Tourist to myself

I spent the day at the TEDxToronto conference. I went into it with the self-admonishment that I wouldn’t be jealous of the speakers or compare myself unfavorably because I haven’t achieved as much as they have. It’s easy to find yourself lacking, but you can do that in any situation (especially when you’re listening to 14-year-olds who combat child poverty), and it’s unproductive and I don’t want to be the person who leaves an amazing event feeling stifled and frustrated instead of inspired.

And it was inspiring. It’s maybe a little trite to say that, but it was. The world is filled with these magical people who are doing so much and it makes me want to be a better person. This is what people should do for one another. They should make us want to be better than who we think we are.

The theme of the conference was ‘redefinition’ and it was fitting because I feel like I’ve been in this constant active state of trying to define myself for the last 15 months, and you’d think by this point I’d have some clearer borders, but I feel like I lack as much clarity as I ever did. Which maybe isn’t such a bad thing. At the beginning of the day, someone said something to the effect of, “Definitions put a frame on the world, but they also limit and confine us.” I don’t know how to reconcile those ideas to one another. Maybe you just don’t.

Towards the end of the day there was a video about vulnerability and connection that you should probably watch. You can find it here: (I have a feeling I’ll be foisting this one on people for a long time.)

I kind of lost it when I watched it. Like, wracking sobs lost it. I wrote the other day about walking around without any skin, but maybe it’s more like walking around with your chest cracked open and your heart on display. This cancer experience has cracked me open (in a way that it didn’t the first time) and I didn’t choose it, but there it is. I’m embarrassed sometimes by how much is on display, how much I put on display. I’ve spent a lifetime building a facade of aloofness and it’s been smashed to pieces. That fortress is breached.

I don’t know if I could build those walls up again, though sometimes I want to. It hurts less. Because the thing is, when you’re vulnerable even the most beautiful things are painful because they are so much bigger than you can ever imagine, and they are crushing.

I want to let myself continue to be vulnerable, but learn not to be overwhelmed. Maybe I can’t have both things. Maybe if you want connection and to live wholeheartedly, as Brene Brown would say, you need to let yourself be subsumed by all the joy and despair and uncertainty that’s out there.

I think that’s scarier to me than cancer.


About Alicia Louise

I'm a writer, editor, fact checker, storyteller, events organizer, chronically busy yet endlessly lazy, mildly neurotic (though I keep the neuroses well-hidden, one hopes) 32-year-old with recurrent ovarian cancer. I like people and good writing and straight talk. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people, including myself, but the people that I love, I love passionately; one may even say creepily. I try to keep that mostly to myself. I'd like to be charming, but I'm usually just a mess. I'm like a gull slamming into your windshield.
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2 Responses to Tourist to myself

  1. Jodi says:

    “Because the thing is, when you’re vulnerable even the most beautiful things are painful because they are so much bigger than you can ever imagine, and they are crushing.” That is just perfectly put. This is all so precisely and beautifully expressed, and feels so pressingly true. It gave me a gushingly cathartic cry, and my head feels much clearer now….Thank you.

  2. Susy Guidolin says:

    But you are a part of the beautiful things. You are a part of the pain AND the joy. Sometimes, it’s the pain, since we so need to learn, that teaches us this lesson, but you have to see that you are a part of the exquisite pain and joy. It doesn’t make it hurt any less. It makes you feel more fully. And that’s a good thing.

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