direction that I feel I should be heading in.

So is it time to sit back and relax? Not even close.

Is it time to work? Yes, but now I can rejoice at the same time. The joy of working towards a goal is far greater than laying down and imagining one.

 

Why Dinner Can be better Spent Alone

Have you ever gone out to dinner by yourself? Taken yourself on a date? I can think of some reasons why you haven’t…

This year, I have waged a war on my fears that have prevented me from being as social as I’d like to be.

To do this, I have committed to going out at least once a week for leisure. On many weeks where I don’t hear from friends, I will go out for dinner alone. Yes, by myself. When I told my family, they thought I was crazy. When I told my friends, they muttered approval but gave looks of confusion. I think it’s something many people don’t understand because of the fear it provokes. I know this, because I was afraid, too.

The first time I ventured into Camden to get a chicken schnitzel by myself, I was petrified. I was nervous and didn’t even know how to place an order for the pretty waitresses behind the bar.
I was worried that I’d say something stupid, that I wouldn’t know what to do, or that people would think I was a loser. Two of those fears undoubtedly came true. The third might have but it actually doesn’t matter. I’ll get to that in a moment…

Saying Something Stupid

Firstly, my fear of saying something stupid or acting dumb was inevitable. It happened numerous times. It didn’t have to happen as much I made it happen, though.

I have a funny habit in uncomfortable situations of trying to act like I know what I’m doing and then becoming really embarrassed when the situation doesn’t go as I expected it to. My face goes bright red and my articulate English becomes a fast and stuttering mess. Not very cool. Whenever I tried to act like some ideal perfect human that I know wasn’t me, then I was doomed to make a fool of myself.

That’s not to say I haven’t messed up when being genuine, though. There were times when I went to make an order and I meant to make a compliment to someone and they didn’t hear me properly, leaving me embarrassed. I have accidentally been abrupt in giving a tip to the waitress and she was taken aback by my well meaning gesture. But I’ve had many great conversations aswell when I stopped trying so hard and just paid attention to the people around me. The mistakes simply do not add up to the good experiences I’ve had.

Not Knowing What to Do

Secondly, that fear of not knowing what to do. It hit hardest the first time I went. Sure, you can go and order dinner, but for how long can you sip your drink while you wait and what do you do once your meal is finished. And ontop of all that, how to do occupy yourself all throughout that time? I wasn’t content to stare at my plate or the table top the whole night! It was at these moments where curiosity of a discontented mind begins its fight with an identity afraid to step outside of its comfort zone. I forced myself to look around, to meet the eyes of strangers. Even more confronting was learning to talk to the staff. I’m usually afraid to talk to people so this was really hard. I’d start by simply being polite, the way I’d been taught by my parents. Simple things as “Yes, please,” “no, thankyou,”, “the food was lovely,” were all I could communicate initially, even though I wanted to convey so much more. But as I came back each week, my confidence grew.

I began to ask the waiters and waitresses their names and to find out about them wand what makes them interesting, so I can pick up where I left off the next time I return. I take books with me to read. I people watch now. I am utterly fascinated by people and trying to work out what they’re saying or thinking just by observing their body language is a great way for me to pass time. I can read articles on my phone if I am truly at a loss. But I find I actually have a lot to do now. Sometimes I like to just sit and listen to the retro music chattering in the background, or breathe in the cool evening air. I can do all of these things now. I couldn’t do them before with a friend because I never had time to appreciate these things.

The bottom line is, you will be lost at first if you haven’t experienced it yet. But trust me, once you dive in to those unknown waters, you’ll find ways to swim. All it takes is a little time splashing about.

Does it Make Me a Loser?

This is that third question that I wondered when wrestling with the idea of going out alone in my head. Will people think I’m some sort of loner who cannot make friends and is so lame he can’t get anyone to be around him?
The answer is yes. And no.
The REAL answer is, there’s only one person you need to convince: you.

