by myself at a festival

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After plans to meet a friend fell through Saturday afternoon, I began my third date by myself at the Midsummer’s Dream festival of colour, in Hamilton.

According to its website, the festival was inspired by the principles of an ancient Hindu festival called “Holi,” intended to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and the renewal of spring. From where I was standing, it seemed like an excellent excuse for a lot of people to get extraordinarily dirty. Sign me up.

I quickly got my bearings and wasted no time jumping into the mess. Armed with six small bags of coloured powder, I pushed to the middle of the large crowd. As the first musical guests chanted in Sanskrit, we pressed together and waited for the countdown. When it happened, it didn’t matter that I was wearing sunglasses or that I’d pulled my scarf over my face, that shit got everywhere. It was in my eyes, ears, mouth, and up my nose. It found every crevice. Eventually, of course, I had to use the ladies’ room and then the powder got… everywhere else.

This colour-throwing ritual, which represents how different cultural backgrounds can come together as one, repeated every half hour. Here are some photos of me gradually acclimating to my surroundings:

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Aside from music and colour, there was plenty more to see and do. I contentedly explored the tea lounge, the craft vendor market, the do-it-yourself creativity tent, and the large yogafest.

In the creativity tent, I sat and made myself a brightly-coloured ankle bracelet while chatting with a woman and her daughter. “What do you think this festival represents?” I asked her. “I think it’s just a celebration of love and friendship and equality,” she replied. Yeah, I can get behind that.

I somehow managed to score a free coconut by flashing my brightest smile and asking the man how much it was for pretty girls. Wow. I’m embarrassed how easily that worked.

I don’t particularly like yoga, but I did enjoy the soft music and the soothing voice of the instructor, so I laid next to them under a tree and drank my coconut. Life is good.

I wandered around aimlessly, occasionally engaging in playful colour fights with strangers, spontaneously plopping my ass on the grass to chug water, and randomly contributing to passing conversations. “Am I pink, orange, or blue right now?” A young girl asked her friend. “All of the above!” I shouted.

Overall, my experience was very positive. I was alone and yet felt very much an accepted part of the large faceless group of awesomeness.

There was just one thing that troubled me. I didn’t dance. Not even when a great DJ put together a series of tracks I’d normally shake my ass to. I love dancing. Whether I’m any good or not has never concerned me; I’m an uninhibited dancer. But I still didn’t dance. I couldn’t.

Come to think of it, I’ve never danced by myself in public. I’ve always been among friends. What’s more: it was always with the underlying agenda to either entice or impress someone else. I did not like this revelation at all.

I began looking closer at the moving crowd of brightly coloured people, young and old, and I began to see it for the smaller groups it comprised. Everyone danced with someone else. Sure they were dancing freely, but only with the familiarity of someone they knew. Dancing is about the music not the people; isn’t it? Or maybe it’s both?

I may not have joined in the dancing, but I also didn’t run from my discomfort. While these questions tumbled around unwelcome in my brain, I stood amid the dancers and felt it.

It is now my goal upon completing this project to be able to dance by myself and feel great about it.

EC

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by myself at an amusement park

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I have been resting well for the past two days as a result of my second date by myself – a 10-hour day at Canada’s Wonderland, in Toronto. My 31-year-old body cannot handle roller coasters quite like it used to.

I arrived at noon. An overcast afternoon with intermittent showers did not deter hoards of guests from packing the park. It would appear I am not the only person who has figured out that rain makes the coasters go faster. Here I am at the entrance, armed with only a smile and a fist full of 20s shoved in my bra. Let’s get this started.

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I headed straight for the largest and fastest ride in the park: Leviathan. It also had the longest line, extending well outside of the normal boundaries and into the general pedestrian area. Ahead of me in line was a very short Indian family, excitedly conversing in their native language. Behind me was a group of very short Asian ladies, also speaking a tongue I could not understand. There was no mistaking that the tall white weirdo between these groups was by herself.

