The little urban farmhouse

Whenever I find myself in a really happy, busy, overwhelming place, I find myself craving the writing process. When part of my business is due to writing academically, it becomes more rare that I manage to change my writing focus to my emotions.

Now that my time at this new house approaches 6 weeks, it’s really exciting to look around and see how much got accomplished. Taking on what was basically a foreclosed structure and making it a home, an office, and a friendly gathering space has been the best challenge I’ve taken on with a partner.IMG_2945

Surrounded by the best help we could ever hope for in old and new friends, family, and each other; we accomplished ripping out carpet, installing new flooring, building a fence, wedding and planting and cleaning, painting, planning, dreaming.

Power tools!

Throughout the spring and summer, I wondered if this was the best decision. So much had to be done: securing a renter at the old house, securing  a roommate for the new house, turning down an opportunity in Tucson (I never thought I’d see myself do that!!), quitting a job, finding a part time job, making ends meet, and still finish school…

Now that the choice has been made, nails have been hammered, chickens have been moved, and the office has started to become what it’s meant for, it truly feels like “home” in a way I had never experienced.

I hope I remember this feeling, bask in it, return to it, and build on it. Because at this point in time, I am honestly and openly happy with my decisions, excited about my options, and open to all the possibilities. With only a bit of anxiety and trepidation. =)   IMG_3091

The Only Constant

Another school year comes to completion for my students as I embark on a part time job that is new and exciting and challenging, a dissertation project that is new and exciting and challenging and terrifying, and closing on a house that will enable me to eventually live my vocational dream with a man who I did not even know when I began this dream. It’s strange how as we put such intense effort into change and challenge, big opportunities open up (or not), and our emotions react so… oddly ordinarily. I think about the stress I have carried around over the past year and more. Managing school and work and a big dream, maintaining relationships and social engagement, and finding room for growth with family and personal needs has resulted in expedited aging (no proof of this other than my own sense that certainly I should be looking younger than this!). Certainly, I have lost sleep and gained and lost weight and exercised and not, all caused by these lifestyle choices. Yet I still feel like a generally normal, functioning human who on the outside, does not (contrary to how I often feel) broadcast to everyone I see that I am exhausted, stressed, and barely hanging on. 
Resiliency is an amazing characteristic of life. Animals- humans included- survive amazing strains and traumas. It is not to say that this period of time has been traumatic. But it is to say that I now realize just how powerful my body and mind and soul are to carry the burden that is this chaotic and ever-changing life I have created. Maybe it is to say that it is time I trust in my own resiliency more. 
It is time to give in to to the possibilities, as the more I step away from the fire of my life, the stronger fear grows and the weaker my trust in myself becomes. Regardless of the intensity of opportunities not coming to fruition, that does not take from the intensity of challenges met and opportunities found. Ahh, but maybe that is why we do respond to intensity as if it is every day (even if every day is intense). Perhaps it is protection because we are so aware that it can change so fast. Best not to ever feel to extremely happy and excited… or too extremely disappointed and terrified? 
At any rate, I wrap up one thing this week with uncertainty, I jump in to others with the same questions, I walk away from opportunities I thought I wanted that are not possible and question why, and I question how it all turns out. But first, I consider what to eat for lunch.

Identity and Vulnerability Again

Over one year ago, I last wrote in this blog.
With some regret over letting it go (though I see I at least have several drafts to revisit), I enter this space again. Again, the fitting title is, as it was 15 months ago, identity and vulnerability.
Today I mailed in the paperwork for the Priya Project to become a nonprofit.
Today, this week, this month, this year, has been a whirlwind leading up to the moment that I dropped paperwork in the mail.
As I write this a dog who was not yet in my life last year licks my hand. A man who had just entered my life is busy with our housework. An education that still felt daunting and just beginning is practically behind me, with the final year of dissertation work waiting for me to step in and move forward.
Perfectionism- the reason each blog entry is so painstaking and often ends up being unpublished- still grips me, and yet I write this knowing I will post it tonight. Because at the end of the day, this reflection is for me. And for those who feel the love and light in our connection. And for those curious. Not for those interested in judgement, and anyway who has time to worry about that.
This journey through darkness and light, through questions and more questions. It is one I am eager to be writing about once again. Cheers to sharing and reflection, leading to better awareness and perhaps even some answers.

