Setting the intention

I began today with a little yoga.

Scratch that. (Yes, I did do yoga, but…) I woke up late, to the strident sounds of the geriatric felines, yowling for breakfast and crying in blind confusion like a fussy infant, respectively. My head was fuzzy and I felt like I was being pried from a glorious dream world. I went to bed just a little too late last night, after knitting and baking most of the evening, and drinking just a touch too much wine. Knitting and alcohol are an odd couple, but somehow they seem meant to go hand in hand.

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Be Where Now?

The final weeks of the calendar year offer an easy excuse for nostalgia, although I sometimes think I’m plagued by perpetual nostalgia, to a point where I sometimes refer to myself as a nostalgiac, or perhaps  nostalgiaholic. Or maybe, barring a bunch of silly neologism and thinly disparaging labels, it’s just a lot of unrealized dreams and sometimes plain and simple regrets tinged with wistful longing.

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Navel gazing and wanderlust in harsh climates

I don’t understand this soul-searching, ‘find yourself’ thing that your generation does. When I was your age, I had to find a career path and a job quickly, to make money and to support my family. That was the choice. I just had to do it.

I can still hear with perfect clarity the inflection and words of Ben, my friend and co-worker, a retiree who ran field drops (also known as Backup) of water and supplies for the groups of kids and staff  at my wilderness therapy job in the high desert hinterlands of northeastern Utah. Before his time in this position, something he did more for the social contact than any kind of necessary supplemental income, Ben had lived another life a world away, as a successful businessman in foreign cities and distant lands. Prior to that, he had been in the military, doing much the same. At one point in the midst of all that, he lost both his wife and his daughter in a tragic car accident. He never seemed bitter or marred by the experience, merely reflective and always just a little sad, though possibly gentler, with a steely reserve and an undeniable, unflappable ethic. He always treated me with a fatherly kindness, tempered by gentle ribbing and sarcasm applied at the moments when I took myself too seriously or allowed the actions of others to puncture my all too transparently thin skin. All of this was balanced by a decent amount of “now, listen here” tough love.

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Somewhere above the noise

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This morning, over coffee and the sounds of the vineyard harvest humming away in the background, accompanied by bird song (lovely) and the occasional disruptive rumble of a logging truck, the Tall Man and I mulled over the realities of “living away from it all,” which by most accounts, we do. How, for a short stint of our lives so far, we are able to live without all of the usual static and noise: not just of perpetual highway traffic and the hum and hustle of teeming humanity, but of billboards, television, internet, and the undeniable presence these entities assert in modern life. Although there are myriad annoyances that inevitably sprout up from time to time, in relation to the bare-bones reality that is living so remotely, it also somehow feels just right much of the time; although there are elements of it that are completely at odds with who I am, or who I’ve been conditioned to believe I should be.

Even if I feel restless and claustrophobic at times – island fever, though it’s not technically an island – and crave the interactions with peers which are so few and far between here, there is also something about it that sits exactly where it oughta. Even when I know in my heart that the place isn’t quite what I had in mind, and that I won’t stay here for the rest of my life, (because, believe me, there are things I desperately would trade for in a heartbeat) there is some quiet voice inside of me that says Why are you in such a hurry to run away all the time? There’s value in silence and solitude, and when you think about sprinting away again, it’s because you’re just too afraid to look. Even when that “silence and solitude” usually seem to wear the guise of isolation and loneliness with a hint of alienation and the impression that indeed, life IS happening elsewhere. Of course it is. It always is.

We talked about the sigh of relief we exhale slowly, but surely, often unconsciously, as we turn and dip, around the bend on the 128 that signals the dividing line between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. We talked about how so much laziness and apathy are bred by convenience. And how there is so much we’ve been told that is vital and crucial and important that is really just a fat waste of time and adds no human value to our existence, but actually does so much more of the opposite: to distract us, to destroy us, to take away the short, precious moments we have on this beautiful planet which is summarily being decimated by all this so-called “progress” and “success” we’re taught to strive for.

This quiet, quirky, remote place, although it drives me to the brink of my own sanity at times, as it turns out, is actually something to be treasured and preserved. Not that I’m advocating holing one’s self up like a hermit or a misanthrope and trying to wall yourself off from the rest of humanity’s ceaseless onslaught. I know my fair share of curmudgeons here who espouse exactly that and I think most of them are hiding behind delusion and/or a deeply scarred facade. But for my own part, I am lately finding the moments where I am able to more fully appreciate what it is to find one’s self so-called “above the noise.”

