life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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Follow your own unique path

I write from my own experience. I write this way in part because it is cathartic and helps me to unravel my often tangled, knotty existence. I also write this way because I believe in the concept of Autoethnography, a form of qualitative inquiry that requires the researcher to put their own experience under the microscope in connection with whatever topic they are studying. In other words, since I am interested in the idea of creating self-sustainability (a sustainable existence at the individual level), I believe that it is imperative that I explore and determine how to understand this concept through the lens of my own, individual life. Whatever patterns I discover from my study, I try elucidate those patterns in a way that makes them clear and accessible. I then share these patterns in my writing in the hopes that they may speak to other people who are also at a place in their life where they wish to create more balance, authenticity, and well being.

 

I believe with all my heart that it is possible to create a sustainable world—one that can handle the interactions of so many complicated beings and systems—with a bottom up approach. In other words, if we begin by requiring each individual person to think about and embrace a life path that will bring them balance, health and well being, and joy in a way that does not compromise the right for other people, beings, and systems to exist in their own balanced way, we just might save the world.

 

It is always with this idea in mind that I approach my writing and my life. This perspective shapes my interactions with other people and inspires my reading list. Of late, I have been most inspired by the writings of Claire Dederer and Elizabeth Gilbert, two writers and authors who write from their own experience and incorporate research and teachings from people who have been their own source of inspiration.

 

Am I drawn to female authors in their 30s and 40s because I happen to also be female and in my 30s? Perhaps. I find that I can learn a great deal from the insights they have shared about their life experiences in a way that I have not been inspired by read authors of other genders.

 

I imagine that I am not alone in feeling this way and that it works both ways. I vividly recall the information that was communication a conversation that transpired on New Year’s Eve 2010, to which I was part witness and part participant.

 

I was living in Gustavus, Alaska at the time. Gustavus was and is a very small community of mostly transplants from the lower 48, who seemed to have moved to this tiny town in part to escape the culture and speed of life in other areas of the United States, to be close to wild nature, and to be a part of the kind of close-knit community that is rarely found in the rest of the world in the wake of technological innovations.

 

I was talking with a Gustavus resident who was well-known in Gustavus and all over Alaska for books he had published, most of which had been written in a first person narrative. I had read a book he wrote about the Gustavus, Southeast Alaska, and a famous photographer who had been killed by a bear several years before, and I had found the piece particularly moving. It is a book that most people read when they move to Gustavus. Those people who stay and create a more permanent life in this wilderness community tend to have a well-loved copy on display on a shelf in their home.

 

I started writing creatively and in a first person narrative shortly after moving to Gustavus in the previous summer. Because I looked up to this author so much, I was curious what he thought of my own writing and if he might offer any helpful advice as I moved forward. I had therefore recently shared some of my own writing with him.

 

On this particular evening, I happened to be near this author and a friend as they were discussing a book that had recently been published by a young woman living in another part of Alaska (Homer, maybe?). It was quite clear that these two authors (both men) were not impressed by this woman’s book. I cannot recall if they had actually read the book or were averse to reading it simply because it was written by a woman who was several years their junior.

 

What can I possibly learn from a woman in her 30s? What can she teach me about life? My once hero writer said to his friend.

 

I stood there, stunned, questions already flying through my mind.

 

Did he really just say that?

 

Was he so certain that he had nothing to learn from anyone who was not a white male in his 50s (60s?)?

 

What must he think of my own novice writing from my perspective as a 30-year-old woman?

 

I was horrified, but I still walked up to them to say hello and ask if he had read the pieces I sent to him.

 

He had, and his advice to me, which I remember quite well, was the following: I think you would make a great travel writer.

 

Travel writer? I blanched on the inside but did my best to remain calm and friendly on the outside (at least, I think/hope I did; I am not always very good at maintaining a poker face).

