Steady as She Goes

FullSizeRender (4)

To run: “to go without restraint move freely about at will.” —Merriam-Webster

Let me preface this by saying: I am by no means a runner. In my mind, runners are people who are clocking in hours, miles, perhaps training for marathons, people who get up early to run or traverse miles because it clears their heads. This is not me. Though the idea appeals to me, I am not a runner by these standards. Not by any standards, really. But that’s not going to keep me from running. Not anymore.

In elementary and middle school I was considered, however briefly, a runner. I was one of the fastest girls in my class and I felt sheer joy when I ran barefoot through the apple orchards next to my house. I loved to run, not for organized sports, but just because. And if someone wanted to race, I was game. Especially if it was one of the boys; victory seemed even sweeter when I bested a boy at a race. Nevertheless, I wasn’t on the track team. I played a year or two of basketball—I was not good—and went to the track tryouts my freshman year, but after the first day I didn’t go back. Why?

I think it’s because I connected running with sports. And as you go further in school, the more pressure is placed on sports. I thought that if someone was to run, it had to be for a purpose, to get from point A to point B, to beat your current time, to beat an opponent. And in my house growing up, competition and sports weren’t important. Going to the library and reading were important, watching classic black-and-white films was important, as was listening to music or going to a museum. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for this upbringing, for the love of art and culture that my mother instilled in my sister and I, but I felt like I missed a part of being young: being a part of a team, developing a love for healthy active hobbies, spending more time outdoors.

But being raised to appreciate books doesn’t mean that you can’t play sports, and my mom never said that. In fact, my sister joined the swim team in high school and was one of the best swimmers on the team, placing second in a big race. But for me, sports weren’t appealing. I didn’t want to compete, didn’t want to play by rules, have a set schedule with meets and games. I could’ve kept running on my own, without these tethers, but in my mind, there was no point in running unless it was in the effort to win a medal.

Winning a medal was appealing though, and had been appealing since I was in first grade and won my first medal for a short story I had written. It was appealing when I placed third in our middle school’s “Cave Day” race, where we all dressed up like cave(wo)men and did relay races (I know, seems odd). But the appeal of competing to win was tainted when I played basketball and found that I wasn’t very good at it. In hindsight, who cares? But in my young, perfectionistic mind, there was no point in playing after this realization. If you weren’t going to be good, why bother? Obviously now I know that trying and practicing, devoting oneself to practice, makes one better, good even. That’s how athletes and artists are made.

But once I was in high school, practicing wasn’t of concern to me. Even my practice of writing creatively, an activity that I had been doing since I was small just because I loved it, became less of a concern. Actually, it was a big concern, but because I felt I couldn’t do it well, because I put such immense pressure on myself, I gave it up. And sadly, for a long time. I played it off with the mentality that practicing, putting in effort, and trying (and perhaps failing) wasn’t very cool. Better to sit by the sidelines and critique than to get out on the field and perhaps fail.

Failure, or the fear of failure, kept me from doing many things that I wanted to do. The idea of making a fool of myself was too much to bear. So I sat things out. I didn’t practice. And I definitely didn’t run. Up until now.

My fear of failure dissipated immensely when I gave up drinking alcohol 2+ years ago, but change doesn’t happen overnight. At least, not with me. I’m more of a slow-and-steady kinda gal, though I wish I was more spontaneous, adventurous, quick to try anything; I’m getting there. For as soon as I gave up booze, I found that life opened up in a lot of ways. Failure didn’t seem so scary anymore. Trying seemed a lot more fun. And I found that I would rather try something and fail or hate it or be embarrassed or whatever than the alternative. I was done being a passenger in my own life.

Many things ensued after my decision; I tried surfing for the first time while I was in Costa Rica, I devoted myself to a deep and powerful love affair with yoga that is still a part of my daily life, I started cooking for myself more (seems small but, for me, that’s a biggie). Even with all of this steady change, I didn’t pick up running again. Why? I had all kinds of excuses. I told myself it was because I didn’t have the right kind of shoes. Yet when I bought a pair of supremely comfy running shoes, I still didn’t do it. I was still, though unconsciously, existing in my old mindset: if I wasn’t good at something or wasn’t clocking a 7-minute mile or running 5 miles a pop, there was no point in beginning. But we all have to begin somewhere. And beginning my new life without booze should have been proof enough that this is true.

It wasn’t until recently, when my health issues (which you can read more about here, if you’re so inclined) were flaring up, that I thought perhaps doing something active other than yoga would be beneficial. I felt like getting my heart beating faster and breaking a sweat could probably help my body flush the toxins it seems to be holding onto. So as soon as I got home from work one day, moving quickly before I could change my mind, I laced up my comfy running shoes, popped in my earphones, did a couple of stretches, and hit the road near my house.

I feel lucky every day that where I live is so beautiful. My new house is out on a country road with rolling hills in view and neighbors’ llamas, horses, mules, and goats crunching away on grass in the pastures nearby. Birds are everywhere, swooping overhead or hopping across the road, and there are blackberry bushes buzzing with bees as far as the eye can see. Running on this stretch of pavement is dreamy, with a breeze usually fluttering through low-hanging eucalyptus that is a cool balm on hot days. Dreamy enough that my fear over not being a “true runner” decided to run off on its own.

Let me be clear: I probably ran for a few minutes before I had to stop, before I had to walk and catch my breath. But that’s okay. I was rusty, and moving at all was better than nothing. So I walked until I caught my breath, listening to my music and reminding myself to let my eyes wander over the beautiful scenery. And once I had my breath, I started running again. I continued this way, running and slowing, all the way down to the stop sign where the country lane I live on connects to a busier road. I turned around and kept the same pace back home. I was probably gone for a half hour. I’m sure it’s less than a mile. And I don’t run everyday, not even every week (not yet). But who cares? I’m running again.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Citizen

IMG_7196

“Poetry has no investment in anything besides openness. It’s not arguing a point. It’s creating an environment.” —Claudia Rankine

When what is happening in the world becomes too much to bear, when I am exhausted from listening to the news and feel hopeless or helpless, I often turn to poetry. When the days are dark, poetry can illuminate the darkness.

