- "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London
Sunday, November 30, 2008
My roommate and I have spent the weekend getting into the Christmas spirit. We put up and decorated our tree, placed Christmas paraphernalia all around the house, watched Elf, The Polar Express, and some awful-but-wonderful Hallmark Channel original movie, listened to nothing but Christmas music. It's been perfect. Just perfect.
At Thanksgiving dinner, we did not go around the table and say what we are thankful for, and I was probably thankful for that most of all. I always feel very put on the spot with things like that. It seems impossible not to be generic, and to list what I'm really grateful for feels too personal and, well, fairly uninteresting. Don't we all just want to eat by that point anyway?
But naturally this time of year demands reflection, and as I sit here in my living room, tree glowing, candles burning, my roommate and I typing on our laptops while sipping tea, I can't help but feel ubiquitous gratitude. I am grateful for everything that has happened this year, the good as well as the bad. I am grateful for this house, for my roommate, for my new job, for the friends I've made there, for the friends I've kept from my old job, for the friends I've kept period, for my family, for poetry and coffee and art, for food and nature, for kindness and love, for knowing where I want to go, for knowing that I don't need to be there yet, for the direction my life is beginning to go, for my life. I am grateful for it all.
On Tuesday night, I went to see Mary Oliver at the library with my mother. It was lovely. I followed along with every poem I knew, and soaked in every poem I didn't. I loved hearing her read my favorites exactly as I had to myself, all of the pauses and emphasis in just the right places. I loved the soft "hmmms" of understanding and light giggles of delight from the audience members who were clearly discovering her magic for the first time. I loved being an audience member who already knew of such magic, who could instead spend the hour finding new complexities to her simple words and truths. And I did just that.
In those situations, I am constantly wishing that it was appropriate to take out my journal and begin writing, but sadly, most of what I promise not to forget somehow gets lost in the folds of memory. What I remember best of all about the night was not the poems she picked, or the sound of her voice, but in fact, my surprise at how tiny she is. I of course knew that she is 73. I knew she would be an older woman. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I suppose I had always imagined her tall, commanding like her words.
But she walked in, stepped up onto her podium in front of the heavy red drapes of the stage and looked so punitive, so plain. If I had passed her on the street, I wouldn't have thought twice about her. She just looked so ordinary.
And then she spoke, and became extraordinary.
She became what I knew she was - author, poet, artist, woman of wisdom and truth and beauty. She was powerful and compelling and divinely exquisite. She was exactly who she is.
And for that, I am grateful. I was grateful to witness that instant transformation from ordinary to extraordinary. I was grateful for the reminder that such an ability to transform exists within each of us. We are all more than we seem. We are all talented in ways that demand attention. We are all exactly who we are. And it is perfect. Just perfect.
So it is here on the last day of November, 2008, that I realize the perfection of my own existence, and my gratitude for it, and my excitement for all of the transformations that are to come.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In honor of seeing Mary Oliver tonight, but being too exhausted to write about it now, I'll mark the occasion with one of the poems she read. What a wonderful way to spend an evening.
The Sun by Mary Oliver
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--
or have you too
Monday, November 24, 2008
I am a firm believer in not regretting things I've written. That being said, in my last post I certainly didn't mean to imply that my twenty-something comrades are stupid, or that I am smart, or that I am superior, or even that I am inferior. When I sit down to write this blog, I just write, and often times it leads to unintentional points. It was not about my friends. I cannot stress that enough. It was not about you.
It was about me. The point I was trying to get to was that I am average. Painfully average.
I consider those people whom we may have considered nerds in high school, the ones who got straight A's and dominated all of the class discussions and spent their weekends reading just for the fun of it. I consider the characters from the movie Smart People, the ostracized intellectual protagonists in all of my favorite books, my father, all of those remarkably scholarly geniuses who can't quite find ways to connect to the general public. And I think, at least they can justify their lives. At least they can say, I don't go out drinking and clubbing every night, but I know more and understand more and enjoy more than those kinds of people do.
I consider the people I know who go out every night, who meet new and interesting people, who spend their time making incredible anecdotes for the rest of us to listen to and be jealous of. I consider the characters from movies and books who follow their hearts, who have no grand plan, who I admire for being strong enough to do exactly what they want to be doing, exactly what makes them happy. Those people who are going out drinking and clubbing every night, well, at least they can justify their lives. At least they can say, I don't bury myself in books and current affairs, but I'm living every moment to the fullest. I'm having fun.
