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Letting Go and Getting Back
I did a thing this week. I took my first ever vacation!
I didn’t go to a conference. I didn’t go on a job interview; and, although I went to Washington state, I didn’t visit family. As usual, when we approached Seattle, Mt. Rainier poked above the clouds to welcome me back.
For the first part of the trip, I met up with my high school friends and we stayed at a beautiful lodge for two nights. It was the first time in about 30 years that the five of us had been all in one place. We had a great time. It was so wonderful to see everyone and catch up.
Afterward, I went on to meet up with another old friend, and we went to Mt. St. Helens. I’ve never been and always wanted to go. It was gorgeous.
The whole trip was more than I expected and everything I needed. It brought me back to Washington, to a younger version of myself. It also marked a transition. I visited Washington and came home to Virginia.
Saying good bye to Mt. Rainier was a bit bittersweet this time. I’ll be back to visit family and for more vacations, but it won’t be “going home” in the way it used to be.
All the travel this week means I didn’t get a Hydrow work out in like I wanted to. That means I’m going to have to start my 72 week streak over. And … I am okay with that. I’m starting a Hydrow challenge tomorrow, so I will start a new streak with it. A new home, a new challenge, and a whole new horizon to explore.
Everything Is Good. Change Is Hard
Abundance flows through my life right now. Nothing else quite describes it accurately. Through planning and a lot of hard work, my own and others, my team at work was going supposed to get some contracted help and grow by one last October. Unexpected delays meant the contract help didn’t happen in October as planned. However, through unexpected circumstances and chance, my team still grew by one in November. The contract help finally arrived in June this year. So in the end, over the last 10 months, my team doubled in size from two to four!
At the beginning of the year, inspired by my child hood best friend’s 50th birthday in July, I reached out to our high school friend group and started planning a get together. She is the first one of us to turn 50. The rest of us face that milestone next year. As we planned the location and set the dates, I realized this trip would be my first real vacation. A trip where I was going to see friends, not family. A trip that was not to a conference or a job interview. A trip that didn’t involve eloping or renewing vows. That trip will happen in about a week, and three weeks after I get home, I’ll be going on my second vacation. The second vacation happened purely by chance and it is an amazing opportunity that I can’t pass up.
Doubling my team, doubling my vacations, is there anything else I could call this year, except abundant? You know that each year around my birthday I choose a word for the year, a word that guides my thinking and interpretations throughout the year. My word for this last year was “balance.” So, I find all this abundance amusing. Not exactly surprising, but amusing.
We often only think about change in the context of upheaval and negative events, but accepting and adapting to good things, to abundance brings change as well. A larger team requires more from me, particularly right now when half of them are going through their first fall semester. My old work habits and routines don’t quite fit. Taking two actual vacations in one year forces me to adjust the way I think of myself. To confront the areas I’ve let myself believe I’d healed without prodding too deeply. Yet, everything is good.
And, well, as the title says, change is hard. All this abundance creates change that pushes at my growth edges, and I am not in a very comfortable place right now. I am grateful; I am joyful; I am excited, but I am not comfortable. I started noticing it when I made the first batch of granola in two years. When it became stronger, I made a pot of meat sauce to freeze for the winter, and rearranged two of my kitchen cabinets. That is when I realized I’d fallen into my old stress-relief patterns and that the general unease I constantly felt was that old piece of armor, foreboding joy, calling to be put back on. The cooking, the cleaning, the vigilance – I was trying to prepare for the disaster that must surely be right around the corner. It surprised me. I thought I’d put down that bit of armor for good a while ago.
Y’all have been around here long enough to recognize the Brené Brown lingo when you see it! As she laid out in Daring Greatly, gratitude and staying in the moment counteract foreboding joy. All I can do is say “Yes.” and “Thank you.” then enjoy it all. So, as we approach my birthday, it is time for me to choose a new word to help me navigate the year. Given the way these good changes are pushing at me, I think “present” will be my word for the year. Reminding myself to stay present will help me stay grateful and accept the abundance bringing change to my life … even when change is hard.
