Saying Goodbye To The Starving Artist Lifestyle

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A man must have a mission; this one simple belief drives me through life. Over the past three months I’ve been focusing on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health by getting clean and sober, working out regularly, and doing a lot of soul searching. It’s now obvious that throughout these past five years I haven’t had a specific goal in mind with all this freelance writing business. Where am I going? What is my intention? What value am I bringing to the world? What satisfaction am I gaining from all this?

I’ve been on autopilot, coasting through life without any long term plan, hoping and praying that this is all going to get me somewhere. I see now that after five years of this I haven’t progressed. I am financially, socially, and professionally in pretty much the same place I was when I started down this road. This is not working. I need a mission, and this isn’t it.

Something I don’t talk about often is that I have another education. I went to school for chemical engineering technology and graduated with high honors in 2012. I even took OSAP loans to pay for it. But instead of getting a job in that field I decided (quite stupidly) to become a freelance writer to indulge my creative side, be my own boss, make my own hours, and live the bohemian lifestyle of the literary greats who I’ve always admired.

But the reality of being a writer is not at all like all those movies and books made me to believe. It’s a very lonely profession with little financial reward and even less stability. Being single and having no one to lean on for moral support has been a recipe for depression and madness. Dating has also been nearly impossible because when you tell people you’re a freelance writer they often think that means you’re broke and can’t find a job, and when you’re in your 30s that’s a serious detriment in the dating world. Then there is also the fact that 90% of the time I’ve been too broke to even consider dating anyway. Suffice it to say, this career has been relentlessly cruel and unforgiving to me. I’ve had enough. My chemistry education has been on the backburner for five years, but is it too late to go back?

As it turns out, no it isn’t. This week I’m starting a full time job at Cosmetica Labs in a entry level production position. It’s nothing glamorous, but it is a job and it will provide the stability that I’ve been missing for so long. It also utilizes my chemical engineering education, and I could potentially move up to a better position in the company if I stay long enough.

Finally, no more long and lonely days at my computer. No more waiting for cheques to arrive in the mail. No more stressing out all the time about whether or not I’ll be able to keep up with my bills. I’ll be able to make a budget and stick to it becuase I’ll know exactly how much I’m being paid and when the money is coming! I’ll even have health and dental benefits! Wow!

It’s a change I have been striving for a long time to achieve. It’s a relief to finally be able to put this starving artist nonsense behind me, but I still don’t have a mission. So what is my mission? What am I passionate about?

I have always believed in protecting the environment, and I took chemical engineering technology in the hopes that I could get into an environmental field. The greatest threat to human civilization right now is climate change. I read a long form article on the New York Times about the current climate projections and the consensus indicates by the end of the century, if we keep going the way we’re going, we may not have a habitable planet left. We will have fucked the earth so badly that human life, and most other lifeforms for that matter, will not be able to exist here. The sixth extinction is already underway. We see it everyday in extreme weather events like wildfires, droughts, and flooding. The past three years have all been the hottest on record. The scientific community unanimously agrees that climate change is real and humans are responsible for it. There is no question that we need to stop climate change.

My mission is to stop climate change, and to do that I have to go back to school. Originally it was my intention to continue from Seneca on a degree transfer to obtain a BSc, but I couldn’t do it back then becuase I was in an enormous amount of credit card debt. Now things are different. Soon I will have paid off my debt settlement and going back to school will be a real possibility. I will be able to achieve those goals and pursue my mission as I should have been all along.

I’m putting the starving artist life behind me and saying goodbye to freelance writing. I have a couple clients who may offer assignments from time to time, and I may take them for the extra cash if I can fit into my schedule, but as far as Riddell Creative goes this is the end of the line becuase the fact is that I’m not getting anywhere, I’m not happy doing this, and there’s no future in this line of work. Freelance writing is a low pay, low rent, low respect profession with zero benefits and stability where most clients treat you as a disposable resource rather than a valued member of the team.

I have to do something more meaningful with my life, and I can think of nothing more meaningful than stopping climate change. That is my mission.

