I sometimes make small bargains with myself to keep focused on the things that are important to me (and to reign in my time-wasters). One such bargain is that I often set is that I won’t peer into Facebook until I’ve finished reading my current book. So I’m up to that again, and have promised myself to finish Christina Lamb’s Farewell Kabul, which I picked up in the airport last week. It’s a pretty dense read, but is fascinating. I am learning so much.
“We all have a hungry heart, and one of the things we hunger for is happiness. So as much as I possibly could, I stayed where I was happy.”
This reminds me of something that my ex said to me as we were splitting up. He said that he wasn’t too worried about me, because I was happy no matter what happened. While there’s some truth to that, and I think it comes from having a lot of really awful things that have happened over the years (so awful, so out of my control), that I generally choose not to wallow in misery but to make the best of my circumstances. But that’s somewhat different than being happy–that’s just survival.
Being happy, in my mind, is a daily act of choosing joy:
It’s the parking-lot-Chewbacca-mask Mom who can laugh at herself and at the simple joys of her life (without worrying about how she looks to millions of strangers).
It’s jumping into Walden Pond and taking a long swim even though that’ll mean that your hair is a mess for the rest of the day.
It’s pulling over to take a photo of a field of poppies even when you’re running late for your train.
It’s drinking straight out of the milk bottle because every other cup in the kitchen is dirty.
It’s getting sand in your shoes because of a spontaneous ramble at the beach.
It’s getting up at 2am to stare at the full moon.
It’s building wooden things with simple tools.
It’s a cozy chair and a novel.
It’s supporting the people you love as they embark on their own journeys.
It’s a text message with silly emojis.
It’s starting the day with a walk in the garden, noting how things have changed since yesterday and imagining how they will be different tomorrow.
It strikes me, as I read this list, that many of the ‘happinesses’ that come to my mind right now are solitary ones. In years past there were so many more that came from caregiving for my children and from time with my community. While those are still important to me, I spend most of my work-work time with people everyday, that the small acts of happy-solitude feel like a necessary counterweight to teaching/leading/collaborating.
(poppies, taken by me in Italy five years ago)
The past few weeks I’ve been fairly contemplative about where I am in my life. I passed a milestone birthday and I marked the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (or rather, I didn’t mark it at all this year, which felt alright). Also, I visited with a few old friends recently where we discussed all that’s happened in the past few decades.
And after all that, I suspect that I just might jinx myself if I say that things are pretty positive right now. But it also seems worth noting that while there are still some hard days and some things that I hope to change about my circumstances, for the most part it’s just really good: my days are filled with interesting activities that are mostly of my own choosing, I enjoy my work colleagues very much, there is little friction in my family life, I have few health complaints, my home/garden are well-worth returning to each evening, and I average about 7.5 hours of sleep at night (and every once in awhile, I even take a nap).
(photo taken in my garden this weekend)
Am I the only one who misses that era of about 2008ish where everyone had a blog and part of the day’s ritual was to read all of your friends’ recent posts? Every once in awhile I peruse the lists of sites from my now-defunct RSS Reader and I can recall the thrill of having so many writerly friends that I heard from nearly every day. But mostly I miss the thrill and energy of regularly writing for an audience–my writing muscles have become pretty flaccid these past few years.
This quotation, from one of my most favorite articles about blogs, sums up the magic of the phenomenon so well:
Finally, I think I get the superhero fixation. It’s the flying. It’s the suspension of punctuation and good manners and even identity. Bloggers at their computers are Supermen in flight. They break the rules. They go into their virtual phone booths, put on their costumes, bring down their personal villains, and save the world. Anonymous or not, they inhabit that source of power and hope. Then they come back to their jobs, their dogs, and their lives, and it’s like, “Dude, the ball.”
Blog writing is id writing—grandiose, dreamy, private, free-associative, infantile, sexy, petty, dirty. Whether bloggers tell the truth or really are who they claim to be is another matter, but WTF. They are what they write. And you can’t fake that. ?
(Note: the peonies have nothing to do with blogging, but they seemed worth including anyways…)
Feeling pensive today as I reflect on the past year and consider my intentions for the future. So as part of that I spent some time looking through my blogposts from the past year and weighing how they reflected my memories of 2015.
Some of the larger happenings of the past year include:
- Moving house (again) in the late spring, to a nearly-perfect 95 year-old bungalow with a large garden & so much light.
- Having a hysterectomy in the early summer. Few friends even knew that I did this–it was scheduled quickly and I had a remarkably (and also unremarkably) speedy recovery. At some point I may write more about why that surgery was necessary, but for now I’m just relieved to have it behind me.
- Repeatedly having problems with my prosthesis. This is still far from resolved, despite dozens of repairs and appointments and (re-)fittings. I have almost given up on having a comfortable and well-tuned leg, and I am exhausted by the constant discomfort of an ill-fitting one. I could
whinesay much more on this topic, but will move on instead.
- Teaching a remarkable set of courses: Environmental History, Digital Humanities, and American Disability History.
- Visiting the Gold Country in the Fall, and in doing so marking a big item off of my bucket list.
- Paddling in the off-season with IMUA. I’ve also been training in gyrotonics, which is increasing my joint strength & flexibility (especially my hips & shoulders).
- Accepting a new managerial role in IT at Chapman, where I work with an amazing team to provide technical support for the university.
- Choosing to learn a new instrument. I’m still a total n00b, but it’s wonderful to try something hard and different.
