Out Into

Hi loved ones! I have some pictures and words to share with you if you have the time.

The first picture is from my most recent trip to Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico. The second is from my first ever solo adventure to Beijing and Hong Kong around 5 years ago when I was 24.

Before that trip, I had traveled before, even moved to another country, but I always had a safety net: an orientation to attend, a group to meet, a partner to join me, a plan.

That first night alone in a hostel in Hong Kong circa December 2014, it dawned on me that I was in a city of millions and not one of them knew my name. What followed was a moment of sheer terror. I know there are some people who would find this prospect energizing (I happen to be one of them, but on this particular evening I didn’t know that yet.). My thoughts sounded something like: “Why the f- did I think this was a good idea?” “Can I change my flight?” and “Would anyone be the wiser if I just stayed in my room the whole time?”

I can’t remember exactly what happened that night and how I managed to get through the discomfort of it, but I do know that the trip changed my life forever. I met expats and students and wanderers oh my! Everyone with a different story, a different perspective, a different dream. And they were all just putting themselves out into the world! Without knowing what would happen or who they would encounter or how all that would change them. And I realized that I could do that too, put myself out into the world; I was doing that too. I could be just like them, was just like them.

Although I have taken multiple solo trips since that first time, I have been timid when talking about traveling with others, especially on social media. It’s hard to share pictures, thoughts, etc without unintentionally creating a one-sided narrative or crafting an identity in the process.

People have said I’m brave for traveling alone, but I balk at that. I certainly don’t feel brave. There has not been a trip where I haven’t felt nervous and uncomfortable. The pictures I’m taking are beautiful bordering on glamorous, but there are images I’m not capturing – heartbreaking ones of people who are deformed and desperate, streets opaque with fumes and carpeted in trash. And I’m smiling in these pictures and writing this eloquent caption, but there are times when I am worse than lonely – I am questioning my entire identity and my inner critic belittles all the choices I have made, big and small. There are plenty of moments in which I am not whimsically weaving words, but scarcely able to squeak ‘save me from myself’ to my sister.

I guess what I’m saying is that there is so much to say about this way of being with the world. I could never sum it up in words or pictures. Even this commentary feels heavy-handed and simultaneously overly vague. But I’m tired of being so paralyzed with the fear of not doing justice to the feeling of traveling, or the countries I’m visiting, or the people I’m meeting that I don’t say anything at all about any of it. I’m also tired of overanalyzing how I might come off and the “image” I might accidentally create. (Ugh – images, they are such weird little creatures.)

It’s literally impossible to get across the entirety of an experience or my thoughts surrounding it on a 2-D surface with a platform that doesn’t even let you make paragraphs (Looking at you, IG.). How does one achieve authenticity without angling to be authentic and thus undermining the whole sentiment? I wish I was a duck – they def don’t get this meta, but I digress…

Traveling alone brings a rawness to my life that I am scared of, hooked on, and grateful for all at once. When I am on the road, I am tender, able to feel deeply – anxiety, appreciation, loss, love, grief, gladness. Everything that usually keeps feelings at bay is minimized – routines, familiarity, family and friends.  And I’m still not sure who gets the last say, the darkness or the light, but I keep forging ahead anyway. I keep holding the space for all of life to happen. I keep putting myself out into the world, panicking, breathing, and then letting the journey change me.

And now, looking at these pictures: the girl who I am and the girl who I was, I am so incredibly proud of both of them.

For walking through fear so that I may be open to the experiences and souls that teach me

about food,

family,

tradition,

community,

beauty,

love;

about leaping

out into

this wonderful and terrifying

human experience

on this precious planet

we all call home.

Thank you for being my mirror.

My hope is that I reflect you back.

Flies on the wall of the Universe.

I am free.

I am home.

Always and forever.

Thank you love. Thank you hope. Thank you joy and peace and gratitude.

My attention shifts from one thing to another – my breath to the steam spilling from the crack of the bathroom door to an ache in my neck to heat at my back to the flicker of the candle to the feeling of this pen in my hand. Alive.

I am home. I am free. Wherever I am, whoever I’m with, whatever I am doing – these words are true.

I am home. I am free. I am you. I am me.

Together we are bubbles in a stream, words on a page, flies on the wall of the universe.

Isn’t this Groundhog Day?

I woke up feeling guilty. Ashamed, even. I haven’t drank like that in a while, in damn near 7 months actually.

Is drinking inherently selfish? I feel like I wasted their time. They wanted to do something creative and interesting and instead they bummed around the bar with me. Classic.

Also I feel like an old part of myself (We will call her The Mean Girl.) took the reins at some points last night. That’s not who I want to be.

Is this my perfectionism again? The part of me that wants full and total control? The Perfect Girl wants everything to be planned – spiritual, even. No moment should be wasted in her eyes. Especially sitting in a dim booth in a bar that smells like sewage, drinking $12 worth of piss water. Nights like that are embarrassing bordering on shameful to her.

The Party Girl loves it, of course (She always does). She spits on control (How straitlaced and boring!) and she loves dim bars, shouting for no reason, and cheap booze. But she’s always asleep this hour of morning. While The Perfect Girl has been up since 6, stewing.

