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There is a Big Thing due at work next week.
Naturally, this means I have barely started it, and am procrastinating with everything I can … even other work. Actually, that is not fair to me. The other work doesn’t stop and needs to get done, so it doesn’t really count as procrastinating.
The first plan included me working on the Big Thing over break. Well, last semester required a bit of recovery, and we all saw here that break had its ups and downs that required their own bit of energy.
The second plan included me getting the Big Thing done, or at least started, during the first week of classes. Well, the year that started out with such promise, quickly said, “No. Here’s your first major hurdle.” Oh, and by the way, that Todoist plan you have for what is going to get done this week, nope. Instead, you can have a minor work crisis to deal with.
At the end of last week, I mapped out a totally reasonable plan for getting the big thing done by the end of this week. I even put it in my Todoist! And, I still didn’t follow the plan. The good news is, I’m pretty sure I’ll still be okay, even with my Saturday in the ‘Boro trip. Today, I used Coffitivity and Pomodoro to get at least a good hour and a half of work done on the Big Thing. Of course, now I am rewarding myself with
more procrastination, I mean writing this blog post.
Did you catch that? The fact that the year isn’t even a month old yet, and already there are challenges. Yeah, I know I am not the only one. It is just that this week seems bent on twisting the knife from last week. I know, deep breaths, patience, I will get through it. Oh, and maybe I could start the post already, right?
One of my new friends at work goes out of town ALL THE TIME. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but 2-3 weekends a month is not, not at all. Given my propensity to revel in the fact that these days I often come home on Friday, put on yoga pants, and see how long I can make it without leaving the house. You can imagine we have a lot of jokes about it, about being afraid to stand still, about patience, about always chasing new things, about me hibernating, being a little afraid of new things. You get the idea. One of the things my friend likes to do is go camping and hiking, which is cool because I invariably get to see the awesome pictures, and hear about the adventure.
In fact, it was my friend’s beautiful pictures that finally encouraged me to put aside my fear of the ticks and snakes and figure out where the trail next to my house led. I’m really happy I did because now, as I think I have mentioned before, I try to walk my trails around the lake at least once a week, weather permitting. The result is a contrast that I find interesting, because whenever my friend sends me pictures of new hiking trips I usually end up sending back pictures from my walks around the lake. All this is interesting because I think it captures a little of our joking. My friend chasing new views, new locations; and me, re-visiting the same place observing the changes. There is probably a lesson there for both of us, but I’m not ready to think to0 hard about it.
Today, another snow storm hit this area. After heading down to work for a couple of hours, I just barely made it home before it really started coming down. As I paced the house, knowing I needed to sit down and work on the Big Thing, and really NOT wanting to do it. I looked out the window at this, amazing for this part of the world, snow fall. Big, wet, fluffy flakes were falling like something out of a movie. I realized I was still pretty bundled up for work, so I threw on hat, scarf, and a good coat, and took off for my trail. I couldn’t make it all the way around the lake because the trail was a little too wet, but what I saw was magical.
First the little tiny creek, which is the first little bridge I cross when entering my trail. The pictures don’t really capture the snow falling, but it was breath taking. I live in town, so even though my walks around the lake give me the feeling of being in the woods because there are no houses around, I can almost always here traffic noises. Today, though, because of the snow almost everyone was off the roads and the woods were intensely peaceful.
Then there was my bridge. Yes, I call it my bridge. Like I said, since I found it I try to walk around the lake at least once a week, and I almost always start out thinking about the walks as visits to the bridge. Think what you want, but y’all know the Anne of Green Gables is strong with me, and I am prone to the personification of inanimate things. There are benches in the covered portion of my bridge, and when it is nice enough out there, I even bring my journal to sit and write. I’m hopeless.
Today, I walked across my bridge, marring that pristine snow, and looking back to marvel at my footprints. On my way over, I stopped to look back towards the city park at one end of the lake, and watched the ducks and geese swimming around in the snow. On my way back, the snow had intensified, and I turned in the other direction. Facing into the snow, feeling it fall and catch in my eye-lashes and on my nose, I marveled at the wonder and peace of it all.
Yes, the year already has a bump in it. The hardest kind of bump for me, actually, but whatever drew me out for a walk in the snow knew what I needed to see. The familiar made strange. The way the seasons shift. I began walking my bridge in October, as you can see from the first view above. The trees were changing colors, but the paths were still rich with vegetation. I watched those leaves complete their changes and fall, revealing the beauty of the bamboo and other undergrowth that remained green long into December. You might not be able to see it in the first picture, but my bridge undulates. It is full of warps. The snow covers over them all, but they are still there.