As we are all too aware, it is a difficult—to put it lightly—time in America right now, a moment that has brought ignorance and hatred to light. This hatred and ignorance has always simmered below the surface, remnants from the history of how America was built, a residue that remains ingrained in the fabric of our society today. But while Obama was our president, light was not shone on this lingering evil. There was too much progress to be made, work to be done, moments to celebrate. Now, that has changed.

Though it has changed, though what happened in Charlottesville sickens, saddens, horrifies, or enrages us (even if it doesn’t surprise some of us), we still must hold on to what we know to be true: that fascists and white supremacists are not the majority. We—people who do not hate, people who come from various backgrounds, people who seek equality and justice for all, not few—are the majority. We the people will not stand by. This is not our America.

But what surprises me is that so many people are shocked by the retaliation that happened in Charlottesville when the statue of Robert E. Lee was to come down. That people say, “This is not how America is. This is not what our country believes.” Though times have changed, though the institution of slavery is gone, it’s not over. America’s history is written in blood. The blood of Black people.

It hurts to write it, to think it, it is a reality that we all wish to sweep under the rug, but nonetheless, it is true. And in order to remove this hatred and ignorance that remains, we must acknowledge the past and our present. In order to envision and create a future that is devoid of racism, we must acknowledge racism. And one way to do this is through art.


Art is the great interpreter, the great equalizer, a mode of seeing and thinking and living that can bind us all together. We must bear witness, and art can help us witness that which we don’t wish to see, or don’t understand, or can’t articulate. Art can help us feel deeply, whether in recognition or new understanding, and art can help us heal.

I have felt this way for a long time, since I was small and started making “art” of my own—that it can heal. But as you grow older you can forget this, lose sight of it, minimize its power. But when I read Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, in college, my belief in art, in words, as a way to see, was fortified. Art as a way to define, articulate, transcend. And after Charlottesville and the current president’s response, I turned to Rankine’s book of poetry again.

If you haven’t yet read Citizen, which was a National Book Award finalist in 2015 and has been featured in many independent bookstores’ displays in the wake of Charlottesville, I urge you to. Even if you don’t usually read poetry, if you feel it’s too obscure or weird or whatever; it will make you feel. Whether you identify as a woman or as a person of color or neither, it will change you. And that’s what we need right now, change. We need people seeking to feel, not to desensitize (tempting as it is). We need people either seeking to understand or people articulating their experiences. We need conversations, both on and off the page, so that we may exact actions that are thoughtful, purposeful. Actions that remain peaceful yet are mighty.

Rankine’s words are powerful in times like these. She articulates the Black experience, her experience, in deeply personal yet universal terms. Her poetry is not simply for people of color. Her words are for us all. To see, to hear, to witness. You may be thinking, How does a poet translate her own personal experience into words that address everyone? That make everyone feel? Perhaps you think, Well I’m not a Black woman; how is this book for me?

Rankine compels the reader to feel both implicit and accused when reading Citizen. Throughout her poetry she uses the second person: “you.” “You” as the reader, as the speaker, and also as the spoken to. And we are all of these things. We are all living in a time where some of us, depending on the color of our skin, are in danger of being shot by the police. We are all living in a time where many of us are disadvantaged and disenfranchised because we are Black. You, whether you are Black or otherwise, are a part of the whole:

“You are you even before you

grow into understanding you

are not anyone, worthless,

not worth you.”

Is it comfortable to read this, to feel this? Of course not. But being comfortable hasn’t gotten us anywhere. And many of us don’t have the luxury of turning away from that which makes us uncomfortable. It’s when we are uncomfortable that we must seek other modes of being. The discomfort we feel when we read Citizen, or when we are simply alive in this country, is exactly what warrants examination. Why are we uncomfortable? What institutions or situations create these spaces of pain? If we turn away from asking these questions, we allow these systems that create suffering to survive.

I was an advocate for this book as soon as I read it, and now? I believe we need this book now more than ever. With a president like ours, we need books that voice what is true and real, words that mean something. Though it is difficult to acknowledge it, I will say that there is one—only one—good thing to come from this current presidency. The good that has come from this dire situation is that it has brought the hate and inequality that still exists in our country to light. When the darkness of our country remains in the dark, it festers. When we don’t talk about the remnants of the “peculiar institution” that still stain the fabric of our society, we don’t, won’t, and can’t achieve growth, change, and healing. Now that it has risen up to the surface from the depths, we must confront it.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Islands

img_0379.jpg

“I feel we are all islands – in a common sea.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I saw a variation of the above quote the other day as I walked through town. “We are all just islands in a common sea” was painted on the window of the mail depot, accompanied by whimsical depictions of bright striped fish, and it made me pause. At first glance, I disagreed with this assertion, that we are separate bodies of land floating in a shared sea. I feel, I know, that we are more connected than that. I thought, “No man is an island.

But then I considered how islands are formed, from the shifting of continents and sand, and how they are often connected to other islands or even to the mainland if you look beneath the water. We, as islands, may appear to be isolated entities, separate in our individualism, but if you look below the surface, we are in fact connected to something greater than ourselves alone.

Perhaps it was how Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s quote was worded when I saw it painted on the window that skewed the message for me, or perhaps it was the mood I was in at that moment. I am willing to guess that when Lindbergh said she felt we are all islands in a common sea, she intended that we are joined to one another in our humanity.

