1. day thirty: making a thanksgiving dinner from scratch

    Everyone has that friend.

    The friend that is always checking up in people asking them “how are you? really?”, cleaning up the red solo cups at their party while people are still indulging in the froth-water light beer, and planning functions with a myriad of people you’d rather not hang out with that night.

    The photo book friend.

    I’m that friend. In college, some repressed gene emerged mid-way through my first semester of second year, a gene that exposed my love of hostessingand an overwhelming need to bring all of my friends around the same table. The friend that makes the photo-book for everyone bef abroad , the friend that constantly checked in with the others and the girl that created a premature Facebook group to keep our eleven friends, all of whom lived within a mile radius, connected. 

    I’d made a commitment to myself after a selfish first-year that I would put my friends first, and I savored being the connector.  This would have been all fine and dandy had I not took it personally that, sometimes, sophomores in college do not want to be told what to do nor be cleaned up after. Like my own parents, I quickly realized that taking the actions of fun-chasing, free-spirited, twenty year-olds to heart was exhausting and a waste of time.

    One of the things that I forced upon my poor friends was the “family dinner”. Once a week, I sanctioned a “fam din” at one of the four dining halls (keeping it classy), asking whoever was available that week to show up. Some of my friends, the friends that were grappling with their own sense of identity and naturally inclined to resist any forms of constraint, grumbled and complained, making rare but worthy appearances. 

    But the majority of my friends made the effort every week to show up to a robust conversation over god-awful, southern-inspired cafeteria food. As soon as we all crammed into a corner booth at Colonnades or the round table at the fancier 1889, we were giddy like kids, anxiously relaying stories from our school week. The catch-up sessions (I took to calling them Heinz 57’s) were laugh inducing, tear jerking and thought provoking, sometimes in that order but typically cycical throughout the hour or two the dinner lasted. It was our chance to decipher that strange text message from Duffy’s on-again, off-again fling, to celebrate the achievement of Chelsea being inducted into an honors business society or erupt in laughter at Jessica’s awkward class presentation story.

    I’m not sure my friends will ever understand how much those meals meant to me. Bringing all the people that I loved into one place made me feel complete; I naively believed that because I felt connected to them, they would all naturally feel connected and hit it off, always. Growing up, we placed a high importance on family dinners; it was basically the only routine in our household. Conversation that is sparked over good food with good people is unprecedented and irreplaceable. I believe that people’s truest selves shine brightest from the dinner table, a place where they feel at ease because, after all, it is a consistent action- they sit at some form of a dinner table every single day.

    So when it came time to celebrate my first Canadian Thanksgiving, it was only just that a proper dinner connecting some of my newest and closest friends was to happen. With two Australians, a Peruvian, an American and a Canadian, we had the recipe for an interesting dinner from the get-go.

    This was our first time ever cooking a real Thanksgiving meal on our own, and it was scary. Several times leading up to the day I questioned Carling, “are we seriously going to cook a turkey? Isn’t that like, really, really, hard?” Throw in three people who have never eaten a stuffed bird or candied yams and this challenge became downright terrifying.

    Luckily, after the idea was born, my friend Carling took the lead on this, actioning and executing everything from stuffing the bird to setting the table. I acted as a sous-chef to her, completing any and all minute tasks as she took control. I watched with amazement as she whipped her way around the kitchen, much more knowledgably in the kitchen than her 20 years gave off. Her first time cooking a bird, she was just as nervous as I, and the two of us buzzed around the kitchen like bees as our other friends watched.

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    The entire meal took over ten hours to complete, from shopping to thawing to serving it all up on a silver platter. We did not hold back; it was equally important with Carling as it was for me to bring this massively important tradition to our friends who had never experienced it before. What is Thanksgiving but a family dinner on steroids, the truest form of connecting awesome people over an awesome meal? Both of us the photo book friend, we made it a priority that our hosts, Chelsea and Xav, walked away with the understanding and appreciation of the dinner as we did.

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    Once completed and laid out, I felt my heart swell with pride- we’d done it. It wasn’t just cooking the food that was scary; it was the entire action of bringing people together over a formal dinner. I’d brought this love for connecting people over the table with me to a new country, and somehow, in two short months, I’d found people to fill the seats, seats that would be empty had I not embarked on this journey thirty days ago.