Coming To Terms With My Weed Addiction

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Medical marijuana is a topic I’ve covered extensively in my freelance writing career. It started in 2014 when I wrote profiles on medical marijuana users for the Medical Marijuana Review, and since 2015 I’ve been writing content based on peer-reviewed scientific studies for Leaf Science  It’s been a profitable niche, and easy to write about becuase me and marijuana have a long history together.

I smoked my first joint when I was 17. I am now 35 years old I have been smoking weed ever since. That’s 18 years of my life that I’ve consuming this plant. I’ve abstained for 2 or 3 weeks on many occasions, and the longest I’ve ever gone without was roughly 45 days. I’ve always heard that weed is only psychologically addictive, not physically addictive, and I’ve come to realize that I am, in fact, addicted. It has become a long-standing, ingrained habit.

Earlier in life, marijuana did serve a purpose. It helped me at times, allowing me to grow as an individual in certain ways. It allowed me to find new circles of friends, people who I still see today (although not as often), so I can say that it did offer some value for a time. But now that value is long gone and I only continue to smoke out of sheer force of habit. Now every time I get stoned I automatically wish I wasn’t anymore. It doesn’t provide the same benefits, the same thrill, that it used to. Through my research I know just about everything there is to know about weed, so I know how it can be a powerful medicine for certain people with a wide range of conditions and science is only beginning to scratch the surface with the potential of this long-forbidden plant. But I’ve never needed it for medicinal reasons; it’s always been recreational with me.

I often wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t smoke weed. I can’t help but think that I would be more successful, further ahead in life, if I didn’t still have this incessant pot smoking habit. I’ve started to wonder about what kind of a person would I be if I didn’t smoke. Would my personality change? Would I become more intelligent, confident, productive? From the brief stints of abstention I’ve endured in my long history with pot I can say that I probably would. For years I’ve held a belief in the back of my mind that I will never reach my true potential as long as I persist in this habit. If I had not spent so much of my adult years up to now stoned, would I be married and have a family right now? Would I own a house, a car, investments? I can’t help but think that in an alternate universe there’s a version of myself that never started smoking weed in the first place and is in a much more successful and happier place.

I must admit that quitting has been on my mind for at least 10 years. My first attempt at quitting was in 2007, and since then I’ve tried and tried and tried to quit so many times only to come back to it after a few weeks. Even when I moved to Montreal I figured I would quit then since I didn’t know any dealers, and had no one to smoke with since I was basically starting a new life, but even that wasn’t enough. I found it was easier than ever to find weed in Montreal because there are always groups of dealers at Parc Mont Royal, and they’re very open about their shady business dealings. I’ve deleted dealers numbers, flushed bags of weed down the toilet, and thrown away all my paraphernalia more times than I can count only to start over again weeks later. I’ve been locked in this cycle of smoking, quitting, and starting again for years and I’ve had enough. I’m emotionally and psychologically exhausted by it.

Through meditation and self reflection I’ve gained greater alignment with my spiritual self; my true self. I do not want to live this way. I don’t want to trapped like this, and I know I would be better off without it. The real me is not a stoner. He was never meant to be, but why is this so? There has to be a deeper, underlying reason why I can’t seem to let it go once and for all. A lot of the time people do drugs because they’re trying to fill a hole in their lives, or to escape their own existential misery. I have to ask myself, what am I running away from? What hole am I trying to fill?

The answers to those questions are too personal to share on the internet,  but I will say this: from now on I am taking real steps to change my life and quit this disgusting habit once and for all. I managed to quit kratom and cigarettes two months ago, and it was always my plan to quit weed as well once I got over that. I allow myself only one vice from now on and that is alcohol; it gives me the most value and enjoyment, and I have better self control with it. I can have a fridge full of beers and I don’t feel tempted to get drunk all day, but if I have any weed at all I can barely make it past lunchtime without wanting to smoke. Why?

I’ve come to see marijuana as being my kryptonite; a fitting analogy since it’s green. I’ve never been able to control myself with it. If I have a stash of pot, I will smoke and smoke and smoke all the time until it’s gone. I will be stoned pretty much 24/7 if I have it. It’s obvious to me now that I have terrible self control when it comes to pot. If I could control my usage so I don’t have to smoke constantly everyday when I have it, if I could just sit on it and only smoke once every few days, then I might be able to fit it into my life, but I have proven time and again that I can’t do that. If it’s there I will smoke it. I can’t help myself.

