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Coffee and Contemplation

softly lit kitchen a clear coffee mug, filled with coffee and cream, with "Mornings are for Coffee and Contemplation" printed on the outside of the mug.
softly lit kitchen a clear coffee mug, filled with coffee and cream, with  "Mornings are for Coffee and Contemplation" printed on the outside of the mug.

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.

Grey, square, pub height kitchen table on top of an oval jute rug

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.

Opposite view of kitchen table and rug that shows a bay window filled with plants.

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.

Miscellany

Picture of a Heron standing at the edge of a pond in the evening light. It is reflected perfectly in the still water of the pond.

All week I’ve been keeping my eyes open and listening extra hard, trying to figure out what I would write about. While your skepticism is completely warranted, I wasn’t kidding last week when I said “I intend to be more regular about posts this year.” We’ve certainly all been around this block enough times to know that I am not going to make any promises about what “regular” means, and you probably shouldn’t set up any expectations about it either. Last week’s post had been brewing for a while, as had a series of book reviews that you are likely to see here over the course of the next few months; yet, as I planned to dust off this little corner of my world, I knew I didn’t want this to be all reviews all the time. All of this is a long winded way of asking your patience with a post full of random thoughts struggling to find its purpose.

Picture of a Heron standing at the edge of a pond in the evening light. It is reflected perfectly in the still water of the pond.

Monday started pretty awesomely, when Moshe and I came across this friend during our evening walk. Just the night before, in my journal I’d predicted that this cold snap meant I wouldn’t see any herons for a few more weeks. Although I didn’t write it down, I was a little bummed, because it had been so long since I’d seen them. Finding this guy at our pond the very next day filled me with awe, especially when he stayed still as we walked along the pond in his direction.

I really hope my heron sightings are as common this year as they were last year. Last year, I often saw them flying across my path as I drove into work in the morning, or at home as Moshe and I did our morning walk. This year, working from home, I wonder how often I will get to see them. As the weather gets nicer and I want to get out of the neighborhood more often, I do know where I can go walking to improve my chances of seeing them often. This week, I’ve been reflecting on all the changes from the last year, but I have not been able to coalesce my experiences into anything yet. I’ve been trying to hard to anticipate the consequences and which changes I think will have a lasting effect. I need to sit with things for a while, before I try to name them.

Speaking of naming things, I’ve been thinking about identity again. Thinking about how our activities help define our identities and the labels we feel we can and cannot accept about ourselves. For example, one new identity I need to name and claim for myself this year is “pilgrim.” A good friend said she was going to do the Camino de Santiago this year. Although she longs to do it for real, walking the route from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, this year the Camino is virtual. For $60 you can purchase an app that logs your progress, provide pictures of what you would see on that day’s hike, and if you want can provide you with a community to check-in with on the journey. If enough people want to do it with you, you can even form your own team / community along the way. The proceeds from the app go to support the hostels along the route that have been struggling during Covid.

And, folks, you’ve now reached the limits of what I know I am doing, beyond walking about 480-some miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. My app tells me that while walking Moshe, and convincing myself to do a few extra miles on the treadmill, I’ve made 11% of my journey. I’ve not exactly been reverent about what I am doing, particularly since the friend who started all this nonsense has yet to start her own journey. So, I better take some time to figure out what being a pilgrim means to me before my estimated arrival in July.

My ever present identity crisis as a writer is also at play again this year. Because I don’t have a draft of my personal book yet, or any professional writing at any stage of the process, and I hadn’t written here in so long, I’ve been feeling like I shouldn’t call myself a writer any more. Hence, the intention to post here more regularly. Friday during my lunch break, as I sat catching up on my journaling, I happen to notice how much of this journal, started on 12/31/20, I’d worked through.

A journal standing on end and open about half way.  It is shot from above and you can see how the already written on pages fan out more freely than the remaining blank pages.

As I looked at just how far I’d written into this journal, I realized I was actually not as far as I normally would be. The year, my mood, and the way my morning habits have deteriorated have all meant that I’ve actually been journaling less than normal. I also started to think about my criteria for what counts as “writing.” I’m incredibly frustrated by my lack of progress on my personal book. Some of my struggle comes from the subject matter, and some of it comes from the way I’m trying to mix genre, and none of that is as problematic as my own imposter syndrome constantly telling me that I can’t write a book.

