Spanksgiving

Sometimes it’s not easy to recognize the things in life that deserve gratitude. When life is smooth sailing, everything can become so repetitive, so routine, that you almost operate on autopilot. You come to expect things will be a certain way and forget that nothing is actually promised or guaranteed. The bottom can fall out at any time. Most of us have experienced or seen that happen to someone, and it doesn’t always make sense why. It doesn’t have to I guess.

On the flip side, when you’re going through a particularly tough time, it’s unsurprisingly hard to find reasons to be appreciative. Most people have endured a “When it rains it pours” time in their life, and usually during the rain, it feels like some kind of cosmic punishment. It’s not exactly easy to take a few minutes of stillness and consider the things and people you’re grateful for when life is kicking your proverbial ass. And yet there are always things, always people, rare moments or a single act of kindness that if you think long enough, will start to emerge. If nothing pops up, keep thinking. It will come.

I wouldn’t count this year as one of my easier ones or best in health. There’s been a lot of learning and experiences that I wouldn’t write on my “List of Pleasantries” if I had a “List of Pleasantries.” There has been pain and heartache and a lot of feeling lost. But I know that even among all that, when I take even a minute, once a day, and write down the things I’m thankful for, I am less likely to get pulled in or lost in my ‘story’. I have to continually remind myself of the good things in my life and the people I am lucky enough to love and be loved by. Some days it’s easier to remember than others.

It’s not a denial of pain, which requires its own outlet. It’s just a deeper look beyond the surface of larger things at work. It’s seeing things and people in the spaces, the gaps, the small pocket of happiness you might have missed before. My more challenging experiences this year have actually illuminated the ways I’m fortunate and I have felt more gratitude now than at any other time of my life. It’s almost counterintuitive, I wouldn’t have expected that. But pain can do all kinds of things, it’s a shame it has to hurt so much. Jeesh.

Expressing gratitude has surprised me in how it shapes my outlook when I keep it in mind. I’m always trying to at least identify one thing to be thankful for. Even if its “I’m grateful this crappy day is over,” it’s still acknowledging something that encourages growth, momentum, that phrase I’m always repeating in my head: Keep going. Keep going. 

I don’t write this as though these things are easy. It doesn’t take much for me to slip down the rabbit hole of feeling bitter about where I am in my life, about being the age I am and still requiring help, at not getting the life back that I had before. I miss my friends. I miss wearing real clothes. And I become afraid at what my future will be.

Every year that goes by I become more scared that I’ll never be an actual adult. I’ll be in a permanent state of need. I’ll be 80 and my 120 year old mother will be feeding me cream of wheat and we’ll fight over which show to watch.  But I don’t like the idea of anger or bitterness being the last things I think of before I fall asleep or when I wake up. So I work hard to see past the outer experience and at what it might be allowing to happen underneath. Being bitter about needing help from your parents can just as easily be gratitude for having parents that are willing to help you. It’s all about perspective, and taking the time to see and acknowledge things on the other side, and there’s always another side.

I think sometimes my mind tries to process my whole existence at once, which is mentally overwhelming. Duh.

It’s OK to acknowledge when things suck, and being sick all the time sucks, we can say it. But it’s really only when I jump into a future I can’t know, when I try to gain control over something that isn’t possible that I get into trouble. Sometimes I find myself stressing about things that may not even happen, or things 20 years down the line. What? I don’t even know what I’m doing in an hour! Here in the present moment, there is space for things like gratitude to exist. When you’re panicking, there’s hardly room to breathe, let alone be thankful that there are montages of people falling on youtube and it made you laugh till you cried.

If I my mind gets too carried away, goes too far down the rabbit hole, I give it a slap on the wrist, a mental spanking. And I tell myself to look. It’s not hard to see that I have the things that matter. If I can just stay present, take things one at a time, which oddly enough is sort of required when you’re sick, I can stay awake. I can still see the things I missed before and treasure simple times. There will be chaos and wreckage and things will fall apart, but it seems like the vital things are always somewhere in the quiet aftermath when you take time for stillness and look. The things that matter are there. I guess they never left in the first place.

My favorite author, Haruki Murikami wrote something pretty incredible that I play over in my mind a lot:
                                              Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

A pretty simple and beautiful way of considering life, yeah? I think so too. I’m working on not suffering on top of pain. And I have a small but incredible circle of people in my life who help me see what needs seeing or remember what I’ve forgotten in a moment of madness. I am grateful for so much, even when things are hard. It helps to remember.

Health, Happiness, Spank You

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Adjusting the Perspective on Pain

What is it about Winter?