I don’t mean this to say that I’ve moved beyond it, or that I think I’m better than it, or that I have no use for it, and I’m going to live completely on the hinterland fringes of it forever. Surely not. I currently make my living via social media. I’m participating in it right now. I don’t intend to stop. I am talking about taking time out of the panting, shoving, pushing, sad race where you are merely barreling forward without even finding that moment to stop what you’re doing; to take that pause, and languish in that fleeting second it takes to inhale deeply and then slowly exhale. That is, to try to step outside of yourself and your impressions and your beliefs (most of them are wrong. Some of them are right but really… Most of what we think is probably wrong. Or, I’ll speak for myself here: Most of what I think most of the time is probably completely, unutterably false) where your mind can be still – for even just a brief moment – where you can allow those thoughts to recede and allow beauty and silence to overtake you. To perhaps let your eyes and your brain be soothed by the dramatic spectacle in the sky, that we can gaze upon at the start and end to each day, or appreciate some tiny thing that brings you joy or peace or gives you pause. If I can quiet my mind, even for just a moment, sometimes those false impressions and mental static slip away, at least for the time being.

One drop

I was talking yesterday with a friend about the daughter of someone we both know who suffers from debilitating depression. He spoke of the undue burden it put on our friend. How she is afraid to leave her child alone, because the young woman is hopeless and it’s not clear that she actually even wants to go on existing. “She just hates herself so much.” Why? It’s not obvious what the source of all this is. Or at least to me, why she thinks life is so awful. I don’t know this girl very well, though to me, her depression is etched clearly across her face, it’s transparent and obvious in her demeanor. I didn’t have to ask what to know that something was off. There is a tired, far away look in her eyes, and when she smiles, she doesn’t quite seem to be present. It’s a familiar expression.

I hardly know her, yet I can see parts of her seem to be existing in some grey elsewhere. I always wanted to give her some kind of reassurance, tell her it was OK or that I understand, even if I actually don’t, and it’s not, and even if I can’t just ask her what or why, because she’s only someone I know in passing. And what business is it of mine to try to save someone?

Hmmm, I think, with a vaguely dispassionate cynicism: “Welcome to your mid-20s, girlfriend.” The grumpy part of me wants to tell people to snap out of it, though I know this is not how it works. It would have done me no good if someone said this to me. And of course, this is dismissive. And not the whole picture. And for many people, not so.

It seems common, yes, that there are a lot of 20somethings who are depressed, though. Young people find themselves caught between childhood and adulthood in some weird purgatory with a lack of any kind of definitive direction, or meaningful and substantive motis. Well, for some of us at least. And sometimes we proceed in a particular direction, but don’t find it fulfilling in the way that we had hoped. Sometimes adulthood can be so boring, so mundane. It can simply seem meaningless, dull, predictable.

I thought about my own struggles with depression and thought about what helps me. How I have to remember to take care of myself in a different way, and how I need to remind myself of what is rational and irrational, and that this too shall pass. How lately, I seem to have been able to put those overwhelming thoughts aside, for now. Today, at least. Because even when I get frustrated with the little things – or the multitude of little things that can pile up to seem like lumbering, amalgamated monsters – I’m ok, overall. My life is not in shambles. It may not be the beautiful and glowing example I sometimes wish it could be, but I am doing ok. Sometimes that is good enough. Not everything has to be superlative or exceptional. I’m grateful for what I have and feel a sense of control over my existence that wasn’t always so. Control, or the vague illusion of it, is often that missing puzzle piece. I think often about how realizing where you have it and where you don’t (there’s usually a fairly substantive weight more heavily on the latter side than the former) can help one feel a greater peace; less of an attachment to struggling and to changing others, or certain outcomes.

I realize that what helped me also doesn’t work as a catch all or a panacea for everyone else. But I think about this quote sometimes and think it holds a lot of weight. “Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself. It means thinking less on yourself.” To think that my every action is so significant, of such magnitude, is a kind of egotism which is as insufferable and self-indulgent as That Guy at the party who can’t stop talking about how overweeningly awesome he and everything in his life is (ever heard my favorite quote? It’s this: “Arrogance is always insecurity.” Same old boring thing.) To over analyze one’s ever doing and deed is a warped kind of egotism as well. To think that one’s life is a burden to others also seems like a kind of egotism, but then sometimes we make it so. And that seems unfair too.