Together, we slowly shuffled through the 2-hr maze that ultimately lead us to the 2 minutes of extreme fun we all sought. (This is a strange ritual when you think of it in terms of time invested.) I’d have thought this would’ve been horribly awkward. It wasn’t. I actually enjoyed myself. Oh, and the ride was good too. Shout out to the random 14-year old boy sitting beside me; well done.

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The sun soon came out; and as the day progressed, my calm enjoyment evolved into full blown bliss. I dare declare I had a better time by myself than I may have with other people.

Had I been with a group, I would have had to consider their needs and wants in deciding where we would go next and what we would do. I may have pushed myself to do more than I wanted, making me irritable and unpleasant. Instead, the small decisions that make up my normal behavior became purely subconscious and instinctual. I was relaxed from the gate; but as the hours rolled on, I felt myself really leaning in to the experience.

My usually fast pace slowed to a leisurely stroll. I took my time getting from one place to the next, stopping even, to take in my surroundings and enjoy the time in between. Finally, I was getting to see who I am and what I am like out in the world, without the affect of outside factors. Here is what I’ve learned:

  • I am patient. I will say it again, I enjoyed the time spent waiting in line. Without another person’s irritation rubbing off on me, I was free to people-watch and let my mind wander. This brings me to my second point.
  • I am a daydreamer. I look forward to and relish in the time when my brain is permitted to leave my body and do as it pleases. My imagination is a wonderful place to exist.
  • I probably got some strange looks and/or comments for being alone; but if I did, I didn’t notice them this time. When I am truly comfortable in my skin, I am oblivious to judgment. Furthermore, I am impervious to embarrassment. When a ride attendant shouted down the line for a single rider, I raised both arms and gleefully shouted, “ooh, me!” then blew past the remainder of the line laughing. Suckers!
  • I am kind to strangers and will happily interact with them when I feel like it. A lady cut in front of the majority of one line to join her friends. She looked behind herself then told them, “Guys, I think I should leave. I just pissed off a lot of people.” “Yeah, but fuck those people,” I chimed in, “you’re fine.” She smiled at me gratefully. (I already knew myself to be vulgar and somewhat inappropriate.)
  • While I do consider myself an active person, and I loved being on my feet moving around all day, I also love a good rest. I will shamelessly report that I napped in my car at one point. A good hour of rest kept my eyes bright and my tail bushy.
  • Even without companions, I find a lot of humour in ordinary things. And I still laugh loudly when I encounter them. On my last ride of the day, Behemoth, an older lady – who also seemed to be by herself and had been straight-faced and silent throughout the line – sat beside me. From the moment the ride started to move until well after it stopped, she shouted, “No! No! No! No! No!” I couldn’t contain myself. I laughed so hard tears were pouring out of my eyes, across my face and into my ears. That may have been my favourite moment of the day.

Aside from riding rides, I participated in a lot of fun things I may not have if I weren’t alone. I watched a show with acrobats, I got a caricature…

IMG_20150808_202049…nailed it by the way, and I went in the waterpark. That’s right; bonus points achieved! My kingdom for a good lazy river.

So why was my date at an amusement park so much easier than when I went mini-golfing by myself? Is it because I was rendered completely anonymous and practically invisible in such a vast crowd? Is it because I had a lot more time to get comfortable? Is it because amusement parks infect you with a general sense of well-being? Perhaps but who cares! It was a great day and I couldn’t be bothered to question it.

EC

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really by myself

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While backpacking in Australia, I briefly worked as a housekeeper at one of the hostels I stayed in. Living on the beach for free was well worth that time I cleaned red wine puke off the bathroom walls.

I remember a well-dressed woman in her 30s coming in and telling the front desk she was there to review us. They immediately upgraded her to a private suite and instructed us to kiss her ass for a week. She, of course, was lying. They eventually called her on her bullshit and she was asked to leave. We were pissed. She’d had us running around fetching things for her and smiling about it.

In retrospect, her scheme was pretty brilliant and hilarious. (She got a lot of free stuff out of us.) I also completely understand the need behind it.

When I explained to my dad that I am now dating myself for the purpose of learning to enjoy solitude (among other meaningful reasons) he had some tips for me.