identity and vulnerability

People see what we want them to see about us. We are really good at giving good first impressions, at showing just the top, our best qualities. Like icebergs, we show off a splendid peak above the water that everyone sees: our best behavior. Yet there is a giant, deep, hidden world under the surface that few see unless we invite them in, or we crash into each other with the velocity few events can foster, like traumatic events, shared college dorms, and love affairs. That invitation or crash is when things finally get real. True love begins to happen as people see everything about us. When we can no longer hide the pieces of us we wish weren’t there. When how we really live- where our physical and emotional piles of clutter tend to accumulate in our homes and in our minds- is no longer a secret. At this time, our true identity is revealed and we are most vulnerable. It is the moment we both crave and dread, when all we can do is hope that whatever is crashing into us joins us and creates something better with us than what we were alone; and hope that one of us doesn’t sink under the pressure.

Entitlement

We don’t know how long we’ll be here, and we are entitled to nothing.

Realizing this for my own life has been the most freeing realization.

I used to mourn over death and let the worry of dying overshadow my joy for living. What if I work so hard at being healthy and still die of cancer at 43? An attitude like that leaves you feeling helplessly fatalistic. I still get trapped in feelings of sadness about death and dying and fear of the unknown, but then I remind myself of that second piece: that I am not entitled to any of this.

I’m not even entitled to the life I’ve already been living. 

We plan for decades and while we should, we should also expend our energy like we have only days. The great thing about energy is that it is renewable. While we run for our health and work for our security and build for our future in various ways, we have this beautiful ability to wake up the next day and do it over again. That means that on top of fulfilling duties in case we are lucky enough to have a slew of tomorrow’s; we can also fully invest in the joys and adventures of today. 
Every day amidst the frustrations and worries and legitimate fears of daily life, I remind myself: I am lucky to be here at all; and I do not know for how long; and I am not entitled to any of it. 

 

The audacity of giving up control

The unknown can offer a lot out of nothing.
It can give us hope and motivation. It can also give us regret, despair, guilt, second-guesses, fear, and sadness.
So much of life is mysterious. We don’t really understand much about ourselves, let alone other people, and other facets of the world.
We make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time, and each decision alters our path… like a choose-your-own adventure book.
As a kid I craved control and order, so I always used to look ahead in those books. As I got older I challenged myself not to, to see if, looking back later, I could make good decisions without cheating.
Life in mystery and the unknown, while agonizingly painful at times, has been more fun and freeing, once I learned to give up control and enjoy the ride. I still frequently get stuck in regret, guilt, and fear. I’m also finding the hope and motivation in working with what I know, and trusting in the universe to tip its hat to a girl who’s simply trying her hardest and enjoying the journey.
Cheers to this mysterious world and its many detectives, adventurers, and wanderers.