And I’m writing this list as I’m snuggled up on the living room sofa of our Brussels home (photo below). Life continues to be interesting as I straddle the cultures of continental Europe and Southern California, and as Stijn and I consider our future together. It’s hard to predict how that will evolve as we make professional and personal choices, but what is obvious is that it’s wonderful to have many possibilities for the future. In past years I’ve found my greatest longing was for home, and now I have two of them. 🙂
My resolutions for 2016 are pretty simple, so far:
- invest time and energy into our Orange home, to make it more comfortable–both inside and out
- be a better friend, by making time to spend with mine one-on-one, and also by hosting more events at our place
- send monthly care packages to E&C at college
- practice Dutch and banjo, 3 days/week
- speak French often
- grow more food and cook more with our homegrown food
- have some travel adventures
- laugh often
- worry less
I’m tempted to also set some writing goals for 2016–I’ve totally slacked in that department in the past few years and I just haven’t felt inspired to write. So, I’ll give that some more thought and see if I feel ready to formalize a plan for writing this year (or not).
The laryngitis hit a few days ago and doesn’t seem eager to leave. So now I must be silent and let my voicebox rest and heal.
In the meantime, I am missing calling Ellycat in from the back porch, giggling with the kiddos on skype, and rehearsing my day with Stijn over dinner. Not to mention the difficulty that I found in teaching my three-hour seminar and the work meetings that I’ve had to put on hold until I can vocalize.
Of course it’s a temporary thing and I expect to wake up in a day or two and be able to talk comfortably again. But in the meantime it feels awfully lively with all these thoughts knocking around in my head that I can’t share with anyone around me. But that does seem to be the gift of getting older, that there are so many thoughts and associations and memories and wonderings. I can easily fill an hour by sitting in the garden enjoying the scent of the basil plants, and rehearsing in my mind my favorite basil recipes and basil foods, as well as the most humble and the most exquisite caprese salads that I’ve ever tasted. And the pretty soon the sun is setting and the hour is past and now I’ve moved on to the rosemary…
Recently my office moved and I acquired a new set of colleagues, as well as gaining a new set of IT-related responsibilities. Such changes bring challenges–not the least of which is the necessity of solving problems with new-to-me team members.
As a result of these changes, I found myself at my desk later than I’d expected tonite, trying to understand some messy data and longing for a crystal ball to appear to give some clarity to a process that was feeling really murky.
And then a colleague came around the corner and offered me a cookie. It was a small gesture and a generous one given that he, too, was staying late and staring at that similarly messy data on his screen. But that moment of solidarity meant a lot and was so-so much bigger than a few carb-calories. In a very good way it reminded me of this night and the stranger who offered me a cookie at a moment when I was hopeless.*
It reminded me that I want to be the kind of a colleague who is always there with a cookie when the going gets rough. Because even at the hardest of times (and after the longest of work days), there is always space for kindness.
*And because Proust and because I also had a cup of tea at the ready to enjoy with my cookie…
It seems a season of returns, for me. I just barely returned to work after having to take off three weeks due to an urgent medical issue. I am about to return to the classroom, after a summer away from teaching responsibilities. Earlier this season I returned to vegetable gardening, a hobby that’s been on hold for about five years. And perhaps most largely, I feel as though I am returning to being myself again, after several months (years, even) of struggling with health challenges that left me drained of my typical vim.
I have intentions of other returns, soon. As soon as my doctor gives me the thumbs-up, I will return to outrigger canoeing and to daily yoga and to evening neighborhood walks and to globe-trotting. I expect that not to be far away(!).
It seems that I also have the inclination to return to writing. For so many (many) months I simply lost interest. It felt like anything I wanted to say had already been said. Or that I simply wanted to read long novels and putter in the soil and giggle with friends and watch BBC comedies, instead of throwing out my thoughts at a keyboard.
But those writing feelings are coming back again. I don’t know if they’ll stick or if they’ll get subsumed in the other stuff that’s keeping me busy these days.
We shall see.
Last night my son and I were watering our vegetable/herb garden at dusk and the smell was so achingly familiar. Of lavender and tomatoes and sage and basil. And dark wet soil. Grassy and fecund. It was the smell of the community garden plot that I nurtured for a decade. What rich and pleasant memories that scent evoked.
Oddly enough, our garden is not at the wee corner bungalow where we moved last fall. Our garden is at a house down the street, where we will move at the end of this month. After eight months of living on this busy corner we realized that it was time to seek somewhere a bit quieter, with a bit more space and no grass (because who wants grass when there are so many other lovely less-thirsty plants to enjoy?). It also has a pergola-covered back patio for our late summer evening parties and a small back house for a robotics workshop/guest lodging.
So, a few weeks ago we moved our raised garden bed plantings over to the new place, a barrow-full at a time. Everything survived the move and is thriving in its new raised-bed location. We even picked our first tomatoes and peppers yesterday!
While I am over-the-moon excited about the new house, lately I’ve been wondering whether I simply move too much. At last count, I’ve moved 14 (soon to be 15) times in the past two decades, which doesn’t even account for my sabbatical wanderings last summer. There’s no moss growing on this rolling stone, that’s for sure! But…I am starting to think that it’s time to put down roots for awhile, rather than living lightly and moving on so readily.
Being mobile is exciting and freeing, but it also has its consequences–one never has to invest much when one knows that everything is only temporary. In so many ways, my mobility has been a defense mechanism, to prevent me from caring too much about any one place or any specific community. It also simply doesn’t seem to fit me anymore. After all these years of being able to pack up and move on a dime, I want to stay put for awhile and accumulate a bit too many things and let myself settle into a home and a community. I want to know my neighbors. And their kids and their dogs. And whether they like red or white…so when I see them coming I can make sure that I have a bottle at the ready.
*this phrase always reminds me of Super-Sara. I still miss her so much.
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…