Three hundred and sixty-six

Three hundred and sixty six days

I made it through it all.  All 366 days of it!

Normally I do a recap of the month, but as this month was a bit of a recap of the year, I’m going to skip that and just do a final post of the year.

Recap of the year

Where do I even begin?  So much has happened over the past year.  I’ve decided the best way is to share my favourite posts, divided by the months.  Although I have lots of ones I am proud of, these in particular resonate with me for some reason or another. (If you want a short description of what I got up to each month, click on the monthly topic below and it will take you to my recap posts for that month.)

MARCH 2011 – Extreme Couponing

APRIL 2011 – 30 Days of Art

MAY 2011 – 31 Days, 31 Dates (there’s a tie with this one – I also really enjoyed my dating advice at the end of my final post for that month)

  • The speed-dating date – I have always wanted to go speed dating and it was quite the experience.  It was one of the worst ‘dates’ of the month, but also one of the most memorable.
  • The social experiment date – A confusing date that forever changed my life, the way I feel about myself, and my future plans (we had a short, passionate affair that ended badly, then I drove across Canada with him during First Kiss Interviews month, we hated each other, then became sort of friends, he made me doubt all the great things about me, and now we don’t really talk – advice to all the ladies out there: listen to your instincts and don’t get blinded by a pretty face).

JUNE 2011 – Cooking 30 Countries (funnily my two favourite posts this month were meals I shared with the man who taught me stop motion animation and the one who confused me)

  • Italian with the Italian – a wonderful evening with a wonderful man, and lots of practical information about Italian cooking.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi – Kangaroo and Tim Tams.  It reminds me of living in Melbourne, and some very interesting facts about kangaroo meat included.

JULY 2011 – Only Online Purchases

AUGUST 2011 – Out of My Comfort Zone (there were so many great posts this month, but here are a few of my favourites)

SEPTEMBER 2011 – 31 First Kiss Interviews

OCTOBER 2011 – Vegan for the Month

  • Freeganism – I find this world of living without money fascinating, and although extreme, I think we can learn from them.
  • Raw Vegan Food Diet – Another extreme way of eating, taken from a lecture I went to at the University of Toronto.  Lots of great information.
  • Makeup and Skin Care – Interview with Kait Gray from Arbonne.  This changed the way I look at the cosmetics industry.

NOVEMBER 2011 – 30 Holiday Celebrations

  • Guy Fawkes Day – A fascinating discussion with some of the Occupy Toronto camp.
  • Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day – I was a model for the Toronto Star and did an online video for them!
  • Happy Movember – I love this holiday.  Men with moustaches for a month – very sexy in a Tom Selleck sort of way.

DECEMBER 2011 – Good Deed a Day

  • Extremely good and bad people in one day – A shocking negative event followed by an equally shocking positive one.  It brought tears to my eyes.
  • Hitting the bottom mid-month – including a very personal (yet very public because it was on the blog in the comments for all to read) debate between a friend of mine and I which almost cost us our friendship.  The debate crossed several posts, with this being the finale.  It really opened my eyes to my own views, but also how others perceive what I write.
  • The science of good deeds – How good deeds affect us mentally and physically.

JANUARY 2012 – Life at the Poverty Line

FEBRUARY 2012 – A Photograph A Day (month suggested by and voted on by the readers)

What I learned

In each of the month recaps (click on monthly topic above to read them), I talked about what I learned as an initial reaction.  As a year-long learning experience, I have no idea where to start.  I have learned so much from skills to knowledge to personal growth.

I am a different person than when I started March 1st, 2011.  Besides physical changes of losing weight through being vegan (and keeping it off through keeping up the no dairy and yoga), there have been many emotional and psychological changes.  The knowledge I gained about the different topics has given me a wider perspective on the world.  I feel like I have a purpose – like I’m fulfilling a need in myself and sharing it with others.  I am now part of a community of bloggers who are as supportive as they are talented.  I am happy and calmer, but also a bit more jaded with the world (damn porn cinema!).

