As you may have noticed, I haven’t been around much lately, and the “Life Less Ordinary” project has found itself on hiatus. Initially, this was a good thing—I spent two and a half weeks traveling to see family and friends in the Northeast, hanging out in NYC, Philly, and spending a week in the sun at the Jersey Shore.

Not unexpectedly, the latter is where things began to go terribly, terribly wrong.

If you know me, you know I love the beach. In fact, most of my “what I want to do one day when I’ve made enough money and am ready to disappear into anonymity” scenarios involve living on a beach somewhere. And, since I’ve been under a rather large amount of stress lately in my everyday life, I figured there was nothing better than spending hours each day on the sand, soaking up the rays.

This provided a fun and relaxing holiday, until the very last day, when I decided to rent a beach chair and sit near/in the ocean, while reading my book and drinking my contraband vodka and clementine Izze soda. It was a great day, and when I got back to the hotel and took a shower, I noticed I’d acquired a killer tan.

Two hours later, I noticed that the tan was actually sunburn, and it was kind of painful. By the end of the evening, I could barely walk without crying, and of course, the next day was the day we were set to travel to Philly.

I made it—barely—but spent the next week largely in bed, with blisters and painful 2nd degree burns over my legs and belly. In addition, I started to have dizzy spells for no reason, often accompanied by a feeling that fainting would soon occur, heart palpitations, and a feeling that my body was out of control. The first time, I thought I was having a heart attack, and was going to die. :(

I can’t tell if these experiences are provoked by heat exhaustion, anxiety, or a totally unrelated medical issue—but let me tell you, nothing is more frightening than the feeling your body is working against you. For nearly two weeks, I’ve been unable to tolerate bright lights, heat, and staring at the computer screen. Even small things have tired me out immensely, which is unlike me, and my typically energetic, vivacious approach to life.

Slowly, things are improving, and over the past few days, I’ve had the physical and mental stamina to return to work, largely through the help of sunglasses. (wearing sunglasses indoors so you can work on your computer looks silly, but if you are intolerant to light, it actually works quite well.) Yesterday, the sun and the 100 degree temperatures decided to disappear, and it was the first day I actually felt like my old self…so I have some level of confidence that I am recovering, although perhaps not as fast as I’d like.

As always, I enjoyed my time in NYC, although I’m always there far too briefly for my tastes. I had the opportunity to catch up with three old friends I’ve known for years, and always miss dearly. It seems like years ago, distance wasn’t such an impediment to friendships, since there was always time for phone calls, IM chats, e-mails, and the like. Nowadays, there’s rarely the time, and when there is, there’s not always the energy. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but it’s something that kind of sucks about getting older.

Philly, on the other hand, was a bit of a disaster—with the exception of July 4th. If you’re going to be anywhere on the 4th of July, you want to be in Boston, Philly, or D.C., which is one of the reasons I always plan my trip up there over that timeframe. Unfortunately, being ill really limited my ability to see anyone or do anything, and also reminded me of how difficult it’s always been for me to get along with my family. They’re largely like strangers to me, strangers I find negative and less than supportive, and who don’t really relate to me or anything I have going on in my life. It’s always been that way, of course, but the older I get and the more well-defined my own life becomes, the less they seem like people I know or understand. There are always arguments, always difficulties co-existing, and within two or three days, I begin to miss living in my world instead of theirs.

I think that, all these years, I’ve tried to create a relationship and an understanding with my family that just doesn’t exist. I’ve tried to create a feeling of “home” in this place that should be home to me, and I’m always devastated to remind me that it’s not. I’ve created an ideal in my head that I’ve always wanted, a place that feels like I belong and am loved and understood, and it’s natural to assume that safe place should be with one’s family. For me, it isn’t, and I’ve come to realise that the stability and support and comfort I want from “home” is going to have to be one of my own creation. It’s reminded me why I’d like to focus on finding a place I’d like to live on a permanent basis, and being able to buy property there, so that “home” doesn’t have to be someone else’s, and it doesn’t have to be a transient idea.

