Rest

It’s been nearly a month and I haven’t yet written up my Chicago trip. But it actually relates to today’s post, which has been percolating in my brain for the last few days.

The semester has started, and with it the sense of drinking from roughly 5 fire hoses at once, trying to manage all of the information and interactions and responsibilities. I worry constantly that I will drop not just one critical ball, but possibly all of them.

This year, I’m juggling more than I have in past years (don’t ask how many independent studies I’m currently overseeing…). And Thursday, I was pretty much at the end of my rope. I knew that I had to do something this weekend to make things better.

My mother’s solution? “Take a nap. You need sleep.”

Here’s the thing: I have this visceral reaction against taking naps. Why? It’s a couple of things. First, it feels like admitting weakness (I know it isn’t, but that’s how it feels). And, I just don’t like sitting and doing nothing, even if I’m not cognizant of doing nothing.

So a nap was probably out. But. There are other ways to rest. And I’ve started to – finally – realize what they are for me. Better late than never, right?

For me, rest involves doing. I know. That makes no sense. But hear (read?) me out.

When I went to the Van Gogh exhibit, I was actively doing something. Actively participating in an event that I wanted to attend. I am an art museum fiend. It’s partly because of how I grew up – we spent many, many vacations and weekends in art museums as kids. While we complained, of course, the blow was usually softened by visits to other types of museums and/or the promise of a quarter if we could find a painting our father wanted to photograph. (This is a really long story but it’s a hilarious part of our family history and an ongoing family joke.)

I learned to love art. I cannot create it – far from it – but oh, I can appreciate it. And I have my favorites. Van Gogh is one of them.

I lost myself in the beauty of the paintings. I was completely engaged. I spent time – as much time as I could – simply gazing at the paintings that spoke to me. Sure, I took pictures, to document and remember which paintings really stood out. But the 1.5 hours I spent in that exhibit were truly a time of rest for me. I didn’t think about my phone. I didn’t think about work. My whole body relaxed.

That is a form of rest for me.

Another one is sitting on a lakeshore, listening to the waves. I could sit there for hours, just listening. I may gaze at the horizon, but just being on the shore, listening, takes me out of my usual work-work-work focus. Hikes are much the same – I don’t go fast, in fact, I’m embarrassingly slow. But hikes, for me, are a time to savor. To take it all in – to drink in the beauty of the world.

I may not be napping, but my brain feels the difference. I feel the difference.

This weekend did not involve art, or a hike (sigh), or a trip to a lake (double sigh). But it did include a family Zoom. And attending a Zoom session yesterday on rest (how fortuitous) with David Whyte.

A few takeaways from the David Whyte session (note: these are approximations of what was said, not exact quotes…this is the essence of what I heard…)

  • Rest is the ability to loosen our grip on existence. The way we’re holding our life on the periphery is preventing us from heartfelt engagement into the center. 
  • The ability to create a spaciousness, where you’re allowed to explore, you’re allowed to think.
  • When we are busy and stressed on the edge of our lives, we tend to join company with others who are in the same way. Being overwhelmed is worn like a red badge of courage. There is a competition as to who is doing the most. Those who rest are not part of your world – they do not count. 
  • The act of stopping is the act of dying to that self. You feel as if rest is the enemy to what you’ve achieved on the surface. 
  • Give yourself time to inhabit a greater world than the one that you’re inhabiting in such a limited way. 

So I’m going into the week knowing that there are still tons of meetings, and classes, and other responsibilities. But also going into the week having at least had a couple of hours of rest. I wish you the same.

An excerpt from a particularly appropriate David Whyte poem, The House of Belonging:

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Currently…

…finding it hard to believe I’ve been away from this space for so long. This was not a planned absence, believe me. I have wanted to come here, to write, to reach out (AGAIN) for a long time now and haven’t been able to muster up the energy? courage? will? to do so.

….kind of wondering why I am here. I don’t want to use this space as a place to complain, and I suspect that is the reason my writing mojo has left me recently. It’s been a tough summer, friends, so instead of focusing on the past, I’m going to go with a Currently post to try to get my head together and get back in the game.

…Loving the ATGIB book club that Engie started. This has been such a bright spot in my summer. I’ve never been in a book club before, and the experience has far exceeded my expectations. I find that I am reading more carefully, paying attention to what resonates with me, so that I can share (too much) with my fellow readers. I love that the book is holding up for me, and that I am experiencing new insights. I just love everything about it, and will miss it when this is over!

