Being Alone

Where is your loneliness?

Not in the the perilous drama of a shipwreck—
drifting beyond deserted shores
Not in the cautious intent of space travel—
forever orbiting towards a sunrise

It’s in the cheap insulation of apartment walls,
the neighbours whose names you don’t know,
the checkmark in ✓Seen 11:45 pm, the sheepish
trips to the liquor store, the diplomatic voice
of a clerk asking for the money you owe

It’s in the stillness of highways before dawn,
the silence at the end of a book, the burst of wind
from slamming doors, and the knowing, that after everything
they’re gone.
It’s in your chest cavity, aching and ashamed

Feel that hot electric pang and build
that pain a cradle—give it a name
nurse it from fledgling flame to full-blown fire
let it radiate
Sooner or later, it will fade

Then the glow of coals will warm you
until you can reach out again: call a friend, get coffee,
paint, tell a joke, smile at strangers

We’re at our happiest when we risk another burn

Stranger

I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
“To a Stranger”, Walt Whitman

You sit, scribbling on a napkin
halfway across the café. Sipping
steaming cups of cappuccino
with maraschino lips. I know
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone

From your bag comes every book
I’ve cradled in the bath and treasured
on my nightstand. They have been written
for our conversations, and yet
I am to wait —I do not doubt I am to meet you again

Finally you rise. The buttoning
of your coat precedes the forward
scraping of your chair. We share a glance
before you find the door and step through.
I am to see to it that I do not lose you

How to Talk to Strangers

We’ve all been in a situation which we’re minding our own business, engulfed in our own thoughts (or worries), when someone really intriguing comes along. This person might be wearing an interesting outfit, they might be carrying an amazing book, or they might be hanging out with a really cute dog. How do we make a connection with them without being painfully awkward? Even the most outgoing of us can end up with a foot lodged firmly inside of our mouths. The following is some tips to avoid that unfortunate acrobatic feat.

1. Frequent Areas Conducive to Friendly Chatter
Most of us live far away in both space and time from the great communal bonfires of our ancestors. In fact, many of us journey from lonely one-bedroom apartments, to lonely one-person cubicles with only the human voices on our music playlists to keep us company (and even those are increasingly robotic). The interactions we have in shops are courteous, but usually devoid of any real substance (speaking of robots.) It is therefore a good idea to frequent public spaces, or spaces with an atmosphere conducive to chatter. For students, these places are widely found across campuses in common rooms, foyers, and even hallways. For those of us who don’t attend school (or are too cool for school, perhaps), we might have some luck in coffee houses, hobby stores, parks, or communal areas in libraries. Places where we wait around can also work, such as line-ups and waiting rooms. It is, however, important to respect a person’s space. It would be unkind to follow someone into an alleyway for a conversation (especially while shouting, “But wait, I like your t-shirt!”), likewise to subject a person to soliloquies while they’re using public transportation. They key is not to hold a person captive. There must be an escape route for them, should they want it. Conversations are best when they are mutual.

garage
 
Parking garages are highly unrecommended places to greet someone.

2. Know Body Language
This tip goes along the same lines as not holding a person captive. We must be aware of our stranger’s body language as well as our own. For instance, we can seem approachable and non-aggressive by keeping our arms and legs uncrossed, by smiling amicably (read: not like Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and by tilting our head slightly to indicate interest. We don’t want to stand too close, touch them, or lick our lips while rapidly raising and lowering our eyebrows (save that sort of behaviour for close friends). Signs to be aware of from our stranger: their arms are crossed, their eyes are darting to the ground or to their phones, they are not smiling or their smile seems forced, they are looking at others around them (possibly for help), or they are giving us a firm and unshakeable middle finger. These are all signs to disengage at once, no matter how neat the person seems.

headphones
 And if someone is wearing these, it’s best to leave them be.

3. Offer Compliments
Living in a city, a suburb, or even certain rural areas can lead to a sense of anonymity: everyone is a stranger. We come to feel that it’s advantageous to have our guards up, because there is no way of knowing if someone is friend or foe. It can therefore be beneficial to offer a compliment by way of introduction, in order to disarm someone. The caveat, however, is that the compliment should be genuine. Most people can tell if you don’t really like their purple hair, especially if you immediately follow the compliment with “But why would you do something like that?” Even if the remark is out of genuine curiousity, it usually comes off as an affront to their tastes, rendering them more on their guard than ever. The other caveat is that it is best not to compliment a stranger on their body. People have hang-ups about their bodies. Of course, freckles, scars, and birth marks can be interesting and beautiful, but they may also be something the person is sensitive about. (And while it is nice to compliment friends and family about these things, my be-freckled sister will attest that this can also be annoying.) Furthermore, telling a stranger “you have super nice boobies,” is a tough opener, because where do you possibly go from there?  Basically, we want to find the thing about them that makes us want to reach out, without making them uncomfortable.

sky
 Giving compliments will also avoid resorting to gripping topics like the weather.

4. Ask Questions
We’ve all been in the unfortunate one-sided conversations where a person will yammer on about their current big project, and how successful they already are, and how they own a yacht, and how they are actually seen as a prince in some countries. (No? It must be my unfortunate luck to meet these characters.) The point is, engaging people in conversation is simple, because people love to talk about themselves. If they are carrying something that interests you, such as a specific phone model, a book, a bag from a favourite shop, or sports equipment, then we can ask questions related to these things. If we notice something about their behaviour, (perhaps they are looking for something,) then we can ask them about this. If we see the same person at the same time and place we can allude to this as well (though only if they show recognition as well, since knowing someone’s schedule without their knowing us is apt to seem suspicious.) Getting a person to open up is like most things: we can improve our skills the more we practice. Eventually we develop an intuition as to which topics to pursue and which topics to avoid.

erotica
Like maybe not all books are appropriate to open dialogue with.

