Day 1 of the Positivity Project

The Conclusion to my 5 1/2 Year-Long Experiment with Self-Help

In April 2012, I wrote my very first reflection for this blog. I was 22 years old, and had just moved to Vancouver, BC from Fredericton, New Brunswick with my partner to pursue my dream of being an actor and writer.

What you’re reading right now is my very last public reflection as part of this long-standing personal project. Maybe you’ve followed these posts here and there for a while. If that’s the case, thank you so much for your support. In the 5½ years I’ve kept this blog, I’ve written over 400 reflections. 425, to be exact. Many of them are terrible. More than a few of them made me cringe as I went through them this afternoon. But for a whole lot of them… I feel incredibly proud. For many years, this blog acted as my voice; a voice I clung onto like a precious secret – my proof that I was more than I appeared.

In the beginning, I called this blog ‘The Positivity Project’ and I wrote my first reflection with growth and transformation in mind.  I thought getting on the road to success depended on my ability to change, and I thought the best way to do this was to embrace self-help. I was fully committed to this belief.

Vision Board

April 2012. Photo credit: Greg Melanson

But I also felt frustrated by the way transformation was being presented to me in the books I was reading – as stories that had arrived; stories that were finished. I didn’t question that success would feel like this, but I still wanted a clear picture of what getting there would look like. How had the people who’d written the glowing testimonials in praise of self-help principles been able to trust that what they were doing would actually work?

I wanted a guarantee that if I committed myself to meditation, visualization, journaling, exercise, mastermind groups, goal-setting, at least 30 minutes a day of reading, cold showers, impeccable nutrition, gratitude, and placed inspirational quotes around my home for daily bursts of motivation, that (despite being exhausted) I would be, unquestionably, going somewhere great.

What I wanted didn’t exist. So I decided I’d create it myself. Using this blog, I would (with as much honesty as I could) track a journey towards success and as a result become a beacon of inspiration that proved it was possible to grow and to change.

I wanted to inspire you.

I needed to prove that I was somebody of value.

The last five and a half years have been full ones.

In my work life, I have gone from working as a host at a family restaurant chain, to a receptionist at a fitness centre, to an assistant editor at a yoga website, to then being hired as the managing editor of a start-up magazine – an opportunity which ended with an accounting error that inexplicably and abruptly ended the publication, and put me $5000 in debt from unpaid wages. Two months later, I went after my first job in the self help industry and for the next two years freelanced as a ghost writer for a few different self-help organizations around the west coast. It didn’t go that well. The experience taught me a lot about my relationship to writing and that, since writing is a form of persuasion, how I use it matters if I want to be mentally and emotionally healthy.

When I say it didn’t go well, what I really mean is that writing self-help lead me towards a self-help defined breakdown– I screamed noiselessly into my pillow one afternoon, so exhausted and stressed out I could barely move. This lead to my rash (and in the end, life-affirming) decision to sell almost everything I owned to move to France for 3 months – mostly on credit – because (in my own words) “I needed to die so that I could come back to life.”

In the midst of this, I also ended a long-term 6 ½ year relationship with the person I’d moved to Vancouver with. During our first week in the city, we stretched a tiny blanket (the kind you’d cuddle up on a couch with) between the two of us at night as we slept and tried our best not to worry about where we were and what we’d done, together. Although we eventually grew apart as a couple, I loved him a lot. From that experience, I learned that it takes time to heal.

Or at least, that it takes time to remember that love (romantic, intimate, friendship-based) was there in those memories, and that someday it will be there again – although maybe in a different form.

Something that has been important to me throughout this entire project, was that I maintain a sort of relational integrity with the people in my life. This blog was about my own personal explorations, and I decided early on that I would not use it to discuss my relationships with other people in an overt way. If you didn’t want to appear in my blog, you wouldn’t. That’s why my reflection about the end of my relationship looked like this. A somewhat cryptic acknowledgement of a new beginning. I’m grateful to have captured that extremely vulnerable time in my life – how I tried to throw a blanket over the pain – the way that I did.

In the arena of dreams and personal ambition, I’ve spent a large portion of the last several years studying acting. Voice, specifically, has been a big focus for awhile. At a Larry Moss workshop that I audited a couple months after getting to Vancouver, I bought ‘Freeing the Natural Voice’ by Kristin Linklater. I worked through those exercises for months, laying on the floor of a classroom at the acting school I was attending (either during lunch or after class was over for the day), and afterwards filled my phone with recordings of my speaking voice; in the same vein of this blog, I was trying to track a progression towards what I imagined a strong and self-assured voice should sound like.

My curiosity about voice helped me to find the National Voice Intensive, which I attended in Toronto in 2015 – an experience which wouldn’t have happened if not for an extraordinary gift from the leader of a by-donation retreat I’d attended about two months before the intensive’s start date. In Toronto, I learned about joy.

This was a pivotal moment for me.

Blog 9

May 2015. Photo credit: unknown

I can’t box myself into a set identity that behaves ‘according to plan’ 100% of the time” I said in a reflection I published while there  —  a line that later appeared in the first spoken word poem I ever wrote, Between the Lines.

