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What’s My “What’s My Line?”?

How’s that for an awkward-looking title?

Over the years, I’ve become very familiar with a group of folks who, although certainly famous in their day, probably aren’t well-known to anyone in my age group. Their banter was charming and laden with humour from the 1950s and 1960s – and while there are, naturally, many cringeworthy moments (which you could easily anticipate, as a socially conscious twenty-first-century viewer digging in the mid-twentieth-century crates), I love that they were quick to laugh at their own on-air mistakes, and some of my favourite moments to watch them in were thoroughly unscripted. Their names are Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennet Cerf, and John Daly – they were the primary panellists and the host, respectively, of the show “What’s My Line?” which Wikipedia tells me is the longest-running US primetime network television game show.

Here’s the thing: even though I’ve probably watched (or at least heard) hundreds of episodes, if it weren’t for the obligatory introductions at the beginning of each one I wouldn’t know much about the occupations of these four people, outside the show. Most of them, probably, first arrived on set seeing this show as either a new thing they hoped would go well, or a fun side gig, or maybe both; but I only know them as participants in this specific project.

I doubt any of them could have told you at the beginning that this would be the thing they were best known for forever after.

And that’s naturally got me thinking … what’s my personal version of this show? Is there something I’m involved in (or will be later) which will eventually overshadow everything else I’ve done, or will do? I’m very well aware that this is a case where knowing the answer would negate or ruin the question, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder just the same.

Although I see myself as a writer first and foremost; I doubt the rest of the world agrees with me so far, since so much of my career has been spent performing. Maybe, in a hundred years when I’m not physically here, I’ll be better known for something else entirely aside from arts and entertainment. Maybe the beginning of the 2118-version-of-Wikipedia entry about me will talk about my humanitarian work, or the awesome people I’ve helped to raise, or my abduction by and eventual return from a group of alien nomads who needed a human guinea pig. I don’t know at this point, and I shouldn’t know. And neither should any of us.

What I am sure of is that being aware of this question takes a huge amount of pressure off of me, and maybe you’ll feel the same way. All we can do right now is work on what we’re already working on, begin work on what we want to begin, and stay open to opportunities.

So I’ll continue to get more comfortable with having no idea what my “What’s My Line?” is, or is going to be. And with that … if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to get back to. Because even if my writing does happen to be forgotten one day, that’s no excuse to slack off now ;-)

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Chattrisse does London, England!

You know that feeling when you’ve woken up before 6am because your body is still five hours ahead, so you decide to make yourself useful and write a blog post?

Yeah.

So! I’ve just returned from my first ever trip to London (England), which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, particularly because my mom grew up in London (Ontario). It was a short visit, with lots of goodies packed in =)

First up, we got on the tube and paid a visit to Buckingham Palace (regrettably, the Queen was not in), and saw Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street (shopping stop #1).

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We snuck in Shopping Trip #2 the next day … and then the famous English rain made our visit to the London Eye, which was one of my must-sees, somewhat less enjoyable than it could have been, but here are a couple of photos to prove I was there, lol!

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My first English high tea was another favourite memory from the trip … I really should have asked them for their scones recipe. So good!

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Now, since it was London jump-up time, we also went to a couple of fetes, and to Panorama, and to Notting Hill Carnival. Not a whole lot of pics taken by me, but enough so that you get the idea …

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Usually you get to sleep in the morning after jumping up, right? … Yeah, no. Because our overriding reason for this trip was to attend a wedding at Addington Palace, at 11am the morning after Carnival! (Here’s a tip: if you wear a fascinator, it will distract people from how tired your eyes look. #carnivallifehack)

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In the midst of all these activities were a couple of jogs, a couple of church services, geeking out as I stood in front of the theatre where Hamilton is playing in London, and several head-scratching moments at train stations. And the very next morning, I was back at the airport where I squeezed in Shopping Trip #3 before flying home.