But, here’s the thing:

bookshelf full of journals
Yes, they are in chronological order. Did you really expect any less?

I have a book shelf full that proves otherwise. These are the 17 journals of various size that I’ve filled since January 2016, when I got serious about journaling. They each contain a minimum of 200 pages, many actually have more, and I have filled them all. Sure, the process and needs of writing the book I’m working on are different than those of journaling, but if I can fill these 17 journals, I can absolutely write the 40,000 words I need to create my book.

So, the other thing I did this week was make some changes to the house. I put together the plant stands I bought, so I could move the plant clan off my small desk. Moved my desk up stairs to the office, and created two different “working” spaces for myself. One side of the office is my “work from home” space, and on the other is my “writing” space. Hopefully, I’ve created a space that will allow me to channel the determination of my herons to make progress and finish the first draft of this personal project.

Don’t call it a book club!

Screenshot of a tweet that says "find yourself a friend as fun to talk about books with as BrandyLyn Brown" and shows four book covers: The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, The Witch Elm, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and The Searcher

Last year, for the first time ever, I kept a list of all the books I read. As I made the list I decided ‘read’ included listened to, but I only included new books I listened to, not those I re-listened to as I waited for my Audible credits. The number of “new” books I read and listened too was 62, if I remember correctly. No one needs to know what that number would have been if I counted the re-listens.

Yes, yes, I know there are other options than Audible, and they are likely cheaper. But, listen, Audible is a known quantity for me. I know what day I get my credits. I know which narrators I love, which narrators I can tolerate, and which narrators to avoid. And, they recently started giving members access to a lot of free content each month. Sure, sometimes what I find there is trash, but sometimes it is exactly the trash I need. Am I happy that Amazon bought out Audible a few years ago? No. But, I assuage my guilt about giving Jeff Bezos money in other ways.

In addition to reading A LOT last year — which really didn’t feel like reading that much, last year was the year of crazy birthday presents that did not come on my birthday. Yes, there are multiple stories to tell about this; no, I cannot say when you will get them all. If y’all know anything about this space, it’s that I write about what I want when I feel like it. (Though, I intend to be more regular about posts this year.)

I believe was toward the end of September when my friend, Northwoods Renaissance Woman, sent me a message asking what I would ask, if I could ask Tana French anything. NRW earns her moniker because she takes amazing photographs, has her own radio show, and is in all ways cooler than any of us. For her radio show, she frequently interviews authors with new books coming out, and in the last year has snagged some impressive interviews. Of course, the Tana French interview was the most impressive for me. I gave her my question, and then waited rather impatiently for the interview and French’s new book to come out. Once the interview was complete, NRW sent me a five minute clip of French answering my question! I listened immediately, at work so I couldn’t actually squeal like a teenage girl, but that was exactly my reaction, especially when French answered the question exactly as I would have!

As soon as her new book The Searcher came out, I used the audible credit I’d saved for this moment, and downloaded the book. I binge listened to it over that weekend as I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. NRW had told me she was really interested in hearing what I thought of the book, so when I was done I texted her and we set up a quick video chat to talk about the book.

A few weeks later NRW tweeted about a VE Schwab book I didn’t realized had already come out. I mentioned how excited I was to read it, and NWR told me to let her know when I finished it. Once again, when I’d finished we set up an impromptu video chat to talk about our reactions to the story. We also talked about how much we enjoyed getting together to talk about books we read in common.

Screenshot of a tweet that says "find yourself a friend as fun to talk about books with as BrandyLyn Brown" and shows four book covers: The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, The Witch Elm, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and The Searcher

One of the things we both said we loved about it is that we do not have a book club. There is no deadline, no standard meeting, no agenda for the type of book we are reading, no special questions. We pick a book to read and once we’re both done, set up a chat. It’s been great, and we’ve picked some solid books, as you can see in NRW’s recent tweet, after our discussion of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is an amazing book, particularly the first two-thirds. I was only a 1/4 of the way through when I texted NRW to say that this book made me feel like I was back in grad school. I know, I know that doesn’t always signify a good thing, but in this case it does. The book is such an interesting exploration of our identities and connections to one another. Even when it feels like the author takes a few too many side roads, you can see why the author is doing it. As I read I knew exactly which class and which professor I thought should teach this book. I even thought about emailing him to recommend it.