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        _______________________________________________________________

    These thirty days have forced me to get outside my comfort zone and commit to things I normally never would have, which in return has granted me with incredible opportunities and caused me to form amazing new, honest relationships. 

    Here’s the crazy thing: after thirty days of challenging myself to leave my comfort zone, this perspective shift has become permanent. People say that it takes thirty days to make a habit stick, and I finally understand it. I say yes without a second thought now, I make bold requests and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I feel like even though I’m tempting fate and putting myself out there in an extreme way, I’m more in control of my life than I’ve ever been.

    So what’s next? Trust that I’m doing one thing a day, even if I’m not sharing it here. My commitment is now to share one scary thing a week here, the “best of” from the week, if you will.

    My ask? Join me. Stop thinking about it, telling me you want to do it, or saying “once I graduate/work settles down/ I have some free time/ my children go to college” you’ll do it. Do it now.

    Scary shit awaits.

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  2. day twenty nine: creating a thankful list (via strangers)

    I grew up in the same house that my mom did.

    A quaint, green-shuttered, ivy covered house on Powell Street. She spent the latter half of her childhood in the house, moving in when she was in high school, avoiding the creak in the dining room floors when sneaking out and throwing parties in the classically retro, fishbowl-like indoor porch. I spent the better half of my childhood in this house, moving out when I was nine, fearing the monsters in the crawl space and taking extreme joy in the screams that followed from my sister after flushing the toilet while she took a shower.

    The house had a lot of character, but the best part of it was the kitchen. Albeit a biasly infused statement, in that red-and-white accented room with green placemats and a telephone attached to the underside of the Island, most of my earliest memories were formed. The highlight of this kitchen, however, was the table. This lightly stained wooden table featured a booth that was seemingly carved right out of the wall; later, I found out that this was called a “built-in table”. The booth that became harder and harder to scramble in to as the pencil on the opposing wall marking my height grew higher and higher heard the best of the Cragin family conversations.

    Every night, the three of us girls slid into this booth in our respective order, our skinny thighs sticking with sweat to the lightly-stained wood in the dog days of August and our knobby knees chattering together in the frigid days of February. Depending on the day of the week, we had different delicacies, ranging between Mac n Cheese with cut up hot dogs on Mondays to chicken tacos on Thursdays. Given that our family consisted of a traveling salesman father and three busy girls from the ages of 3-12, my mom had difficulty instilling any semblance of routine into these dinners.

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    But one part of these meals was always consistent. My father insisted, regardless of the season, the meal or that night’s attendants, we were to share “two good things”. These were “two good things” that had happened that day; two stories, sentences or statements that forced us to reflect on our day in a positive light.

    In retrospect, this activity was most likely born in order to get any other response other than “fine” when our parents asked us how our days were; have a conversation with anyone under the age of thirteen and you’ll quickly discover how one-sided it is. These two things could be anything; they just had to be “good”. Typical responses varied from scoring a goal in a soccer game (my eldest sister) getting a 100% on a spelling quiz (my middle sister) or getting picked to speak a line at the school’s assembly (me).

    In later years, when I tried to implement this into dinners with my friends, they insisted they’d done the same thing in their households; only it was called “rose and thorn”. However, in the Cragin home, thorns were strictly prohibited when sharing our two good things. This wasn’t an opportunity to complain about our days nor was it a time to bring even more negative energy to the dinner table than is naturally brought in by two pre-adolescent girls.

    Rather it was a time to be thankful for the good things that we either created or others created for us in our day, drawing on the positive to allow for animated conversation and friendly arguments. We were not allowed to judge each other for our good things, nor were we allowed to repeat eachother. Only my dad was allowed to use the same thing every night: “tonight’s dinner with my four favorite girls in the world”.

    I am extremely grateful for this practice that I frankly resented most of the time, especially after the age of 14. However, I have seen the impact that this simple activity has made on me; whether it is during yoga, on a run or over dinner with others, it is instinctual for me to reflect on the good that was in my life that day. I am also appreciative of this as a conversation topic; I have spent many-a-meal with new friends, old friends and acquaintances prodding them for an answer to this question. The genuine responses that bubble up after some thought are always like a skylight to the soul and create excellent conversation.