Before I go further: you might be thinking, Who is Anne Morrow Lindbergh? I must admit that I didn’t know who she was, that when I looked up the message from the window and saw her name attributed to the quote, I had to delve a bit deeper to discover that she was an American author, aviator, and the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the aviator whose baby was kidnapped and killed in the 1930s.

Lindbergh was a prolific writer, who wrote everything from essays to poetry, and though she and her husband seemed to live a glamorous lifestyle, jetting off to exotic locales, they suffered tragedy. I doubt that a woman who traveled the world and spent much of her life examining and writing about the lives of American women would believe that human beings are essentially separate from one another.

To believe that we are separate, that each person is an island unto themselves, is to perpetuate one of the problematic belief systems that plagues our country today: otherness. This is an age-old fear, the fear of people who appear to be different from ourselves. But this fear has been flamed as of late, and it is now running rampant, causing a collective sickness. The current presidency came to be as a direct result of this fear-mongering. When we view people in terms of their differences, and this difference is cloaked in a negative shroud, then it is easy to see our fellow human beings as inaccessible islands, here on earth but far beyond our reach.

I believe that yes, of course we are all different, but we are also all the same. We come from the same place, we are all magically yet scientifically descendant from stardust, we all yearn for the same basic things: food, shelter, love, respect, purpose. And what makes us different, whether it be the color of our skin or the language we speak or the food we eat, are some of the many wondrous aspects of life as a human being. In our short lives here on earth, we have the chance to discover new cultures, to learn from their wisdom. As human beings, we have the privilege of encountering so many opportunities, one of the most beautiful being the possibility of empathizing with others.

But why? Why should we learn from and empathize with others? Though the answer seems pretty obvious to me, the current state of our country, our world, unfortunately says otherwise. We should care about “other,” “different” people because this care enriches our own humanity. We should care because we all come from the same speck of stardust. Because we are all linked, biologically and beyond. If we recognize this, a more peaceful, holistic world becomes more attainable.

A holistic world is a world with no suffering (by the hands of others), no war, no poverty. When we see our fellow human beings (and animals and land while we’re at it) as parts of a whole, when we look below the tides of the ocean to see that these apparent islands are connected to the mainland, the ideas of otherness and separatism, the modes of division and fear, hate and greed — they no longer function. How can a war over territory, over religious beliefs, or over money be plausible when we are all remnants of the same universal fabric?

So what does “I believe we are all islands – in a common sea” mean? Does it simply mean that we are all separate but living on the same planet? Even if Lindbergh meant only this, which I doubt, the simple reality that we are all living on the same planet is reason enough to take a step back from the fear and the hate that has bloomed like weeds across America. How could it possibly be that we all exist on the same planet, yet we have no relation to anyone other than our immediate families?

If Lindbergh meant that we may appear to be separate but we are all actually comprised of the same essence — that we all originate from the same sand and bedrock and volcanic ash, that the sea that surrounds us is not only home to all of us but also the womb from whence we all came — then to hate or fear another person is not only a fallacy, it is madness.

The definition of madness, of insanity, is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. So, why do we keep doing the same thing over and over again, the killing and the oppressing, the attempts to snuff out human life, and somehow keep envisioning an outcome that is not horrific and backwards? As we have seen throughout human history, the ends will never justify the means.

We are meant to believe that the ends justify the means when the “good guys” defeat the “bad guys.” But this categorization in and of itself is the problem. When we first defined one group of people as good and another as bad, we created the split, the idea that each man is an island, that we are all merely individuals, that the world is full of random instances and that nothing is connected to anything else. And where has this belief gotten us? It has created a world of class distinction, race, and countless other societal constructs that keep some of us out and others of us in.

We were all bestowed with unique gifts when we were born, this I believe, but I also believe that we are all essentially the same. We all want, no, need, love. We all wish for a better world for our children or our loved ones’ children to grow up in. We all suffer. We all seek happiness. And those of us who do not know this truth, that we are one and the same, are sick. They are sick because they are isolated. Whether this isolation is in a gilded cage or the prison cell of a broken mind, it is a sickness that they cannot see beyond. The remedy for this sickness is, of course, love. But the remedy also requires more than that. Our world is, unfortunately, not so easily managed.

The remedy for the sickness of separatism is the pursuit of knowledge, the disembowelment of ignorance. Ignorance is a dark, fertile breeding ground for hate; the sun does not shine there. But the sun can shine if the thickets of underbrush are willfully removed. When I say the pursuit of knowledge, I don’t necessarily mean going back to school to get your degree (though if you want to, more power to you; I believe education is paramount. It’s the institution of our educational system that is another topic). Knowledge can be obtained in many different places.

Knowledge is at our fingertips, or it may appear to be on the horizon, but it is always within our sights. It resides in books, and not just history or science books, but also in fiction, volumes of poetry, essays. It resides in the traditions and languages of cultures that differ from our own. It resides in nature, in the stars and the planets above us, in the blades of grass below our feet. Knowledge is all around us, it is a part of us. Just as our cells function on their own, with no dictation from us, wisdom — which is our privilege as human beings to discover — inhabits our very selves, below the surface. It is simply waiting to be realized.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Sonoma the Beautiful

FullSizeRender 6

I’ve always considered myself lucky to live in Sonoma County. Okay, maybe not when I was in high school, when I saw the area as a podunk little town and had dreams of moving to New York City to work at a fashion magazine (cliche I know), but definitely before and after. I have always been grateful that my mom decided to raise us here, rather than LA, where my sister and I spent the beginning of our childhood because it was near our grandparents.

After moving from LA to Sonoma County when we were seven, our lives seemed to get better. Growing up, I had the privilege of running through apple orchards that were right across the street from my house, instead of playing on a confined strip of pavement that was our backyard in LA. There was fresh air and rain, beaches that were unsullied by trash, an ocean that was freezing cold but devoid of the stinky barges that seemed to congest all of the LA coastline. It was a kid’s paradise in Sonoma County, with room to roam and apples, ripe for the picking, as far as the eye could see.