 

Yes, being a travel writer could be great and is a respectable career choice, and his delivery was friendly and spirited enough. However, I knew this suggestion for the actual insult that it was. His words were like an apple that had been genetically engineered to look perfect but have zero taste. It looked red and perfect and delicious on the outside, but one bite revealed the mealy and flavorless fruit within.

 

Travel writer my ass, I thought to myself.

 

I never asked for his advice on my writing again.

 

Don’t misunderstand me. When it comes to critique, I welcome it even though it isn’t always easy to stomach. I don’t seek feedback from only those individuals who will tell me exactly what I want to hear about my writing.

 

I have just been learning over the years that sometimes feedback people provide comes from a place of fear or resistance that has arisen in their own minds from their own personal experiences. The feedback they offer, therefore, might very well have less to do with my own skills and capacity to succeed than it does with their own limitations and biases.

 

What I find very interesting is that the feedback that tries to confine and limit me tends to come from men. Over the years, many men have informed me that I have to choose one passion and path in life because I will ultimately fail if I choose more than one (i.e., if I want to be a successful songwriter and musician, I have to give up writing and studying to become a yoga teacher).

 

Also interesting is that it is the people in my life who have called bullshit on this advice and have encouraged me to continue to pursue any and all passions I feel called to embrace have tended to be women.

 

My favorite response came from my husband’s daughter when she was 18. It involved an expletive (or two or three), along with deeply heartfelt words of inspiration that I could be and do anything I set my heart to. I dearly love this woman and am thankful for her continued support and encouragement, which seems to come at the moments I need it most.

 

Despite warnings of unavoidable failure, I have continued writing, composing music, and studying and teaching yoga. I have not made a lot of money in my pursuits nor have I achieved celebrity status, but I do feel a sense of pride for my dedication and perseverance. I also know that I have made a difference in the lives of people who have read my writing, people with whom I have compose songs from stories, and people I have met both in my capacity as a student and teacher of yoga.

 

I have also learned and been inspired by the women authors who have followed their passions and written about their experiences. I am indebted to them and to those women (and men because there are many) who have encouraged me and reminded me that I have much to offer the world.

 

As my husband reminds me on a regular basis, Life is long. There is no rush.

 

When I compare myself to other people and the work they are doing, which seems much for successful in the way that is embraced by western culture, he responds, They are doing something completely different than you are. You aren’t the same. You have unique gifts, and you are sharing them with the world. Plus, you are pursuing different skills, like meditation and spiritual well being that they are not working to develop. Have patience. Everything happens in its own timeline.

 

He is right.

 

I have begun to recognize that my own definition for success runs counter to what most of the world requires. I also have come to believe that this is ok. I can be successful in my own way, at my own pace, and in my own time.


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The belly of the beast

I received some interesting and hilarious responses to my first post about our adventures in Darmstadt. One friend wrote of Darmstadt that it was “the intestine city,” a description which has now begun to weave itself into our conversation as we have moved through our second day here.

 

We had a relatively restful night’s sleep, though I could hear someone walking around in the room above us and experienced a few waves of panic, hoping this would not turn into a repeat of the nightmare neighbor we recently escaped from at our first apartment in Brussels. Thankfully, a simple turning on of the air fan and earplugs solved the noise from above. My husband was elated at the opportunity to sleep through the night without interruption from the two feline characters who share our home. He practically did a dance he was so giddy (ok, he definitely did a little dance, and it was adorable). I really love this man.

 

The day before I had called down to reception to ask about the internet, so this morning it was my husband’s turn to call to see if breakfast was included in the price for the hotel (feel free to judge, but we are on a student and part-time editor budget). Breakfast buffet was indeed gratis, so we headed down to the dining room.

 

We were greeted by the sounds of men in the lobby speaking American English.

 

Where are we? I asked my husband.