But me? I'm just somewhere in the middle. I'm not smart enough to be considered a brooding intellectual and I'm not fun enough to be considered a socialite. I'm just a boring average girl with a boring average life, and I don't mean that to sound like self pity or even sadness. It's just sort of the way it goes.
I was driving behind a car sporting a bumper sticker of the infamous Laurel Ulrich quote "well behaved women seldom make history" and I remembered being younger and loving the idea of this. I loved the idea of wild women, of surrounding myself with wild spirits, of becoming one myself. I loved the idea of fighting for things, of changing things, of making an impact somehow, no matter how small. I loved the grandeur of believing in things so deeply.
But reading it now, I am just struck by the realization of how well behaved I am. I follow the rules. I care greatly about what it is expected of me and how well I fulfill those expectations. I make an average salary at an average job to pay an average mortgage for an average house in the average suburbs. I am not having great adventures or making great impacts. My goals are simple and realistic. I have become less and less of an idealist over the past couple of years.
When you're young, you swear that will never happen, but as we grow older, we make compromises. We fall into patterns, directions, roles and expectations. We become people we promised never to be. I'm only twenty three years old, and to feel like that so early on scares me a bit. It makes me want to change everything. Now. It makes me want to reconsider who I feel myself becoming.
And that's all I was really trying to say. I was trying to say that in wanting to be a bit of everything, it often feels like I became nothing - no label, no type, no place to really fit in, no way to justify my decisions. The past few years have not made me smarter or more fun. I've been stuck in what is comfortable and easy. I've been trying to define myself instead of trying to better myself. I haven't really been working towards anything, until I arrived here at this point, and considered that perhaps average simply isn't enough for me.
At least I can say I know that much.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I have spent most of my life listening, sitting back quietly, paying attention. I have spent most of my life looking on from the sidelines, getting involved enough to please people, but not so involved that I have any real responsibility. I have spent more time watching than acting, more time observing than participating, more time reflecting than moving forward. And in many ways, I've enjoyed that role. I attribute most of my thoughtfulness and wisdom to it. It's taught me how to take the time to learn how to read people. It's taught me how to notice the little things while still keeping the big picture in mind. It's taught me how to really see things. I have spent most of my life exploring perspectives, and I have spent most of my life enjoying it.
But there are times I see people converse and fraternize with such ease, that I cannot help but feel completely social stunted, jealous and pitifully self loathing. Why can't I do that?
It's gotten so much worse over the past couple of years. I have lead my life by the rule that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all, but equally important it seemed was that if you don't have something interesting to say, don't say anything at all. Part of that observation role meant that I understood those awkward pauses and glances after someone spoke. I understood the dangers of speaking and revealing stupidity and dullness. I understood the difficulty of disproving that impression once it had been made. And so I stopped saying much unless it seemed relevant and insightful. And even then I continue to be cautious.
Generally I practice things a few times over in my head. Sometimes I leave events and have long monologues on the car ride home of things I would have said and probably should have said, if only I were a bit quicker and braver. And I think, if only I were smarter, all of this would be so much easier.
But there is the other side of me too. The smarter side. The wiser side. There is the side of me that knows better. There is the side of me that feels completely out of place in a room full of people my own age, in a room full of people who find it so easy to converse and fraternize because well, they're just talking. I could just talk if I wanted to, about the weather and TV and what I did over the weekend and what I ate for lunch and how drunk I was at that party and what the boy I liked was wearing and how I can't believe that so and so would ever do such a thing to so and so number two. I could just talk, but I prefer to speak. I prefer to have conversations that go somewhere, that mean something. I could be more like a twenty-something if I tried.
I could be more like that if I wasn't so wrapped up in my own head. I could be more like that if I didn't think so much. But I wouldn't want to give up that part of me. And I know it sounds conceded, if not just downright awful, but sometimes I think, if only I were a little dumber, all of this would be so much easier.
Grown ups are constantly telling me that they wish they would have known what I have already come to understand when they were my age. But perhaps you're supposed to learn certain lessons later in life for a reason. It's not really fun feeling ten years older than you really are. It's not really fun feeling too smart or too stupid in almost every situation. It's not really fun not knowing where I fit in.