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Whew! Hectic, tiring, and so very very worth it. London has definitely left me wanting more, and I’m looking forward to my return trip! Til next time …

xo

On set for a Divine Brown video shoot ... the first time I was ever paid to dance ;-)

Five-Year Flashback …

… Dancer Chattrisse is still a baby compared to the other Chattrisse listed in this old post, which you should absolutely go back and read so you know what on earth I’m talking about. (That pic represents the first time I was considered a professional [read: paid] dancer … ah, memories.)

That post was the first thing I ever blogged here, and this Wednesday it will be five years old — that’s crazy! Thanks, internet, for hanging in there with me while I learned to blog, and did it regularly, and stopped doing it, and got back on the wagon again.

Huh. Kind of like dance, interestingly … as some of you know, I injured my shoulder in spring 2016 and due to a condition that developed during the healing process, it’s still not back to 100%, and due to this, I’ve been doing significantly less dancing since 2016 than I would like. (One of the many reasons I love this video is that it was filmed mere days before the original shoulder injury; I still don’t have my full range of motion back, but at least I can admire what I looked like when I’d never considered losing it!)

So I’m taking a moment to look back and congratulate myself. For being transparent and for finding a new way of sharing my thoughts five years ago, for learning to be patient with my body during the last two years, and for how much better I will be two and five years from now.

Just for fun, what were you doing five years ago? And how does it relate to what you’re doing today?

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Haïti 2018 with TWA

As promised!

Last month I took my sixth trip to Haïti with an incredible group called Third World Awareness. It was a short trip – only one week – and yet it was filled with some of my favourite memories from these six visits, along with some positive changes. (Quick note: my first time visiting was in 2011, more than a year after the huge devastating earthquake, so I don’t have any firsthand info on how things now compare to pre-quake conditions. Before this year’s trip, I hadn’t been back since 2016.)

Couronne with a splash of Barbancourt ;-)

Couronne with a splash of Barbancourt ;-)

Almost immediately – like, leaving the airport – I noticed that the roads were in much better repair than I remembered. Traffic, I would realize within a couple of days (I landed on a Saturday), was arguably worse, but the surfaces of most roads I travelled on were smoother and had fewer potholes, apparently due to the government having spent a good chunk of change on infrastructure repairs. There is better access to electricity now, neighbourhoods with power lines which didn’t have them during my other trips there, more streetlights and traffic lights. There are also – bizarrely – numerous electricity towers which have been built in such a way that they partially obstruct traffic, forcing the roadways to become more narrow (possibly because to put them further back from the road would mean that houses had to be demolished?), and this increased traffic noticeably, as did the number of intersections which were being controlled by police officers instead of by the aforementioned traffic lights.

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There did seem to be an increased police presence; twice during my stay I was in (or on) a vehicle that got pulled over for seemingly random police checks. The first was at a roadblock but there wasn’t much to be nervous about as I was in a van mostly full of Canadians; the second time, when I was en route to the airport and riding a motorcycle with the driver I’d just met and a friend of mine, was jusssst a bit more unnerving.

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In addition to better roads and more cops, I noticed that the air quality was vastly improved. It took me awhile to pick up on this … after all, how often do we really think about the air we breathe except when there’s something wrong with it? It must have been five days in that a truck or van went by belching black smoke which hung around in the air for a bit, and I had a sudden flashback of wearing a bandanna around the lower half of my face because that thick lingering haze used to be how the air seemed to feel all the time. Not out in the country, of course, but in the city and its suburbs, where we spend most of our time, it was a problem. I’d constantly feel grit in my eyes, making contact lenses even more irritating; I’d blow my nose and what came out would be grey. So this was another welcome improvement, although it may be due to the weather: on most of my trips, the air has been hot and heavy, and this time there was always a breeze blowing. So. Very. Grateful.

So what were some of my specific memories? I’ve got a few pictures to help me out. (One thing I should probably point out, though, is that my photos decrease in number every time I go. Photography/videography isn’t allowed in most of the areas where we do our volunteer hours, isn’t polite or appropriate in many of the other places we go to, and the novelty started to wear off after my third visit.)

