Ready to Go

ready to go

By Rebecca D. Martin "There was a great tree---a huge poplar with vast limbs---visible through my window even as I lay in bed. I loved it, and was anxious about it. It had been savagely mutilated some years before, but had gallantly grown new limbs - though of course not with the unblemished grace of its former natural self; and now a foolish neighbour was agitating to have it felled." ~J.R.R. Tolkien, Collected Letters

The big front yard maple finally came down today. All the branches had been taken off last November. In absence of any friends who could manage the substantial trunk with a mere chain saw, the official tree men returned today and took that away, too.

The baby and I watched through the gable window as the two fellows alternated at the base: chain sawing, axing, tossing wedges of wood aside. Saw, axe, toss. I expected this to go on all around the perimeter of the tree for the next hour, slow but sure. But just as the baby was losing interest in favor of the cord pull on the window blind, the unexpected happened. The entire, enormous ten foot trunk creaked and groaned. The men did some circling and pushing. Then a sharp crack, and 72 years-worth of sprouting, spreading, anchoring, and reaching fell into the road with a shuddering thump that set our dog a-barking.

Last fall, I'd mourned as the tree branches came down: no more green leaves dancing at the upstairs window; that lovely play of sunlight and shadow shifting across the downstairs living room---gone. Not to mention the temperature protection during our unairconditioned summers. The loss felt inordinately tragic, both physically and emotionally. But I thought all my sorrow had gone with the limbs. The stripped-down body left standing in the yard was merely a sad reminder, not to mention an eyesore---a ten foot high one. I was more than ready for it to go.

Imagine my surprise at the tears that sprang up this morning as the tree trunk fell, so suddenly, so heavily, down. It seemed so, so . . . irreverent. It seemed wrong. There lay the tree, bottom-up, all its striated glory exposed for the world to see. Suddenly, the blossoming circles amassed over three quarters of a century, the grey bark running its length in stripes and curves, were a surpassing beauty. The tree men seemed not to notice. They swung their axes and tossed the tree in bits and pieces into the back of their flatbed. They took a break and lit cigarettes. For them, this was any day, any tree, any job.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, "I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals." This morning, as the tree pitched over, I could hear the clanging and banging of Saruman's machinery, as it was so explicitly interpreted in the movies, and the ground-shaking thud at each felled tree. The neighbor who frowned and made a wide berth around our yard this morning on her daily dog walk seemed to channel Tolkien's disappointment at me. "Those trees were my friends!" Darn that movie.

Still, I knew it was just a tree. I know it is just a tree. And it was dying, after all. These Norway Maples were planted when our three neighborhood streets were first developed, back in the 1940’s, and none of the trees are going to last much longer. Each yard got two maple trees, in fact, and a good third of them have come down already. More than half of the ones left are dying. Windblown and ice-laden limbs fall into the streets where cars park and children on bikes race by. The resident tree expert says that, actually, there's only one healthy maple left, back in a corner lot. He speculates about environmental incompatibility. Others have suggested bugs or disease. Whatever the root cause, our particular tree was sick, and it was time for it to go.

But there's something to be said for putting in a lifetime’s work toward such a strong and quiet beauty. It doesn't seem like something so long-lived should go as easily as this fifteen minutes of sawing and chopping have done. It seems, for a moment, that the tree should get something better than a cigarette break in memorium.

But really, there is nothing that needs be done for the tree, or that could be done, except what we did. Instead, I know what I will do. As I watched this morning, I resolved to plant another. We'll do our research this time. We've been told something called the Black Oak does well in these parts. I also have a particular soft spot for Dogwoods. Yes, we'll start another tree in this one’s place, and make our own contribution to this tiny patch of land and its future, and to the neighborhood it belongs to.

And then we'll get on with our day. With all respect to the dog-walking neighbor, and to Tolkien, and to my own sappy emotions, it was only a tree, after all. And it was ready to go.

A Fatherless Girl

fatherless girl

By Cyndi Waite

My mom runs her hand softly along my cheek, like moms do with their babies. Maybe I asked the question, "Who is my dad?" or "Where is my dad?" or maybe she preempts it. She strokes my cheek again and smiles at me.

“My beautiful girl," I imagine her saying it in the wonder-filled way she still says it today. "My beautiful girl, your daddy was a good man, but he is very sick."

This refrain is so palpable and entwined in my childhood, I know the words like a nursery rhyme whose repetition tattooed it on my memory. But there’s not a nursery rhyme for my story.

I was born in Hollywood, a fact that fills me with undue glee. I was a kid who had "a lot of personality," a euphemism for having been histrionic. I wanted to be an actress, a screenwriter, but always, I dreamed of being a Los Angeles Resident.

Because what I leave out is the "Florida" part. I'm from Hollywood, Florida, home of the Cuban and land of the retirees. It’s a far cry from the iconic “Hollywood” sign and yet, it’s true, I’m from Hollywood.

We lived in an apartment building. I can see the outline of it, and I wonder if that's my earliest memory shining through or if I've re-created a memory from pictures. It had a giant, humongous, can't-see-the-end-of-it-can't-touch-the-bottom-of-it pool. We lived there until I was three.

Mom has always been a fish, happiest near the water and stressed, searching for air away from it. Mom's angry? Let's run her a bath. Mom has to get away from work? Let's pack a bag of towels and ham sandwiches and find the nearest lake. Water is Mom's Valium.

Mom's love of the water seeped into Chris and me in the womb; pregnancy didn't keep her from floating weekends away. We came out with our arms failing in freestyle. Outside her belly, we split our time the way she had done while we were in it: between the pool and the beach. I learned to walk in the sand.

***

Mom and Chris hold my hand as we walk to the water, waves lapping my feet and calves and thighs and stomach. I’m pink and round---a perfect Gerber baby, squealing with delight at the touch of the cool south Atlantic waters (that are somehow, someway perfect, while northern Atlantic beaches are drab, the water the color of the gray sand. It’s a mystery I’ve never solved).

Chris, four years older than me, maybe six or seven, swims his way away from Mom and me. He probably travels three feet, but I swear it’s 10 feet---half a football field, even. Mom holds me over her head, and teases me, “I’m going to do it! I’m going to throw you!” and her threats aren’t threats at all but promises. And she tosses me through the air, and I’m soaring what feels like stories above the water shimmering below, and I land, laughing, in my brother’s open arms. They throw me like a football, calling plays, “Go left!” I was a precursor to my brother’s glory days on the football field, a human ball. I wonder if that’s where he learned a perfect spiral.

***

We move from Hollywood that same year, when I’m three. I still suck on a pacifier, a fact that embarrasses and endears me now---a childhood in tact, still so innocent it maybe seemed stalled, in slow motion, behind. Precocious and clever, my brother knows my sun rises and shines with him. Where he goes, I go. What he does, I try to do. Sometimes he uses his powers for good, and sometimes he uses them for evil. The line is always blurry.

We pack up the family Chevy S-10 and move to Georgia.

We say goodbye to our family and friends, and Mom says it’s time for an adventure. She drives stick shift in the small three-seater pickup truck. My legs swing around it; it's hard for her to switch gears sometimes, and I talk nonstop, except when I'm sucking on my pacifier.

She got lost, often, on that long drive. I asked a dozen times if we were lost, and she always said, “We’re not lost, we’re finding a new way," just like she says today. Sometimes I ask her when we're standing still to hear those guiding words.

