Winter Wonderland ~ Bridal Veil Falls, March 2017
I have been reading a lot lately about the concept of immersion in relation to creative non-fiction writing. You find a subject of interest and then immerse yourself in that culture/trade/way of life, whatever it may be. In memoir style writing, YOU ARE the subject. You are essentially immersing yourself in your own life. Not in a “head in the sand” type of way (unaware of what’s going on in the world surrounding you, or uninterested, caring only for yourself). Rather, in this refreshing, self-enlightened kind of way, albeit incredibly vulnerable at times. You learn what made you, what moves you…tapping into memories, emotions, hesitations, and ambitions that shape you in one way or another.
When you lose someone close to you suddenly, you begin to think about all of the lingering questions you wish you would have asked them and the stories that were yet to be told. That was, in part, the reason for me to begin writing…the realization that there were many adventures and tales unique to my Father that died with him. Narratives I will never be privy to. I decided I didn’t want the same to be true of myself. And then, as if to cement that way of thinking, I came across the following piece of advice: “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman.
One definition of immersion is “deep mental involvement”. In a world that’s become obsessed with being “involved” in the lives of others (even those they’ve never met), the idea of developing a deep mental involvement in my own life, an awakened consciousness, is a concept I’ve welcomed with open arms. Something I truly hope sticks with me through the remainder of my life, whether that life includes a future in writing or not. It’s something I want my children to observe and to learn because what this world lacks greatly, is compassion. And I believe compassion cannot be shown without understanding, and understanding can’t be achieved without consciousness and recognition. We understand others when we can relate in some way, either with feelings or experiences, aspects of ourselves that we must learn to be in tune with if we wish to tap into them for the better good.
To write about something, actually, to write WELL about something, one must have a level of interest that mirrors passion. I have, through this process, become increasingly passionate about my life…how, where, and with whom I spend it, and most importantly, how I view it. As my immersion deepens, I have found the following state of being to be less and less elusive:
And that is what I wish for anyone that is reading this. Now, and for the coming New Year.
I’m laying on the grass in my front yard. My body long and placid on the oversized beach towel, soaking up the unusual warmth from this mid November afternoon sun. I started out sitting on the front porch as I often do to drink coffee and read. But as I stared out onto the sunkissed grass, it looked too inviting. At first I felt a bit childish, but not enough to stop myself. Looking up into the same trees I’d seen since I was that 11 year old girl….carefree, unjaded. As I lay there, I close my eyes. Not pretending to be laying by the ocean, exchanging the cool, overgrown grass for some warm sand. In fact, I feel pretty content with where I am, loving that it’s Sunday and I’m home, I’m rested and indulging in this time of quiet. It’s therapy to me.
I open my eyes and fix my gaze on this particular bird, flying higher and higher…observing his technique and at what points in his flight he tucks his long black wings by his side instead of outstretched. Soon enough that single bird becomes two, and then three. Then off they go, disappearing from my sight and me wondering where they are going.
I’m so soothed I contemplate falling asleep out here. Playing out a scenario in my head, one where I fall asleep and wake up to be that 11 year old girl again…laying outside of the new home her parents purchased. A clean slate, a mind full of wonder and pureness. I quickly compile in my mind a list of the most obvious things I would do differently from that point in my life until now. We all have wished we could turn back time on more than a few occasions.
These words came across my feed the other day…their truthfulness both enlightening and chilling. The quote is from Tom Hawking: “It is one of life’s greatest ironies that wisdom comes only with experience, and it reaches it’s apogee just as we are deprived of the chance to use it.” This “irony” is one that never escapes me. Wishing I had known years ago what I know now and that the experience from which that knowledge was derived hadn’t contained so much heartache. Realizing now the things that weren’t worth worrying over and the ones I should have worried more about. The people I wish I’d devoted more of myself to and those I should have never invited into my life to begin with. And especially, all of the time wasted on valueless pursuits.
But living in the past (as most of us are well aware), only robs us of the present. And if there’s one beautiful thing about life, it’s that every day is an opportunity for a fresh start. I may not be able to go back and press the reset button, but I can focus on making better decisions going forward so that twenty years from now, I’m proud of thirty year old me and all of the me in between.
The inquisitiveness of a child….
