Saturday, September 14, 2013

Full circle

via
Three hundred and eighty days ago today, I sat down at my computer and poured a flood of anger and shame and regret and self-loathing out through my fingertips.  Then I drained off the keyboard and started again, this time not only trying to walk through the story of how so much turmoil got into my head, but analyzing the reasons and attempting to advise and inspire myself just as I would respond to a friend.  The result was Project Fear Less.

Starting that project was probably the best possible action I could have taken then.  In the pursuit of finding scary things to do, I've run quite the gamut, from the mundane and relatively simple to the huge and wonderfully bizarre.  I'veshaven my head; eaten snails and eyeballs; recommitted myself to the study of martial arts; asked someone on a date; been made into art.  I flew to Ireland for three months with nothing but a daypack (stuffed to the gills) and about $1400 in saved tips.  I climbed up a mountain made of bog, and another one with its head so far in the clouds that the peaks seemed like islands, and picked my way down into a barnacle-studded cave that led to the sea.  I talked to strangers.  I overcame my reticence about public performance and sang everywhere - on the street in Galway with a hat in front of me, in a packed bar that fell dead silent to hear an old ballad from West Virginia, in the dairy parlour every morning and evening for the cows and cats.  The travel bug bit me hard and left a long-lingering welt, and almost as soon as I landed back on this side of the Pond I'd filled up a cooler for myself, gassed up my darling Lucille and made tracks for Memphis, followed by Denver on a whim, then three days on the scenic route from Colorado to D.C., then finally heading to Durham again, meandering along coastlines and rivers and through forests for two days instead of taking the straight shot, wanting to stay a vagabond for as long as possible before returning to "normal life."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I got your uncertainty right here

So yeah, I was supposed to write about this post on uncertainty, which has now been put off twice.  Welp, there's a hell of a lot of that floating around right now.  And also more fear.  And then, just as quickly, elation, which is all the way at the end of this post.  And even more fear and uncertainty to go along with that.

Yeah, that's been my last couple of days.

First, though, a recipe.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Introspection Part 2: Fear

So I was planning to write next on the idea of uncertainty, inspired by this post on the topic from Joanna Powell Colbert, but I've been sidetracked.  My buddy Colin, whom some of you may remember from previous posts about aping it up with the Caveman Ninja, wrote a marvelous piece recently about fear, which you all should go read right now so here it is.

Sidenote:  Colin I am never ever watching a scary movie with you anywhere on the premises.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Introspection, Part 1: Enough

I took this picture just a little under six years ago.  In two months' time I'll be on that same spot.
This past week has been simply massive.

First off, I got a ton of stuff done.

  • confirmed the move-out date with my rental company 
  • bought insurance and a ticket for Ireland 
  • sorted things at my various different workplaces, including setting end dates for three of my five current jobs *gulp gulp* 
  • began the herculean task of sorting everything I own into "keep" or "shed" piles and boxes...and then going back through the "keep" piles and cutting those down ever further
  • bought a huge amount of food and had a big ol' cooking day, with enough chicken soup and chili and roasted veggies made to last the whole week (with a little help from eggs).  This is obviously not enormous but it was inspired by my recently-discovered adoration for M F K Fisher and Tamar Adler, and helped keep the get-shit-done mood going, and was enormously more efficient as the week progressed

The second arena wherein Big Things have been taking place is a little less obvious.  As I weed and plan, simultaneously simplifying and introducing a whole boatload of new uncertainties and potential for worry into my life, it's bound to spur a fair amount of soul-searching.  This has been particularly fueled by a couple of blog posts that struck me recently, both especially applicable to my current situation.

The first: "How Much Is Enough?" from Leo Babauta at zenhabits.  I've been asking myself this same question endlessly - every time I fill another box with books, or put all my coffee cups away after washing them, or put in earrings.  What do I need?  What do I not necessarily need but am happier to have than not? What can I afford to shed?

Leo writes that "enough" really means "having enough to live, and enough to be happy, and enough to thrive."  And, I would add, no more than that.  Any more stuff than your particular situation and necessities require turns into useless roots, not contributing anything but still there, taking up valuable space and tying you down, and freezing you into inaction when you try contemplate the question of "do I really need this?"  Even if you don't, if you've had it for so long that it seems forever, getting rid of the ancient unnecessary is a terrifying thought.  We all know how this feels, whether we're considering objects, jobs, relationships...the list goes on.