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This. On my first full day there, we visited a resort with this beautiful – rocky, but beautiful – beach. Little boats like this one took turns anchoring nearby, playing music, hoping to entice guests to go for a ride up and down the coast.

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So we did.

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On the same day, we visited the Ogier-Fombrun Museum in Arcahaie, birthplace of the Haïtian flag. This museum is wonderful – it’s a restored sugar plantation with many original artifacts and even though I’d been there before, this was the first time I was able to take in most of its displays.

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For whatever reason, although I knew a good deal of Haïti’s history even before my first visit, I was really struck this year by how ludicrous it is that the first country to throw off chattel slavery is still imprisoned in so many ways. I zeroed in on the hatchet (centre, in the above photo), which was used to amputate slaves (I forget now whether the example given was as punishment for slaves who weren’t working fast enough, or as a potentially life-saving measure for slaves whose hands got caught in the machinery; both occurred in different places throughout history). There was – and is – this deep, brooding reminder about how unjust it all was – and is – and a sort of helpless feeling that I’ll never be able to make any difference at all. It’s such a monstrous wrong, I don’t know how it could ever be made right.

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I guess it’s as part of an effort to right this wrong that I and many others do humanitarian work. I’m keenly aware that had my grandparents not emigrated to Canada, I could be on the receiving end of this work. (That’s not an exaggeration. Frankly, most of us living in “the first world” are just one disaster or personal crisis away from being on the receiving end of similar work, but that’s a topic for another day.) So pictured just above is the first school that Third World Awareness built in Haïti, in a part of a “slum” called Cité Soleil, on the edge of the water. Upon visiting the school this time around I noticed that even in CS, the roads looked better than I remembered; they were certainly cleaner than what I was used to seeing here. (Don’t get too excited, though; near the end of this blog you’ll see the sitee of some cleanup work we hope to do next.)

Most of the places where we do work forbid photography, but photos are always welcome at this school. The smiles of these children never fails to warm me up, no matter what’s going on.

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Two moments really stood out for me on this day. One was an event that half the school, it seemed, celebrated together: during games of soccer with the students in their schoolyard, there was intense jockeying for a position near whichever adult was handing out pinneys ahead of each round. In a sea of waving hands, pressing bodies and yells, a teacher looked down and picked out a small boy to get the last blue pinney. He scored the last goal of the game – the smallest kid on the field – and the whole place went crazy. They mobbed him, cheered, applauded, lifted him up in the air; it felt like something out of a movie! I was too caught up to get a photo before everything died down, but I did capture this shot of him still beaming, and I had a moment of intense gratitude for every teacher or leader everywhere who has ever given the underdog a chance. It was so wonderful.

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On a more personal note, I came to the school bringing a particular set of gifts – prints of photos that I had taken in the same place in 2016 and 2015.

Cite Soleil schoolyard smiles

That’s one of my fave pictures that I’ve ever been in, period; and since there are 16 students in it with me, I brought 16 prints back with me and gave them all out. (Not all of them are still students here since that photo was taken three years ago, but it made sense to prepare for the best-case scenario.)

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There’s more of a story behind this one.

In 2016, I was able to teach dance classes to the students at this school and it was a high point in my adult life. I was keenly aware, however, that I wasn’t able to share the joy of that dance class with every child nearby. These two boys from the area, who weren’t in school (I presume because their families weren’t able to afford it, or perhaps the school was just too full), climbed up to the second floor to see what was going on, and even though I knew it was dangerous for them to be there,  I snapped this photo of them before they were chased away. (Terrible role model over here.)

