Hi there friend, and welcome to my blog. I started writing on the internet more than ten years ago, first anonymously as “pilgrimgirl” and later under my own name. I began as pilgrimgirl because at the time I was studying journey narratives and had a feeling as though I was starting on a new path with an unknown destination. Since I began writing online I’ve started and finished a PhD program, left the Mormon church and became a Quaker, got divorced, started a history podcast, found full-time work in academia, took up rock climbing and outrigger canoeing, and traveled across the globe (China! Belgium! Italy! Chicago! Montana! Portland! Gettysburg! and oh-so-many points in-between). For my 38th birthday and 25th anniversary of my bone cancer diagnosis, we (meaning me and you) bought legs for a young double-amputee from China.
You might have happened upon this blog because you’ve heard of my work in the digital humanities or because you are curious about living with a disability or because you are also in the midst of a faith transition. Click on any of the links above to find my posts about those particular topics (or use the dropdown links in the nav bar on the blog header). Or, feel free to read a little bit of anything and everything by using the archive links on the right sidebar.
This blog is eclectic and random–it has poetry and cooking and books. And cats. And flowers. And the ocean (my ocean). But in that sense it’s a good reflection of me and my wide-ranging, far-reaching, magpie curiosity.
A few friends have recently asked me for advice about getting through the tough few initial weeks of a divorce. My advice to them, based on what I did well during my first few weeks separated from my then-spouse:
- I exercised every single day. This was my obligation to myself because I knew I would have imploded otherwise. I lifted weights/swam/yoga’d/paddled/rock-climbed/etc.
- I surrounded myself with a tribe of supporters that I could call or text at any time of day or night. Most of these friends had been through a divorce themselves, so they “got it.”
- I threw myself into meeting new people that had no idea about my divorce. I met them online or in cafes or at the gym or at the Huntington (where I was on fellowship at the time).
- I re-made my home into a place that I loved, room by room excavating every bit of my ex’s junk out if my life. I started with the bedroom–new linens & rearranged the furniture. If something brought bad memories of my marriage, it went into the trash. I only kept the things that I loved and that made me feel good. If there were “important” documents that I couldn’t face in the moment but I also couldn’t throw away, I put them into a box to deal with later (FWIW, I just barely went through that box and I’m glad that I waited a few years so I was clear-headed as I made choices about what to keep).
- But perhaps most importantly, I kept working. I didn’t miss a day of being at my desk and in the off-hours I was pounding away at my dissertation. Despite the turmoil in so many aspects of my life, work was a bedrock-constant dependable thing and that kept me well-centered to face everything else.
Steering some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.
Winter is “off-season” for outrigger canoeing, so my team doesn’t practice regularly. It is a much less-desirable time of year for being on the water–it’s cold, stormy, and the days are short.
But it’s precisely all of those undesirable reasons that make off-season paddling so fun to me. There’s a small hardy band of half-a-dozen paddlers that comes together every Wednesday for a nighttime jaunt–an easy 8 miles or so of canoeing from the Back Bay to the Harbor mouth (and when we’re lucky, all the way out to the bell buoy). There’s an irreverence to the off-season that is potty humor and in-jokes, plenty of near-misses with docks and channel markers and whatever mysterious dark detritus floating alongside our boat (a dead sea lion? a dead bird? a bag of beach trash?). But it is also the beauty of bioluminescent plankton and a sky full of stars. It is a Jerry moonlight serenade after we cross the PCH bridge and it is Lynn’s unmistakable and infectious laugh. It is pirates at Halloween and twinkling lights for the holiday parade. It is cold toes and noses and ears and fingers, and that occasional balmy Santa Ana breeze that greets us as we round the bend of the Back Bay. It is paddling for the for the sheer joy of being on the water and in the water, with friends.
But tonight regular Team Imua season practice begins. It is time to prepare for races, to polish our form and build our strength. Of course that’s all good (especially the strengthening part), but I’ll still be missing the off-season, more than a bit.
Photo taken that time I walked out into the ocean wearing my old wedding dress…
I’ve been reading a lot of Rachel Carson lately, for a project that I’m working on. Her writing is beautiful to me, as someone who comes more alive when I am on the ocean, feeling the wind in my hair. I get the sense that Rachel is also of a like mind when it comes to the spiritual power of being close to the ocean and its “surge of beating life.” An excerpt from The Rocky Coast:
Like the sea itself, the shore fascinates us when we return to it, the place of our dim ancestral beginnings. In the recurrent rhythms of tides and surf and in the varied life of tide lines there is the obvious attraction of movement and change and beauty. There is also, I am convinced, a deeper fascination born of inner meaning and significance.
When we go down to the low tide line, we enter a world that is as old as the earth itself–the primeval meeting place of the elements of earth and water, a place of compromise and conflict and eternal change. For us as living creatures it has special meaning as an area in or near which some entity that could be distinguished as Life first drifted in shallow waters–reproducing, evolving, yielding that endlessly varied stream of living things that has surged through time and space to occupy the earth.