Hours into the drive, Chris pipes up. “I dare you to throw your pacifier out the window.”

I eye him cautiously; at three, going on four, I’m already stubborn and incapable of turning down a challenge.

“I double-dog dare you. I bet you won’t do it.” The taunts keep coming.

I pull my pacifier out of my mouth, and he rolls down the window, and Mom intervenes.

“If you throw it out the window, I won’t get you another one,” she warns.

Chris smirks. “I triple-dog dare you.”

I can’t take it anymore, and I throw it out, watch the wind whip it, bounce it off the side of the truck and fall onto the hot asphalt. It’s gone. It’s really gone.

I start to cry.

“I love you, but I told you if you threw it out, I wouldn’t get you another one,” Mom reminds me.

Chris looks at me, pride in his eyes. “You’re a big kid now.”

I cry all night, furious and unable to sleep. Mom doesn’t buy me a new pacifier.

The next morning, I’m calm and grown up when we pull into Carl’s driveway.

Two Weeks

memory and loss

Two weeks ago, tucked under my covers and cursing the still-too-cold-April, attempting to sleep after a tough discussion, I felt crushed and thought “I’ve had enough of feeling like this” as I stared at the ceiling. I turned over and managed to count backwards until I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, the “I’ve had enough" feeling persisted, along with a desire for change. Before I climbed out of bed, I committed myself to making space for more positive thinking and dreaming. Moment by moment, day by day, I decided to commit myself to beginning a process. A process that I had put off (unintentionally), with a variety excuses such as well “this is a time of transition (i.e. in two months you don’t know where you will be living, what you will be doing, or how you will be getting by), of course it is hard” or “your life isn’t exactly as you had imagined it, of course you feel this way.” But two weeks ago, I decided enough with the platitudes, I’m striving for great, not just getting by, and I’m not waiting to start. Two weeks isn’t enough time to show consistency or deep change worthy of earnest reflection.

However, making a public commitment to a process of loving yourself fiercely and re-writing an openly positive narrative takes brave words, quiet trusting moments, and the accountability of self and friends.

Quieting the voices

Long discussions with friends [and, just about everyone I meet] have left me certain that I am not the only one who battles internal voices. Much of the time, these voices urge me forward, empowering me, nudging me to take a risk---but every once in a while, they catch me off-guard and fill my heart and mind with self-doubt. On the suggestion of a friend, who recommended a new practice, I am spending a few minutes a day in front of the mirror. The goal is to repeat the phrase “I love you” to myself, until the self-judgment fades and my softer, self-caring side emerges. While it appears obvious, being accountable for loving yourself, actively, shifts your frame of reference to a more whole, more loving version of yourself. As Brene Brown says, this is where the “whole hearted” begin from.

The pesky surprise voices of doubt are now meeting some resistance.

Training and un-training muscles

Some of the cycles of thinking I fall into [or rather, allow myself to fall into], I have developed and practiced over years. Their less than blissful cycles interrupt my day. As one of my favorite blogs wisely notes, “years and years of training were required in order for your mind to reach its current level. This is your work. And just as it was trained, it can also be untrained.” As I try to re-formulate my brain around positive thinking, I feel resistance from old patterns of thinking. I feel that I am attempting to change the channel before an old show, one of self-doubt that I have seen before, plays a re-run in my mind. What does it take to break these and reconfigure the cycle? What if instead of thinking through the same pattern of thoughts, ending at the point I began, I vary the questions: What is the worst thing that can happen? I try to get underneath what is really going on.

However, some of the thought patterns are old habits, in some way comforting. They need to be thrown out the window into the beautiful spring air. Each time I break a cycle, I celebrate being one step closer to the person I want to be. Each minor win is a victory.

New Dreams

How do we dream new dreams? How do we know what to aim for? And, then how do we build the path there? Now, facing the end of my formal education, I am realizing that I don’t have set dreams for the next step or even the steps beyond that. Where I sit today was, in essence, the end of the “dream plan.” I don’t take it for granted that I have accomplished some of the goals I set for myself. Yet, this wonderful life must be bigger than that, there must be more I want. Of course, there are hazy visions of things I’d like to do and the person I want to become, but I want to continue to strive for understanding and visualizing that person and that place.

I want to put a stake in the ground and fight. One step at a time and the active decision to be happy, made at every second of every day.

 

New trip, new you? Travel and the opportunity for change

mind the gap

A paradox:  the thing that frightens me most in the world is flying.  The rumbling engines, buried somewhere in the gut of a monster whose insides I cannot see; the finality of the cabin door closing; the complete and total trust in two strangers in the pilot’s seat, not to mention the myriad more on the ground, making sure two planes don’t meet nose to nose at 500 miles per hour, making sure the runway is clear but not slick, the wings free of ice and the fuel tank full. The deceptively fluffy clouds and their turbulence filled interiors.  The 36,000 feet that separate me from the ground. And yet, my favorite place in the world is an airport.  Any airport will do, although some, of course, are better than others.  London’s Heathrow is a marvel.  San Francisco’s new terminal has free Google Chromebooks, an organic juice bar and a yoga room.  But it is not these things that make me love airports.  I’ve never known, in fact, what it is, knowing merely the likes that, while exemplary, fall short of explaining the love:  the antiseptic smell; the ten issues of Cosmo, all trumpeting sex tips in different languages; the permission to eat crappy food (because everyone, in an airport, gives themselves that permission).  I didn’t know where the love came from, though, until I was on a bus from Lisbon, in Portugal, to Seville, in Spain’s Andalucia.

“Zack,” I said to my boyfriend, who was nodding off in the seat next to me.  I poked him.  “Zack, I had an epiphany.”

He opened one eye.  “Yeah?”

I’d been thinking of the time we’d just spent in Lisbon, and the last time I’d been on a bus several days earlier, to Lisbon from Porto in the north.  As much as I enjoyed walking around the glowing white streets of Lisbon, sampling the tart cherry liquor and chocolate salami, the part where my head tingled, where my palms sweat slightly and I tapped my toes---that was earlier.  That was on the bus, and it was happening again.  To Zack, I said, “I don’t like traveling because of the places I go.  I like traveling because of the opportunity for change, because of the hope of transferring locales, of the possibility the unknown offers.   I like the places themselves, of course, but it’s more about the change---the possibility for it, and then, hopefully, the reality of it---that’s the part I love.”

I settled back into my seat, satisfied.  Airports, then, were the ultimate place of opportunity: hundreds and thousands of possibilities for changes, branching upward and outward into the endless sky from the terminal filled hub, in which I sat, and waited, and savored.

Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin (if there can be such a thing), writes that, “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”

While many people think of vacations as fulfilling the first element---what feels better, really, than laying on a beach with a cocktail in hand, or sampling gelatos on a stroll through Rome---I’ve always, without realizing, thought of it as accomplishing the last element: the atmosphere of growth.  Each place, with its different things to do, see, eat, smell, taste, hate, and love, offers the possibility of making me different, ever so slightly.  Each place offers me the opportunity to change---hopefully, to grow---as a person.

“Do you think that’s universally true?” Zack asked, having now awoken enough to engage.  “Does a trip to remote Africa offer the same potential for change as a cruise in the Bahamas?”