 

The little placard in our hotel room had informed us that there were more than 50 options at the buffet, and I would say the majority included some kind of meat and/or dairy product. While I have been impressed to see many vegan and vegetarian signs posted on the windows of restaurants around the town, the breakfast buffet at H+ Hotel was decidedly leaning toward the carnivorous with omnivores a close second.

 

There were little signs telling us the names of all of the meat products in German and English.

 

Huh, bacon is bacon in German and English, I noted, not that either of us are going to eat any. I did wind up with a couple of rogue pieces of bacon in my eggs, however.

 

The soundtrack for the buffet was decidedly weird. When we first walked in, we were serenaded by a male voice, telling us, you’re in the army now. Oh, oh oh, you’re in the army now.

 

Ok, I thought. Why not?

 

I wonder what the + is for? I asked my husband when we were seated at a table on the patio. A truck had pulled up, and the workers we had seen putting up a relatively small hotel sign the day before were unloading a much larger one to put up today.

 

 

Seems a little strange to be staying at a hotel that isn’t actually labeled as such, but the patio is sure nice, I continued.

 

We sat beneath a beer tent with Pilsner written in various locations. The breeze was lovely. I found myself feeling anxious and hurried and took a moment to exhale fully.

 

I’m quite happy to sit, my husband said in response to my fidgeting. There’s no hurry.

 

Ok. So what’s with the weird music? I asked. You’re in the army now? Really? I never even heard that song in the United States.

 

The things you hear in the intestine, my husband replied.

 

After breakfast, we headed on foot into town to wander around before the start of the conference we were here for my husband to attend.

 

Here are some of our observations from our wandering:

 

People in Darmstadt are kind and helpful. Apart from being skeptical of our choice to take an extended holiday in “the intestine city,” expats and locals have been quick to offer assistance to the foreigners who clearly do not speak the language and have no idea what they are doing when they try to place an order at a restaurant or bar.

 

I took a photo of a house on one street, and a man walking toward us who lived in the house wanted to tell us all about its history in a mix of German, English, and enthusiastic hand gesturing.

 

 

People have adorable dogs in Darmstadt. This man’s dog had hardly any teeth but smiled as only a dog can nonetheless and was very gracious in allowing us to place our hands by its muzzle so it could smell us. My husband and I even got to give its head a good pat before it went running toward its house.

 

The man stayed and told us how the front façade of the houses on the street were from 1600-1700 while the houses built behind them were of newer construction. Previously, there had been farms and chickens. The man was not enthusiastic about the graffiti that had been sprayed onto the front façade of many of the houses, so I waited until he had moved on to take photos. I am fascinated by the culture of graffiti, street art, stencils, and stickers that I find in places I travel, and I take a ridiculous number of photos everywhere I go (my husband can attest to this because we will be walking and I will stop to take a picture without saying anything so he either walks several paces ahead before realizing I am not there or walks directly into me when I stop abruptly to take a photo).

 

 

Shoes seem to be reasonably priced, but my feet are too small to fit into even the smallest sizes. Score one point for my bank account.

 

Food also seems to be very reasonably priced. Our entrees at the Mexican restaurant Hacienda were each under 10 euros. The water we ordered was the priciest part of the meal. I really need to figure out how to ask for tap water in German.

 

When I asked for an insalata at a Kebap place, I received a salad large enough for several meals. My husband ordered a pizza funghi (mushroom pizza), which became lunch for him and leftovers for dinner for me. The total cost was also under 10 euros. Apart from swimming in the yogurt style dressing they seem to serve at restaurants (from my experience at two), the salad held up pretty well for lunch and then an early dinner.

 

There are a lot of advertisements for cigarettes, as well as little cigarette vending machines placed all over town, but we have seen very few people actually smoking. I am refraining from sharing any photos of these advertisements so as to not promote the agenda of any cigarette companies.

 

Blue and white striped shirts, bicycles, and hippie pants are in. At one point while we were walking, we passed a group of people and three out of the five were all wearing blue and white striped shirts. The two women who bicycled past us at this same scene were wearing identical blue and white striped shirts.