To understand the shore, it is not enough to catalog its life. Understanding comes only when, standing on a beach, we can sense the long rhythms of earth and sea that sculptured its land forms and produced the rock and sand of which it is composed; when we can sense with the eye and ear of the mind the surge of life beating always at its shores…
Because some days, the most important thing is taking some time for a spiced latte with Stijn.
I often feel a bit at odds with “productivity” articles. Perhaps this resistance began last year when I realized that most of my goals were actually about slowing down and reducing the frantic, seemingly “productive,” pace that I’d been maintaining and that probably led to some of the significant health problems that I was grappling with.
So lately, to combat the tendency to fritter away much of my time at time-consuming tasks that aren’t actually all that productive, I’ve started each day with a question for myself:
What’s the most important thing that I could accomplish today?
Leading with that question, rather than beginning with whatever is screaming on my To-Do list, is not only giving me more peace of mind, but is also helping me to better-prioritize my daily work schedule.
Note: This excellent article at ProfHacker is what inspired my thoughts about productivity this morning…
a cheese plate, my typical way to finish a meal
About four months ago, after trying to make sense of various mysterious health symptoms, my physician suggested that I go on an elimination diet for awhile, specifically to eliminate dairy at first, but she also suggested that eliminating eggs or gluten might be in order if my symptoms weren’t alleviated. At the time my primary symptom was nausea, but I also often felt a sort of unspecified abdominal ache in the evenings, too.
Within a few weeks of the no-dairy, the symptoms became minimal. Because I noticed them when I ate eggs, I also eliminated those. And since then I’ve felt remarkably nausea and gut-pain free. A few times since I started the elimination I’ve tried a bit of cheese and I still cook with butter and I seem to be fine with that, as long as dairy is not a major category in my diet.
And somehow I made it through the holidays while sticking to a mostly dairy-free and egg-free diet, with very few temptations or frustrations (it helps, I suppose, that I love veggies and that I bought a Vitamix blender). It seems that as long as I don’t think too much about lasagna and souffles and rigatoni gorgonzola, well, I am pretty okay with my various eating options.
But then there are those days (today is one of them), when I am longing for a bit of comfort and it seems that that comfort has very creamy contours…
my vintage lingerie, folded and organized into my drawer
At a recent work party I had to offer one detail about my life that none of my coworkers already knew. My “secret” was that I have moved my household 14 times in the past 20 years. Ugh. And have I mentioned just how much I hate moving? (maybe once or twice)
One of my coping mechanisms for having relocated so many times is to live a fairly bare-bones existence. Just about every time I am tempted to buy something I imagine myself exhausted and packing boxes and ask myself if that new widget is really worth the effort that it will take to relocate it when the time comes (as it inevitably will). Though I’m no Miss Minimalist, I’m not too far off from that end of the extreme, either.
Despite the fact that I’ve already internalized a fairly simple lifestyle, when a friend recommended The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing, I downloaded a copy of the book despite an earlier decision to avoid decluttering self-help books. I found that it affirmed a few of the habits that I’ve already incorporated into my life. For example, I only keep things that I love (or as Kondo says, “items that bring delight”). So if an item has a bad memory associated with it, or if it brings up negative feelings rather than pleasure, then off it goes to the Goodwill. Ditto for items that are redundant or broken or threadbare. Then for those delightful items that make the cut and stay in my home, I find a permanent place for them so I can put them away and keep the house tidy.
One element of Kondo’s book that rang especially true for me is that she recommends folding one’s clothing and linens into tidy squares and stowing it upright, in drawers. A favorite time of the week is Sunday afternoon when I’m doing laundry and I take the warm clothes out of the dryer and fold them into tidy piles based on who they belong to and/or where they are stored in the house. I have particular folding patterns for cloth napkins and bathowels and tshirts and sweaters and skivvies. For me there’s a lot of comfort in the ritual of folding the same dishtowels and tank tops and pajamas every week, and I especially love how the fabrics of such things become softer with age (and as I touch each item, in my mind I rehearse the story of how I acquired it–that crazy pair of socks from Portland or that blouse from Brussels or the tidy stack of matching washcloths that I bought to mark my move from my student apartment to my first real house).
The satisfaction that I feel from folding my laundry is certainly heightened by the fact that such rituals are how I have made “home” in so many places so quickly over the years. Because home has not been a precise location, but a set of comfortable behaviors that I brought along with all of those packing boxes, to each new space.
This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry. It’s a snap of the kids sitting on the back porch in the sunshine over the holidays. :)
For those of you who are longtime readers of my blog, you know that I have a certain fascination with poetry. At times I’ve penned a bit of poetry for this space and have often linked to, or included poetry in my posts.
Why poetry? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the chewiness and brevity of a poem. It does so much work in so little space. This appeals to the minimalist in me.
So as a way to include my poetry in my year, I resolved to listen to The Writer’s Almanac podcast each morning as I sit down to breakfast. I must say that it’s great to start the day with beautiful words.