Humble

Pray to be humble
so that God does not have to appear to be so stingy.
O pray to be honest, strong, kind, and pure,
so that the Beloved is never
miscast as a cruel great miser.
I know you have a hundred complex cases
against God in court,
but never mind, wayfarer,
let’s just get out of this mess
and pray to be loving and humble
so that the Friend
will be forced to reveal
Himself so near.
– Hafiz

Oh anxiety dreams, you sneaky little bastards.

This week I started seriously researching PhD programs again in anticipation of the glut of applications I will write come next month (holy shit). Although I have a standing offer from the GTU at Berkeley, I’m widening my net this year to truly weigh all of my options and feel assured in my decision when it comes (a place I for sure was not last year and a major impetus for this “break” year/blog/whatever I’m doing).

On top of that I got rejected from a job I thought I was perfect for, and I wrote a whiney post about it and drank some gin. And then I deleted that post.

Because you know what?

I hate whining. I hate it. I get that it sucks, and I get that I felt shitty, but gah – enough.

This is the cycle that’s hardest for me to break, but I have to make it happen. Everyday.

As cheesy as that sounds, it’s the reality. I have to return to my best self, return to my mat, return to my peace, return to my very positive reality – and just accept that I’ll never be rich or pay off those student loans magically.

All of what is, is okay. It’s not that pretty, and I have more questions than answers. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, so I need to stop treating perfection as an available outcome.

But I can still do a lot of things. I can run very slowly. I can find a GIF for anything. I can do middle splits. I can do my job well. I can dream big. I can pray to be loving and humble.

And with that, I can try in all things to do what I can, where I’m at, with what I have.

***

Thanks to CarmenLeah for the Hafiz!

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Teenagers are weird.

Looking back on my experience, I still don’t get it. I at once felt like everything was the end of the world and like nothing mattered.

This, from a middle-class suburban white girl.

I sat down with Sherman Alexie’s novel with the intention of reading a few lines before bed. I finished it that night. Classified as Young Adult, this book can and should be read by everyone.

As a Spokane Indian, living on the rez, Junior/Arnold (both names are his) struggles through what is probably the worst freshman year I’ve ever heard of. Not only struggling with identity, hormones and teen strife, Junior wrestles (often literally) with his best friend, transferring schools, poverty, death, alcoholism and his own burgeoning ambition.

“Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”

Junior’s honest and poignant encounters with his differences make for good laughs as well as pangs of recognition for anyone who’s navigated the rough waters of growing up. Alexie pulls no punches when talking about the reservation life as a prison – a real one, no metaphor.

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

part-time-indian1Breaking through barrier after barrier, with little recognition of the feat he his accomplishing, Junior makes a truly successful name for himself at his new, white school. The inherent drive and fortitude he exhibits really made me wonder how I ever complain.

Yet, Alexie is anything but heavy-handed. Junior is a crass, upset, masturbating teenage boy who, for lack of any other coping mechanism, is baldly, weirdly, amazingly honest.

It is a literary voice rooted in Alexie’s own life, reflecting upon and loving a broken community undone by its own pitfalls and trapped by its historical experience.

“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

You can do it.” 

Vacation Self

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 1.56.50 PM3,503 miles. Here we go!

This Thursday P and I head west to begin a fall vacation, mostly consisting of driving my parents’ old Prius (thanks guys!) from Portland, OR back to Norway, ME.

Indulging P’s news addiction, we often get the NYT on Sundays and read through it throughout the week.

A few weeks back, an article from the magazine stood out, in which a middle-aged American man became enraptured with a small town in northern Spain – through the lens of cheese (I do love cheese…I would like to take this moment to note I just discovered that there is a wealth of stock photos of attractive women eating blocks of cheese on the Internet. Obviously.).

He discovers a type of freedom there that he experienced during childhood vacations:

“Even at the time, I realized my parents were somehow different on vacation, airier and at ease, youthful in their goofiness and laughter, more attentive of us — and each other — for during that one time of year, we mostly had ourselves, without distraction.”

Meeting with Ambrosio, the patron of the town and cheesemaking family, the author becomes almost addicted to the reality he connects with: ““The problem with modern life is that nobody knows how to defecate anymore,” he said. “This is the most important thing.” Then he held forth on the topic for an hour.”