 

You fit right in, my husband told me.

 

Yeah, but my shirt is purple and blue stripes. I think there may be some kind of striped shirt conspiracy going on here.

 

There were a couple rogue pink and white stripe shirts and red and white, but otherwise blue and white were the colors of the day.

 

I am not habituated to walking around a city where the number of people riding bicycles seems to outnumber those on foot and easily rival the number of cars driving around. I have been the cause of several near collisions. Every time my husband has to repeat my name before I realize I need to step out of the way. Walking around on my home after dropping my husband off at the conference center, I have gone through several more slow motion close calls. It’s particularly interesting when the person on the bicycle isn’t looking where they are going because I do a kind of tenuous step the left and then the right, trying to guess which way they will move past me. I’ll get there.

 

We walked to a park with our carry out lunch and sat in the shade of a large oak tree to eat. With our shoes off, a cool breeze whispering by, we were completely blissed out. Well, mostly.

 

 

I can’t ever feel fully relaxed with my house in Alaska stress, I sighed. It’s always there.

 

It will sell, my husband assured me. There is no question about that, so maybe you could put yourself into that future where it’s all done and spend some time there. You could think about time as not being so linear. It’s what I did when I was in Alaska. It was so hellish that I would visit places in my memory. It’s more than a visit, though. It’s really experiencing it. It’s a more intentional embodiment of the experience. You really try to viscerally feel and relive it. It’s like the memory of being at my grandpa’s pool as a kid and lying in the sun. I could feel the heat of the sun when I embodied that memory. So, there’s no reason why you can’t go into the future, especially something like this when you absolutely know that it’s going to happen. You can think of it as reliving it before it happens. In a sense, it’s a kind of time travel.

 

As he spoke, I typed away on my iPhone, and my husband joked, did Richard really say it if Marieke didn’t write it down?

 

Earlier in the day, I had spent the better part of our walk to the town center typing his words while he spoke.

 

I had laughed and said, Dear diary, my husband says the most amazing things. (Insert the line: He’s ever so dreamy, and I could be a 1950s gal. well, it might take a bit more than a one-liner to get my frizzed out hair and big personality into that box.)

 

Well, I responded, I think it’s important to share, and it seems to speak to people. We’re not the only ones who struggle with this stuff.

 

True.

 

After our picnic, we headed toward the conference center where my husband would be spending the bulk of his remaining time in Darmstadt. It was an incredible building that was constructed around ancient looking stonewalls.

 

I used the restroom (because I never know if or when there might be another opportunity, and I have a thimble bladder), and then we parted ways for the next several hours.

 

 

I wandered around the city center for a little while and then headed back to the hotel for a cold shower, a few sips of whisky, and some quality time editing a dissertation.

 

I thought about my husband’s earlier musings about the city of Darmstadt.

 

I like that it’s that not pretentious, he had said. It knows it isn’t Berlin, and it’s ok with that.

 

I thought about this later on my walk back to the hotel. Darmstadt reminds me of Lowell and Boston. Boston is easy to love. It’s all right there on the surface. Lowell takes some dedication and persistence. It isn’t typically love at first sight, and it isn’t always a smooth relationship. However, if you take the time to get to know Lowell – I mean, really get to know it – you will find the full spectrum of emotions that accompany love.

 

Given time, I think I could come to love Darmstadt as well.


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Wounded soul, I am sad for you

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I started my day with songwriting. For me, this is one of the most uplifting ways to begin a new day.

 

I woke up on the earlier side and met with a few folks downtown to begin discussing a new songwriting project. I left the meeting elated and filled with hope.

 

I floated my way down Merrimack Street on my home.

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As I walked by the Subway shop on the corner of Merrimack and Shattuck, I noticed several large pieces of metal and iron resting in a row on the edge of the sidewalk.

