Learning to really see – what is social distancing?

I drew today, for the first time in a long time. A very long time, actually. Probably my first time since Scotland. I drew my hand. I like drawing hands. They get things done. I’d argue, as a writer, they’re probably two of my most valuable and beloved assets. But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s actually about one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned – in a drawing class of all places. 

Cut to 2014, Ottawa, Canada, and an eager 23-year old Dudys sitting in her new drawing class, excited to make friends and learn how to create pretty pictures. Day one, the art teacher asked her students if they were artists in any way outside of class. Everyone was quick to share with pride: “I sculpt.” “I’m a graphic designer.” “I use deli meats to craft footwear.” Etc, etc. 

When it came ‘round to me, I gave a shrug and said calmly: “no, I’m not much of an artist at all.” 

“What is it you do for a living?” asked my teacher.

“I’m a writer.”

“Of course, you’re an artist.” She said, expecting me to light up.

That was the first time I had an existential crisis about my career path. Oh, they think I’m a REAL writer. Like J.K. Rowling or some shit. Writing headlines for emails no one reads isn’t REAL writing. Scribbling thoughts into a journal isn’t REAL writing.Blah, blah, blah. I’m positive every copywriter has had this moment at parties when people ask them what they do. But it was a fresh feeling for me at the time.

Later that night, teacher posed another question: “Why are you taking this class?” 

Again, everyone shared their answers. Most were similar to mine: “I want to be able to have an idea in my mind and communicate it perfectly in a drawing.” 

To which teacher replied: “Young padawan, learn to see first you must.”

Well, she said something along those lines but in a much less Yoda way. 

What we see in front of us is not usually how we envision it to be in our minds, even while we’re looking right at it. I make assumptions about my fingers while I’m sketching. My nail is this long or my knuckle protrudes here, when in actuality my nail is shorter or my knuckle  protrudes 3 mm lower than I think. It’s easy to draw well if you see what’s actually there. But most of us don’t see things as they are.

In life, we do the same. We hear people’s words differently than they intend them based on our past experiences. We see people doing one thing but perceive them doing another. We make assumptions about the whys of the world without fully knowing. We fill in our own blanks, instead of taking the time to see people and situations for who and what they really are. 

I get it. We HAVE to do this in a lot of ways. We’ll never have the whole story. We’ll never know what is really happening, why it’s happening and our part in it. I think the key is leaving our assumptions out of it and learning to just let things be in their own state. 

Quarantine is exposing a lot of truths to me, mainly about myself but also just about living. What is social distancing for me? What is it when I look at it clearly? It’s a measure put in place to keep people safe. It’s a change for me and the way I live. It’s a change for my family and friends and the way they live. And I can choose to look at it as such. Or I can fill in blanks:

What is social distancing? It’s terrible. It’s no hugs. It’s no arm pats or drinks with friends or crying in each other’s arms or dancing with strangers or shaking hands or park hangs in the sunshine with a big group of people. It’s loved ones dying before their time, and families facing disastrous outcomes. It wears on me all the time and heightens my anxiety. I’m sallow and my skin is dry and I’m incredibly sad that I might have to postpone my hike in September. 

OR, what is social distancing? It’s awesome. I’ve connected with old friends I haven’t spoken to in ages. I’ve connected more with myself than I have since moving back to Toronto. It’s provided a level of collective consciousness we’ve been lacking in the world for far too long. It’s proven that we can fix this planet we’re destroying if we all really make the effort to. It’s helped me to save money, be more fit and feel healthier than I ever have in my whole life.

OR, maybe social distancing is what it is, and the key to making it through this, and everything to come, is staying balanced. Remembering to see the true figure and lines of a situation, and accepting that there will always be blanks to fill in. When you fill in those blanks, try your best to fill them in objectively, and SEE ALL SIDES to the situation. Really SEE that situation. 

So, I’m a copywriter. It’s not the same as being a famous novelist, or a politically-charged journalist, or an award-winning poet. But it’s also great that I’ve gotten to help small businesses brand themselves, hone my writing skills with incredible talent around me, and work at a job I’m damned lucky to have. I write every day and grow every minute. And yeah, writing is a form of art.

What’s really there, then? An artist. And two hands that are excited to punch out hours and hours of feelings and send them off into the great abyss that is cyberspace. 

A traveller’s thoughts on trust

I think what I’m learning about trust is, more importantly than allowing someone to earn your trust, you should always trust your gut. Every single time my insides have told me something, they’ve been 100% right.

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My first ever multi-day hike | Preparing for the West Highland Way

A quick shot of me during a pit stop on a drive through the west Highlands

I’m doing it—finally. I’m hiking the West Highland Way in September, and as of now, I’m doing it alone.

Am I scared? Yes. I spent one night in the wilderness alone once and shit myself. But it was worth it. The self-confidence I gained from taking the plunge and wild camping alone continues to radiate from me to this day. So, I can only imagine what 8 days will do for me.

What’s the West Highland Way?

That’s right. I’ll be hiking and wild camping for 8 days straight through the west Highlands of Scotland. The West Highland Way is a trail that begins near Glasgow and extends for 154 km up to Fort William (aka the most beautiful place on Earth). It attracts around 80,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 walk the full route.

Although I’ve never actually walked any of the trails that are part of the WHW, I have been to a few of the destinations I’ll be seeing throughout the hike and let me tell you, I am far beyond excited to be back. Scottish scenery is some of my favourite. The green is lusher than any other green I have ever seen, and the endless supply of grassy hills and forest could steal the breath of even the most cynical urbanite.

Why am I putting myself through this?

As terrified as I am to stay overnight alone in the wilderness, nothing in this life has brought me more joy than a good hike. That said, I’ll see if I still feel that way after 8 days of hiking (or 7, depending on how much work I do on my cardio before then). No movie, book, TV show, job, game or any other distraction has fulfilled my soul and balanced my mental health the way nature can. So, needless to say, trekking into the wild for a wee while is a no-brainer.

Also, it’s a goal of mine to complete a proper through-hike by the time I’m 35—that’s one of those massive months long expeditions you hear crazy nature buffs and hippies attempt (examples include the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail which take six and three months to conquer respectively). I feel like my upcoming Scottish spirit quest is a good stepping-stone to that eventual adventure. The hiking isn’t too difficult on the WHW, and the wild camping is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any real predators in Scotland (minus badgers and angry sheep) and I think they only have one type of poisonous snake, maybe. In comparison to the other massive trails in the US—the PCT goes from the Mexican border all the way up the west coast to the Canadian border—the WHW is no big deal.

What do I have to do to prepare?

In short, A LOT. But what would I have to write about for the next seven months if I gave it all away right now? Some blog posts to come: fitness prep, buying a new backpack, figuring out how to filter water, hesitations with shitting in the ground, and more. Be sure to check back soon!

What a damned ridiculous year – thank god for it

Write down what’s been hard for you the last little while. Yeah, it fucking sucks, and some of these hardships will sting you for a damned long time, maybe even forever. But never forget, that list of the great shit you’ll write, the one with the beautiful moments and powerful learnings, no matter how big or small it is, should forever be your reason for pushing forward.

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