Ambrosio enlivens this bland man’s life, invigorating what has become mundane and providing justification to feel life and be fed by that emotion.

The author goes on to realize that his obsession is perhaps overwrought and a bit delusional:

“I was happy to believe in it, for this is what travel is too: a kind of childlike wonder — and this sort of woozy love that doesn’t contemplate loss — that, when pushed further, becomes life again. There you are, with all your familiar dreams and conflicts, the constant skirmishes between frustration and transcendence, your best and worst selves. However far you go, there you are, with your same fear of mortality, and this deep desire to hold on to your kids forever.”

While I agree that we all must confront reality and respond to the needs of our world, our families and our deepest questions, I frankly balked at his suggestion that these feelings of freedom are not available to the modern American. Yes, it is unfair and unwise to view any community with only rose-colored glasses, not admitting the faults, the struggles, the pain, or the frustrations.

Yet, it is possible, I must believe it is, to find a way to embrace an ongoing feeling of this “vacation self” – where one is light, free, loved and joyful.

As a mentor once told me, joy is not happiness. It is the ability to hold, sit with, and look at our sorrows, yet respond with hope.

It is about actively seeking these spaces that make us feel childlike wonder and truly appreciating our capacity to feel what a gift life is – flexing our bodies through this murky, mucked-up, beautiful time.

When we drive next week, I know I’ll be taking Ambrosio’s advice:

He stood there under a bright moon, with his finger to his lip. “Shhhhh, listen,” he said. “If you listen, the silence has a lot to say.”

I’ll report back with what it says.

Cape Codder

Cape Cod was never somewhere I thought I’d hang out.

Visions of the Kennedys, Rockafellers and Roosevelts pranced in my head.

Homemade Friday this week is a throw back to a mid-August car camping trip – my first ever to Cape Cod! So fancy.

If by fancy, you mean hiding vodka on the beach to make cocktails while making sure you make it back to your campsite in time to beat curfew (dang family campsites). 

Besides the screeching chant of “AWKWARD SILENCE” at 6am by a band of six-year-old hooligans and the seemingly unending recitation of the French alphabet by a Quebecoise toddler, Cape Cod was an amazing time to relax with friends and get up close and personal with some crabs, fish and seals (I see why Jaws now….).

Summer might be over, but Cape Cod was a great way to celebrate the season.

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Dreamers of the Day

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“When it comes down to it, I don’t have much in the way of advice to offer you, but here it is: Read to children. Vote. And never buy anything from a man who’s selling fear.”

I’ve always  been an avid reader, but sometimes, for whatever reason, I just get obsessed.

This week was one of those weeks, as I’ve already ripped through three books and am well into my fourth. My selections are either really good, or my brain is in need of some escapist rest – maybe a bit of both?

I fell in love with Mary Doria Russell through her Sparrow series and am so glad I’ve ventured into her historical fiction.

Historical fiction has long been my favorite genre (although scifi, memoir, fiction, YA, are all up there, too…I LOVE BOOKS), as it blends the poignancy of fiction with hard facts – learning!

Dreamers of the Day takes place in Cairo during the 1921 decision-making process about the structure and form of the Middle East post-WWI.

Besides the name Lawrence of Arabia, I really didn’t know anything about him until this book. The main character, Agnes, loses her entire family to the Influenza epidemic and by result takes a pretty by-the-seat-of-her-pants trip to Egypt.

In a turn of events, namely being white and clueless in 1921 Cairo, Agnes meets all the major players present there during this historic, albeit short, time. Her outsider observations, ruminations and interactions enliven a process that still impacts us all today.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” ~TE Lawrence

The decisions made by Westerners, no matter how well informed, echo into the conflicts we’ve been embedded in my entire life.

Although I did not really enjoy the twist at the end, the rest of the book more than makes up for this slight oddity. Agnes is a bold and interesting woman, an example of such a unique time in US history, as well as an endearing reflection on self-discovery and the tenuous nature of living.

Plus, her camel-riding description is spot-on. Those things are painful!

me camel

Me and Ferdinand the Dramaderre, Morocco 2009 

Little Jackson

Reach the highest. Summit. Never Stop.