NRW and I are continuing our ‘not-a-book-club’ read along, and no you can’t join, because there is nothing to join. We are just two women, who get together to talk about books. Periodically, I’ll tell you when we find a gem like The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, or the other one we truly enjoyed The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Unexpected Joy

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by [Abdurraqib, Hanif] Book cover. Blue background, picture of wolf head and chest on a man's body wearing a red track suit with white strips down the shoulders and arms, and a thick gold chain around its neck.

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.”

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by [Abdurraqib, Hanif] Book cover. Blue background, picture of wolf head and chest on a man's body wearing a red track suit with white strips down the shoulders and arms, and a thick gold chain around its neck.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0788PTTKF/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

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 brings
‘Cause I’m a joyful girl
‘Cause the world owes me nothing
And we owe each other the world

Ani DiFranco ~ Joyful Girl

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.

Reading Series – Text Me

pastel colored pink red, yellow, blue glass wind chimes haning in front of tall green bushes and berries.
My porch view of the wind chimes I bought on a lovely day with The Banshee.

While I thought it would be the book I closed out 2018 with, Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendships by Kayleen Schaefer ended up being the first book I finished of 2019. The book’s primary message that our romantic relationships do not make up the only love story of our lives isn’t one I mind carrying into 2019. Tending to my friendships is often an intention I set and re-set for myself.

When I first started reading it, I made a list of all the women I wanted to send copies to for Christmas. Ultimately, though I am glad I didn’t follow through with that plan. At the end of this book I started with such enthusiasm, I was underwhelmed. My enthusiasm for the book stemmed from the way it seemed written for me.

Circumstances being what they are, I am a straight, single, professional, white woman whose primary form of emotional support comes from her friends, which is exactly what Shaefer describes in this book. Ouiser is my emergency contact in all things. Dr. Lawyer was my person during my most recent medical adventure. I rely on Amié Volée for help with Les Animaux and her family always makes sure I have a place to go for the holidays. I could go on and on about how Dr. Revolution, Dr. Phoenix, The Banshee, and others have been just as integral in my life and form my collection of people. At the beginning of the book it felt great to read someone recognizing the importance of these friendships. I wanted to send everyone copies to show them a reflection of our relationships.

The recognition of the importance womens’ friendships can play in our lives was refreshing, but I wish Shaefer had spend more time examining the ramifications. In this extended passage she quotes and summarized Briallen Hopper, who says she is:

“not ashamed to admit that my friends are my world. They are responsible for most of my everyday joy, fun, and will to live.” [Hopper] goes on to explain that, despite, this, it can be terrifying to make friendship your main support system. The relationship is “chronically underrated and legally nonexistent.”

I wanted more of discussion about how the women who value and create these friendships work to change these ideas. To be fair Schaefer does provide examples of women listing friends as emergency contacts or beneficiaries on insurance policies. As I read though, I was longing for a more sociological discussion of the consequences of this behavior.

As I mentioned above, Schaefer’s book primarily describes and discusses the friendships of straight, single, professional, white women, which is part of what made me enjoy this book. It is nice to feel seen and represented. While Schaefer attempts to address women of color and other differences by describing positive media portrayals of these friendships, her discussion of them remains shallow. This is a comment an early Amazon reviewer made and I do think she attempted to address it in the final work. However, because it is her own story and friendships serve to illustrate many of her points, the work never feels as inclusive as it attempts to be.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It provided me with an important mirror at just the right time in my life by reminding me that, while it may not look like a Hallmark movie or the relationship in a paranormal romance book, I do have an incredible love story in my life. My friendships are deep, abiding, and essential to my joy. In the end though, I also wanted a little more analysis and discussion.

Letting Go and Belonging to Myself

vibrant orange to purple sunset over a dry lake bed framed by trees

Explaining my absence is probably the first order of business.  As I mentioned before the end of spring semester is its own beast.  Like the end of any other term it is hectic and stressful, but there is some additional dark magic at work in academy during the month of April.  Every demand on your time, report to write, email to send, meeting to attend adds some kind of exponential weight and stress.  Additionally this year as I trudged through April, I suddenly felt the significance of everything that has happened to me in the last two years. In many ways the stress, my mood, and my general exhaustion mirrored the way I felt as I finished my dissertation and approached graduation.

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Poetry that speaks to me

Cloudy day view of a tree draped in blooming wisteria.