Yesterday morning I took a trip to Target (a place I rarely frequent anymore because like many women I know, self control seems to fly out the window the moment my body triggers the automatic doors). But I was there for a purpose; to purchase a last minute baby shower gift for a co-worker. My eyes lingered for some time on the racks of cute sweaters and jackets as I walked by them at a glacial speed on my way to the baby section (I get my clothes addiction honestly. If you knew my mother you’d understand). After I picked out the gift, I proceeded to head to the greeting card section which happens to be right next to the notebooks. My eyes locked on a beautiful, delicate set of canvas, woven notebooks with the most vivacious yet rustic colors and floral prints. You may laugh, wondering how someone could get so excited over a thin booklet of blank paper, but I truly do. For years, I’ve collected notebooks, even before I began to write regularly or have any real need for them besides scratching down grocery lists and budgets. So I bought them, even though they were overpriced and not necessary by any means. Now I’ll let you “oooh” and “ahhh” over them below before I explain the deeper reason behind my excitement.
They say if you want to be good at something, work at it, practice it every day; develop a good routine and stick to it. Writing is of course, no exception. Well anyone that truly knows me, knows I struggle a great deal with routine. I probably take the “fly by the seat of my pants” approach to life far more than I should. Since I took the leap and started this blog seven months ago, it’s become increasingly evident to me that not only is writing good for my soul, it’s something that I just might actually be really good at if I give it adequate time and devotion. So with only two short months left of this year and me wanting to make the best of them right down to the end, I’ve pledged to myself that I will begin writing every day, even if just for five minutes. Granted, I am a working, commuting Mother of two and like most Mothers I know, at any given time I have housework to be done and/or bills to be paid. Some days finishing a single thought uninterrupted is quite a feat. However, this is part of my continued endeavor to create and maintain healthy habits for myself (mental health included). After all, a Mom needs to be healthy and well rounded first if she wants to raise her children as such.
Finding these perfect little books was just the reminder that I needed to keep up my determination to practice, practice, practice. To sit each day, allow the pressures to subside, put pen to paper, and fill theses pages with treasures. Keeping in mind that there doesn’t always have to be a moral to the story. Sometimes we write just to write and to reflect on our day even if by most standards it was uneventful.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anais Nin
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day, you’re 17 and you’re planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.” – Anonymous
I’m not sure those words could reflect more accurately how I’ve been feeling as I approach my 30th birthday. Time has evaded me. Almost three decades on this intricate planet of ours and I still have an overwhelming amount of self-awareness to achieve. I would file the past three years in particular under “lessons learned” and “harsh realities”. Life changing for both the good and the bad. In that time, I have managed to experience some of the most exhilarating moments of my life; hit rock bottom (or what I certainly hope is my rock bottom), both emotionally and financially; seen some of the ugliest sides of life, as well as people (myself included); rebuilt some relationships and abandoned others completely; and struggled with a mountain of guilt, regret, and loss (not all in that order).
There have been times I didn’t think I could possibly feel more alone…imprisoned in my own whirling thoughts. Times I didn’t think I could feel more alive and enlightened. And times I truly didn’t know how or what to feel, so I sort of just stopped feeling. But that, I’ve come to understand and embrace, is life. The only thing predictable about it is it’s unwavering ability to be unpredictable.
This period of transition I find myself on the brink of is pivotal to my evolution. No, the earth won’t stop turning the day I turn 30; nor will life suddenly change in some sort of drastic or abrupt way. However, the opportunity presents itself to exhale the negative from the past decade of my life (a decade full of self doubt and self scrutiny, more rash decisions than I’d like to recall, and more hard losses than I was able to cope with) and to instead breathe in a new decade. One of potential, one where I focus on self love, personal growth, and strengthening my ability to be more patient and understanding of others, and most importantly, MYSELF.
It’s Saturday morning in early September. A pretty perfect Saturday morning I might add. As I sit alone on the front porch, hair unbrushed, not a stitch of makeup on my face; I embrace the pureness of being me. Taking in my surroundings, I watch as the neighbors scurry about, busy with their weekend chores. I wince at the sun as it pokes through the overgrown trees in my yard and I feel the breeze against my bare arms. The foam from my second latte tingles against my top lip. I’d say I’m somewhat addicted to these things… one cup always leads to a second. The flavor is subtle, yet satisfying and the warmth brings a sort of indescribable comfort. I’m reminded of the first time I drank one of these particular lattes. Christmas day two years ago. Sitting on my mothers couch in a big warm polkadot robe. That was such a good day. Just the two of us, nowhere to be….pj’s, lattes, and movies.
Realistically, there are 100 different things I could or should be doing this morning… mopping floors, making beds, scrubbing toilets, sifting through that nagging pile of mail. But in this moment, I’ve chosen my mental well being over the to do list. In fact, the older I get the more I realize the value in allowing myself to be alone and uninterrupted in my thoughts. A concept that at one time seemed downright scary to me.