The truth is, people judge without even meaning to. You do it, too. And everyone has different opinions on anything and everything. The topic of going out alone is no different. So yes, there are people who probably think I’m a weirdo for going out by myself. I’ve heard as much a couple of times. But I have heard how people admire the courage it has taken me to do this about five times more often. The hard thing about this was learning that no matter what I chose to do, there would be people judging me. The bottom line is, I wanted to do it and I was doing it for the right reasons. I wanted to go out alone to learn to stand on my own and to learn about other people. I wanted a refuge from the difficult work life. I just wanted my damn chicken schnitzel! I knew I wasn’t a loser for doing it. I had my reasons and that’s always good enough.

Should you do it?

Yes. If you feel like it’s something you’d want to try, pick a place and go. You will feel uncomfortable and scared and you will probably do stupid things. People might look at you funny, but that might be just because they’re too afraid to do what you’re doing. If you stick it out, though, you will likely meet some cool people. You will be able to try some good food and develop social skills much better than a meal spent alone at home. I learned how to talk to others better and to feel confident in myself. That’s a very big deal for me.

I can’t wait to go back next week.

Letting Go…

I am always chasing goals. I chase because I want things to happen. I chase because I can’t handle not finishing what I start. I chase because others chase and I’m afraid of being left behind.

But what if that is not the way? What if we already have what we’re already pursuing?

An Endless Pursuit

This may not be obvious at first glance. We don’t all actually already have a hidden bank with a couple of million dollars in it, nor do we have that perfect body or that super fast sports car that we always wanted as a child. But these things actually represent something greater. We may want money to feed our family. We want money to be able share gifts with those we care about so that we can see the joy on their faces. So we can be generous, which is a virtuous cause. I would argue that most of out external goals are simply reflections of the inner goals we feel we need to work on.

But those inner virtues; love, patience, generosity, leadership, compassion, passion….
We often say we cannot properly develop these until we’ve achieved the external goal. We put our development on hold. “I can’t spend time with my family until this project is done,” “Once I get that car, then I’ll be able to have patience for others,”

But how often does that happen? A goal, once achieved, is quickly followed by another and we often forget to make the change into the good people we want to be before moving on to the next. By then, we’ve already thought up some new deal to postpone being who we truly know we are. I don’t blame us for doing it. Society encourages this. If you’re not paying attention, you will be drawn in.

I’m starting to wonder if it is not so much about getting that next important thing. Maybe it’s about letting go of your need for it. Maybe it’s understanding that your life will not fall apart if you don’t delude yourself with the idea that something outside will change who you are inside.

A Look Inside

I am essentially unemployed at the moment. I have 2 jobs and yet I’m lucky to get more than a shift from either of them in a week. The past month has been hard for many reasons. Not mostly because I get ridiculously bored very quickly at home. Not mainly because I’m spending more money than I’m making and that puts my goals of a house, a car and travelling all on hold. No. These things hurt, but the real reason I’ve found it excruciating is that all this time has forced me to spend time with myself and nobody else. And I’ve realized I’m not such great company.

And so I have no choice but to face this person inside me. The one who floods me with negative thoughts and anxiety. He is scared and reminds me how dangerous the outside world is. He tells me about how inferior I am to my friends and family, to anyone who is working, has a life purpose, a significant other, anything that I want. When I am busy, I can drown him out with noise but now there’s no running or hiding.

This isolation and time has allowed me to realize where I have been lacking in life, or been unsatisfied. Friendships, love, career…I have become more aware of all of them. And as they have become visible to me, I have had to ask myself where they come from. Why are those rules and those fears and worries there? Who put them there? Was it me or someone else? Who have I been listening to?
I have begun to ask myself the hard questions whose answers have formed the basis of my approach to life, and some of them don’t make any sense to me. And I’ve begun to change some of them to something that matters to me. It’s been embarrassing, humiliating and upsetting at times but once the dust settles, the results feel good.

Letting Go

And you know something? I’m happier. Maybe I’m not pleased about being unemployed, nor does being alone most of the time bring me alot of joy. But these are external things. The real happiness is coming from somewhere deeper. It’s a satisfaction with myself, with who I am and what I stand for. I am feathering a pride deep within myself that before I was unconsciously smothering. I’m learning that I don’t have to fit the expectations of others and I certainly don’t need to internalize them into how I see life. I’m learning to let go of alot of the beliefs that I have thrust into my life without stopping to check whether they suit me or not.