On the way back, as I stood there, a line from Watership Down came to me. When Bigwig (Thlayli in the book’s version of Lapine) is trying to escape with does from Efrafa, there is a massive storm with thunder and lighting. Unsure of where his friends are, trying to lead a pack of unfamiliar rabbits, and knowing that pursuit is not far behind, he is at a loss when he senses a message “It’s your storm Thlayli-rah, use it.”
Outside of the peace I felt, the happiness at being outside, at getting to witness something not many people will see, I am not sure how to “use” this snow storm. Standing on my bridge, watching the snow fall, listening to the quiet, just breathing, I realized I needed that. I needed a minute away from the pressure of the bumps, of the Big Thing hanging over me and shadowing everything I do. I needed the reminder that things change, and that sometimes we can only see that when we visit the same place over time.
In general my approach to the challenges life throws my way is put my head down and just keep moving forward. “The only way out is through it” has been my guiding principle since before I could articulate it. The difficulty with this approach is that it requires some pretty hefty armour and deflection. A lot of my energy is used up putting off tears until later. Unfortunately, then when I get to “later” it is often difficult to let myself feel the feeling and get those tears out. I need a catalyst, at least this is my explanation for why, when I feel the most depressed and out of sorts, my first instinct is to find the music, movie, or book that is going to depress me the furthest.
Going through my first major break up I listed to the Jayhawks’, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, non-stop for a good two weeks. The Hours is my go to, “I need a good cry movie.” The ex-husband used to joke about hiding all the sharp objects whenever I suggest I needed to watch it. Even now, when I have gotten a lot better about practicing vulnerability and letting myself feel those feelings, when I am at my lowest it will typically show in the music I’m listening and the films I am watching.
Lori McKenna is the current sound track to my heartbreak. Pandora’s algorithm put her into my Neko Case station and there wasn’t a song from Bittertown or her earlier albums, that didn’t capture what it felt like to live through those last years of my marriage. These days I take it as a good sign that during my daily commute concerts in the car, I often find myself skipping the tracks I felt most deeply during those years, like “If You Ask,” “Swallows Me Whole,” or “If He Tried.” The strength, joy, tenderness, and struggle I have in this new life requires something different. Elvis Costello, Soundgarden, Neko Case, and the songs that Ouiser, who is the Queen of all mix-tapes, put on my divorce albums.
Film wise well, it is no secret that I have been binging on Hallmark Channel stuff this year. It started with “The Good Witch” and “When Calls the Heart” binges on Netflix while my cable was paused. When the cable turned back on, I descended into the cozy mystery movies, desperately wishing I could be Aurora Teagarden; and by the Christmas in July event, when I needed every escape I could find from the House of Plagues, I knew I had a problem. Not only was Hallmark practically the only channel I watched, I’d started to dissect and analyze the films. Good dialogue, but no chemistry between the leads. Chemistry between the leads, but nothing can make up for the ridiculousness of this plot. To this day I give myself a pat on the back for refusing to watch anything that involves someone secretly falling for royalty. (What? Even I have my standards!)
This holiday season the number of people watching Hallmark channel movies to escape the reality of this horrible, rotten, no good year is great enough that a number of think pieces have circulated, and SNL even did a great skit about the movies. (Yes, Canadian Handsome is a thing.) Last week, though, hanging out with friends and new acquaintances from my adopted neighborhood, I was surprised when someone admitted they also watch Hallmark movies, and justified it by saying, “Sometimes you need something to turn the day around.” Beers were involved in this particular hang out session, so who knows what exactly was said, but it was something to that effect. My surprise wasn’t actually that someone else at the table was also watching, and recording, Hallmark movies. We all need an escape every now and then. I have often characterized my watching of Hallmark movies as blatant escapism, fluff for a brain that just doesn’t want to think about things anymore, in that moment my surprise, however, was that I realized escapism wasn’t the only thing I wanted from these movies.