…Also loving all of your blogs, and the beautiful snippets of summer joys (and, well, challenges, a la San’s tile saga) you’ve shared. Thank you for reminding me that there is a world out there, that it’s kind of fun in many ways, and that I should maybe try to engage with it a bit more (as I hoped to do at the start of 2023).

…Dreading the start of contract next week. I’m not ready, friends. It’s been a long summer of working without a break, and I’m kind of fried. So I am playing hooky on the first day. Why? Keep reading. 🙂

…Looking forward to a day trip to Chicago on Monday. This is a just-for-me trip to the Art Institute to see the Van Gogh exhibit they have this summer. I cannot wait. I have a parking reservation, tickets ($$, yeesh) to the AIC and the exhibit, and plans to wander a bit before everything opens.

…Sleep deprived, thanks to my (new) neighbor, who decided that this morning at 12:15 AM (so, 15 minutes past midnight) was a good time to crank up the bass on whatever music they were listening to. Not. Cool. Dude. This is a new neighbor, and I admit that I was the cranky old lady who emailed apartment management in the middle of the night to ask them to stop this asap. Quiet hours, for the record, start at 9 or 10. I’m cool with that. I’m not cool with someone thinking that it’s okay to crank the bass when they share a wall with someone. Yeah. No.

…Grateful to my brother’s kids, who are prioritizing time with my parents (their grandparents) in their brief times at home before going back to college. My brother and sister in law did an amazing job, raising two sensitive, loving young adults (HOW?) who value the time they spend with family, and actually make the time to do so. My brother’s oldest just spent two days with my parents, who were just over the moon happy. So thank you, A&M. You’re awesome. <3

…Getting back to work, and hoping that by posting this pathetically superficial overview of my life right now that I’ve managed to break through whatever weirdo barrier my brain was putting up to writing on my own dang blog this summer. Sheesh.

And finally, because I am feeling a bit unmoored and uncertain right now… a bit of a quote to share…

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” ~Rosalia de Castro

Take care, my friends.

Random life things

Life. So much randomness. So much weirdness. I suppose it’s what keeps me coming back for more every day. Well, that, and reading your blogs… So without further ado, some random life things from the past month-ish… Including snippets from my trip to see my family. 🙂