I gained skills like extreme couponing (the auto correct on my computer kept wanting me to write extreme “coupling” – when you’re tired like I have been on numerous occasions this year and am right now, you find this very amusing) and cooking.  I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to do this and I have such amazing people in my life who support and encourage me.

I wrote this on Day 100 and it still rings true:

There have been days when I’ve hated that I’m doing this – that I’d love a ‘normal’ life where I don’t have to blog and make Taboulleh at 1:30am.  But most days I love it.  I love that I’m learning something new and writing every day.  I love talking about my project – still.  I love sharing my experiences with other people, whether by the blog or by them being a part of whatever adventure I have planned for the day.  I love that I’ve created this for myself (with the help of so many great people) and I feel so fortunate every day that I can do this.  Whether this turns into a million-copy selling book becomes less and less the point (although that would be fantastic).  It’s about the experience, the knowledge and the growth.  And the chance to share that with you.

Where do I go from here

The plan is to write the book about my experiences.  I will also be blogging at least once a week.  Every Wednesday I will post a recap of how things are going with me.  Sometimes it will be a comment on a topic or research on a subject that I’ve discovered about one of the ideas from the year.  And sometimes it will be just about how I’m feeling.  A bit like the daily blog posts I’ve been doing, but on a bigger scale.  I will also be posting occasionally during the week if there is something that inspires me to write or a very interesting or timely topic I want to discuss.  So keep reading for all that.  I will also be updating you all on how the book is coming along and my search for an agent and publisher.  This could be interesting to those of you out there trying to get your own work published.

I’m also going to stick with some of the things I learned this year.  I’m still trying to buy all natural cosmetics, and not eat dairy or pork.  I am determined to pick up my guitar again, paint, make pottery, sew more and do all the other projects I started during art month and never finished.  I still use my online and coupon shopping skills.  I’m still pushing myself to  do things out of my comfort zone on a weekly basis, and I’m a fountain of dating knowledge for my single friends out there.  I’m working on arranging some more volunteer experiences for me to help out more in the community.  I’m donating money regularly to help those less fortunate.  All of these habits I learned through experiences in the past year and I am grateful that I can stick with them.

Thank you again everyone for following along through three hundred sixty six days of posts!  Check back next Wednesday to hear how much I miss my blogging routine, how the book is coming along, and hopefully some other fun information.

One hundred and eighty-five PART TWO

I made it through Out of My Comfort Zone month!

I still can’t believe I made it through this month and half way through my year.  There have been many ups and downs and I’m so proud of myself and thankful to everyone who has helped me.  This month has seen me do everything from be naked to wear a diaper.  I’ve seen an increase in my readers – with my post about me dressing as a hussy in Yorkville getting 969 views in one day (not quite the 1000 in a day that is my goal, but close)!  I’ve hated and I’ve loved this month, and although I’m glad it’s over, I’m so happy I tried everything that I did (yes, even the disturbing experience of  the porn cinema).

Recap of the month

I have done so many things this month that challenged and scared me, but ultimately taught me a lot.  Here are the ways I put myself out of my comfort zone: lunch with a stranger; karaoke; lying; nude photo shoot; Chinatown mystery foods; meeting the parents; birthing videos; writing a stand-up comedy routine; nudist at home; “dress like a total hussy” while shopping and having lunch in Yorkville; bar hopping – solo; eating pig’s feet, beef tripe and tongue; fake nails; porn cinema; STI tests; Holiday Luncheon Meat; dress like a “total bum” while shopping and having lunch in Yorkville; goth bar; eating eel; sleeping in a creepy cabin alone in the woods; swimming alone in the lake; saying hello to my everyone on the street in Parkdale; clothing optional beach; brazilian wax; wearing a diaper; trip to the swingers club Wicked; radical honesty; Fan Expo – comic, horror, anime, sci fi, and gaming convention; blind; “attend an event in a language you don’t know”; panhandling.

What did I learn?