In what I am coming to realize happens more often than not when a large group of friends, some married some divorced, get together, someone inevitably asks, “Would you do it (fall in love / get married) again?” My fellow Hallmark aficionado replied quickly with, “Yes. Absolutely. I still believe in it.” I deflected my answer and shifted the conversation. At this point, just beginning year two and barely dipping my toes in the dating pool, I want to believe, but I am not sure I do. I want the romance I see in the Hallmark movies, and that is my escape, but it is also the thing that will undoes me. My current favorite Christmas movie is the Mistletoe Inn. There are a lot of stupid reasons it is my favorite, but one is a moment when after a brief snow ball fight, David Alpay and Alicia Witt end up in a snow bank. They look longingly at each other for a few seconds, and then he reaches over and pushes a lock of hair behind her ear. It is a mid-movie scene, which means the moment is broken and nothing happens. That gesture though, I physically long for it, and I want to believe it will happen again. Every few weeks, when driving home from work I find myself running my own fingers through my hair a little more than normal and singing along with a little more feeling to the pre-divorce songs, I know I need a romance fix and it is going to be a Hallmark movie night.
Those nights, though, they start out soothing, but most often end differently. The romance fix also bursts the bubble, forces me to confront the emotions I’ve been putting off. On at least one, I shut the tv off mid-movie, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. Single life is so glamorous. As I have already said, this season is hard. Part of what makes it hard is the reflection, the thinking back about what was, while also trying to imagine a future. Trying to remember the story my ex-husband and I prized, the one of fated meetings, and an elopement that seemed to come straight out of a Hallmark movie. Trying to believe that someday, hopefully not in a snowbank, someone will reach over and tuck my hair behind my ear, or let their hand keep moving and run their fingers all the way through it. This morning, as I tried to figure out my Hallmark movie phase beyond the escapism, beyond the way they hold out a glittery and idealized image of romance, I realized that in a way the Hallmark movies are my old pattern. When I am low, or craving something, find the thing that is going to make it worse. The glittery, ideal, storybook romance isn’t just aspirational it is reflective. It reflects what I thought I had, and makes me see what was never really there.
One of Lori McKenna songs that I cherished pre-divorce, “Don’t Tell Her,” illustrates this even better. In the song there is a line, “I can’t stand the thought of anyone knowing me the way you do.” Pre-divorce this line represented all the time I’d put into my marriage, all the history, and captured the way I couldn’t imagine finding that with anyone else. What I can see now, as this year forces me to reflect on everything, is that my ex-husband never knew me that way. The Hallmark movies, where people know the perfect gifts to give, the perfect things to say, and the perfect moments to reveal their feelings, they also make me confront the reality that what I thought was deep love and connection didn’t end up that way. That if it is true my ex-husband never really knew me the way I wanted him to, then it is also true that I never knew him the way he needed me to.
“Would I do it again?”
“Do I really still believe?”
I want to say, “Yes. Absolutely.” I just don’t know that I can, yet. Maybe after a few more Hallmark movies, I will.
Next to the coffee pot on my kitchen counter sits a 1.5 gallon clear glass jug filled nearly to the top with the homemade granola I toasted yesterday. Every time I walk into the kitchen it makes me happy. A stupid thing really, that this jar of toasted oats and nuts fills me with joy, but these days I take joy where I can get it. None of my divorced friends warned me about this, how this second holiday season would be so much worse than the first. Maybe the second year blues aren’t a thing for everyone, but it has been a nightmare for me. Last year, everything was new and perhaps I’d steeled myself for a malaise that never materialized. As a result, this year I was unprepared for the unpredictable emotional roller coaster of loss, nostalgia, and joy I’ve ridden since mid-November.
Last fall once I decided to ask for the divorce, the universe pretty much heaved a huge sigh of relief and lay every sign and portent that this was the right decision at my feet, with ribbons attached. There have been struggles along the way, but without hesitation I can say that I am happier and did the right thing. Coming home each day to the animals and this house I rent in a town that I love, it balances pressures of this life: living alone, being responsible for everything. Yet, even as I embrace and relish my independence a part of me longs for a partner to share some of the burden. Reconciling what I had with what I want, who I was with who I am feels impossible. The joy and the longing so often go hand in hand and come from such unexpected directions.
Since about 1999, I’ve wanted to make my own granola. What I remember from that summer in Homer, is asking my Alaskan friend how she made her granola. Her answer was straight forward enough that neither she, nor I even tried to write it down. My life since that summer has been interesting, but definitely not straight forward. Periodically, I’ve thought about making my own granola, but there was always a reason not to, and over the years I forgot what my friend told me. Yes, I know there is an internet for these things. Most of my recipes are found that way; however, whenever I looked up a granola recipe it was this PROCESS that involved a million steps and ridiculous ingredients, nothing like what had been described to me. A part of me also just wanted my friend’s recipe, one I equated with good times, laughter, and my Pacific Northwest home. People everywhere make their own granola, but having grown up in Washington it feels like a quintessentially North-westerner thing to do. Doing something that so vividly represented my Northwest roots probably fueled my desire to give granola making a try.
