Reflecting on the past 12 months…

So, this post is inspired a little by Estrella’s post on her top five moments of 2013 and a little on today being my birthday. It’s a good day to have a birthday, I think. I like the timing and the day of the year. It really suits me and I enjoy it a lot~ It also means that my Christmas and birthday are over pretty quick and I don’t really have to leave the festive mood once the new year begins…instead, I continue the celebration through to my birthday. One big, long celebration!

Anyway, the point of this post – my top five things in my something-something-th year of life. Here goes:

  1. I lived in Egypt for five months – wow and just WOW!!!!
  2. I travelled to Romania, met Estrella, made a lifelong friend, and was amazed by the country. It is a serious “must go now!” country. Really. I swear I’m not biased. Not a little. (Well, maybe just a *little* teeny bit…)
  3. I was able to seriously indulge in my reading addiction.
  4. I spent some amazing times with my other half. He’s amazing. Truly.
  5. I reconnected with my mother on such a deeper level. So good – so supportive – so beautiful.

It was difficult for me to pinpoint these moments, but they were there among many more moments. As I get older, I realise the value of my relationships and the value of experiences such as travel. I really do. Of course, when I was younger I had many amazing experiences but they were often tainted by following the crowd and not being sure of who I was. Every day I learn a little more about myself and I love myself a little more {in a deeply, honourably good way}. I surprise myself, too – both good and bad surprises. But it’s all part of what makes me who I am. And I love that.

Birthday roses

While this may not be the best photo, it is one full of meaning. Fresh roses picked from the garden at early-o’clock this morning especially for me. They smell divine and have been keeping me company all day while I work. ❤

Sitting here listening

Sitting in a {paleo} cafe surrounded by people: two older gentlemen sitting on one side and two younger ladies sitting on the other side. Both discussing the varieties of life – on one side they’re discussing travel, on the other it’s work. I feel myself sitting here wanting to participate in their conversations and give them some different ideas. I can tell them about travelling in China and Nepal and Jordan; I can tell them about flexibility in jobs and getting the job you really want. From apparently different ends of life and different sides of life, these two pairs of friends are connected through me in the middle – the middle of their conversations, the middle of my life {perhaps, perhaps not}, the middle of my experiences.
My life isn’t extraordinary, in my opinion. But I can talk about travel – I can talk about any of the many amazing countries that I’ve visited. For a long time, my goal has been to travel to more countries than my current age, and so far I’m doing well. I’ve still got a year or two of “no new countries” before I will jeopardise my goal. But I’m not going to fall behind – I have my plans in place. My dream is South America – I will get there. Last year, I fulfilled my dream of Romania – it was amazing! I just want to stop revisiting countries that I’ve been to before (but honestly it can’t be helped!). This year my goal is to take my other half to a new country – one I’ve been to, but one they haven’t – but we will go to new places and have different experiences.
My work is “normal” but I know about flexibility, or lack thereof. In a job where I thought flexibility was crucial, I am finding that I have no flexibility. The theory was that I could do this job anywhere where I had an internet connection, but the reality is that a micromanaging boss wants to physically see me every day. All of my work is online – email, websites, forums, teleconferences, online classes – but my physical presence is desired. In my job that started out with minimal flexibility, I have the most flexibility. I set my time, my workload, my location – everything except the pay rate. (Oh, how I wish I could set that! But I know that I can influence it…) This is the job that I will keep indefinitely – I can plan it around my family, my travel, my hobbies, my desires.
I feel as though I can do anything sitting here in the middle – I could join in the conversation with the older gentlemen and give them some fresh insights; I could join in the conversation with the younger ladies and give them some different ideas.
However, here I sit, doing work and writing a blog post. Ah, this is life!

Reading in 2013

{Inspired by Estrella Azul’s post My 2013 in books}

In 2013, I had a goal of reading 50 books, which I revised to 62 when I felt that I was going well. Little did I know how well I was going to do! I knew that I would have more time during the year as my workload was less, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t set an unrealistic target. I should admit it from the beginning: I am a bookworm. As bad as they get – that’s me. If I’m reading a good book, then all else fades away into oblivion. For example, today I had a lot of work to do, but I got distracted by my book. For 5 hours. Oops. Now, I get to make up that work time tonight after dinner. Anyway, that might be a story for another time.