This was one of the hardest months for me, but also challenged me the most (and was very entertaining to read I have heard).  I found it incredibly difficult to beg for money, everything to do with stand-up comedy (I spent a lot of the month stressed about trying to be funny enough for stand-up and relying on the amazing Peter Cianfarani to help me through it), entering the world of the adult porn cinema, and pretty much anything that made me the centre of attention (karaoke, nudity, and dressing like a hussy in Yorkville).

However, it did get easier as the month progressed.  I became more confident in myself and therefore it became harder to put myself out of my comfort zone.  As the end of the month neared, I was more willing to jump in and try pretty much anything out.  I knew that things are usually worse in my imagination than they are in real life (with the exception of the porn cinema – way worse than my wildest imagination), and that I would survive the task and be a more informed person for doing it.

I also became more observant, noticing more of other people’s reactions now than I used to, and taking the time to pay attention to them.  Surprisingly to me, people are generally friendly and helpful (not always, but more than I would have guessed).  I always though Torontonians tended to keep to themselves, but I had the help of so many strangers to make this month work – even when they didn’t know they were helping me.

Where do I go from here with Out of My Comfort Zone?

There were quite a few suggestions of things that I didn’t get around to and want to try.  Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Do one thing every day that scares you”.  Pushing myself to do these things that are difficult for me have opened my mind and I want to continue to try things out of my comfort zone.  Maybe not every day, but as much as I can.  Here are some of my favourite suggestions of things I should do (thanks everyone for your input):

  • So many things to do with heights that I didn’t get a chance to do – bungee jump, sky dive, introductory flight lesson (flying a plane), CN Tower walk.  Unfortunately all of these cost more money than I can afford right now, but I will one day try them.  Perhaps when I sell my book…
  • A friend of mine volunteers to transcribe feminist porn for the hearing-impaired.  I am fascinated by what you actually transcribe.  Moans?  Grunts?  Just talking?
  • Shoot a gun or a bow and arrow (at a target, not at another living being).
  • Be silent for a day (although I still not sure this is possible for me).
  • Audition for the opera – OK, this one might not actually happen, but I love the suggestion.
  • Slam poetry.
  • Confront a grudge (I have one major grudge in my life and I am thinking of confronting it so I can let it go).
  • Tell someone you truly love them (the romantic in me loves this suggestion).
  • Piercings and tattoos
  • Enter into a “learning” discussion with someone who has an opposing view than yourself on a topic. Try to learn something from their point of view, rather than from a perspective of a debate.
  • Drop into and attend a class at the university in a subject you don’t know much about….just sneak in and sit in a chair…see what happens! (I really want to do this)
  • All day you do all those things that are considered rude and everyone does them, just alone or the privacy of their own home.  Like Fart, Burp, pick your nose, pick a wedgie, spit, whatever.  And not apologize for it.  (I don’t actually want to do this, but this comes from my friend Sarah who lives in Shanghai and in China it is completely normal to do all these things in public).
  • Reg Hart Cineforum – a man has a cinema in his basement and invites the public in.  Intriguing, but sort of weird.

I also haven’t had the opportunity to do my stand-up comedy routine that I’ve been working really hard on (although I’ve hated it – breaking through my issues with my own funniness has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do this month).  I couldn’t get a space in an open mic night/comedy club, so am booking one for when I get back from my trip (probably some time in October).  I will be posting my attempt at being humorous onstage then.

A change in the months

There is a change in what I am doing the months ahead, due to the unpredictability of life and my adventurous side.  I am driving a friend across Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver, to help him move to BC – leaving September 9th and flying back three weeks later.  I am driving his truck, he is driving his motorcycle, we are communicating via headset (so cool).  I have always wanted to drive across our beautiful country and when this opportunity arose, I couldn’t pass it up. September was supposed to be Vegan month, but I’ve decided to move this to October because of health reasons (it will be too hard to eat properly and be vegan in the small towns) but also because I think First Kiss Interviews will be more fun to do on the road.  I will be  interviewing one person a day as I drive through Brandon, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, and all the other towns we’ll stop in.  I’ll get to meet some interesting people and you can read stories of people across Central/Western Canada.  So tomorrow begins my First Kiss Interviews.