This fall when a new friend revealed that they were from Oregon AND that their mom still made and sent them granola, I pretty much begged for the recipe.
“No way, too soon! It’s a family recipe. We’re barely friends, yet.” I was told.
“Okay. How long do we have to be friends before I am family?” I asked.
“Well, in my life, generally after 5 – 10 years one or the other of us has been through something major. We’ve been there for each other and become like family; or, we weren’t there for each other and have grown apart.” I explained.
Later, I joked. “I need a time-line. How long before I get the granola recipe?” It was about then they gave me a small container of the granola, and a printed copy of the recipe for Christmas. That friend doesn’t realize what a gift this actually was. I know, because frankly, I didn’t know what a gift it was. I was just excited to have a granola recipe much more quickly than I expected. Yesterday, I did my grocery shopping picked up all the ingredients I needed, and the container to keep it in, came home and began the assembly process. In no time at all, I had two sheets of granola toasting in the oven, while I went to work on my other, greater than I realized, gift of the year.
Moving back to North Carolina from Minnesota is one of this year’s events filled with struggles and joy. Getting rid of nearly everything I owned counts as a joy, because I entered this new life relatively free of the old one. Trying to replace everything counts as a struggle because it takes time, and in that time you still need things, like a desk or a kitchen table. My friends, who always see me through the struggles, helped with this one as well. A dear friend in Raleigh loaned me a desk and kitchen table, and every time I visit sends me home with something else they planned to donate. After the incident with my Christmas sock, when they offered this tree and a couple of sets of lights, I wasn’t sure.
As a single woman, struggling to get through this season, the last thing I thought I should do was buy decorations and put up a tree. I accepted it though, and then I bought the decorations. With the smell of granola toasting in the background, I put together the tree, strung the lights, and hung the decorations. Yes, I almost cried several times. They weren’t the tears of loss or longing I expected, though. In those long, hard years while my marriage crumbled, I’d forgotten the simple joy of putting up a tree, of hanging memories on the branches. Christmas music playing in the back ground, I nearly cried because I realized I missed decorating the tree. In a moment antithetical to everything in my Gen X heart, like the heroine of a Hallmark movie, I didn’t just miss decorating the tree as something I used to do; I knew it had to be a part of who I was now.
Finding my joy, the big and small moments of it, has been the true blessing of my divorce. Remembering the ease with which I could smile, laugh, and love, I found myself again during this last year. I learned to understand what I truly crave and what I don’t need, to know my strength and to accept my weaknesses. Looking in the mirror each morning, I am amazed at how much I can love myself and, at the same time, be so curious about what I have yet to learn and who I will become. The mirror reflects back to me who I am now, and I am re-shaping the woman so deeply scarred by my marriage.
Christmas trees, even artificial ones, can only stay up so long, and a single woman can only eat so much granola. For now though, this first batch, is about something bigger. It is about the way the smell drifted through the house as I hung decorations. This recipe comes from home, or close enough, and it is a connection between who I was and who I am becoming. The full jar on the counter is a visual and visceral representation of my Pacific Northwest roots. It brings to mind cabins in the woods, shelves full of mason jars of granola, herbs, and preserves, and living in time with the tides while being embraced by the mountains. It reminds me that I was a girl who explored, who risked, and who could rely on herself, even if it was just to make her own breakfast.
Yes, this holiday season has been hard. It has ripped me bare and it isn’t even New Year’s yet. Perhaps, by the time you read this, I will have made it through. Divorce is hard. Making a new life is hard. The holidays are hard for as many reasons as there are individuals. I wish I had answers for myself, or for you, but there is no magic. I just keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, stacking up one morning after the next. Some days, though, some days I get to sit in the glow of light from a Christmas tree and see the jar of granola on my counter, and these things make me smile. Once, as I lamented moving back to North Carolina not Washington where I could be closer to family, my little sister said, “At least in North Carolina you will be close to your friends-family.” She was right. Throughout this year my North Carolina friends-family carried me listening to me, helping me move, carrying on epic text conversations, getting me out of the house, and talking me off all my ledges. Only time will tell if my new friend becomes a part of that friends-family, but the granola that brings my Washington home into my North Carolina life is here to stay.