Post-Holiday Winter, I should specify. It’s wearing on me. Draining and uneventful, this window of time moves so slowly it all starts to feel static. The date keeps changing but there’s nothing I can point to as proof of time passing. When I think back on it, this “leftover winter” has gotten me down in the past, too. It reminds me of the day after a night of drinking in college–hungover days where things on the outside are idle but there’s some invisible pressure that I ought to be doing something, anything, other than what I’m doing right now. But what that thing is I can never name. It may not even exist. I hold the colorless weather outside at least partially accountable. Winter is haphazard in New Orleans. Nothing sticks long enough to adapt a routine or wardrobe to. It goes from freezing and wet one day to weirdly humid and warm the next, but something about the sky, the whole atmosphere out there–it’s this oatmeal-hued environment that either mimics my insides or my insides start to mimic, and for whatever reason the affect is restless and un-motivating. It feels like weather that’s waiting on something and the ansi-ness rubs off on me. Then I find myself in this counterintuitive disposition of mostly-optimistic anticipation that something of note is going to happen in my life, mixed with that physically paralyzing effect that comes with a heart-ache depression. It’s like I’m sitting in a car all packed and ready to embark on some adventure with road-trip snacks (Gardettos) and a map, but there isn’t any gas in the car. So I just sit in the driveway, snacking on Gardettos.

One of the more confusing results of all this is that I can’t tell what direction I’m moving in. I realize that life and time pass in one way only, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. Things are feeling stagnant mostly. And on really tough days they feel backward, a distorted Ground Hogs Day reality where I’m living one day over and over but I’m doing it worse than the day before. I notice during times like these, Oatmeal Winter and Illness at the Helm, one day can easily feel exactly like the one before it, and when I think too long on it, I can’t totally distinguish between the two. Or three or four. Of course it’s pretty easy for me to point my finger at the weather while this other important truth remains that I’m really sick right now–that I’ve been really sick since that crash the day after Thanksgiving and I haven’t really been able to recover. I guess sunny or not, this will get anyone down, even the most seasoned of sick people.

Being sick for months at a time poses an interesting creative challenge. Since you can’t often achieve a change in scenery, which is a widely agreed-upon method to upping ones mood, you have to find ways to see yourself and the world around you in different ways and with new eyes. This is really hard to do. Especially since there’s been such a distinct and relentless sameness to everything given the weather and my health and yada yada. It probably explains why I chopped eight inches off my hair, which helped, actually. But consciously I realize that becoming bored by your surroundings and state of being stems from a lack of proper perspective, and not a failure on the part of the universe to remain exciting. Everything around us is constantly changing, if even at a rate that is undetectable by our human eyes, and every day we wake up and live through is completely unique, never once experienced until now and impossible to ever be duplicated again. When I think about the fact that you never get to live the same day twice, it’s actually a comforting thought. Usually when I feel that I’m in some time warp with my struggles or misery or boredom on repeat, it’s because my vision has narrowed far too much and I’ve lost the horizon from my line of sight. Marc Nepo says “It’s the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery,” and I think that applies here. He says later “Misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything.” What a truth bomb. I think I read that line five more times after I underlined it twice. I know that when my focus zooms in purely on what is hard, the scope of my experience is cut in half, at least. This is why gratitude as I’ve come to understand and cultivate it is so immensely powerful. It wisely keeps and protects the good things in your life within your consciousness, within your line of sight. And it’s so incredibly true that the times when I am most unhappy, I’ve become lazy about remembering what I have, which is a lot. It’s not to say you can’t be conscious about the hard things or honest that they’re challenging or depressing. If you don’t express acknowledge these truths, the gratitude doesn’t have a chance to be authentic either. You have to be honest about both. But that’s the key, acknowledging one without forgetting the other. Grasping them both helps keep a broader and more accurate picture of your life within view.

Maybe this is a bit of what Nepo means when he talks about being a Spiritual Warrior–which sounds fancy but is definitively humble.

“All Spiritual Warriors have a broken heart–alas must have a broken heart–because it is only through the break that the wonder and mysteries of life can enter us. What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior? It is far from being a soldier, but more the sincerity with which a soul faces itself in a daily way. It is this courage to be authentic that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur.”