“Writing is a perishable skill.”
Last year, about this time, when I was first given the opportunity to give writing lectures to 200 students at a time, I started from this point.
Actually, I took a moment to challenge the room. I described how I’d already met so many of them in them center, signed them up for classes, workshops, and individual appointments. And, how almost everyone of those encounters started with the student stating some version of “I suck at writing.” I paused for just a second, made eye contact with various people, and I asked, “When was the last time any of you got better at something by walking around talking about how terrible you are at it?”
Some audible groans, chuckles, and head shakes filled the room.
I went on to tell them that writing is a perishable skill. If they hadn’t been writing in the last ten years – and very few of them had, then of course they weren’t going to be very good at it right now. I even did my level best to make a sports analogy about how if you stopped playing a sport for 10 years, you couldn’t expect to start playing again at the same level.
Last week, I did the same bit, but I sharpened it a bit, simplified. I still started with “Writing is a perishable skill,” but then I simplified, “which means writing is a skill.” A skill you can practice and develop. My lectures are a part of a series designed to shepherd the students through their cumulative degree process. At this point in the year, I’m trying to give them as much motivation, hope, and faith in the process as I can. Hoping they will start working on their writing skills to prepare them for the drafting work that will come in January – March.
I love this time of year, and I hate this time of year. I love the new class/new year energy. I hate the way I feel like a fraud for telling a truth I know I do not practice. Although I’ve journaled faithfully nearly every day of the last year, I haven’t done any sort of what I would call “writing” in that time. Nothing that I intend to share with an audience.
Looking back, when I wrote that last post about energy levels, I didn’t realize how depleted I was. I have perhaps needed this break. My entire life has been about pushing through, moving forward, which has been tremendously helpful. And, writing, specifically blogging has been one of the ways I’ve always kept pushing, even when I could only manage one post a month, or year. Yet, this past year, I couldn’t keep it up in spite of an excellent plan and outline for a series. I just had no more energy for writing. I didn’t have much energy for anything, so I rested.
My word for this year was “balance.” Thinking back, I can see how all the rest and all the pampering of myself I have done this last year helped to create a balance in my life. It taught me a bit about how to be in my new life. Yes, I am still trying to figure that out. My new life is full of abundance in just about every way imaginable and balancing in this environment has been about learning to embrace the time and space that abundance allows with massages, facials, retreats, and rest.
I felt like a fraud last year as I spoke about writing and that feeling only compounded this year. So, here I am. Attempting to work a muscle that I’ve let atrophy for the past fifteen months. It’ll take time and it’ll be clunky, but it’s time to get back into writing shape. Rowing for the past 70 weeks has taught me a bit about perseverance, but clearly, I’m still not the best at motivating myself.
Coffee and Contemplation
It’s been a cold and icy weekend here. Fortunately, both days I’ve convinced Moshe to wait until the temperature got above 30 degrees before we went for a walk. I love those mornings, because they are so quiet and allow me indulge in my favorite ritual. Drinking a cup of coffee in bed, in the dark, while I read on my Kindle Paperwhite.
I have no idea what other Kindles are like. For me, the Paperwhite is perfect for reading in the dark.
You’d think that, with all this contemplating, I would have something significant to say. You’d be wrong about that. Fortunately, I had material things to distract me this week! Last week, I finally ordered my last big rug purchase for the house.
I went into this rug selection thinking that I’d get a repeat of my multi-colored rag rug from my Aberdeen, NC kitchen. Then I started looking and I realized a jute rug would look amazing on top of my hardwood floors. I think it is also a nice accent to the plant corner in the bay window.
The point here is that for the last year a lot of what I’ve been contemplating is how to make this house a home that reflects who I am now. There are still things I need to do before everything will be the way I envision it, but the biggest elements for the public parts of my home are put together.
