Omnipresence

I was chatting with my dad a while ago about this blog when he mentioned that I hadn’t said anything about him or my mom in a while.  It makes sense, he said, because they aren’t really in my life anymore.  He said he understood, that it was logical for a person of my age and place in life.  It was just an observation.

And I thought about it.  It’s true, I don’t write explicitly about my parents very often.  And it’s true that as I’ve grown, particularly over the past few years since beginning college and leaving home, our relationships have changed as they need to parent me less and I cross that threshold into Seeing Parents As Actual Humans.

But I don’t think it’s true that they aren’t in my life anymore.

I don’t write about my parents precisely because their presence in my life is so ubiquitous that it would be like writing about air.  I don’t write about them because their influence, their values and ways of thinking and ways of challenging myself are so deeply ingrained that it seems obvious to me that those influences are there, unnecessary to state.  Anyone who meets me quickly learns how much I admire my parents, how both of them showed me how to be kind and work hard and stand up for myself and hold onto integrity.  Anyone who then watches me interact with either my mom or my dad then usually says to me afterwards, “Wow, you really are that close.”

I don’t call as much as I should.  I don’t always answer text messages.  (I’m trying to work on those things.)  I have even moved time zones, all the way to the other side of the country.  So, no, they aren’t as personally and directly involved in my life as they were when they were pulling me in a wagon around the state fair or picking me up from rehearsal in high school.  But, as much as I would love for them to still be nearby every single day, I do have the way they raised me, and so much of my vocabulary, my humor, my decision making comes from them that I forget that it needs to be stated.

So, Dad, I love you, but you were wrong.  I don’t write about you and Mom because you are still so deeply a part of my life that it seems obvious to me that you are there between the lines of everything I write.

But I’ll try to say it more.

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What I Learned From My August Self-Challenge

It was Tuesday, August 1st, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with Bird, staring at my computer.  I’d meant to post something on Monday, but I forgot, and now the private goal I’d had of posting something every day that week was gone.  But another calendar segment had just begun.

I looked up at Bird.  “I’m going to try to post something every weekday in August.”

“Okay then.  Let me know how that goes.”

I didn’t make it the whole month without interruption.  Moving across the country and then being housebound once I got there (we don’t have my car there and I can’t drive stick, so the Engineer’s truck is out) made for less-than-exciting anecdotes.  But for a good 3 1/2 weeks, I managed to post something Monday through Friday.  So if anyone noticed that for the first half of August I was writing something every weekday, I thank you for your attention.

Here’s what I learned about myself (and blogging) in this little challenge I told no one about:

  • I can’t not be a perfectionist, but I can reassign the Perfection Value to something else.  Rather than trying to write amazingly polished pieces or having a word count goal, consistency was the “perfect” thing I strove for.  Focusing on one aspect of the blogging process helped me give myself more leeway with the other parts.
  • I need to use the good ideas I have.  I’ve had topics sit in my drafts for months before I finally wrote them, simply because I thought I had to save it for the right occasion or it needed more tweaking.  In August I took the time to actually pursue those topic ideas and publish them because I needed to write something that day.  And it felt good to use those ideas.
  • Because not all the ideas I have are good ones.  I didn’t like all of the posts I made this month, but they were part of the Write Something/Anything process.  There’s a part in Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic where she talks about respecting every idea that comes forward, even the really stupid ones.  She says that once your creativity sees how you treat those mediocre ideas, it will start sending out the really good ones.  Other writing teachers have stressed something similar over the years, but that’s the image that stuck with me: the Not So Great Ideas are the brazen ones that come forward immediately, while the Great Ideas are shy and need encouragement from seeing how I receive the others.  And once I started using those mediocre posts (again, because I just needed to write something that day), better writing came through in the following days.
  • Life gets in the way, but that doesn’t bother me unless I really wanted to write that post.  Even after getting to North Carolina, when we had just set up the internet, I managed to keep posting for a week and a half, even though we had no furniture and there were boxes everywhere and if I had forgotten to post it would have been from busyness and exhaustion, not laziness.  I really wanted to keep writing, so I did.  And when I didn’t have any ideas that gave me that energy, and I finally stopped posting every weekday, I wasn’t kicking myself for it, because I wasn’t missing an opportunity to say something amazing.  Life just happened.
  • People do actually read my blog.  I keep forgetting that when I show people something I posted, they might start reading regularly.  And I actually gained some followers (welcome, new friends!) during this month of posting consistently, and my reader traffic increased as well.  While that truly wasn’t a goal of my little challenge, I like knowing that people enjoy my writing!
  • There are topics I stay away from.  I feel like they might not match whatever theme my blog seems to have, or I feel like other people could say it better because they’re more experienced/informed/well-known/etc.  Going forward, I probably won’t post them here, but I do want to write out those thoughts and explore them more.
  • I like writing every day.  I forget that sometimes.