You three! Mean Girl, Perfect Girl, Party Girl! I say this with all the loving kindness I can muster – please take a seat, take a nap! Play games or give each other foot rubs, I don’t care, just try not to disturb the driver. It makes my head hurt listening to y’all squabbling over the reins, and once you have them – shouting out commands until you make yourself horse – ahem, hoarse. Perfect Girl! I’m looking at you – we have been driving in circles for about an hour now.

Still enough

I have been interested in trying sobriety for a while now but the stars didn’t align until a little over 4 months ago. July 4th, 2018 was the last time I drank, and the last time I got high. This is quite a feat for me. As much mind power I have put into questioning whether or not I had a “problem” with substances, the thought of being sober, of having no way to “elevate” my experience would leave me downright anxious.

With the clarity I’ve gotten in the last four months, what sticks out most to me is my ability to be still enough to spiritually connect. My past life has been full of so much noise. Drinking on the weekends, weed most week nights, boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend. If I filled my schedule, my life up enough, then maybe I would be filled up.

And that’s all I wanted, really. To be filled with spirit, to hear god. And with a life so noisy the only way to do it was to get even higher. My tolerance was too high for mere smoking so I’d eat a gummie or take LSD or coke or whatever could get me there. Whatever could get me beyond myself, my stupid, boring, spiritless thoughts, and into an expansive place of opportunity, of heightened awareness. I wanted to be a conduit between God and the physical plane and drugs was the only way I seemed to be able to become that.

And here I am, four months into sobriety from drugs and alcohol, five months into sobriety from sex and romantic relationships, 10 months into sobriety from caffeine. And what’s funny is, I didn’t even know what I was looking for when I started. And I still don’t know if I’ve found the grand “It,” but I’ve found something.

Which is all that noise in my life, ironically, in helping me access god was keeping me from god too. It was keeping me from the divine spirit that surrounds us, keeping me from my authentic self and an authentic relationship with god.

As I took it all away, all the noise, all the distraction, I started to feel again. And I’d almost miss them sometimes, the feelings that would arise but instead of running, I’d hone in, grab them by their tail. “Come back here, I want to feel you.” And in between the feelings, inside the feelings I heard god. It wasn’t the blasting sense of spirit I got when I would get too stoned or be in the midst of my trip, but it was there all the same.

A quiet sense of spirit, whispers from god. Sometimes “You are on the right track.” Or “Be still.” Or “Listen to yourself.” Or “Listen to what she is saying and take it with you.” But oh how quiet they were, and no doubt some have passed me by, but the ones I have caught have been all the more precious because of how still I had to be to catch them.

Now the world is my classroom and my higher power is the teacher. It is up to me to pay attention, to take notes, to apply what I’ve learned.

It’s funny to me now, to think of how loud my life was. All the knobs were turned up on blast. Like I went from listening to heavy metal to classical guitar. I went from drowning everything out, to not only hearing and enjoying the melody, but appreciating the pauses between the notes and the awe-inspiring spirit that strings them together.

The Stillness

She exists underneath

She is the basin

The silence

The space

Where it all happens

The stuff

The noise

The thoughts resentments ideas regrets what ifs maybes why can’ts the stories the just one more things the intrigues the questions and the conjectures

The junk

And just like that

The basin, filled

The silence, broken

The space, taken up

But god, she was here!

She was just here

Where the fuck did she go?!

Sh, wait,

Stop for a sec

I won’t find her with more

Only less

Things that (currently) bring me heartfelt joy

When I was first given this assignment, I felt a wave of nervous excitement take over me. Nervous because – and it makes me chuckle now – I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything. That, is how gloomy I was feeling.

But as I allowed my heart to focus on the phrase “heartfelt joy,” she started to speak. No, she started to sing. I also love that this is a current list because it encourages me focus on the present.

So, here it goes.

  1. Coffee shops. West Oak has a beet latte. Yes, a beet latte, that is out of this world. A warm mug in my hands. Plentiful eavesdropping opportunities… first dates, mainly – my favorite. Warmth and snuggly feelings and peaceful diligence.
  2. Propagation. Been making cuttings of plants for spring the past couple weeks. It’s divine. Like playing God, a mother, a scientist, and a sadist all at once. Replicating life, watching the babies I made grow roots and unfurl new shiny leaves. To create something beautiful out of what looks like nothing at all. It’s pure magic. And the focus it requires of me. Most thoughts soften and lessen their hold on me during this task.
  3. Witnessing big hugs. I’ve seen a couple of really big hugs lately. Some are long and slow and rocking. Some are big and joyful. They all make me stop and stare, mesmerized by the genuine humanness of them.
  4. A Moon Shaped Pool. Radiohead you’ve done it again. When I listen to that album. Really listen. When I hear not only what’s on top but the layers underneath. Dddaaammmmnnnn.
  5. Letting go of doing, moving, and being okay with sitting, watching, observing, listening, breathing, being.
  6. Swedish Ivy ‘Mona Lavender.” Wwwhhhheeeewwweee! That’s a pretty plant.
  7. Strangers that catch my eye and smile.
  8. People who nod their heads as I talk.
  9. Seat warmers