I'm sure there's some happy medium out there that I have yet to discover within myself. Certainly most of my friends, younger and older, are some of the smartest people I know, who inspire and challenge me to find that place between the timid girl who's afraid of looking foolish and the grown woman who's wise beyond her years. It's just a matter of trying to stop labeling myself, questioning myself, observing myself, and instead learning to live as myself, silly stupid smart me. It's just a matter of stepping off of the sidelines and exploring the perspective from the center of my existence. I have spent most of my life trying to get there.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Loving you less would make my life easier. It would mean that I wouldn't notice the way our relationship has gradually faded, the way it has slowed, the way we have gone in different directions only to find ourselves miles apart. It would mean that I wouldn't think about the hows and whys of reaching this point, that I wouldn't regret all of the things that were done, and worse, not done to lead us here, that I wouldn't feel saddened at the mere thought of you. It would mean that I wouldn't miss you so much.
You used to praise me for my optimism, but I think that you always had it a bit confused. I am hopeful, yes, but I don't know if I would consider myself optimistic. Optimism seems to me like something other than hope. Optimism stems from a kind of happiness, a kind of blind faith that everything will work out, that everything will remain as happy as it has been and continues to be. Optimism is the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.
But hope? Hope is the consequence of absence. The absence of someone or something. Hope is what gets us out of bed each morning despite the ache of knowing there is something missing. Hope is not the belief in happy endings, but is the longing to believe in them, the longing to believe that it is possible to fill that empty space inside oneself. Optimism is a state of being, but hope is a feeling. Optimism is an option, but hope is a necessity. It's an insatiable desire. It's why we continue on.
Because what is life if not a search? If we were to make a list of all that we are grateful for having and of all that we wanted for ourselves in the future, what would that list be if not a reflection of our hope? We wished for these things, and even if we weren't optimistic about getting them, we hoped they would be in our lives. We hoped for the best. Sometimes that hope pays of, sometimes not, but the gamble is what inspires us to keep going. That list of things to be grateful for is proof of the worthiness of hope. It is enough to pursue the search.
You never really got that right about me. I do not believe that life is inherently happy, that people are intrinsically good, that everyone gets their happily-ever-after. I do not believe that there are factors bigger than ourselves determining the course of things. I do not believe in the existence of magic, or the power of love, or the truth of fairy tales. I do not believe in anything, but I have hope in everything. I have the desire to believe. I have the longing to find answers to the questions I've left blank. I have the terrible, painful, beautiful ache of absence inside me.
I have the terrible, painful, beautiful ache of missing you. And while I may not be optimistic that we will ever have the kind of relationship we once did, that I will ever be able to fill that particular void, I am hopeful that I will. With all of my heart I hope. For me. For you. For us.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"One would say she was a simple woman, made happy by simple things. I think this was true. And more than once, in my long life, I have wished to be her."
I make the soft right and there it is. It gets me every time. The leaves have changed and the entire street hums with golden yellows and gentle oranges. If there's a morning breeze, small tornados of color line the sidewalk and spin past my car. Each morning my breath is stolen away by its beauty. Each morning I am shocked by its unassuming grace. Each morning I marvel at the deep impact those tiny details make in life.
The three of us used to play this game we called "high, low." At any point we could turn to one another and say those words and the other person would have to name the lowest and highest points of their day so far, in that order. It just made sense to save the best for last. What we discovered of course, was that the highs, no matter how seemingly insignificant at the time, always seemed to outweigh the lows, and that the lows, no matter how seemingly devastating at the time, were never really all that bad. Generally both answers received much needed laughter.
This week has been all about those little things that happen from day to day.
The flock of small black birds that took flight at the same instant over the empty parking lot, the sound of their wings rushing above me.
The three purple balloons caught in the highest point of a tall naked oak tree.
The old man with the white beard, dressed in red flannel from head to toe with a large brown cane beside him, sitting outside the market around the corner, sipping his coffee. The way I knew if I was a child I would have thought this homeless man to be Santa Clause. The way I knew as an adult that I still had hope that maybe he was.
The large deer that stopped right in the center of my favorite street, and how he stayed there long enough to meet my gaze head on, and how he vanished quickly enough that no one else witnessed his quiet perfection besides me.
My life is all about these moments.
Already I have created inside jokes with my new coworker. We look at each other and know what the other is thinking. We laugh at things we shouldn't. We have more fun than we probably should. It's nice to feel that again. It's important. It's those little looks and jokes and giggles that get me through the day.