This was both comforting and angering to me. Angering because I think, why can’t the enlightenment come through cracks that aren’t caused by heartbreak and struggle? But this is a larger philosophical point. I think a more evolved species will be capable of this in the future–achieving higher consciousness and peace and gratitude without having to endure loss or pain or heartache to see it. But at this point within human evolution, our condition is still adapting. We haven’t caught on to the larger things yet as a whole. Think how bad we’re still blowing it. As removed as I feel from some of the real evils of the world and humanity, I don’t have to look very hard or long to see humankind missing the mark, in big and small ways, all around me, and that includes me and the seemingly petty ways I do this in my own life. Just because I can point my finger at ISIS and project all the evil onto them doesn’t make me superiorly more virtuous. What we see around the world are manifestations of evil that exist, if even dormant, within all of us. But I’ve wandered off-road again.

What’s comforting in Nepo’s words is knowing that our work ultimately is to become who we are at our center. And it’s funny how simple this task appears but how insanely hard and rare real authenticity is–being honest about our weaknesses, our beliefs, our limits, our expectations…It’s not as easy as I’d hope. And yet any time I face a truth about myself that for a long time I either hid or denied, I always feel stronger after having confronted it or shared it with someone I love. Even admitting the extent to which I was/am sick and the limits it places on my life is a challenge, even though totally obvious to an outsider.  And I think this is why authenticity is such an important ingredient he includes in being a warrior–I don’t think it means knowing exactly who you are at all times, if anything this search feels like long–maybe it’s more the reverse: slowing peeling away who we aren’t until we become condensed, perfect little vessels of our true self. I think he’s also alluding to the idea that you can’t be conscious and inauthentic at the same time, and since ultimately we’re seeking whole consciousness, it requires in small ways along the path to acknowledge and cultivate the true self, while diminishing the layers that are not real.

The reason it angers me is because this formula is what I confront when reading all the spiritual masters and mystics and artists for thousands of years, and so it’s a clear truth that has persisted through the centuries–that it’s through hardship and pain that human beings seem to achieve deeper consciousness. Or at least, it is through this pain or suffering that we have the opportunity to grow and evolve consciously. It’s very easy to use pain as a reason to stop trying, and I’ve certainly done that a good number of times. But the most amazing people, those who seem to get it, those who appear to be made of peace on the inside and who exude joy outwardly and live their lives with creativity and virtue and light-heartedness, are not people who were given easy lives and thus are happy. They have all endured exceptional pain in their own ways, and have all found a way to use their most challenging of experiences to propel them forward, up, larger than their circumstances. The pain is still real inside of them, accessible and observable even to those on the outside–its not that they eradicated it, but somehow turned it into the material that would make their life good, whole. (See an amazing example of that here)  They didn’t eliminate it, but they also didn’t use so much of it that their life was made up purely of struggle. This is another exploitation that’s easy to pursue with ones pain– using it as a platform for identity. The point, obviously, is not to become the pain, if we’re trying to transcend it. Wallowing in our own web of misery is an easy way to garner an audience but also to never evolve. To avoid consciousness. What I was trying to say when I began this thought of why this truth angered me, is that I wish human consciousness could evolve in easier ways than through pain. Of course, there are many other teachers that develop our soul and psyche, love namely, that aren’t as challenging as say something like, an invisible disease that pulls the rug out from under you. Everyday. :) But the truth is, the things which have taught me the most, shown me the gamut of human emotion and contributed to further compassion, kindness, capacity to love and ultimately consciousness on my end, have been these very deeply painful and trying experiences. And so I know that it’s true. And I know it’s vitally important what you choose to do with your pain or heartache, because not working to put it toward growth, gives it the power to swallow you up whole. It takes away from you, gives you a reason to be bad, to stop trying, to give up on the world. And that’s the truth– I say it because I’ve felt these things in the past in reaction to the tough experiences in my life, not always directly after they happened either. I still struggle with it. And it haunts me how easy it is to let those experiences take the wheel and drive me to unhappy places. Luckily we’re not powerless to pain. We have choices to make.

In a different way, using the pain to define your self, or wallowing around in it but never moving on from it is another struggle that I have to stay keenly aware of. I have a whole blog that is named after a damn disease that I am also trying hard to not let define me. It’s a huge part of my life and my story, but I have to keep it from growing so large that it takes up my whole view. I don’t want illness to be my only avenue for expression or creativity, and I definitely don’t want the art and work that I do pursue in the name of it to be all sad or negative or heartbreaking. Of course this isn’t always easy to do either, because writing about your health good, bad, or ugly, is naturally going to include parts that are bad and/or ugly. There is a lot of that in a life with illness. And my point when I began this project so long ago was to accurately portray what life with chronic illness actually looked like, since I’d confronted so many misunderstandings and false beliefs about it from people in my own life. Obviously some writing stems from hard days and dark feelings, and if you’re going to tell the truth, tell the truth. The point was to have a space where I could be honest and not polite for the sake of peoples small-talk comfort. BUT, the point I have to keep in mind is that illness is just one part of my life, and while it can feel like it defines so much of what I do, it is still just a part, but requires me to keep it right-sized. It’s only when my perspective zeros in on it do I lose the whole horizon, which are the amazing people in my life that I love so much and who love me back, the incredible house I live in, how happy my dog makes me every time I look at him, how lucky I am that I was given the gift of writing and this is one thing the illness hasn’t taken from at all. In fact, it’s what gave me a voice on this very medium. Hey look at that, the clouds are parting.