Skirting around the edges of all this contemplation is the question of settling in. I am doing my absolute best to believe, and act as if, I have found my home. As if this job, this house, this area represent the place I am going to be for a very long time. It seems so easy for some people to do this. To build gardens, to landscape their yard, paint walls, hang art with the trust that they won’t have to pick up and move in a few months. What I have realized is that none of that is easy for me.
Given how nomadic my life has been since 2015, I guess it makes sense for me to find it difficult to settle in to this place. The morning contemplations are helping, but I don’t have an answer for how to fix it, how to settle in and be in this moment. Yes, I know time is really the only thing that will allow me to settle. I’ll do my best to enjoy my home as time works its magic.
The number of the day …
233 – the day of the year. (It’s a leap year, so there are 133 days left.)
158 – the number of days since I started teleworking and social distancing from people. (I visited three friends in Raleigh in July, and have been on a socially distanced walk with a friend.)
23 – the number of says I walked one extra mile on my “new to me” treadmill in June.
25 – the number of days in a row I have done yoga.
13 – the number of days until I turn 47.
1308 – the number of days the current president, a known sexual predator, has been in office.
Counting days. It is what I do now. Counting days, counting blessings, counting time, counting infections, counting deaths (174,178) until the numbers no longer register.
The counting started with my social distancing (SD#) that I keep in my journal. It was a way to build in reflection, to monitor change. I read enough fiction and non-fiction to have known from the beginning that this would be on-going, and that it would lead to change. I wanted a way to reflect about the way the social changes, changed me. Yeah, I know. It all sounds pretty bleak. It is and it isn’t. I am very well aware of the good in my life. One change, however, is that I do not use the good to hide from the difficult, challenging, and sometimes bleak, truth. As challenging as it is, I would also argue it is a good change.
How else has this time changed me? I don’t have that answer yet. I am here in the middle of it, counting days and trying to hold space. Trying to breathe in the tension between the blessings and joy in my life and the reality of the world around me.
Today I learned that 1448 days ago on September 2nd, 2016, as I celebrated my birthday, and unknown to me Judge Paul Benshoof used his signature to grant me a divorce, Chanel Miller had to watch Brock Turner be released from jail. I’ve been listening to Know My Name. It’s taken me a while, because I can only listen to so much at once. It’s taken me a while, because it is so powerful, moving, heartbreaking, and beautiful. It is out in paperback this week, and I encourage you to get it. I’m sad to know such a thing happened on my birthday; but, frankly, 2016 was my personal 2020, so I am also not surprised. I am angry as I listen that more has not changed. This year, on my birthday, I want only good to happen for Chanel Miller and all the survivors of sexual assault and sexual aggression in the world. We deserve it.
Sometime last fall, in the space between knowing my life would change and that change beginning, I started to read Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Ouiser’s recommendations never steer me wrong. You can trust them as well. I savored this collection of essays. Reading for a few days in a row before turning to another book as the mood struck me, but always returning to dip back into the space and sound of the writing. Abdurraqib writes about a wide variety of music, by weaving his story into the experience of listing or attending a concert. He uses those stories to reveal the contemporary moment in a way that made me pay closer attention to the music filling my world. Everyone should buy the book, even if you only read “A Night in Bruce Springsteen’s America.”
There are so many tools that are made for my hands.
But the tide smashes all my best laid plans to sand.Neko Case – Night Still Comes
In the final pages of the book, Abdurraqib elegizes 2016. A year that many of us individually, and as a nation, struggled to survive. To think about what happened in the country in 2016, I have to carefully untangle each event – each death, each killing, each mass shooting – from the death of my marriage. For me, 2016 is an endless coordination, getting my ex-husband to help, alerting his family, talking with doctors, finding someone to care for the animals as I constantly drove from Bemidji to Fargo and back each Saturday from January – March, bringing him home, returning him to another hospital, and starting the cycle over. Navigating 2016 took every tool at my disposal, and, at every turn, each plan I made smashed against the reality that my marriage was over.
