So maybe I’m back here.

Writing on 750words made me feel part of a community – even though I never got to interact with anyone on the site. I suppose that’s what this blog was supposed to be about.
Then, one evening, as I was typing away, pouring my mind, heart, and soul onto a website that claims to be totally private, a nagging thought penetrated my mind: what if none of it was actually private?

What if all of the text I was feeding into it, along with a couple of thousand others, was in fact fodder to a giant human-psyche-analysis machine? What if my internal musings and attempts at figuring myself out through the tedious task of daily writing would end up being used, against my will, to help figure out how humans tick for the benefit of some greater morbid purpose? To help an evil system find out how to better enslave its slaves? To catalogue basic human thought patterns? To break the back of the magical illusion of freedom I so love?

Well, nothing’s private anymore anyway, my dear husband retorted.

Of course, to a certain extent, he is right.
You use a freely available e-mail service? It’s paid for by the content analysis you allow them to harvest from your once private conversations.
You have a profile on facebook? They track everything your browser does and then sell that information onwards to advertisers.
You use google? They track everything you do online.
You shop online? You allow google/facebook/other to track all of your purchases, both on- and offline.

You are, in essence, nothing more than an online provider of consumer information for large conglomerates who couldn’t care less for your personal well-being. As long as you are content enough to not make too much of a fuss, they are happy to keep on harvesting you.

I tried to find out more about Kellianne and Buster, the couple who run 750words. I found nothing that could soothe my concerns…
So, well, for the moment at least, I’m back here.

750words was a dumping ground for a lot of stuff.
The game side of it made it easy to keep writing and to keep at it regularly. I earned extra badges and was incredibly happy to have multiple running streaks of more than ten days.

I don’t feel comfortable covering as much ground on an open platform such as this one, so I will keep dumping my rawer thoughts on my computer, in my own little bubble, feeling separated from the larger community of humans. Strange how small perceptual changes can have such an impact on the deeper parts of our selves. I am still writing on the same computer, on the same keyboard, and at roughly the same time and yet… and yet it feels lonely and sad instead of intimate, passionate, and hopeful.

Perhaps this year I will learn to be disciplined enough to write every day – no matter the platform.

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So I crashed a stag do.

Oh it’s such a bad idea! They’ll make fun of your man for having such a needy and sticky wife! said my sister.

I don’t think any of the men will be pleased. Are you sure you want to risk ruining their weekend? asked my father.

It was my husband’s idea.
He insisted that the whole weekend would be more fun with me around. I was, obviously, quite pleased that my husband would think that I am a fun woman to hang around with, and the idea of participating in a stag do weekend away in Amsterdam was more than titillating. I did, obviously, have my fair share of reservations.

Stag dos are for men and hen dos for women.
The thing is that I’ve never really enjoyed any of the bachelorette parties I have been invited to: I find them boringly tame and, to be quite honest, scrapbooking really isn’t my thing. Nor is getting all dolled up, hanging out with a clique of giddy girls, or drinking champagne.

My husband made a fair point:
why do stag and hen dos have to be so sexist?

Why are people with penises allowed to participate in one and people with vaginas in another? Men are as different from women as women are different from other women and men from other men… what’s all this fuss about segregating people based on their sexual organs about?

The feedback from my family and friends left me nervous. Despite reassurances from my husband, and the husband-to-be okaying my presence, I was filled with anxiety when I finally greeted the rest of the gang: nine men of different ages, socio-economic backgrounds, nationalities, and political ideas – most of whom didn’t even know each other. You would have been hard pressed to find a more eclectic bunch of people to bring together for a weekend.

I did my best to hide my fear and greeted each one with a firm handshake, smiling, and joking around, saying they could call me Julian if my feminine presence got too uncomfortable for them.

As the best man was unable to organise anything for the stag do, my husband had stepped in to figure out what a group of twelve could do in Amsterdam. As my husband is adoringly inept at finding things online, I stepped in to do the required research and come up with ideas.

Stripping, there had to be stripping. All of it had to be unique, something you wouldn’t necessarily do back home. Oh, and it had to be manly! How about some fire breathing? Then dinner… oh! Look! You can get a stripper for dessert!

I asked most of the guys to suspend their opinion of me until we got back to the hotel: the weekend’s first event was my idea. A tall gorgeous blonde woman dressed as a pretend police officer approached our minibus, and then proceeded to punish the groom with some nakedness and dancing, at which point I like to think most of the guys felt a bit more at ease with my presence.

To be quite honest, I am bored of how our lives are dictated by gender. As soon as you appear somewhere people make assumptions about you simply because they read you as either male or female. Add to that the colour of your skin, your accent, and wham bam boom you’ve got a world that consistently fails to see us for who we are – preferring a world dictated by nomenclature instead.