I printed two nice black-and-white copies of this photo too, hoping against hope that I could find these kids in 2018 … or at least someone who knew them and could pass on the prints. And as I sat at the back of the school watching one of the aforementioned soccer games, I realized that one of the students looked very familiar. Turns out the boy in the red shirt – Nelson – is now a student at our school, and I was thrilled to have his teacher call him away from the game so he could get the photos. Although I didn’t see the other boy on either of the days I visited, Nelson says he knows where to find him. I’m not quite clear on whether he still lives in Cité Soleil; a lot can change in a couple of years, and his family may have settled somewhere else. Wherever he is, I hope he’s safe and healthy and cared for. I want that for all of these kids, and it’s heartbreaking to know that many of them … maybe most of them … are not, despite the best efforts of the school and of many other people who care about them.

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Maybe next time I go, they’ll both be in uniform.

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Ayiti cherie!

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On Lists and Gratitude

Sooner than later I’ll be sharing a recap of the trip to Haïti I took earlier this month.

In the meantime, while that recap post brews and stews in my mind and my WordPress account, I felt like sharing a nightly habit of mine. It’s something I’ve been doing for at least five years, and only very recently spoken about with two people – my cousin and my boyfriend – outside the group of people who encouraged me to do it in the first place. It’s a very simple thing, and yet it can be a real game-changer as far as your mindset is concerned.

Every night, before I say my prayers and after I’ve otherwise finished getting ready for bed, I look at myself in a mirror, and begin to speak aloud, enumerating my “Sweet Sixteen.” Sixteen things I’m grateful for, and all sixteen must have occurred between my waking up that morning and the moment I get around to this ritual.

One of the (many) things I love about visiting Haïti is how easy it is to rattle off my Sweet Sixteen list every night (“I’m grateful for today’s sunshine, those adorable children in school uniforms,  my ride in a tap-tap, an evening visit from a tiny lizard, the electric fan by my bed, the delicious dinner we ate…”), and that this easiness lasts for quite awhile after I come home (“I’m grateful for the streetcar coming right when I needed it to, for reliable wi-fi, the bewildering variety of items on these store shelves, the chat I had in the laundry room with my neighbour, my tanned skin, this morning’s hot shower…”). On one trip I found myself being particularly grateful to feel a breeze blowing on a sunny day, and that level of appreciation is a place I want to learn to live in … while continuing to “build for better” (as my pastor would say), because if I spent all my time just being grateful for what I have I would find it hard to motivate myself to work, or work out, or write, or right any of the wrongs I see in our society, or ask for things I still want or need. In short, if I got too wrapped up in gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy, I wouldn’t ever go back to Haïti. Maybe I wouldn’t ever go anywhere.

And that doesn’t sound like me.

Taking one minute each night to deliver a big long “thank you,” that sounds exactly like me, and I hope I can inspire others to do the same. In fact, if you had to stop right now and list your own Sweet Sixteen for today’s date, what would it include?

How to Scare Yourself, and Why

As annoyed as I get by the overabundance of inspirational quotes flooding so many social media platforms (I wrote a monologue all about it, maybe I’ll share that one day), every once in awhile there will be a kernel of truth in one of them that I really appreciate.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” (which came to me from the world of network marketing) and “do something that scares you” (which I think I first saw on a Lululemon bag) both capture the sentiment I want to talk about today, and so does a quote which I wish I could type word for word right now. Unfortunately, all I’ve got is this: at some point probably more than five years ago, a celebrity contestant got eliminated from whatever season of Dancing with the Stars and I heard a snippet of her farewell speech on the radio as I struggled to wake myself up that morning. Her words, heavily paraphrased by me here, and delivered with a lot of emotion (I think she might have been crying) were: “Whatever you’re most afraid of, run toward that thing as fast as you can; I promise there is something amazing on the other side!”

(Sidebar: can any of you find the actual quote for me? You can imagine how fruitless my search has been, years later and with such sketchy info to go by.)

Fear does have its function, and a very useful one – so I’m not going to start telling you to go fly in the face of safety and reason. What I am going to do  (in my next post, so stay tuned), is tell a little story about how I feel more empowered today than I did a month ago, because I recognized and called out a fear that was inside my mind. I faced off with it, and I hope I can learn to value “scaring myself” enough that one day it’ll just come naturally to me.