  • Teaching is weird. I teach pretty much the same classes every year. Great, you say, you don’t have to learn a new class! And I say, well, yes, but. But but but. Students are so different year-to-year. So, so different. This summer’s class is the best example yet that I have of this. Last year’s students were really confident in their ideas… this year? We have some people who – at the midway point of the class – JUST figured out what they want to focus on. And, their topics are relatively novel ones, so I’ve had to shift several presentations and planned activities to meet them where they are. On the plus side? It is really keeping me on my toes, as several of them have needed a lot of discussion and encouragement as they sort through all of the ideas in their heads. 🙂
  • File things under Things You Never Think Will Happen To You: When I was walking from the parking ramp (side note: parking ramp or parking garage? or, something different? which one do you use? [this is kind of like soda vs. pop vs. Coke…]) to class last week, I passed the retention pond by one of the buildings. I pass this pond every single week, just fyi. Last week, I heard birds but wasn’t paying attention. The next thing I knew, something was attacking my head. As in, flying into my head, trying to peck at me, and even trying to land (I think) on my head. From the shadow I could see on the ground (I was looking down at this point, waving my arms around my head, and shouting), it looked like an enormous flying bug. When I finally escaped the as-yet-unidentified attacker, I looked up to see 2 people I know from my school, who informed me that it was a red-winged blackbird. So yeah, I got attacked by a bird when I walked by its nest. Turns out, this is pretty common for this bird at this time of year. When I left class, I walked out with 3 students and my (fabulous, wonderful) TA. I mentioned that I was trying to figure out how to run the gauntlet of the path beside the retention pond, only to find out that the same thing had happened to one of my students. I felt vindicated – at least it wasn’t just me! (The answer: I took the same path, accepted that they would probably try to attack me again, and prepared by pulling up my hood and walking as quickly as possible without falling down…)
    • Because I’ve been putting this post together for four days or so… I now know that Sarah and her daughter had a similar encounter! So it’s not just me!
  • Living a quiet life sounds like a good choice, if you ask me.
  • Also, this: Why are we afraid of reading? (from the NY Times)
    • Reading is something else: an activity whose value, while broadly proclaimed, is hard to specify. Is any other common human undertaking so riddled with contradiction? Reading is supposed to teach us who we are and help us forget ourselves, to enchant and disenchant, to make us more worldly, more introspective, more empathetic and more intelligent. It’s a private, even intimate act, swathed in silence and solitude, and at the same time a social undertaking. It’s democratic and elitist, soothing and challenging, something we do for its own sake and as a means to various cultural, material and moral ends.
    • (Much later in the essay) Reading liberates and torments us, enlightens and bewilders us, makes and unmakes our social and solitary selves.
    • From a reader comment: Reading is a space ship, a time machine, a magic carpet. It can take you places that you can’t find in the physical world. Reading is equality. A great way to enforce inequality is to make reading “optional.”
  • That article – including the comment from the reader – makes me think of the joy I am experiencing, rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Engie is our fearless reader for this online book club, and I am thrilled that she chose a book that has lived in my heart for as long as I can remember. My favorite part so far is remembering the text as I read it. Does anyone else have this experience? When I’m reading an old favorite (the list has many entries, but includes the HP series, The Dark Is Rising series, the Anne of Green Gables Series, Little House, the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, and on and an on…), there are whole passages where I know what the words will be, yet I am eager to read them again for the umpteenth time. It’s like my brain has stored the text all these years, and seeing it on the page is like seeing an old friend after far too long. So thank you, Engie, for helping to feed my soul in this busy time. <3
  • Oh! the trip East. Goodness, I nearly forgot, I went so far down the rabbit hole that is the internet…
    • First things first… it was so much better than I anticipated. I always dread trips just a bit, thanks to being out of my routine (even when the destination is family…what can I say? I’m weird. But you knew that.)
    • I got to see chosen and, well, regular? default? inherited? family, and both were wonderful. My mom’s extended family – what I think of as inherited family – is huge, and I hadn’t seen many of them in 7 years. I really enjoyed the time I spent with them, despite most of them a) having no clue what I do, and b) not knowing where I live. They have very different lives than I do, but they are warm, loving, and LOUD people. 🙂
    • My chosen family. Oh, my. I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to spend two full hours with them, talking about recent travels, a bit of politics, philosophy, science, books… These are my second parents, and they are in my heart as much as my biological parents. I don’t know what I would do without them.
    • And I spent so much time with my parents, which was wonderful. I took a couple of photos of each of them in their natural habitats – my mom, in the kitchen, and my dad, in his grungy garden clothes. This is where I picture them when I think of them throughout the day. We had ice cream and summer fruit and wonderful food and just… it’s so good to just see them, even if the visits are too rare.
    • I did take a few photos of my dad’s beautiful gardens. A rhododendron for Engie, which we think was planted about 50 years ago? And a beautiful pot in another garden.
  • And, finally, this: Who’s afraid of being idle?
    • Me. Definitely me. Sigh.
  • I hope you are all well. I also hope that someday I can figure out how to have some of a post in bullet points and other parts of it not. Things to learn…
  • I’ll leave you with this favorite from Nick Cave:
    • Read. Read as much as possible. Read the big stuff, the challenging stuff, the confronting stuff, and read the fun stuff too. Visit galleries and look at paintings, watch movies, listen to music, go to concerts — be a little vampire running around the place sucking up all the art and ideas you can. Fill yourself with the beautiful stuff of the world. Have fun. Get amazed. Get astonished. Get awed on a regular basis, so that getting awed is habitual and becomes a state of being.

Disappointment

It’s been a while. A long while. Even for me. There are reasons, but first, again, I’m sorry for the disappearance. I still need this space to process, to think out loud, to send my inner ponderings out into the universe, even if it’s kind of anonymous. There’s something about writing here that reminds me that I don’t just exist in a vacuum – I’m still part of the world, despite feeling disconnected at times.

Right now, though, I’m overwhelmed by disappointment and frustration. Why, you ask? After planning for months and (finally) starting to feel a sense of anticipation (with, admittedly, a side of trepidation), I’ve had to cancel my trip to Ireland at the end of the month. The reason for this is also what has been keeping me from the blog.

While I’m not critically ill, I have been dealing with unpredictable and worsening health issues for the last year. This is in addition to the challenges created by my shoulder fracture and surgery last summer. It’s been A Year, and it’s not over yet, unfortunately. The uncertainty created by my health is the reason I had to cancel the Ireland trip. That uncertainty, plus the time taken up by the many appointments and tests I’ve had to try to pinpoint the reason for my issues, the mental load of trying to find an answer, and the symptoms themselves, have made it more and more difficult to show up here.