    For today’s challenge, I decided to ask everyone I came into contact with what they were thankful for, the “good thing” culmination of their year. The check-out lady at Safeway, the lead guitarist playing 70’s rock classics at a small bar in Banff, even some friendly patrons on the street. Striking up conversation with strangers is, well, strange in general, but asking such a personal question is even harder. Forsaking all normalities of small talk that we are all accustomed to, I approached these unassuming people without an introduction, just asking a seemingly simple question.

    “Excuse me, what are you thankful for this year?”

    People got scared, nervous, and confused, as if I was a lawyer asking the last question that would determine the verdict on their sentence. The answers they gave varied depending on their amount of reflectivity before answering as well as the number of drinks they were deep. Some people were overwhelmed and disgusted with my bombardment, offended and shutting me off with a close-lipped smile and one word answers- “this beer.”

    But others, others delved into deep, personal secrets, as if they’d been waiting for someone to ask them for this Good Thing all year. Eager to talk and expand on their stories, I caught glimpses of people’s personalities simply through one question.

    I’m thankful I get two times to reflect; being a quasi-canadian I will be stuffing myself with Turkey not once, but twice. I’m thankful that I have so much to be thankful for and so many people to ask what they are thankful for. But mostly, I’m thankful for that kitchen table in the white panelled-house on Powell street- the first place I learned how to be thankful.

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  3. day twenty eight: a 12-hour road trip with a friend I’ve known less than two months

    The more time that passes after graduation, the more I’ve realized one astounding fact:

    College prepares you for none of the actual stuff you need to know for the real world. 

    Dating, for example. College is a breeding ground for mediocre relationships, relationships that seem like the end-all-be all for those four years and are forgotten about as as soon as those pointy hats are thrown in the air on that sticky humid day in May. I could never understand why my Grandmother was so baffled over the fact that I was single for the majority of my college career until I started dating in the real world. I truly believed that men just didn’t take women on dates anymore, that chivalry had died and we were in a new age of getting into relationship, until I left the bubble that is University. Grandma, I don’t blame you for thinking I had turned asexual in college; that was not a real stage of life as far as the dating aspect goes. I wish that included in our orientation package was a flier that read “these next four years do not bear any resemblance to how your love life will look the rest of your life”. 

    Another big secret no one lets on until you’ve graduated is that “down time” dies with your diploma. I have yet to go on Pinterest once since I’ve started work, and that whole “homework ends after college” piece is a load of crap as well. I am lucky if I get in ten pages of reading of Divergent in before I pass out; and I fully consider my life balanced. 

    Finally, a big secret no one tells you about post-college life is this: making new friends in your twenties is weird. No matter if you are 22 or 32, moving to a new city and attempting to get close with new people your age is a straight up strange time. In college you are naturally bounded to people around you; you’re all in the same boat and you all easily rock that boat together. But post-fake-life/college, acquiring new friends is work. It takes an absolute effort to get a new friend’s number, much less a solidified plan of the next time you will hang out. Also something no one tells you: making friends is much like the first component on this list- it is literally like dating. When is the right time to ask for your new friend’s number? How soon is too soon to text “thank you” after getting drinks? What do you wear to the first house party your new friend invites you to? I am 100% straight, but I have been on more girl dates in the past few months than I have my entire life, all just to find a few friends.

    However, for every person that it took a lot of effort to get to know, there has been a few people that the friendship forms naturally. So naturally, in fact, that you wonder if you’d previously been old ladies sitting in rocking chairs drinking wine and gossiping together in your previous lives. 

    That was the case with one of my close friends in Vancouver, Carling. The friendship happened easily, so easily I don’t even remember how it even began. On the third time we hung out, we agreed to road trip to Banff to visit our other (and my newly acquired) friends, Chelsea and Xavier AKA the gorgeous Aussies.

    To be fair, at the time I’d thought Banff was a mere 3 hour drive from Vancouver. I was conditioned to say “yes” to everything, even offering to drive my car out of gratitude for being included in such a trip. It wasn’t until about a month later when I realized the drive would actually be 10 hours, 9 if we were speeding, which I did for the first half due to my inability to convert kilometres to miles. My first proper road trip aside from trekking to North Carolina form Chicago with my mom, I was giddy the entire time. 