Of course not all women like to see other women show off their bodies to helpless heaps of drooling men, and obviously not all women spend a vast amount of their time pondering the seemingly endless rift between the way men and women have been bred to think… but the thing is, I do. In the company of groups of drunken men I have learned some incredible things…

I’m told, for example, that (regular) guys are helpless when faced with naked women. If strip clubs are an endemic symptom of the objectification and oppression of women, perhaps a way to “empower” yourself as a man is to abuse the women (forced to) working in such degrading conditions when you, as a man, feel that you are at their mercy? Unfortunately, on this occasion, this discussion was muddled by too much alcohol.

What does having sex actually mean?
If the word sex only applies to intercourse, what are lesbians doing? Never having sex? As a person who happens to have a vagina, I have to say that, for me, sex starts the moment there’s sexy stuff going on… kissing can be sex, and fingering most certainly is. Apparently this isn’t so for any of the men with whom I have talked about this.

We ate, we drank, we sang, we enjoyed fire breathing and sexy women stripping their hearts out, and then drank some more. The canals of Amsterdam were filled with our laughter and drunken songs, and, for the first time in years, I felt I could be myself without trying to fit in, without trying to mold myself into someone I’m not. By Sunday the groom had made a little song about me…

Juliaaaaaaaa … one of the booooooys ….
Charming.

So yes, I crashed a stag do.
I enjoyed it, loved it even, and I look forward to catching up with that most incredible bunch of guys at the wedding. Although, to be quite honest, I suspect they will be very different when their partners are around… perhaps this year we might start allowing ourselves to be ourselves even with our partners around? Or may I even dare hope for us to dare be ourselves no matter who is around?

Perhaps this year I’ll learn to let go of my number one fear.

I’ve been dealing with it for more years than I care to count (14 or so). It’s nothing that unusual, and it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t live a normal life, but, really, it’s time I let go of it.

You might think that fears are something you treat, something you cure, or something you manage to bypass in one way or another, with, say, hypnosis, for example. I’ve tried that. It didn’t work.

I’ve tried reading up about it, tried getting my head into the right place, tried meditating, listening to music, acupuncture, medication, alcohol, and even watching some self-help videos. None of it has worked consistently even though some have offered brief moments of fearlessness.

I’m afraid of being in a plane.

In October 2001, I was in a plane that managed to land despite all odds. There was a severe storm, ours was the only plane to land that day, and yes, I watched as the tip of our wing almost hit the ground as we attempted to land… and then spent some 40 minutes praying to whatever forces might be out in the world to save my sorry ass from what I felt was a premature death.

Those 40 minutes spent awaiting and dreading death were the most painful minutes of my life. I experienced genuine pain in my body as we circled around the airport, waiting for the fleeting moment of calmness in the eye of a raging storm. Waiting for certain and imminent death is an experience you don’t lightly forget.

The hoped for respite from violently changing gusts of wind never came, so our (female) pilot decided to have another go at landing. We landed from high and very hard. As the plane touched down, the wind almost ripped us back into the air. I don’t know how, but our pilot managed to bring the airplane to a halt, but not before passing a sea of what seemed like disappointed spectators and a row of fire trucks, ambulances, and a deployed safety net. Nobody thought we’d make it.

My boyfriend at the time and I walked through a quiet, eerily deserted airport filled only with Asian tourists sleeping on whatever surfaces they could find. We didn’t exchange a word. We couldn’t.

We took the train into town and walked into the city center. The world was busy being full of life, the beautiful cumulus raced across a tempestuous sky, coloured pink by the slowly setting sun. I couldn’t believe I was alive. I held onto the railing of the bridge and breathed the cold autumn air, filling my lungs with life. Words failed me… my tears spoke for me instead.

My grandfather was turning ninety and I had to fly to get to the party. It had been three months and while nervous, I was ready to get back on a plane. I loved flying and always had. I could not imagine my life without being able to soar through the skies, looking at the world from an angle none of my ancestors would have been able to even dream of.

As I sat down in the plane, I felt light headed, slightly nauseous, and certainly uncomfortable. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, perhaps I was exhausted? Perhaps I had eaten something I shouldn’t have? My mouth suddenly dried up, I needed a glass of water. I needed to see someone, I wasn’t well. My heart raced, I thought I was having a heart attack, I needed to get off the plane. Get me out of here! I screamed – in my head. I could not speak. My mouth was so dry I could barely open it. My eyes didn’t want to stay open, I was terrified I was dying. The airplane taxied onto the runway as I saw my life flash before me. I needed to get off this plane. I needed to get medical attention. The engines roared and soon we were up in the sky. And I was somewhere else.

