Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wow, it's been a while since I last posted....

Hey everyone.
Yeah, it has been a while. Thanks, I missed you too! No, I'm just honestly terrible at keeping in touch, I do love you, I swear...

Thank goodness that conversation is over. Okay, so last time y'all heard from me I had just arrived in Hamilton for Uni, correct? Yeah, I think that's about right. So, let's recap the last five or so months.

Yes, that's right, it's time for the bullet points...dun dun dun...
  • I got called as a nursery assistant at church, which basically means I get to spend two hours a week hanging out with under twos (and their parents) and attempting, in three minutes or less, to teach them something about the gospel (the children, not the parents).
  • I have an amazing group of beautiful, charming, wonderful friends who are ridiculously caring and supportive even when I'm being a massive pain in the butt, who make sure my life never has a dull moment and, most importantly, who watch Doctor Who with me :)
  • I found a Christmas tree in the flat cupboard and now our flat has a fully decorated Christmas tree. I've decided to call it Augustus Waters (sorry not sorry).
  • My hair went bright purple, and then darker purple, and, most recently, blonde. Well, blonde-ish. It's complicated, okay?
  • I joined the Supernatural Fandom. GIFs all around! 
  • I've been doing lots of writing and getting tons of tips and advice. I even tried my hand at prose (good luck finding it, it's on a secret tumblr).
  • I've confronted several of my demons (and I'm in negotiations with the others...kidding guys!).
  • I'm learning how to dance, which is super fun and a major highlight in my life. I can kind of do waltzing and the Viennese waltz, and I'm learning lots of Ceroc (also known as modern jive) moves, which I just love. :)
I think that's about it in terms of huge news. Everything else, I guess you'll figure out as we go. So, let's go. And by that I mean I'm committing to writing a blog post a week (at least) for the next four months. I guess I'll be seeing you around. :)

Love and cuddly toys,

Saturday, 12 April 2014

I can't think of a way to title this without being irreverent...

So, today I want to talk about faith.

To give context to this post, I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  As much as I would love an opportunity to share the church and its teachings with you, the game plan for this post is actually to talk about my own spiritual journey, as it has certainly been an interesting one.

I joined the church when I was about six. My neighbour was a member and I was playing outside one Sunday morning when I saw her heading to church and (as far as I remember it) literally heard a voice say to me "You should go with her", so I did and that was that.

When I was eight I decided I wanted to get baptised, and it was then that Dad decided there might be something to this whole Mormon thing. He got baptised and baptised me when I was nine. I left the church gradually between the ages of 13 and 15 and returned about six months ago.

So now that the quick version of the back story is over, here's the real story of the day!

I am what my friend Rachel would call an "experiencer" and thus, for a very long time indeed, faith did not come naturally to me. I wanted more proof, some definitive answer, something to assuage my doubts. I wanted what Gideon got; a straightforward, clear cut sign. It is only looking back now that I realise I had a lot of signs, but never really appreciated them.

The stepping point to getting over this sounds a lot simpler than it was at the time: I had to ask for faith. When I first went back to the church, there were so many things I disagreed with, so many questions I wanted answers to before, or so I told myself, I would even consider going back.

Some of those questions have been answered. Most have not. Most I don't even remember now. But it was a challenging journey for me. After that first Sunday I remember kneeling, for the first time in a long time, and asking sincerely for help. Help to believe, help to have faith, help to put aside my doubts. That was a big step for me, and one that I think has been pivotal to my spiritual progress.

That doesn't mean I didn't struggle coming back. But it made it a lot easier, or at least I think it did. And I still have doubts (very occasionally), and a lot of questions (luckily I have Levi around to answer them), but I've learned that it's okay for some questions to remain unanswered and that, in the famous words of Pres Dieter F Uchtdorf, "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith."

One of the reasons I left the church as a young teenager was because I didn't feel like I would ever be able to live up to the standards the church has. I now understand that this was nothing at all to do with the standards themselves, and everything to do with the fact that I was trying to do it by myself.