5. Know When to Stop
Every conversation comes to an end. And if that conversation is with a stranger, it should err on the side of short and sweet. When our stranger begins to shift, then they are likely needed elsewhere, and it’s time for us to gracefully bow out. We can do this by saying “Well, I should be getting back to work now,” or a genuine “It was really nice talking with you.” We can thank them for the chat. We can introduce ourselves if we haven’t had a chance yet, and let them know that we’ll see them around. What we want to avoid, unless the stranger volunteers, is to jump into the promise of being best friends. This means that asking for personal information, unless there is a clear business objective to the exchange, is likely to make the person uncomfortable. We can try this if we see the person on more than one occasion, but it’s important to make them feel in control. Therefore, we should leave our contact information with them, rather than demanding theirs.

goodtime
 Do not leave your information as such. 

And there we have it: easy ways we can strike up a conversation with just about anybody. If we make a person feel comfortable by approaching them with relevant questions and in an open space, they are likely to respond positively and we may just score a new friend out of the deal. If nothing else, we’ll have had face-to-face contact with another human being and perhaps learned something about ourselves in the process.

How to Make a Lifestyle Change

Changing things up is good: it lets us shake off the stale routines that no longer serve us. Like a snake shedding its papery skin, we slither on to better things. However, change isn’t usually as effortless as our reptilian friends make it look. We often lose that magical feeling called motivation, which takes the lustre away from the day-to-day grind. This makes us say things like “why am I doing this, again?” and “well, I can always try again next Monday.” But what if we could just stick with it? I’ve been a vegan for over six months now, which is a lot for this former milk-and-meat eating, diet-cycling, food-enthusiast. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of putting my mind to it, either. The following tips are applicable to almost any large-haul lifestyle change.

1. Get Educated
The most important aspect to consider when we make a big change is whether that change is going to be healthy for us. Diets that claim we can eat anything if we follow “one weird tip” or that involve eliminating one or more of the basic food groups are usually a red-flag for unsustainability at best, and serious health hazards, at worst. This step that takes us on a grand tour of the Internet, our local library, and the doctor’s office. Doctors are helpful when assessing a patient’s current wellbeing and letting them know which exercises are okay to begin (and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s nice to have a doctor-approved excuse not to do hot yoga.) One must be a little picky when it comes to consulting Internet and even library sources; checking for scientific studies and sources becomes important. (Though this can feel like writing a college research paper.)

books
Pictured here: solid knowledge. 

2. Be Realistic
Let’s get this one out of the way, since it’s fairly unpleasant to get yanked down to reality while imagining all the neat changes we could be making. This step has everything to do with goals. For instance, if we want to get super fit, it might be more attainable if we train for a specific event or milestone, be it a 5 kilometre walk, a triathlon, or an all-night video gaming session. (Goals are very personal things.)

calendar
Get a nice calendar that you won’t dread looking at.

3. Say “Nah” to Nay-Sayers
Isn’t it strange how when we tell someone we’re making a change, they suddenly become the world’s foremost health and fitness expert? While some friends and family will have legitimate concerns, it’s often the case that when we make a change for ourselves, it causes others to question their own life choices. This is something that can be uncomfortable for people. For instance, if someone decides to stop drinking, many of their friends may be supportive, while others, most likely their drinking buddies, will say things like “Well, everything in moderation” in an effort to justify their behaviours. However, being armed with the confidence brought to us by the rigorous studies of Step One, we can now shut nay-sayers down gently, (or aggressively, if appropriate.)

nah
Write it on your hand when you get sick of repeating it.

4. Have an Emotional Connection to the Change
Whether we want to ride our bikes more, stop smoking, or change our food habits, it helps to be emotionally connected to our cause. While, “I want to look hot” is as good a reason as any, often it doesn’t provide that lasting conviction to get us through the hard days. (Especially when we realize, damn, I’m already hot anyways.) Similarly, “I want to lose weight” can be tricky, since often the emotional connection we have to this cause is propelled by guilt and frustration. Similarly, if we do lose that 10, 30, or 50 pounds, we now have no reason to maintain our lifestyle change, making it easy for old habits to creep up. It is therefore more effective to identify with an emotional cause such as, “I want to ride my bike more often because I care about the degradation of our environment and feel moved to do what I can to stop it.” Or, “I want to stop smoking because children whose parents smoke are much more likely to smoke themselves, and I don’t want mine to start.” My reason for change, with regards to adopting a vegan lifestyle, was tied to my concern for the wellbeing of animals. When I conjure up the idea of an animal’s suffering, I don’t need resist having a hamburger, I just don’t want it.

browniesocute
It helps having a cute dog to remind you why you love animals.

5. Get Support
If our friends and family are too busy playing our health-concerned doctors to be supportive of us, then it’s lucky we live in a time with such amazing online communities. Being able to share recipes, swap training goals, brag about milestones, or just plain talk to someone with a similar outlook can be life-change-saving.

computer
Pinterest can be a wealth of recipes and distractions.

6. Have Fun
Reward milestones with experiences that bring joy. A new cookbook, a course, new running shoes, a trip, or a night out at a favourite restaurant can be great ways to express pride and gratitude in our efforts. For those of us who are daring, we can choose to commemorate our success with a tattoo or new haircut. These are not simply rewards for being good, rather, they act as little nudges towards an unknowable, albeit exciting, destination.

crudessence
I made my milestones weekly so I could eat this more often.

If we take the time to do our homework first, we will have the knowledge and the tools to make any lifestyle change we see fit. By making an emotional connection to the cause of our change, we are assuring a long-term commitment and a passion that will re-new itself every time we read, hear or talk about it. A much more effective fuel than motivation.