Abdurraqib’s elegy for 2016 takes a different approach. Describing his response to the horrific Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Abdurraqib recounts how the sounds of children riding their bikes reminds him that it is in the small moments of joy that we regain our strength to return to the fight.
And, as I think about 2016, I remember the phone calls. Long talks with friends and family full of tears and laughter. I remember the unexpected care packages. I remember the happy hours spent eating fried foods and deepening new friendships. I remember learning to accept the help offered. And, I realize how each of these moments renewed my strength. The cleansing tears shed with friends. The laughter at a macabe joke, because … what else can you do? The warmth brought by a smile and an invitation to lunch. The joy – large and small – made it possible for me to make it through the night I feared for my safety, for me to pick up the pieces as each plan failed, for me to know without a doubt when it was time to let go.
I do it for the joy it bringsAni DiFranco ~ Joyful Girl
‘Cause I’m a joyful girl
‘Cause the world owes me nothing
And we owe each other the world
Abdurraqib concludes, “Joy, in this way, can be a weapon–that which carries us forward when we have been beaten back for days, or moths, or years.” And I remember how beaten down I felt in the years leading up to 2016. How alone I felt trudging from one crisis to the next just trying desperately to hold it together, to make sure I could provide for my family. Yes, there were moments of joy in those years, friendships made, but I remember how my smile rarely reached my eyes, and my guard never fully came down. In 2016, joy became my weapon. It carried me forward each time an event beat me down. Joy also became the weapon of my recovery. It flooded my life in the fall of 2016: the house full of friends at the birthday party I threw for myself, the renewal of old friendships, the long mornings and afternoons on the deck, the comfort of the dogs and cat as we settled into our new normal. The joy in those moments, big and small, salving my wounds, healing me, and carrying me forward.
My cup …
My status as a fan of Sandra Bullock movies shouldn’t surpise anyone at this point. For me, and I am pretty sure for many Gen X women, Bullock embodies the “woman facing hardship gets her happy ending” trope. Yes. She has done more, and better, but there is a magic, charm, and relatability to Bullock that make Practical Magic, Hope Floats, 28 Days, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, and even Miss Congeniality go to comfort movies for so many of us.
Sure, I may have watched my share of Hallmark movies, but when I really want to dream about love, I watch Practical Magic. Dreaming about Sally Owens conjuring a man she thought couldn’t exist and magic bringing him to her at just the point when she needed him, makes it feel possible that the the man I think doesn’t exist is out there and will show up at just the right time.
Practical Magic may be the movie I watch when I need something to make me believe in love again. Hope Floats is the movie I watch when I need to remind myself that the world will right itself, and that regardless of where I am from or what has happened to me, life will right itself. I will get through. Life is long; rise up, as my tattoo reminds me.
Birdie Calvert/Pruitt’s life spectacularly crashes, burns and she must return home to recover and rebuild herself. So much happens here it is a feel good movies for nearly every situation, as long as you like your inspiration to come while tears well in your eyes. For me, the hope in this movie, the message that floats above all the others isn’t about the patient and deep love waiting for Birdie when she is ready. The hope is in the way her relationship with her mother changes over time.
Ramona Calvert tries to teach her daughter is one of gratitude. At the beginning of the movie, worn down by her experiences, all Birdie can see is the way life has let her down. In contrast, Ramona embraces the joy in her life, and her most repeated line – and the lessson to Birdie – is that “Her cup runneth over,” meaning her life is full of blessings, even in hardship.
I have my moments, and I swear every time I face unpacking from a move, a part of me feels like Birdie Pruitt moving home. In the last six years, I’ve moved across the country, divorced, moved back, accepted a new job with a formidable learning curve, moved again, and find myself in a completely new region. In that time, I have also learned who I am, how to love myself, and how to accept what I deserve.