I pondered the question.  Do, as he asked, the trips of the “feeling good” variety provide the same atmosphere of growth that I so desired?  Did travel inherently offer opportunity for change, or is that potential limited to a certain kind of trip?

My best trips, the ones that I savor in memory for months and years after, are the ones that have been the hardest.  There were the two months I spent in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, where I burst into tears at least three chaotic, crowded border crossings, felt dirty constantly, and was 100% positive I was going to die at least five times (you may not want to trust my odds predictions).  I felt more changed at the end of it, but also simply more satisfied.  When I look back on it, the colors are brighter, the smells richer, the interactions more readily accessible in the banks of my mind (there is, of course, something else to be said for knowing, as with a place like Syria, that you went at a specific point in history; that it will be fundamentally changed should ever you return).

Does this mean that the trips that I primarily simply indulge in simple pleasures are less worthwhile?  I don’t think so.  There is something to be said for the change inspired by allowing yourself to just be, of acknowledging the value of pleasure, of saying, I have no where to go other than here, no one to indulge other than myself.  This kind of environment offers its own opportunity for change, for reflection, for growth---although sometimes, I think there is merit in not seeking growth at all.

And sometimes, it’s better to be in an airport: the great joy in being safe on the ground, and knowing that, soon enough, you’ll take flight.

All Hours Are Not Created Equal

I have been struck lately by the way in which different hours in the day and different periods in life seem to have very different weight. The morning hours speed by before I can even catch hold of them, while afternoon hours march on ever so slowly. Unfortunately, those slippery morning hours are my most productive, so I am forever trying to figure out how to tackle the bulk of my to-do list before they slip away. Monday time feels so very different from Friday time, and then, weekend time is another thing altogether.

And when I think of time on the scale of a lifetime, I am amazed at how the briefest moments can rise above the rest in technicolor memory, while all the rest seem fuzzy in black and white. I must have spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours researching and writing papers as a student, but I can’t pin down any one of those hours in particular. Each was a tiny drop in the bucket toward the slow and steady process of learning to make an argument, tell a story, or craft a sentence. Those hours were only significant because they were many.

Instead, I remember a handful of conversations on couches or in coffee shops and the brief exchanges of empathy that made all the rest of it easier. I remember the food and drinks shared as a currency of love and friendship and understanding. I remember a certain slant of sunlight hitting the table, finally, one spring afternoon.

In comparison to many months and years spent living in one place, it feels like just a few weeks spent traveling changed everything.

There must have been hundreds of walks along the same path to and from campus, but on one in particular, a classmate caught up with me and not so very long after, it seems, became my husband. We’ve been married nearly six months now, and sometimes it seems like only a moment has passed. On the other hand, I wonder whether perhaps we’ve always been together.

The hardest thing about time, I think, is knowing in the moment which of those moments count and which will fade quickly, which to hang onto tightly and which to let go of gracefully.

Lessons from Springtime...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

We thought it would never come but sunnier days, warmer breezes and little shoots of green are finally on their way.  After winter seemed to return again and again this year, I think springtime has finally arrived.

When I notice the days finally getting longer, I become a happier person.  It’s a gift to see the seasons renew right before our eyes and here are a few things that help celebrate the coming spring season:

  • Go outside on that first really gorgeous day: Drop what your doing. . . sneak out of work early. . . cancel that evening you planned to spend inside cooking or studying or cleaning.  This is the time to enjoy the fresh air, to grab sandwiches and enjoy lunch in the park, to walk the long way home. Inevitably, the winter chills always pop back once or twice after we see the first signs of spring but if you make the time to enjoy it, it will stay springtime in your heart.  Don’t let those first warm rays of the season pass you by.
  • Clean out your closet: Go through and assess what doesn’t work for you with the change of the year, and figure out what won’t work for you at all anymore.  If it’s too old, needs too many repairs or needs too many pounds one way or the other, lose it.  You’ll feel better going into spring when you look at items you actually wear in your closet---somehow with less things, we often have more options.
  • Buy something in color: Now that you have all that room in your closet, you can afford a little treat.  We spend so much of winter in practical blacks, browns, greys. . . at least I do.  Celebrate spring by buying something in color---it might be a shirt, or a scarf or a necklace. . . it doesn’t have to be big, but just a small thing that helps you celebrate the fresh start of spring.
  • Take a walk in the rain: While what we often appreciate most about spring is the sunshine, the thing that really makes spring possible is the rain.  When living in Normandy, I couldn’t wait for the rains to stop until someone reminded me that if it didn’t rain so much, we wouldn’t have so much greenery to enjoy.  Make the time to enjoy a rainy walk and just look around to see how much it feeds the colors and growth around you.  Take that same walk in the sunshine afterwards and you’ll appreciate a whole new world around you.
  • Have a happy new year: Your Christian roots will teach you to celebrate this time of year as a renewal in the church calendar; your Persian roots will teach you to celebrate spring as a new year of new beginnings.  Like January for calendar years, and September for school years, use this variation of a new year to wipe the slate clean and reset yourself for a fresh start.  If you made New Year’s resolutions, check in with them to see how you’re doing---where you need to refocus, and where you need to reframe.  The beautiful thing about new years of any kind is that they are full of new beginnings, take advantage of that.

All my love,

Mom

From Higher Learning to Simply Earning

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I've been teaching upper elementary school for over a decade.  I usually love teaching, although I have gone through some tough situations that have shifted my view from teaching as a calling, to teaching as a job. My question is: my enthusiasm for teaching upper grades is waning, and I'm wondering if a grade change is what I need to bring back my passion for teaching, or is it just gone? What do you think?

From,

On The Fence

 

Dear On the Fence,

You’ve hit on a central question to many people in the workforce today: “Does my job need to be my calling?  If not, then how do I get through it?  If so, how the hell do I get out of this job?”

Let’s set that huge question aside for a minute and just talk about your circumstances.  It sounds like, even though you no longer feel jazzed about teaching, you are currently looking for ways to bring the magic back.  You’ve been burned by some bad experiences, and are wanting to turn things around before you get too jaded.

This is completely possible.  It will require a good amount of change, but if you can be open to the changes, it could be beautiful.  You can still be a teacher and not do exactly what you are doing now.  I encourage you to consider ALL the options: a grade change, a school change, an entire genre change---you are a teacher, but do you need to teach in schools?  What do you love to teach, and is there a market of people who would be interested in learning that from you?

Take your career to couple’s therapy.  Sit down with a pad of paper and a pen (not a computer---the brain works differently long hand), set your watch for a 50 minute session, and write, stream-of-consciousness, a conversation between your Teacher Self and your On The Fence Self.  Go ahead, ask TS all your hardest questions, answer “Yeah, but what about the time. . .”, and hash it all out.  Notice what voice Teacher Self takes on.  Is it a tone you recognize from another part of your life?  Are there action steps you can take to salvage the relationship?  Can you seek out training, a teacher support group, or go to some of the galvanizing events groups like Yes World provide to support people doing good in the world?

Let’s say, at the end of all this soul searching, you and Teacher Self decide to break up.  You want to discover your true/new calling.  You won’t be alone.  More and more people are spending their nights and weekends working on the things they are passionate about, either to eventually make their living off of those things, or just because it feeds their everyday experience that much more.