Fast forward twenty or so years, and I am still here in Sonoma County, still in love with the beaches and the trees, but much has changed. Where there was once acres of apple orchards are now undulating hills of vineyards. Where there was once dirt pathways are now sidewalks. None of this sounds that bad, I know, it is merely our area becoming more populated and industrialized, but what comes along with these changes? Money.

Money is a subject I was worried about as a kid, for we never seemed to have very much of it, but in Sonoma County these worries were appeased by the richness of our surroundings. Though we might not have had much, we were immersed in a bountiful place, a place where organic food is not hard to come by, where you can meet the farmer who grew your food, where yoga and healthy living is more than a passing trend. But money has once again become a topic not only that I worry about, but that many people I know worry about.

We are worried because the place we have called home for most of our lives is now becoming a place that many of us can no longer afford. Rents and homes are priced so high it’s become unthinkable to be able to live alone. I am thirty years old and have roommates, as many of my friends do. It may seem cheap in comparison to San Francisco and Marin County, where many of the new residents here are coming from because it’s still close to the city and cheaper than where they were, but not for much longer. What was once $600 for a studio is now double that, if not more, because a select few are willing and able to pay that. Or landlords are renting out their spaces for airbnb because they can make more money and our area has become a tourist destination.

Our area is a tourist attraction because it is Wine Country, home to vineyards and wineries, nestled among redwoods and the Russian River, minutes from the beautiful Sonoma Coast; I get it, who wouldn’t want to live here? It’s beautiful, the food is outstanding, and the beauty of the natural world is everywhere. The quality of life is unparalleled. If you can afford it. It used to be that you could, that the area I call home was home to a mixture of people, hippies and realtors, migrant workers and bankers. Yes, there unfortunately isn’t the most ethnic diversity here, and a lack of exciting things — art, culture, music — to do, though that is changing, but at least a single mother on welfare could live a couple of blocks away from a children’s book author and their children could grow up playing together.

Now, whose children will grow up playing together? People who are mostly the same, whether they come from different backgrounds or not. People in the same income bracket, in the same socioeconomic situation, people who are able to send their kids to the same violin lessons and Waldorf schools. As the area becomes more expensive, it becomes less diverse, less unique, less creative. I’m not saying that the people who can afford to live here are not diverse, unique, or creative, in fact, quite the opposite. But the people who are being driven out because of skyrocketing rents have unique qualities to offer as well. Our area is losing its citizens because of a poverty beyond their control.

This poverty is happening because people are still making minimum wage, but their rents are being doubled. An unforeseen exodus is happening as the people who have always been here are being forced to sell or abandon what they’ve worked so hard to maintain because they must seek greener pastures. And not because they want to go. It’s because they have to. Because even if they do manage to scrape by, what about their children? Who wants to raise their children in a place they most likely will not be able to afford once they’ve grown up? Who wants to scrape by when another area will allow them to live with a bit of security and dignity? These are fundamental necessities for all of us, not just the rich, to live with some dignity and security.

There is a sense of shame when you can no longer make it work in a place you have always called home. This is unfair, the poverty-shaming that happens in our country. As if because you are poor or struggling it’s because you’re lazy or you’re stupid. There are all of these bullshit legends, the stories we perpetuate because it’s the marketing of the American dream: people coming from nothing and becoming millionaires. If they can do it, why can’t you? But not all of us can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps or just roll up our sleeves and get it done when the going gets tough.

When the going gets tough, some of us can’t transcend poverty for myriad reasons. Perhaps we are plagued by illness, affected by circumstances beyond our control, disenfranchised by a society that is constructed so that the cards will always be stacked against us. These are not copouts, these are realities. So what then? What now?

I cling to the hope that what goes up, must come down, but I just don’t know. I am lucky because I am making it by, but for how long? What if my rent doubles? Or not if, when? As I see more and more of the people whom I hold dear leaving the state or the area, who are packing it up because they can no longer live here, I am saddened and frankly, I am pissed off.

I am sad to see my friends go, and I am pissed off because who wants to live in a place devoid of character? And that’s what happens when only one “type” of person can stay and the rest must leave. Character is out the door. The character a place gets when it is home to different backgrounds, viewpoints, opinions, ideas, creations, contributions — that’s the kind of place I want to live in and that’s the very kind of place that is on its way to becoming extinct.

I recently discovered that I will most likely lose more people I hold dear. It looks like in the next year or so I might lose my own family, because they want room to raise their kids and schools that don’t cost a fortune and diversity for their kids to grow up around. I might lose my mom to another state because she still has to work even though she’s retired. And then it will just be me, surrounded by beauty, with access to the best quality food, but without my family. And really, what is a beautiful place and delicious food if you can’t experience them with the people you love?

I wish you a wild, free (and affordable) life.

In times of upheaval, community is paramount. I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas. Please leave a comment if you feel inclined. ❤

The Work

FullSizeRender (2)

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” — Steven Pressfield

I’ve been traveling a lot lately for work, and though flying isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I have found that I now look forward to taking a flight. I look forward to settling into my seat and strapping in for what may or may not be a bumpy flight because, for those few hours, I am free. Yes, I am trapped on a plane, usually next to someone who hogs the armrest the whole time, but I am free nonetheless.

For those few hours my phone is either turned off or on airplane mode. For those few hours I have no email access, no social media. I could pay for wifi or plug into an on-air flight, or, I could read. So that’s what I do.

I am free to read, uninterrupted, no excuses. There’s nowhere to go, I’m already headed somewhere, there’s nothing to do except sit in a seat and decide how I want to spend the time. I can spend it watching TV, something I don’t have at home and am tempted to binge-watch, or I can read, which I am always saying I don’t have the time to do.