Winters are tough. They seem to be that way for a lot of people, North or South, sick or well. It’s easy to look around and see the same thing everywhere you look, because details are small and we’re usually too busy or too certain to stop and look twice or three times at things before we see the wonder in them. I know that during times like these, my life becomes very small because when you’re sick and weak like this, you’re constantly breaking everything down into smaller pieces so you can digest and complete them. You know how during hard times people will say “Just one day at a time”? Well during days like this, it’s really more down to a moment by moment basis. Mostly because each tiny little movement requires so much more from you than normal. It astonishes me how hard the simplest of tasks become when your body feels like it’s made of lead glued together with honey. It’s not just Wake up and make the coffee! It’s OK, sit up in bed. Ready? 1, 2, 3, sit up. Why didn’t you sit up? Try again 1, 2, 3. Come on, you can do it, just a little more, OK! You did it! We’re sitting up. Now, turn to the side to put your feet on the floor and stand up slowly. Feet on the floor, ready? Here we go. OK, feet are on the floor. Time to stand up. Heeeeere we go, and we’re dizzy we’re sitting back down again. OK, catch your breath. Breathe slowly. Calm down heart, all we’re doing is standing here. OK, try again on 3, rise slowly this time. Ready? 1, 2, 3 and we’re going to stand up. 1, 2, 3, we’re standing! Now, 12 steps to the kitchen, you got this, 1…2…3…

6.jpg

The kitchen is super close to the living room and my couch, and so sometimes I have to make a stop-off there first, which is perfectly portrayed in this cartoon by another blogger with CFS. 

Anyway, notice the minuteness of each of those moves? I’m not exaggerating. This is simply what Bone Crushing Weakness does. Tasks this small shouldn’t require being talked through like you’re in a danged boxing match. But what can I say, it must be evolving some part of me so I can be the best of the best Spiritual Warriors ! Or just a normal 31 year old who gets out of bed. Either way. I think it’s this breaking down of things so they are doable is also what makes life feel so un-doable sometimes, because it all feels too big, too much, too long. Like I’ll never be able to get on top of things. But I know it’s because my vision is off and I have to be proactive about seeing my life and even these sometimes painstakingly long days against the larger backdrop of the world, of eternity, of the whole web of human existence. I find relief in seeing my life as a small spec within the largeness of our universe. I didn’t always feel that way, but now I know it means that enduring challenges come to an end. It means I am just one of many kajillion working parts and lives. It means that while not everything is up to me, the essential parts are, and I’m here because I’m capable of achieving them. I have to remember that as much as I can convince myself and be successful about it, I am not alone. That thought isn’t real. And my life is not impossible. And all of this, including colorless winter skies and lacking motivation and bone crushing weakness, will end. And I’ll look back on it one day, as the pain that moved me forward and opened the door for great things to happen, not as a shit show that ruined what could have been a good life.

Health, Happiness, Perspective

P.S. If you want to see one incredible example of taking tragedy and hardship and turning it into Greatness, watch Mayou Angelou share her life story on Master Class. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen, ever. http://cms.springboardplatform.com/previews/3405/video/937187/sfta001/

Living Masters

Finally, yesterday, the teeniest tiniest flicker of relief. I felt it. Though incrementally small, it was the spark suggestive of an end, or at least of an improvement. It’s been a very sick few days. But yesterdays glimmer of improvement brought me to the surface where I could breath again. It wasn’t major, but it was enough. Today, another slight improvement. I actually left the house and went to the pharmacy. That’s what we call progress people.

I don’t know what exactly caused this crash. The travel, new Miami germs my body couldn’t handle, the woman with the wet cough on the plane? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter I guess. I could feel something in the works throughout the trip. I felt rough most of the time, but, I still enjoyed my stay. Miami is nice and my family rocks. My brother Nick is another mentor of mine and always encourages my creative endeavors. He’s someone who materializes ideas instead of just writing them in a notebook, which is what I do. I envy his work ethic and it was nice to be around artists at work. I worked through some writing problems and we’ve begun a side project which I think will be great. It was nice. Look, I even caught a fish.