It took me three days to get over the panic attack I suffered on that flight. I was due to fly back in four. The return flight was not quite as bad, but far from normal. It took me another four days to recover.

In the thirteen years since I experienced my first panic attack, I have been able to fly without fear about three or four times. I have circled the world twice since and have gathered an impressive amount of air miles.

On Monday, as we entered the security check-up area of yet another airport, I kindly asked a member of the staff if there was an alternative to going through the somewhat recently installed body scanners – of which I am not a fan and which are associated to some lesser fears of mine. She sternly replied that there was no other option and that I should not be concerned about their safety as they are new and of the highest standard.

I broke down into uncontrollable weeping.
Through my wails, I was able to somehow communicate that I was not only scared of these machines but of planes in general and that she was making my life very difficult by refusing me any leeway in this anxiety-inducing situation.

Or, in other words, I’m scared of flying and I just can’t, I can’t… *chocking up*

Being a gentle being at heart, she saw my distress and told her colleagues to let me go past the scanners by patting me down instead. I was finally sent off after her colleague had gone through my purse to check I wasn’t a mad person trying to get a bomb or drugs onto a plane by pretending to cry. In between sobs, I kept apologising for crying. It’s something I normally do only once I am in the midst of a panic attack and usually just off the runway.

As I sat in the plane, tears started rolling down my cheeks again, but this time I wasn’t panicking. It was a strange feeling of familiarity without the emotional and physical strain. It felt as if my body was only reacting according to a habit. I was listening to music – Cat Stevens to be precise – and was actually quite comfortable. A sadness rose within me, a form of melancholy about my passing life, a tiredness of sorts that drowned me in tears as the plane roared and took off. I wasn’t crying because I was afraid. I was crying from somewhere much deeper. Perhaps the tears were a way for me to materialise the fear I have grown so accustomed to.

It was then that I thought that perhaps it was time I let go of the fear.

I have been ignoring this blog on purpose as of late. Since I have been unable to keep to most of my new year’s resolutions in February, it seemed silly to be writing about that fact here every day, day after day. So, rather than publicly wallow in my inability to keep to a list of actions I decided were worthwhile a few months ago (OMG time flies!), I think it is time I add some depth to the whole affair.

Perhaps this year I’ll learn to speak up.

I hold a number of beliefs about the world, which, as for everyone, are very important to me. I believe in kindness, open-mindedness, growth, honesty, and the willingness to do what needs to be done to make things right. I do recognise the fact that ‘right’ is a very relative term that is not only laden with cultural baggage but also with all of the collective luggage passed down any given family. In one family ‘right’ might mean severe forms of punishment to help children learn what is indeed right and wrong, while in another family the ‘right’ thing to do is to allow children to discover for themselves what works for them and what doesn’t. Who am I to say which one is right?

I have my natural tendency to prefer one over the other but am not closed to a well argued case of the opposite. For me the key here is in the way we justify things to one another and most importantly to ourselves.

Most people prefer to travel through life without figuring out how they are navigating. Decisions are based on rash emotional responses that lead us further and further away from our core, helping us layer ourselves in king’s clothes to keep us from seeing the mess we are sheltering under our invisibility cloaks. Both, to me, are make-pretend, yet the more we pretend the more we believe whatever we say – or however we justify things to ourselves – to be true.

I am no psychic, but I am a keen observer. I do not pretend to know everything and I am more than aware of the fact that my glasses are tainted with a particular set of chosen beliefs about our world, inherited cultural constructs, and imposed values from my childhood home. I have my own set of layers to go through, certain childhood familiars to expose, and endless growth to wade through.

… so I keep silent.

Most of the time my awareness of my personal short-comings are so heavy that I do not allow myself to engage others in becoming aware of theirs. I hold onto the belief that my vision of the world is but one of countless others and that I cannot possibly hold my beliefs to be the only true or worthy ones. For me such a belief would be utter madness.

What? A singular explanation of the world that only I am the keeper of? Lock me up now.

Yet this is what I hear, read, and see day in and day out. We are bombarded with people telling us their ‘truths‘ to ‘help‘ others. We are bombarded with what in my opinion is pop-psycho-babble that allows us to wallow in our sense of entitlement and belief that the world and the meaningful relationships in it should be handed to us on a platter and resemble Hollywood scripted romcoms to a T.

It makes me so (uselessly) angry to see the amount of stupidity and unwillingness to engage with critical thinking that is accepted as worthwhile news, editorials, opinion pieces, TV shows, and other media filler. Why are people so happy to lap it all up and spend their money, and worst of all time on any of it?

