Sunday, January 10, 2010

This year is getting off to a slow but good start. Already things are far better than they were this time last year, and I'm looking forward to everything 2010 will bring.

I'm working on some freelance contracts; I've been getting great feedback and it's looking like my current projects will lead to future work, which is fantastic. I'm also finishing up some temp work - at the moment, that will be ending next week, although it might end up lasting another couple of days beyond that. I'll be training my replacement starting on Tuesday. I've met her before and I have every confidence that she'll do a great job.

On a total aside, I've been watching some old movies lately, and I came across Anna Christie, the 1930 film which was Greta Garbo's first talkie. While I found that not enough was done to create a realistic bond between Greta's title character and her love interest, I did find the film itself to be compelling - especially given the time in which it was released. When I think of films from the 1930s, I think of highly stylized, romanticized, and watered down scripts to appease any censors. Anna Christie is filled with characters who populate the underbelly of society; the storyline is dark and gritty. It doesn't shy away from subjects like neglect, poverty, and prostitution, and yet there is also a sense of hope - that the characters can rise above their circumstances and find some sort of happiness, even if it doesn't conform to society's idea of propriety.

Apart from watching old movies, I've been working towards making this be a successful year. Further to that, I'll sign off for now so I can go and bid on some more projects.

Happy travels,


Friday, January 1, 2010

I seem to have an inability to let things get me down for very long.

2009 sucked. Royally. But when something crappy happens, my philosophy has always been to feel sorry for myself for a short time (say, a few hours or a day), and then I move on. For example, I learned recently that I will not in fact publish a paranormal romance with Harlequin.

But that's ok - it just means that I'll edit, re-write, and massage the manuscript into something that another publisher might be interested in.

I also intend to get back to my more literary writing interests. I stopped by an Indigo the other day and picked up a copy of The Malahat Review, and I already feel more writerly. This year, I intend to send off more short stories and poems to my favourite literary magazines. Fear of rejection has kept me from sending my stories in, but fear feels so very redundant.

I've always had a philosophy of doing things despite fear that might otherwise hold me back, and it's silly to not extend this philosophy to my writing as well. Especially given the fact that rejection comes with the territory, so I might as well just get over it.

I did my first-ever discover scuba (long before I ever did a full and proper Open Water Diver course here in Ontario), and I did this one-day, see-what-it's-like class in Thailand despite a huge yet irrational fear of sharks.

I was absolutely terrified. But I also really wanted to try scuba diving, to see what it was like. So I went to a dive shop, asked them a million questions until I was (fairly) certain that they were legit, and that I wouldn't die. That would have put a huge dent in my vacation.

I was still terrified of sharks. So to keep myself invested in this scuba diving plan of mine, I paid for a discover scuba session that would take place the next day.

I didn't really sleep that night. The next morning, tired and anxious as I was, I told myself that I would get on the shuttle bus, but I might not get on the boat.

Then I got on the boat, but told myself that I might not put on the wetsuit and gear up to get in the water.

Then after I was finished getting seasick over the side of the boat, I told myself that ok, I might do the whole giant-stride-off-the-boat thing, but I might not actually go through with the dive.

And then I and my instructor slowly descended until we got to our max depth. I had been so busy paying attention to watching my instructor, and to clearing my ears as we descended, that somewhere along the way I forgot to be scared.

And then after I showed that I had learned the basic hand signals and the basic safety skills, like retrieving a reg (the thing you breathe from), we set off on our dive in the ridiculously beautiful and clear tropical waters. With colourful fish darting into sight and then swimming off into the blue, it felt like I was in a giant aquarium.

And you know what? I felt so incredible, so relaxed and yet full of awe, that I thought to myself: if a shark comes along, that's ok. In fact, it might be kind of cool.

I didn't end up seeing any sharks on that dive, but I did get to cross something off my list. I had experienced, however briefly, what it feels like to scuba dive, and I had done so despite my fear of large underwater predators.

And this is only one example of doing things despite fears that might otherwise get in the way. After I graduated university, I moved halfway around the world, despite never having lived outside of Canada, despite not speaking the language of the place I was moving to, and despite the fact that I only had $35 dollars to my name by the time I was sitting on the plane somewhere well into a 10-hour flight and was seriously thinking I had made a mistake and just wanted to go back to something comfortable and familiar.