40 pounder
Unfortunately I think my brother later used this fish as bait.

Huge right? Of course I sort of declined at the end of that day and into the last few days, until I returned home Thursday. By that night I crawled into bed and as I pulled up the covers, the invisible monster went to work. I could feel it creeping over me, up through my limbs and under my fingernails. When I woke Friday morning it had swallowed me whole. I was submerged. The next three days were spent in bed in a dream state with intermittent stints of wakefulness. I’d awake for brief periods, feed Monty, feed myself, then dissolve into dream world again. Unfortunately I could feel the pain on both sides. In my dreams I’m looking for pills and can’t find them. Or I can’t get their lid open. That happens in real life too.

It can be disorienting when you spend more of your time in dreams than awake. Every time I awoke I  had to readjust to the surroundings, remind myself where I was. Everything was hazy and I felt weak and sedated. My body was out of juice; every move I made felt enormous and taxing. It’s a strange condition to be in, but that’s how it goes in a crash. All you can do is rest and wait for your body to come back. Luckily, Monty barely left my side the whole time. Each time my eyes blinked open, I’d spot him sleeping in some ridiculous position. As soon as I stir he’s on all fours, ready to go. I hate not being able to play with him more, but he sticks by. Sleeps when I sleep, eats when I eat. His loyalty astounds me, especially when I’m sick. On Saturday night I had a nightmare that I couldn’t wake out of. When I finally came to, Monty was on his feet, panting next to the bed. I could tell he’d done something, made some noise maybe that woke me up, though I don’t know what. He is my hero. For reals.

By Sunday I was overwhelmed. Everything hurt, every movement was laborious, and any sound above a medium hum felt like a knife through my ear. Just taking a deep breath was hard. Tears poured down my face and I couldn’t say why exactly, except that my thoughts were racing and I felt like I was sinking. My emotions often get erratic during a crash for some reason. I think parts of my brain get overwhelmed. It felt like synapses were firing at rapid rates but were incomplete. Thoughts would come fast but unfinished. I could barely talk straight. I didn’t know what I needed, but I needed help. Enter my mom.

Through the tears I tell her I think I need to eat. OK, she says, and just her voice begins to calm everything down. One thing at a time, she says. Start with the apple. I try to let go and redirect my focus on what’s in front of me: an apple on a plate with almond butter. All I have to do is eat it. I can do that. Cool. The tears come and go. I tell her I’m afraid and my health feels out of control. She listens and validates my discouragement, but doesn’t let me wallow too long into despair. Ever so gently she leads me out of the dark of my own mind and encourages me to keep going. I find myself clinging to those words, scribbling them on paper and my dry erase board. So I try, even though my insides are yelling Stop. Press restart. We’ve got a faulty body here. I sleep at their house on the couch because I’m too exhausted to walk back to mine. I’m thirty years old and my mom ‘tucked me in.’ It’s official: I’m growing up in reverse. Monty sleeps on the love seat next to me. The next day is still sick, but somehow better. I don’t feel buried by it now. My mom has worked her magic again.

The illness continues to teach me humility and gratitude. To find grace through the crappiest of times. It’s still difficult to admit when I need help, but I do. And I’m lucky to have people who provide it. My step-dad bought me groceries, and threw the stick for Monty when I wasn’t able to. I get emails from people who are sick with this and other chronic illnesses but their families don’t believe them or don’t understand, and they’re left to fight it on their own. Reading it is heartbreaking. I don’t know how anyone could survive this illness alone. Some of them say the blog has helped their families understand what they’re going through, and I always told myself if this even helped one person, it was worth the work. I hope I can do more. I wish I could make them know they’re not alone, or crazy, or inferior; all things you feel when you’re sick this way. I know we’re strangers, but we’re human beings and sharing something similar, so if you’re reading this, you’re not alone brother! But sometimes it feels that way and life gets heavy. I get it.