So this last trip, that’s what I did. It was a short flight, from Northern California to Las Vegas, Nevada, but I managed to finish two books, there and back. And though it can be fun to read something fluffy and mindless, I decided to take two books that would make me do a bit of work. Not work-work, but work. The kind of work that no one really wants to admit that they’re doing (and why is that?), but work that is also some of the most important we can do in our lives: work on ourselves. Whatever you want to call it: personal growth. Self help (admittedly not a very good term). Self improvement. Self motivation. Doesn’t really matter, as long as we continually work on becoming better. Both for ourselves and for others.

For the flights to and from Las Vegas I brought The War of Art, by writer Steven Pressfield, and No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Suffering, by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and their words were like an oasis in that crazy desert. Whether Vegas is your favorite city or your least favorite, I think we can all admit that it is a crazy place. Especially for a Northern California girl like me. It’s so crazy that it inspired me to write about my experience after going for the first time last year, which you can read here.

Amidst the flashing lights and overload of sounds and scents, I felt a reprieve when I thought about what I had read. Yes, I was sober in a city where most people were partying and gambling, but I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable. I could think about what I find important, which was bolstered by the words I had read on the plane. Words that had reenergized me in a moment when I needed it.

Both books were meaningful in different but interconnected ways, and I think both warrant their own examination, so I’ve decided to write a little bit about The War of Art today and save Hanh’s work for another post. Pressfield’s book encourages us to “break through the blocks and win [our] inner creative battles.” It’s inspiring for any creative person, which means all of us. All of us are creative in our own ways, and many of us can lose sight of our creativity, or it can take a back-burner when we’re working, parenting, living. But creativity is a part of living, an integral and necessary part, a part we shouldn’t be so quick to minimize or say we’ll get to later.

I know that I have been guilty of placing my creativity in the back of a drawer, saying I’ll get to it later, putting other things first. It can be hard to engage in our creative work, no matter what it may be, when we’re tired or stressed or even when we’re happy and living in the moment. There’s many excuses we can tell ourselves and countless activities we can prioritize over what, as Pressfield says, we were born to do. Our creativity isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

It can seem like a luxury when we’re trying to put food on the table or help others, it can seem like a selfish endeavor when there’s so many chores to do or errands to run, but Pressfield frames creative work in a different way. He deems it as “a gift to the world and every being in it.” To neglect it would be to “cheat us of your contribution.” Pressfield demands: “Give us what you got.” When framed this way, it’s selfish not to focus on what our creativity could build. If what we have inside of us is a gift to the world, it’s detrimental to ignore it.

Pressfield views our creative work as a gift to the world, and also a gift that we have been given by a power greater than ourselves. Though he calls this power God and sees the ever-elusive creative muse as angels, he also takes care to say that no matter who or what we believe in, we have been given this creativity for a reason: to interpret and improve the world around us. When we paint, when we write, when we sing, we articulate what cannot be articulated otherwise. When we create, we: galvanize, inspire, design, organize, revolutionize. We have power.

In these times of upheaval, of change and uncertainty, I don’t know what could be more important than pursuing that which gives us power to create or add to the kind of world we wish to see for ourselves and for others. As one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, says, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” This life and this world is indeed brimming with awe, with wonder, yet the only way we can see or experience it is if we engage with it. It’s what we were intended to do when we were born. Whatever calls us, whatever it is that makes us lose track of time and feel a true, deep sense of fulfillment and happiness; that’s what we’re here for:

“In the end, we arrive at a kind of model of the artist’s world, and that model is that there exist other, higher planes of reality, about which we can prove nothing, but from which arise our lives, our work, and our art” (Pressfield, 163).

Not all of Pressfield’s book captured me and spoke to me, but that’s not the point. We take what is useful to us, from any work, and we use it. Whether we believe in angels or energy, we are all creative beings, and it is not only our purpose, but our birthright, to bring forth what we have inside. All we have to do is make the commitment to ourselves to create. We have to make time for it, nurture it. And some of it, as Pressfield acknowledges, will be trash. There will be failures. There will be mistakes. But there will also be moments of genius. Glimmers of truth, of beauty, of hope. But we won’t know if we never pick up the paintbrush or the pen, if we never start that nonprofit or open our mouths to sing.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Outside

IMG_6538
Definitely not a glamorous photo, but perfect in my opinion ❤

Do you ever feel tired of thinking about your own stuff all the time? Like what’s happening in your life, where you may be headed, if things will turn out the way you hope? Constantly thinking about what ails you; stress, work, health, whatever it may be, can get . . . kinda boring, right? Though I think it’s important to take care of yourself, to take stock of where you are, to always seek the best ways to improve, sometimes looking outside of yourself can be a reprieve from the questioning voice that resides within all of us.

This weekend I was presented with an opportunity to get outside of myself, to do something out of the norm, to take action. Action can often be the best thing for us, an invitation to change our perspective, to enable that sometimes-elusive feeling of gratitude, to be in the moment. Yoga often does this for me, encouraging me to move more and think less, to invite clarity where before there was doubt or confusion, but doing yoga most days out of the week can sometimes put me into autopilot mode, rather than granting me a new mode of focusing. So when my sister asked me to join her for Habitat for Humanity’s National Women Build Week 2017, I said yes.

I said yes though I was still a bit fatigued after being sick for what felt like the tenth time since this new year started. I said yes though it meant I would be getting up at 6:30am on one of two days off. I said yes for many reasons, but most of all I said yes for my sister.