He suggested I bring my own ball when I go bowling, wear gloves when I go mini golfing, and bring a notepad when I go to a fancy restaurant. Then I could tell people I was a professional bowler/golfer out for a practice session, or the other diners would think I was reviewing the restaurant. Excellent tips to avoid feeling rejected, alienated, lonely, or weird.

I appreciate his need to protect me; he’s a good dad. But I don’t want to protect myself from these feelings; I’d like to make friends with them.

We would have treated that lone traveler with the same respect as all the other guests. What a tempting thought though: to be treated differently because you tell people you are important instead of risking being treated differently because there is “something wrong with you.”

Here’s the catch: she didn’t make any friends or join in on any of the fun activities while she was there. Trying to be better than everyone can be just as lonely as believing yourself less than them.

Yes, lady traveling alone, it is scary being by yourself, especially in a new country. And yes, dad, it is scary being out by myself in couples-and-families-only scenarios. Both of your fears are justified; this is all true. I just don’t want it to be true for me anymore.

I am alone and I don’t want to be afraid of it. The fear of being alone is what kept me in unhealthy, abusive, and destructive relationships for so long. I don’t want to end up married to some asshole just because it’d be “better than being alone.” Fuck that shit.

I’m supposed to be heading out for glow-in-the-dark bowling by myself tonight. That was the plan. But I just don’t feel like bowling today. That’s the magical thing about dating yourself. The answer to “what should we do tonight” is always “whatever I feel like!”

I’m on my way to an amusement park by myself for the day. Bring on the roller coasters and long lineups filled with uncomfortable eye-contact evasion!

Bonus points if I get my sexy ass into the water park. Wish me luck!

-EC

by myself at miniature golf

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Saturday evening, around 8:30 pm, I went out on my first official date by myself. Please take a moment to skim through my previous post: by myself if you have no idea what I am talking about.

A first date is typically riddled with nerves, awkward pauses in conversation, and restrained farts. These are non-issues on a solo operation, so I already felt ahead of the game. I left the house looking cute and feeling well. This is going to be a breeze!

I pulled into the parking lot and my confidence deflated. Wow, there are a lot of people working on their short game this evening. I got out of the car and began setting up my tripod. In order to provide photo evidence without compromising the integrity of the challenge by bringing someone, I got a remote for my camera.

“Why don’t you just take a selfie with your phone?” my sister had asked, flabbergasted. “Because that would be too easy.”

Indeed, I intend to do this the hard way. Correction: “the more meaningful way,” says my therapist. “I think you’re just torturing yourself,” commented my sister. There may be some truth in that.

Here I am at Super Putt, in Niagara Falls, looking exactly as awkward as I felt in the moment.

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I returned my equipment to my trunk and got in line behind a group of four, a middle-aged couple, and a family of three – all of whom had just watched me take that photo and were now eyeing me curiously. The family of three approached me. “Are you here by yourself?” “I am, yes.” “Would you like to join us?”

Even though this life raft was probably well-intended, I hated being directly confronted about being alone. I had to stuff the urge to launch into a full explanation about my intentions and this new project I am writing about. Instead I smiled and replied simply: “no, thank you.”

The next 45 minutes were somewhat painless. Mini-golf is boring without conversation or flirting or competition. And it would seem I am not very good unless I have somebody to beat. Interesting.

There were several uncomfortable moments backed up behind slower people and waiting around with the other groups. The couples embraced, the families joked around with each other, and then there was me.

I wish I could tell you I stood tall and faced the discomfort with my head up, smiled at the strangers and felt as if I belonged. That would be a lie. I felt like a weirdo. I got out my phone and took photos, posted them online, and cowered behind the warm glow of the social media security blanket. (A “no distractions” rule will be observed going forward.) Clearly I’ve got some work to do.

Not wanting to go home disappointed, I finished the evening with a romantic moonlit stroll by the falls. I had forgotten how captivating it looks lit up against the night sky.

At one point a man standing beside me got up on the ledge to take a picture and I jokingly yelled, “Don’t jump!” We laughed innocently for about two seconds before his wife swooped in and dragged him away. Oh, for Christ’s sake! I rolled my eyes and headed home.