Each day, as I walk Moshe around the neighborhood, as I pass through the gates and drive into work watching the sunrise over the Potomac, my heart fills and all I can think about is how my cup runneth over. As much as I am grateful and love my life, I still long.
I don’t often talk about this, but I am still searching for a partner. Contemporary dating is a very unique and special kind of soul crushing endeavor. On one hand the options are seemingly endless (just keep swiping); yet, on the other, every swipe leaves you feeling more an more alone. For the last two years, the first item on in the Must Have portion of my Conditions list has been Love. Last year, amongst all the dating, I fell deeply in love with myself for the first time. I have no idea how this year will turn out yet. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can tell you I do not feel very hopeful about romantic love. Yet … my cup still runneth over.
In all honesty, my life is full of love. Girlfriends from high school to those I made in moving here, have called, sent me cards, or gifts. Each gesture reminds me of just how much love I already have in my life. These women see me. They know my best, worst, and just how far I have come. They teach me how to celebrate myself; and, by showing me their love, they teach me what to expect from someone who claims to love me.
I may not have found my Aidan Quinn or Harry Connick Jr. just yet; until I do, I will hold on to the way my girlfriends make me feel. Because, for each card here, there are at least 2 – 3 more who have show their love in other ways. I carry this with me always. My cup runneth over; and, my girlfriends set the bar for how to love me.
Long and winding …
Much like the summer of 2017, when my experience in the House of Plagues forced me to move twice within a month. The last six months of 2018 unexpectedly involved two moves.
In July, I left my beloved, neat, little bungalow with the red door and moved in with a colleague to be closer to work. A great idea at the time, it saved me some money and meant that I could walk to work.
Something else happened in July, though, something that would make this move short – lived and change the direction of … well, everything. On July 12th, I submitted an application for a job that sounded like someone had been listening to everything I said I wanted from my career. Had I not been moving a thousand miles an hour trying to work, pack, have a life, and put together this application, I might have thought a little harder about it all. I may even have talked myself out of applying, but I didn’t.
When, as I unpacked all my stuff into my room and closets in the new house, I learned I’d made it to the first round of interviews, I was amazed and so excited. I went to the website and downloaded one of the pictures from their carousel and made it the desktop background on my new laptop. The interview day came and went. A video interview from my office to theirs, it felt like it went well. A few of my answers felt unfocused, but I made them laugh a few times, so I hoped that would even things out.
As the weeks passed and I didn’t hear about the expected second round of interviews, I started to lose hope. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to work on that beautiful campus next to that river. It didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t heard about a second interview, because they’d decided to offer me the job based on the first interview! But, yes, dear readers, that is exactly what happened!
Okay. Seriously. From here on out, you cannot complain about the amount of exclamation points, because you cannot underestimate my level of shock, awe, and excitement. Yes, this job represents nearly everything I wanted in my career. It also represents a dramatic shift in location. It requires me to move to a major metropolitan area. Something I never thought I would do, but I am completely on board with and cannot wait to do! (Okay, the rent prices did give me pause, but life will definitely be worth it!)
In January, after setting “foundations” as my word for the year, a dear friend told me I needed to be “foundationally brave.” I took her advice to heart all year. “Foundationally Brave” post-it notes resided on my mirror, on the edge of my monitor at work. The reminder was always there as I considered what I wanted my life to be. Yet, in January, I could never have conceived of where this phrase would take me.
Once again, I downsized, shed about 1/4 of what I had left, or acquired, since the last move. I packed up all my stuff, and this time movers came to take it away. Tomorrow morning all the living things, and last little bits will head off on the five hour trip to our new home.
We will get to ring in the New Year, in our new space, and then wait for the rest of our stuff to get there. On Monday, January 6, 2020. My new life will really begin, when I report for my first day of work. In addition to adapting to this new environment and learning the ropes, I know there is at least one major project waiting for me; and, through all the changes, all the moving hassles, all the unknowns, the stress is mitigated by my excitement. I cannot wait to start this new life!
