The Art of Getting Your Shit Together

It’s well past noon on a Saturday afternoon.

You could be anywhere right now. A patio with friends, or a brisk walk in the forest with your lifelong partner, your well-groomed dog, and a day full of instagrammable memories (except the only thing you own which even remotely resembles a smartphone is an iPod touch with an embarrassing 3 hours of battery life).

Instead, you’re at Ikea. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday and you just got side-swiped by a plastic blue and yellow bag awkwardly stuffed with a neon green cheese grater and halogen light bulbs. Why, why are you here?

Well, simply put, your Dad assumed that with a promise of a Swedish-inspired cinnamon bun, you would help him transport boxes of JÄLLVIK or KLÖVSTA or really, anything else with those adorable double dots used phonetically above any and all vowels. Well played, Däd.

Just as you trace your fingers along the geometrical shapes of a rainbow of duvet covers, you admire a girl your age. Her jacket matches her boots, which also coordinates with everything in her cart and no doubt, it all fits perfectly into her well-maintained car which she flawlessly parallel-parked outside.

As you lose yourself in imagining what your own life would look like if your jacket and boots matched, let alone looked like they belong in the same era, you overhear her say, “I’m going to wait to buy that couch…just until I get my shit together.”

Just until I get my shit together.

Those words. That phrase. It all just echoed throughout the windowless arena of meatballs and BÖJAS.

This girl, with her matching boots and jackets, and a home to refurnish, and a mantle to decorate, and a desk to build independently thanks to Ikea’s easy instructions which almost always include that androgynous character’s simplistic ideology of furniture construction. All this girl wants is to have her shit together. Yet she doesn’t perceive it so.

One day she’ll look back on that day. That day in Ikea when she sighed too loudly and judged herself too harshly against an arbitrary idea of organized adulthood. And you will hear her sighs and the fill-in-the-blanks on her self-judgments and you’ll wish you said just this:

The secret to getting your shit together is a dangerous one. It most definitely includes a roundabout route to self-disappointment and a dump truck disaster of ill-defined phrases (such as, “getting shit together”) used out of context because of one’s relaxed vocabulary.  You’ll warn her about the dangers of phrases such as this. Words so vague, so unclear, that even though they are used at such feverish frequency, still remain so undefined. You’ll bring up examples like the 2002 surge of the word random, when we really just meant unpredictable. You’ll review the real definition of disinterested just to prove your point. You’ll want to talk about moronic descriptors like vegan cheese but you know that might lose her. You’ll tell her there is no act, no definition, no art to getting your shit together. You’ll tell her it’s harmful to use unqualified standards- standards like shit, and whether or not it is together- on her own accomplishments or those which she perceives she lacks.

You’ll encourage her to define her own shit. Whatever it is, in whatever context she’d like, her shit is hers. And not even Webster can prove her wrong. You’ll talk about how those leaps into being an adult are sometimes accompanied by an inner bully which makes us feel inadequate because we don’t have the same ________ as someone else. And we use such silly terms as “not having our shit together” to coerce ourselves into feeling lower than those who most likely feel/think/ act exactly the same. You’ll feel like Tom Cruise, substituting Oprah’s couch for a SVELVIK bed frame as you excitedly discuss the idea of eliminating the phrase altogether. And just as you feel like maybe you said something of value, your Däd gives you that look. That look which almost says, “You’ve taken this too far. It’s time to let go of the LJUSÅS UVÅS because you may not see it from way up there on that king-sized bed frame, but an employee in a banana-yellow polo is about two seconds away from kicking us both out and I don’t know about you, but I was really looking forward to that cinnamon bun.”

The girl will smirk at you and nod. She’ll know the secret, the act, the art of getting your shit together. And one day, she’ll go to Ikea. Probably not because her dad promised her a pastry. But she’ll be there. She’ll be there tracing her own hands along the new line of VANADINS. And she’ll see another. And she will tell them this:

Define your own shit.

Do it when you’re ready, and don’t worry if you never feel like you will be. But try. Try whatever you want with your shit. It’s yours for the taking.