Mind you, I had a job lined up, and they had paid for my flight over there, but still. That's a lot of things to be worried about.

Thankfully, I didn't allow myself to give in to wanting the safe and travelled path until the plane was about to touch down at my far-flung destination and it was too late to change my mind. Thankfully, I allowed myself the chance for a great opportunity to see the world, a chance that stretched into 3 years living abroad, with several countries visited along the way.

So I really don't see how I can let the fear of rejection stand in the way. When those standard form letters come to my mailbox, I will let myself feel dejected - but only for a little while. And then I'll keep right on writing.

I also intend for this to be the year that my communications business really takes off. I've already taken on projects, and have gotten wonderful feedback from my clients, and I intend to take this full-time as soon as I am able.

I am an optimist. I don't intend to change that.

Yes, I am also a realist. I need concrete things like food and shelter, and until I get enough freelance contracts to support myself fully, I realize and accept that I may need to take on temp work to pay the bills. I won't, however, accept that the only way to live my life and the only acceptable means of supporting myself long-term will be to settle for a full-time salaried position that will make me whither a little inside every day.

I believe that I can and will become fully self-employed. I have the talent, and the bull-headedness to pursue this until it becomes a reality. I will contact potential clients. I will bid on online projects. I will do a great job for my clients, no matter how small the project might be. I will build on my portfolio. I will cold call. I will network.

I will not settle.

I will take better care of myself. I can't keep filling myself with crap and expect there to be no consequences. I will cut down on the amount of frozen and processed foods that I consume. I will eat my vegetables.

I will exercise more. To that end, I will promise myself something more concrete. It's too easy to make vague promises that end up half-fulfilled. I will start swimming laps. I will do this twice a week to start, then build up to three times a week. There. I said it. Now please feel free to chastise me if I don't hold up my end of the bargain.

I will scuba dive as much as I can. This will be an easy promise for me to keep. I was fortunate to dive as much as I did and to have learned as much as I did this past year. In the New Year, I will continue to scrape together the money needed to head north to spend time with my friends and to relax to the sound of my breathing underwater.

I am a coffee snob. I don't intend to change that.

There might be days, weeks, or (hopefully not) months where I will have to make my coffee at home, or will have to rely on the free coffee at whatever office I might be temping at. But when I have the funds for it, I reserve the right to feel miffed and yet vaguely satisfied as I sit at a Starbucks sipping my insultingly-overpriced-yet-tasty iced mocha. Light ice. No whip cream.

I will make more time for friends and family. This is not as easy as it sounds when you're getting a business off the ground. But it's well worth it, and I will make the time to be with those that matter to me, even if it means having to formally schedule it into my planner.

I will get myself a pretty planner, since I'll be looking at it so many times every day, throughout the year. And let's face it, books (and planners) do get judged by their cover.

Wherever you are, and whatever your goals for this year, may 2010 be the year for you. May this be the year of checking those nagging things off your to-do lists, the year of doing those things you always wanted to do but were either afraid or reluctant or were made to think were impossible.

You can check off those to-do list boxes.

You can do those things you wanted to do. They're not impossible - you just need to find a way to make them possible, even if it means making more to-do lists with small, manageable stepping stones to get you where you want to be.

Wherever you are, and whatever your goals, I wish you all the best.

Happy travels,


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Roaming the world - underwater

Suit up, assemble and put on all the equipment - BCD, tank, regs, weights. Do a buddy check and then it's time to get in the water.

Once I'm on a dive, any worries or stresses I may have had that day or that week simply drop away. Once I'm on a dive, it's all about paying attention to the underwater surroundings, paying attention to my buddy, putting any newly-learned skills to practical use, and having fun.

I've noticed that quite often, when I'm in shallower water - say, within ten to fifteen feet of the surface, the light often sparkles and shimmers on the lake bottom. I'd love to capture - or try to capture - that on film sometime.

I've seen fish hovering above a shipwreck; crayfish scuttling along the bottom of the lake; a sliver of a moon shimmering overhead as I looked up from my position under the water; bass swimming amongst the weeds; hundreds of minnows darting in and around the beam of a flashlight, the tiny fish lighting up like silver whenever the light hit them directly.

And I'm just getting started.