I am learning to stand alone. But I am not alone. My family ad friends (who I choose) are there for me. My therapist is there whenever my outside life hits me a little too hard for me to process. My idols are there for me to aspire to be like. But I am enough and I always have been. I’d been so busy chasing others that I didn’t stop to remember that I have everything I need already. And now I am grateful that I stopped.

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Picture from Plum Village on 7-6-16. http://plumvillage.org/blog/friends/relax-let-go/

Sunday Rain

It’s cold and gray this morning. Just like his mind.

He walks out to the kitchen, socks barricading him from the sharp chilled bite of the tiles beneath him. The granite benchtop offers little remorse for the heat it steals from his wrists as he eases them against it, if only for a second, as he pushes himself onto the brown clothed stool.

He sits hunched, as if that will shield him from the chilly air. Outside, it comes down still. The rain falls ceaselessly. It sheens the dams as the thousands of drips on the waters’ surfaces increase their reflections by a thousand percent. The trees are dark with dampness. The grass is a deep wet green speckled carelessly with glistening leaves and shining sticks that have long since fallen from where they began their journey in a branch of a tree. Overhead there is an endless blanket of cloud; a heavy colourless mass that weighs down on and even envelops some of the treetops fogging along the horizon.

His eyes take in it all in a just a lazy glance. His mind doesn’t, however. Its attention is turned inward. Somehow the worries and frustrated thoughts in his head seem more interesting. As if entertaining them will save him from his fears more today than any other day.

Why today? Because it’s Sunday. The day when he hears from nobody. It’s the day after Saturday, where all the excitement usually resides. Today offers nothing but time and the isolation needed for one to reflect upon the week preceding it. It’s a moment of self evaluation where the mistakes are brooded upon until hopefully a golden lesson emerges from the churning chaos of the cerebral cortex. In his eyes, this is not a day. This is only an empty bridge from the past week to the next, with nothing but a vast lake of flat gray water sitting underneath. The relentless splashing of raindrops and puddles outsides only help to complement the hues and tones of the pictures that swirl endlessly in his mind.

Cold and gray. At least for today.

An Introduction of Sorts

This has been a long time coming

I have flirted with the idea of starting my own blog for a few weeks now, but have lacked the commitment to finally begin. I had to work. I had a book to read. I was about to go out. I was too tired.

And so, here and now on another Saturday night, I still have all of those excuses but now there’s a difference. I’m not buying them anymore. It’s time I got to work on something important to me.

I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know exactly what it’ll be about but I have some ideas. I hope to share them in time.

But for now, I think it’s time I set some rules:

  • First, I need a routine. I believe motivation will only get you so far. There’s a point where you need to push yourself to do even the things you want to do. I need a plan. I’ll write at least once a week. That’s my start.
  • Second, it’s time for honesty. If I cannot be honest with you, we can’t connect. I can’t grow behind a wall of insecurity and shame. I expect many coming posts to make me uncomfortable or exposed. That’s when I know I’ll be doing this right.
  • Third, to have fun. I will talk about what makes me passionate, in hoping to inspire the passion in anyone who reads this. I might plan things out or I might be spontaneous. Either way, I want to enjoy doing this and I hope, if you read this, you do, too.

I’ll be 23 in a few weeks. My name is Jake. I like people. I like learning about them. I like learning about me. I also love the snow, despite being an average snowboarder best! I’ll be going there in a month’s time. I graduate from my university in a month and a half. I’ll be a mechanical engineer… Maybe.

It’s raining hard tonight, nothing but the sound of raindrops tackering and thwacking away on the roof is breaking the silence. It’s nice actually. When I stop thinking about how I wish I was in the city under multicolored lights and lost in a crescendo of bass and treble and laughter and shouting, the natural relentlessness of water gives way for a thoughtful stillness.

It reminds me that life is happening.

Let’s see where this goes.