During the hour and a half drive back to the house, I tried not to think about how good it felt to be among friends in GSO, or the tension seeping back into my shoulders at the thought of returning. Sitting at Ouiser’s awesome kitchen island eating my first hot, home cooked meal in longer than I dared to count, I laughed and I felt joy and comfort chatting with Mama Ouiser, her sisters and my friend. It was a glimpse into the life I expected to have upon my return to N.C. A life where I could invite friends to my home, cook for them, and where I could share my wonder at the new course my life is on. Later, I felt similarly as I sat at Starbucks chatting with Dr. Phoenix and Dr. Leaving Academia. There was a cloud in that conversation, however, we couldn’t seem to stop careening back to my housing problems.
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It feels like 2016 has been a year of goodbyes and endings: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, the Obama presidency, etc. Writing a eulogy for the year would seem appropriate. Frankly though, I do not have the heart or stomach for the retrospective. My heart and mind are thoroughly engaged in considering the year ahead.
As I have posted before, each year I choose a word or theme to guide me, 2016’s word was Stewardship. Many times this year it felt like a poorly chosen word, but in the end I think I can see it in my life. While I thought I would use this year to be a good steward of my finances, health, and relationships, the year drug me kicking and screaming into being a steward of myself. It taught me to sit with my emotions, name them, and truly feel them. It forced me to have the courage to listen to my gut, and sometimes the best stewardship is to let something go.
This morning I sat down to brainstorm my theme and word for 2017. You can see my brainstorming starts at a particular place, independence. The word isn’t just a goal I have or a place I want to be. Independence is my state of being. It is where I “Stewarded” myself in 2016.
As I mentioned before, much of what happened this year is, and is not, my story to tell. The consequence of those events though, that is definitely mine to tell, painfully mine to tell. In 2016, I divorced the DH. As with the whole of our marriage, it was fated – full of signs and wonders, quick, and complicated. I’m pretty sure that describes all marriages, but the DH and I have always prided ourselves on our story. The story of our marriage ended this year. The story of my independence began.
This year, 2017, this will be my year of discovery. Discovering who I am, where I want to go, and who I will be. More than vulnerability, more than visibility, more than any of the other words I’ve chosen to guide me over the years, discovery challenges me and frightens me. There is no way to know what lies on the other side of discovery, no way to prepare for it, and that is a vulnerable place for me to be.
I won’t make any promises about how often I will post, or what the content of those posts will be. What I will say is this: Discovery requires exploration, and exploration requires documentation, so maybe there is hope for rejuvenating this space after all.
“I wonder if it will be –can be– any more beautiful than this, ” murmured Anne, looking around her with the loving enraptured eyes of those to whom “home” must always be the loveliest spot in the world, no matter what fairer lands may lie under alien stars. ~LM Montgomery Anne of the Island
After a new friend tweeted about her Anne of Green Gables book club, I promptly bullied my way in … begged and pleaded might be more like it. Turns out I am joining the group for their discussion of the third book Anne of the Island. In this book Anne goes off to college to earn her B.A., and the themes of home and place figure prominently throughout. Given everything going on in my brain and life right now, me stumbling into this book club counts as inordinately perfect timing.
Yeah, I know who could think I’d have anything more to say about home and place, but are you really surprised? C’mon, we’re rapidly coming up to the one year anniversary of my latest cross-country move. The year’s been eventful, and a girl needs to do some processing.
**Note, I know I’ve been all sorts of vague about events this year. The thing is events are still unfolding, and much of what is happening isn’t necessarily mine to tell.
This post starts with a quotation about how some people have a home, a place to them that is always the loveliest spot in the world. I’ve written before about how much I envy people who have this clear connection and relationship to a place they call home. It is not something I typically carry with me. The most difficult question I typically get from people is “Where are you from?”
You’d think that question would have gotten a little easier this year. Yet, each time someone asked me I struggled. I was born here, but I moved when I was young, then I came back for undergrad, but I moved to go to grad school and was there for thirteen years, and now I’m back. Yeah, no one has time for all that. When I admit I have all these ties and connections to Minnesota, people just assume that I have moved home, that I have come back to that one place, the place I’m tied to. I mean, who wouldn’t want to come back here, right?
In some ways, I think they are right. All year, I’ve felt grounded in a way that I don’t typically. It’s not family, because I haven’t see that much more of them than I might have otherwise. It’s not the town, because I truly have never lived here before. There is, though, a familiarity here. My transition to this region, this town, this university it has been smooth. Smoother than many people could expect I’m sure. As my last post highlighted, I’ve made friends here. I’ve created a home for myself. For the most part, I even enjoy my work here.