I am trying to be careful about my writing. I always hesitate when sharing an account like this because I don’t want to get stuck in a narrative of how hard life is without going further. Life is hard, but people don’t need that reminder. Life is harder when you stop at the pain. I try to look at the pain as the beginning of something better, not an end. Because life is also amazing, even in times of turmoil, but you have to dig deep, past the muck. It’s so basic, so cliché, but I have to examine both sides or I’ll turn into a blogging version of that Kathy cartoon. Oh God, the horror. It’s a fragile dichotomy, writing this blog. Half of me is sharing what feels like death, but the other half is screaming I’m OK! Everything is fine! Because I am OK. I’m here in my favorite V-neck shirt writing at my desk. But the schism is there and I have to be conscious of both sides. Writing isn’t a way out of it, it’s just a better way through it, if I do it right. I write better when I get creative with my circumstances, until I eventually outgrow them. Otherwise the conditions take over and despair takes the wheel. And that’s a lot of what this whole project is about; becoming more than a person to whom things happen. The poet/writer Paulo Coelho wrote this in The Alchemist,

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” 

I love this idea and believe it wholly. A lot of things are at work that we don’t always have access to. It’s just easy to forget when shit hits the fan. Well here’s our reminder. 

In other news, it finally happened: I dropped my phone in the pool. Idiot! I watched it fall in slow motion, with that split second of heat on your neck where you think you can reverse time and take it back, but you blink and there it is; Submerged. It’s now drying out in a ziplock bag with rice, so I’m off the grid! I’ll try to use the 48 hours wisely. I’ll keep resting and reading and writing. And hopefully by Christmas I’ll be better and I’ll have found the answer to life. Seems doable.

Anyway, this post is for my mom, who dug me out of the depths once again. She is my mentor and not only guides me out of the darkness but nudges me to be better, to grow stronger from struggle and not be defeated by it. It’s true, if I weren’t sick we wouldn’t be living so close, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of important wisdom that I’ll keep forever. All for free! Thank you for carrying me when I need it but also challenging me to become more than what’s happened. You’re a master and it’s made all the difference.

Health, Happiness, Masters

One Month and the Buzz

So, I took a month off. I’ve missed you.

Health-wise I’ve been up and down, but more ups I think. I’ve been out of the house doing things; normal people things, 29-year-old things. Living like a normal person doesn’t always fair well on my body and a few times I pushed it too far and paid the price, but somehow it felt worth it. My soul needed to get out in the world and roll around in the dirt. I felt like Monty when he sees a squirrel and I unhook the leash–caution to the wind, full force ahead. Maybe 50%. I’m often battling this fear that if I’m sick for too long I’ll go to sleep one night and when I wake up thirty years will have gone by and I’ll have barely moved. It’s not always easy but I know it’s important for my soul and my psyche to get out there and try a little. So I do. I did. And I experienced these moments where I felt so intensely alive I could feel it buzzing in my fingertips. And that’s the stuff of life people! The best kind of little reminders.

A while ago I was invited by a friend to attend a three-day meditation retreat in Magnolia, Mississippi. I’d never been on a retreat before and I felt apprehensive at first. For starters, I felt angst about whether my body would hold up through the weekend. Secondly, I had this cliché vision of long-haired hippies dancing naked around a fire, sharing their “truths” or something. But when I learned it was a silent retreat, I knew I had to do it. I don’t know if I’ve made this apparent, but I sort of hate meeting people. I cringe at smalltalk and I find strangers questions difficult and exhausting to answer. I know it’s just part of conventional social norms, but this question of “What do you do?” causes me an intense five-second panic attack, and introductions almost always go there. To give an honest answer comes with this pressure to provide a back-story, which is long and convoluted. I expect strangers have as much interest in hearing these details as I do telling them, and sometimes I feel like rolling my eyes at my own reality. But I haven’t yet figured out a way to give a succinct honest answer that leaves everybody comfortable. I think I’ll start answering ‘waitress’ and save everyone five whole minutes.

So this the idea that we wouldn’t have to talk to other people, including our assigned roommates, totally sold me. But I still felt angst about my health hovering in the background. This is nothing new. I confront this fear all the time making decisions because my health has failed me so many times before when I’ve really counted on it. So I don’t anymore. It’s hard always having to maneuver around this invisible thing in your life that you don’t even like. But this is my reality and hating or fearing it does me no good. So I considered the worse-case scenario; I crash. Even if that were the case and I spent the weekend in bed, what were they going to do? Strap me to a chair and force me to meditate? I figured I’d be OK. So I said yes. And there’s something pretty revitalizing about saying yes to something new, especially when for so long these kinds of opportunities were an automatic no.

I wrote an essay about the weekend and I’ll post that next. I’ll say now my favorite part was eating lunch next to my friend in total silence, only making eye contact every now and then. There’s a lot of space and freedom that opens up when no one feels the need to talk. They call it “noble silence” and I think we could all use a little more of it. It rocked!