You can’t stay on the fence forever.  At some point, you’ll have to jump one way or another, and my advice to you is to do so with both feet, whatever direction you choose.  You might find yourself dismantling the fence, slat by slat, despite the splinters incurred, in order to find a new, less polarizing way to live.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here

Marriage Equality

equality

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing cases that will determine the constitutionality of DOMA and the legality of Prop 8. It saddens us that we have to even write this, but we believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings. Love is love is love. Here are three pieces from our archives on the subject: Renee explores the difference between Civil Unions and Marriages: The Same, But Not Equal

Nora ponders what she and her wife will tell their son about marriage inequality: On Inequality

Miya argues that marriage equality is about families, and has ideas about what laws should come from this battle. Family Equality and the Legacy of the Struggle

Please read, enjoy, discuss, and share.

Lessons of Loss

This week I had the unpleasant task of mailing a sympathy card.  It was destined for one of my dearest friends whose grandmother had recently passed away.  I addressed the envelope and signed my husband and my names beneath the pre-written message. That was the easy part. Writing a personal note was harder. What words could I write that would give comfort?  Were there any?  If not, what could I write? In the end I settled for a simple note of friendship and tried to convey the two messages that I felt were the most important: I love you & I’m thinking of you. I mailed the card, but kept thinking about loss. That’s normally a subject I avoid contemplating at all costs. I know most people don’t dwell on grief or death, but my avoidance is, I think, a little more profound and includes even abstract or philosophical consideration. Without sounding like I crawled out of a Victorian novel, I can at times be prone to melancholy. It’s easy for me to sink into the dark and grey and wallow there, hence the avoidance. But last week, I didn’t wallow or sink, even as my mind kept spinning back, touching on two stories and their accompanying lessons about loss. I figured the lessons wanted to be written.

When I was in junior high, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. There were blessings hidden in the diagnosis and many moments of joy and laughter and memories that I would never trade. But there were also moments of pain, sadness, and confusion---especially for a kid like me with strong emotions and no experience with loss. I remember one such moment, sitting on my yellow canopy bed and crying out my sadness and confusion. My mom was there of course, consoling me as mother’s do and generally talking me down.  I don’t remember what I said, only her response.  I imagine my line was something inane about being sad that my grandmother was sick and might die, but I really don’t know for sure. What I remember with extreme clarity was the next moment as my mother said: I don’t want granny to be sick or die either, she’s my mom. I understood the working of our family tree, and I knew that my grandmother was my mother’s mom, but until that moment, I hadn’t considered anyone else’s grief. In the way that your world view can shift in an instant, I remember that moment as the clouds parting and a light bulb shining as well as a ton of bricks falling. I suddenly had a new understanding and a different way of seeing things beyond my own emotions or grief.  Almost 20 years later, that memory and the accompanying lesson as still so clear, as is the only response I could make in my stunned state: I never thought of it like that.

A decade later when my paternal grandfather passed away that earlier lesson was not forgotten.  I was an adult by that time, a college student in love with my boyfriend, a man who would later become the Mr. to my Mrs. Perhaps that’s why so many of my thoughts and a great deal of my empathy was focused on my grandmother. Throughout the days of preparation and then the visitation and funeral she was stoic, focusing on the next task and what needed to be done.  Her eyes were dry right up until the moment a soldier placed a folded American flag into her hands. Thinking of that moment still stings my eyes. I thought then, as I do now, the simple question: How?  How can you possibly say goodbye to someone like that, someone you spent so much time with? My grandparents were married for 59 years. How is it possible?  I know the platitudes ‘One day at a time’ and ‘You do what you have to do’, but I truly have no understanding of how.  In the moments as my grandmother held that flag in her lap and watched his casket descend into the earth, I can’t imagine she knew either.

As I sent off my sympathy card, I thought of these two stories, and the small lessons they taught me about loss.  No one really understands, there are no magic words, but there is empathy.

In fear of Spring

eternally nostalgic

In late July, as I was photographing a friend's hands clasping pebbles from a Greek beach, I pronounced myself a "summer person." I did so with the awareness that being Greek and being a "summer person" was, practically, a tautology, but I declared myself one with certainty: "Definitely a summer person," I said, and I was off to the water once again.

By late October, as I was pointing my camera up at a tree whose red leaves reminded me of everything I missed about New England autumn, I had changed my mind. "I'm a fall girl," I declared.

Not even for the sake of a writerly analogy can I pretend that by mid-February, as I was trudging through the post-snow slush, I was a full convert to Boston winter. And still, something about the sound of synchronized snow shoveling interrupting the piercing quiet after a heavy snowstorm that resonates with me. Eljiah caught on to how fickle I was with my attachment to seasons and remarked, "You are, apparently, an all-seasons girl. I don't want to hear it. You love summer, and you love fall, and you love winter."

And then there was spring.

I felt it today, that familiar anxiety of spring, as the world was in mid-thaw, snow droplets dripping into gutters. Buds are fighting to burst out of tree branches. The galoshes that felt essential yesterday felt incongruent today. Everyone was drinking iced coffee, even though it was still only 30-something degrees. We were drinking iced coffee because we recognized the kind of undeniable sunlight that inspires, if not requires, iced coffee, even if our fingers were reluctant to crawl out of pockets for long enough to hold on to icy plastic and a straw.

The sound of leaves crunching under boots or of synchronized shoveling or the smell of sunscreen -- those are the associations that have a different effect on me than the advent of spring. It is not that spring lacks the beautiful imagery. Sundresses would be offended if my memory did not celebrate their return, as would lemonade and porches and lemonade on porches. Rather, spring carries a more anxious weight.

I remember the spring when I myself had to thaw. I remember seeing almond blossoms and realizing the depths of my grief.

I remember a spring so full of loss that I did not even realize it happened until it was mid-May and I was sitting on a lawn in three sweaters, sweating next to a picnic basket under the weight of my obliviousness.

I remember another spring so full of questions that I could not yet answer and so full of terror at the uncertainty. I remember the glory of the spring after that when I slowly befriended vulnerability and gently carved out room in the lemonade-on-porches vision for red wine.

I remember a different spring when everything felt distant and remote. I had not had to fight through winter that year; it was another one of those years when I lived in the perpetual summer and darkness of work in conflict zones, whether due to calling a desert my home or the Equator. Perhaps spring felt less of a triumph when I did not have to sit through the short afternoons of a February or the slush of a December Wednesday; perhaps that is why everything felt unattainable that one spring.

Spring catches me by surprise. I can feel fall coming and ease into it. I can taste the crisper breeze, the bluer skies, the pashminas giving way to cardigans giving way to jackets with hoods. Winter sashays in slowly too, with the increasingly frothier beverages, with one neighbor lighting her fireplace and then another and then the whole neighborhood smells of fireplaces and snowflakes. Spring bursts out of trees and emerges from under layers of clothing with a speed that finds me unprepared each time. There is a bird chirping outside my window while the snow melts, and I find myself begging for a bit more time under the heavy covers to reflect, to put the pieces in order, to stave off the grief, uncertainty, loss, or fear of the above, to be ready for spring, just-this-once.