Though I have been trying to post at least once a week, and this week has been slightly eventful, I haven’t had time to parse exactly what I want to say about it. There are some movie reviews floating around my head, personal revelations y’all probably don’t need to hear, and even local news events, the only thing there doesn’t seem to be is coherent thought and time to write about it all.  This week instead of my ramblings, I will give you good writing … someone else’s.

Since December I have been on a poetry binge.  In the last few months I have read four poetry collections and any others I come across. Here is one of my recent favorites from Anne Boyer’s collection Garments Against Women.  

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On Distance, Longing, and Losing Myself

Part of a mural of a blue owl seen through a window

Part of a mural of a blue owl seen through a windowA couple of weeks ago, in the midst of a mission about visibility, I let myself get lost.

Attending the regional conference for my profession, I reconnected with friends, attended a few panels and meetings, and then promptly let myself be lured away from the crowds, choosing a quiet beer with a few friends over the conference reception. Since I hadn’t seen these particular friends in at least three – four years, and this was the longest amount of time we’d all spent in the same place, I reasoned that this still counted as visibility. The next day I attended sessions, continued to meet with friends, and generally let myself follow my permission slip to be in the moment and accept the adventures that came to me.

I forget, sometimes, how powerful the permission slip can be. These days there is nearly always one in my pocket when I have one, tucked into my bra when I don’t. A mix of the things I most need reminding of, the messages vary and either wouldn’t make sense to anyone else or might seem banal: belong to myself, own my authority, be in the moment, shine, be rooted. Often I forget about them entirely until one slips out of my pocket when I reach for my lipstick or flutters to the ground as I get ready for bed in the evening. Permissions slips were certainly not on my mind when my friend and I entered our hotel bar that evening, which probably explains why I was ready and a little surprised at the adventure which followed. Picking up a guy in the hotel bar is probably about as banal as you can get for a somewhat newly divorced woman, so I won’t bore you with all the details. The only important elements were that it was fun for me, it counts as visibility, and as you can expect from me I’ve analyzed it all for every possible meaning and lesson. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with all of those either.

Spring Break came this week, just in time. Reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost seemed like a good start for a week in which I wanted to step away from all the pressure and exhaustion of this first year.

Cloudy sky, trees in the fore ground a ridge in the distance

Solnit opens with a discussion of losing yourself, of the possibilities of an open door, and follows it up meditating on the blue of distance and longing. In the course of our evening, Magnum P.I.  (as Dr. Mags dubbed him)asked me what I wanted. Inspired by the near anonymity of it all and the knowledge that I would never see him again, I surprised myself and told him. “As an academic, I want someone or something that shuts my brain off.” No, I wasn’t very articulate, but I’d had a couple of glasses of wine and it was the best that I could do to describe it. The permission slips might tell me it is okay to be in the moment, to accept the adventures, but they don’t turn off the constant assessing and analyzing, or the anxieties that come with it.

As she often does, Solnit seems to articulate my feelings better than I can. What I tried to describe to Magnum was the way I want to stop the assessing, the analyzing and truly lose myself in a moment. Solnit describes it:

To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. In Bejamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.

Solnit and Benjamin are referring to losing yourself in your surroundings, whether city or country, hence the reference to geography. For me, right now, I am caught longing for the choice, for the ability to lose myself, that feels so far out of my grasp. I try. I walk around the lake to visit the heron. I pause on my bridge to feel the breeze, to watch the water ripple, to lose myself in that moment. I am stuck in the longing though, wanting to choose the surrender, but always too aware. Discussing longing and the blue of distant horizons, Solnit asks, “If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed?”

Crossing the distance the blue we longed to find recedes to the next horizon, the thing or feeling we long to possess shifts and changes when we acquire it. Perhaps losing myself is a choice I make or not, but maybe it isn’t a choice that can be made in the moment. Yes, as I described I analyzed every moment from my night at the bar. I assessed and learned my lessons, hopefully. My brain worked and worked for the whole drive home. As I described my deepest longing to a stranger, though, I didn’t recognize that in a way I’d already gotten there. I was wholly there, in that moment, in the uncertainty and mystery of getting to know someone, of not knowing where the night would take me. My longing for someone or something to shut my brain off remained the beautiful blue of the far horizon; maybe, it, like that blue, is even something that can never be possessed. That night though, I was fully present and my brain was off; maybe that is how I can own my longing, learn to recognize how it can be fulfilled by my immediate surroundings.