A valentine to my nieces

After 16 years of dating I’ve come to see myself as a sort of relationship connoisseur. I am usually in a relationship because, well, I like to be. I prefer life with a partner, even if that partnership is temporary and even fleeting; or sometimes unhealthy and even heartbreaking. I prefer relationships because I am driven by connection and emotional intimacy. I seek understanding of myself and of other people because it is through emotional context that the world makes sense to me. I realize to anybody unlike me, that whole statement sounds, well, ridiculous and confusing. That’s fine, we all have our things we’re good at and our things which terrify us but we do anyway because we need to. Love terrifies many of us, sometimes enough to avoid it all together. Taxes, multiple choice tests,  instruction booklets, and death terrify me in the ways my friends and clients have described their fears of love to me, so I can sympathize with the harsh feelings if not their cause.
Anyway, my love of love: of falling into it, being in it, managing it, and even navigating my way out of it; has brought about many insights about life and people and the topic of love itself. I like to write about the topic though I rarely share this writing. I’m working on changing that.
For now, I hope to share some of the lessons I’ve picked up for the sake of young girls coming after me. Specifically, this is for my nieces, since they are the closest thing to offspring for me, and I know what both my sister and I want for them more than anything is a safe, healthy, happy journey through and to lasting love. These lessons come from the blending of all the things I learned from her and from my own experiences as I have worked my way through this bumping, winding, never clear, usually scary, always amazing, maze of relationships.
Lesson #1: you don’t know at this point who will be important later in life, and which relationships you should have tossed or saved. The only thing you can do is make sure your character remains good, you learn from mistakes, and stay true to your values. Just be nice. Always. Always be nice. And always apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, there is no shame in admitting them only in denying them. You never know which boy you find annoying or ugly now will end up making boatloads, bulking up, and finding you later in life. It will be good for him to remember you as the nice, genuine, drama-free girl who has no enemies.
Lesson #2: Tell the truth to your Mom. She’s been there. She’s done it. She’s seen it. She’s thought it. And she will help you through it. Use your supports. Often the more important something is, the fewer people we tell. Let people in, and we promise we will love you and help you, no matter what bone-headed thing you may have done.
Lesson #3: Life is a series of good and bad luck, disappointments, achievements, heartbreak, jealousy, bitterness, happiness, excitement, nerves, and tears. It is always changing. So appreciate good times because nothing lasts forever, and have hope during bad times because things WILL turn around. That being said, you are in control of far more than you give yourself credit for. So if you want something to change, then just DO IT.
Lesson #4: Don’t do it. Sex, that is. (Here is my advice, as a counselor/aunt on the topic: Don’t do it in high school. Risks are too high, knowledge is too little, emotions are too fragile. Make that your black-and-white, no exceptions, rule. Once you get into college, things get trickier and complicated, emotions become real, love becomes (maybe) real, and everyone needs to find the best path for their own heart). Here is my advice as a woman: whatever you do, think it through thoroughly, educate yourself on exactly what your plan is and what the risks are, and make SURE your partner is as careful and as caring as you. No exceptions on that one, ever. No man is ever worth compromising your values and precautions. Those who are worth it will not put you in a position to feel you have to choose. It is a number you cannot erase, so every number, no matter how low or high, has to count for good. This is one type of regret that is nearly impossible to live down, move past, or grow from, so be careful with your body and with whom you share it. Be so careful.
Lesson #5: You will make mistakes. You will make mistakes in love. You will have your heart broken. You will survive it. Everybody on the planet suffers heartache. Everyone causes heartache. Do not hold on to anger, resentment, hurt, or torn confidence over what somebody else did or said to you in your relationship. We are all coming from different and confusing places. While they hurt you, you hurt others, and you’ll usually hurt each other. Sometimes it is without knowing. Sometimes it is purposefully. Always it is out of a nasty combination of love, pain, confusion, selfishness, and frustration. So forgive them and forgive yourself. With each hurt, learn the lesson you were to learn, and move on.
I am certain that learning how to love is unending. It is unfortunate (or maybe the opposite?) that one thing we need as much as water and air and food and safety is one thing we are so terribly inept at doing. To love is to be unbelievably vulnerable, admit mistakes and actual character flaws, constantly work, and constantly experience growing pains. To do this genuinely and honestly and with our whole hearts though, is the most beautiful human experience we can give ourselves.
Best of luck girls, it’s a scary ride but you’ll be grateful for it.

My apartment through the eyes of a potato

On Christmas Eve, my mother gave me the gift of a recipe for a dinner and all its ingredients. She desperately wants me to remember how to cook for myself and feels strongly about my tendency to live in feast or famine, alternating between eating out and surviving on dinners of pb&j or week-old leftovers found in the back of the fridge. The Christmas ingredients and recipe made it home, but not yet to the stove. Most of it can be saved: packaged beans, a bag of rice, canned tomatoes. The onion became moldy within a couple days and I haven’t yet bought a replacement. The potato was placed atop the toaster oven under the overhead cupboards, where it has rested in shaded anticipation for nearly two months.

The potato is light brown, about twice as long as it is wide, and is shaped like a giant peanut. It has changed though, since it’s arrival to my apartment. It began to sprout. It has beautiful sprouts: purple and fuzzy, two sprouts, trying to find dirt and water. Dirt they may find. Water, well I guess I hadn’t thought about nourishing this potato through another life cycle so it has been neglected of water.  Each day it continues, sprouting a bit more and shrinking into its peanut shape. Each day, a reminder of my inability to utilize even a free meal, if it requires much more than a two-step process. Each day I see the potato and swear it’s sprouting eyes are looking back at me in domestic disgust. “You’re thirty now, Shawna. Get with the maturity program”. I hear it each time I reach above it into the cupboard where packaged meals-on-the-go sit, ready for eating in minutes. The potato sees them come and go, a revolving door of modern convenience.