Therein lies my discomfort: There is something disquieting about feeling like your emotional state is out of step with that of your universe. The spring break inspired catalogs and commercials tell me it's almost Denim Shorts Season and my favorite candle store no longer stocks "Leaves" or "Vanilla Hazelnut Doughnut" because the shelves are full of "Sunscreen Mist" instead. Ready as my legs are for the caress of sundresses on bare knees, my heart needs more time to match the collective exhilaration. So allow me to linger here a bit longer, under the weight of a panda hat and a knit scarf and in the company of a foamy chai latte -- hot, strawless. Let me hide a little longer until I am ready to face the blossoms. And, should I ever feel compelled to point a camera at said blossoms and exclaim anything, you will know that it will likely be another declaration of being a girl of the seasons.

Meet the Local: London

mind the gap

Meet the Local is a new series, designed to uncover the differences (and similarities) in how we think and live in different parts of the world.  In the next few months, I'll be traveling to Zagreb, Sarajevo, Spain, Portugal, Ghana, Morocco, and Scandinavia.  In each place, I'll interview someone who lives locally (although they may have originally come from somewhere else, as you'll see in today's post; I find that to discount people who have immigrated is to deny a core part of a city's makeup, especially in places like London).  I'll ask the same set of questions everywhere.  This week, meet Carleen Macdermid, from London, England: Carleen Macdermid, Meet the Local: London

What do you like about the place you live?

First of all, I love that it’s London, because I’m Australian---I moved here about eleven years ago.  I love how central it is.  I walk everywhere nowadays. I almost never get in the Tube.  It’s a 40 minute walk home, but I’ll still walk, because you see so much more of London.  I’m right by the river.  I’m in the middle of everything.  I love it.

What don’t you like so much?

It’s made me harder as a person. Australians are notoriously chilled out and easy going.  I’ve not become more English because to an Australian it’s very important not to be English but I’ve definitely become a Londoner.  I’m hard.  People get in the way in the Tube.  I’m always in a hurry.  When I first moved here, I would see celebrities all the time and now I just see idiots that are in my way and I don’t like that about myself.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

I almost never eat breakfast.  I’m terrible at it.  I’m fully aware that it’s the most important meal of the day but I so enjoy my sleep that breakfast gets sacrificed every morning and has done since I was about fourteen.

What do you do for a living?  How important is your career to your sense of self?

I currently don’t really do anything, because I’m in the process of being made redundant.  I did get kids into apprenticeships for four years, and I was a teacher for seven years, and now I’m on the cusp, so if anyone thinks I’ll be useful to them, they’re welcome to contact me.

I worked really hard over the last six months to get that balance back.  For a long time there, my work was absolutely everything, it took all my free time, it took all my focus, and I kind of think if you’re working with young people, that’s important. Now, I like the fact that my focus is more on myself.  A better social life, a better work/life balance.

What do you do for fun?

I was a drama teacher for years, and for a long time I didn’t do any of that at all.  Now, I do improv, I rehearse with groups, and I’m just in the process of trying to write, to attempt for the very first time, stand up comedy.

How often do you see your family?  Tell me what you did the last time you saw them.

I see them very rarely---they’re on the other side of the globe, so the last time I saw them was three and a half years ago, and I helped them pack up and move out of the house I was raised in and move to the other side of the country.  My sister and my niece get here in two weeks, and it’ll be the first time they’ve ever visited me over here.  After that, I’ll be redundant, so I’m going to pop home to see mum and dad, and it will be the first time in three and a half years.

What’s your biggest dream for your life?

To find something that really satisfies me.  I’ve always had jobs that I’ve enjoyed elements of, I liked working with young people, but I’ve never really had anything in my life where I’ve kinda sat there and gone: yeah, I do that, and I’m really happy about it and really proud of it.  So I’m determined to track that down, be it in my work or be it in something creative.  It’s out there, and I’m gonna find it before I get too old.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Why?

I would invent a magical place that was similar to London and had the lifestyle and the get up and go but had my parents a lot closer than 24 hours away by airplane, and had some of the warmth of Australia without turning into the awful, shabby parts of Spain where people go and conglomerate and do awful things.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the fact that my job has always contributed to young people.  I spent my entire career in education and training and I can point to literally hundreds and thousands of kids that I’ve helped.  I’ve got young people now who are teachers like I was, and other young people that have really good professions because they did apprenticeships with me, and I’ll always have that to be proud of.

How happy would you say you are?  Why?

I’m gonna go with 85%.  Even at my most unhappy, I never manage to drop below about 65 or 70%, I’m just naturally an upbeat person, but I like the fact that I’m starting to do more for me for the first time in a long time.

Talk to Me

I know that plenty of people talk to their mothers, at best, once a week, or even---and I start to stutter here---every few weeks. Now, I’m not passing any judgments, but this just did not fly with my mom. I remember her informing me years ago, as I was going through, shall we say, an “independent phase,” that she had talked to her mom every single day as an adult.  I thought of this often, on those week nights after a late dinner with my husband, when all I wanted to do was zone out to an awful episode of Gossip Girl. There were nights when Chuck Bass won out, but most nights I picked up the phone for a quick call. I woke her often, as she snoozed on the couch, my dad watching one of his endless sporting events or crime scene shows beside her. Sometimes our calls were brief---literally a hi and a bye---but on other nights, we talked and laughed until my husband's eye-rolling became impossible to ignore. I told her what I had made for dinner that night, we talked about my upcoming trips home to Rochester repeatedly, she asked about my husband and friends. There was not much we didn’t cover during those calls. The last time I talked to my mom was on February 13, 2012. It was late, and I remember the fleeting thought: I’ll just call her tomorrow. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to myself. I told her about the lamb chops I was making for Valentine’s Day dinner the following night, and I asked if she and my dad had any special plans. I distinctly remember her laugh in response.

I sat in the hospital just days after that phone call, while my mom lay in a coma next to me, incredulous that I couldn’t talk to her about it all. And last week, as we marked the 1 year anniversary of my mom’s death, I kept returning to the impossibility of not talking to her in a year. I think sometimes of those nights I didn’t call her, of the times I was too busy, or too tired, or just didn’t prioritize it, and wish for a do-over. I know exactly what I would say.

I would tell her, first and foremost, about the babies. I would update her on my nephew, about how he makes us laugh, about how naughty he can be, about how---even though he still sucks his thumb and takes his blanket everywhere---he’s no longer a baby. I would tell her that he points to the picture of her in his room, knowing that it’s Mimi. I would tell her about my niece, who is the spitting image of my mom at that age; about how beautiful she is, but how touch and go those first few months were for my sister and brother-in-law, what with a colicky newborn and an active 2 year-old. I would laugh, telling my mom that despite our best efforts to help my sister and her brood, we don’t come close to filling her shoes. I would tell her that “Mimi’s pool” is still Rachaels favorite, and about all the new babies who have joined our family---extended or otherwise---in the last year.

I would fill 3 days of conversation, telling her about the meaningless details of my life that no one but she ever really cared about.  About the new car my husband and I bought this past summer---and how I sat at the dealership with tears in my eyes as we traded in our old model, realizing once again that I couldn’t share my news with her; about the bed frame I’ve had my eye on at Pottery Barn and the new rug that looked great online, but sheds incessantly; about the movies I’ve seen and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; about new recipes I’ve tried and plants I’ve killed.

I would complain about every little annoyance from the past year. I would wait for her to tell me to shut up, and then complain some more.

I would tell her about the recent stresses of my job---a new manager and lots of travel---but how I really, really like what I do. I would also tell her of my husband’s new job, how his hard work has finally started to pay off. I know how proud she would be of us both.