The worst part is, I need this space more than ever. I need to have some small way of showing that I am still here. That I’m not reduced to just a mystery diagnosis. That I am not just the person who is currently not well. I’m also someone who can still take time for introspection. For connection. For community. Even when I’m mostly restricted to doing that online. In a way, I feel like I’m back under a stay-close-to-home order. Travel, right now, is not a good option for me. I was able to travel to visit my family out East this past week – more to come on that, I hope – only because I took complete control by driving myself. That meant I could stop at any time if need be. If I needed to get off a plane – or deal with symptoms – at 30,000 feet and halfway over the Atlantic, well, that would be a bit more difficult.

So I’m dealing with the disappointment. The lack of energy, and the frustration at not knowing why my life has evolved (devolved?) into a seemingly never ending cycle of appointments and symptoms and exhaustion. Notice that I didn’t say I’m dealing well with it. I used to be a healthy person. I used to take pride in my health and my body’s capabilities. Having a body that betrays you sucks.

I’m not writing this to garner sympathy. It’s just reality. Eventually – maybe? hopefully? – we’ll figure out why things are so bad for me right now. Until then, I’m just going to hang on as best I can. I’m going to show up here, but not as often as I’d like. I’m going to (eventually) show up in your comment threads. I need this space and these connections. Thank you for reminding me that I am more than just a bunch of symptoms held together with frustration and (sometimes) anger. <3

Stuff

A few weeks ago, Engie (Hi Engie!) posted about her collection of bowls, and whether that makes her a collector of things. I left a long-winded comment, as is my wont, because her post made me start thinking about whether I consider myself a collector.

I grew up in a family of collectors. My father has, believe it or not, one of the larger collections of antique spectacles and related material in the country. My mother always claimed that she does not collect anything, but well, let’s just say her collections of snowmen, cookbooks, and other ephemera tend to say otherwise. 😉

I used to attach a lot of sentiment to objects. I was a saver – of newspaper articles, cards from others – and a collector – of cow paraphernalia, of all things. I rarely got rid of anything. I’d go through it and “organize” it but there was never a time when I truly got rid of things.

And then something changed. I’m not sure when this happened, but it seems to be a product of my frequent moves as an adult (until this location… I’ve lived here longer than any other location post-HS) and realizing things aren’t memories. Memories are memories. I can get rid of a card from a loved one (well, save for the truly special ones) and still know that they love me. I can read a book and donate it, or take it back to the half price bookstore. I can get rid of clothing, even if it has a sentimental tie, because if I’m not wearing it, what function does it serve?

This hit home when I saw my ex’s new place in the fall. When we were together, we verged into tchotchke land. Lots of folk art, unique pieces, antiques that spoke to us, and so on. Because of the sequence of events that led to our eventual split, he wound up with the vast majority of the stuff – we moved to two different places from one shared place and his place was MUCH bigger, plus, we considered that our “home”, an my place as merely temporary.

I looked around his home and realized, I don’t want most of these things.

I don’t want the folk art sculptures that graced our table tops and cabinets. I don’t want the wedding dishes or silverware or napkins. I don’t want a full set of dishes – I get by just fine with my small set. And so on.

And so… now I have to figure out what I’m going to do about all the stuff that I need to make a decision on. Some in a storage closet here that I need to go through. Antique books my father (a true collector) bought me; some I will keep, of course, but the vast majority, no. The things that were “mine” from our marriage, currently stored in my ex’s basement. So many old photos. So much… stuff.

It’s a daunting task. I feel like I’m going to be death cleaning even though, well, I’m not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon.

But I really need – and want – to do it. To get rid of things. To clear physical space in my world.

Why? Is it that I want a ‘clean’ start? Is it that external order (should) lead to internal peace and calm? Is it that my stuff doesn’t reflect who I am anymore? Am I trying to break from my old life (or, really, lives)?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that I value the memories. The love. The relationships. Not the things. Material representations have their value, to be sure. I just don’t need quite so many of them.

I feel a pressing need to find the time to Just Do This Thing. To go through everything and ruthlessly weed out those items that I no longer need or want. Even better if they can be used by someone else, who actually wants or needs them.

“Clutter is a manifestation of a) holding onto the past and b) fear of what might happen in the future.”

Leo Babauta

Nothing like a quote to get me thinking…

It’ll be an interesting – but necessary – journey. Now I just need to take the first step!