Without scripture reading (it was never a big thing in my home, but it's a big thing for me now), without conference talks (general conference was just "that weird video version of sacrament" to me back then) and, most importantly, without praying and asking Heavenly Father for help. We are taught to lean not on our own understanding and that's exactly what I was trying to do.

When I returned to church, this was what I perceived to be one of the biggest hurdles, as I was far from living within church standards at the time. But with help from friends, family and the Lord, I was able to overcome and resolve these bad decisions that I was making and learn to live within a different set of standards. And it wasn't nearly as hard as I expected, plus I feel so much better living righteously.

Which is not to say that I am all the way done yet, not by far, but I am temple worthy and no longer deliberately breaking church rules and laws. My current mission is to clean up the standards of the media I consume in terms of content and language used. This has included cutting a lot of the content I view online (such as blogs and webcomics) and making sure that all media I consume is both legally obtained and church appropriate. Whilst incredibly challenging (I knew how to illegally download music before I knew you could buy it legally), this has also been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have found my thoughts, language and communication have been uplifted because of it.

Another thing I'd struggled with for a long time was the idea of communicating with God, particularly the idea of God answering my prayers. The idea of Him communicating with me through the scriptures seemed laughable; here was this big, crazy, sometimes general and sometimes weirdly specific book that billions of people are reading nor have read and I'm meant to find individual communication from God to me in it?

Not too long ago, I decided that the reason I wasn't feeling fully engaged with the Gospel was because I wasn't fully engaged in actively communicating with Heavenly Father. I also realised that it wasn't just about how often I prayed, but how I prayed, and how I listened and searched for answers after praying. Again, I prayed for help. Help to engage, help to listen and to hear what it is the Lord wants to tell me.

Pretty soon after that I started getting pretty strong feelings one way or the other fairly often when I prayed for answers, so that was really affirming, but more than that, I found that I was engaging more with the scriptures and actually finding answers in them. It's almost indescribable, and I can't think of any examples off the top of my head, but the minute I asked humbly and sincerely for answers, I started getting them. Which isn't to say they came easy, I still often had to search for them, but they were very clear and easily identifiable, and I can definitely say I feel like I am building a relationship with, rather than just talking at, God now. And it's a beautiful thing to be feeling. I am eternally grateful for that feeling.

For the longest time, I have struggled with the whole concept of being a Child of God, of His unconditional love for me as an individual. It was something I hadn't really felt before (I swear I'm getting less eloquent and coherent as this post goes on. It's only 8:30pm, I promise), and something that seemed like a really foreign concept to me. Here I was, feeling like the world's biggest screw up, feeling totally unlovable, not even liking myself, and there was this perfect being that took time out of loving all the good, kind, obedient people in the world to love me?

The answer to this came about a week ago and has already had a profound impact in my life. It was another situation where I had been asking for a while for help, this time help to feel God's love for me. I was reading the scriptures late one night (or early one morning, either or) and I was quite suddenly overwhelmed with this sort of purity or whiteness inside my head, and I felt so loved and so peaceful and I knew in that moment that I was indeed a child of God, a beloved spirit daughter of my Heavenly Father.

In that moment I understood that I was so loved, and that despite any trials and tribulations I might be going through, despite any doubts I might have, despite myself, Heavenly Father truly does love me and have a plan for me.

This experience is already starting to change how I feel about myself. And, more than that, I've discovered an easily accessible source of inner serenity and love that I've only ever been able to scratch the surface of before now.

I guess the recurring theme here is "ask and ye shall receive" which is funny because I didn't set out to put forward a particular message or motif. However I can confidently testify that the church is true, that God is real and loves each and every one of us, and that no sincere and humble prayer will go unanswered. (That isn't my full testimony, that's another post for another day.)

I am incredibly grateful for these experiences and several others I have had recently (such as going through the visitors center with Christian) that have helped me to strengthen my testimony and also to see that it was pretty strong to begin with.