You see, my sister and her family will be the recipients of a Habitat home within the next year, a life-changing event that has been months in the making, and volunteering alongside my sister and her husband meant that I would be contributing to their “sweat equity” hours. These few hours out of my Saturday would contribute to my sister’s 500 hours, the amount of hours each Habitat family must complete as part of the conditions for receiving a home. And it was Women Build Week! Habitat for Humanity’s website defines this national event as a “program [that] invites women to devote at least one day to help families build strength, stability and independence through housing. The week is meant to spotlight the homeownership challenges faced by women.” What could possibly be a better way to spend my Saturday?

I will admit that I also said yes for selfish reasons, to have an excuse to forget about my own concerns. I’ve been having concerns about my health as of late; I’m okay overall (other than my health issues that I wrote about in a previous post you can read here), but I used to never get sick, and recently I have gotten really sick — the flu, strep, strep again, bronchitis, a fever with unexplained swelling of my extremities — about once a month. I couldn’t help thinking, Is something wrong?

Which resulted in blood labs and testing, which resulted in: “elevated liver function” and “low potassium levels.” Another way of saying, We don’t know. So though I’m relieved I don’t have lupus, which an insensitive doctor casually mentioned I might have during a rushed visit the other week, it’s frustrating to not have conclusive, actionable results. I’ll hopefully know more when my further test results come in, but in the meantime, I needed an excuse to get out of my head and out into the world.

I believe that helping others is one of the most significant things we as human beings can do in this life, and I continually strive to keep my faith in humanity, to believe in the goodness of others. But these times here in America have been pretty dark lately, what with a certain person in power and many people struggling to simply survive, and it’s been all too easy to lose hope, or to become ambivalent.

But this Saturday reminded me that there are good people in this world, and that even seemingly small actions, actions that could be deemed as just a drop in the bucket, can accomplish more than we think. Taking action is better than doing nothing at all, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, and drops in a bucket, over time, can result in the bucket filling up to the point of overflowing.

I definitely felt an overflowing this weekend. I felt connected to people I didn’t know, felt the strength that emanates from numbers, experienced the joy of contributing to something greater than myself. I got to witness the adorable family who will receive the home when it’s finished, heard inspiring speeches, did landscaping alongside strangers and my family. I hammered nails and shoveled mulch. I felt the sun on my face, got my hands in the dirt. And though anyone who knows me will tell you that I am decidedly not a gardener, as someone who works at a desk most days, nothing could’ve been better.

My sister, her husband, myself, and the other volunteers that day helped to create a home for a family, and soon my sister’s family will receive a home of their own. All I could think was, What a privilege. I was and am so very humbled and grateful to have been able to take part in such an awe-inspiring event. And though selfish it may sound, working to help other people in turn helped me. It helped me to gain some perspective, helped me to be in the moment, helped me to be grateful for all that I have in this life instead of focusing on what I don’t have or what is “wrong.” It may be taboo to admit, that I liked the way this made me feel for myself, but I like to think that if doing a bit of good for someone else does a bit of good for you, why not?

Needless to say, I will be volunteering again. I’m not sure exactly when, as I will be traveling a lot for work in the next few weeks and know that I need to take care of myself and rest as much as a I can, but I will make it a priority when I am able. I’ve said many times here on A Wild, Free Life that taking care of yourself is the only way you can take care of other people, but I also know that sometimes fretting about yourself all the time gets old, and you gotta take some action. You gotta get outside, both figuratively and literally, and get your hands in the dirt.

P.S. I highly recommend taking a look at Habitat for Humanity’s website to find out how you can get involved. Or, if building, painting, or working in their store isn’t your thing, I encourage you to check out a cause that speaks to you to see how you can contribute. Life is short. And no matter what the powers that be may believe, we’re in this life together.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Reminder

IMG_5645
A recent window of perspective
Sometimes we receive a reminder of the lives we used to lead, and usually when we least expect it. Sometimes this reminder can be painful, and sometimes it can also be a bit of a relief. Sometimes both. Reminders usually grant us a bit of perspective, which can be hard to gain otherwise. Because the whole saying, Out of sight, out of mind, can be true to an extent. I try to be aware of what I am feeling, but sometimes we don’t even know what we’re feeling. And then we receive a reminder.

Though it hasn’t been a year yet, I actually forget sometimes how much my life has changed since the beginning of August, how only a short while ago I was leading an entirely different kind of existence. Yes, in my old life of less than a year ago I had already given up booze, but I was still living a different kind of life. When you’re living a new life, you’re in it, living it, and don’t have much time to reflect. I don’t know if this is good or bad. I keep trying to find the balance between reflection and living.

Perhaps I should sit with my feelings a bit more, instead of always charging full speed ahead, but I don’t want to sit around brooding over what I have “lost.” But I also don’t want to pretend that my old life never existed, because it all serves a purpose. This past weekend I received a reminder of my old life, of how things used to be. You see, I saw my ex-boyfriend, out of nowhere, and it threw me for a loop a little bit.

Though I am happy in my new life, though with time and some perspective I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change how anything went down last year, I was thrown when he walked into the restaurant where I used to work. Where I was having dinner with my new boyfriend. The two hadn’t met before. I hadn’t seen my ex since Christmas. Needless to say, my heart dropped. Um, could a more awkward scenario be imagined? I think not. But it was bound to happen sooner or later, in this small town where I live. I guess then was a good a time as any. I just wasn’t prepared, not at all. I guess we never are.

Seeing my ex-boyfriend as I sat beside my new one was something I hadn’t foreseen happening, at least not anytime soon, and it rattled me. How did one behave in such a situation? How do you respect all parties involved? I won’t go into the details out of respect for all parties involved, but I will say that these reminders usually occur when we need to be granted some perspective. To be reminded that things work out as they should, and that if you ask for what you truly need, you will most likely receive it, in one form or another.

I can’t disregard or forget the twelve years I spent, off-and-on, with this other person, nor do I want to, not really. Twelve years is a long time. But I also can’t, and don’t want to, relive old memories all the time. What is the in-between of forgetting and remembering? I don’t really have the answer… maybe feeling? Being present? Being in the moment, taking the time to honor what you’re feeling in that moment, and continuing on. That’s all of us can do, really, is try to be present and to continue living.