Daily Fears and Doubts

  • That I have no direction or goal to work towards.
  • That everyone else my age has found their calling and I’m being left behind.
  • That I’ll never find my calling. That I’ll just be spinning my wheels my whole life.
  • That I’m whiny and self-centered. That I’m ungrateful to even worry or have doubt in my life at all.
  • That I don’t have as many friends as other people.
  • That the friends I do have care that much about me.
  • That I’ve never faced true loss.
  • That I’ll never stop doubting myself.
  • That all this is just my pride.
  • That all this isn’t my pride and is coming from a place of truth.
  • That I don’t seem to have fun like everyone else. That I can’t stop being withdrawn. That I can’t even seem to fake it.
  • That I need drugs, alcohol, or a relationship to access joy.
  • That all I do is fail.
  • That I don’t even know what I want to put my energy into. That I don’t even know what I truly enjoy.

And then

I take a deep breath in and listen to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

Free, at last

I don’t remember much about what Lyndsey and I used to talk about. New to life on our own, we were lost, we were scared, and we were covering up the discomfort we had in being ourselves any way that we could.

From what I recall this meant copious bitching – about boys we couldn’t be with and couldn’t be without, about everyone else’s problems, about how fucked up the system was. All the while using weed and booze to feel comfortable in our own skin.

But there was a day we spent together that I still remember that sticks out through all that, in spite of all that, maybe because of all that.

There was a dorm building on the edge of campus that had a pool. It was hardly ever used by anyone, but you were supposed to live in the building and have a key to use it. Psh! We had a tan to upkeep and weren’t about to be dissuaded by a locked gate. We packed a few tallboys and a couple towels, and hopped the fence.

For some reason we were able to take a break from ourselves that day. We didn’t start in on our usual stale chit chat – about my shitty relationship or the dude she was sleeping with, or the stupid republicans, or our painful childhoods.

The sky was a deep blue, filled with enormous cumulus clouds and a shining sun. That was the day we chose not to be victims. We stared up for hours, laughing and watching the clouds. “Look Buddha sitting on a donkey’s head!” “No, that’s a lobster eating a sandwich…”

For the next few hours the characters we envisioned seemed to actually materialize, float down, and free us.

Wonder, webs, and waiting

As my car pulled up to the gate, my headlights illuminated an intricate, geometric web, it’s mastermind and sole inhabitant crouched in the absolute middle of the web, waiting.

The softness was tattered on one end like there had been a disturbance there at some time but beautifully even on the other sides as if someone with OCD took a ruler and measured it down to the closest millimeter.

How are the measurements so exact? Is it something they learn with practice? Or do they just know innately from day 1?

But who cares about all these questions really? Pondering seems to take away from its beautiful perfection.

And so I took a moment of silent appreciation and the story almost ended there. I almost stepped out of my trance, opened the latch, swung open the gate, and drove inside. But I didn’t. I pushed down the urge to move, to go from one task to the next, one place to the next, and I stopped.

I bent down, crouching. Watching intently as the spider crouched. She, too, watching intently. Both of us, still, waiting for something to happen.

Bugs, drawn to the beam of my headlights flurried like snowflakes around us. And then, silently, a gnat spins through the web, jostling it. And the spider teleports to meet it, but it’s fine and she returns to the absolute center of the web. This happens twice more, and twice more she returns to the exact same position, like a robot after completing a line of code.

Whoosh! She nabs her prey. Tearing it out if her web, she drags it to the center with her. For a few seconds there’s a struggle until – stillness. Her mouth is sunk in the flesh of her prey and I can only imagine that she is sucking out its nutritious insides like we slurp soda through a straw.

The whole ordeal barely lasted three minutes. And to think, I almost moved right along like I didn’t have the time.

The cliche quote comes to mind – “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Isn’t it true, though?

To stop for a breath, and witness life like that, is everything.

An informational generational gap

As I sit I ponder the significance of an informational generational gap.

My grandfather, the careful observer; he is able to tell a doe from a buck by the animal’s scat, able to observe that when the hogs are active, the deer are not, able to tell what’s been there and how long ago from its tracks. The world outside is his classroom. He has no teacher but Mother Earth herself.

And me, a bookish aspiring naturalist; I am able to explain the “edge effect,” able to tell you that the blackland prairie as an ecosystem is in serious danger, can pull up pictures of the moth that an army worm will eventually become.

And how sometimes this gap is unintentionally bridged. Like when I tell him about the importance of native milkweed for monarch migration and he tells me that it’s all over the fields, that it’s called milkweed because of the milky white liquid that spills from them when they are stepped on or mowed.

And it hits me that I’m living on this goldmine. I have a prairie in my backyard. It’s right here for me to watch and observe. And I’ve been going to marked trailheads for my nature fix. And he’s living on a goldmine too. He has access to the internet. Every question he has could be answered if he were to find the right place to read.

It’s times like these that it’s hard for me not to let that gap swallow me whole.

We are in separate worlds, him and I, and I wish they’d merge. There’s a lot I could learn by putting down my pen. And a lot he could learn from borrowing a book.