Recently, I’ve had to do a lot of driving down to Minneapolis. When I am there, I miss Bemidji. I miss my house. It’s quiet, the deck, the yard. I miss the ease of getting around town, and the view of the lake I get every time I go anywhere. On the drive home there is also always this distinct moment when I feel like I have put the bulk of the journey behind me and crossed into home territory. For whatever reason, that moment comes when I crest the hill and drive down into Walker, MN. It’s like at that point my body says. “Yes, here we are in Northern Minnesota.” But, is this my home? I am still not sure.
Going to see my family in May heightened the tension for me. For the first time, I went back to the Harbor and felt like I didn’t want to leave. I could imagine myself back there. Yes, it was primarily the people. Being closer to my immediate family and old friends would be nice just now, but it was as always, the landscape too. There is something about the mix of mountains and ocean that is unique. Even on the Harbor where you are in between, without a direct view of either, the land envelops you. Often the only way I can describe it is feeling embraced. Since then, I’ve often daydreamed about what it would be like to move “home.” Even in my daydreams though, I’m not truly convinced the Harbor is my home.
As momentous as this past year has been, the upcoming academic year will be just as eventful. This is the final year of my two year contract and the university and I both have some decisions to make. Right now, I feel a lot like Anne when asked about life after college.
“And after those four years –what?”
” Oh, there’s another bend in the road at their end,” answered Anne lightly, “I’ve no idea what may be around it — I don’t want to have. It’s nicer not to know.” ~LM Montgomery Anne of the Island
This morning on the deck, as I started to re-read Anne of the Island, all of this kept swimming around my head. Where is my home? What is next? As I thought about all the places I’d been: where I might want to return, where I definitely would not, and what new places I’d like to try, I realized something.
Minnesota has always been a sort of chrysalis for me. A place where I spend time, where I am tested, grow and develop, but it is also a place I move out from. Certainly the choice to leave here as a child was not mine, but the coming back here for college, leaving for graduate school, and coming back here now, those are mine. No, this is not my declaration that I will leave here. It makes sense to me though, that in this time of change, in the midst of a year that feels like a crucible (sorry for the mixed metaphor), I feel both rooted here and restless. The trick in the next year will be to figure out how this year has changed me and how long I need/want to stay here.
It’s been nearly a full year now, and, yes, there are still boxes in the attic that need to be unpacked. Did I mention this year’s been a little rough? Sorting through old papers, deciding what to keep, and where to put everything hasn’t been high on my list. Also, it is all in the attic. As lovely as that room is right now, it was not fun in winter, so I just didn’t go up there.
Today, I started that project. I need about three more bookselves, but I should be able get some order established up there. Right now, though, it’s an even bigger mess than it was – in that, worse before it gets better, phase. The former class evaluations, course syllabi, and conference programs got boring, so I let myself get lost in some boxes of stuff.
Not only did I find the sappy stuff from our dating months, I found a shoe box full of cards and letters from before I got married. It was fun to look through those old postcards and letters. To see the nice good luck cards, from the places I worked before going back to school, moving from Mankato, or moving into teaching in Greensboro. Apparently, I had a quite extensive correspondence with my old dorm RA. Not the floor person, but the girl who was in charge of our whole wing. We’d not spent a lot of time together on campus, at least not that I remember, but we maintained a good long relationship through writing. At least, I hope I was as good a correspondent as she was!
As I mentioned it’s been a rough year, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. The highlight of this year, however, has been maintaining and creating friendships. My postcard exchange with Ouiser has been epic. The phone calls, random presents, , chats and all the other ways friends stayed in touch helped me through my truly big move in thirteen years. Playing trivia, weekly lunches, twitter conversations, and all the other ways I’ve managed to make new friends here helped me through my first real winter in just as long.
Reading through my box of long lost post cards, letters, and theatre memorabilia, it was comforting to be reminded of how blessed I have been to make good friends in all my travels. There was at least one letter, postcard, or note from a friend during each major change in my life. Though I’m not in contact with everyone I found in my box of treasures, I’m proud of how many of those people I remain acquainted with, and especially proud of how many of those people are still important parts of my life.
I even brought a few of my old postcards down to include on my new postcard board. Though Ouiser still dominates this board, I’m happy to include some of my old jems from the Advice Monkey as well. Whatever the rest of this year brings me, I am glad to have had this moment to remember that whatever else, my life has been rich in friendship.