To me, it is often comforting to think that our lives, however small, are just one little drop in a great ocean. Life is very short, yes, and of course, we have to come to terms with this somehow. Yet making the most of everyday is overwhelming and near impossible. To think I made some simple difference in someone’s day often seems good enough. To tell someone I’m having an OK day seems good enough too. OK doesn’t mean subpar, it just means everything is alright, because hey, sometimes stasis is the good news we need. Why must I show you that it’s Great(!) or Super! Or Awesome! Or Amazing! It sets my teeth on edge in a way I find hard to express in the moment, when the grocery store clerk asks me this, and then responds as if I’ve broken some unspoken rule of decorum. When I say “OK” I get questioned because I’m straying from the scripted dialogue in which we’re expected to participate. Come on, I think, it’s just a day. I’m grocery shopping. I have allergies. But I’m alive and I have a job and a home and people who love me. Isn’t good enough good enough? Let’s be honest, as much as I love to cook, it’s still a pretty mundane task, and that’s OK to call what it is “Yes. Just OK.” We all need to do it. Let’s move along, shall we?

On that note, I truly love this piece and think everyone should read it: Have An Average Day

On friendship

Support, salvation, transformation, life: this is what women give to one another when they are true friends, soul friends, what the Irish call anam cara. It’s what the Wrinklies did for one another, what the French resistance fighters in Auschwitz did for one another, what women do for one another in real relationships with real consequences in real time, every day, what my friends do for me. We help one another other live and sometimes, we watch – and help – one another die. It happens in movies, sure, but it also happens every day, in real life – now, tomorrow, yesterday. It is transformative and transcendent. It is real. It is love.

Read the rest here. I simply cannot get enough of Emily Rapp’s beautiful and profound writing, and my next venture is to seek out her book about growing up with a disability; the depth of sorrow, the subject matter which seems so removed from my reality, and yet, all the same, it speaks to something we all experience, inevitably, in one form or another. There is a quote from her blog, somewhere in her writing, that sometimes people will say to her “I can’t imagine,” to which she replies “yes you can. You just don’t want to.” And there’s nothing more real and true than that.

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Yo vote!

This has to have been the election I’ve anticipated the most since first casting my vote back in 2000, when things went so strangely, by anyone’s measure. This year is my fourth presidential election to date! I feel like a kindergartner, holding up her right hand, saying “I’m this many!” to prove I belong at the polls. And indeed, I did approach the ballot booth with enough childish glee and first-day-of-school-ever kind of anxiety in a way I did not radiate when I was 18. Afterall, I’d cast my “vote” before with my mom and papa many times, going to the polls with them as a kid. I can’t remember now who I helped them vote for back then. I remember going when Walter Mondale was running against Ronald Reagan, but have no idea who which parent chose (my parents do not always vote similarly, to say the least). I remember getting to punch a ballot or two, though they were probably just “practice” ballots, if those exist. Or if my papa told me that so I wouldn’t feel like my “selections” were being cast aside. Do they even let you take your toddler into the voting booth with you anymore?

It was pretty exciting in 2008, although casting my Blue vote in a Red state didn’t feel much more than a wee voice crying in the wilderness at the time, since my electorate didn’t do too much to help the prez get where he is now that time around, to say the least. Surely not so much so this year, either. And now, living in California, my voice is just one among many, at least when it comes to who we tend to elect to the Oval Office.  But, it’s also exciting, because we get a sum total of 55 electoral votes, and that’s more than any other state, which is a pretty big deal in itself. Like being part of the tide that effects the sea change.

I’m proud to say I read more and payed more attention this time than I often do – on both state and federal levels – to what was going on around the various issues and candidates. Listening to the Teabaggers and their influence on the Right, I felt it was more important than ever to make a statement about what democracy and true freedom look like. It does NOT, to my mind, look like a bunch of foolish old overly privileged white men – the very same who have helped rob the country and send gajillions of jobs overseas – telling “binders full of women” what to do with their bodies, telling us that rape is only just-so under certain circumstances (defined by whom, exactly?) and then soundly patting us on the head with such statements implying that the economy sure as heck can work for them, and they boy hokey can get home in time to get little Jimmy’s dinner on the table too, with this plan!

Because it’s 19effing52 or something? I didn’t want a patronizing, regressive head of state either. Just… yuck.

Now, I don’t pretend that everything will be fixed since we collectively opted not to vote in Mittens. But thank f%&$ we’re not facing four years of the Radical Right in the highest office.

Too bad Prop 37 didn’t pass though. Monsanto/DuPont/Dow/etc., you have not heard the last.