2018 reflection: lessons from the leaves

A perfect moment.
  1. I went to Portugal with my mom on Valentines day! Talk about looove. We stayed with relatives who had rented out a gorgeous villa during the off-season and were generous enough to let us stay with them. I got to experience the tilted, cobblestone streets of Lisbon again and see corners of the country I hadn’t before. The Algarve, a vision of rock formations, water, and beaches, was virtually deserted at that time of year and I felt damn lucky to have experienced that beauty without the crowds the summer heat draws annually. We did this wild boat tour in and around the caves, and I swear I had never felt more alive. I had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time despite (or perhaps due to) feeling like I was going to fall overboard. That trip taught me: 1. If you are kind, the Portuguese will treat you like family (pretty much immediately); 2. The best expectations are no expectations; 3. It is important to see and feel and live as much as possible in this life while you can. Oh and, I also learned that I could successfully navigate the winding streets of Lisbon with a map and a terrible sense of direction (I ended up getting home safe and sound despite having adventured to the other end of the city with a dead phone, but hey at least I didn’t feel the effects of the viral sickness I had received until I got home! Being violently ill, alone, and lost would have really been not so good, so thank you dearly, body, for keeping it together until I got back to the Airbnb).
  2. The concerts that I attended reminded me of the power behind live music and the art that happens when someone bares their soul on stage. Lorde left me in awe and with a commitment to be more confident and appreciative of what makes me, me. Here’s what I wrote after the concert: “I’ve been having a hard time being present lately. Truly present, in the moment. Feeling the moment and appreciating it, whatever it may be. Last night at Lorde was different. I felt every note and all the emotions and I was so alive and comfortable in my own skin and nineteen. I felt life in its myriad of emotions and feelings and it was a kaleidoscope dream. Lorde was so genuine and incredible because she was unapologetically herself. I need to be fine with being tall. Let loose. Stop being so stiff. Because I have this one shot at it, and I can’t waste time being concerned with creating an image that’s anything but honest and me.”
  3. I raised bunnies with my sister (who started school at McMaster this year, who I am endlessly proud of always). They taught me how to appreciate the little things. Like when one accepted a little of the formula I’d made on the first night, giving me a slight glimmer of hope that they’d be okay. Or when the lot of them polished off the clovers I gave them at record speed, when they started getting strong enough to jump out of their temporary home, when I had successfully fed all six by myself (and realized I had never truly multitasked until then, with one hand holding a little feisty ball of fluff, one hand feeding it, one foot on one box while another foot nudged each bunny back down when they nearly popped over the edge). I felt as if the universe placed them in my path because I had to learn how to slow down and take in the small victories, as seemingly insignificant as they may be. And I’m so grateful for that. Although by no means am I advocating on kidnapping baby bunnies that have a mother (and if you find ones that are actually abandoned, a humane society or wildlife rehabilitation centre is definitely the best choice — raising newborn bunnies is actually a part-time job. But if taking on that job is the only option and you’re willing to, please feel free to reach out to me for more information, recognizing that I am no expert).
  4. I took time to paint this summer (canvases, not walls). The goal was to take a few months to do a few of the pieces friends and family had asked of me. So, along with two months of summer school, I worked for myself and spent hours on hours being creative (and getting paid for it — what a wild concept). Having no set deadlines and depending on myself for an (unsteady) income was intimidating and harder to navigate than I thought — but it challenged me and fulfilled me like nothing else can. May and June were more school than painting though, and I started to lose the spark I talked about earlier. It was kind of ironic, I guess, because I was doing what I love most in the world — utilizing my artistic mind and exploring the passion that defines me — yet I was starting to feel more distant and lonely and meh (for lack of a better word) with each passing day. I wouldn’t interact with people most days, and would end up calling my mom around 5PM before class once I realized I hadn’t spoke one word out loud. But I pushed myself to make plans with friends, surrounded myself with a family of plants, and bought a fish. His name is Kiwi and if you’re wondering, he is doing quite well.