October will now be Vegan for the Month and January (which used to be First Kiss Interviews) will now be Life at the Poverty Line (I think fitting as I’m sure there will be many people who spent too much money on Christmas wanting some tips on how to live life cheaply).  

One hundred and eighty-five PART ONE

Begging for money (and Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone Month!) – PART ONE 

I kept putting this one off.  This is beyond out of my comfort zone.  I was taught as a kid to work really hard, save money and only ask for help when you really need it.  I worked full-time while doing a full-time Honours Bachelor of Arts.  When I wanted to take my grad degree in Australia, I worked two jobs, seven days a week for a year so I could afford to go.  The thought of asking someone for money makes my skin crawl.  But so many people suggested I do this to put myself in the place of what it is to be homeless, that I knew I had to.

It was one of the most difficult things I tried to do this month and I felt horrible doing it.  I tried to approach people for money, but I just couldn’t.  I asked one lady for change for the phone.  But that’s as far as I could get.  I just couldn’t do it.  I felt so degraded and sad.  I tried sitting down with a bag in front of me, but I don’t look homeless.  Maybe if I had brought a sign…

I walked the streets for an hour in search of panhandlers to sit with.  There weren’t too many people begging in downtown Toronto on a Wednesday afternoon – a few street performers, some homeless people sleeping on park benches, and a couple of different men sitting with signs in front of them.  I gave everyone money and spoke to some of them.

I observed one man without a leg and a sign that read “please help an amputee”.  It was interesting how the people who were obviously rich gave no money and ignored the man, like he was a piece of dirt on the sidewalk.  The people who were middle to lower class and workers were the ones who gave money and stopped to smile at him.

He was from somewhere in Eastern Europe, but spoke very clear English and was obviously an educated man who had lost his leg.  I asked him if he could make a living sitting with his sign on Yonge Street.  He said he needs $500 more a month to pay for housing and food in order to have a permanent residence.  He can’t get disability or a job until he has an address and he can’t get an address until he has disability.  It’s a catch 22.  Therefore he begs to try to get enough money to find a permanent home so he can sort out his life.

It’s interesting how everyone has a story and how sometimes circumstances in life can turn in the wrong direction to make you end up somewhere you don’t want to be.  There are those homeless people begging who are on drugs and try to get change from you while you’re coming off the highway in your car.  I met one man who made the choice to live on the streets because he liked the lack of rules.  And there are those like the man who I speak to frequently at the end of my street who is mentally ill and wanders around begging for cigarettes.  But, there are those like the man above whose life has gone in a bad direction out of his control and he is trying to fix it.

I admit I get frustrated with those people who don’t work and ask me for change when they choose to be homeless.  But this experience made me realize that you really do have to hit rock bottom to get to the point where you need to beg people for money.  Getting out of that downward cycle is hard, and a little boost like money or food would make a world of difference in their lives.

PART TWO – “Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone” (and an intro to what I’m doing this month) will be posted later this evening.

One hundred and eighty-four

“Attend an event in a language you don’t know”

I’ve been wanting to do this since a friend of mine suggested it to me at the beginning of the month.  It turns out it is pretty difficult to find an event in a language you don’t know in Toronto, when you don’t know the language or the community or where to find out about events.  Films in cinemas have English subtitles, cultural events celebrating different countries are in both English and the other language (unless it’s specific to that community, but then they don’t often advertise outside of their community).  I can wander around Chinatown or Little Portugal and listen to the language, but if I speak English, they will speak English back to me.  I should have just invited myself over to a friend’s family’s house where they speak a different language at home and make them speak only in that language to me.

Lithuanian Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival

Traveling the world in my twenties I came across quite a few instances when I didn’t speak the language and had to communicate through body language or figure things out on my own.  You adapt quickly to certain words or ways of saying things so you can get by.  I remember sitting in a theatre in Prague for my 25th birthday, watching a play in Czech which I didn’t understand one word of, but understanding some of it through the movement (although, I’m still not quite sure why the whole audience stood up and sang at the end).  One of my favourite plays ever was Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival – all in Lithuanian.  It was set in the kitchens of rival pizzerias with such amazing visual imagery, it didn’t matter what the words were (although I do know the story of Romeo and Juliet already, so that helped).