I'm working towards my Advanced Open Water certification, but in some ways I still feel like a beginner. There is still so much more for me to learn, and so many skills for me to get good at.

I know I need to work on my skills - especially getting a better handle on my buoyancy - and I'll put in the time and the work needed to get these skills up to the level they need to be at.

I consider myself so very privileged to be able to explore the underwater world, and even more privileged to belong to a dive club with such wonderful people.

I always feel great after a dive. And even when a dive doesn't go according to plan, it's still a good dive in my books, since it serves as a valuable learning experience.

I look forward to many more dives, learning much more, and spending lots more time with my dive buddies.

Happy travels,

Sarah :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Some highlights of travelling across Canada

Here's a list of some favourite moments I've had while on the road in Canada (by no means complete - I have far too many great memories to include them all here):

  • attending a midnight concert under a bridge in Saskatoon (imagine being surrounded by fellow Fringe performers, and listening to a performer whose voice sounds like an eclectic mix between Sting and Tom Waits).
  • sitting in an outdoor hot tub at 3:00am in Athabasca, Alberta, while the northern lights shimmered overhead.
  • witnessing my first prairie storm - seeing the roiling threatening clouds building up in the distance, seeing the wind playing with the fields of wheat and canola, and feeling that electric charge in the air.
  • being surprised to find out that P.E.I. is in fact quite hilly in places, and enjoying the sand dunes; also, seeing a large group of fireflies by a marshy area.
  • finally seeing a moose out in the countryside, by the side of the road (enjoying this glimpse of a moose from a safe distance - I certainly wouldn't want to come across one standing in the middle of the highway).
  • whale watching on the west coast.
  • seeing mountain goats in the Rockies.
I could go on...

Happy travels,

Sarah :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Back again.

It's been a while since my last post.

Nearly a year - a lot has happened, and after a winter that was as stressful, cold and difficult as the prevailing weather of the season, a perfect pathetic fallacy - now, with green finally starting to show up in patches of bare earth, with foliage no longer bare, my own life is taking a similar upswing.

I have been sedentary. I have not been travelling the world, and I miss that. It took me a long time just to figure out where in the world I wanted to settle down, and after living in Toronto for several years, I realize that I love it here, in this corner of Ontario. I also love the fact that Toronto is close to my other two favourite places, Newmarket and Barrie.

Happy travels,


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Temples, snakes and motorbikes...

Prints, images and memories all tell stories, and as I work away at the inner pages of my website, poring over photos and writing about the countries I've been to, I find myself travelling once again.

Today it is Cambodia I am re-visiting...

The most tropical of places I have seen, where the heat and humidity wraps itself around you the moment you step off the plane.

Where, if you go there during the rainy season, the humidity builds throughout the morning and early afternoon and the skies open up with heavy rain at the same time every day, like clockwork.

Where myself and the friend I was travelling with wore yellow rainjackets as we walked through a downpour in search of an internet cafe, looking like a pair of misplaced rubber ducks.

I remembered reading about small, poisonous green snakes that liked to come out of hiding during the monsoons, and kept a wary eye; I never saw one, though I did see the discarded outer skin of a small scorpion one day on the wall of a stone temple.

Angkor, the ancient city and complex of sprawling temples, was a truly awe-inspiring sight. I spent three days exploring the buildings - some intact and others crumbled to blocks of stone and rubble - and still, I only barely scratched the surface of what there was to see.

With some of the more structurally sound buildings, it was possible even to go to the upper levels, scary though that was - a rope strung from the second to the ground floor that you would hold on to for support as you climbed the steep outer stone stairs that were worn rounded and smooth from centuries of use and exposure to the elements. This was one place you didn't want to fall.

Walking through second-floor rooms and seeing bas-reliefs and carvings that almost seemed like new, being kept from wind and rain; climbing back down was the hard part, where you had to look down and see how high up you really were.

Going from building to building, and sometimes coming across a section that hadn't yet been restored, with huge trees growing right up out of the temples, the jungle reclaiming its property like some sort of prize.

Here and there, Buddhist monks would pick their way through the complex, their bright orange robes standing out against the grey sandstone of the temples.

A long boat ride across the wide expanse of the Mekong River as we leave the town of Siem Riep and the temples at Angkor behind. First a narrow channel, people and boats clustered along the water's edge, a slow, measured pace, then the riverbank getting further away until it disappears from view completely as we clear the channel and then pick up our speed on the long journey towards Phnom Penh.