I’m glad to be back in Atlanta, though, and to spend time with the people I care about here. Even if I have to spend a chunk of my summer in bed, watching TV and working with sunglasses on, there are still some good times to be had before the summer is over.

And, of course, Big Brother is back, one of my favourite summertime guilty pleasures!:)

Day #7:


 

Enya,Only Time

*~ Reconnect With Your Past ~*

Earlier today, I had an e-mail in my Inbox that unexpectedly made me smile. It was odd, because it wasn’t from an old friend, or even someone with whom I have a long and complicated history…but from someone I barely know, yet have barely known for a long time, and accordingly, feel a bit of a “from back in the day” connection with.

We all have a past. For some, it’s an experience that’s symbolic of the “good old days”, something we’re not quite ready to let go of, no matter how much time passes. For others (like me, I suppose), it’s a bit more chequered, full of regrets and memories we wouldn’t trade for the world, and everything in between. For still others, it’s something to be fondly revisited from time to time, but with a greater wisdom and understanding.

Yet, for almost all of us, the past has a way of pulling us back in. That’s why sites like Classmates.com are so popular, and at any given moment of any given day, someone somewhere in the world is using Facebook to find out whatever happened to that ex that was never quite forgotten. It’s also why there’s a TV channel and a radio station devoted to the popular hits of virtually any time period, allowing people a way to escape, and relive the “good old days”—even if they weren’t always that good.

As I get older, I have to admit, I find myself becoming nostalgic. While there are many aspects of my past I’d love to forget, and I’ve picked up and moved on from enough situations,places, jobs, and relationships to make “moving on” a personal specialty, I am really extraordinarily sentimental. I hold a very special place in my heart for the people, places, things, and moments that meant a great deal to me, and I have an extraordinary talent for forgetting the end of the story, how badly that good moment turned out when all was said and done. For the most part, unless I’m in a rather melancholy and self-defeatist mood, I try to treasure all the exceptional moments of my life, and push the rest of them from immediate consciousness. When I look at life that way, I realise I have far fewer regrets, and a much better appreciation of my life as a whole. I have always treasured the experience of life, even if most things don’t end up the way I planned, or might have wished. Even the bad ones, I’m not sure I’d trade for anything, because they’ve molded me into the person I am today.



Now Is The Only Time I Know, ~indiae

I enjoy revisiting the past now and then—-taking a look at the random things in my “memory box”, listening to the 90′s weekend on Atlanta’s Star 94, reading old letters from those I’ve fallen out of touch with— or who are no longer here, and even watching old television shows or movies I used to love, and meant a good deal to me. (see: “Frasier”) :)

Recently, I renewed an acquaintance with someone I’ve known for nearly a decade, though at a distance. I’ve made an effort to reconnect with people who were once a part of my life, and to find out what happened to others. No matter what anyone might tell you, it truly does make you feel happier to know that person you *didn’t* end up with turned out to be happy—and it’s even more fulfilling when you can still have a positive and friendly relationship. I even bought a few of my favourite films from the old days on DVD, for those “blah” kind of days, or when I feel like sharing something I once loved with people now in my life.

I think it made me happy to hear from someone I was connected to what seems like a lifetime ago—although, in reality, it was perhaps 5 years— not because we were that close, or had so many positive memories from those days, but because it seems like a natural progression of things. Certain people are meant to stay a part of your life, in one way or another, as you go through the different stages of your life—and the result of that is a small reminder that the past doesn’t disappear, it just changes into something different, and often better.



Remembering Summers Past, Max Operandi

I treasure the people with whom I have a shared history, and with whom I am still on good terms, because they are a connection to the person I used to be, complete with a unique set of dreams, fears, and hopes for the future. It’s sad to me that so often, “moving on” means leaving that person behind, as well as the people who knew her.

One of my long-time favourite bloggers, the charming Gala Darling, has started a frank and open dialogue on her blog this week about body image issues, and how the media affects how we perceive ourselves and others, and how the blogosphere is as much of a culprit in the war against self-acceptance as any other form of mainstream media. It’s a very thought-provoking topic, and brings me to my personal challenge for the day.