    The crazy thing no one tells you after college is this: you can still make friends post-graduation. Not just friends; hollywood has created a stigma that you have three groups of friends, your high school friends, your college friends, and than your neighbors whose children yours play with and therefore become your friends, but this is not true. You can make genuine close friends, friends that can fill the void of the two older sisters you’ve left behind, friends that open up their home to you for a long weekend after only knowing you for a couple of weeks and friends that you can be enclosed with in a small car for a day’s drive and not have one awkward silence.

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  4. day twenty seven: stepping up to the plate (in a big way)

    If I was able to reveal everything I did during this challenge on a public forum, than I wouldn’t have been doing things scary enough.

    Keep your mind out of the gutter, dirty dog. Nothing of that sort; today’s challenge encompassed something personal, a confrontation that forced me to be bold, brave, and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I stepped up to the plate, set my stance, swung, and… 

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    well, for right now, the ball is still floating mid-air. 

    Which is exactly where it is supposed to be.

     


  5. day twenty six: having a conversation and giving some soup to the homeless man I pass by everyday

    It all started with water, a computer, and a broken screen error.

    No, scratch that, it started before that. It all started with an awkward encounter with someone who I did not want to see before I could get my morning coffee in me. 

    Actually, it wasn’t even then. It was last night, at the soccer game.

    I have been consistently terrible at my soccer games. Four weeks in, I have tripped, slipped and rolled my way through each of my Tuesday night soccer games. Somehow I managed to score one goal, a total mistake on happenstance that was the consequence of a ball ricocheting off the edge of my sneaker.

    Last night, I had one of those moments that you cursed apple for not yet creating a “backspace” button for life. I got a break-away, or at least I was broken away from the pack for a millisecond long enough to realize I could look up and see the goal. My body surged forward, the ball underneath me. In that moment I realized my momentum was carrying the top half of my body forward at a disproportionate rate than my lower half. What resulted was an acute pain accompanied by some sort of pop followed by my eyes welling with tears and then me hobbling over to the sidelines to ask for a sub.

    A post-game beer and icing session later, my pride was more wounded than my knee. This morning, however, I swung my feet to the right side of the bed to stretch, and felt extreme pain upon standing. 

    This is when the evolution to Eeyore begun.

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    Next stop: coffee shop. At this particular coffee shop, of which I’ve become a regular in the past three weeks, there is this fruit-infused water in a jug which you can help yourself too. Filling up my cup as quickly as possible to avoid a conversation that I did not want to have, I haphazardly twisted on the lid and threw it into my bag.

    I should have suspected it before I heard the sloshing noise in my bad that something was off, but it wasn’t until I unzipped my bag when I found the next surprise. My laptop was, quite literally, an Apple bobbing in the water/juice mixture. The screen resembled a post-apocalyptic Wall-E by the looks of its blinking and sputtering screen. 

    Game over. I’d checked out of the day by 9AM. I lived the rest of the day through the Shitty Day lens, a cloudy, dark-hued Brannen filter had it been instagrammed. I carried on though the motions, not willing to accept the day as anything more than ruined.

    When I walked home, I passed three homeless men without even noticing, the fog of gloom surrounding me. I turned to enter Whole Foods, tripping over a sign that I hadn’t noticed. I went to kick the sign in frustration, my knee screaming in pain as I wound up, when I noticed a homeless man on his knees, his hands in prayer and his eyes closed. The signs around him, the sign I was preparing to punt, were asking for help. These signs were meticulously crafted using multiple colors and types of paper and were quickly soaking through, though he didn’t seem to notice. 

    Not to over dramatize this, but I had a “doh!” moment. It dawned on me that my troubles were really not that bad, they were minuscule in the grand scheme, yet I had refused to get off the “woe is me” train the entire day. I went inside the grocery store and purchased my meal as well as an extra for the man outside. My heart raced I walked right up to him and asked how he was doing that day, feeling stupid as soon as the words exited my mouth. Obviously not awesome, Mattie, you idiot.

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    But he took me by surprise as he enthusiastically replied, “great, thank you, how are you?” 

    Great. Soaking wet, kneeling on hard concrete for hours on end, nothing to his name except for the bag next to him, he was great.

    To be completely honest, I felt like an asshole when I handed him the soup and bread I’d bought him. I was acting selfishly; I needed a little piece of his life to enter into mine to gain perspective. I needed to complete this act, an act others regarded as “selfless”, to feel better and get me out of this rut. What is that saying, no good deed goes unpunished? Here I was, feeling like the clouds had finally parted, all because I’d tripped over a sign asking for food that forced me to come out of the toilet that was my day. 