In the post, he lists seven key questions to ask yourself and help determine what, exactly, is enough for you.  I've copied them below, along with my first drafts of answers.

1. What are the main things that make you happy?
Movement in all forms.  Good food.  Time and communication with family and friends.  Free time.  Sunshine.  Swimming.  A change of scene and pace on a regular basis.

2. What do you need to thrive?This one's harder to answer so quickly. Leo continues, though: "You want to be good at what you do, and do what you love. You want to be passionate about the things you do, and be successful at them."  In that case: instruction in the movement arts - martial, dance, anything else I come across.  Specialty kitchen equipment, like a pickle crock or nukadoko, and the highest-quality ingredients I can manage.  A garden of some type or size - right now I've got one ivy plant and a pot of mint.  The furnishings, acquired or built myself, to ensure that I have a warm, welcoming space for people to sit and talk and drink wine and sing until dawn.  Travel, travel, travel.  The wherewithal and time to dive into a crazy project now and again.

3. What do you need to survive at a comfortable level?
I can think of two major things right off the bat that I don't have now: a dark room at night, and one full day completely off every week.  Other than that: a comfortable bed, regular communication with family and friends, regular physical contact with other living creatures - hugging people, petting animals, etc - a computer, a car.

4. What do you have beyond those things needed for survival, comfort, happiness and thriving?
Lots and lots and lots of books.  Little knick-knacks collected over the years - some precious, some shrug-worthy.  I'm starting to ponder whether I really need a smartphone.  It's good for a wifi hotspot in lieu of an internet provider, but other than that, the only features beyond what my computer does are calls and texting.

5. What do you desire that goes beyond that - beyond what's needed for survival, comfort, happiness and thriving?
All of the movement things all of the time - CrossFit, Systema, ninjitsu, swing, parkour, on and on.  I tell people that if it were up to me I'd never leave the dojo - except for the dance floor, or the forest, or the river...you get my drift.  Not only to go out with friends whenever the opportunity presents itself, but to join in the dinners and drinks along with everyone else, when I've got plenty of food at home.  Fancy coffee drinks, and too many of them.  New clothing instead of making do with what I have or waiting til the requisite items appear in the thrift store.  Impromptu trips - the less time in advance, the more money necessary to enact it, generally.  A place to live that's not just sufficient but beautiful, and situated in an area just as beautiful, which would require more driving, unless I move to Galway.

6. If you didn't want to have more than enough, could you work less?
Yes.

7.  If you worked less, could you be happy with enough, and happy doing other things?
...I don't know.  I don't know if I'd long for more movement classes if I cut those out of my budget and worked on the arts I can practice solo, like parkour and non-partner dances.  That's where the rub really is for me - I can do without a lot of possessions, but my passions, while they are experiences rather than objects, still cost money, which means work.

Lots to ponder here.  Soon to come: reflections on "How Can I Make Peace With Uncertainty?" from Joanna Powell Colbert.

-N

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Getting angry

So I have this friend, John.  He's a classmate of mine and a fellow physics major, so I see him a lot.  We have some fairly vast differences in certain political views, but a lot of commonalities in other areas.  Add that fodder for discussion to the fact that he's a great conversationalist and the aforementioned proximity, and you can come up with the conclusion that we talk a lot.  Sometimes he tells me that I'm a bad-ass.

Anyways, we were talking the other day, and he asked me for some advice.  He has before on occasion, and I'm flattered by it - he's about 6 years younger than me, and I like being the wise big sister, even to non- siblings.   But this time...well.

John told me that he gets worried about his peers passing him by on the Gulf Stream of Working A Whole Lot While You're Young while he's making his way through the Fjords of Academia, with another year of study and research around every corner.  I told him that he really didn't need to worry about that - he was normal college age, he had plenty of time and a good head on his shoulders and he was doing something he loved.  "Yeah, but it still gets me worried, though - seeing everyone I know get ahead of me and make it while I'm still working things out, you know?" he said.  "I mean, how do you deal with it?"