Thoughts from Three Birthdays Abroad

September 24, 2010: Tokyo, Japan

“By the way, it’s my birthday.”

Unsure of how to bring it up, but knowing it was absolutely necessary to excuse the belligerency which would inevitably occur, I say it in passing as we walk into a discount sushi joint. After unloading such weighty news, I decide not to mention the fact that I don’t even eat fish. I don’t want to overwhelm him.

As I grab small plates from the revolving carousel of Japanese cuisine, I flick off pieces of raw salmon and tuna. I watch him send mass texts from his outdated cellphone.

Birthday celebrations. Shinjuku station. Get here.

We follow him through the streets of Tokyo. I feel relaxed because I no longer need a map. I feel comforted because I trust his local knowledge and know he’ll take us to the grungiest of bars. I feel fortunate to be celebrating my birthday with people I have known for longer than my nine days in this country.

I spent the day record-shopping. I find the Japanese release of Forever and Counting by Hot Water Music. Without even trying to convert the yen, I know I can’t afford it.

I try not to reminisce. Having only left Canada a month earlier, it’s probably too early to be doing that sort of thing. But I’m technically a year older, so I do it anyways.

We sit drinking at the intersections of Lost in Translation. We go to a bar where they yell at me for flash photography. We go somewhere else and allegedly, I try to steal the bartender’s cat. We go to another bar and I scream Pearl Jam lyrics while simultaneously lecturing both old friends and absolute strangers on the pointlessness of relationships. Drops of Asahi hit the group as I flail my arms and sound like a lonely conspiracy theorist when I rant, “Trust no one.” None of them agree with anything I’m saying. But they listen because it’s my birthday.

We never made it back to our hostel that night. They charged us one night’s stay, anyways.

September 24, 2011: Koh Samui, Thailand

There’s a jar of Nutella and a box of granola in front of me. I grab a spoon from the hostel, dig out a scoop of hazelnut chocolate, and swirl it around the mix of raisins, cranberries, and steel-cut oats. I let the chocolate rest in the corners of my mouth for longer than is socially acceptable. I root the bits of almond out of my teeth with my un-brushed tongue.

She hands over a TESCO bag full of other completely un-Thai foods. A baguette. Brie. Another jar of Nutella. I clap my hands and then feel selfish for hoarding all that hazelnut-chocolate spread in the first place. I offer him and his sister a slab for their toast. They both prefer Vegemite. I wince. I don’t bother to offer up the brie.

We hire a long-tail boat to take us fishing and snorkeling. We exchange stories of camping with our dads and learning to hook a lure. I catch something which looks like a  rainbow trout from Southwestern Ontario. It’s obviously not. I’m the only one to even get a bite all day and am convinced that our boat driver was in on it and had set up the whole thing beforehand. But they’re fish, after all. You know how they are. The driver smiles a silver and gold grin and wades his feet in the water.

At night, we walk across the beach. Flip flops in one hand, Chang beers in the other. I plead with a group of Aussies to lend me some of their fireworks. They tell me you can’t lend someone fireworks. I tell them I don’t have time for pragmatics. I ask again nicely for a Roman candle. I let if off too close to her feet. She screams at me predictably.

We scrawl Sharpie messages onto paper lanterns and light them off over the island. We each keep our wishes a secret but when no one’s looking, I peak at what they have written.

My wish?

Travels full of fireworks and free of injuries.

There, now I don’t feel so guilty.

I had cut my ankles on the shallow reef earlier that day. I iced my scrapes with melting cubes but hoped the scars wouldn’t actually fade. They haven’t yet.

September 24, 2012: Seoul, South Korea

I’ve already spilled a beer on myself and its only 8:00pm. She claims it to be typical. Everyone else nods in agreement. Most of these people have known me for less than six months. But when your nights become routine, so does your behavior.

We eat Mexican food outside. I hate the fact that it’s Monday. I had to celebrate a fake-birthday the weekend prior. We sit on the patio of my favourite bar and write song requests on the back of chocolate candy wrappers. People kept leaving to buy chocolate. Consequently, we kept requesting songs.