    However, this man was so genuinely grateful for the food, that a part of me let go of this feeling and just accepted that, at the very least, this was an equal exchange. It may not have been selfless, but through the currency of food and feelings, we had made a transaction.

    One of my closest and wisest friends, Chelsea, said to me after I apologized for venting over something trivial when she herself was dealing with a major medical diagnosis,”never undermine your own problems, in your head they are taking up just as much space as a problem in someone else’s head; no one is allowed to say their problem is more or less important because equal space is being filled.”  This will stick with me until the day I die; we’re allowed to have shitty days and let the space in our head be engulfed by it, no matter where they sit on the spectrum of severity. 

    And life has a funny way of showing you that spectrum pretty damn fast.  

     


  6. day twenty five: teaching yoga at the office for the first time, after a five month hiatus

    When I went through my yoga teacher training, I had no intentions of ever teaching.

    Confession: I was only one year deep into yoga during my yoga teacher’s certification. The training had happened almost as a fluke; a five year goal that’d been posted on a wall and forgotten about, until it wasn’t any longer. I’d already laid the foundation of January- I was taking Winter Term, the one-month, compacted study-abroad session offered to all undergrads, to go to India. Kerala, actually, a small town on the southwestern coast where we would teach science to young students of all social and economical backgrounds.

    The trip fell through, not on my university’s part but rather in a rare case of my parents refusing to let me do something due to my safety. I was okay with it, as I know I’ll fall visit India one day, but was not ready to be on the Ghost Town of a campus for a month. 

    So, yoga teacher training it was. 

    I intended on bettering my practice; a week spent in the mountains of Costa Rica, flowing and twisting and inverting for sixteen hours a day would do both my mind and body good. I figured that if I was to go on a yoga retreat for a week, I might as well get certified as well- if it led nowhere other than my own mat at the back of the studio, than so be it. 

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    I had no intentions of teaching yoga upon my return.

    Looking back, it is amazing that I had the confidence to enter into such a commitment with so little knowledge of what it was. I envisioned coconuts with dainty straws, long hours spent soaking up rays and some luxurious yoga classes in between. Instead, I was fortunate enough to endure seven days of hours on hours in a heated studio practicing powerful, sweat-inducing yoga, memorizing sanskrit and learning the body’s alignment. It was incredible, inspiring and exhausting, and upon boarding the plane, I realized that I couldn’t let this teaching bit only live in Alajuela, Costa Rica. 

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    I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life, but none as great as my first yoga teacher at a small studio called Om Shanti in Burlington, North Carolina. When I tell people here that my yoga practice bloomed in a small town in rural north carolina, they are amazed and amused. However, I owe this teacher everything for getting me excited about the practice. When I returned, I was having a conversation with the two owners of this studio when they asked if I had interest in teaching. Did I ever, I responded.

    The first class I taught was hilarious and uncomfortable like a dog wearing a sweater. About ten of my closest friends trotted into the studio, it being many of their first yoga class, unrolling their mats and temporarily forgetting their own insecurities in order to support me. I stuttered, stopped and made inappropriate jokes, but came through the other side of that hour an official teacher. I have never in my life felt such unconditional love than after teaching that class; nothing compares to seeing my friends utterly blissed-out in savasana, a temporary peace from the hectic college life, a peace that I’d helped guide them to.

    I grew stronger as the weeks went by, finding my voice and my confidence with each class I taught. Different friends trickled in and out, each staying long enough to have an impact on the way I saw yoga. The image of some of my tallest guy friends dripping with sweat, cursing me as they made their way into their very first pigeon pose will forever be ingrained in this series of memories.

    Those once-a-week classes were the highlight of my senior year; I found more connected to the best version of myself in that tiny, purple-walled studio than at any other time.  However, once I touched down in Vancouver, I was amongst the all-stars. Like Dorothy without my ruby red slippers, I was lost in a yogi land that I didn’t yet have the caliber of experience to be in. I decided to forgo teaching until I could acquire more training. 

    But God, I missed it. This Mattie version 2.0 was laying dormant inside me, yet occasionally rumbling, threatening to surface at random times. I voiced this to my teammates, and they insisted that I teach a class at the office. 