God is good.

Love and hugs,
Jessica Howatson

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dear Seventeen Year Old Me...

So last year I was eighteen and I wrote a letter to my sixteen year old self. You can read it here.
This year I am nineteen and thus am writing a letter to my seventeen year old self.

As background context: Seventeen was my last year of high school. Seventeen was the year my father passed away. Seventeen was a rough year for a number of reasons.

Dear 17 year old me,

First thing's first. No more scars, honey. You're done with that. You know you're done with that. For the most part you're gonna do pretty well but don't let yourself fall back into old habits. You're stronger than that, strong enough to ask for help and to accept it.

This coming year is going to be rough. It will be harder than anything you've ever experienced. You will come to understand the true meaning of the words 'pain' and 'grief'. You will come to understand that pain demands to be felt. You will come to understand that sharp blades and running away won't help, that some things you jut have to push through.

While we're on that subject, running away is a stupid idea. You can't sleep up a tree. You're scared of spiders and still a little bit scared of the dark (and quite rightly too. Keep it that way). It's not going to end well for you (although you will look back on it and laugh).

Never give up. You're brave, you're strong, and you've made it this far. You're going to make it even further, but you've gotta keep going. Don't sit down. Don't stand still. Keep moving, keep fighting for yourself and your beliefs.

Believe in yourself. I mean it. I know you're overwhelmed. I know you're drowning. I know you don't like yourself at all. I know you blame yourself for a lot of things that aren't your fault, but you've got to let it go, honey, you've got to stand up for who you are and what you want. Be assertive. It gets easier with practise. Maybe if you start now you'll be super good at it by the time you're my age.

Don't take your friends and family for granted. Call them. Make an effort to spend time with them. Relationships take work and the sooner you figure this out the better your relationships will be.

Work hard in school. I know that for a long time, just getting out of bed and pretending to smile is going to feel like it's enough of an achievement, and I know that, if you were to read this, my voice would be lost amongst all the others telling you the same thing, but the sad fact of the matter is that even though you're falling apart, even though your world is imploding, life goes on. And you have to go on with it or you'll get left behind.

There are going to be a lot of black days, sunshine. Just do your best. Yes, you could be doing worse, and yes, you could be doing better, but take the time to pat yourself on the back for the fact that you're doing anything at all.

Be grateful. You're bad at that, but you'll get better. Start now.

Keep writing, whatever you do. It's valuable and it's therapeutic to boot. You're going to wish you wrote more during the dark times. Write as much as you can and FOR GOODNESS SAKE WRITE THE DATE ON IT!

Presuming that you don't take any of my advice (you won't, I know you), you're going to make some pretty awful decisions in the next couple of years. You're going to compromise yourself and your values and you're going to have a lot of regrets. I wish I could tell you not to do it. It wasn't worth it. It isn't worth it.

At the same time, nothing is unforgivable. Remember this. Always.

What else? Well, singing Christmas Carols in July probably isn't the best idea. Don't share drinks, you'll end up with a tummy bug on your eighteenth birthday. Not fun.

Let's talk about faith for a minute. Faith is a bit of a foreign concept to you at the moment. You still believe in something but you're not sure whether you think God is indifferent or just a sadist. He is neither. He loves you fully even though you don't feel it right now. Even though you don't feel like you deserve it right now. The sooner you find you faith again, the better. The church is true. Remember the signs. The voice telling you to go to church that first time. The butterflies on your baptism day. Your testimony is stronger than you think and it's only going to grow.

Don't shun God and religion because of bad experiences. Life is a school and you're here to learn, and sometimes (well, it is you, so most of the time really) you're going to have to learn it the hard way. Don't begrudge yourself the chance to learn and grow from the pain and anger. Move on. Let go.

You've got a long way to go, sunshine, but you're going to be okay. Keep your head up. I love you, and so do a lot of other people. Let them.