We hear about a good restaurant in the city and decide to go there for lunch. Motorbikes are the mode of transport here. We don't need to go out in search of a ride; people will stop on the side of the road as we walk along, and will ask if we need a lift somewhere. The going rate at the time is $1 U.S. for a short ride anywhere within the city.

It is my first time on a motorbike. I sit behind the owner of the bike, putting my hands on his shoulders and trusting in his ability to dart through all the other traffic.

At an intersection, there are some police officers who wave us over. I wonder if there's some law against grabbing a ride on someone's motorbike. The owner of the bike pulls over to the side of the road and tells me to wait there. He pulls something from a compartment on his motorbike and walks back towards the officers. The owner of the other bike (the one that my friend is riding on) also pulls over to the side.

They spend a few minutes speaking with the officers, then return. We can keep going, the owner of the bike says, gesturing for me to get back on the bike. As we pull away, he turns back to look at me. It's ok, he says with a grin. The police in Cambodia, they need only money...

We continue on to the restaurant.

We only spend a few days in Phnom Penh before moving on, heading overland into Vietnam...

But that's a story for another day.

Happy travels,

Sarah :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bubbles and Buoyancy...

What is travel to you?

A short road trip out of the city, or would you only count something involving passports, planes and a healthy dose of jetlag?

Let's backtrack a week.

Saturday morning, bright and early - much earlier than I would normally be awake, let alone coherent and perky. It's 7:45 a.m. and a group of us are assembled in a Tim Horton's parking lot, waiting for everyone to arrive and I, for one, am grateful for my morning coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in.

The last few people pull into the parking lot, and after a briefing on the day's planned activities and directions as to where we're headed, we're back on the road.

After many pool sessions and classes in theory and the written part of the test, this is it, the big weekend - I'm about to do my Open Water check-out dives, the final thing I need to do to become a certified scuba diver.

This weekend has been made possible by the hard work of the instructors and dive masters of the dive club that I'm proud and happy to be a part of, and I can't wait to get in the water.

The site we're headed to is a short drive outside of Barrie, ON, and the weather couldn't be more ideal. It's hot and sunny, no wind and the water is calm. The water is also cold, but that's why you come prepared. My 7 mil wetsuit, hood, gloves and boots keep me nice and warm - and afloat; it amazes me how effortlessly I can just relax and bob on the surface with just the wetsuit's added buoyancy.

It's time for the dives. Everyone puts their gear together - mask, snorkel, fins, BC (the vest you can add air to or dump air from, to control your buoyancy), regs (this is what you breathe from) and, of course, the tank.

All of the students - myself included - demonstrate the skills we've learned in the pool, and then it's off for some fun dives.

My buddy and I head off, and the visibility is great - in most places, you can see for a good 25 feet, and the only times the visibility goes down is when I get too close to the bottom, and stir up silt from kicking my fins.

We're only a few minutes into our dive when I see movement below. There's a lone crayfish scuttling along the bottom, most likely in search of food. Another few minutes along, and my buddy points out to me a pair of territorial crayfish who are facing off, circling each other, claws raised.

My first Open Water dive, and I'm already seeing wildlife! Ok, these creatures might be small, but to be able to go into their environment and to see them in their native surroundings is really something.

I come back to the surface with a huge grin on my face; I can't wait to get back in the water! We all go back up on to the deck, put on a full tank, grab a snack or drink of water, and then before you know it, it's time for the next dive.

Again, I see some crayfish, including one that raises its claws in challenge to me, though I'm nowhere near it, and I'm thrilled to get down around the 45-ft mark. I don't see any fish, although I do spot a few on the second day of diving - I'm not sure what kind of fish they are, but they have black stripes on them, a little like a zebra.

On the second day of diving, the light hits the water at such an angle that, underwater, you can see the rays streaming down - if you've ever seen a break in clouds, where you can see the sun's rays breaking through, that's what this was like; just beautiful.

By the end of the weekend, I am happy and exhausted and famished - I've never gone through a veggie burger and fries as quickly as I did on my way home! And now, I can't wait for all the future dives to come.

So what is travel to you? Staying close to home or heading to other hemispheres?

To me, it's all around.

Happy travels,

Sarah :)