Truth is, I was anxious to crack open the book that arrived in a box on my doorstep yesterday. It’s a book that was recommended to me by a fellow blogger, one whose writing has become beyond inspirational to me. The book focuses on our ability to cope with life when things don’t go the way we planned and was written by an American Buddhist woman. Buddhist teachings are something that have increasingly gained my intrigue over the past few years. Sure enough, I finish the very first chapter (all of four and a half pages) and I realize it is exactly what I needed. Funny thing is, this happens to me more and more often lately. I read or hear something at the exact moment in time when I need to be inspired or put things into perspective. Maybe it’s because I’ve become more observant; maybe it’s because I’m searching harder with ears and eyes open wider than ever in my life. Either way, it’s a constant reminder to me of the value and power of words and the realization that we have so much to gain from others’ knowledge.
What I’m reading is about fear. How it’s inevitable in life and even the universe’s tiniest creatures experience it. How fear means that we are moving closer to the truth and when we run away from it we are doing ourselves a disservice by missing out on the present moment. She talks about our natural inclination to run from it, to escape. Her words resonate with me because I’ve been there so many times in the past few years, running without even realizing it. Coincidently, I was sitting at a party recently and as I looked around I noticed everyone was drinking and smoking heavily and my first thought was “what are they trying to escape from?” And in that moment it became clear to me yet again that not only did I not need an escape, I didn’t want one. Whether it’s fear, sadness, loss, joyfulness, peace, or any of the transient emotions we experience on a regular basis, they are all beautiful in their own right and worthy of being felt completely because they are an indication that we are not only alive, but that we are living.
Recently I learned a new term: Monachopsis. It means “The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.” That pretty accurately describes what I’ve felt in the past year. I believe it’s because of the aforementioned epiphany, the revelation that so many people around us are fearful of life and feeling and look for any means possible to escape. And that’s not a life that’s meant for me. I’m here to feel, and to feel deeply. To bask in the present moment whether it’s good or bad or just can’t be measured one way or another. Because the truth (albeit scary) is that I will never get that moment back and that moment, in the long run, will somehow shape me into the person I was meant to be all along.
So as I sit here, enjoying the simplicity and yet the profoundness of this moment of clarity in my mind, I feel at peace. Confident in the notion that whatever the rest of this year brings my way, I can face it head on and I will continue to evolve. Continue to grow and inspire and be inspired. Continue to feel, whatever that feeling may be, and to embrace it rather than escape from it. And maybe, just maybe, turn it into something beautiful.
Her very essence is one of chaos
Her mind, her heart, even her hair…all untamable
She’s a tumbleweed; bound together by her brokenness
She’s fearful of planting roots; for to her that means giving up what could be
Always carrying in her back pocket, a flight plan
Living life with the freedom that accompanies the giving up of expectations and the holding of ones’ breath
Realizing nothing is stable, nothing is constant ~ This is a blessing and a curse
Knowing now that an ending is merely the beginning of new possibility
She makes as little promises as the ones she holds onto
She figures life out long enough to remember she doesn’t want to ~ There’s beauty behind the madness
“The best thing you could do is master the chaos in you. You are not thrown into the fire, YOU ARE THE FIRE.” ~ Mama Indigo
Walking into that quiet waiting room, I suddenly have the urge to turn around and run. I tell myself I don’t belong here. But I made the appointment and the doctor has set aside this hour to see me. Being the person I am, with an irrational fear of being considered a flake, I take a seat. Staring down at the daunting amount of personal questions I have to put a check mark next to, that “White Coat Syndrome” I developed after my father’s hospital stint sets in full force.
A door opens slowly and an older woman with a kind smile calls me back. We make our introductions, I find a seat, and then she asks the dreaded question: why am I here? This is what I’d been practicing for, all the things I thought I wanted to talk about, all of the emotions I’d been experiencing, culminating into this moment. And suddenly I’m speechless, holding back a flood of tears. This is not what I wanted. I wanted to come in strong and put everything out onto the table in a calculated manner and get some direct answer sprinkled with some constructive criticism, maybe a suggested book to read, and then be on my way.
Once I’ve gathered myself, I began with what I considered to be the most catastrophic, emotionally debilitating event thus far; the death of my father. How abrupt and traumatic the events leading up to his death were; how I felt there was no closure, no way of knowing if he heard what I was saying to him or how I felt about him; dealing with the aftermath of his passing; grieving alongside my child who was old enough to understand the gravity of the situation and close enough to my father to feel a significant void. We talk about grief, what a complex process it is, one that can’t be rushed. I tell her I feel that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, the event that led to an emotional and mental landslide and a handful of rash decisions.