You know what? I’m just fine right here.

Something I will never understand about hiking is the absolute need to be at the tippy-tippy-top of whatever you just climbed. Maybe it has to do with growing up hiking on and around Mt. Hood (obviously not easily summitable) but I’m good just completing the trail.

Getting the nice view, hanging out for a while exploring.

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This is a substantial point of difference for P and I that came out last weekend on our awesome hike up Little Jackson in the Mt. Blue Wilderness near his family’s home.

I will admit, the views were pretty incredible after scrambling across the bald face for another quarter mile, but seriously, I felt just as good when we emerged from the tree line.

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Obviously, I will never be a ‘peak bagger’ but I think it would be pretty bad ass to hang out at Everest base camp for a while.

The Last Train to Zona Verde

I’ve been on some shitty trips.

To be more accurate, I’ve had some really shitty parts of trips. Laying on a slightly dirty mattress watching CSI in Prishtina, Kosovo, Paul Theroux’s central question of his latest memoir rang through my head: What am I doing here?

(Answer: it’s P’s fault, but that’s another story)

In a last trip back to the African bush, Theroux attempts to complete the west coast of a journey he took many years ago, documented in Dark Star Safari. Having taught for six years in Malawi, traveled extensively throughout the world, Theroux is excited by the symmetry of the task – to complete something it seems his whole life has been building toward.

His goal is to travel alone, overland from South Africa to Timbuktu, mirroring the Cairo to Capetown trip of his past. He attempts to confront the task with excitement, but even from the first line you can tell he’s tired.

My main motivation “was physically to get away form people wasting my time with trivia. ‘I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things,’ Theoreau wrote.”

Theroux is no longer young, and despite his grumbles, seems to really enjoy the four-star comfort his literary stardom and connections get him (as the book jacket states, the man lives in Cape Cod AND Hawaii – come on!).theroux_paul_2008_william_furniss.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

While there are gems throughout, as Theroux is undoubtedly an intelligent, well-honed observer, the drudgery he encounters becomes less and less enjoyable to read. Rather than encounter difference, or unique situations, he seems to encounter over and over and over again, the shambles globalization has made of his remembered Africa.

He bemoans loss of traditional wear for Western cast-offs, mud huts for cheap Chinese cinderblock houses, and most pivotal, bush life overall for a move into a city slum. Theroux finds little to no hope in improvement projects either – whether local or international. He gives some people their due, but concludes that the Sisyphean task will never be accomplished. As he quotes an Angolan he meets: “This is what the world will look like when it ends.”

the-last-train-to-zona-verde-my-ultimate-african-safari_original Yet he is pulled along by his purpose, as he quotes Goethe’s Italian Journey:

“My purpose in making this wonderful journey is not to delude myself but to discover myself in the objects I see… Nothing, above all, is comparable to the new life that a reflective person experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always myself, I believe I have been changed to the very marrow of my bones.”

In the end, Theroux seems to come to the conclusion that although he truly identifies as a traveler, the pure struggle he sees in this quest is just too overwhelming:

“I ask the political economists and the moralists if they have ever calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to misery, overwork, demoralization, childhood, rank ignorance, overwhelming misfortune and utter penury in order to produce one rich man.”

Despite my issues with his personality and some of the judgements he rendered as he passed through this particular journey, Theroux’s life of travel and memory remain resonate.

I truly understand the facets of discovery that continue to inspire him to reach beyond himself and question his place in this world – a truly admirable feat especially at his crotchety age.

“Reading and restlessness – dissatisfaction at home, a sourness at being indoors, and a notion that the real world was elsewhere – made me a traveler. If the Internet were everything it is cracked up to be, we would all stay home and be brilliantly witty and insightful…My ideal traveler is the person who goes the old, laborious way into the unknown, and it is this belief that lies behind my travel and drives me. I want to see things as they are, to see myself as I am.”

Uncategorized

There’s a theme emerging in my writing. One I definitely did not see coming. Although, I should have.

When I started this project, I assumed that it would be an exercise in concise writing, reflection and motivation for new activities. As I reviewed the blog up to this point (this is POST 100!) I noticed that all my “uncategorized” posts are about trauma.