Thank you all for reading!

 

 

Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)

Where the Hell is Our Mailbox?

When the Engineer and I were house-hunting, we had a wish list.  We wanted a garage for his motorcycle, an in-unit washer and dryer that were not coin operated, a cat (not included with the house, but we wanted the option to get a feline friend), and a mailbox in which we could not only receive our own mail but have outgoing mail picked up (our old apartment complex didn’t have an outgoing mail slot, so we had to go to the on-campus post office).

We got some of the most important things on our list.  The Engineer’s motorcycle is safely tucked in our garage, and we’ve already run several loads of laundry in our Very Own Laundry Room.  Unfortunately, though, the cat is not allowed.

And at first it seemed like we didn’t have a mailbox.

We noticed a bank of locked mail slots at the end of our street in our little townhouse/apartment community.  The keys we received from the realtor included a mail key, so this seemed a likely spot for our mailbox to be.  On our way out on an errand one day, we pulled over to see if we could find our mailbox.  There were four sets of boxes, numbered from 1 to 14 over and over.

Our house number is above 1200.  We have no other unit number for it.

We texted the realtor, but she just told us the mailbox was at the end of our street, which we already knew.  She didn’t know what number it was.

We resolved to flag down a neighbor the next time we saw them, ask which mailbox was theirs, and extrapolate from there.  But we kept missing them in our comings and goings.

Finally, we stood together in front of the bank of boxes, trying the mail key in as many boxes as we could before someone drove by.  None of them worked.  One of them even tried to eat my key.

Then, at last, on his way to a meeting today, the Engineer spotted the mailman himself at the mailboxes.  Pulling over briefly, he explained that we had just moved in and didn’t know which mailbox was ours.  He came home triumphant.

“I found out which one is our mailbox!”

So we took a stroll up the street, stood again (less suspiciously this time) in front of the boxes, and ceremoniously turned the key in our box: Number 11 in Row 3.  Sure enough, on the inside of the little metal door was our house number and our last names.

And right below it, etched in a little metal lid over another slot: OUTGOING MAIL.

We had to hunt it down, but we sort of got our wish after all.

The Tide of Adventure

“From sea to shining sea,” to me, always meant from East to West.  Moving west was the proper direction, from the Atlantic that first brought European explorers, troops, and colonists, to the Pacific that halted Lewis and Clark at last.  From the first sea, the Old World, to the second, the New (to white people).  I had a certain amount of pride in growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where, it seemed to my elementary school self, everyone must have wanted to settle down.

Going east now seems strange, like we’re pulling against the tide of adventure that swept so many people to the western expanses of the United States.  “Go West, young man!” our so-called Manifest Destiny proclaimed, and the young men obeyed, and women, too.

(I’m currently reading a history of the Harvey Girls, which may be part of why moving back East [does it count as “back” if I’ve never lived this far east before?] feels weird – I just finished the background section on the Santa Fe Railroad.)