 

Intrigued, I slowed my step and gently touched a few of the minutes as I walked by.

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I set my bag and ukulele down, took out my camera, and took a picture.

 

A person sitting at the table spoke to be in a gruff voice. I would not specifically call him a man, for he was masculine in gender but neither noble or mature in action. A small black and tan chihuaha, who sat on the black, iron grated table beside him, behaved with more calm and poise than he.

 

Ma’am, what are you doing?

 

I am taking a picture.

 

I’m gonna ask you to stop taking pictures.

 

Why?

 

Because I asked you to.

 

I’m sorry. I am not sure why it is a problem for me to take photographs of these pipes.

 

Ma’am, just move on and get out of here.

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I am fairly certain this is a free country and as such, I am free to take photographs of whatever I want.

 

At this point, a young staff member came outside, smiled at me, and explained that they were redoing their A/C unit. This explained all of the strange metal piping.

 

Cool! I responded.

 

I proceeded to take a couple of photographs.

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The wounded soul at the table grew more defensive and aggressive.

 

He reminded me that I was to cease my activity and get the (*&^ out of there.

 

I refused to respond with anger or fear. Though I felt a slight, involuntary tremor running through my hands, I did not return his aggression. I felt an acute awareness of his energy and my own.

 

I told him that I recommended therapy for anger management. I really believe that therapy with a skilled therapist who fits your personality and needs is an incredible gift.

 

He told me to go do something constructive with my life.

 

I suggested the same to him, and I told him that I wished him well in as a pleasant a voice as I could muster.

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I really felt no anger toward him.

 

The entire interaction was quite strange and surprising.

 

From where did his defensive, aggressive behavior derive? What kind of hurt had he suffered from someone he trusted?

 

How could someone as diminutive and unassuming in stature cause him to feel threatened? Where did he learn that anger and verbal abuse was a reasonable response to an action that made him uncomfortable?

 

And why would anyone be counter to such a harmless act?

 

I will never know, but I do hope that he is able to find peace for his poor, wounded soul.

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Slow and steady

I shared a meal with a dear friend tonight, a belated birthday dinner with wonderful food and company. We just talked and ate good food. Since moving back to the United States from France, it is rare to just sit and talk at the table as a way to spend an evening or an afternoon. I recommend it. It is both soothing and calming with the right food and company.

Late in the evening, I drove home. I headed south of Route 3, took the exit for 495 toward Lawrence, stayed in the right lane to turn onto the Lowell Connector (weirdest intersecting of highways and byways of any place I have lived), and drove around the Welcome to Lowell sign etched in plants to Thorndike.

Every time I turn onto Thorndike, I am faced with a decision. Stay in the right lane temporarily or move as quickly as possible into the left lane, which is the lane I will eventually need to get to in order to turn left onto Broadway.

Typically, I rush to get into the left lane. Perhaps, somewhere in my subconscious mind I imagine this will hasten my arrival time.

Lately, I have been staying in the right lane. There is less risk of getting stuck behind someone turning left into the train station, and I have time to ease into the transition from highway to home. Plus, everyone else seems to make the rush to get to the left lane, so the right lane is often less occupied.

Tonight, I stayed in my right lane. I thought about shifting left, but there were two cars in the left as the light turned red. I didn’t want to lengthen my return trip by a few precious seconds, so I stayed to the right.

As I moved through the next set of lights, the car ahead of me sped forward. I noticed the car to my left moving faster as well. I could feel a desire to speed up enough to pass the car to my left and get into the left lane ahead of them.

I thought to myself, slow and steady wins the race was all about.

Then, I started wondering what the race really was. What would I gain by winning? And what was it we were racing toward? Did I even want to be a part of the race? If life was a race, why would I want to get to the end any faster?

I rarely make the green arrow signal to turn left onto Broadway, so I have started to relax into the expectation that I will sit. It gives me a few minutes to calm that desire for competition with the other drivers on the road.