It’s important to recognize at least some of the many times that fear, while you might assume it is helping you, is actually hindering your growth and/or learning. Listening to your fear may keep you safe . . . and yet, isn’t safety itself kind of dangerous? When you feel safe, you’re less observant. More complacent. Easier prey for, say, a pickpocket than someone who acknowledges the risk of being pickpocketed and keeps their guard up. Feeling fear is a sign that you’ve left your comfort zone, or are about to; and at the risk of leaning too heavily on more annoying quotes, leaving your comfort zone is almost always a prerequisite for earning any new stripes in this life.

Anyway, I wanted to get these thoughts down before sharing the actual story in detail. Come back soon to read the whole thing ;-)

xoxo

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Tired … On Purpose

This post will probably be more useful to me than it is to you.

Roughly ten years ago, when I was taking dance classes regularly, I had a brief meetup with a dancer friend of mine inside of DLM Studio on Bloor St West. He told me about how tired he was because of all the dancing he’d been doing (both that day and in general). I remember telling myself “Don’t do this. Don’t get to the point where you complain about doing so much singing, or acting, or whatever.” What I think I said out loud was something to the effect of, “Hey, everybody’s tired, but at least you’re tired from doing a lot of something you love.” And I’ve been reminded of that conversation numerous times.

Like yesterday, for example.  My Saturday, February 17th was awesome.

Tiring?

Yes.

Hectic?

Yep, even more so than an average weekend for me.

Worthwhile?

Well, let’s see.

Although I went to bed too late on Friday (my day job is an evening one), I woke up on time Saturday to arrive at the location for a music video shoot at 9:45am. I was one of the production assistants, helping to organize various things so that my friends and their dancers/models could focus on giving the best performances possible. It was so good to support folks I really care about who are working to make their dreams come true, while meeting some new ones and having the fun of being part of a creative project without any of the stress of the project being mine. Although the shoot was an all-day affair, I left at 1pm after a partial outfit change to get to the Art Gallery of Ontario before 2 (eating snacks en route on the 505 Dundas streetcar). At the AGO I had time to apply lipstick, mingle a bit, and settle in for a tribute to and Q&A session with acclaimed casting director Robi Reed, who bestowed some nuggets of useful knowledge as part of the 6th annual Toronto Black Film Festival. Two of my favourites were “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” and “There are two kinds of people: the people who want it and the people who can’t live without it.” That ended a bit before 4, so my friend and I were able to mingle a bit more and then hustle to catch the 4:15 showing of the Black Panther movie with my dad and my boyfriend. All I will say about that at this moment is that Black Panther is one of the best movies I’ve seen, I fervently hope to play a role like Shuri’s one day (yessss Letitia Wright!), and this film will go down in history as a memorable one for so many of the right reasons – I’m so happy I was able to see it on its opening weekend. The last event of the day was a live comedy show starring Toronto comedian Trixx, who’s absolutely blown up online since the first time – years ago – I saw him onstage in person. While Trixx and the other comedians were all very funny, one of my favourite parts of the night was probably his serious show ending, where he talked about the support he receives from Torontonians despite our reputation as the Screwface Capital. It was especially cool that when I made my way up to Trixx to congratulate him afterward, he greeted me as “Ms Director” (a bit preliminary, but I’ll take it!), which just seemed to confirm to me that while you’re watching someone else rise and shine, they may also be aware of you doing the same thing. And then, on the way home, I realized that I’d received an email during the show confirming my participation in a Master Class with a Gemini-award-winning screenwriter and director at the upcoming ACTRA conference; essentially, my first audition of the year, and one with maybe 200 people watching it. Live.