I have spent every lunch break this week writing epically in my journal. I've written more in the past four days than in the past four weeks, perhaps even months. It's felt so good to reconnect with writing, reconnect with myself. More and more, I am starting to feel like me again. More and more those simple pleasures find me and I remember why it is I am so grateful to be living this little life of mine.
I arrived home today to find my re-acceptance letter to school. In January I'll start again part time to (FINALLY) get my degree. It's taken me almost three years to get the urge to finish college, but I guess what's important is that it's here now. I'm excited to begin. I'm excited to feel ready, to feel like I have a goal in mind and that I'm working toward it. I'm excited by the prospect of getting what I want out of life, of creating the opportunity to be the best version of myself I can be, the best version I have yet to be. I'm excited for this new adventure.
Of course, like all things worth doing, there will be moments of doubt and misery and exhaustion, I'm sure. Working full time and going to school will be a lot, but the truth is, I'm ready. I'm determined. I don't want to waste another moment waiting for something to happen. It's my turn to take the lead. It's my story to write.
And so I take a tiny step forward and, becoming breathless at its beauty, shocked by its grace, I marvel at the deep impact that one tiny step has made.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
I slept through most of September. It's not something that I would care to admit to anyone who chooses to read this, not something that I would care to admit to myself, not something that I would care to remember at all in fact, but it's the truth, and it needs to be documented somehow.
The job I was planning to take in my last post didn't work out. I knew instantly that it wasn't for me. Truthfully, I probably knew even during the interview, but my want and need of a job outweighed my better judgement. So I took the job and after two days, left it. I hated being that person. I hated that feeling of quitting, of abandoning the people who had taken a chance on me, of letting people down. It is the worst kind of guilt. But really, in seeming selfish, I was trying to be selfless. It seemed a waste to grow close to children and parents that I knew I was leaving anyway. It seemed wrong to let them get to know me and trust me only to leave them in a few weeks when something better came along. It didn't seem worth it to hang on.
And so, I let go.
And therefore spent the better half of September taking the occasional interview, but mostly, wallowing in the fact that things hadn't just magically worked out for me the way they had always done in the past. In fact, after two long term jobs that had hired me on the spot, this was my first set of real interviews. When wearing my rose tinted glasses, I was grateful for the practice and for finally understanding the merit behind job hunting complaints. When the glasses came off however, I was depressed and wanted a job.
I'm really not good at "free time." It was an important lesson to learn about myself.
But at last, the end of September came and with it, a job teaching four year olds at a new and lovely center. I adore my new coworker, which is generally half the battle in a daycare setting, and my new little students are just wonderful. I'm sure there will be countless stories relayed here in the future, but for now, I just wanted to say that each day the job gets better. Each day I fall a little more in love with my new children. Each day I grow more confidant in my choices and in the theory that everything happens for a reason. Things do, generally, magically work out. It's simply a matter of recognizing the magic.
The past two weeks have been magical. On Halloween, our new neighborhood buzzed with life. Neither of us have ever lived on a block that really celebrated the day. We were lucky if we got a handful of trick-or-treaters. But last Friday night they came in droves, of all ages, in some pretty wonderful costumes. We met some neighbors we had yet to meet. We sat out on the porch and felt the hum of excitement wafting through the orange lit street. The neighborhood united. It felt like we were connected to something bigger than ourselves. It was the best kind of feeling.
A few days before that, our city buzzed with life. Our beloved Phillies won the world series for the first time in twenty eight years and nobody slept for days. The celebration went on and on with drinking and fireworks and hugs and tears and pots and pans banging in homes from the heart of the city to the outskirts of the suburbs. Everyone had a smile on their face. Everyone wore red. The city united. It felt like we were connected to something bigger than ourselves. It was the best kind of feeling.
A week later we sat up waiting for the results of the Presidential election. From the other side of the wall of our twin, our neighbors screamed so loudly that I'm sure they are still trying to regain their voices. Obama WON. And it feels, well, amazing, doesn't it? It feels like change. It feels like hope. It feels like, for the first time in a long time, America has something to be proud of. And as a country, that unites us. And it feels like we're connected to something bigger than ourselves. And it is the best kind of feeling.
I have had two months of extreme lows and extreme highs. But it's getting better all the time. And while I have a thousand more things to say, stories to tell, emotions to consider, I sat down this morning to play catch up with this blog simply to express this one thought: I am happy.
And it feels like waking up.