About the pain that can’t neatly fit into the boxes I laid out for myself. Of unexpectedly pushing beyond where I thought I could go or would go.

All my posts outside the bounds fall into the blog-default of “Uncategorized.” I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title.

In my study, preoccupation, and fascination with trauma (weird, I know), one of the most common definitions is how traumatic events surpass, and at times destroy, all categories of understanding and capacity.

This does not mean those who experience trauma are not resilient. Amazingly, it is quite the opposite.

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The tendency toward exploring this realm is nothing new in my life – in fact, it’s what I want to study and eventually teach. I’m unendingly curious about how we treat each other in this life, how chance encounters and events alter us forever, and how we can heal together.

I am encouraged and emboldened by my family, partner and friends who offer companionship and truly express love, by authors long dead who remind me these are the oldest questions, and by sitting with and among fellow seekers, creators and passionate be-ers (with beers, too).

In this vein, I want to try something a bit new.

In a couple weeks, P and I will head out to the Best Coast for wedding fun, a day in Oregon, and a drive back across the grand ‘ole USA. For that time the blog will probably go a bit more silent (I hear they don’t have free wifi in the Badlands – what gives?) but then pick back up with part travel, part creative memoir/creative fiction, and perhaps even a few videos?

This form has brought me this far, but everything needs a shot of energy once in a while.

I’m still healing from a lot that’s happened this summer (excerpt from a night this week: Why are you crying to Terry Gross? I don’t know!) and reorienting myself – it feels right as we head into my favorite season of Fall to take some new risks and try out some new things.

I’m oh so glad to have you all along.

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***

Dispatch this week to Smash!

Love More

I have a wonderful friend who posts this simple line everywhere. And it has always stuck with me, as within its simplicity is true, raw struggle.

A while back I bookmarked a graduation speech by George Saunders to come back to – and I am so glad I did.

Speaking to this year’s class from Syracuse, Saunders took what can be the most banal of rituals straight into the heart of life. Like DFW before him, Saunders took the form, stripped away its pomposity and self-congratulations to issue a real challenge to the new ‘adults.’

Unlike those who try hard to convey Truth or Advice, Saunders honestly, optimistically and wholeheartedly believes:

 YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.

I want that. So much do I want that.

The practice of centering, prayer, writing, reading, yoga, hiking – all of it is searching for that kindness to myself toward this transformation. Saunders admits this is not easy.

“When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  …And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.”

The real issue, he contends, is to transform away from ‘success’ and toward kindness. Understand that the impact our love and tenderness has on others’ lives is what will ripple out – not the degrees, the job titles, or the paycheck.

To take every opportunity to extend kindness, even or perhaps because our inclinations tell us it’s too hard.

Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.

Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

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***

Ay! I get to hug you in three weeks!

Umbagog

Growing up in Multnomah County near things with the names Willamette, Clackamas and Skamania, I thought I was used to fun Native American-rooted names. Maine continues to surprise.

Last weekend P and I took a one night canoe trip on Umbagog Lake to a remote site on one of the lake’s many inlets. Straddling the New Hampshire/Maine border, Umbagog is pretty accessible, and therefore pretty developed, but gorgeous nonetheless.

We paddled in three miles on a still and calm water, a treat after a series of hiccups getting started (I thought you brought the water? I told you to buy coffee! Where’s my sleeping pad??!! Lesson: make lists).

umbagog 1

After arriving and setting up camp, we paddled further into an inlet and got up close to three great herons, a bald eagle, a beaver/muskrat (jury’s out) and the ever-exotic mallard.

Sitting by the fire cooking dinner that night, after a swim in the late summer water, I kept thinking how incredible it is to live in nature.

It’s something I’ve always inherently known about myself, but haven’t had the resources to test – that I’m really more at home outside. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the sushi, Indian, Thai, [insert ethic food here], public transit, good bars, concerts and general activity of urban life, but I wouldn’t trade what I have right now.

This summer was like running the best bed-and-breakfast ever as my friends filled our lakeside home, as P and I paddled after work or read dockside, camping with friends or exploring the ever-expanding list of oddities in our small town.

Looking towards a fall full of PhD applications and contemplating moves across the country, most likely back to a city center, this moment in time is becoming more special – or I’m just starting to recognize it for what it has always been.