After that I was invited on a weekend trip to the beach where I would share a house with 12 other girls. So basically the opposite of the silent retreat. I am a total beach bum and don’t feel I get enough of it, so I went. And it turned out to be a really awesome and fun weekend. I was feeling pretty sick the day we left, but I was also really craving the sand and the air and warm gulf water. (I’m a pansy about water temp) I knew I’d feel better once I got there, so Emily and I drove the three and half hours there and watched the sun set while crossing the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I felt really happy in that moment. The sunset was the kind that changed colors every 10 seconds and was remarkably beautiful over the Louisiana marsh. I tried to capture the spectacle made by all the intense colors, but a picture never does a great sunset justice. It’s like holding a rookie drawing next to a Monet. Maybe it’s better to just pause and enjoy the splendor of a disappearing sun. It’s such a short-lived pleasure anyway. Watching them always make me feel grateful.  We finally arrived and learned that our house was next door to the classiest bar in the South: Florabama. So naturally, we went. Never heard of it? Here’s a peek.

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No Pets
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Every time I visit this bar I am overwhelmed and baffled by it. It’s three stories (possibly more, I don’t know, I’ve gotten lost in it twice), hosts multiple bands on different levels, and is jam-packed with drunk people of every age. Every surface is a proverbial guest book where people under the influence leave their mark for the world to see. I’m always riveted and only sometimes horrified reading the graffiti that adorns literally every surface. I started photographing the funny ones so I could laugh later and have some weird photographic keepsake of the trip. So I took a photo of the surface of the bar we were ordering from.

Damn you, Laken
Damn you, Laken

We couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of some angry person pulling out a marker and deciding to write that Laken Franks sucks Donkey Penis. A while later I entered the Florabama bathroom, where I confronted many, so many more messages, in every color, on every surface, including the toilet seat. I took some more photos because so far no one I met was as interesting as this graffiti of the world. I liked the idea of one picture having the mark of so many strangers, many of whom likely have no memory of the literary gems they left. And now I’d have a piece of it and they’d have no idea about that, either. So what did I find while looking through those photos later? Another sentiment for Laken in the bathroom stall.

Damn you again Laken
Damn you again Laken

Only this time Laken’s a baby murdering whore. I couldn’t believe the name showed up in two photos. Pretty crazy odds given the volume of surface area in that place and the amount of angry messages. I wonder who Laken Franks is and what she (he?) did that left someone upset enough to get creative with their insults and tattoo them on two of the walls of the worlds classiest bar. I shall never know. I’m just glad I was alive enough to be there and capture it. My fingertips were buzzing at little moments like this all weekend. But mostly when I watched the sun rise on the beach at 6 am. There’s something almost holy about a sunrise. It feels like a sneak-peek at reality unfolding–a backstage pass to the universe or something. Anyway, I’ll leave you with that photo, because I was feeling very alive when I took it, and my fingertips still buzz when I look it now. Maybe yours will too.

6 am, alive and well
6 am, alive and well

Health, Happiness, Buzzing

The Opposite of Boredom

A few noteworthy things of late.

I’m completely lost in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I began reading it Sunday and now I find myself attempting to read only small bits at a time because I’m already dreading it being over. It’s such a good read. The protagonist Jack really resonates with me but also Percy is such a creative and dead-on writer of things large and small. I admit reading his words make me feel like I could never write anything of worth if I tried for it my entire life. But on other pages his complex ideas play out so simply, his writing so accessible that it gives the assuring impression that anyone could do it. The story takes place in New Orleans mostly, among other Louisiana Parishes and the Mississippi coast. I love stories set here, not for reasons of pride but for how perfectly the landscape plays into the story, picking up where plot leaves off. Something huge would inevitably be lost were it to be told from Ohio…or Michigan. All parts of it from the dress, to the houses, to the unnerving racial tension are all intrinsically Southern, and you find yourself loving it whether you hate it or not. Also of note, Percy lived in Covington. He used to drive the bridge to New Orleans. I guess it’s encouraging to know something so inspiring came out of this little town that for so long I hated. Speaking of the bridge..

I had another moment of coherence. This time around mile marker 11. Monty and I were driving home once again, New Orleans to the Northshore, last Monday evening. It was a pretty nondescript Monday, cloudless with little traffic. But my thoughts were floating through me with the rhythm of the bumps per usual. Then I did this thing which I do a lot. A small amount of congested traffic formed from some kind of road repair, and as I slowed my car to a near-halt, I felt myself bracing for impact. Not from me but from a car behind. (No car in particular, I do this no matter who’s behind me) Then I imagined the loud crashing sound it would make and my airbags inflating. Then the last part which is usually the most unnerving for me, I saw my car crashing through the concrete barrier to my right,  and my feeble Toyota corolla with Monty and me inside it, falling slow motion into the water. Down, down we’d go.

like this. but less black and whiteness.
Like this. But less black and whiteness.