I was very tired by the time I got to bed, and it was the kind of tiredness that inspires and even demands gratitude. Even better: although yesterday was particularly careerful (haha), it wasn’t an anomaly for 2018 Chattrisse Dolabaille. Today I took an acting class which involved a true performance breakthrough for me; on Monday I’ll be getting new headshots done and writing; Tuesday will involve prep for the ACTRA conference which is on Wednesday and Thursday; the next screening of my short film CHECK is on Friday. And et cetera.

I wanted to publish this so that I’ll have something tangible to point to when future successes seem to some as though they materialized from nothing. I actually keep a little notebook where I write down every career-related task that I do each day, to make sure I don’t let any days go by without adding to the pile; and even though I still have *so* much more building to do, I know that I’ve been putting in work that I can be proud of. Since I’m learning and growing, my goals are within my reach; since my goals are within my reach, I have more learning and growing to do. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve “made it” and the bulk of the work is behind me; I do know that every time I yawned today, somewhere deep down inside my soul, I gave myself a high-five.

So at the risk of repeating myself, let’s promise that since we spend so much of our adult lives being tired anyway, we’ll make sure that at least some of that tiredness is the result of chasing our dreams. Not so that we can complain about the effort, but so that we can develop those dream-chasing habits and muscles.

Now if you’ll excuse me . . . bedtime. And not just because I don’t want bags under my eyes for tomorrow’s shoot =)

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29 THINGS TO TELL MY 10-YEARS-AGO SELF

I’m in the last year of my twenties, which means I think I’m a lot wiser than I really am. Recently … thanks mostly to Throwback Thursdays, the Crash Course educational series on YouTube, and the work of playwright Jose Rivera … I started wondering what my current, past and future selves might say to one another if they all met somehow, and I compiled this list of things I would love to go back in time and say to myself at the end of my teens. I wouldn’t answer any of her obvious questions (No, you really shouldn’t get back together with him; Yes, you’ll be able to pay your way through school, so relax) because, hey, there are some lessons she needs to learn the hard way. Also, to keep things interesting, I would purposely not divulge which parent will move overseas, when and where and why I get tattooed, or how much (or is it how little?) I weigh in spring 2015.

Here are 29 pieces of advice for the 2005 edition of myself, delivered with lots of love and a steupse or two.

 

1. Look for “flaws” in your character, not your appearance.

2. What you do when no one is watching matters even more than you already know.

3. The sooner you acknowledge the power of your words, the better things will be.

4. It is possible to create great art from a happy place.

5. You have the best dad ever too.

6. Practice being quicker to get over disappointments and slower to roll your eyes.

7. I love that you take so many pictures, but you don’t need to have double copies of all of them. (Also, since we’re on the subject: in one of the pictures up top, if not both, you are actually 18. You took so many that year there weren’t many to pick from the year after. But it’s all good, because your looks haven’t changed much since you were 2.)

8. Figure out how to control your emotions, and your imagination, or else they will control you.

9. When it comes to money, pay more attention to the direction than the amount.

10. Also, go out of your way to learn more about finances than what you’re being told.

11. Asking for help does get easier.

12. Saying goodbye gets easier too.

13. Letting go after saying goodbye will probably get easier. One day. I hope.

14. Soon you’ll come across this thing called Facebook, and I applaud your decision to hold out for awhile. But get on the Instagram bandwagon quickly.

15. Never stop dancing.

16. Singing will take you further than you think. Feel free to interpret that literally.

17. Don’t worry that you’re too old to get back into acting.

18. Don’t worry that you’re too old for anything.

19. Don’t worry. At all.

20. Take your own eighth-grade advice: Travel, travel, travel! (You remember why you said that, right? Good.)

21. Being single can be sexy. And “sexy” has a greater and better meaning than you realize right now.

22. Go clubbing a lot over the next little while; you’ll get tired of it pretty soon.

23. Experiences > possessions.

24. Classics > hits.

25. American men will always be a thing.

26. Take your time figuring out where you stand on religion and spirituality.It is nobody’s business but your own.

27. The only difference between a valley and a hill is your perspective.

28. I am extremely proud of you.

29. You are going to love what comes next.