Instead, our current is bringing us to the shores of history, the New to Us But Old in General world.  From the west coast – where I grew up surrounded by stories of pioneers for whom the Oregon Territory was the endgame, making it seem like the West must be the final goal for everyone – to the east coast, where the water is actually warm and the first growing pains of our nation started.

From one sea to the other.  Our own new adventure.

 

Life Update: Back and Forth

I had a really thoughtful post all planned out in my head for today about song lyrics that struck me the other day in the car.  But then I barely slept last night and I need to go to bed early because I’m flying out to North Carolina tomorrow to start unpacking our new house.  So instead you get a brief update about the logistics of the remaining month until the wedding:

>First, I fly out to meet the Engineer and his brother at our new house (yay!) in North Carolina.  I’ll be there for the Engineer’s first few days of classes, then…

<I fly back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up wedding details for 2 weeks.

<He flies back to the Pacific Northwest so we can get married.

<We go to Hawaii.

>We fly all the way back to North Carolina and finally stay put for a while.

Oh, and here’s a question I was mulling over with the Commodore: can I put Wedding Coordinator and Moving Director on my resume now?

 

Address Book

Starting our own (empty) home means things keep occurring to me that I’ve never had to think about before.  Silverware, for instance, has always just been there, in the drawer, and so has the plastic organizer sorting it into its neat little categories.

My mom has always had an address book we referenced whenever we needed to send out thank-you notes or invitations, so I always wanted to have my own when I moved out.  I forgot that this involved writing out all those addresses.

I’ve gotten through the Cs.

Pets

Our new place doesn’t allow pets, so I’m taking advantage of all the snuggle time I have left with our cat at my mom’s house and the two (gigantic) cats and Husky mutt at my dad’s.  Just having a fuzzy animal around is comforting, even if Dickens (the dog) is always. Squeaking. His. Toys.

Maybe it’s because we always had cats and dogs growing up, but I’ve never liked birds.  They’re just not cuddly enough for me; they fall somewhere a little higher than reptiles and goldfish on the pet scale.  So when my roommate said she wanted a parrot last year, I thought, sure, as long as I don’t have to touch it.  Bird feet, to me, feel like a baby’s hand with talons wrapping around your finger.

Here’s the problem.  The bird freaking loved me.

This was partially my own fault – not wanting it to develop a grudge against me for ignoring it, I fed little Caspian dried papaya every time I came home in the afternoon.  Soon my roommate was calling me the Papaya Aunt and the bird himself was loudly protesting if I didn’t say hi to him when I got home.

Then one day I was in my roommate’s room and Caspian decided to leap onto her desk (his wings weren’t fully developed, so this didn’t go well), slide wildly across it, and then step, chirping happily, onto my panicked, outstretched hand.

My roommate maintains that it’s one of the funniest things she’s ever seen, second only to later when the bird would waddle across the back of the couch to try and sit on my shoulder.  I didn’t know what to do, only that I didn’t want him climbing up onto my shoulder, so I stood there with my arm outstretched until my roommate came to rescue me.

And now I’m one of Caspian’s favorite people in the world.  When I visited with Bird to get the last of my stuff, Caspian trilled at the sight of me, stepped onto my finger (I’m used to him now) and puffed up happily for a good fifteen minutes.

I still don’t think birds are good pets.  But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t really affirming to have a little creature greet me with that much excitement.

Home Part II

the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered

(in games) the destination or goal

The Engineer has lived in the same house his whole life.  I have lived in five – the one in Ohio where I was born, our first house in Washington (the “old old house”), the house that was great for pretending to be Cinderella (the “old house”), and my mom and dad’s current respective houses.  That’s not even counting Dad’s apartments while he looked for a more permanent house.

I dismantled my old room when I went to college, since Bird wanted the big room for her high school years.  I pared down my belongings even more when I moved to our Small College Town full time last year, putting mementos and old school projects into plastic totes for storage in the basement and cramming the rest into Bird’s and my cars to drive across the state.

Fitting, then, that she also accompanied me last week to move the last of my stuff out of that apartment.