I would tell her that I’m experimenting with acupuncture and a gluten-free diet, all the while expecting an immediate, gut-busting laugh and an exclamation of, “Are you nuts?!”

I would tell her that she was right about most things, but especially about how much we would miss her when she was gone.

And, finally, I would reassure her, that despite the heartache and the tears, that we were all ok. I would tell her that this is going to be the year of more laughs than tears, of my sister’s wedding, and maybe, even, more babies.

I don't quite know what I believe when it comes to life and death, but I suppose she might already know all of this. We're taking her with us on our new adventures, after all. But, my god, how I miss our talks.

 

Of Road Trips and Adulthood

From the passenger's side, I feed my handsome driver PB&J in bite-sized pieces as we sail along at 70 miles-per-hour from Atlanta to Baltimore. For my own part, I am a nervous and inexperienced highway driver. I am slightly more useful as a navigator and even more so as a DJ. We are on our way to the wedding of friends, and by the time you read this, we'll be on our way back from the whirlwind weekend. The excitement of these impending nuptials finally dawns on me when we get on the road, so I spend the first bit of the drive giving my companion a rundown of the schedule of festivities and the many people he will meet. He is a captive audience.

I run through the list of college classmates and friends from Boston and then brush off the rest with a wave of my hand. "Those are all the people our age. I can't tell you much about the grown-ups."

I am caught off-guard by the absurdity of my statement and add the caveat that perhaps we technically qualify as grown-ups too.

In one of Joy the Baker's recent posts, she lists off some of the commonly perceived barometers of adulthood: getting married, having kids, doing your own taxes. Of course, as she explains, none of these are particularly useful or accurate benchmarks of adulthood. They are significant milestones, certainly, if they happen to occur in one's life, but they don't have much to do with the definition of "grown-up."

I'm not sure there's a definition, really, or a destination we're trying to reach. As we count off the last few exits before our stop, I figure this whole marriage thing and the being-grown-up thing has a lot more to do with the journey than with the arrival. This may seem obvious, but it's not necessarily what I had expected. I used to imagine adulthood as a very serious state of being, in which you feel like you have some level of control over your life and then work really hard to maintain it.

Thankfully, this stage of life that I looked forward to for so long is a lot more fun, if also much more chaotic and unpredictable, than I ever let myself imagine. It is a series of small rituals and choreographies, punctuated occasionally by surprises, for better or worse. Some things are hard, but also funny. Some things are just hard, and the rest is just funny.

It helps to have a kind companion to cry and to laugh with as we sail along. I'm more grateful each day to be on this road together.

Searching for Dragons

A few Saturdays ago, I was sorting through a box of greeting cards when I came across a Bon Voyage note given to me by my two best friends a few days before I hopped a jet plane for Bangladesh. Inside, beside the typed hallmark message, was a hand written note and two signatures. ‘I hope you find your dragons’ it said.  In the back of my head I had only an inkling of remembrance.  Dragons.  Why were we talking about dragons?  I searched the encyclopedia of my life, otherwise known as my gmail inbox, and found what I was looking for.  A list of quotes I considered adding to our new address/just-moved-to-the-other-side-of-the-globe card.  On the list, among the profound and the spiritual was this quote:

“Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” Sarah Ban Breathnach.

So of course the question I’ve been asking myself is this: Did I find my dragons?  While I did have a couple of close encounters with lizards, I don’t think that’s what my past self meant when she said she was looking for dragons.  A dragon is a story to tell, something confronted, overcome, or experienced for the first time. It’s a quest of self discovery.  It might seem scary or insurmountable if you look at it from afar, but once you’re there, it’s a grand adventure.

I’m proud to say I found many dragons during my year in Bangladesh, and each taught me a lesson.  All the good dragons do.  I came back more confident in myself; more sure of who I am as a person, more aware of my flaws and my strengths.  I am more unapologetically me than I have been at any other point in my life.  And that feels awesome.

Maybe it was the quiet or the new environment.  Maybe it was the writing. I can’t identify the how or the why, which is a little bothersome.  I would like to be able to map the changes, to see the shift on paper.  Where did it occur, when did it start, what was the trigger?  The daughter of a scientist, I like things to fit into boxes and graphs. I want to look back and point to a moment so I can say, ‘See that day, that’s when it began to change.’ Everything would feel more real if I could break it down into cause and effect.

But I can’t.  I know how I was before Bangladesh. I know how I was in Bangladesh. And I know how I am now, after Bangladesh, but how one affected the next I have no hypothesis.

All I know is that I most certainly found Dragons.

The homes that inspire nostalgia

eternally nostalgic

We first met when I was on the cusp of nomadism and she was on her return voyage. I was about to embark on my first true field work in conflict management. I did not know it then, but that year would hold memories of Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, and Guatemala. Her journey stretched from Liberia to Indonesia and Boston to the Hague. We both swam in the pool of conflict management professionals, spoke with our hands, loved every baked good we met, and shared a passion for wander and wonder. In many ways, she inspired my own path with her courage, whimsy, curiosity, and attachment to service and to making impact. Meeting her kindled my faith in humanity---and sparked my consequent overuse of the term.

We are now sitting at her dining table in Washington, DC, five years later. She and her loved one built the bench atop which I am perched, and everything else in the house too. Even if she hadn't given me her house number, I would have picked it out among its companions. It is the most colorful house in the street. Everything in it is a colorful product of love too, carved with care out of wood, nailed together, splashed with the hues that matched their personalities. "We built the bed in which you are sleeping," she says smiling. People dream better in home-made beds. They ought to.

She is a different kind of adult than I am, I think to myself. A whole other league of adulthood, the kind that comes with one's own photographs hanging from her walls (in frames, I should clarify, since my own amateur photos hang frameless and in disorder). I scratch her cat's belly, as we talk about the conversations we used to have when we first met. We are still connected by those same threads, by conflict management and service, by a wanderlust for Iceland and the Bolivian salt flats alike. We joke about our loved ones' addiction to cycling, we revisit talks about neuroses that field work in some of the world's most active conflict zones could not mitigate. Peeking into her life makes me nostalgic for permanence and leaves me longing to caress wooden surfaces with an appreciation for the art that transforms them.

I used to live here too once, but the girl I was when I lived in Washington is different from the girl who returned to it now. It was the before era: before field work, before I knew that a lot of my life would unfold on the road or in conflict zones, before I grew attached to cameras and stories, before I had discovered much of what I now consider my life's work---in many senses, before I experienced what I now consider my life's many blessings. When I left Washington, I left with excitement, not out of frustration with its admittedly elevated sense of self-importance, but out of a craving to leap to the next phase of life and the novelty it had in store. And much as my memories of Washington were full of light and merriment, I did not consider it the kind of home that would inspire nostalgia.

Teetering in heels outside the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, I recognize bits of the self I was then: I was an obsessive list-maker, and I still am. I was the kind of girl who could write down thirteen to-do items, and cross them all. Part of me still enjoys ticking the boxes, literally and allegorically. In other senses, I have shed layers of skin since I left Washington. I have embraced uncertainty and developed a new comfort for it. I have appreciated vulnerability; in brave moments, I have deliberately put myself in vulnerable places with an understanding of their merits. I have marveled, marveled ferociously, demanded marveling. I have made more room. I have not carved furniture, but I have carved out space for loving, dreaming, and marveling.