As someone who routinely exhorts others to try daily writing, and who knows from experience how helpful it can be, lately I’ve been woefully bad at following my own advice. Since finishing my dissertation, I have periodically tried to get back into daily writing practice. Participating in a writing retreat, joining a writing accountability group, making spreadsheets to track my progress, pursuing different types of writing, I have tried everything.
Out of all that effort, I have an article that still needs about 5 – 10 hours of revision before sending it out, the sporadic blog posts you see, the first few scenes of two novels, and the first drafts of two poems. Starting things seems to be the easy part for me, the continued effort – or actually finishing – that is not my strong suit. Are there external factors in some of this, definitely: last year within the span of three months I took a new job, packed up the house, and moved to a new region of the country; now after spending the last four months adapting / learning my new job, I am being pressured to start taking on more and more; and, well, there are other significant challenges not for blog consumption. The result, I am fairly certain that anyone who looked at this list, or listened to me talk about things for a while, would tell me my inability to get back into daily writing practice is to be expected, and that I need to cut myself some slack here. In fact, I’m fairly certain I have heard those exact words from nearly all my close friends.
Surely within the archives of this site there is one, if not six, versions of this post, so what is different this time? This time, I am accepting it. Instead of supplying a lot of “yeah, but…” excuses and responses, and continuing to beat myself up about not writing while forcing myself to try to fight through it, I am taking the braver (for me) route of practicing a little self-care, of letting go of the pressure to always write. This morning I realized that I am able to take this position, to be a little kinder to myself, because what I have been unconsciously developing is a daily reading habit.
For a girl who’s been reading voraciously as long as she can remember, it might seem strange that I am just now developing a daily reading habit, but I am. I have always read voraciously, but I have also always been a binge reader. I love to read in one, or two if necessary, long sessions where I can truly immerse myself in whatever world I am exploring. Though they were often spread out over a longer period of time, even my audio book listens counted as small binges, given the length of my commutes. Now that I no longer have that commute, my book listening has slowed considerably. I put my Audible account on hold in December, and have seriously considered cancelling it because I am just not listening as often as before.
This year, though, this year.
I know we are only a month in, but this year has already kicked my ass and taken my name. I’ve been in full on crisis mode for about three weeks already; and since that is not ending any time soon, I’ve done what I always do to cope … turned to books. I have just had to learn a new way to do that because there is no time for long escapes into other worlds, or even just good advice. Every day for the last week or so, I’ve programmed my coffee pot, set my alarm, and gone to bed early. I have done all those things, so that when the coffee starts brewing, my white noise app shuts off, and the alarm starts to play “Rise Up,” I can snooze for 15 minutes, then get up, fix myself a cup of coffee, get back in bed and read for 30 – 45 minutes. It’s not working miracles, but I do think it’s contributing to my ability to manage my current situation. In fact, though it has always been very good, Monday at the Dr.’s office my blood pressure was the lowest it has ever been.
Also this morning, despite everything I’m reading, or perhaps because of it, when I found myself in the middle of some bad self-talk and mounting shame about how I should be using this time to write. I was able to stop those thoughts, and realize that for now a daily reading habit is enough.
I didn’t set out for this to be a year of saying yes to everything that scares me, but I have intentionally, unintentionally, and somewhat haphazardly taken some big and small risks this year. Since I spent last week, as Dr. Brene Brown describes it using the Franklin Delano Roosevelt quotation, face down in the arena, I’ve spent this week trying to take stock, figure out what got me there, and how to get back up. Fortunately for me, the universe sent along a few reminders.
Though I find the “just get through it” mentality generally serves me well. One of the downfalls of this mentality is that sometimes I get so busy “getting through it” that the things I need to process, and actually deal with, tend to stack up.
As someone surrounded by friends and family who face daunting struggles with depression, I consider myself blessed that my own bouts of depression tend to be short-lived, and in some ways purposeful. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure it out, but generally if I am feeling depressed it is a sign that in “just getting through” stuff, I’ve also let things pile up. So, last week when I reached a particularly low point, I knew that part of the process of getting back up would have to be taking stock of things and figuring out how to deal with them.
Please, don’t run screaming, this is not going to be a post where I give you a three step process for solving all my (and/or your) problems. This post is more about identifying the things, taking risks, and their rewards. If you want to run screaming from that, well, now is the time; and, it won’t hurt my feelings if you do.