My life has changed so much since my past relationship ended, and not just because that time in my life came to an end. I have a new job, new experiences, new people, new life. I know I will always cherish that time, but I also value this new time, this new life. I will attempt to do both, and will try not to live in the past and to not be consumed by the future. To be. But I believe I received a reminder this past weekend for a reason. To continue on, but to also remember. Because that old life happened, just as this new one is happening, and all of it is intertwined, bringing me to where I am, here, now.

I wish you a wild, free life.

Worth

FullSizeRender (1)
I mean it.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Toni Morrison

What’s your worth? How do you measure it? Do you quantify your value by how much money you make, how many friends you have, how many followers you have on social media? Do you measure your merit by how you treat others, by how you translate your passions into reality? Do you weigh your significance by how others treat you?

My last post I wrote about loving yourself so that you may love other people, about following your own path and seeking what makes you happy, regardless of where you think you’re supposed to be in life. What I didn’t write about was how others treat you. I didn’t write about what we think we deserve or how we measure up. “Deserve” is a tough concept for me. The idea that someone is deserving of something is tricky, for it can be misconstrued. But what cannot be misconstrued is this: we are all deserving of respect.

Our worth can be measured by so many different things, and it can mean different things to different people, but I believe that our true worth and our opinion of ourselves must grow from this root: we are deserving and worthy of respect. People can treat us in any way they want, we can’t control that, but what we can control is how we react to this treatment. If someone tells you, whether in words or actions, that you are not deserving of respect, it is up to you if you believe them or not. Seems simple, right? But if you’re a human being, you know it’s not that easy.

It’s not easy to be treated poorly and to shake it off, to keep it moving with our heads held high. It hurts when someone we love or respect doesn’t feel the same about us, or if they say they do but their actions say otherwise. But we are the deciders. We don’t have to pretend that we’re not hurt, but we must remember that which is self-evident: we deserve respect, love is our birthright, and we do not have to stay in a situation that tells us we are not deserving.

If we stay, if we accept these falsehoods as truth, we begin to change ourselves. Believing these lies, we begin to alter shape, to lose our forms. We begin to assume these roles that are handed to us: we are weak, we are gullible, we are fragile, we are crazy, whatever. Suddenly, we are victims. It seems that without warning, we are systematically disregarded. How many times have we or someone we known asked, Why does this always happen to me? Why do I always have the worst luck? To some degree, because we allow it.

I know this idea is controversial, but it is because this statement can be misinterpreted. No, I am not giving weight to the awful adage, You/she/he/they were asking for it. No. Rather, I am saying that when we accept mistreatment, when we assume these roles from people who don’t know us, who don’t see us, we lose sight of ourselves. And when we lose sight of ourselves, we allow outside or outmoded beliefs to dictate our lives.

What should dictate our lives, what should dignify our worth, is the idea that we are deserving of respect. We can take on someone else’s opinion of us, which is really a mirror of themselves, or we can say, nope. Nope, I’m not a loser. Nope, I’m not a fragile, gullible victim. I am a person who is worthy of respect. And if you don’t see that, that is not my problem. If you don’t see me, it is because you aren’t capable of seeing yourself. And for that, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you are lost and hurting, so lost and so hurt that all you can do is try and derail or hurt me.

I say this because I have been on either side of the coin. I have been mistreated, I have believed falsehoods as truths, truths that eroded my self-esteem to the point of becoming a perpetrator myself. I became the person who mistreated others, who didn’t deem others as worthy of respect. It was their choice to believe me, just as it was my choice to believe those who disrespected me. You see, it’s a vicious cycle, this cycle of hurt. And it all occurs because we are all damaged. Everyone has been damaged, everyone has issues. So then what?

If we all have issues, if we’re all damaged, what do we do? We go back to the root, to the truth that is self-evident: we are deserving of respect. And if we are deserving of respect, is not each person we meet? Are we not all damaged people walking on this earth together, each shouldering a burden, all seeking love and happiness? If someone treats me without regard, I know that it is because they do not have regard for themselves.

I believe the road back to regard is one that we must mostly walk alone. To truly value what is within us is an inside job, not an outward one. So though it may be tempting to want to help the damaged guy who’s not respecting you, though it may be tempting to want to fix the girl with the issues who doesn’t see you for who you are, I ask you to refrain. You’ve got your own burdens to bear, your own work to do. Focus on fixing yourself, on repairing your own damage. Ask yourself why you permitted someone to hurt you when you are worthy of so much more. Then perhaps they can begin to ask themselves the same.

I wish you a wild, free life. You deserve it. We all do.

Myth

IMG_1171
Do you?

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what being satisfied means, thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and the paths that seem to unwind before us. Without judgement, I’ve been wondering if the people around me who are getting married and having babies are doing so because they want to, or if they feel like they should because it’s the “logical” next step. I wholeheartedly support the endeavor if it’s what someone wants to do, but I also question if a lot of people my age are following the paths that they think they have to follow. How do we know?

To simplify a complicated question, we know the path we are heading down is the one for us if we find that we are happy, that we are walking down a path because we are following our happiness. Our own happiness, not the happiness of whoever else we wish to please. Of course we wish to please the people whom are close to us, but the person who should be closest to us, the person we should most wish to please, is ourselves. At the end of the day, we are all we have.

This life is rich and beautiful because we have the opportunity to forget the aloneness of our existence. We are born alone, we die alone, but while we are here we get to love. This love is valuable, no question, but what enables us to forge these connections with others is when we realize that the love we have for ourselves is the most important relationship we can create. Beyond looking in the mirror and loving what you see, what do you see when you look within?