Day #6:

 

Refuse To Be Ruled By Insecurity

Obviously, unlike some of the other “less ordinary” ideas I’ve posted recently, this isn’t something you can check off your list in a day or so. For most of us, insecurity is a problem that’s taken a lifetime to develop, and nothing is going to cause you to magically love yourself. However, taking the time to work on feeling better about yourself, accepting your uniqueness, and making the most of what makes you special is far more productive than standing at the mirror, mentally pointing out all the things that make you feel inferior.

Getting involved in the world of the performing arts in childhood, for me, meant being exposed to body image issues and insecurity is something that happened at a fairly early age. It’s one thing to go through life feeling inferior, always mentally reminding yourself that you aren’t that special, that you’re not as thin, not as pretty, not as talented,, not as interesting as the next girl. That’s tough on the self-esteem, naturally. But,as a performing artist, you’re repeatedly putting yourself out there for criticism, living in a world that will tell you it doesn’t want you because you’re too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, too plain, too All-American, too ethnic, too virtually anything that you might be is enough of a reason for someone to tell you straight-up they’re not interested in you.

It’s a harsh world, one that aspires to not only perfection, but even then, a type of perfection that’s never attainable. In reality, the most successful performers are those that own who they are, rise above the feedback, and have enough confidence to present an unabashed version of themselves. There are, of course, ways to compensate for that confidence, if you lack it—as the old saying goes, “Fake it until you make it”—but showing insecurity or fear of being judged is the best way to ensure you don’t hired. Even Lady Gaga, the most well-marketed pop sensation since Madonna, hides behind flashy costumes, outrageous makeup, and being as scandalous as she wants to be, while telling an audience full of admirers what she wanted to hear throughout her life as a performer, “You’re special just the way you are, and there’s a place for you, so don’t be afraid.”

It’s pretty easy to do when you have a well-crafted, much-loved image to hide behind. Most performers need to create much more subtle versions of their own image, one that doesn’t give the outward presence of being artificial—but still protects the person inside from demons like judgment, insecurity, and inadequacy. It’s no wonder that many artists, after years of performing, training, schooling, etc., find themselves out in the real, 9-to-5 world not being as accepted, liked, or admired as they’d prefer to be. I once had someone tell me the reason people didn’t like me was because nothing about me seemed real, like I was a character out in the world, rather than a real person. I thought about this more than a little, since the person who said it was someone I’d known for awhile (and later did me great personal harm, so as it turned out, really DIDN’T like me much.), and realised I understood the observation. Being a performer, to a certain extent, means creating a wall between yourself and the rest of the world, a way to protect the fragile pieces inside, and to be tough enough to survive with your confidence intact—and to compete, and win.

It’s not that much different in the “real world”, at least I don’t think so. It’s just that many people are unaware they’re putting those walls up, and others are unaware that without those walls, they’re likely to find themselves trampled upon. Everyone wants to compete, and win, and one of the weapons of choice in life seems to be finding opportunities to cut down your competition. Judging others, gossiping about others, making assumptions about people, and passive-aggressive tricks to create feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are extraordinarily common among even the most educated, talented, and accomplished of women.

In my case, it wasn’t until I spent a few years in the “real world” that I realised how cruel that place could be, and how it was much more difficult to protect yourself from what the world had to say about you, than from a director that refused to give you a job or a photographer that didn’t find your look appealing. Suddenly, all my defenses stopped working. I gained 20 pounds. I didn’t go out of the house to socialise for three months. And, I stopped being able to put myself out there—to go on auditions, to look for work, to flirt with someone I found attractive, to even get up and sing in front of friends, or play games where I risked looking silly. All of the sudden, I felt like what I perceived myself to be—a short, chubby, weird-looking girl that people didn’t like, and always talked about.

After a lifetime of “Fake it until you make it” in the confidence department, I’d started to believe in myself, knowing that whatever my flaws, I had a certain amount of charisma, appeal, and “star quality” working for me. After all, I’d always been a short, curvy, weird-looking girl, and I’d always had plenty of people who didn’t like me….as well as plenty of friends. I landed roles, got noticed positively for my uniqueness, was fairly popular, and had no problems in the dating department. My general attitude toward myself made it easier for me to brush off the rejections, the haters, the things I always disliked about myself.