Glow-in-the-dark bowling this weekend.

-EC

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hard to say: I believe

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I am angry. A response I recognize as my immediate protective reaction when I encounter something scary, difficult, painful, or disturbingly true. This case may involve all four.

You see, I am reluctantly reading Brian D. McLaren’s profoundly infuriating book: Finding Faith. Not because I am actually searching for faith or spirituality or God, but simply because my Christian therapist told me I may find it interesting; he has earned my trust.

That’s how they get you! Shut up, anger, I’ve got this covered.

Closed mindedness irritates me. When one must consciously filter the information they are exposed to in order to maintain the walls of their fragile belief system, refusing to consider or even listen to an opposing opinion (a voluntary tunnel-vision manner of existing) my hackles rise.

In an attempt to uphold my ideal of open mindedness, I agreed to read this book. At the most this is going to help me understand my family better, I reassured myself as I began to turn the pages. Within these pages, my entire belief system (the belief in nothing) quickly began to crumble.

Atheism has offered me many things. The comfort of not being alone in my opposition of religion. The satisfaction of transferring the hurt I felt back onto those who had hurt me. An identity to latch on to when I was filled with uncertainty and confusion. But it appears now as an obstacle. One I can no longer deny and one I must abandon if I wish to move forward.

I can’t honestly call myself an atheist because I can’t confidently say I do not believe in God. (It only took Part 1 to strip me of my cozy label by the way.) If I am honest with myself, there is no possible way I could be made so increasingly angry by something I have no belief in.

So with apprehensive faith in… I don’t know what, and the uneasy feeling of walking around with an open wound on my face, I will continue reading this goddamn book.

Perhaps all of this time it hasn’t been that I don’t believed in God, it’s been that I fucking hate Him. I suppose that’s a start.

-EC

by myself

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I recently turned 31. I’m still waiting for that thing people talk about when you reach your 30s, something about hearing a loud ticking noise. I didn’t hear it when I turned 30 and I don’t hear it now. Comfortable as I am with aging and getting grey hairs and all that (I call the one by my right temple Grace) I can’t help but to evaluate my life.

On most counts, I am happy with my progress. I may not be exactly where I’d like but I’ve definitely figured out the end goal and am actively working toward it. There’s just this one annoying thing that still bothers me: I am single.

There is nothing wrong with being single in your 30s; and frankly, I’d like to stay single for a while. Here’s the real predicament: I am bored and lonely.

Nearly all of my favourite people are married and/or have children. I’ve become an expert 3rd, 5th, 7th, and even 9th wheel. I enjoy spending time with my happily coupled friends and their kids… or dogs. But couples and families need a lot of time. Time with each other and ample time before they may abandon their responsibilities to join the fun. More often than not I am left to my own devices.

This is good. I am an introvert after all. I read, go to the movies, kayak, ride my bike, and take a lot of walks. I still get bored and I still feel lonely.

This is some serious horseshit.

I am pretty good at being single, I think I’ve figured it out, but now I’m going to teach myself to love it. As my therapist put it: I already have my Bachelor’s, now I’m going to earn my Master’s in being alone. Just because I am alone doesn’t mean I have to be lonely. And I refuse to be boring!

Here’s my plan, my challenge: I’m going to bring some fun and spontaneity back into my life. More importantly, I’m going to reintroduce myself to romance.

I’ve made a list – a list I will continue to expand on – of great dates I’ve enjoyed or have wanted to enjoy. (I will also take suggestions.) Then I am going to work my way through the list, go on all of these dates, by myself.

– bowling by myself
– mini golf by myself
– a candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant by myself
– a midnight stroll on the beach by myself
– a play by myself (not a movie, too easy)
– a sporting event by myself (not baseball, too easy)
– a comedy club by myself (oh, I am going to get torn apart)
– a theme park by myself
– dance lessons by myself
– paddle board lessons by myself
– a weekend camping trip by myself… you know, for when things start to get more serious with myself (this is a recipe for a lot of tent masturbation)

I will report back on each date, with photo evidence. This is going to be super awkward and hilarious; I can’t wait to get started!