“It’s Your Storm Thlayli-rah”

Wooded trail that ends at a wooden bridge. Far in the distance is a covered portion of the bridge

My very first visit to my bridge.

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?

Lake. Distant shores full of autum trees

My view from the bridge that day.

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.  Snow covered wooden bridge, with covered center portion, far shore full of snow covered treesThink 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resistance and Defiance: On Hugging Strangers

Side by side pictures of Selena Kyle

This morning I sat down to do my last bit of reflection for the year.  The word I chose to guide me this year was Discovery. While I have been conscious throughout the year of the changes in my life, which have certainly led to discoveries, it has also been hard for me to capture and articulate exactly what I discovered this year. On the whole, the year has been full of blessings and happiness: new job, new home, returning to old friends and making new ones. Each of those blessings also feels like it was punctuated with a challenge mourning, leaving friends, unexpected health issues, the House of Plagues. The year gave and it took away, not just for me, but everyone.  ISide by side pictures of Selena Kyle can see it in the explosion of “Me at the beginning of 2017 and Me at the end of 2017” memes on twitter.  Many have made me laugh aloud, but this one is my favorite.  Thanks for @morninggloria for posting this.

Yes, Catwoman has some serious faults and is in some ways a mess, but she also represents Selena Kyle’s ownership of her power.  I sincerely hope that, even though this year put us through the wringer, we’ve come out of it recognizing the power that we can carry in to the new year.  Maybe that is just my hope for myself.

After reading through my journals, feeling the pride and power of all that I have made it through and laughing at my often silly mistakes, I ran to the grocery store. Walking into Aldi I texted Ouiser, “I’m going into Aldi with only a half formed list. This could be dangerous.” Sure enough, I did succumb to a couple of impulse purchase in the Aisle of Random Shit. The checkouts were a little backed up as always, and as I stood in line I played on my phone until I noticed it was time to start loading my stuff onto the belt. As I loaded, I noticed someone come up and hug the woman at the register.  A little later the same woman walked out, and I noticed her eyes were a little teary and red.  The old man ahead of me checked out, and I noticed the cashier subtly dab her eyes.

Given how much y’all know I get annoyed with random people talking to me, I have no idea what possessed me. Once my transaction was complete, I looked at this woman I have never met before, and said, “Do you need another hug?”

To my ever-lasting shock she said, “Yes.”

She stood up from her stool and we embraced. A full embrace in which we both fully engaged, my eyes teared, and I  know my voice was a little shaky when I quietly said, “Happy New Year.”

We barely looked at each other as I pushed my things away, loaded my bag, and left the store.  For me, I know that was self-preservation, because as soon as I got to the car, I teared up for real. I don’t know what the situation was, and I certainly hope my “Happy New Year” wasn’t grossly inappropriate. What I didn’t know at the time, but realized in the car whatever the situation, I needed that hug as much as she did.

There are far too many ways I can parse and analyze why I needed that hug, but the simplest is this: one of the greatest struggles of this year has been the way it has worked to disconnect me. Sure, some of those disconnections have been positive.  Reading through my journals was a wonderful window into how I have managed to disconnect from my ex-husband in very healthy ways. In other ways though, I’ve been re-located at work, and at home (twice). I fight constantly to find a balance between my need for the solitude to heal, and the new connections I need to make to really adapt to this place.  The biggest tension of the year is how grateful I am to all the friends who never left my side and supported me through all of this, and how wholly alone I have felt at times.

Offering to hug a stranger and the comfort I took from that connection, they were my final act of defiance and resistance to this year of disconnection and isolation.

I don’t know anymore than anyone else where this year will take me. That is okay. What I do know is that I have claimed it as another year of Visibility and Vulnerability, so it will be a challenge. The words I claim for my years guide me, and I can usually easily see the work I do with them. This year, as with many others, my words came to me early, and I have been preparing for the challenges I know they will present me. The challenges will be real, but I feel prepared to take on the visibility and vulnerability in all their forms. I haven’t prepared for connection, but after today I think it is going to make its way into everything in the coming year.

I probably won’t make hugging strangers an everyday practice, but it was everything for today. I sincerely hope that woman took as much from it as I did.