A particularly negative experience with other people, and ultimately with myself, took that away from me. On one hand, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me—and on the other hand, it’s the best. I’m learning to love myself in a more real, unconditional way, and learning that being loved by others can be real and unconditional, too. You don’t have to be perfect, thin, beautiful, accomplished, or rich to be loved…you just have to open yourself up to it, which is an extraordinarily difficult task, when you’re always hiding for fear of being hurt.

In reality, there’s no way to protect yourself from that. No matter how perfect, thin, beautiful, accomplished, or rich you are, there will always be someone to judge you, someone waiting to tear you down….and you’ll find that everything you thought would make you happy ultimately did very little. You’ll find yourself constantly hiding, limiting yourself, retreating from life, while simultaneously thinking you’re very free and open and confident enough to put yourself out there.

In case you were wondering, here’s what the average American looks like—and it’s not what you’re seeing in any magazine.

Men:
Height (inches): 69.4 (5 feet, 9.4 inches)
Weight (pounds): 194.7
Waist circumference (inches): 39.7

Women:
Height (inches): 63.8 (5 feet, 3.8 inches)
Weight (pounds): 164.7
Waist circumference (inches): 37.0

In addition, the average non-surgically-enhanced woman wears a 36B bra size, and has 39″ hips, making her between a size 12 and a size 14 for most clothing designers. Although this is average, a size 12 or 14 is considered “plus” size for many designers, and some choose not to manufacture their clothing in these sizes.

Unattainable perfection is the most dangerous illusion, because it leads to the idea that if only we can achieve it, we will finally be worthy of love and admiration, and protected from the possibility of being hurt. It leads to both men and women starving themselves, throwing up in the bathroom five times a day, drinking bottle after bottle to get through the tough times, taking drugs, having random sexual encounters, and mutilating their bodies, all in an attempt to punish themselves for not being a living example of unattainable perfection, and not deserving happiness.

Get out there and live your life, no matter how imperfect you think you are. Flirt with someone you find attractive, without assuming nobody would ever notice *you*. Eat a real meal with friends, carbs and all. Drink champagne to celebrate nothing special, except life. Fall in love. Travel. Open yourself up, without caring what others will say or what the photos will look like.

Personally, I’m going to spend this weekend wearing a few of the many cute outfits that have been retired and hiding in my closet because I think they make me look too fat, too voluptuous, too skanky, or someone else will criticise my quirky fashion sense. I’m going to ignore the scale, stop examining my flaws in the mirror, stop telling myself how unremarkable and unattractive I am. I’m going to get a pedicure, eat brunch, and remind myself that life isn’t an audition, and it’s not a competition.

It’s just life, and each of us is as well-equipped to participate as the next person—even if that person is thinner, richer, smarter, prettier, or has a better job.

Infatuation is the state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion or love: ‘expresses the headlong libidinal attraction‘ of addictive love. Usually, one is inspired with an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone.” ~ Wikipedia

Day #5:



Infatuated, by Pink Butterfly Of Death

*~ Embrace Infatuation *~

I’m a big fan of infatuation, and it’s a state of being that’s played a huge role in my life over the years. In fact, it was the title of a short-lived, private, and thoroughly self-indulgent blog I kept off and on during my early 20′s, filled with emotional angst and feelings about….well….infatuation.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not excellent at relationships and everything that makes them work, which largely accounts for my rather complex and chaotic history in that department. However, infatuation I know well, and rather enjoy. There’s something invigorating about waking up each morning and being immediately reminded there’s this person or thing out there in the world that makes that day an amazing one.

Of course, infatuation doesn’t last—in the worst of situations, it burns itself out in the form of abrupt or cruel disillusionment, and in the best, the object of infatuation becomes a part of your daily life, changing your relationship with it and putting an end to idealism. But, during the brief point in time it exists, it’s a reminder of the human capacity to thoroughly enjoy and adore the people and things in the world, and makes it impossible not to enjoy life.