  5. Then Italy happened. I wish I could do those 24 days justice with words, but I don’t think I’m capable. My knowledge of the English language suddenly feels limited when I attempt to describe the people and customs and scenery and food contained within the Italian borders. Let me put it this way: if I could travel to another country for the rest of my life, I’d choose Italy and not be disappointed for one second. I did a two week course on Italian culture and got a credit for it (yes, you heard me right). The academic part wasn’t exactly challenging, but it was incredibly interesting to learn about ~Italy~ in a different post-secondary institution from a dozen professors from around the world. And I met some incredible humans (you know who you are) that called me Bambi and made me laugh and live to the fullest. They pushed me to look at the world differently and took a part of me with them when we said our goodbyes. What a magical thing it is, to form an unbreakable connection with people, who were previously unfamiliar, in two weeks. Then, my mom and sister joined me and I saw cities that took my breath away (and climbed flights of stairs that did the same), ate pasta that ruined all other pasta for life, and saw water in shades of blue I didn’t think existed outside of photoshop. It was exhilarating and exhausting and just wow (told you I can’t describe it adequately).
  6. Two words: Dermot Kennedy. This is what I wrote on the bus ride home to Hamilton from the concert: “He makes you feel something more. Something you can’t quite put into words. Something tangible and somehow more than a feeling. Even in his quiet poetic moments he was as powerful as he was when he was yelling beautifully — I’ve never seen someone put so much of themselves into a song. I’ve also never seen a crowd as enamoured with the performer. Everyone was melting. The whole damn concert was a perfect moment. He put moments into words and you could feel everything. I can’t quite describe the impact he left, but all I can say is that I left feeling different afterwards. It was life changing, I suppose.”
  7. I had the girls trip of my wildest dreams with my best friend, Zoë (who will see this because she is probably the biggest supporter of my writing, so you have her to blame for this lengthy and excessive recap of 2018). I learned that the French are fearless in their fashion choices and unapologetically themselves. Rather than seeing Parisians as rude, I saw them as genuine; there are no unnecessary apologies and also no words masked with false kindness, making the warm smiles and greetings special because there isn’t a custom of faking it. Also, Paris is so, so much more than hitting all the top tourist attractions. Don’t get me wrong, they are attractions for a reason — the Louvre is magnetic and the architecture of the other postcard-worthy buildings (and those lesser known, of course) is downright astounding. But Paris is also about getting lost in the side streets, sitting for a latte instead of taking it to go, and marvelling (respectfully) at the perfectly messy but put-together in the most handsome of ways Parisians appear to be. Also, as much as Paris being the city of love is perhaps stereotypical, it is rather fitting, and seeing small (and big) affirmations of love was refreshing and gave me hope. After a few days, I felt like I finally was beginning to comprehend the significance of traveling. Maybe it was the culmination of my previous travel experiences, but a sort of realization hit me when I was in Nice, eating pizza so delectable I had to close my eyes with each bite, eat it 3 nights in a row, and moan out loud in a jam-packed restaurant. We were sitting next to two guys in their mid 20s — one was from Italy and the other from Belgium — and we talked to them for probably two hours about instantaneous connections and European vs. North American hookup culture and my sad excuse for a love life. And I understood that moments like those were everything. Life chats with strangers who suddenly feel like old friends is one aspect of travelling that makes it an irreplaceable experience. I remember Zoë and I vowing to do everything in our power to make exploring the unfamiliar a priority. Because it’s an everything kind of feeling. However, I recognize that being financially and physically able to seek that feeling is a privilege. That reality is not lost on me, and I understand everyone’s circumstances are different. I try not to take mine for granted.
  8. I fell in love with leaves. Maybe this seems insignificant, and maybe it is. But I don’t remember being so enamoured with the various shades of leaves and quite awestruck with their imperfect perfection. Sight is most definitely a gift in and of itself. But really taking the time and effort to look is something different entirely. During past years, I wasn’t really seeing this particular beauty — I mean, I loved autumn and the colours that signified its presence— but I did not treasure the whole spectacle like I did this year. I would literally (annoyingly) exclaim ‘ohmygod’ out loud on the HSR when the bus passed by a japanese maple that happened to be a shocking, brilliant red on a perfectly cloudy day. Walking to school took 5 minutes longer most days because I couldn’t stop looking at the azure expanse of sky juxtaposed against waves of fiery petals, threatening to leave the branches and dancing in the air when they did. How did I miss all of it before? This applies to the clouds and friends that feel like family or a room you know like the back of your hand. When something becomes well-known or routine it often becomes harder to see its value. My advice is to make the occasional effort to search for the beauty in simplicity and familiarity. You might be surprised.

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