A Letter to Myself at Christmas

Dear self,

Be kind. Not just to others, but to yourself. You have been through a lot. You’ve started over with nothing more than a few times. You’ve moved to a new town, a new country, a new province, a new community more times that you’ve had birthdays. Still, you’ve managed to gain friends that love you as if you were their own blood. Turn your kindness inwards. Embrace your rough edges with love and trust that you’re not just doing okay but brilliantly.

Be brave. Remember what you’ve overcome. When those memories threaten to bring sorrow and rob you of your joy, remember the courage and sheer determination it took to liberate yourself. You did that. You are amazing. You said enough to toxic people and places. You knew when giving your last dollar would change a life. You stood your ground. You changed a life—more than once. You will continue to create space for those who need it. Take a breath and be brave.

Be patient. You remember how many times you helped that little girl with a lisp say snow over and over until it came out sounding less like a snake with a cold and more like a word? Treat yourself that way. No one achieves success overnight. What’s more, success isn’t even a static thing. It’s more of a mindset and a state of being. If you’re patient and focused you are already a success. You want to publish a book, write a page a day and eventually, you’ll get there.

Lastly, love fiercely. Hold fast to what you love. Never be ashamed of it. You love rainbows and unicorns, who cares if you’re 32 and wear cotton candy socks? You are passionate about human rights, the environment, animals, and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church—all of those things are beautiful. All of those things are needed. You are not too much. Your heart is soft and full of love. The world needs more love.

Don’t shrink back.

Love,

Yourself.

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I’m 32 and also living paycheque to paycheque

I read an article today on #HuffingtonPost titled I’m 37 and living paycheck to paycheck. As I read, I realized how familiar the author’s story was. You see the pressure to go to events to support friends and loved ones is real—even more so during the holiday season. Many of us are just one or two unexpected expenses away from not making it.

This year we had to replace a furnace to the tune of 6000.00. (We DID get a rebate and it decreases our heating costs…but that’s a huge chunk of money that was supposed to be spent over time on other house related things.) Then, we chose to keep the cat that came with our house. This meant that he needed to see a vet pronto and get all his shots, that was 300 bucks…shortly after that appointment he required an emergency visit for dental issues and some other stuff. We decided to try and save him (to the tune of 1200.00). This all happened during a period of time where Olivia was indefinitely laid off from her long-term job and I went back to school for my final year. Our budget was tight! Then, Olivia found some work, but now it’s winter and she’s facing another potential lay off.

Due to the lay off over the summer, my minimum wage job just covered expenses and we were not able to save anything. This is the reality for most folks. What’s more is most folks don’t have the ability to put unexpected expenses on credit. We thankfully did, but now we have balances to pay each month on our already taxed budget.

Please know I’m not sharing this to whine, but for the folks who find themselves in a similar situation. We see you. You are not alone. If all you can do this Christmas season is to tell people how much you love them, please don’t feel guilty. AND if you’re hard up for food, reach out—there are plenty of resources available in Nanaimo where we live (and other communities if you’re not from here), and you can always come to our house for a modest dinner if you live close by. The challenge is to escape the shame of poverty. If so many of us are (or have been) in a similar situation, why are we reluctant to be honest and to access resources available to us?

This year when people ask what we want for Christmas we have two answers. First, we cheekily reply home depot or PetSmart gift cards (because the cat and the house are eating all our money). Second, for those who are closest to us, the reality is we need time with the people we love that has no financial cost…this can even include gas costs. We’d love to come to see you, but we can’t afford the gas bill—we need it to get to work.

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.

Esteem

Lately, I’ve been thinking about esteem. Not self-esteem, though that’s part of it, but esteem as in value. I’ve placed a great value on writing by pursuing an education in the field. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to apply for a writing position, I am quick to discredit myself.

I took a good hard look at other areas of my life this past two weeks. My skills, likes, hobbies, and things that bring me joy all point to things I value—things I hold in esteem. I started to pay attention to others’ observations (not to be confused with opinions) and realized that as my own worst critic I often fail to realize and own my accomplishments.

Cataloguing things that I’ve worked hard for and things that others noticed in me gave me courage to apply for a position, and I received a second interview. To stand out on paper, without having met an employer, isn’t easy. During our discussion, the interviewer let me know what set my application apart. It was my ability to describe myself, they said. They could tell my wit, humour, and love of writing from the “tell me about yourself” portion of the job application.

Don’t be afraid to hold a high esteem for the things you love, your skills, or yourself. One day it might land you your dream job.

Sexual Harassment is Not a Compliment

Women, and even some men, you’ve likely heard it before. You share an experience with friends that makes you uncomfortable–someone hollering at you on the street, sending you rude unsolicited messages on social media, or sexualizing you. You pour your heart out expecting support, expecting them to be horrified with you, expecting validation and you get something entirely different. Here’s my top three pet peeve responses. Add yours in the comments.

  1. “You should take it as a compliment.”

Should I take it as a compliment when someone I don’t know shouts at me from a moving vehicle while I am on my way to work? How would you feel if you were out with your spouse or child and someone hollered at them? If the response is different than “take it as a compliment”, we have a problem. Somehow it has become freedom of speech to sexually harass people. Cat-calling is not a compliment. It’s dehumanizing. If you want to get to know me and tell me I am beautiful, do just that. If you like my dress, say you like my dress. If you like my hair, say you like my hair. Don’t drive by me shouting “NICE DRESS” from a car. It compromises my safety as I am walking across a street, and it makes me feel objectified in a way casual conversation does not.

2. “Give them some credit, it’s hard to put yourself out there.”

I know it’s hard to put yourself out there. I think about it everyday when I choose what to wear and whether or not to put on make up. For me, and millions like me, our mere leaving the house is putting ourselves out there. It seems that we walk around with targets on our backs and foreheads asking to be objectified. No, I do not want to give you my number. No, it should not be an insult where by expletives are hurled at me. No, I do not want you to tell me over and over how pretty I am until I cave and give into your request. Not only are you making people uncomfortable, you are reinforcing that they are an object for sex and not a person. We want people to want us, not our bodies only. We want to be understood. I have a brain, and the most attractive thing you can do is engage with it.

3. “What were you wearing?”

This is the absolute worst one. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Seriously! Make-up, no make-up, pants, dress, shaved, not shaved—doesn’t matter. I’ve been told I was “asking for it” because I have pink hair, large bust and was in a dress…was I also asking for it when I was wearing sweat pants, a hoodie and a hat? Or perhaps I was asking for it when I was waiting for a bus at 2pm? Perhaps that guy who told me that I “looked like a Lesbian” thought I was asking for it because my hair is short and I have a vagina…but seriously…no one asks for it. The culture of entitlement needs to be stopped. The culture of rape and hyper sexualization needs to be stopped.

Treat humans like humans. If you see someone being obtrusive, speak out. If you’re too uncomfortable to confront them, pretend you’re best friends with the person that they’re abusing. We need to stick together to end the verbal and physical violence against others. I’m not keeping quiet anymore and neither should you.

 

~Cheryl