But I like to be careful. I’ve noticed that any pathway to critical thinking is quickly obstructed and closed off as soon as judgement is passed. It’s so much easier to feel attacked when someone questions your assumptions and to simply decide that that person is an asshole than to actually take a look in the mirror and allow yourself to move from a place of dull comfort towards uncomfortably fulfilling growth. It’s so hard to realise you’ve been wrong and that the decisions you made were done from an ugly place… it’s easier to hate the messenger than to hear the message.

And here is where it gets complicated.

I believe that exposing people to other ways of thinking is essential. Why? Because I believe in growth, honesty, and making things right. I value our human ability (or should I say potential?) to experience life from a place of awareness, to allow each other and ourselves to be the very best of who we might aspire to be. This means questioning assumptions that do not serve us in the long run – or that only serve us in masking a deep form of discomfort or feeding our spoiled egos.

The thing is that you can’t effectively question anything without speaking up. You can’t challenge the way things are without speaking up. The very act of speaking up is an act of confrontation. Confrontation implies judgement, or at least disagreement with beliefs held by the other party. So how can you possibly speak up without implying the fact that your beliefs are better than the ones you allow yourself to question?

Dear esteemed followers,

Thank you for choosing to follow this blog. I am not sure what has pushed you to do so since my ramblings here are rather inconsistent and self-serving. Nevertheless, thank you.

When I started this blog I didn’t plan on paying any attention to whether I had followers or not. On the first day, after my very first post here, I gained two. I was dumbfounded and excited at the same time. I also found it rather daunting because it meant that the success of this blog might, in my mind, depend on it gaining momentum in the ethereal world of blogging. I have since learned that while it thrills me to have new followers, I luckily haven’t become obsessed with gaining more.

As you may have noticed, I do not allow comments on any of my posts. On my other blogs, comments have helped me gain incredible insights and some very good friends but here I have chosen to keep it all just to myself – so that I wouldn’t, as has happened before, start writing based on what people have commented on, what they have said, and who did the commenting.
But curiosity burns me – as it always does.
Why did you choose to follow this blog?
Was it because of something specific I wrote about?
Was it by accident?
Was it to see whether I could keep to my resolutions?

as it turns out, not really in February

If you have the time and the inclination to do so, I would be very grateful to know why you have become a follower of A Year Of Resolutions.
The comments are on, but only for this entry.

If you choose to comment here, thank you.
If not, that’s ok too.

I wish you a wonderful whatever time of the day it is as you read this.

Perhaps this year I’ll finally figure out what to do with half-empty shampoo and conditioner bottles, lotion tubes, and other such containers.

I have very sensitive skin.
Let me make that clear: very sensitive skin.
Some might, perhaps more accurately, describe it as overly sensitive – reactionary even.

This past summer my mom brought to my attention the fact that the face cream I have been using for quite a few years already is otherwise all good, pure, and natural (and very calming) but for the fact that it contains parabens.

I know close to nothing about parabens, except for the fact that they aren’t supposed to be good for you. As this particular cream had been a heaven sent when my face started turning red no matter what I put on it to try and calm it, I had never really looked past the fact that it was supposedly made with natural oils (and has a very short ingredients list). If you have ever gone shopping with me, this should come as a total surprise as I am one of those suckers who spends an awful lot of their time reading what each consumable (and non-consumable) item contains. While on a road trip in the US reading my way through Walmart goods, I learned that some American apples don’t just contain apple… but that story will have to keep for another day.

And there it was, as clear as day, Methylparaben.

I needed to find an alternative.

Considering how long it took me to stumble upon this incredibly soothing cream (with a faint possibility of breast cancer as a side effect), I didn’t feel very happy about launching myself into the world of face creams once again.

Assuming that most skins are like mine, and unless the product at hand triggers an instantaneous allergic reaction, it takes about three to four days of regular use for the effects of a facial cream to reveal themselves. Tester tubes are usually enough for two to five applications, which is far from enough. Some creams smell right (no overwhelming perfumes, for example) and feel right, sound right, and are more or less affordable. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t right. After about a week, I often find myself with yet another tube of cream that just won’t do in the long run: peeling skin, eczema, rash, extreme dryness, or oiliness.

At the moment I have six containers of cream that are more than half full and that I’ll never use again – not even if no other cream is available since, after about a week’s worth of use, they end up exacerbating problems I might not even had had before. So, the question I am faced with here, as with the eight bottles of shampoo and four bottles of conditioners that are still about half full, what the hell do I do with it all?

