Not sure why I haven’t written in a few weeks, but this quote (and reading about) vulnerability and joy made me think about how challenging I find being vulnerable, and finding (and showing) joy. I’ve been reading Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, and finding that it really resonates with me quite a bit at this time in my life. But one thing – that perhaps wasn’t the intended outcome, but was the one that I had! – was that I realized I have not laughed out loud in a very, very long time. This realization came after reading in the book, then thinking about our planned trip to see my family for the holidays. The last time we were there, and had a lunch with a group of old, old friends, I was struck by how easily, loudly, and wonderfully they laughed. The lunch table was rocking with laughter – and I was sitting there with a kind of grimace on my face, smiling, and uttering small bursts of laughter. But nothing like the full-on belly laughs that others were sharing, and nothing sounding as joyful as that laughter, in those moments, sounded.

I also have realized how challenging it is for me – as it is for so many others – to be vulnerable. I have put up armor. I have done this throughout my life. I have hidden behind the shields that – if I’m honest – really started going up in middle school. Insecurity and uncertainty are challenging at any age; when you’re a physically unattractive and underdeveloped 12 year old, who also happens to be a complete nerd, well, it doesn’t take too much to make the leap that those experiences shaped how I show who I am to the world. Finding a place in academia for my professional life has been a huge, huge, benefit to me. Where else can I be paid to be a nerd, to try to answer questions, to seek knowledge? I can read research and “nerd out” all day, to my heart’s content, and no one questions it. But now that I have found my professional home, and am better about being vulnerable within that, how do I translate that to my home / personal life? How do I (re) learn to be vulnerable with the people I love? How do I learn to trust that they will hold and support me and that they want to know the real me?

Because as much as this journey is about finding me, about learning who I really am at my core, it’s also about sharing that with others. To live truly and fully – to come to a place where I can and will laugh out loud until my face hurts and I can’t breathe – I have to learn to be vulnerable, to share the soft and easily wounded spots of my very being with those with whom I interact. And that is still hard. I have tried in the past – then pulled back from those relationships when I felt threatened. How can I trust that others will be compassionate to me (as I hope I am to them)? How can I learn to just let go and be me in all aspects of my life? How can I make the parts integrate into a coherent whole, to be truly me all day, every day? I joke that I “own my weirdness” now, but the truth is, I’m just now doing that for myself.

It’s time to break out and do that with others, too. Scary, but necessary. Taking the first steps? Not sure what those will be… but it’s time to figure it out.

Our Jeopardy
By Thomas John Carlisle
It is good to use 
best china
treasured dishes
the most genuine goblets 
or the oldest lace tablecloth
there is a risk of course
every time we use anything 
or anyone shares an inmost
mood or moment
or a fragile cup of revelation
but not to touch
not to handle
not to employ the available
artifacts of being
a human being 
that is the quiet crash
the deadly catastrophe
where nothing
is enjoyed or broken
or spoken or spilled
or stained or mended
where nothing is ever
pored over
laughed over 
wept over 
or found.
I am sitting with this poem this afternoon, pondering what it might mean in my own life. 
I make a habit out of (trying) not to accumulate expensive or valuable things. 
I no longer think about our “nice china” or sterling silver placesettings; items that were SO important for our wedding registry (at least, according to my mother…). 
No, I prefer the IKEA stoneware (although I had to replace the IKEA silverware, as the spoons were not “tea” spoons, they were “miniscule” spoons…). Comfy clothes, purchased at consignment shops. Shifting my spending to food, and books, and music. Things that bring me joy, and sustain me. 
And yet, in my life, I persist in not wearing the nicer clothing. In not using the better lotion. Leaving things for “someday”. 
And why? 
Why leave the nice things for “someday”, when that day may never come? 
What if TODAY is someday? 
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Random things that drive me bonkers: 
1. People who don’t hit “cancel” on the microwave, so it scrolls “Please press start…Please press start…” endlessly.
2. Turn signals, people. Use them. 
3. Easy recipes that require a stand mixer. No. That’s not easy. 
4. People who drop weights at the gym. No. Reason. For. That. (Plus, it makes me fall off whatever machine I’m on, thanks to my overdeveloped startle reflex…) 
I’ll just keep adding as I think of more… 

If she got really quiet and listened…

If she got really quiet and listened, new parts of her wanted to speak. ~Sark

I am trying so hard to be quiet and listen to myself this season. Autumn is a time for slowing down, for reflection, less for doing and more for just being. As I seek a better understanding of who I used to be – who I want to be now – and who I want to become – I feel as though the season reflects my mood.

Lots of thinking and reflecting and remembering…when am I most myself? When have I been most joyful, alive… when have I forgotten time? Perhaps it’s not that new parts of me want to speak, but rather, parts of me that have been silenced for too long.

I long for adventure, and new experiences, but ones that I want to pursue. I want to take a solo road trip. I want to explore this area of the country, this part of the world that feels more like home to me than the place where I grew up ever did.