    Teaching on the floor that some of the most prestigious yoga teachers in the world have taught on was my own version of singing at the Grand Ole Opery. Don’t get me wrong, it was downright terrifying to show this vulnerable side of myself to those who’d only seen me as the intern-turned-coordinator. They had taken yoga classes from the greats and I was a new teacher; I opened myself up to judgement and ridicule, which of course they would never give, but I made it possible should they have a change of heart.

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    But it was simply magical. The rush I got from the students in savasana was identical as all those classes I’d taught in the tiny, humid yoga studio in North Carolina. It became apparant how necessary it was for me to allow this side of me to enter back into my life, stat. 

    2015, baby. My mat, some luon, and 100 more hours of teacher training. 

     


  7. day twenty four: introductions via cookies to all of my neighbours

    When I went to a showing of my apartment for the first time, my future landlord tried to talk me out of it.

    "You’re young, you party, you loud" he said.

    I told him that I just moved and I did not have friends in this city. I told him that after three years of living in essentially a fraternity house, I was ready to have my own place where my shoes didn’t stick to the floor and I didn’t find mice poop on my pillow. I laughed when he relayed a story of another young immigrant to Vancouver who had moved into the building singing the same tune, only to be evicted three months later due to a series of loud parties. I shrugged my shoulders and told him that even if I wanted to have a party, I wouldn’t even have the bodies to fill the space. 

    His reluctance, however, was understandable. First time apartment-owners can be messy. The first apartment I lived in sans supervision during college resulted in an angry email from the landlord citing each reason why he was keeping the security deposit, images attached. My parents were less than pleased to recieve emails of a hole in a wall, a clogged toilet and paint on the couches.

    However, that was when I had friends. One week into my move to Vancouver, I was a bit near sighted, convinced that I’d left anyone who’d ever loved or would love me behind, thousands of miles way. There would not be parties, I insisted, and I love to ideally get in bed by 10Pm every night. 

    After much insistence verging on bribery on my part, he eventually allowed me to sign a lease. I moved in two months later.

    As I got settled into my apartment over the past few weeks, I have realized the little amount of time I’ve spent in it. It has become much like a college dorm room; only visited to change, sleep and maybe watch TV. This is due to the fact that I have, believe it or not, made some friends. They are not one group of people, but rather scattered around the city in clusters and pockets. I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to workout classes, dinners, drinks and house parties by people from different areas. I am extremely grateful for all those who have included me, and the hostessing side of me is dying inside, yearning just to have ONE get-together with all these new people who have helped me fall in love with this city and my new life here. 

    Only one problem- I’m not allowed to make any noise. Issue one.

    Issue two: this is the first time I’ve lived alone, meaning there are many questions I need assistance in answering. Such as, what happens when I am making art avec my hairdryer and crayons (thanks pinterest) and I blow a circuit? And/or, why don’t quarters fit into the slots of the laundry machine? My parents are three hours ahead, and given my dad’s penchant for an 8:30PM bedtime, these people, whose faces I hadn’t even seen yet, are my real life google for #aptprobs. 

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    Not only this, but this is my first ever apartment. I feel the innate need to make friends with the people that share my walls, despite if their lease is ending in the next two weeks or they do not speak a word of english. If not for the concrete/plaster walls, we would practically all be sitting on the same couch every Wednesday during Modern Family. 

    To hammer home just HOW important neighbors are, I’ll throw one more factoid into the mix, issue number three: I’m a scaredy cat. I was the 15 year old that babysat with all the lights on and the first and only scary movie I’ve ever seen is the Blair Witch Project and I still have nightmares of it.

    So, when it came to this challenge, it was between knocking on doors empty-handed and shaking hands, or showing up with cookies. I was raised better than the former, plus, should any scary noises come from my apartment, I’d love the people residing next to me to think, “huh, those screams aren’t normal… better call 911, definitely don’t want the weird cookie lady perishing.” Instead of just kocking on the door and starting the conversation, enough to make me queasy in the first place, I buckled down and made my best choco chip cookies for the six neighbors surrounding me as well as the neighbor underneath me (for those infrequent nights I wear heels).image

    Apparently, Halloween came early this year to the Seaside Plaza; my neighbors opened the door and looked like they’d just seen a ghost. I gave my spiel, tapping into my girl scout cookie selling days of yore, introducing myself and offering up the platter I’d made them. 3/7 doors opened, the others reamained shut, the footsteps slowly pittering away after looking through the view finder and not recognizing the bug-eyed stranger holding treats outside their door. 