I have no place for pot in my life anymore. Quitting weed is the best thing I can do right now for my psychological, emotional, and spiritual health. In order to become my true self, the best version of myself, I need to let go of this shit once and for all. 18 years is a long time, but I’m still relatively young. It’s never too late.

 

 

 

What I Was Missing All Along

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I believe that, on the most basic level, all human beings are the same. Inside, we all want the same things and are driven by the same desires. We all want to be loved and to find a place where we belong. We all want to do work that has meaning and provides a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. We all have the same basic needs for food and shelter, for social contact and emotional connection. We are of the earth, and we are all the same.

For a long time I felt an emptiness within me becuase things were missing in my life, and for years I had been relying on substances to fill the hole with artificial joy. Recently I wrote an article for NOW magazine about how kratom, a plant from southeast Asia with opioid-like properties, could be used as a treatment option in the current opioid crisis killing people on our streets everyday. It was an easy article for me to write becuase I already knew a lot about the stuff since I had been addicted to it myself for over three years. What started out as a harmless indulgence became a controlling drug habit as I grew to depend on it to regulate my emotional state and keep me focused on my freelance work.

After many, many attempts to quit I finally did it this year and have been clean for a long time. Writing the article for NOW was part of my healing process. I was using a drug to fill the hole in my life, but it never worked because the effects of drugs are always fleeting. What they give on one hand, they take away with the other. Kratom made me feel awesome for a few hours, but later I would feel like garbage and the withdrawals were terrible, so I kept taking it. I was trapped in a feedback loop and it took me a long time to figure out how to make the lifestyle change to push that shit out of my life for good, allowing me to figure but what it is I really need.

My experience with kratom made me wonder why people do drugs at all, becuase I’m sure that for many it’s a similar reason. We feel like something is missing from our lives, or that we can’t handle the problems that we have and need an escape so we can feel better, if even for a little while. When I started with kratom, it was because I was horribly depressed and alone, and I couldn’t get any work done at all. I needed something to turn me around, and for a while kratom did exactly that. But now that I’ve come through to the other side of addiction, I see that it wasn’t what I really needed in my life. Only once I made the change and got through withdrawals did I come to grips with my inner self and what I was missing all along.

The daily practise of meditation, regular workouts at the gym, and sobriety have given me time for self reflection. I feel inspired again, happy again, and open to the world. I picked up my guitar again, started practicing several hours a day, and over the past few weeks I’ve written a bunch of original songs. I’ve been playing and listening to music obsessively and it has healed my spirit in ways I couldn’t image when my mind was clouded. The high that I needed all this time doesn’t come from any drug, but from the sounds of music, from the power of singing my own song, and in joining others in the creation of that beautiful noise.

Music and meditation were what I needed in my life all along to feel happy and fulfilled, not drugs and alcohol to make make me numb and complacent. Without all that shit clouding my mind, I’ve aligned with my spiritual self and can feel the full flood of emotions and inspiration coming back. I’ve been writing poetry since I was 10, and I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13; songwriting is the natural extension of those two things. Had I came to this conclusion earlier in life I would be in much happier and more prosperous place right now!

Take it from me, don’t look to drugs and alcohol to solve your problems, or to make them go away. You will never win. They always come back. Do some soul searching and figure out what really aligns with your spirit and provides that feeling of limitless happiness and potential. Do this and you will arrive at the true meaning of your life.

The Difficulty of Practicing Non-Judgement

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I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs personality test several times in my life, and every time I score higher on judging than I do on perceiving. If remember correctly, I’m an ESTJ (extraverted-sensing-thinking-judging). Recently, through my daily practice of meditation and self reflection, I’ve noticed that I am indeed a judgemental person. Everything I see and do has to be weighed, analyzed, compared, labelled.

It’s not my fault. Evolution crafted the human mind this way. The cerebral cortex is an engine of abstract thought and judgement, and without it our primitive ancestors would not have survived and we would not be here today. The cognitive abilities of the human mind are limitless, powerful, and expansive. Our judgemental mind a crucial part of that.

