Monday, October 25, 2010

Desire change. Be enthusiastic for that flame
in which a thing escapes your grasp
while it makes a glorious display of transformation.
That designing Spirit, the master mind of all things on earth
loves nothing so much in the sweeping movement of the dance
as the turning point.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Br. David Steindl-Rast

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Out of the tide pool and into the ocean

Well, now. I feel naive. I feel naive, but I also feel that I simply could not have anticipated the events of the past few weeks. I feel blindsided, but I also feel these things were inevitable (at least, in retrospect). I am at a loss to explain. My last post is still meaningful but it doesn't quite cover things ... I thought the storm was well over at that point and it sure as hell wasn't. The analogy doesn't fit anymore, because I'm still dealing with the issues that came up recently.

I'm being cryptic. I apologize, but it's the only was I can be appropriate while still trying to process. Some things are meant to stay between you and your therapist, let's face it. But I feel different and I want to note that. I feel different when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night.

I've been able to move forward, to name problems, to see the positive and healthy way of dealing with everything that has happened. What surprises me the most is that I thought I was an adult before, but really I was just taking laps around the kiddy pool. Now, I've taken the first deep, icy plunge into the real adult world; a world of frightening ambiguity, of pain, of learning how to cope. You know what? It makes my concern over a B- on a paper seem childish and irrelevant. My anxiety over my GPA pales in comparison to all this. I still care about doing a good job for the sake of it; I'm still passionate about what I do (it keeps me centered, you see). But the intense anxiety and self-doubt that I suffered from worrying about grades and what my professors thought about me seems so unimportant and pointless. If I can get through this, through feeling like I've been turned upside down, then surely I can deal with a poor grade here or there. I have better things to cry about than that.

I'm only one person. I can only do so much. I've been pushed harder than ever before to evaluate what I want and what I value. I'm still working those things out, but it does give one perspective (no matter how painful).

p.s. I'm okay, folks. I promise. Just work'in through stuff ... guess that happens during senior year, eh?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Accordion Music

I am sitting here and it is past my usual bedtime. I am up because it is fall break and I have nothing ahead of me tomorrow but what I choose to set in front of myself. I am on-campus for the week and almost everyone else is gone. Today I struggled with that — the solitude I've been craving, the solitude I normally accept with a quiet kind of relief. I had anticipated days of knitting and relaxing, with time to think about the future, time to stretch out away from my weekly obligations and spin up a few dreams and distractions. But over the past few days I've been mired in anxiety and fear; struggling with something that, after building for weeks, finally burst out ... It still takes me by surprise, the unintentional harm that we can pass onto each other with good intentions. Parents to children, friends to friends, siblings to siblings, lovers to each other. Sometimes it makes you feel like something you counted on is suddenly tipping over, the boat is capsizing. It's unsettling and it hurts, especially when someone else is hurting too and you don't know what to do about it.
Then, of course, the storm (whichever one it happened to be) passes. Maybe you got fooled by the eye of the storm, and so the next wave hit you by surprise and made you wonder if it'll ever go away. But it does go away, even if you're left looking at a little, tiny bit of wreckage; a wee bit of re-ordering and re-evaluating to do.
Tonight, I had to force myself to get ready for bed, even though I felt wide awake. I kept wondering, why? How? How could this happen? I took a hot shower to calm down, told myself that everything is going to be okay, that nothing really important was lost. Some things just got shaken up a bit. Then, as I was about to get in bed, I heard music drifting in through my open window. No stereo, no tinned-up, pre-recorded stuff. It wasn't the dull booming music of a house party. Someone in the house across the way was playing the accordion in the darkness of their side porch. I couldn't see them, but I could hear the song clear across the night air, and it was the most beautiful, wistful thing because they kept fumbling at a certain part, stopping, starting again. As I listened, I knew it was a tune I knew but couldn't remember. I was transfixed. Maybe I only feel this way because it's late and because I'm tired and still a little upset, but at that moment the beautiful, lilting, stumbling accordion felt like it was life. Life in its stumbling awkward, breathtaking, intimate, grand, confusing, upsetting, frustrating, ecstatic, ho-hum kind of beauty.
Maybe faith means knowing that messing up doesn't ruin the song.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


As much as I love to learn, I also hate the process sometimes ... I like learning new things, but learning new processes, new ways to think about things, new approaches is tricky and we (I) don't always see that as learning.