The neglected potato is not alone in its pursuit for responsible life and usage here in my apartment. Since becoming a student again, I do not uphold very many priorities. The big ones: school, work, and maintaining a relationship or two, take precedence.  The ones my mother used to take care of for me: cooking, cleaning, planning ahead, and having a bed time, well those things just, don’t happen. Laundry sits until I literally have no option but to do it or start wearing things inside out. Dirty bowls get stacked until I realize I look like a dirty Chinette hoarder, and a cycle of staying up late, waking early to finish work, and going out for happy hour even when exhausted perpetuates as if I am stuck in junior year of college.

I know I should approach this time in my life more responsibly. I could be a more productive student and worker if I dedicated my days fully to my own little world of studies and hard work. I could come home from work, settle into structured homework time, make dinner for myself, and arrive in bed promptly at 10:30 to assure a full 8 hours of rest. My employer would be thrilled to see me arrive early and stay late, fully- no- over-engaged, improving my programs, giving %110. I could garden more, produce better than 5 underweight tomatoes and a handful of yellowish cilantro. I could meditate more. I could vacuum biweekly, finish a scrapbook, and even make cookies to leave in the teachers’ lounge.

What my life really looks like is more of an assortment of my own important values, people, goals, and wandering time. I run every day because when I don’t I get crabby and softer around the belly. If there is a social event like a friend’s band’s concert or a microbrewery tour, I go. I do take time to visit my family, so that’s a start. On warm days I go hiking. I sit in the sauna at the YMCA and I go to hot yoga (not to focus on my breath but to do something really hard and compete with myself. Nothing I do is ever very zen. I am no yogini). Sometimes I stare at the computer or re-read a page and two hours of studying was suddenly the least productive time of my day, regardless of intention or perceived willingness to focus.

Sometimes I think certainly I must start taking a prescription for a diagnosable attention issue. Sometimes I just enjoy socializing too much and hate  missing out on spending time with the people I love. I know I work to live and will never let that reverse. That is why I am in this program: to learn about and do something I love and am truly passionate about, so my life’s work never feels like work. I reserve stuff I’m not good at for special occasions. Meditating is for sick days. Cooking is for the few times a month I have the time and energy to devote to such a daunting task. My goal, rather than to change my habits and put free potatoes to good use (sorry mom), is to stop feeling guilty about the things that don’t fit into my current life. If it means enough, I’ll make room. If not, no sense crying over sprouted starch.

I thought about writing this from the potato’s perspective. But with its glaring eyes growing with each passing day, it is just not ready to give up the dream of that damn soup. Sorry potato pal, you’ll just have to wait.

Time

Whenever I get anxious and stressed about school, work, relationships, or life, my anxiety boils down to time. I wonder when is the right time, did I do something too fast or not soon enough? Is it my timing that leads to my mistakes?
Timing is everything. I feel like I do not have enough of it. I wish for more then piss it away. I get mad at myself for wasting it, but when I’m busy I crave the space to spend time doing nothing.

Time, though so concrete and structured, is maybe the most mysterious factor in life.

I hadn’t put much thought into this until lately, when timing seems to have driven my life in ways I hadn’t before noticed.

Lately, it seems to have started and changed relationships in my life in a choreographed way I never could have planned. It has completely changed future plans by bringing opportunities in just the right fleeting moment of an open window.

My professor recently said, “the older you get the more your life makes sense”. I think that is because one finally accepts that they aren’t the master controller of their life: timing is everything. And the more we experience it, perhaps the more we realize we can’t wish it away by looking too far forward. We can’t gain it back by worrying too much about what has happened already. And we can’t guarantee that even in the present moment, we are choosing the right way to spend it.

I’m learning to think of time as the master of serendipity. When I look back on my life and I have rushed things or held back despite the world seeming to push me into something, I realize after I did the wrong thing. Going with the flow, I now know, means to surrender to the clock of the universe.

If it feels like the right time to do anything, well, we’d better freaking do it. The laws of everything from physics to tarot cards tell us that nothing lasts, especially opportunities.