I’m not making any promises about how and when I will post around here, but I do intend to chronicle all these changes. Right now, I’ve kept things vague, just because I am not sure exactly how I want to talk about them yet. I will figure it out as I go, and I, honestly, cannot wait to take you all with me!
One of my biggest problems with academia is that breaks are so rarely breaks. Even for those who do not have administrative work to contend with, the break so sorely needed to recover from the previous semester is too often spent preparing for the upcoming semester. Winter break is particularly problematic in this way. Anytime stolen to relax and recover from the exhaustion of the semester is tainted by the knowledge that I should be prepping and planning for the new semester.
This year at the beginning of this break I was forced into a little down time by scheduling an outpatient surgery just after I turned in final grades. Dr. Lawyer came down the night before to take care of me on the day of surgery. We had a lovely evening talking and she reminded me of some advice I gave her this summer. She’d suffered heat stroke and was dealing with recovering from this brain injury. We visited shortly after her injury and as we walked around town and she apologized for her weakness and disorientation. She had felt up to walking around when we left her house, but now she felt weak and unsure of herself. Having dealt with my own brain injury, I told her to stop apologizing and to stop being so hard on herself for not recovering faster.
I explained a significant aspect of my own recovery that was hard to see, but helped me learn to be kind to myself about many aspects of my life post-stroke. The brain is very malleable. After an injury it accepts the new situation as normal and begins to chart its new pathways. I remember that, once I had been transferred to my rehab floor, I felt completely normal, like I should be fine. Yes. Some things took longer than normal and things had changed, but essentially I felt ready to get back to my old life. Coming home from the hospital I could look back and see, “Oh, right, I was not normal. I needed that time in the hospital to recover.” Again felt “back to normal.” I didn’t feel like I needed the two months off before the next semester; and I certainly felt ready to return to teaching in January. I made it through that semester, feeling fine and going about my business. Yet once I continued to actually recover, I could see that I hadn’t been fully back to normal.
I explained to Dr. Lawyer, “You are going to feel recovered. You are going to feel like you should be, or are, back to normal. But then, in a few months or a year, you are going to reach another point in recovery where you can look back and say, “Oh, I thought I was recovered, but I wasn’t.” This is important to hold onto, especially for those of us who tend to push too hard and take on too much, because it is so easy to start to berate ourselves for slowing down, to push ourselves too hard too fast to recover and be done with it. To move on. Though I couldn’t articulate it exactly in the moment, my point for Dr. Lawyer was that recovery from her brain injury would be ongoing.
When she reminded me of this conversation, I was a little surprised. I’d forgotten I told her about that. As I close out this year and look back at where I was this time last year, I’ve been reminded how it isn’t just physical recoveries that are incremental and ongoing. At this time last year, and I am pretty sure at various points over the last couple of years, I thought I was done. I’d recovered and moved on from my marriage. I was my new self. Yet, each time I look back, I realize I have recovered more. Realize that I should have been kinder to myself along the way, because I wasn’t done. I was still healing and needed to take it slow.
As I move into the new year, I know I will lose sight of this again. I will push myself and I will get frustrated when I feel like I am not making the progress I think I should. I haven’t settled on my conditions for the year, but my word for the upcoming year is foundation. As I work to establish and strengthen the base of my relationships, my finances, my health, my self, it is good to remember that this recovery is ongoing.
June is Busting Out All Over
If you are at all familiar with the musical Carousel, please forgive me for putting that song in your head. If you aren’t the linked video is a special peak into musicals circa 1956. Watch it, if you can. Also, take comfort in the fact that, due to a bit part in our high school production of said show, it is going to take me at least a week to get it out of my own brain. In my last entry, I inadvertently set forth a challenge that the rest of June would have to work to live up to the first day. Apparently, the challenge was accepted in all the best ways!
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