And usually the thought doesn’t end with a rescue. Usually it ends with me shuttering at the idea of the lights going out on my life so fast, and then me being jerked back to reality, convincing myself someway that death is nothing to think about. As though I’ll never die! But last Monday was different. I had the thought, I braced for impact, I saw the vision of my falling car. And then out of nowhere…tranquility. My mind felt placid. I may have even smiled. I thought how weightless that moment must be when you finally let go. The grand transition. Finally releasing something you’ve held so tightly onto, whether it was good to you or not. The surrender. The relief! It finally occurred to me that only being lost so deeply in the world garners that sort of fear about death. If we could interview those who have “passed on” (as I hear older religious folk say) I think they’d say it wasn’t that scary. Nothing compared to the rest of their life on earth scared to death imagining it! I’d love to get just one interview. It’s like I know all these dead people and none of them will give me the dirt.

Anyway, I can’t explain how reassuring that moment was on the bridge. I remember in California over a year ago, I was sicker than I’d ever been to the point I actually thought I might be dying. And I hated the idea. I was so overwhelmed by that possibility that often it brought me to tears and I’d have to excuse myself and physically catch my breath. In theory it should have been almost a relief to think about–an end to suffering. But I didn’t want to die. And I certainly didn’t want my last days on earth to be like the ones I was having there. Closed up indoors, lifeless, feeling very alone. It’s just interesting to me that now that I’ve really been living these last few months, and dare I say it, even–happy–my fear of death has lessened. I’ve enjoyed the park and the pool with Monty in the sun. I’ve gone to dinner parties. I’ve said yes to things that in my sick past were a big fat no. I’ve spent quality time with people I love, not doing a whole lot of anything at all but talking about life and people and laughing really, really hard. And there on the bridge, for maybe no more than a second, I didn’t fear death. I felt curious and interested. But I wasn’t tense bracing for impact. I was smiling at how much fun I’ve been having and how at ease with life I feel. You’d think that would make the idea of death more unnerving than ever, because it means an end to happy times. But the opposite occurred. From my perspective over the water, death was just another thing that happens. Maybe after all, it’s not that big a deal? Hah. That moment was the first I’ve had that it didn’t feel like this overwhelming weight baring that comes with the knowledge that one day we’re all going to die. And even though my normal angst about it has at least half returned, that moment has really stuck and it feels readily accessible still. There was something very casual about it, which made me trust it even more. Sometimes I find myself looking for grand answers, spectacles, formal explanations of life and existence..and this was not really that. It was a simple and tranquil instant of acceptance, and those are the moments that persist. I pet Monty’s velvet ears, turned up the music and into the distance we drove. That indistinct Monday turned out to be quite the evening as it were.

Besides my newfound excitement for death! (jk)… the Day Lily’s are back in bloom. I looked at all the colors sprouting up yesterday, noting that by nature’s calendar I’ve officially been in this house for one year. I remember writing about these flowers last year, excited for how life in the pool house might unfold. Funny I hardly remember what’s happened in the time since then. In some way the fact that nothing terrible stands out makes it safe to say it’s been a pretty decent year. I only know that being given the gift of “relative health” the last few months has truly been remarkable for me. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of so many moments– of friends and boys and late nights immensely–and I feel gratefulness overflowing in me. I don’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve read and written and played Taylor Swift on my guitar ridiculously loud. When I’m sick I rest. When I have energy I go. But most notably is this gratitude and the awareness of this gratitude. It occurred to me recently that this is the opposite of boredom. When I feel gratitude I feel like I’m living with my eyes open. I’m often noticing things that were already there that I’d simply skipped over before. I like this feeling of being in touch with my aliveness, seeing the realm of possibility beyond personal limits, recognizing the awe-inspiring nature of everything alive. Maybe it’s why I love saving the frogs from the pool, or why I don’t get rid of the spider living in the corner of my bathroom. I don’t think you can be in tune to these truths and be also bored. Boredom uses a narrow vision, it sees life as something to happen for us and not from us. Even yesterday, which turned out to be a crash day spent in bed, I lost myself in the enjoyment of a book, completely grateful for the existence of novels and good authors. Then completely grateful for a nice house to read them in. I never got out of my pajamas or brushed my teeth. I didn’t exactly contribute to the world. And all the same, it was really a wonderful day. I know there was a recent time in my life when I wouldn’t have thought that to be so.

Health, Happiness, Opposites.