Naturally, the conversation gravitated toward the next big event, the one I did have control over; the divorce. The guilt pours in. I tell her how difficult it was to have so many people that were once family, turn against me, not knowing both sides of the story that was my marriage. How tough of a pill it was to swallow to be the bad guy, to be cut off completely by people I was invested in for over a decade of my young life. I explain the 180 degree turn my life had taken since then, the overwhelmingly lonely moments of solitude I was faced with when I wasn’t out surrounding myself with strangers in an effort to avoid reality. I tell her why I ran. That relationship wasn’t me. As many times as we’ve heard it said before, I didn’t know who I was. This quote explains it better than I can: “And then she realized she had devoted a whole book to someone who treated her like a footnote. So she put down the pen and stop writing.” ~ Mandy Hale. I stopped writing because I had stopped caring years before. I was slowly worn down with the responsibility, with feeling unappreciated, unexcited, the sting still there deep down from hateful words I had absorbed as a young woman, as well as the embarrassment that came from hiding repeated physical abuse.
In that hour, we covered many of the contributing factors to my current state of anxiety and what some would consider self-destruction. We talked about the unhealthy relationship I was in at the time, the history of dysfunction in the family, my rigorous religious upbringing alongside my immediate family dynamic, and my fears for my children’s future in a split family. We set up another appointment and parted ways.
I realized after that meeting that what we all want: a black-and-white answer, a quick fix, doesn’t usually exist. There is no magical pill that can force us to let go of regret, to teach us how to redirect our thoughts or how to talk to ourselves in a healthy manner, or to be patient in our relationships with others. That part is completely up to us and determines our commitment to cultivating a life worth living. I was reminded of the value in being heard, and sorting through what’s been accumulating in our minds with the intent of understanding it ourselves and being understood. And just as there is no magical pill or magical word to cure the past and what’s hindering us in the present, there also exists no perfect set of circumstances, no ideal environment in which to be raised. We have all seen imperfection at its finest and endured things that have set us back. We though, are solely responsible for our own happiness and we should never feel guilty or apologetic for taking whatever measures necessary to accomplish this.
“I’ve changed. Irrevocably. Permanently. My soul is richer and my heart is fuller in brokenness than it ever was without. I’ve learned true despair, and it’s made me learn to appreciate true joy.” ~ Annonymous
As I tip toe on the still hot pavement at the end of another scorching California day, I look to my left to see a familiar sight. The old woman that lives across the street is sitting comfortably on her porch, preparing to watch the sunset…just as she does every single night. I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing her at this time that I never actually stop to wonder how long she’s kept up this routine of hers; what she thinks about while she sits there; or how long it’s been since someone sat there and enjoyed it with her.
If you honestly think about it, how long has it been since you stopped and watched the sunset? Not just snapped a picture of it to post on social media…but actually took in the process of the sun dipping slowly, the colors of the sky changing and intensifying, the air beginning to cool, and the city magically quieting down? For me, it’s been months; since my last vacation. (Funny how it takes a change of location to help us appreciate the things that are already in front of us).
I’ll be the first to admit that my life is quite a bit busier than I’d like. This is due to both circumstance and habit. I’ve worked and taken care of people from such a young age that I struggle with the ability to relax. The majority of my time spent “relaxing” is me sleeping. I do believe, however, that there is something so powerfully therapeutic about that in between phase of our days and our lives; where we are no longer on the go, and yet not entirely shut down either. When we allow our minds to wander and pressures to subside.
As small children, we appreciate the simple things. Bright colors, new noises, familiar faces, a box to play in or keys to jingle. But as life progresses, we slowly lose sight of simplicity and contentment. In this society, we are constantly being enticed and pushed toward bigger/better. Not that I’m insinuating in any way that moving forward in life and having goals is wrong. Self fulfillment and healthy aspirations are vital aspects of life. However, it’s become very evident that for me personally and this generation as a whole, we need to train ourselves to come up for air more often. To become one with the world around us, outside of a screen. To redefine our idea of beauty and to appreciate the things around us that are not man made and can’t be bought.
In a way, I feel like that old woman is richer than most. She spends more quality time with the universe and her own quiet thoughts in a week than the majority of us do in months. At what point in time, in our lives, do we once again embrace the uncomplicated, transparent, “free” treasures in life? I suppose that is up to us.
“Sunsets are proof that no matter what happens, ever day can end beautifully” ~ Kristen Butler
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing” ~ Camille Pissarro