For someone like myself, someone who is happiest living in a world largely of her own making, full of idealism and emotion and ideas and creative energy, infatuation is a hard-wired personality attribute. I’m not just talking about infatuations with people—although they do exist, and contrary to popular conception of the word, are less romantic in nature than you might imagine— but with ideas, movies, music, books, culture, fashion, food, and even electronic gadgets.

When they apply to people, my infatuations can become dangerous; after all, I’m the type of girl who rarely ever had crushes on movie stars. Instead, I fell in love with characters, fictionalised representations of the types of people I’d be excited by meeting and to whom I’d be immediately attracted. As I grew older, these tendencies shifted themselves into my relationships with others, making it easy for me to idealise those that captured my attention, and even more insistent that I should be that interesting to others in turn. Too many crushes, flings, relationships, and friendships in my life have ended with the realisation that they were in fact infatuations, and I was far more inspired by the possibility than the reality. It is always the process of idealising and admiring another person that I fall in love with, which leads me to quickly fall out of love with the reality of that person, one of many factors that led me to embrace a non-monogamous lifestyle for a number of years. I also think it’s a character flaw that’s kept me from having relationships that work over the long-term, and the recognition of this has forced me to redirect my infatuation energy.


Nowadays, I’m far more likely to become infatuated with ideas, things that inspire my imagination, things that others have created. Over the winter, I became wildly infatuated with all things Tudor, an odd interest for me, because I’m not a history buff. After a previous infatuation, researching my family tree on Ancestry.com, led me to discover that many,many, many generations ago, a branch of my family tree descended from the Tudor line, it turned into me wanting to learn more about some of the crazy characters from that time in history. After immensely enjoying countless hours of The Tudors series by Showtime, I even found a few documentaries I thought were interesting (and I don’t tend to like documentaries.) Not only did I watch all the seasons in a period of a few weeks, I also started reading both fiction and non-fiction relating to the time period, and discovered a new favourite author in the process, Philippa Gregory.

Of course, this infatuation lasted for months, and didn’t disappear until it was replaced by another. Some are much shorter-lived love affairs, like deciding I was going to become more educated about wine, or reading Time Magazine, or that I was going to publish a book of poetry. However, I love that these infatuations come and go, and that some turn into lasting interests and talents—or, at the very least, help me accumulate trivia facts.

Reading over my old journal, which makes me feel a bit embarrassed for the version of myself that was around back then, reminded me that infatuations are healthy, invigorating, and inspiring. They help you grow, they help you discover yourself, and they sometimes even bring others into your life. Of course, the best part is that, unless you’re ready to mention them to the people in your life, your infatuations can stay your own little secret for a lifetime. ;)

Remember when you were a kid, and the best days in the world were the ones where you were unexpectedly allowed to do whatever you wanted, even if that was usually mostly nothing at all?

It’s harder to get that excited, lazy “snow day” feeling as an adult, unless you live in an area that’s prone to significant snowfall—but not often enough, so that it’s a novelty, and where everything shuts down for a day or two. Days off as an adult are a little different—even on weekends, there’s household chores and errands to be taken care of, and children or pets that don’t exactly understand why you want to sleep in. Even if you’re relatively obligation-free, like me, you may often find yourself working on the weekends, or attending social events that start to feel more like work and less like play after awhile. Sometimes, the weekends are actually more hectic than the work week.

Day #3:

 

Play Hooky

Most of us don’t have the freedom to do it very often, but playing hooky from life can be extremely liberating, and just downright fun—particularly if you’re not sick, don’t have an emergency to deal with, and there’s not a foot of snow outside your front door just waiting to be shoveled.



That’s what I’m doing today…a full day of nothing. I’ve had a pretty stressful week, working my butt off (if only there were a way to *literally* do that!) to make sure I can afford to do everything I want to do over vacation, and still pay my bills, both before I leave and after. People often think that working from home—or working in a way where you manage all the details of your own career, rather than showing up to an office every day— is a license to do less work. In reality, it’s the opposite. Working for yourself gives you certain freedoms (for instance, I can avoid getting up at 9 AM and do my work at 2 AM instead, if I choose.), but it also doesn’t give you the option of a traditional schedule that ends at 5 or 6 PM every day. Even on vacation, I still have to carve out a few hours each day to work, because clients tend not to wait. If you’re not going to be around for a few weeks, you’re replaceable, no matter how much they love your work.