Be brave, little one.
Jessica Howatson, aged 19

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The post which starts my career as a successful blogger...

So I’ve been reading other people’s blogs lately and it’s come to my attention that most successful blogs have pictures.

Now, I can’t draw like Adam or Allie and I don’t own any interesting taxidermied animals or animal shaped objects like Jenny so I turned to a slightly less orthodox visual art form.

By that I mean i sculpted something that vaguely resembled the intended animal and called it art. If you're interested, my medium of choice is non-hardening cheap-dollar-store plasticine/modelling clay (so help me if anyone makes a play-dough reference I will find you and I will release tarantulas in your car. Hungry tarantulas).

But this was meant to be about skating, not threatening my dear readers (all five of them). Yes, it’s been three days since I last skated but before that I skated six days in a row so don’t look at me like that with your judging eyes.

Besides, Monday was rainy and Tuesday…well, Tuesday I literally did not have time because we went on a field trip that took over 8 hours, and today was cold and miserable and I wanted to write a blog post instead. I’ll go tomorrow, I swear...except I have a meeting with a friend and then a show-thing to attend, and on Friday I have another show thing, but I'll go in the weekend, definitely. I promise. And I promised on the internet, so it must be true. It's like an unbreakable vow.

Quick aside because it's a funny story- the field trip was to see John Safran be interviewed by David Farrier and$, despite being basically an advertorial for Safran’s new book, it was pretty darned funny. However, my favourite moment was when we got to see the effects of a grey girder - which was hard to see, because it was Hamilton and it’s all grey (I kid, I kid) - on a turning vehicle. Our turning vehicle, to be precise. Pic to the right, insignia blanked so that nobody sues me (you never know), with the damage marked for your convenience.

Obviously just a minor scrape, with the only casualty being the driver’s ego. Personally, I found the whole thing to be totally hilarious. Clearly I do not react appropriately to potentially dangerous situations.

Back to the original topic. Now. I am really uncoordinated and quite clumsy, so it’s a bit of a miracle that I manage not to fall over whilst skating. Anyway, the main point of this whole story is that I saw a girl on inline skates the other day, looking graceful and elegant, and I started wondering what I look like on skates.

To your left is the conclusion I reached. For what I look like trying to walk in heels, substitute the skates for heels.

That’s right. A drunk giraffe (I really hope someone gets that reference).

And to the right is what I look like whilst going downhill.

I was going for terrified giraffe (look, at least this one has eyes) but it looks closer to a giraffe on acid. Also, check out my GIMP skills, enhancing the brightness (it was way worse before I ‘fixed’ it, I swear).

Today was just an experiment, so let me know what you think of the pictures (they’re terrible quality because they were taken on my phone and also so that it was harder to see my terrible sculpting).

Comment below with your thoughts and something you’d like me to try to sculpt and at lunchtime Monday I will put all the ideas in a hat and draw one out and that sculpture will feature in a blog post, along with a shout out to the suggester (shut up, it’s a word), should they so desire.

Love, Jess

Friday, 9 August 2013

Where my journey as a writer first began...

Firstly, I have some news. Those of you who know me, are you sitting down? Good.

Wait for it. Drumroll please….actually, the drumroll is overkill. Kill the drumroll.

The news is that I’ve started rollerblading for fitness. That said, I’m 4 days into, but that’s 2 and a half days longer than any other exercise program/regime/thing I’ve done (possibly because most of those involved waking up early and I am NOT a morning person).

I have rollerbladed before, quite a lot, but that was probably back before I started high school. Still, I haven’t fallen yet and I’m pretty good at the basic stuff. I can turn without falling (somewhat) and break quite effectively.

Writing at my primary school was mostly done in recount form (as in, “who, what, when, where, why, how”, with an introduction, series of events, and conclusion brought in later) and though I appreciate that this set me up well for later in my schooling years, I do regret that I didn’t discover creative writing earlier.