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    I gathered more confidence with each of the three doors that opened, the last being the neighbor downstairs who had not, so far into my stay, loved having me as her upstais neighbor. A light sleeper, she had not appreciated my unpacking at 11pm nor my total un-canadian move of wearing shoes inside the apartment. But she was delighted by the plate of cookies and we had a great conversation for over a half hour, pressing the refresh button on our relationship.

    I had a lot of fun in this challenge; as I’ve said before, conversation gets me high. However, the better part was just delighting people through surprises- it is incredible that something as simple as a plate of cookies can light people up like a Christmas tree.  Equally as important as introducing myself to these Strangers Beside Me, which was scary and awkward and frightening, was that they introduced themselves to me. I made three new acquintances that I have probably passed entering and exiting the building multiple times over; people that I never would have interacted with had I not asked.

     


  8. day twenty three: coffee with a (then) stranger to discuss this challenge

    I get high through conversation.

    In college, my friends would say goodbye to me before heading out. “Text me when you get home,” Brooke would say as we schlepped up the stairs to the party as gracefully as our 5 inch heels would allow. Pause here: this was NOT because I was some scandalous, burgeoning co-ed relishing in the sexual independence that is college- far from it. It was because my friends knew that as soon as I walked in that door at a party, I was all “out of sight, out of mind”.

    Now, let’s lay down some foundation for your better understanding. My university had about 6,000 undergrads, 40% of whom were greek. There were 8 fraternities on campus, so it was rare to see an unfamiliar face when out and about at night.  We all either knew each other or knew of each other, the latter typically the more dangerous in a small, crammed basement full of rowdy young adults.

    The reason behind the Houdini act at parties was because of this high obtained through conversation. A typical saturday at say, 12:30AM, I could be found having a “life talk” with an acquaintance who I normally crossed paths with en route to class without saying a word. My thought process behind it was that I got to converse, learn and spend time with my best friends all the time during the day; those wee hours in the morning were an opportune time to meet, talk and befriend some people that I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t have in any other setting other than the fuzzy keg beer-induced friendliness. The times I held back and avoided conversation with people other than my best friends, I felt constrained and unhappy, like a puppy tied to a leash outside the grocery store. 

    I do not like to hold back in conversation. This has gotten me in trouble multiple times (see: list of thirty things I love about myself post), but my friends have told me they appreciate my bluntness and honesty. If you and I were to get to talking, I would probably have told you enough information to pose as me on an online dating site within the first twenty minutes. 

    So, when I was asked for “coffee and conversation” with someone I’d met once and of whom I’d had a mutual friend, I happily obliged. Although extremely nervous- who isn’t when meeting a handsome stranger for coffee on a sunny afternoon- I was excited to be able to pick a new person’s brain and gain perspective. Like reading a good book or watching a provocative episode of Homeland, good, honest conversation with new people gets my mind’s wheels spinning quickly. I’m not talking polite small talk or elevator greetings- I’m talking good ol’ coffee shop magic chats, the conversations that you can’t help but eavesdrop on when passing them by. 

    Three hours later, my coffee cup was long since empty but my mind was filled to the brim with new perspective, ideas and respect for this person who took a polite interest in me because of this 30-day challenge.

    I’ve found that the conversation high is readily accessible if you need it: asking your taxi driver what his favourite area of the city is, complimenting a coworker in the office on her shoes, or even just saying yes to coffee conversation with a stranger. You can obtain that quick pitter patter of your heart just by leading with a simple question and listening in return.

     


  9. day twenty two: going AWOL for the day- 24 hours sans cell phone

    The fear is real people.

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    The single most suggested scare was this: 24 hours with the iPhone powered down.

    So, today, I embarked on the challenge. I shut down my phone at midnight last night, laying it to hibernate for a day. 

    The outcome may surprise you.