Tonight, as I sat at the light, I wondered if it was worth it for the speediest of the cars to make that green light. In truth, the light was actually red by the time they flew around the corner.

I recalled times in traffic when it had felt very important to get around people driving too slow, only to wind up right next to them further down the road.

Why was I competing with them?

Keep in mind that I was returning from hours spent musing on how to find or create happiness in life. Much of my own search has been spent unlearning the cultural lessons of my childhood, where happiness could be attained—or at least contrived—by living in a certain part of town, owning the right clothing, and creating a specific version of oneself to show the world.

I have learned that participating in the life events that my culture has defined as the way to a happy, successful life do not necessarily in fact lead to a state of permanent bliss.

I have learned that permanent bliss is not real nor what I seek.

I wish to be present and aware of my own state of being through each moment of my life and to make choices that are not based on competition, a sense of entitlement, a need to prove my self worth.

By the time I reached middle school, I had figured out that the race was not working for me. It took the next couple of decades to begin to sift through the layers of cultural pressures and expectations for me to discover my own requisites for a healthy, balanced existence. I try every day to adhere to these tenets with mixed results.

I can be slow and steady, but I do not need to win any race.

I would like to be as far as possible from the energy that can draw me in to this way of being.

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Life in limbo

For days now, I have been struggling with a restless, unsettled feeling. I go to sleep worried that a future I have been imagining may no longer exist.

I feel emptiness from my lungs down into my stomach, a hollow space that I cannot fill. It is just empty. A void. Somewhere in the middle, my heart, right on the edge of communicating the emptiness through tears.

photo 1Since leaving the upper Skagit Valley of Washington state several years ago, I have been living in a perpetual state of limbo. Each time I think I am putting down roots, I tear them out of the ground just as they are attempting to cling onto the soil.

Within a state of limbo, I still manage to create some semblance of stability through actions that provide me with the feeling that I have control over some things.

I can clean my apartment, which I do with frequency.

I can shed burdensome layers of material possessions.

I can sing. I can write. I can create.

I can experience periods of days, weeks, even months where I fool myself into thinking I have control over the unknown when really all that I control is how I respond to people, place, and that which I cannot predict.

This morning, I woke up feeling like my roots were shallow, their will to cling all dried up. I wanted to hide in a dark corner, away from the world.

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I know from experience that hiding does not bring balance or happiness. I am an introvert who needs constant reminders from the social realm that I am loved and not alone.

I also know that hiding from what I am feeling will not help me find peace. I need to sit with it. What does it feel like? Where do I feel it? What does it look like? Does it have a name, shape, or texture?

I am presented with the challenge of determining if what feels real for me is a construct of my own inner demons and deepest fears.

Am I needlessly creating a reality that causes me pain? From where does this fear and distrust stem?

If I can trace the feeling back to its source, perhaps I can come to accept it for what it is and not allow it to rule my heart and mind.

I am learning about meditation, Buddhism, chakras, energy, and how to understand my higher self.

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I am lucky to have many dear friends who have become family. They live near and far but are always close to my heart.

They remind me that I am loved, that I can learn from these experiences, that I am not alone in what I feel and worry about, and that many people who have walked this earth before me struggled with similar demons.

I often find myself living in limbo, waiting for a future event that I have pinned all of my energy and hope on. This future time will be my salvation, a time when I will be free and my life will become easier.

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that the challenge is living one’s own life and ceasing to live in waiting mode. The only certainty there is in life is that you have you and you have today. And you have a chance to do things that contribute to civilization and beauty.

He reminds me that the pain I experience will also help me to sing blues songs with greater authority and authenticity. I laugh in response and try to take comfort in this seemingly small benefit.

Another person tells me that they say a mantra of something know to be true during times of unknown. I imagine mantra but am not sure I believe it in my heart. Thinking about breathing and repeating the words makes me fear that I will lose the tenuous grasp of balance I maintain by taking shallow breaths. If I breathe deeply, I risk falling into the abyss. I will not let myself go.