The problem with recounts was that they had to be factual and I never really did anything worth recounting because I was always meant to be cleaning my room and never did. So recounts and I did not get along.

In my first couple of years of primary school, we did read a lot of poetry, but that was nursery-rhyme type poetry, the stuff designed to help kids learn to read.

The first time I got to dabble in poetry was with a relief teacher during my first or second year. I’m not sure what the instructions were but I ended up writing an acrostic poem. My cat had just died and down the side of the page I wrote “WHEN SILKY THE CAT GOT HIT”. Maybe there’s a reason we stuck to factual writing.

The teacher loved it and submitted it to The School Journal, who rejected it on account of not having enough space. Fair enough. Never mind it was written by a 5/6 year old who had little idea of what an acrostic poem should look like.

The poem has long since been lost, which is a shame as I’m sure it would have been hilarious. I have no idea how or why, but I do remember the ILKY (from SILKY) lines though.

So, without further ado, here is a small slice of what is possibly the first poem I ever wrote

It isn’t obvious, isn’t to me,
Likely not to
You or me

For that to make even the slightest bit of sense, bear in mind I was talking about my cat getting hit by a car, and was five or six. I also clearly had no idea of my own mortality.

But the teacher who open the door to a world where words could be creative was Mrs Anstey, who taught me when I was year 5 or 6 (9 or 10 years old), and who also introduced me to the book Holes, by Louis Sachar, among other things.

She allowed us to play with words, introduced us to (slightly) more grown up poetry and allowed us to explore the feelings and thoughts it evoked. There was a beautiful one about autumn and the leaves which I can’t quite remember, and one about being a Marrog from Mars, but my favourite by far, the one that has stuck with me, is The Wendigo by Ogden Nash.

The Wendigo,
The Wendigo!
Its eyes are ice and indigo!
Its blood is rank and yellowish!
Its voice is hoarse and bellowish!
Its tentacles are slithery,
And scummy,
Its lips are hungry blubbery,
And smacky,

The Wendigo,
The Wendigo!
I saw it just a friend ago!
Last night it lurked in Canada;
Tonight, on your veranada!
As you are lolling hammockwise
It contemplates you stomachwise.
You loll,
It contemplates,
It lollops.
The rest is merely gulps and gollops.

I hope I’m not breaking too many copyright laws here.
I just love the imagery and the fact that he rhymed something with the word ‘indigo’. This is such an action based, physical poem, but so whimsical and descriptive as well. And fun.

The voice in my head still reads it with the same passion and intensity as Mrs Anstey did all those years ago. Mrs Judy Anstey, if you ever read this, thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much you have influenced my life. You taught me that words could be fun and open my eyes to the worlds they could create. I may not have shown it (I was a right terror back then), but I loved your classes. Thank you. Thank you. A million times thank you.

And on that note, with a thank you and a potential copyright infringement, I shall say adieu.

Love, Jess

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sense and sensibility...

Well, today was interesting.

Today I had the chance to get intimately acquainted with a delicious piece of chocolate cake.

Allow me to explain. As part of a feature writing lesson (workshop?) with the wonderfully bright, inspiring and talented Virginia Winder, we were encouraged to engage our senses using some of Jaz's birthday cake (HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAZZY-DAWG!).

Having done similar exercises at some of the better poetry workshops I've been to, I was quite excited at the idea of this.

First we examined it. I got interesting ideas and words such as "hazel eyed" (yeah, I don't understand it either), "like a gravel road" (it had two tiers with a strip of icing down the middle) for the cake itself, and "smooth mudflow" and "lahar" for the icing.

Secondly, we smelt the cake. That led to more...interesting....ideas, such as "like every chocolate cake ever, yet uniquely its own" (cliche, I know) and "rich and ashy like burned out fires" (you know how chocolate cakes, even perfectly cooked ones, have that "burnt" sort of smell? Just me then? Ok.).

Listening to the cake was quite challenging. This produced a range of different attempts to hear the cake, from dropping it to poking it. Apart from the obvious "Eat me", I heard "thump" and "squish".