2013 Reading Challenge Goal

I do enjoy reading a variety of books – almost anything, but it has to keep me entertained: if it follows the same pattern, then I get bored because I can predict generally what will happen. That’s often while I’ll get stuck on a series for a while and then just stop – I know the basic format of the book. I mean, once you’ve read 15 Jack Reacher books, you can almost predict what will happen in the 16th {spoiler alert}: Reacher finds himself somewhere he normally isn’t; he gets involved in a situation he doesn’t want to be involved in; he wants to leave – he knows he should leave; he stays (for now – he might leave and return again shortly after); he sees things that the other characters don’t; he finds a girl (well, 70% of the time); he makes a mistake and berates himself; he ends up solving the case using unorthodox methods and then disappears into the night. Don’t get me wrong – I really love reading that series at the moment, but I can predict it. So, it becomes numbing reading – reading that doesn’t challenge me to think or try to guess the plot. There’s always “what happens next?” or “did I guess right?” and that gets me through the book, but it’s becoming more difficult for me to be surprised by mainstream authors.

Hence, I try a variety of different styles and authors – and they invariably give me different results. In 2013, I was pleasantly surprised by a few different authors and books. I must admit that I think the story of a centurion on an adventure stole my heart and ruined me for other books for a while. I had a serious book hangover and I just couldn’t shake it off for a seriously long time. (Well, a long time between books for me – maybe two weeks?) While I read more than my goal of 62 books, only a few really made me think and appreciate the ability to read and to enjoy reading. Here are some of those books in no particular order (well, except the centurion who stole my heart is first!):

A side note: I love using Goodreads to track my reading – both what I’ve read, what I am reading, and what I want to read. If you haven’t seen that website yet, then I encourage you to do so – they give some good information and appropriate recommendations based on your reading. It’s also a place where you can follow your favourite authors and see what they’re up to. I guess one of my favourite things is the notification of when my favourite authors have just published a new book. I have so many “favourite” authors, though, that I am constantly being given lists of books that have just been published or are just about to be published.

Here’s a visual of what books I read – you can see that there are some choices that are more “escaping reality” than “rocking good reads”, but life sometimes demands books that allow you to escape without using your mind too much. There are also some books in there from my book club – one of the most relaxed book clubs I’ve ever participated in. The basic requirement is that you turn up to the meetings – no actual book reading required. {However, we do mostly read the books in some format – or at least I do…}

2013 in Books {Goodreads}

*Note: The starred books are some of my favourites this year – ones that I truly enjoyed reading.

What piqued your interest in 2013? Do you have any recommendations for me for 2014? I’m already on my second book (with 836 pages, too – and I just can’t put it down!), but am very open to suggestions. Please share your ideas or your favourite books below in the comments.

Bonfire Heart – James Blunt

Video

days like these lead to…
nights like this lead to…
love like ours…
you light the spark in my bonfire heart…

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

days like these lead me to you
to your arms
to your warmth

nights like this remind me why
you are my all
you are my only

love like ours gives us
strength
passion
beauty

you spark my flame
my flame ignites your heart
together we are everything
for each other
for us
together

The dogs of Kathmandu

Recently, when I was working in Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but notice all the street dogs. They are everywhere and they seem to wander the streets at will, but also have defined territories. They are very resilient – you can see their battle scars clearly. They are also calm and enjoying a relatively lazy life. They also look amazingly similar as you can see below. (Yes, they are all different dogs on different days.) It makes me wonder about their life and how they survive.

One particular dog caught my attention – the dog in the middle of the image. He lived near the taxi rank, so I saw him every day for a little over three weeks. Every time I saw him, he looked content and poised. He never looked hungry or sad, but rather he appeared to be the king of his territory. He was constantly surveying his territory and making sure he ruled it all. Other dogs would stay away and avoid any contact. He wouldn’t budge for any human or other animal, either; they had to walk around him. A very proud dog in the middle of life in a busy area in Kathmandu. He constantly reminded me of Nepali people, too, with his approach to life: proud, calm, resilient.