…stay tuned…

EC

hard to say: I’m not sorry

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I’ve been on both sides of a customer service call. I’ve had to make many a phone call to address both technical and billing issues for phone, internet, or television. I think most of us have. And after explaining my problem to the stranger on the other end of every call, without fail, I would get an apology.

Gosh, that’s just terrible. I can imagine how frustrating that must be. I’m so sorry!

When I worked in this position (ages ago) taking calls from frustrated customers, I was taught this tactic. Listen patiently, apologize and show empathy, etc. The more specifically you were able to repeat back the customer’s problem, the more effectively you could diffuse them. If they felt their concerns were heard and validated, they could relax. It was very effective!

Imagine my shock when I moved on to an outbound calling position for fundraising purposes – I am honestly shocked how much I enjoyed that job – only to find that apologizing was not a part of their process.

But we were literally calling people and interrupting their day to bother them about giving us money! Yes, that is all true, money for honorable causes. Even though 99 percent of the time it was a no, and we were often hung up on, we were taught to never feel an ounce of guilt about it. “Because there is nothing wrong with what we are doing.”

I’ve done a lot of genuine apologizing for some seriously shitty things I’ve done. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future when I fuck up again. But for now, I’d like to take this opportunity to take back some sorries.

You see, for the purpose of making strangers around me feel more comfortable, and to prevent potential conflicts, I had adapted the apologizing tactic into my life. When anything happened, regardless of how small or insignificant, I took full and immediate acceptance of blame and apologized. Sorry became like a knee jerk reaction.

I was overseas when I was first made aware of how often I was apologizing. I shrugged it off and responded: “Oh, whatever. Canadians are polite.” But this did not satisfy my critic. “Politeness is one thing, but you are beating me over the head with your manners. Cut it out.”

Since then, I am much more conscious of it – and it is pretty excessive.

I am most definitely not sorry. I’m not sorry I was in your way when you walked backwards into me. I’m not sorry I accidentally nudged you when I walked by. I’m not sorry I started speaking at the same time as you. I’m not sorry for taking ten seconds to put my coins and receipt into my purse. I’m not sorry I beat you to this parking spot. I’m not sorry I interrupted the silence by dropping my pen on the floor. I’m not sorry for cracking my knuckles. I’m not sorry for sneezing. I’m not sorry for choking on my water and having a coughing fit. And I’m not sorry when I laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose.

I am going to try something radical. I am removing the words “I’m sorry” from my daily language repertoire and I will save them for when I truly mean it. Until then they will be replaced with things like “excuse me” or “oops.”

In doing so, I hope to cultivate the mindset that I am just as worthy to take up this space as anybody else. After all we are equals and we may all move freely and make noise and drop things and express ourselves. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with anything I am doing, so I am not sorry.

-EC

hard to say: I don’t know

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I get to speak to a variety of people in my new job. My training consisted not only of an intensive product/company orientation but was also heavily focused on appropriate interaction under many potential circumstances. Truthfully, I was overwhelmed at first. Then my manager explained something that simultaneously eased my nerves and convinced me I would be successful.

We have absolutely no control over the actions or decisions of the people we are dealing with. We will never know (and shouldn’t assume we know) what that action or decision will be until we actually get to the moment of truth. All we can do, all that could ever be expected of us, is our absolute best with what we’ve been taught, consistently. The rest is out of our hands.

Consistency was the underlying theme of the whole training program. This idea of always presenting yourself the same way, regardless of how people react to it, is quite beautiful in its simplicity. Despite the outcome, if you are able to maintain calm and consistent control over yourself in a highly uncertain situation, you win. How very transferable.

I was recently ghosted. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of the term ghosting, you are doing far better at life than I. Ghosting is when one participant in a normal human interaction disappears with no warning or explanation. Poof! Were they ever really there to begin with?

I hung out with this attractive human male a couple of times. Not nearly long enough to render any conclusions about someone, so I won’t say anything bad about him. But I was definitely interested in investing more time; so when he ghosted, I was confused. I spent a day or two licking the wounds of my bruised ego.