This poem was actually made up of several lines I’d written as part of the self-exploration I was doing on this blog. I performed it for the first time, already fully memorized, at a Project Limelight Open Mic. I was nervous, but the experience ended up being a positive one. I remember arriving home late that night and staring up at the stars. I remember saying thank you.

“But nonetheless, there’s a way in which all nonfiction is fiction: the backward search through happenstance, trivia, the flotsam and jetsam of life to search out a pattern, themes, a meaning is by its nature an imposition of order on what was chaotic.”
– Sharon Butala, The Perfection of the Morning

I started this blog to chart a journey towards success.

What I’ve ended up with is a series of candid and personal reflections about what living through my early and mid-twenties has felt like. Throughout this conclusion post, I’ve included hyperlinks to the reflections that coincided with the events I now consider as being major ones in this part of my life. I think that’s kind of neat! So in that way, I guess I’ve accomplished what I was hoping to. This project allowed me to capture changes in my voice, not in retrospect, but in sequence.

My experience with to-do lists taught me that I’m more than capable of filling up my time with things to do, but that there’s more to growth than following a list. For me, the most nourishing changes have happened when I let everything fall away… later picking things up again (or not) one at a time. My to-do lists also taught me about urgency, and how I’ve imbued my desire for certain experiences — like change, happiness and love — with this quality.

My experience with meditation taught me that there are places I return to often, and that the thoughts which once constructed the memories I hold onto the tightest make up the world I understand today in the most extraordinary and mischievous ways. I’ve learned to value my way of seeing, but also to question it; to challenge it.

My experience with vision boards taught me that some dreams (the ones so big they don’t really belong to you) are stressful. While vision boards definitely showed me something of the magic that does exist in asking for what you want, they also taught me to be cautious of hidden influences and of the role those influences play as directors and/or guides of my choices and desires. There is a lot that I once thought I needed which feel foreign as persuasive motivators now.

I’ve learned that to be a consumer of self help — to be a ‘self-help junkie’, as I once described myself— depends on the stability of a belief that (if the industry is to remain profitable – always, more and more profitable), I wasn’t actually meant to shake. This being, a belief in my own inadequacy (or to put it in a way that’s easier to market: a belief in my own unrealized potential). But if I don’t believe this. If I don’t believe that there is a place in time I need to reach to begin; that there’s an end point at which it is my responsibility to arrive if I want my life to be seen as successful, then so much of self-help loses its power and its relevance.

Spoken Word

December 2016. Photo credit: Rami Merhi  (Hadi Bou Ayash featured in photo with me)

For self-help presents more of a means to an end than a way of life, and what I’ve really been left with at the end of this race to track and understand; to perfect and orchestrate, is a realization that my life is not a test measuring worthiness.

That last sentiment has been maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this entire project.

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done… you are fierce with reality.”
– Florida Scott Maxwell (quote taken from Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer)

I now have a small list of writing clients (none of them in the self-help industry), and work on the weekends as a children’s entertainer – painting faces, making balloon animals, doing magic, and telling stories. For the last several months, I’ve been studying breath. A practice which I find both life-enhancing and joyful.

I’ve left acting in order to focus my attention on writing, and two months ago began working on my first book. I also perform regularly as a spoken word poet on Monday nights at Café Deux Soleil, and hope to build a career for myself in this medium over the coming years.

I’ve deactivated my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook profile accounts (to give myself privacy), and end this project close to the 10-year anniversary of the day I stopped taking anti-depressants (which I’d been on for 6 years, between the ages of 12 and 18).

I’m reminded of something Sylvia Plath once wrote in her diary. Something I once nodded my head to in vigorous agreement:

“… such a minute fraction of this life do we live: so much is sleep, tooth-brushing, waiting for mail, for metamorphosis, for those sudden moments of incandescence: unexpected, but once one knows them, one can live life in the light of their past and the hope of their future.”
– Sylvia Plath – January 15th, 1956 – (journal)

I don’t agree with this statement anymore.

Fantasy plays a role in all of our lives (it’s the principle product that self-help sells), but I’ve learned to be cautious of how large a role it plays in mine. To be aware of (and to question) the ways I am sustained and nourished by my thoughts and dreams as opposed to the ways I am sustained and nourished by touch. To wonder at how large a role symbol and story play in my life, as opposed to sensation — sensation as it relates to the erotic, but also to the mundane.

To put it simply: Do I breathe? Or do I dream? For I think there is a balance which exists between the two, and that it’s important to be cautious of how far the pendulum swings in either direction. I think we need both.

I started this blog because I wanted to prove my worth, and show that I was more than I appeared. I thought I came across as timid and shy, and so used this blog to construct a different and evolving persona I hoped was worthy of notice.

I end it now, because I don’t want to share my life in this way anymore. This blog kept me afloat for a long time, but it also supported my feelings of inadequacy and as soon as I realized this, I knew that the project was over.

“We think we know what’s going on, that we have control of our lives; we make plans, have date books and schedules, and then we turn around to see ourselves and realize our lives have their own composition, their own movement.”
– Natalie Goldberg, Long Quiet Highway

Thank you for being apart of the stories and explorations which made up my early to mid-twenties. It’s truly been a wonderful ride.

Pic

July 2017. Photo credit: Molly Carney