The dogs of Kathmandu

Kathmandu Dog Pack {True} Story

Warning: Depicts a graphic scene – you may not want to read this.

The first time I went to Nepal, I arrived late at night and had the hotel transport pick me up from the airport. I was exhausted – I had just traveled for more than 36 hours to get here. But I was excited to be in a new city to see new things. It was just after Tihar and many buildings still had lights all over them – it was a beautiful sight. We were going around a corner when a pack of dogs caught my eye – it looked like they had cornered some prey and were going to have dinner. I looked closer to see what they had found; they had found another weaker dog. The pack was about 8 or 9 dogs strong; the dog being attacked was weak and helpless. It was horrid: the pack dogs were taking it in turns to bite and tear apart the other dog. I could hear the other dog whimpering and crying. It was a terrible scene and one that I didn’t want to see. Thankfully, after about one minute of being so close to this situation, the transport moved on. I don’t know what happened, but I sure can imagine it.

Now I understand the saying “it’s a dog eat dog world”. Literally.

destroying what *must* be destroyed – part II

How do you feel about destroying what must be destroyed in your life? Part II

{Follow up post from destroying what must be destroyed}

This question started me thinking about my life and what is truly not necessary in it. It made me realise something about my relationships with my friends – online and offline. It made me start to evaluate the quality of my relationships and to see if there are any that should be “destroyed”. It got me thinking…

In truth, I live a pretty quiet life and don’t often meet my friends. I’m an introvert of sorts – except when I’m in front of 200 students explaining to them about the struggles and issues that some learners face when they are learning in a second (or third, or fourth) language. Then, I’ll happily stand up and sprout “wisdom”. Aside from that, I’m an introvert and I have the best relationships with my friends online. I mean, excluding the people I live with, I would physically talk with about one or two others in a normal week. However, I have numerous conversations going online – emails, chats, Skypes, all that. I could go on Skype or Facebook and find a random friend to start talking with and nothing would be unusual about that mode of communication for us. It would definitely be weirder to pick up a phone and talk to them. Definitely.

I started looking at my Facebook “friends”; those people that I’ve connected with over the years and still share a connection, albeit sometimes tenuous. I looked at my close friends and my not-so-close friends. I also looked at my used-to-be-close friends who I distanced myself from. Yes, I’m talking about that one friend that I used to do everything with, but we grew apart when I stopped initiating interactions. They didn’t initiate interactions. Mutual decision to grow apart? Maybe. Let’s talk about that friend, “F”.

F and I went to school together – we’ve known each other most of our lives. At school, we either loved each other or hated each other. It was a boarding school; it can breed contempt easily. Aside from that, we went to the same university and when I went overseas to work, I found a job for F and F came over, too. This was F’s first experience overseas and we lived together for a while. Until I couldn’t stand it anymore; I moved out. We were still in the same town – the same group of expat friends (because we were seriously limited for choice) – but we managed to avoid each other for a while. Then F left and I stayed. Through emails (waaaay back before Facebook), we stayed in touch. When I wanted a place to chill in another country, we met again and were friends again. And so it continued – we were travel buddies and our mutual connection was a love of travel (because it has to be more than just going to school together). We continued like this for a long time and we made it a ritual: once a year, we’d travel together to a place we’d never been before. We had amazing travels – we saw many different places and countries. We made great mutual friends that we still have today. It was great.

BUT.

(There’s always a “but”.)

When we were together, I was sacrificing myself so that F could have the best experience that F could; I had to give up on what I wanted and just do what F wanted. This wasn’t good. I started to comprehend what this was doing to me but I thought better of F – I thought I was misreading the situation and F’s responses. Maybe I was weak. I thought that it was just me, not F. So, I tried again. And again. And again. Three times – three different situations – three different countries – two different years. I made an effort to try to see that F cared about me and that we were a travel team together. But, no. No. It was all about F and what F wanted and thought. So, after the third trip, I decided that I’d had enough. I was not going to be F’s friend anymore – or rather, I was not going to go out of my way to maintain our “friendship”. It was hard at first – I wanted to share things with F and to travel more together. I wanted to go back to the “good times”, the “fun times” that we had at points in our travels. I couldn’t go back. I learned that I could do it all myself, though.