I am learning about acceptance of what is and how to dance with the universe. If one path I have been envisioning is not materializing, it may be time to open my awareness to what is possible and pursue a different path.

I am continuing to breath, to sit with the darkness and the light I feel in my heart.

I honor my spirit by honoring what I am feeling. It is real as I am.

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Oh, brave new world

Last Wednesday, I went for a walk after a long drive. The air around me seemed restless. It fit with my own feeling of restlessness and uncertainty. The sky was full of billowing clouds, dark and light and billowy. Gusts of wind came from different directions.

When I walk around my neighborhood in Lowell, I can see and feel change and uncertainty. I cross Dutton Street and the Merrimack Canal and pass a single Willow tree, standing tall but with a tired look.

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I walk past a no trespassing sign, guardrails, and cement walls with messages from graffiti and street artists; by a vacant lot with grass and cement blocks, one of the few fields where people can take their dogs to play. I listen for killdeer overhead. They fly between lots. I wonder where they will go when building begins anew in these spaces.

It is just a matter of time.

Growing attached to flora and fauna in a city means imminent heartache. Gravel and cement blocks have taken the place of trees which once lined the Hamilton Canal. When I walk by their former home, I wonder if I am the sole person in this city to witness the Orioles hidden in their foliage, their “che che che che” the only evidence of a fleeting presence.

Northern rough-winged swallows flit in and out of small cracks in the pour cement canal wall by the Appleton Mill. I watch them preen from the wires run from one the Appleton to the Jackson across the way.

I walk to a small gym with a tiny pool in the basement. In the water, I let loose my restless soul. Eyes closed, I move through the water and try not to think but only feel my body touching the coolness of a world where I am only a visitor.

It is my weekly meditation, moving through this water, a time when I can move my arms and legs, feel my body, and glide. For a few minutes, I close my eyes and my mind as best I can, and I do not always succeed.

Outside again, I walk along a gravel path beside a canal. The wind is ripping, and my wet hair is flying around my head. I look down to see a tiny creature, impossibly fragile, hanging onto a pebble for dear life.

I cannot imagine how this creature can survive in a world that would seem to tear it apart without the slightest sense of remorse. I feel fragile in my small, human body but am humbled by the sight of another being moving through its own path in the only way it knows how.

Other souls are less lucky…or maybe more so, to fall victim to the the course of the universe and life in an urban setting.

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I seem to move along my path by making mistakes, pushing the limits of people I love, and reflecting on how I can respond in healthy ways to the rush of energy I feel coming at me every day from all directions.

The more I look within, the more self-aware I become with regard to my own sensitivities. The more aware of my own self I become, the more sensitive I am to the pain I sense in other creatures, to hurtful behavior aimed by those with power to those with fewer defenses, and the more difficult I find it to protect myself from all of this energy.

As the saying goes, my skin is not very thick. I do not wish to become less sensitive, but I am finding that I need to learn ways to be witness to all of this activity without being completely overwhelmed by it.

For now, I will remember the winged one and hope it is safe, wherever it may be.

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Let it be

For the past 24 hours or so, I have been sitting with an uncomfortable feeling. This feeling was brought on by a typical interchange that happens in our society. A back and forth communication. Nothing special.

 

Yet the pure mundanity of it in and of itself is partially what I find so disturbing. The fact that it is not considered special, that it happens so often without deeper reflection is disconcerting; it is evidence of a trend in a society toward spending much of our time in our own, protective bubbles, a virtual world.

 

I have been on both sides of the exchange. I might be even go so far as to say that there are no sides.

 

In my reflections, I have realized that I experience something relatively similar to this most recent event nearly every day.

 

I believe that these events pass with relatively little incidence as a result in part to the choices—how to respond or to simply not respond at all.