I have transferred my affections from one home to another several times.  The Engineer’s childhood room is still exactly as he left it.

But this weekend we’re packing all our now-mutual belongings into a truck for him and his brother to drive to North Carolina.  The Pacific Northwest will still be home even in that gaming sense, because our ultimate plan is to move back here.

So the two definitions for “home” at the beginning of this post are comforting to me, because while we wait for our “domestic affections” to catch up with us and recenter on the opposite coast (at least for a few years), our pretty new townhome and all that goes into it can represent our new goals.  It will be our home base while we explore a new part of the country.  It will be a sort of home for Bird, who plans to take advantage of our presence in her university’s timezone to visit often.  It will be our first home together.

And honestly, though I know we’ll both be homesick at first, the Engineer himself has been “home” to me for a while now.

Never-ending Easter Egg Hunts

“In, two, three, four, out, two, three, four, five, six yourefineyourefineyourefine seven, eight.  In, two, three four…”

I said the words in my head like a crazed conductor, sternly scolding my chest when it tried to contract again too soon.  My lungs preferred hyperventilating to this slow, rhythmic exercise.  I felt like I was choking every time I breathed out for too long.  But eventually my heart rate slowed.  The air stopped feeling oppressive.  I stopped counting as I drifted off to sleep.

For a few weeks, this was my bedtime ritual.  As soon as I got under the covers, I would immediately feel guilty that I hadn’t completed all these tasks.  But during the day, when I had the time and energy (and daylight) to devote to working, I only remembered a fraction of them.  They seemed to hold back, waiting to rush at me the second I turned out the light.

It was like a protracted Easter egg hunt.  Some eggs, hidden in obvious places, were easily spotted and placed safely in my basket – the completed tasks that I had already planned on doing.  Then there were others that I glimpsed as I went about my day – the random, little things I suddenly remembered and addressed even though they weren’t part of my original list.

And then, when it got too dark to look for Easter eggs, my workaholic little brain piped up: “You can’t go to bed yet.  We didn’t find all of them.”

“It’s fine.  They’re plastic.  They won’t hurt anything if we don’t find all of them until tomorrow.”

“But what if we don’t find them in time and the candy in them melts?  Or what if someone gets annoyed that we didn’t collect them all?  No, we should keep looking.”

“I promise you, it’s fine.  We’ll look with fresh eyes tomorrow.”

“Did you check under the sofa?  I think I saw one under the sofa.”

And on it went.  As much as I told myself that I had time, that I hadn’t missed any deadlines or accidentally forgotten to reply to someone, my anxieties had a new worry for every one I dismissed.  The most compelling of these was, “But if you forgot to do it today, what if you keep forgetting until you completely forget?”

Cue racing heart and shallow breathing.

My mental state, whether in the midst of my depression or just a lot of stress, has always been the most frantic at night.  I have trouble with the concept of “rest” when I feel I haven’t earned it, whether that be letting go of emotions until I am better equipped to address them or getting some sleep even though I haven’t exercised/written/worked “enough” that day.  So bedtime, when I put away all distractions and wait alone with my thoughts before falling asleep, is a great time for my mind to rebel.

Some nights found me up with that damn basket, hunting the rest of the Easter eggs (e.g., all-nighters on projects that weren’t even due the next day, just because they were worrying me).

Other times I’d stay up long enough to map out a plan for exactly where to look for the eggs the next day (putting together a specific schedule for the next day to address all the random tasks I was suddenly remembering).

On occasion, I do manage to shush my brain entirely, with exercises like breathing (fun fact: exhaling longer than you inhale is supposed to disrupt the fight-or-flight response) or doing something similarly meditative like saying my rosary.

Melatonin supplements work too.

I’m still learning how to negotiate with my own mind and body in order to get some sleep.  But even just recognizing that this time of day can be difficult – that’s a start.


What stress-reduction/brain-quieting strategies work best for you?  What time of day do you find it hardest to deal with stress and anxiety?