As expected, F and I grew apart. Now, when it came to an important celebration for me, I had always told F that they would be the first person invited. In truth, I thought long and hard about inviting F and F’s partner. In the end, I did invite them. And they came. This actually surprised me until I realised why they came. They came to see if my life was real and if my happiness was real. They also came to get ideas for their own celebration. To work out if they could do it “better” than I did. I didn’t care – it was just interesting to see that F was up to F’s old tricks again – comparison, competition, selfishness. I thought I was vindicated in my distance. I was glad that I distanced myself from F.

Nine months later, F invited me to a celebration. It wasn’t an easy invite to accept, but I considered that F and F’s partner came to my celebration, so perhaps it was “fair” and “right” that I go to theirs. It was an ordeal to attend the celebration – extensive travel, expensive accommodation, long delays during the celebration – but it was worth going. I realised that nothing had changed and that everything was the same with F. Including that I wanted out of our “friendship” permanently. I want it destroyed. I want it over. It’s draining me, causing me undue stress and just generally unhealthy.

But underneath, I’m not sure I can be that callous. In reality, our only contact is online and it’s relatively sporadic and passive. F only contacts me when they need me, or when they want to show how much better than me they are. A very selfish, one-way friendship, if I can still use that term. I wish things were different; I wish we could be real friends. But then I remember the pain, the constant competition, the constant bettering. That’s exhausting. I don’t need that. I don’t want that. I want out.

Ergo, I shall destroy. Cut ties, remove from contacts, aim for zero connection online and offline.

DML Graphics v13 130919 Logo Square 151x1511 Desire Map for Life

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Inspired by Danielle Laporte and her post on Your relationship to destruction, Goddess Kali, and Fridays with desire. #DesireMap

Inspiration vs. Motivation

Inspiration and motivation – I have thought these were the same and not bothered to interrogate my own understandings of their inherent nature and what they truly mean. This is odd for me – I’m usually a “word” person (read: grammar geek) and I like to know the subtle differences between words and when it is more appropriate to use one over another. But I have never thought deeply about this pair of words, together or separate. Besides, everyone knows what they mean – they are everyday words. I know that sometimes they are used as synonyms for each other, but I still haven’t defined or delineated them well. That is, until I read the start of a great post by Nerd Fitness. (Yes, it’s nerdy; it’s also got some great writing and *inspirational* stories!) In essence, my take home message was this:

Be motivated by anyone, be inspired by reality. {tweet me}

Let’s go back to definitions, though, and get a foundation from which to build our understandings.

in·spi·ra·tion  n.
1a. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.
1b. The condition of being so stimulated.

mo·ti·va·tion n.
1a. The act or process of motivating.
1b. The state of being motivated.
2. Something that provides an inducement or incentive.

When I look at these words in the cold light of a dictionary, they are starkly different: one is about personal enjoyment and engagement without seeking a reward or benefit; the other is about a reward or a lure to make someone do something. Wow. Just think about that.

One is from an intrinsic internal place; the other is external and requires something tempting. Black and white. Open and closed. On and off. Opposites.

Questions: Why do we so often interchange these words or not recognize the differences that are inherent in their meanings? Have we become so desensitized by the media, the pack mentality, the global grab that we cannot distinguish between these two anymore? Or is it just me?

The difference between these concepts is astounding. Going back to my take home message from Nerd Fitness’s post – be motivated by anyone, be inspired by reality – I didn’t realize it at the time, but at a subconscious level I understood. Now, it’s time for me to raise my awareness to a conscious level. Two questions (from Nerd Fitness) prompted my own introspection and interrogation:

What drives me daily to be better?

  • My desire to have my dream life that I have built inside my head based on others’ dreams and perceptions of “happiness”: buying a home, having a family, being stable, being “fit”, being “successful”, being “happy”.

From where do you get your inspiration?

  • My friends and my family: they have all had their own struggles and weaknesses (as we all do, sometimes even more), but they have never let those negatives stop them. They continue to achieve, continue to dream, continue to do. I admire every one of my family and friends; they are amazing people. (Yes, I am *that* lucky!)

What about you? What drives you every day to be better? Where is your inspiration? Share with us in the comments below~