A meditation for non-meditators

Never, ever in my life did I see myself as someone who could embrace yoga, sit in stillness, focus on breathing, or meditate. I only do hot (bikram) yoga because it is so blasted difficult and uncomfortable it is impossible not to be in the moment. Where can the mind wander when so many physical discomforts are presented simultaneously?
During said torturous activity last week, a meditation called “Understanding” by Adam Plack and Deepak Chopra came on the yogini’s pandora station. Perhaps I had drank a little too much of my emergen-C infused nearly boiling water, or perhaps I was desperate to focus on anything but my own contorted sweat ball body, but I immediately fell in love. To hear it, go here: http://mp3.zing.vn/bai-hat/Understanding-Adam-Plack-Deepak-Chopra/ZWZD67OB.html

Or for you visual learners, here it is in writing:
Today I will understand that I am part of the universe and the universe exists within me.
I will understand that every perspective arises from a context.

When I feel conflict in any situation or relationship, I will examine my feelings from my own perspective, but also from the perspective of others, and from the perspective of the neutral observer.
Through this understanding, I will have context that will allow me to be free.
Today I will understand that my soul sees every experience through new eyes.
Today I will understand that everyone is doing the best they can from their level of awareness.
Today I will remind myself that the universe exists within me.
As the ancient sages said, “I am not in the world. The world is in me. I am not in the body, the body is in me. I am not in the mind, the mind is in me. The body, the mind, the world, they happen to me as I curve back within myself and create again and again.
Today I will understand that the whole universe exists within me.

I know you guys, I know. I know. What the heck was in that emergen-C.
But after reading all that, you also kinda feel like a jerk for judging me, eh? Anyway, if you’re still on the saddle, follow me through my thoughts and feel free to add your own. I’m seriously interested in this little ditty. Blame it on my break from the sauce.Today I will understand that I am part of the universe and the universe exists within me. A little reminder of what we learned in general physics and chem classes…. elements are fluid throughout the universe, in us, around us, in our foods and bedding and beers. It makes it hard to call the eastern concepts of energy and connection, bunk. Think of how sick we feel with too much or too little sodium, or too little iron. What are the more subtle impacts to energy and health from the countless elements and things we don’t even identify yet? It gets crazy to go down that rabbit hole… and is that really even what this dude is talking about? I’m not sure but that is where my mind goes: the cosmic or invisible but physical energy we all share and are a part of.

I will understand that every perspective arises from a context. My own perception of everything I take in is colored by every other second, recent and otherwise. I am so imperfect in my perception, because I am incapable of detaching previous experience, present influence  and personal values and hopes. And so does everybody else. It is no wonder there is so much conflict and misunderstanding in the world.
When I feel conflict in any situation or relationship, I will examine my feelings from my own perspective, but also from the perspective of others, and from the perspective of the neutral observer. The first step is mastering “I” statements: communicating our own ego’s perspective. The second step is mastering listening: understanding the other person’s perspective. Those two happen naturally as we develop and are taught basic skills in social functioning. Not that they are always easy. The third step is to step outside of the situation completely and see the two sides as they interact. Who does that?? Certainly I rarely do, at least in situations I am a part of. It’s on the list of things to do.
Through this understanding, I will have context that will allow me to be free. How freeing to live a life without the pain and resentment and jealousy and frustration that come out of conflict. Possible?
Today I will understand that my soul sees every experience through new eyes. This is a little deep for me right now, you guys. I don’t even know. Mind: blown. Starting to lost my attention…

Today I will understand that everyone is doing the best they can from their level of
awareness. Bam. Back in the zone. YES! Yes, this is what I need to hear, what I need to say to myself every day, all day long. Yes. Again. We are all imperfect. We are all doing our best day after day to meet our own needs and not be a-holes in the process. We all, based on experience or lack of, personality, values, and goals, present a wide variety of potentially offensive or destructive behavior toward each other and to our own selves. Can you imagine if we all felt so much empathy for each other that we were cool with just meeting each other wherever we’re at mentally and emotionally, without judgment or frustration? WOW.
Today I will remind myself that the universe exists within me.
As the ancient sages said, “I am not in the world. The world is in me. I am not in the body, the body is in me. I am not in the mind, the mind is in me. The body, the mind, the world, they happen to me as I curve back within myself and create again and again.
Today I will understand that the whole universe exists within me.
 That last one basically wiped me out, so I’ve got nothing. But seriously, how cool is this? Downright inspiring, relaxing, motivating, and comforting all at once. Going to bed now, completely at peace with this moment and ready to try this meditation tomorrow. Right before I meet with the 8th graders *doing the best they can*. Ufda.