My life involves far less time off than you might imagine, even if I am technically able to work in my PJs (incidentally, something I never do, unless I’m actually sick that day.) I sometimes miss keeping a less hectic, more traditional schedule, although not enough to inspire a massive lifestyle change and join the ranks of corporate America…which, as far as I can tell, is filled with uninspired, underpaid, and overworked Americans.

But, today, I am playing hooky. I might break down and work on a few projects here and there, but mostly, I’m planning to give my overworked mind the opportunity to do as little as possible. Afterwards, I’ll head out to play some trivia with The Guy I Am Currently dating, and will probably end up looking as low-key as I feel.

Too much playing hooky is bad for the soul, the body, and the wallet. But, every now and then, it’s the best possible way to re-charge. :)

As discussed yesterday, I’ve made a commitment to myself to make this summer an interesting one—or at least one that I won’t fondly look back upon as a time I spent working and doing the same old stuff. While work, life obligations, and the daily routine are all an important part of life, too often, they become the thing that defines your life, leaving little room to experiment, grow, and celebrate life.

So, every day, I’m making it a point to do one thing that’s just for me. Every day, I’m going to remember to do something that’s new, different, self-indulgent, or just plain designed to make me happy and appreciate the wonderful things in my life a little bit more. Who knows? Maybe someone out there will read this, and decide to join me.

Day #1:

Listen To An Album By A Band Or Artist You’ve Never Heard Of Before

Too often, most of us stop discovering new things because we’re comfortable with the the things we do like, and don’t want to miss out on experiencing those. You know how it goes: you’ll order the same dish at a restaurant every time you eat there because it’s your favourite, watch the same movie every time it comes on TV, hang out with friends you don’t really like but you’ve known for ages, and keep the same set of sheets on your bed you used in college. It’s important to keep a sentimental attachment to your favourite things, but at the same time, to be able to identify the difference between personal attachment, and simple habit.

I have a habit of listening to the same songs on my iPod, over and over again. I’ve had the same favourite bands for well over a decade, and although once in a great while I’ll discover something new to add to my list of most-loved music, I still have sentimental attachments to music I love, and to the things that remind me of all the good memories in my past. Unfortunately, this can be a little inhibiting when it comes to branching out, discovering new things, and making new memories.

That’s why I decided to start my project by listening to some new music, from artists and bands I’m either not familiar with, or don’t think I’ll like. I started off by listening to Lights by Ellie Goulding. This was a little bit of a cheat, since I had heard of her; in fact, I saw her perform on SNL a few weeks back. But, everyone needs to start somewhere, and listening to Ellie Goulding’s well-acclaimed album led me to discover British breakout artist Clare Maguire, whose Light After Dark is all the rage across the pond, but hasn’t made it to the U.S. as of yet.

 

Ellie Goulding, courtesy of Beat Crave

Ellie Goulding, courtesy of Beat Crave

 In fairness, neither album rocked my world, but both were more than worth giving a listen. Each album had two or three songs on I liked enough to give permanent space in my collection, and I discovered two new unique and talented voices that haven’t yet hit the mainstream. Ellie Goulding’s cover of Elton John’s Your Song is a gem that’s going to stay with me for days, and I’ll probably end up mentioning to friends (well, the ones that don’t read this blog) somewhere along the line.

Since exploring new things quickly becomes a habit, I also picked up some albums from artists I do like, including James Blunt’s Some Kind Of Trouble and Lungs by Florence And The Machine, both of which I’ll listen to if I ever manage to get caught up on my out-of-control workload. (Unfortunately, I’m not the type of person that can listen to music or put TV on in the background, and still concentrate on a thought. I think it’s a mild adult ADD symptom, one I’ve always had.)

What new bands/artists/songs have you discovered lately?