But there is something to be said for the cause of not judging so much. When we constantly exercise judgement on other people and the world around us, it taxes our psychological resources causing stress and occupying headspace. Every ounce of stress we expose ourselves to depletes our minds, so stress management is something that everyone must learn at some point in their lives.

We can save ourselves from an enormous amount of cognitive strain by letting go of our judgemental minds, and just letting things be. During my daily meditations thoughts always come up, memories and plans, feelings and premonitions, but when these things emerge I try not to appraise them, but let them skitter across the void of my consciousness until they fade away and are forgotten again.

Time and again, I’m teaching myself to let go of the things that trouble me by reserving judgement. In my everyday life there are things everywhere demanding my attention, temping my judgemental sense, and it’s difficult not to place judgement on these things. I catch myself judging people and immediately stop myself, telling myself “stop judging people,” and focus on the present moment and whatever it is I’m currently doing. All throughout the day I’m shutting off the judgemental part of my brain so I can live more harmoniously in the world.

If everyone could learn to turn off their judgey-brains every now and then, we would live in a much more peaceful and accepting world. We are training against our own evolution to do this, but the benefits of reduced stress and an increased lightness of being are worth the effort.

I’m Only Human, After All

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Life is a work in progress, and everyone is under tremendous stress to perform. When you’re under constant pressure at work, when your finances are stretched to the limit, or when there are a million commitments and expectations bearing down on you every day, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Sometimes it can seem like everyone wants something from you, and you don’t want to let them down. You’re afraid of what they might think of you, or what the consequences of failure might be. Sometimes you might feel the need to shut down, take a break, and go into hiding for a while, maybe powerwatch the new season of Master of None of Netflix.

This is normal and there’s an expression coined by Millennials that describes it, “Sometimes I just can’t even…”  It points to the human need for physical and psychological rest. When you feel like you “just can’t even”, it’s time to take a break. Self-care is easily neglected in the rat races of our hectic modern cities where life goes by at a mile a minute and you don’t want to miss out on what could be.

But you can’t be “on” all the time. If you try, burnout is inevitable. There always comes a time when you need to take a step back and have a reprieve from the stresses and expectations of life. To use myself as an example, last week I took some time off because I was at a point where I felt like I needed a break from everything. For three days I did no freelance work at all. I meditated, went to the gym, watched comedy specials, went out to a poetry show, caught up on some reading, and wrote a pile of new poems. Even still, there was that nagging sense in the back of my mind that I should be working, but my personal health and wellness had to take the front seat for a while. I was stressed and needed to center myself.

Throughout my freelance career I’ve always been so hard on myself. Since I work alone and live alone, I don’t have anyone in my corner offering moral support when the going gets tough, so I used to beat myself up and blame myself for my failings. Now I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself all the time because dwelling on the negative is pointless, and will only increase the stresses I already feel. It won’t help me move forward. Instead, I accept that I’m only human and I can’t do everything at once. I can’t be all things to all people. There are certain things that I’m not good at or don’t feel passionate about.

In my brief hiatus last week, I took some time to consider what kind of writer I really want to be, and what kind of work I’m really passionate about. When you’re working in any creative field it’s important to do work that you feel passionate about, otherwise it’s nothing more than a means to an end and doesn’t provide any real satisfaction. It became apparent to me that for years I’ve been taking on all kinds of assignments that I wasn’t passionate about just for the sake of making a paycheque, and becuase of this I was always burned out and unhappy with my work. I arrived at the truth that I’m a storyteller, a poet and a journalist, not a digital marketer or web content writer. Moving forward, I have to be honest with myself. I have to do the work I really believe in becuase that’s the only way I’ll ever find real happiness and satisfaction in my career.

Most importantly, I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself all the time. Whenever I’m facing failure, or taking on a new challenge, I don’t stress myself out. I just take it one step at a time, one day at a time. If I fail, I take in stride as a learning experience. I’m not Superman. Some things don’t fit with the interests and passions that drive my career forward. I can’t be all things to everyone, and that’s fine. I’m only human, after all.