And now that I am back, this time for a career trip with fellow graduate students interested in conflict management, I am marveling at a home that inspired more nostalgia than I thought it could. In between career panels and site visits, I duck into my old neighborhood bookstore. I used to stop there every single day on my walk home from work, even if nothing in the shelves had changed. The bookstore was a ritual I kept, a nostalgia-inspiring ritual that planted the seeds of marveling. Between a lunch and an informational interview, I pop into Teaism, wanting bubble tea. I giggle when I remember that they call it 'pearl tea' here. My memory had edged this lexicon out. Taryn and I sit side-by-side at Hello Cupcake, devouring cream cheese frosting. Dan and I have breakfast at Busboys and Poets. Halle and I share an almond croissant and cappuccinos at Dolcezza, which was not there when I last was. Some of the women by my side have been constant presences, on email and in teahouses, at a distance or side-by-side. Some of them are new to this memory, having sprung from shared field experiences, correspondences, school orientations, or serendipity.

This marriage of the worlds feels less foreign than I had anticipated. I practiced nostalgic eating, nostalgic bookstore browsing, nostalgic walking, nostalgic subway riding. Life was not Instagrammed when I had left Washington; all of it looked less romantic. It was not yet possible, as Cheri Lucas would say, to "enhance the mundane", "to disguise the mediocre." Surprise nostalgia is a privilege because it is as though a former home springs from the depth of your memories to claim its place in your life, to demand to be remembered lovingly. Or, at the very least, to be remembered---which, in my life, is by definition a loving act.

The endless in-between

Dear world, I have a proposition for you. Could we maybe just skip all of the Februaries between now and eternity? Growing up in the Great Lakes region, I learned from a very young age that February meant still stuffing yourself into your puffy winter gear long after that winter gear has lost its luster. In fact, by February in northwest Pennsylvania, everything has lost its luster. The snow is no longer magical—it’s just cold and very persistent.

My sister and I had complementary snowsuits—one pink and one purple. As we got a little bigger each year, February meant packing ourselves and our snowsuits like bloated sardines into the back of our tiny red hatchback for the ride to school. When I started taking music lessons in fifth grade, it meant trudging through the snow with a saxophone case as big as myself and packing that into the hatchback too. Since some of my dad’s work was seasonal, February also brought with it a sense of scarcity. It was the time when we started to worry about our winter stores running out.

By the time I got to high school, February was less about the weather and more about the waiting. It was a month of auditions and applications for summer programs, of anxiously checking the mailbox for very important envelopes. And although the applications were different and the stakes felt higher, February remained that way for the rest of my long education—a worrying and waiting month, in which the fates review whatever you have offered up and confer about your next steps.

This February has been my very first post-school February. Having moved south and finally graduated out of the academic calendar, I had rather hoped that each of the months would take on a quieter character, that September would not be so amped up with anticipation and February would not be so filled with dread.

Despite whatever balmy visions I may have had about Atlanta, it’s still colder here in February than it usually is, and grown-up February still feels like a month of reckoning. It is a time for doing your taxes and for taking account of everything that has changed, for better or worse, since this time last year.

By now, you know how much I love beginnings. And sometimes I can deal with endings too, because they usually lead to new beginnings. In-betweens, however, are impossible to wrap my head around, and after watching twenty-six Februaries come and go, I am certain that February is nothing but an endless in-between.

There must be some important reason for February to exist—a rare flower, perhaps, that only blooms this time of year—and if you can think of one, I hope you’ll let me know. Otherwise, I will be eagerly ticking off its last few days in hopeful anticipation of spring.

A sustainable practice

The most effortless project I’ve completed was the writing of my senior thesis, a collection of poetry and translation relating to the book of Genesis. I suppose it’s no coincidence that I was fixating, even then, on beginnings. I spent some time in the summer doing a bit of research, and when I returned to school in the Fall, I had no idea what the actual writing process would look like over the course of the next six or seven months. I’d spent many sleepless nights wringing academic papers from my brain over the previous three years, and I knew I needed a more sustainable process if I was to make it to the finish line, sanity intact and thesis in hand.

In my first meeting with my advisor, he gave me a piece of advice that, at the time, I found funny. In retrospect, I think of it as earth-shattering. He told me to write first thing in the morning.

I must have asked what he really meant by “first thing,” because I remember his insistence: DO NOT brush your teeth, DO NOT eat breakfast, DO NOT get dressed, DO NOT do anything before you sit down to write. OK, you can have coffee. But everything else will get in your way. Just write, first thing.

This advice must have been personal, because, at the time, I didn’t drink coffee. He must have been sharing what worked in his own practice. In any case, I took his advice very seriously, and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

I arranged my course schedule so that I had a couple of mornings free during the week, and I did my other work at night. I took his coffee exception to mean that I could choose a couple of my own non-negotiables, as long as I could do them on autopilot.

So for a few mornings a week, before my anxiety or inhibitions could get the best of me—in other words, before I had a chance to get in my own way—I did what I needed to do to feel vaguely human, and then I wrote. Later on, I was editing or rewriting, but the process was the same.

I didn’t start by searching for inspiration or thinking particularly hard about what I needed to do. I just showed up at my table for a couple of hours, did what I knew how to do, and then, for the rest of the day, took care of the business of living. It was like starting the day with an offering to the muses. You can sleep in, I was telling them. I got this.

It reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity, in which she emphasizes the importance of simply showing up and doing the work. I also think of the recent New York Times article on working less and accomplishing more when I consider the relatively limited number of hours I spent working in comparison to the amount of material I needed to produce. It was all about the quality of those hours, not the quantity.

Since I’m no longer a student, it’s been a process of trial and error trying to reestablish this sort of practice in my differently arranged life. The peculiar blessing/curse of the student is that she tends to have a great deal of control over her schedule. But even in my post-student life, I am comforted by a sense that the process of setting a goal and actually accomplishing it depends very little on talent or magic or circumstance and very much on creating rituals and habits that support simply showing up and doing the work over the long haul.

Uncertainty: Leaning In

memory and loss

There are always questions. There are no definite answers. Simple and peaceful, yet anxiety-provoking thoughts that Cheri Lucas shares in her blog post on collective memory and joy.

As I look forward at the next few months and the end of my formal education, I imagine joy-filled moments with friends, explorations of a city I have yet to truly give my heart to, and dedication to newly emerging passions and people. And, then, graduation, followed by the extending void of the rest of my life. Various years ago, as college ended, I knew I would live abroad at some point; when I lived abroad I knew I would go to graduate school. And, that is where the plan ended. My ten year old routine of setting goals for the new year, slipped between my fingers in January, as I couldn’t envision the next step. The feeling: true uncertainty.

Uncertainty is one of those mixed emotion words. It inspires youth, risk-taking, adventure-seeking, chance, and jumping in head-first. Its less satisfying other side, provokes anxiety and worry, stalling forward momentum. However, there is no escaping either side, as my thoughtful friends gently remind me, almost everything in life is uncertain. Someone, clearly more comfortable with uncertainty than myself, stated “uncertainty touches the best of what is human in us.” I feel it grabbing at what is most human about me, but perhaps not always the best part.

So, I posed the question to my community, asking how they handle uncertainty?