She needs to catch the last subway home. The others soon follow. With only two of us left, we finish everyone’s lukewarm beer and vow to find somewhere without so many fluorescent lights, or any lights at all. Before leaving, we steal posters for beer we will never be able to afford.

We mix Soju and Powerade on a curb outside 7-11. I clench my teeth a little because it’s harsher than expected. I don’t feel any older. It’s past 4:00 am. We zip our hoodies higher and clutch our paper cups.

A young Korean guy stops to open conversation. Both of us, in the thick of things, try hard not to engage.

He comments on our drink of choice and asks a bit too seriously for this time of day, “Are you joking?”

I’m not sure how to answer.

The Secret’s Out: I’m a Shit “Travel Blogger”

People can justify anything.

If you’re feeling creative enough; things like infidelity, cannibalism, and even littering can all seem pretty excusable.

Perhaps I’m purposefully confusing “justifications” with “imaginative explanations.”

I tend to do that sometimes. You know, mix up definitions. Mispronounce words. Mistake word-unions which I ingeniously created some night and have been using ever since, for actual established dictionary entries. (Read: the feeling of hanger, using the word “tops” to describe things other than a t-shirt, and occasionally spelling “your” with an “e” instead of those other two vowels.)

Admittedly, I also pause every single time I’m about to use “invisible” or “invincible” in a sentence. I will often do a quick Webster’s brain-check to make sure I’m using the correct one and then just kind of mumble one of them and hope for the best. And for some reason, these words come up A LOT in my daily vocabulary.

See? There I go again.

I just tried to justify my brainless mistakes by making myself seem all quirky and forgetful. But, seriously. I have never even bothered to look up invisible/ invincible in a dictionary.

I’m lazy.

And that, forgiving readers and those choosing to waste internet time on a blog like this, is exactly why this space has been dormant for the last month.

I’m lazy in the sense that sometimes, I would just rather be doing things than writing about them. (In actuality, that’s really not laziness at all, but I’ve got a theme going here and I don’t really want to waste it.)

Which is actually quite strange. Because next to the joy I experience from explaining why I don’t know how to pronounce “ambiguous,” I actually quite like writing.

So I got lazy. And for those who have never experienced the feeling of being lethargic (Tony Robbins, Carrot Top, Jimmy Fallon most days of the week), laziness can be a real dick.

Being lazy can produce these ultimate moments of self-reflection. But because you can’t be bothered to internally reflect on anything in fear of exuding even a breath of effort, you consequently can get quite down on yourself.

Battling an internal dialogue of my intentions with this blog, coupled with the suffocating overtones of apathy, I questioned myself a lot.

If I really hated a place, would I accurately write about it?

If I pulled some stupid stunt with less than favourable outcomes (but makes for a generally amusing story), would I bare the wrath of judgmental commenters and post about it anyways?

I’m not sure.

And if I can’t be honest with my own, poorly-maintained WordPress site then really, who can I be honest with?*

I want to be honest.

I want to write about absolutely hating a lot of places which I had felt pressured to love.

I want to write about the things I’ve done which would cause most mothers to shake their head and say to themselves, “Shit. I’m so glad my own daughter didn’t turn out like that.”

I want to write stories in a similar fashion to my in-person demeanor. Slightly offensive. But with 3/4 good intentions. And throwing in descriptors like “tops” which are sort of catchy in the way that you will inevitably find yourself dropping them nonchalantly in conversations next week.

So I’m done pretending to enjoy certain parts of Thailand. I’m over keeping it a secret that I spent a week on an island in Indonesia stealing other people’s flip-flops because I had lost my own. I’m sick of trying to write about my travels in a chronological order for the sake of sequential organization.

The only thing I’m still really into are justifications.

Because those handy excuses?

Well, they’re pretty much tops.

*The truth is, LOADS of people. Turns out, I’m pretty open about my own achievements with the whole “think later” methodology. But I was trying to be dramatic. I think it worked.