As I settle into my new job, as I figure out who I am and who I want to be in this season of life, how do I honor who I have been for the last 10 or so years, without losing sight of what I want to gain back from who I was before? I don’t want to ditch everything I’ve been so completely; there are certainly things about myself now that I think I like. I love my job… I love that I get to do what I do on a daily basis. I love where I live, and how determined and persistent I have been. I have goals – and I want to maintain those. But I want to get parts of me back that have been silenced for too long. I want to regain my independence, my sense of adventure, my yearning to learn new things, see new places, and find adventures that speak to me.

The hard part is that, while my husband does just fine with this, pursuing his own interests and ensuring that he has “him-time” to do so… I have not. I need to own this, to admit that I need this in my life – that I need to do this for me, and by myself. That this is not a joint pursuit, but is necessary to me not losing my self in the me I have become. Because I think for too long, as I have changed, grown, and evolved, I have tamped down the elements that make me, me. The pieces of me that are unique, and special, and that I really liked about me. And I have turned instead to those things that others choose for me. Why should I be limited by others’ ideas and preferences? I have room in my life to bring more of me back into it. This passive deferral to others is not me – it’s not who I ever was. I have been independent, and freethinking, since I can remember. I have rejected others’ ideas of who I should be, what I should do, and where I should live. I have owned those choices and they have been the best for me.

And yet I’ve lost that in the last few years. Probably – again – since my arm surgery (good grief, nearly 6 years ago now) and have taken the less-intense route of follow others’ wants and dreams and ideas.

It is time to dream again, to seek adventure again, to live again.

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Writing my story

We are the authors of our stories, and we can change the way we are telling them. Unknown

You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending. James Sherman 

Writing My Story

I’m finding myself more and more in tune with the idea of writing my own story, of examining where I am now in my life, vs. where I thought I would be at this age, this stage, this time in my life. 

To say that reality does not match the ‘vision’ that I had for myself at age 18 is an understatement. Then again, is anything we think about our lives at age 18 truly a vision? Do we really know ourselves well enough to have a plan and a path mapped out that will align exactly with who we are, with how we evolve and change and grow over the many years of our lives? 

Think about all of the changes that happen just after you graduate from high school – ostensibly a huge milestone event, one that sets you up for the rest of your life. Somehow, that seems a bit overstated for a transition out of one educational system into another.. and a transition from one developmental stage to another. 

How can we know who we are, what we want, what we will become, when we have spent less than 20 years on this planet? 

I know I didn’t know myself. 

Spending some time this weekend navel gazing while prepping a presentation my ‘career trajectory’ and research for some undergrads… and it reminded me of just how little I knew about myself when I started this journey. 

And yet, as I think about who I am now, who I was…it comes back to the very important question of who am I? At my core, what are my values? What are my beliefs? What makes me happy, fulfilled, and feeling the most-me-ish? I want to get back to that person, because I feel like over the last few years – really, since I left my previous job at another University, then quickly transitioned through two very-not-right positions for me – I have lost my sense of self, for lack of a better phrase. I have lost sight of who I am, not who people want me to be. 

I just got paperwork from my therapist that asks me to remember a time when I felt alive, joyous, and, well, the most me. And the images that came to mind were all of me alone, exploring, and learning. My solo drives up and down the West coast when I had jobs out there. The northern California redwoods. Cannon Beach in Oregon. My time in Seattle. My times in Maine, attending a course but also exploring Acadia and other “me” places. Hiking by myself to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Moving to the Midwest to start my PhD program without knowing anyone, other than my academic advisor. 

Taking the leap. 
Exploring the beauty that is in this world. Seeking adventure. Seeking new experiences. 
Always, always, with the beauty of home on the horizon, knowing I can return there when I am satisfied (for now!) with my explorations. 

What is not in these mental images? Other people. My spouse. My parents. My sibling and his family. In all of them, I am by myself. 

I value my independence. My ability to think and make decisions for myself. Supporting my interests – going where I want to go – doing what I want to do. Not what someone else dictates for me. 

I think this is why I chafe at having no control over our banking / money. I rely on my spouse for that, and that needs to change. 

I think this is also why I chafe at jobs where my goals and plans are dictated for me. Academia allows me the structure of a career, and advancement, while simultaneously allowing me to pursue my line of research. What interests me. 

The other word that comes to mind when I try to characterize myself? Decisive. Even stubborn, sometimes. 

And all of this makes me wonder, is my ideal life one in which I am married / partnered / with someone? Or am I truly an independent soul, who prefers her own company to that of others. Is that being indulgent? Self-absorbed? I don’t know. But I want to get back to that independent, free-thinking, decisive explorer. I want to go places that I want to go. I want to plan out my own life, and make my own decisions. 

What that means going forward is an open question…but one I seek to answer. Because trying to live someone else’s life isn’t going so well. I know I can do this. I know I want to do this. Time to take the first steps…