 

With practice, I am now able to stay relatively calm in highly tense, verbally violent situations. I may weep later, but in the moment I keep my feet firmly grounded. I tend to apologize for my part in situations that have grown heated for one reason or another. I despise the feeling that is inspired by such exchanges so greatly that I would prefer to talk it through, apologize, and clear the air than to hold onto the anger energy any longer than I have to.

 

Let me say right now, I am not the most easy-going person. I am incredibly sensitive. I take things very personally. I agonize over instances or things I have done that may have caused pain to another being.

 

Let me also tell you that I am not perfect, unless you consider imperfection as perfection. I am impatient. When put on the defensive, I can easily response in kind. I learn quickly how to push people’s buttons, and I do it. Sometimes, I take a devilish kind of joy in doing it, though later I often feel guilty.

 

I have learned over several decades of the importance of choosing one’s battles. Life is short, and I have wasted a lot of time, energy, and anxiety over situations and individuals with whom a battle can never be won.

 

In recent years, I have started to rethink what it means to “win” or “lose” these battles and if this is even the right kind of language to be using.

 

I recall a friend in Alaska offering advice to me. He was familiar with my predicament, having experienced his own version. He said to me, “Marieke, you always need to have an exit strategy.”

 

I took his advice literally only a few months later, after combining it with advice from another friend, who told me, “play their game; make them think they have reassimilated you; then, get the hell out of there on your own terms while you are in good standing. They can’t touch you then.”

 

I wanted to communicate the hurt I had felt from being mistreated, alienated, and wrongfully identified as a “problem.” I did not feel like I had been the problem at all, especially after learning from others who had experienced something similar that I was simply one of a long line of individuals who were treated in such a way that they eventually gave up the fight and went elsewhere in search of a more supportive environment.

 

Instead, I said nothing and simply disappeared.

 

Perhaps, this choice could be considered a “forfeit.”

 

The emotional battle continued long after my physical forfeit. I could not let go of the anger I felt from this injustice. I wrote about it at length and talked to family and friends.

 

When I said I was still frustrated and angry, a friend said to me, “Oh yeah? How is that working for ya?”

 

It wasn’t.

 

Slowly, I began to realize that I was wasting my energy on people who did not deserve my time, at least not in this unproductive way. As long as I insisted on holding onto my anger, I was keeping both my self and those I felt wrong by in prison together.

 

Truly, the world does not need any anger perpetuated. There is enough bouncing around already.

 

In my most recent discomfort, I spoke to a wise friend, who told me this:

 

At times, life can feel like a ping pong game ball with balls filled with fear. In this game called life, we throw these balls back and forth at each other. It would seem that the object of the game is to keep the balls in play. The easiest thing to do when a ball of fear is thrown at you is to react and throw the fear ball back. The real object of the game is to not perpetuate fear by responding to an attack. The spiritual response is to recognize that you do not have to respond to an attack at all. You can simply take the ball out of play.

 

While there is a part of me that wishes to push every possible button out of a desire for sweet vengeance, I know that this will not bring me peace or happiness.

 

So, my desire is to drop the ball and put an emotionally safe distance between this person and me. I really want no part in whatever dysfunction or unhappiness caused someone to forget that I am a person with feelings and to find temporary respite from whatever they may be struggling with in their own life by lashing out with aggression.

 

An apology would be nice; I have to say that I nearly always feel better making peace with someone for whatever misunderstanding or miscommunication led to heightened tension between us.

 

Somehow I think that the propensity to apologize is derived from self-work. Those who have lashed out at me regularly with some form of aggression, entitlement, violence, etc. may require a great jolt to their system before turning inward toward the kind of deep self-reflection it will take to make a great behavior change. They may experience some deep sadness in this exercise, along with some stormy weather, before there is peace once more.

 

What I really want from all of this is to return to equilibrium once more, to breathe deeply and sleep peacefully at night.

 

What I really want is simply to live.

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