For a long time, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t like who I saw, let alone love the person who I’d become. I saw a person who didn’t know herself, a person who was afraid, a person who wanted to please others but always seemed to fail. I failed because I didn’t know who I was, let alone love who I was. And looking within? I saw nothing. My vision was clouded, my outline was hazy. I couldn’t figure out why this was. I couldn’t figure out why it was that I loved other people but always seemed to hurt them. The answer, which would seem obvious to someone looking from the outside, was too impossible to comprehend. But eventually, the answer became clear. I needed to get out of my own way to find out who I was, to begin to love what was there.

The only way for me, personally, to get out of my own way, was to stop drinking. I had considered it at different times in my life, times when I was hungover or listless, times when I felt anxious or out of control. But I always felt like this would make me stand out more than I already did, that I would be missing out on moments of fun, that it would make me strange. But as you get older, you (hopefully) get to the point where the idea of standing out, the desire to fit in, and the fear of missing out, become much less important than discovering who you are and what makes you happy. I knew it was time to stop drinking when I realized that drinking wasn’t making me happy, that I wasn’t happy. And that was enough for me.

This life is too short to not be happy. To not actively be cultivating as much joy and love as you possibly can. This life is too short to be afraid of standing out or missing out, to wishing and hoping that you’ll fit in, to actually be missing out on a relationship that could be the greatest of all. This is what’s really scary. Not the fear of being seen as a weirdo because you don’t drink, not the fear of what others will think if you don’t get married, if you don’t really want children, if you’re still a barista when your mom thinks you should be a doctor, whatever. Please, for the love of god, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, just do what makes the person within happy.

And when this person is happy, or you’re working on making this person happy, you will find that that’s when you get the opportunity to make other people happy as well. You’re not going to please everyone, but you’ll be coming from a place that enables you to do your best. And doing our best is all that we can do. As long as we are always aspiring to improve, to get better, be better, that’s when we can finally rest easy. Not resting like taking a nap, but resting like surfers do in between waves, when they’re looking to the horizon with excitement, in anticipation of what’s next. 

I wish you a wild, free life.

Two Years

IMG_6045
Two years!

Man, I really didn’t intend for this much time to elapse since my last post, but hey, life happens. I will admit that I’ve been beating myself up about it, that I haven’t written in so long. I’ve told myself and others that I just don’t have the time, which is mostly true, but I also know that I haven’t prioritized it as I should. I’ve been working a lot, that’s for sure, and I’ve also been spending a lot of time with friends and family, which is paramount, but A Wild, Free Life should be at the top of my list, too.

I’m trying to allow myself this little grace period that’s gone by because a) beating yourself up and feeling guilty gets you nowhere and b) February 20 marked two years since I quit drinking. So though I’ve been feeling guilty for not putting my blog first, I’m also pretty dang proud of myself right now. Two years! I never really thought I’d say that I’ve been without alcohol for that long. But I have, and it’s pretty exciting. I’ve come a long way.

With coming this far, I feel like it’s natural to take stock of the changes I’ve undergone over the past two years, to revisit the reasons I quit drinking, and, if I’m honest, to even ask myself a question everyone who’s ever quit drinking has asked themselves: could I drink again? I’ve asked myself this for the first time in a long time because a few people whom are close to me have asked me this question. Now that I’m in this better place, wouldn’t I be able to drink in a different way?

Well, this is something I’m not intending on finding out. Because although I’ve become much more conscious of my emotions and gained so much clarity on my life and how I behave, this change has only occurred because I quit drinking. Perhaps if I started drinking again I wouldn’t drink like I did in the past, when I used alcohol as an escape from my problems, but then again, maybe I would. Because I know from experience that it’s all too easy to check out. Because I remember how I was, when one drink was simply not enough. This remembrance, this knowing, is what is keeping me on the path that I began to pave for myself two years ago.

I just don’t see the point in giving up what I started, even if I were able to drink in a new way. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, though it can still be hard, I won’t lie. Not hard in the way that I want to pick up a bottle, but hard because so much of our human lives revolve around drinking. Celebrations, hangouts, holidays, bad days — whatever, really — is an excuse to drink. And it can feel weird to participate in a toast at a table full of people drinking wine when you’re the only one drinking water. But I know that I shouldn’t feel weird, that I don’t need to. Because though I might be the solo nondrinker in a room, that doesn’t mean that I’m solo in life. I have myself (not to mention my friends and family). And that’s what really matters to me.

I think perhaps I might be solo in life if I were to drink again, not in the way that people might shun me or I might go crazy and distance everyone from me with my behavior, but that I would lose a part of myself that I’ve worked so hard to gain. But who knows? It’s these questions, it’s the unknown, that makes me know my decision to continue not drinking is right for me. The uncertainty gives me pause, and the delicate balance I’ve created is too precious to me to upend, to test, to poke at. I’m better than I’ve been, maybe ever, and it’s not worth it to me to see what happens if I drink a glass of wine. It’s a glass of wine, not a trip to Fiji.

Two years is a long time to go without something, but it’s also just the blink of an eye. And two years is is nothing and everything when you realize that you haven’t gone without anything at all, that you’ve actually attained more than you could’ve ever imagined. That what has happened within is much more rich and beautiful than what you’ve gone without. So though I’m all about taking chances and taking risks, trying to drink again is simply one that I don’t want to take. And who knows if I’ll feel the same way next year, for none of us can predict the future, but this is how I feel right here, right now. And knowing this, being present in this moment, is the culmination of the past two years.

As I did when I hit the one-year mark, I want to thank my family and my friends for being so supportive and encouraging, for making it relatively easy to “go without” as I go within, for never doubting me even when I doubted myself. And, as I didn’t do at the one-year mark, I’m also going to thank myself. You did it. Keep doing it. It’s working.

I wish you a wild, free life.