Throw it all in the bin!
Mmmyeah, but no.
I have a hard time facing the fact that I have bought products and am willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that they and their contents will most likely find their way into the natural world as they are when simply binned. If I am not happy putting parabens onto my skin, then why would I want to drink water and eat foods contaminated by them by bin-happy people?

Recycle?
Yes, I’d love to, but what do I do with the contents? (see concerns listed above – drinking water, anyone?)

Give it away?
Yes! But to whom?

Shampoos and conditioners end up in the water system anyway, but creams and oils usually don’t, unless they are being flushed down the drain. And then the containers present their own set of problems: some are recyclable, others not.

This is why my husband has recently had to put up with no body-wash or normal shampoos in the household. I’ve become unable to simply buy new products. I hope that my recent discovery of Salcura will help put an end to my self-imposed misery… it seems promising, but hey, let me give it another week…

Perhaps this year I’ll learn to take myself more seriously.

I didn’t intend to write that to begin with. One of those spontaneous changes of mind I often suffer from. I was going to write perhaps this year I’ll finally start getting up early and then it came out as such. My hands hijacked my initial intention.

I’m not even sure what that means.
Take myself more seriously
Why would I?

Maybe getting up early and being serious are somehow connected in my mind. Maybe because I do not like to take myself seriously I don’t like waking up early? Who knows… What I do know is that I really dislike getting up early – unless I am travelling somewhere.

When I was yea high my parents whisked me off to many different countries, always leaving (or so it seemed) before dawn. I can still feel the pure excitement running through me, the sleepy quietness of the morning, the hushed dragging of the suitcases, the ruffle of our coats, the cool dew-filled morning air, the darkness that would soon implode, the thrill of flying through empty motorways frantically checking for passports and travel documents, that crisp feeling of being awake before the rest of the world.

I knew from an early age that I could, in fact, wake up at any time and be fully functioning if, and only if, I needed to get somewhere at an ungodly hour. There is something about the motion of setting off on a journey that turns my night owl into not just a lark, but a black bird.

I suppose my inadvertent change of the opening line is in keeping with the amount of negative stigma that is attached to sleeping in in the mornings.

The early bird catches the worm.

The web is packed with articles about how much better it is for you to get up early and how it seems to be the only key to success – I know as my father keeps sending me links to them. I seem to be the only one in our village to get up past nine. The amount of times my parents and all other parents have berated me for not getting up early is probably equivalent to the number of stars in the sky.

The thing is, I like the night. And the stars in it.
As a matter of fact, I prefer a rhythm of getting up in the late afternoon and going to bed about half an hour after sunrise. It allows me to be by myself and not worry about what the rest of the world is doing. It means I get to listen to the dawn chorus slowly start and then turn into a full orchestra that finds its peak just before humans crawl out of their homes and destroy the air with their relentless engines.

For about half a year, I lived such a rhythm. I woke up in the glory of the late afternoon light, enjoyed my lunch at sunset, and worked through the darkest hours of the night. As the birds announced the break of dawn, I would slowly detach myself from the computer, listen to the world (minus humans) wake up, and enjoy simply being alive. My smile grew wider as the sun approached the horizon, and I made sure to greet it with some sun salutations and giggles of gratitude. As traffic started to make itself known, I hid away under my duvet and waited for the afternoon sun to light up my room before crawling out again, fully energised.

My parents, who, at that time, lived across the street, could not comprehend how I could waste away like that.

It was one of the happiest periods of my life.

Perhaps I’ve let the world run over my sense of self, yet again, allowing it to trample my personal feel of what is right – for me. We live in a world where everybody is busy judging everyone else and themselves by comparing everyone to everyone. We are told how to live our lives and what to put into (and onto!) our bodies by research groups tasked by those in charge. Our private, personal sense of life is overwhelmed by regulations imposed upon us by our herders, by those who profit from us conforming to a set pattern of behaviour.

I feel guilty for staying up and writing because my husband doesn’t like to go to sleep on his own. I feel guilty almost every morning when I get up as I know I have missed half of the day by the time I am dressed and actually awake – even though, for me, the day doesn’t end when the sun goes down. I am ashamed when the doorbell rings and I have to get up, grab my bathrobe, and run down to sign for yet another delivery from the post office – and rather annoyed when it’s the pervy postman who greets me in my state of utter vulnerability.

I have come to attach getting up early with being serious about life – with belonging, being successful, being with it.

Maybe that’s what I am yearning for?
The feeling of being more than a grumpy teenager who would rather stay up chatting with her ICQ friends than give up on the excitement of discovering the world for the sake of getting a good night’s rest?

Perhaps this year I’ll learn to value myself for who I am rather than try to fit into the kind of person everyone else wants me to be.