    Whenever I’ve traveled out of the country, my phone has remained off for the majority of the time. It has been refreshing, albeit moderately frightening, to rely on maps, animal instincts and other humans to get me from A to B. Without a yelp app, I would read actual menus and order take out by going to a restaurant and waiting. Without instagram, I would take the time to take real photos, quality photos with my camera that I would later print and get blown up without the pixels blurring together. And, most importantly without a device connecting to my network of friends, I would partake in conversations with those around me, or, better yet, read a book on the bus rather than catching up on my feeds. 

    This is what I expected from a day with out my phone- a blissful break from modern technology to clear my head and get refocused. 

    "It’ll be liberating, you’ll see," my coworker suggested.

    "Generation Y is addicted to their cell phones," every newspaper ever dictated. 

    "What if something happens to you?’ my mom asked with concern.

    Although parts of all of those are true, the most biggest truth from this experience is this: by turning off your phone you turn off your connection to some of the better parts of yourself.

    Stay with me here. 

    I have been lucky enough to have lived in multiple places around the world, and therefore I have clusters of friends in many locations. From Santa Monica to New York, across the pond to Florence and back to Fort Lauderdale, my friends are as scattered as skittles after a rainbow. I have a long list of places to visit and a longer list of people I need to skype. 

    Texting my my best friend in Pennslyvania for boy advice, snap chatting my almost little sister who just broke her arm and dialing in on long distance calls to California with the girl who will be standing by my side at my wedding; this is how I fill those pockets of lonliness that sneak in now and again. 

    A group of punk rockers in a catchy one-hit-wonder told me that “all you really need are a few good friends”. I tend to disagree. Each of my friends brings something different to the table, and a part of me grows, changes and prospers through every one of them. Each interaction with these people, whether it be a heart-to-heart conversation with my recently dumped guy friend after a few too many beers or an inside joke that is still funny despite our forgetting what it actually means with a sorority sister, are what allow me to be my best self. So, by taking away my communication with all these wonderful people, you are cutting off my energy supply.

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    As the majority of my friends know, I have become one of those people who are “terrible with their phones”. No one is terrible with their phones, 5-month ago me thought. This is that person just being lazy, not wanting to respond to my text. That school of thought bit me in the ass as soon as my daily routine changed from attending one class, watching Friends and eating frozen yogurt to work, exercise, sushi, repeat. 

    However, messages in the morning from my friends from afar are literally what get me out of bed in the morning. Like being plugged in and charged, the kind words and updates from the people I love most are my batteries. 

    The day I turned off my phone, I didn’t feel lonely per say, but I did feel as though I was doing myself an extreme disservice. Not only did I shut off my connection with those outside of Vancouver, but I also lost touch with those within the Vancity vicinity. My new friends here, the friends whom have already become my support system, are the ones who suffered from this challenge more than I. Their texts went unanswered and their calls ignored as they recieved radio silence from my end for 24 hours. My friend Caroline had to literally intercept me when I was going to pick up my sushi, waiting outside the restaurant until I arrived, in order to get ahold of me.

    And, of course, there was that climatic moment in which I had to break my challenge. Wine night at a friend’s, 8PM. Arrive to this. What are you going to do?

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    There is a reason technology exists. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for cleansing from the phone for a while, but the more important thing is being cognoscente of the phone. This does means being aware of basic social cues like texting with complete words (nothing kills a convo like “u”), turning off the “read” function on your iphone if you aren’t immediately going to respond, and avoiding any winky faces if you’re of the male gender. However, more importantly, it means being aware that there is a time and place for the phone to take a nap. 

    So, after having 24 hours to reflect on my phetiquette, I am committing to the following:

    1. If I am at dinner and/or drinks with someone, my phone must remain in my purse for the extent of the interaction unless to a. take a photo or b. answer a text of someone that is meeting us
    2. Responding to texts within two hours. This would be much more obtainable if Apple would finally get around to adding a “mark as unread” or flagging function to text messages like emails. C’mon guys.
    3. Not texting/writing emails/checking feeds on the commute to work. See: eye contact challenge.
     

  10. day twenty one: Pussycat Dolls hip-hop dance class.

    Clearly dancing, like french and good conversation, flows better after a few drinks (see: beyonce moves). This class did NOT come easy.

    Part II of this challenge: Posting this video. 

    Warning: cringeworthy secondhand awkwardness will immediately follow post-watching this video. 

    All in a day of freaking yourself out, folks.