Entering into a world where you can’t communicate orally definitely puts you off balance.  Opposite from my experiment yesterday, I am relying almost completely on my sight to understand.

As I couldn’t find a cultural event in a different language, and had already written about Chinatown a couple of times this month, I decided to watch Cinema Paradiso – in Italian, no subtitles.  It was a beautiful film and I think I figured out quite a bit of the plot without language, but there were subtleties of the story I didn’t completely get.  I wanted to know what advice the older film operator was telling his younger protégé.  I needed to understand why his mother was so mad at him.  Was it the film like I thought?  Or the burning photo like my companion thought?  Sometimes I forgot it was in a different language and was caught up in the visual story.  But sometimes I felt like I was trying hard, but didn’t quite grasp it all.

Everyone should at one point watch a film in a foreign language without subtitles, spend a day around people speaking another language, or try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak what you speak.  It’ll give a bit more perspective to what it’s like for immigrants moving to a foreign land and trying to get by surrounded by something that sounds like gibberish.  It can be really frustrating and lonely.

One hundred and eighty-three

It is a day of celebration today – I am half-way through my year!!!!  I can’t even believe it.  I remember being at three months and thinking how long a year really is.  And now I’m half way!  Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my crazy adventures so far.

Blind 

Do my clothes match?  I almost dropped a knife on my toe.  Is my bum clean?  How can I tell without seeing the toilet paper?  Why did I turn on the bathroom light? I hope I took my multivitamin and not the drowsy extra-strength allergy medication I had left-over from my bug bite fiasco.  I have a bruise developping on my thigh from walking into the table.   I might have just shampooed with conditioner.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon blindfolded and tried to live my life as I would normally – but without the use of my sight.  According to a 2006 survey by Statistics Canada, over 800,000 people in Canada identify with having a seeing disability (from visionhealth.ca).

Life without being able to see was very difficult for me.  I take for granted how much I use my sight.  I rely on my visual sense to get through my day – from big things like not walking into walls, to little things like where I placed my water glass on the table so I don’t knock it over.  My other senses became heightened – touch was very important, as well as smell and sound. I used my visual memory to try and find things that I needed.  It became more and more important that I put things back in the same place so I could find them again.

I was a little disoriented at times when I was walking around my apartment and out on to the balcony.  I had to pay attention to remember where I was.  Everything took longer (although it was surprising how quickly I began to adapt).  I noticed more – the taste of bread as it entered my mouth, the sound of the traffic outside the window, the smell of different rooms.  The number of things in a row became important – two cupboards over is where I find the plates, the fourth button down on the remote control turns on the television (discovered by trial and error).

Making a cheese sandwich in the toaster oven was an ordeal.  I wore an oven mitt so I wouldn’t burn myself, but I know I was getting cheese all over it.  Cutting the slices of cheese became a dangerous task – is the cheese mouldy, how do I cut thin slices when I can’t see them and don’t want my fingers getting in the way of the knife, so can’t feel it?  Then I missed trying to put the sandwich on a plate and ended up with melted cheese on the countertop.  Although it did taste great!

The notes I took while blindfolded

Communication was difficult – with no way to use my phone, e-mail, the internet, texting.  Unless someone called me, I couldn’t get ahold of my friends or family.  And I had no sense of time.  At one point I just sat down on my bed, frustrated with the effort, not knowing what I could do (tv wasn’t great as I wanted to see what they were talking about, and everything I normally do involves sight – internet, writing, reading).  Sometimes I couldn’t remember where I put things.  Did I move that table behind the sofa or is it still there? Did I put the salt on the right or the left side of the cabinet?

I was happy when I got to take off my blindfold and use my sight again.  Everything just seemed easier.  I can only imagine the skills people who are seeing impaired have to maneuver our world.  I didn’t even leave the house and I found it challenging.