Let me be specific. In my senior seminar, one of the most important "learning outcomes" is, according to the prof, to learn how to conduct independent study and research. That sounds straightforward, but it's very difficult because independent study means working without prompts, without rules, without an imposed structure. Structure becomes something you define for yourself, for the needs of the project. There are guiding principles, important ones; otherwise the paper would end up un-readable. I spent the whole afternoon yesterday spinning wheels, getting hung up on how to structure my mid-term paper, where to hang all the shiny baubles of thought that I haven't even articulated yet. I feel like I wasted all that time and have nothing to show for it, and now have even less time to get the paper done. I hate not having a prompt to follow, a way of knowing if I'm getting it right.

On the other hand, I'm trying to see yesterday as a part of my learning process, a process not of acquiring new information, but one of "well, that approach didn't work ... what do I do now?" I am trying very hard to cut myself some slack and realize that perhaps learning how to approach this kind of paper is important and valuable in of itself. That learning for myself which strategies are most effective when I'm working without an imposed structure is perhaps the most important lesson I could take away from this class, no matter how frustrating or scary that is. After all, how do you grade that kind of learning?

I've decided to start again using the concept of the one-inch picture frame. Mostly I wish I wasn't so burned out. Every time I try to work I end up with a headache and a stomach ache.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Hm. This campus is full of wise women. I finally listened to my boyfriend's advice and had an honest talk with one of my professors about my anxieties and feeling behind every week. I'd worried a lot about having that conversation, probably because I feared (incorrectly) that I would be instantly judged. I was not. Instead, we had a chat in which she told me was doing really, really well - that the challenge for me in her class is not to step it up a notch but to learn how to reign myself in a little. She repeated, once again, that you need to pick your battles.

Pick your battles. It's a phrase I've heard often, but never really embraced. I generally want to tackle everything at once. It's tough for me to reign myself in, focus on just a few things and let the rest go.

I feel like I repeat myself a lot on this topic. Especially on this blog. Sometimes, I look at myself and think, "jeez, chill out ... why can't you just move on?" Then, I think that you readers (I'm assuming there's more of you there besides my mom and my aunties) must be yawning and thinking the same thing.

So, for my sake more than yours, I'm going to throw out a little more Natalie Goldberg because she helps me see my obsessions and preoccupations and steps backward in a more compassionate way.

"It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. For instance, it is hard to write about being in love in the midst of a mad love affair. We have no perspective. All we can say is, “I’m madly in love,” over and over again. It is also hard to write about a city we just moved to; it’s not yet in our body. We don’t know our new home, even if we can drive to the drugstore without getting lost. We have not lived through three winters there or seen the ducks leave in fall and return to the lakes in spring. Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a cafe in Paris. 'Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.'"

-- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (The Hemingway quote is from A Moveable Feast.)

p.s. Thanks to the veggie co-op, I have okra! What does one do with okra?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Only you can put out the fire!

Oh my. I feel burned out, entirely undone. I am still searching for a satisfying, hard-working, take-no-prisoners, have-fun, don't-fall-behind lifestyle that doesn't leave me completely spent at the end of every week.

It's still hitting me that I might be setting the bar too high, or perhaps aiming at the wrong bar all together.

I feel discouraged every week because I can't get everything done. Every week, it seems, something happens to set me off, make me cry, and make me feel that I'm not good enough. Why is it so difficult to find what it means to live a sustainable life?

I had an enlightening conversation with a very wise woman yesterday. She told me that part of school is learning how to choose. You must choose what is important to you, what you want to get out of a class, and probably someday a job or a grad school program. Trying to do everything only makes you sick.

I know this. I've gone over this already, written about it already, talked about already. How and when does learning take place? That's what I want to know. What does it mean, really, to be a compassionate person? I will not be a doormat; that is not compassion. Will I learn to let go of some things? Will I learn to stop eviscerating myself over every little slip, every item not finished or perhaps only half-assed? Will I learn to take a stand over what's really meaningful to me and what I can reasonably accomplish every week? Will I extend that understanding to other people?

I don't want to run around feeling like my head is on fire. But I was also told yesterday that I am really the only one who can put out that fire. Really. Seriously.

Okay. Good decisions made this past week. One, deciding to get farm fresh, local, organic veggies through the veggie co-op. I now possess many hard-to-identify root vegetables and some lovely field greens. Two, deciding to pitch and run that story on sexual health in The Guilfordian. I think it's a good piece of journalism, and (more importantly) it will probably get people talking. Three, deciding to finally take the time to update this blog.