For me, getting through things often means narrowing my focus and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. This a great strategy for the day to day, for things like being fully back in the class room for the first time in five years, or for immersing myself in a sub-field I’ve only dabbled in before, or for re-adapting to life in a smaller, more isolated community. The problem with this narrow focus is it means that when I do stumble I lack the perspective to help me recover. Since I have always managed the day to day stuff fairly successfully, it is natural for me to be hard on myself when I start not coping well with the day to day.
I did all of that to take a job I’d applied for in April, and interviewed at in May. A job that carries a similar title and some similar day to day work, but that in reality has vastly different expectations. Basically in about 8 months I changed nearly everything about my day to day life. Yet, my day to day, get through it, coping strategy doesn’t really account for that. Basically, it tells me, “You did this to yourself. Now, suck it up and get going.”
As my last post revealed, it is hard enough for me to admit I miss the people and community I had, I haven’t even started to think about how I miss my standing desk and dual monitor set up, the window in my office, the restaurants I could walk to for lunch. All of those things I know are affecting me physically and emotionally, yet I’m not taking the time to consider them. Really, I am actively berating myself for not dealing better. (Yeah, I know … that is some logic there.) As silly as it sounds, this week I’ve been thinking about / accepting that this move, this new job, this new life they all constitute a very big risk I have taken. Funny, it wasn’t until last week when I felt completely flat on my face that I realized I was even in the arena in a very big way.
Actually, it was a combination of feeling completely defeated, and taking smaller risks that helped me to better accept the big risk I have taken, and to be kinder to myself in this struggle. Last week, I sent a draft of an article to a colleague at another institution. It doesn’t sound like much of a risk, but this is the first time I’ve shared my work outside of my friends and graduate school co-hort. (No, the dissertation does not count, and why is a different discussion.) This colleague graduated from a more prestigious university than I did. She is insanely smart, and I feel like I work to keep up with her in conversation. Though I knew it would ultimately help me, I worried about sharing this not quite first draft with her. It felt like showing my warts. I was worried she would tear my work apart, and that she would be right in doing so. Of course, I didn’t share any of this with her, so today when I received her feedback it felt like a gift. She praised and loved parts of my article, and she gave me wonderful feedback and tips on the other parts … the parts I knew needed more attention. My reward for this risk isn’t the praise an positive feedback she gave; my reward is that she pushed in all the places I knew I needed pushing. She confirmed my own instincts about my writing. Right now, for me, this is a win, and a small risk that I hope will lead to bigger ones.
This is getting long, I know, but just one more thing. The other risk I took this week is having my faculty mentor, who is from the professional education department, observe my class. Being back in the classroom this year has left me all kinds of vulnerable, but this last couple of weeks I have really been feeling it. Listening to other people in the department talk about their composition classes, it’s become clear to me that I have a very different pedagogy, and structure my class quite differently. The most obvious way I have done that is by making my class read, think, and talk about race. (I did mention that I moved North of North, right?) Since they are all working on their own topics and projects, we needed an example to talk about in class, so I structured a series of readings focused on race in America, which started with whiteness and ended with Rachel Dolezal.
Whenever I talked about the readings and discussions our class was participating in, my colleagues would talk about how brave I was, or seem incredulous that I would bring these issues up with my class. There were conversations that were a struggle, but, for me, it all paid off as I listened to this class talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates The Case for Reparations. (Yes, they read it, and yes they owned the discussion.) The reactions of my colleagues began to have an effect though. I worried, was I forcing my view on them. I’d done my best in class not to impose my opinions, but, given my authority in the classroom, even bringing up this issue could be considered imposing it on the students. I also worried if I’d gotten too far into the readings / discussion, and neglected the writing. Last week, in a meeting before class one of the students thanked me for making them think about and talk about race. I won’t lie, that made me feel good.
Last night, when I was talking with my mentor about the class she shared two things. First, the class said they enjoyed that I was making them talk about hard issues. (The student who’d thanked me last week was absent, so this was coming spontaneously from other students in the class.) Second, the feed back she and the class gave me about where class / my teaching could improve, confirmed what I’d already been thinking. Again, that the class didn’t hate me for making them wrestle with a difficult issue, was important good feedback. More important for me though, was the confirmation that what I suspected needed work was also what they felt needed work. It was another confirmation that the risk was worth it, and of my own instincts.
Yes, I took these small risks, and in doing so I learned I am not the perfect writer or the perfect teacher. I also learned, however, to trust my own instincts about how to become better at both. I can also hope that the positive results of these smaller risks are good omens for the much bigger risk I have taken with this move. I am definitely not comfortable right now, so I guess the least I can do is be courageous.