He didn't mean to be cruel - he's just a kid, asking advice from someone he sees as having the same problem he's worried about.  To his credit, he noticed that I was a bit taken aback (that's terrible litote, I felt like I'd been slapped) and tried to ease things up a bit by clarifying that he really didn't want to be disrespectful.  But the question remained.

I don't remember my exact words, but I turned away and fiddled with my pack to hide my burning eyes and muttered something like "you don't.  it's hard." and then gathered my belongings and myself as best I could, and hoofed it.

I texted him later.  Warning, fambly: there are bad words and self-loathing ahead.
You don't really deal with it.  I never stop being angry and ashamed that I'm still a fucking failure while my fam & friends are making it.
The trick is to channel that anger into action instead of breaking under the amount of stuff you have to do just to catch up.
Since then - it was this past Wednesday - I've done a lot of thinking about  the conversation - specifically, my own words after the fact, and the question of whether I'm really living them.

What constitutes "making it?"  Having a steady paycheck?  Having a roof over your head, artwork on the walls and cozy accent lighting?  Having an attractive partner and people telling you "oh you two are so cute together!"  I've had all of those.  I've also had 14-hour work days with no break being the norm.  I can't deny the pleasure of a beautiful home, but it becomes all too easy to sink into the comfort and grow too many roots, getting soft and lazy.  As for the last situation, the people envying your adorable couplehood don't see the utter dread that fills you at the thought of getting out of work an hour late and having to face the furious demands for proof that you were actually working for that time.  (Yes, I'm biased, and there absolutely can be beautiful loving relationships that are the same at home as they appear in public.  Yes, I'm still healing.  It takes a while.)

This train of thought is a rough one.  Perhaps on one of those rickety wooden bridges across some wide-gaping valley.  And it's a steam engine and you're low on fuel.  But over and over again (by which I mean over the decades I've had these same questions), the same things become clear, only to fade quickly into the fog of What Should Be Done.  And on a brief side note, yes I absolutely adore metaphors.  But, although the actual realisations from these moments will stay a little more personal, the actions finally resulting from them are ready to be presented to the world, if for no other reason than just to give me more accountability.

  • I'm going to Ireland this summer.  I'm buying a ticket and packing two carry-on bags and going.  I might be WWOOFing, or couchsurfing, or staying with friends, or just walking.  I've already given notice on my lease in preparation.
  • Before I go, I'm getting rid of the majority of my stuff.  I've already started doing inventory.  Everything I shed will be up for grabs (probably) here first, then sold or donated if it doesn't go quickly.
  • When I get back, I'll be starting a project to turn a vehicle of some sort into a micro motor home, preferably with a biodiesel engine and tweaks for sustainable energy sources.  Yes, I'm absolutely serious.  This is the side of physics and engineering that drew me in the first place, and while I like the programming OK fine and am good enough at it to make a career, I'm refusing to eradicate the weird and wonderful side of science from my life.
So this is how I deal with it.  I get angry.  And then I get better.  And then I get totally crazy (the good kind).

More soon.  So, so much more.

-N

 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Richness of self



I was a Christmas orphan this year.

I'm not going to lie - at first I was pretty bummed about it.  Not that you'd have realised it, seeing me anywhere in public, though.  During my last work shift, on December 23 (Christmas Eve Eve, for those in the know) I was acting as cheerful as you can get without actually glowing. People just kept coming in and everyone could see we'd have to stay later than normal and my buddy Pepe was tired and misanthropic and we all just wanted to go home already.  So in retaliation against the wave of Grinch-like ennui sweeping over us all, I did my best to be as happy as possible - smiling even wider than normal; singing along to the radio; joking and laughing with customers, cooks, runners and all.

And I kept it up even after the place  was closed and empty and the cooks had gone home and it was just the last FOHers cleaning up.  The radio was off, so I started singing all those beautiful ancient Christmas hymns that I still love so much, even though it's been years since I ascribed to the belief.  The sanctity of the music itself, one note after another in precisely the same way it's been done for hundreds of years, is enough for me.  I sang Dominatus Ex Parentis (although I had to switch to English because I don't know the whole thing in Latin), and Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle and the Coventry Carol and Lo, How A Rose.  And some more, but it was the last one that got me.