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April came in like a lion!
On March 31st I finished an extra assignment at work that thoroughly wore me out, so I was ready for a rest, but here we are and I swear the last couple of weeks have been packed with sweetness. Just the other day I looked out the sliding glass door at the trees across the way and realized the “greening” had happened. The pollen had been on the rise and everything was budding, but overnight the buds had started opening. I love that moment. It feels like the year and my spirits catch the wind and lift like a kite taking off.
The first weekend of the month I met a friend from Bemidji in DC. We spent an absolutely lovely couple of days walking around. We didn’t see all the sites, but enough of them. I know that my ability to make develop friendships wherever I am is a gift. Y’all know that all of my friendships are significant to me. Something special happened in Bemidji, though, the depth of my Bemidji friends feels remarkable. I was there for such a short time and at such a difficult time of my life it might have been easy not to connect with many people. Yet, I remained tied to that place and those people in such a special way.
Wednesday brought me so many blessings this week. An unexpected chat with a colleague I rarely see brought me the most amazing “new to me” music.
A lot of swearing and frustration with auto-correct led to a new friendship. The day didn’t let me check much off my actual “To-Do” list, but the other tasks I had to do brought me a new perspective and vision about what my work could be.
Thinking through the beginning of this month, the changing of the seasons, the interplay between my old and new worlds, my thoughts turning to thresholds, boundaries, and transitions hardly shocked me. The familiar cog clicked into place, and a quick Google search confirmed, we are solidly into the seven weeks of Omer. The way that since I learned about it around 2017, when I found this article from Rabbi Dayna Ruttenberg, this time always makes itself known to me is something I can’t quite parse. Perhaps that is because every year feels a little different. As my new life takes shape, I no longer feel as anxious or as untethered in the transition.
My life is much less neutral space and I have a bit more confidence about what this new life will look like. This year, though, Omer started on the evening of April 6th with the most beautiful mix of the old and new.
This week practicing the things that help me stay present, not creating expectations, not telling myself stories to interpret experiences, not taking things personally, shone a light on other lessons I’ve learned since my birthday. My new life is taking shape. It’s wondrous and full of new adventures big and small. Yet, even as I embrace those adventures, I can see the old patterns, habits, and armor I can’t quite put down. I am not sure how I feel about that. Being present here, admitting that while I may be less confused and anxious this is still the neutral space, because there are still parts of my old life I can’t put down, that’s hard to face. I’ve done so much work, and it seems like there is still so much to do.
It may be hard to face, but if my life has taught me anything it is that I can do hard things. In fact, I think I do hard things better than easy things. My face may not always show it, but at least I start this hard thing from a foundation of peace and joy.
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.
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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Look, too often the days that are often supposed to be significant end up being not. Yesterday though .. yesterday was the First of June. Maybe not a national holiday, maybe not even the official first day of summer, but it was the first of the month and, man, the rest of June will have some living up to do!
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A consistent theme throughout my post-divorce writing is the joy, revelation, and tension between the past and the present. The granola post probably captures the idea, and the joy of it, most clearly. The tension and the revelation are, I think, more diffuse. In my experience, they sneak up on me; the moments of the most joy and revelation in the present made more so by their inevitable contrast to the past. Moving through this past weekend, chronicling it with pictures that deliberately avoid faces, recovering from the bouts of laughter that left me breathless, I planned a joyful, celebratory post about the impromptu first party in my home, about old friendships, about bringing together old and new friends. Perhaps this post is still that, there is still joy and celebration, but all of that now exists in the contrast.
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My goal for my house has never been to have a particular look or style. Sure I have a weakness for mission style furniture and dark woods, but beyond that my tastes are fairly eclectic. Generally, it is good because randomly collecting hand me down pieces from friends and family is pretty much the only way I get furniture. The goal for my house has always been a feeling. From the first time to now, there isn’t a time when I have walked into Dr. Phoenix’s house without immediately feeling at peace and at home. In fact, it is her house and that feeling which started me thinking about welcome as much as it was the scholarly work in graduate school. It is the idea of welcome and the feeling I have in Dr. Phoenix’s home that I try to create as I pull together my new house. My scholarly work tells me that in order for me to create that sense of welcome for someone else I must first feel welcomed and at home in my own space. While it certainly isn’t all there yet, since I moved in back in August I have been trying to turn this house that I love into a home.
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