I bet my awkwardness weirded him out. Or I was too shy and bored him to death. He probably thought I was stupid. My initial train of thought revolved around one question: what did I do wrong?

Here’s the thing: in the little time he and I spent together, I was completely authentic. I am shy and awkward at first – heck yes – and I’m definitely slow to warm. To try behaving any other way would have been insincere. I’m also an occasional idiot. I was raised in a Christian household where I was heavily sheltered from “secular” culture. As much as I’ve tried to catch up, there will always be a lot I don’t know about, a big giant gap in my frame of reference. That’s just me. Did I do anything wrong? Of course not. For whatever reason, he simply decided he did not want to speak to or see me anymore.

But what happened? I don’t know. I don’t know and I will never know. I was left with nothing to speculate on. To assume I did something wrong or that his actions had anything to do with me is pointless.

Furthermore, I can’t ever say that I know what someone else is thinking. But when I start to project negative assumptions about myself onto them, it becomes pretty obvious what I am thinking.

All I can do, all that could ever be expected of me, is to be my best authentic self. The rest is out of my hands. Fuck the outcome; I win!

-EC

hard to say: I’ll go first

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I am currently living and interacting peacefully with my Christian parents. I spend quality time with my Christian siblings and their Christian spouses; my Christian sister is my best friend. When I put my niece to bed, I say a prayer with her because she is being raised Christian. I go to my weekly appointment with my Christian chiropractor and then I hang around the office to chat with my lovely Christian friends who work there. I go to my new job, where I happily work on behalf of a Christian organization. And to top it off, I pop in to see my Christian therapist to discuss all of my atheist troubles.

How the fuck did this happen?

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I could not be in the presence of a Christian for long without saying something intentionally offensive and rude. A time where I picked fights with Christianity for sport. Now many of my favourite people are Christian. Hilarious!

Growing up in a family and community whose fundamental beliefs did not match mine was not easy. It feels as if I have been fighting for personal acceptance my whole life. All I ever wanted, all I ever asked for, was to be accepted for exactly all that I was. I didn’t want people trying to change me or praying for me to be different. I just wanted to be allowed to be me – whatever the fuck that meant.

This frustrated me. Who am I kidding, this really pissed me off. I became angry and aggressive. I actively expressed my anger toward the Christians to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. I really am a good person, they just don’t accept me! Wherever I went, without being asked, I would explain myself. I was always explaining myself; it was getting repetitive and dull. Nobody wanted to hear my opinion anymore, yet I was persistently and adamantly expressing it.

If everybody had already heard my opinion and had long stopped giving a shit what I had to say, why was I still explaining myself? Who was I really trying to convince?

An annoying truth I have learned after years in therapy is that much of what I say in anger, especially in repetition, is actually the reverse. So all those years of repeating how much I hate the Christians were untrue. I love them very much. So much that I could be deeply hurt and disappointed by them. All that preaching about how they didn’t accept me and I wasn’t good enough for them was inaccurate. In actuality I was the one who didn’t accept me; I didn’t believe myself good enough.

The acceptance I was after – the acceptance I truly needed – had to first come from within. Once I accepted exactly all that I am – whatever the fuck that means – I didn’t need to fight anymore. What point is there in fighting when I am happy and secure in myself. Consequently, once I accepted myself first, I inadvertently began to accept others.

I truly love the Christians in my life. Not despite this or that, but for all of it. I love everything that makes them exactly who they are. Once the cloud of anger lifted I was able to appreciate what wonderful people they are and all the good they have to offer.

Do the Christians accept me now, exactly as I am? A Godless, churchless, premarital-sexed, potty-mouthed, progressive-thinking sinner. I don’t know… maybe. But that’s not the point. The point, after having said all of this, is that it doesn’t matter. Because I do.

-EC

…Fix Ourselves Instead

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Photo: David Michalczuk/Flickr

Hello friends! I have good news: an article I submitted to Elephant Journal has been published today! Please click here to read it. Leave a comment and share it with your friends. Also, don’t forget to like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Lots of love! 🙂

-EC