The response echoes both love and frustration with uncertainty. People both thrive on it and run and hide from it. One friend distilled the moment of power found in uncertainty, drawing from it a sense of self situated in the present. The past is past and the future is not-yet-known. C’s words powerfully bring comfort into the daily experience;

“Life is always like this---every single moment is filled with some sense of uncertainty because we don't know what will happen one second from now. . . but the more you can practice being in the present moment and letting go of both of these things, the more well equipped you are to handle times of "uncertainty" because you are actually accustomed to living your life riding the constant wave of uncertainty. Perhaps more important is to just accept this uncertainty because that is the nature of things. . . Really, the only thing we ever have is this exact moment. Our own minds get in the way of attaching absolute truth to either the past or future . . . to live in the present moment is to acknowledge that the only thing we have in uncertainty. . . the only choice we have is to experience each moment---both joyous and sad---as it unfolds.”

J shared a quote inspiring a sense of inner peace;

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And, A, always practical;

“I tend to simply acknowledge that [the uncertainty], more often than not, I don't have answers and don't know what will happen, and attempt to just do what feels right at the moment.”

And, E, who strives for comfort with uncertainty:

“Uncertainty is the world of infinite possibility. Once you are certain, you are much more limited.”

Uncertainty inspires a certain leap-of-faith, of leaning into the unknown and taking a chance. Our faith in being happy, healing, and loved in the future depends on our comfort with taking this step. And, yet, as Cheri concludes in her post, “this shared uncertainty is comforting.” Perhaps, it is what ties us together as humans. Perhaps this why it comforts me to understand how my community loves and equally dislikes uncertainty.

In other places, lives, and selves abroad, constantly in transition, uncertainty colored every moment, experience, and relationship. Nights seemed endless, conversations deeply meaningful, and bonds stronger---in essence a sense of power in youthful flashes of self-discovery. Yet, the moments were at times root-less, and I felt the uncertainty needing a rest. I dreamed of graduate school as a place where I could hang uncertainty up in the closet for a few years and settle into community and a more predictable life. Yet, the fun-inspiring side of uncertainty slowly shifted as the future-focused anxiety seeped out of the closet.

Other friends wrote of the challenging side of uncertainty, the side that we are all aware of;

“. . . this is something I have been working on my whole life. There were and still are times when it makes me physically ill and totally unable to cope. . .I try to control the things I can. . .I always find it very comforting to organize my drawers.”

. . .

“I wrap myself into the fetal position until I find a new way of framing the situation so I can handle it.”

. . .

“I simply try to avoid it.” [end of email]

The emails from friends confirmed my suspicions that there is no right way to handle uncertainty, just the way that works for each individual. It can be scary, dark, and lonely.

Once you begin paying attention to uncertainty, it permeates everything, from over-heard conversations in coffee shops, to secrets friends share, and even to the conclusions of academic articles for class on how people handle uncertainty;

“People’s willingness to act depends on how knowledgeable they are/feel; however in most contexts individuals must act based on predictions.”

It seems obvious, of course that as humans we act based on predictions. What are the other options? The article seeks to explain types of actions people will take based on their knowledge of the outcome. In a world, where knowledge of the outcome is more of a desire than a reality, our decision-making is rooted in our prediction.

We are left with the leap-of-faith and creating positive predictions that allow us to take the risk---apply for the job, ask the girl out, plan that trip, make the move, and whatever uncertain plans you have. Leaning into uncertainty is a sense of freedom that makes us human and calls us to trust ourselves.

You should sell that

I’ve been reading Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” series since my senior year of college. Although I didn’t have a full-time job, something about the mystery of the “alternative” career path held my attention. I graduated in 2009 with the inaugural class of recession babies, and like many in my cohort, I went to grad school with the hope of staying out of the tanking job market for just a few more years. I wasn’t exactly sure where my studies would take me, or how I’d make a living after another round of coursework, but I was fascinated, albeit terrified, by the upheaval that seemed to be taking place in the hierarchy of professions. While many were devastated by layoffs and cutbacks, it seemed that every corner of the internet was highlighting another creative entrepreneur who had left her “safe” day job to make a living through her art.

As jobs that had once been considered stable became obsolete, creative professions and other more “risky” pursuits were being thrust into the spotlight. What once seemed risky came to be viewed as self-sufficient, as less traditional paths began to redefine success and professional freedom.

Part of why I’m obsessed with reading all of those quit-your-day-job stories and interviews with full-time bloggers and creative professionals, is not that I want to do what they do, necessarily, but rather that their trailblazing inspires a bit of confidence in my own choices as I find my way in a new professional landscape.

One of the downsides of the greater visibility of creative professions, however, is the “You should sell that” mentality, otherwise known as the death of the hobby. It’s the idea that every handmade gift or creative passion is the seed for a money-making venture. It’s the sense that your art is not legitimate if you’re not selling it, or that you’re not a real writer if you don’t make a living through your writing.

For my own part, I admire those who make a living through their art, as well as those who are creating beyond business hours. There are as many ways to practice creativity as there are creators, and I think it’s so important to honor them all. As I juggle multiple roles, all under the umbrella of words-on-paper and words-on-screen, I am especially inspired by those whose creative integrity infuses all of their work, whether it takes place in an office or a studio, whether for love, leisure, or livelihood.

Drinking Deep

breathless

I love fresh starts: springtime, birthdays, the turning of a new year. January always gives me a feeling of limitless possibility, as well as a craving for inward-turning, reflection, the chance to take stock of where I’ve been and where I want to go. I rang in the New Year this year with a grateful heart, filled to bursting with amazement at everything that has come into my life in the last twelve months: A new home, a true medical miracle, a tiny life kicking and growing inside me. This time last year, I could not have imagined the wealth of happinesses that 2012 would bring. Now, in retrospect, I am awed.

As the weeks of December ticked by, I found myself thinking about my hopes and dreams for the new year. I am a lover of goals and a maker of resolutions; I love having things to bring structure and order to my life, and ideals to strive for. Since high school, I’ve faithfully set resolutions and chosen themes to focus on for each new year, and many times I’ve seen my life change in profound ways as a result.

Still, as I pondered on 2013, I felt stumped. What could I resolve to do in a year that would bring so much change, so many unknowns? While this year is still young, my husband and I will be welcoming a newborn into our lives, adding a completely new element into our otherwise familiar existence. Could I really make resolutions when I had no idea what this year would bring?

Could I ask anything more of myself than simply to be there, living and breathing the new adventures that 2013 brings?

I just want this to be a year of drinking deep, I found myself thinking. I don’t want to miss a second; I don’t want to get to the end and regret the times I wasn’t present for the moments that counted.

And that, in the end, sums up my sole resolution for this new year:

Drink deep. 

Be there, wherever “there” may be.

Give myself a little grace when I inevitably fall short.

Let go of a few of those things on my to-do list.

Cherish these last weeks of pregnancy, and cherish the hectic newborn weeks to come afterward.

Let myself be filled with love for my new little daughter—this soul that stands on the cusp of this world—and let go of less important things.

I don’t know, here on the threshold of the coming year, what 2013 will bring. Like most years, I imagine it will carry its share of pain along with the joys, and I’m sure that keeping my temper and equilibrium after one too many nights spent soothing a newborn will be a challenge. There will probably be moments of exhaustion, of bleary-eyed apathy, of downright frustration.

But there will be so many moments of beauty, too.

And I don’t want to miss a single one.