I know I've already talked about how my favourite word is flail, but squish is probably among my top ten words. It's also an onomatopoeia (yes, it took me three attempts to spell that correctly), which means a word that sounds like what is is, such as boom, or pop, or sizzle. Onomatopoeia is also an awesome word.

But I digress, as usual. Next up was feeling the cake, which was quite fun. It definitely felt to me like a new sponge that was full of water. The only other description I could come up with was "like new slippers", because you know when you get new slippers, and for about ten minutes it feels like you're walking on air and firm pillows at the same time? It felt like that. Except new slippers lose the feeling after a day at the most, and I doubt the cake would have. Maybe we should make slippers out of cake...On second thoughts, maybe I should be forbidden from ever starting any sort of product line...

Finally, after all that suspense and build up, we got to eat the cake. That was also quite a difficult thing to describe. The icing was definitely soft and slippery, but the cake itself...I got frustrated because I couldn't find the right words and the closest thing I could come up with was "rice without edges". Don't ask me to explain that...

Final verdict is that the exercise was definitely helpful and Jaz's mother makes the best cake ever!

In other news (I use that quite often too, don't I?), I have a bubble gun, which started because I won a funky hat which prompted Robin, my tutor, to ask who had let me go to a rave. That inspired the bubble gun idea and so I bought one. It's blue and shaped like a seahorse. It is hand-powered and makes a pleasing whirring sound which I'm pretty sure my class is growing/has grown to hate.

Anyway, I've been using it to blow bubbles, lots of bubbles, in town, because it would make my day to walk through a cloud of bubbles and surely I can't be the only person who feels that way. Even if most of the other people who feel that way are under the age of 18. I may be too old for this. But people were smiling and that's all  really wanted to do, was bring a little joy to someone's day.

Also, I met up with my awesome friends whilst I was in The Warehouse. They adopted me. So now I have LOTS more family members. YAY!

It just occurred to me whilst writing the tags for this post that one of my first posts also used the "sensory exploration" method, that time on my room. I was thinking I might do one post using my five senses each month. Comment below if you have any suggestions as to what my next "sensory exploration" should be!

That's all for now,
thanks for reading,

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

I'm bringing sexy back...and by 'sexy', I mean 'awkward'...

Return of the evil ellipsis girl and her awesome blog!
You can blame/thank Lance for that. Dangerous tiger cubs/flowers (depending on your level of disgust/joy at the revival of my blog) can be addressed to him and sent to (insert witty fake address here).

I may not be entirely back on form. Sleep eluded me last night. Snob.

We started writing reviews in class yesterday. I learnt very quickly that if there is something you like, you should on NO accounts let people you like - especially particularly clever and witty people such as Susan - review said thing. A song by my favourite band was ripped to shreds. But that's ok. Everyone's entitled to their (obviously wrong) opinion.

In other news, I kind of might have a story because there's this kinetic sculpture I pass on the way to church each week and it might not be there anymore. The thing is, there's a reasonable chance that it is still there and I've just missed it for the past two weeks. Things like this do happen.

I'm going to start a review blog. And start reading proper reviews. The only reviews I read currently are badly written ones on sites like softpedia and cnet that tell me if the free program I'm about to download is going to crash my computer with viruses.

I discovered during the holidays that I am quite good at making lemonade. I'm also quite pleased by the fact that having to use the stove no longer puts me off trying a recipe. That actually did used to happen. If I couldn't microwave it, it wasn't worth cooking, or so I thought.

The internet won't load the page I'm trying to view. Snob. In the time it took me to write that sentence, I forgot what the page actually was. Wow. Time for bed I think.

I need some good critics to read. Preferably, but not necessarily, literary critics. I started looking by searching reviews of one of my favourite books, Catch-22, and found this lovely person : , but I am keen to find some more people to read, so feel free to comment with your favourite reviews. Or don't. Snobs.

Love, Jess