Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Stone for Pause

In one year, I will be thirty years old. In less than two months, I will be a wife. These impending milestones have me looking toward the future with a reverence, a kind of cautious awe.

Because becoming a woman, I am finding, is a complicated thing. My twenties turned out to be more turbulent than I could have imagined, a kind of swirling ship wreck I never could have seen coming. I entered my twenties with a brightness and a burning optimism that I didn't realize were dangerous. Until my mid-twenties, I lived like a fiery star, a supernova, a child vibrating with potential genius, without future aim. I should have seen how fragile I was. I should have known that supernovas are bound to burst. But how could I have known, really? How could I have predicted my own plummet from space to salt water? What child knows she can fall so hard?

Thank god for strong hands and fierce love. These are the things that saved me from the fall. I am smaller now, and I hope more solid. In any case, I feel my identity shifting.

When I picture my thirty-year-old self, I imagine her to be poised and confident, a calm collection of pastels and neutrals and sunlight. I imagine her sitting next to open windows with her hair swept up, with her hands full of books and her heart beating quiet, quiet. At least, this is the woman I hope to be. This is the woman I am working toward. I am curious about her. I wonder if she and I can be the same.

What I know is this: I am learning to be gentler with myself. I am learning to forgive myself for the things I have broken. I am counting the things I have learned and keeping them like smooth stones in a jar. A stone for pause. A stone for remembrance. A stone for imperfection.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A House, A Home, A Chair

The teal chair cost me five dollars. A couple of college girls in a small, third floor apartment were selling it on craigslist, and when I saw it, I knew I had to have it. It was huge: about as long as it was deep, and about as deep as it was tall. Its wide arms were flat, perfect for a stack of books, like a table-chair hybrid. The fabric was horrible and torn, but that could be fixed eventually. The chair had good bones, and I wanted it.

As I handed over my five dollar bill, I realized--I didn't know how to get it home. Eli and I had brought his parents' hatchback to help in the move, but it hardly seemed sufficient to hold the beast in front of us. It took three of us to maneuver the blessed thing down the stairs, a great, hulking cube of upholstery and wood. If possible, it looked even bigger when we got it on the sidewalk. Ever the optimist, Eli wedged the chair halfway into the back of his car and we set off. I clung onto it from the back seat, as if my small hands were going to stop it from tumbling from the trunk and into the street behind us. Thankfully, my strength wasn't tested, and with only two more flights of stairs and minimal cursing, it found a home in my own tiny apartment.

I hadn't remembered any of that--the buying, the moving--until a few weeks ago, when I asked Eli to help me move the chair out of the basement and into my art room on the second floor. We've been in our house for a little over a year now, and all that time, the teal chair has been waiting for me to find the right spot for it. This time there was a lot more cursing, and I'm sure I said "This was a terrible mistake" about ten times per stairwell.

But now here it sits in my art room, the perfect perch for a shy, sleepy kitty in front of a sunny, open window. It's still teal, and torn, and will probably take a little more time to air out its musty basement smell, but it's perfect. Perfect for reading and daydreaming and sketching. I have dreams of reupholstering it someday, when ambitions and endorphins and delusions of grandeur are high. Until then, it's a happy reminder of where I've been, and where I'm going.

Because corner by corner, our things are finding their place in our house. The books are settling onto the bookshelves, and a newly adopted cat (who won't sit on the couch) has found a favorite spot in a teal chair. We are remembering a few dreams we put on hold, and believing we can work toward them again.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Take My Waking Slow

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.  
I learn by going where I have to go. 
                                       --Theodore Roethke, "The Waking"
I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately. For various reasons, I find myself waking in the early morning and staring into the darkness for hours before my alarm sounds and sends me off to work. Lately, I've been trying to embrace it rather than fight it. And a few mornings ago, these words by Theodore Roethke tiptoed into my mind like a mantra.

"The Waking" is a villanelle. It's a difficult poetic form to use skillfully, and I'm not usually drawn to poems that stick to a strict rhyming pattern. But this stanza has stuck with me since college, enough to appear in the half-light of my early morning musings. While scholars will say that the poem is about the interaction of life and death, it most reminds me of the power of cycles, of steady growth and a connection to the earth. Even more than that, I feel the importance of the calm discovery (and acceptance) of personal purpose.

And therein lies my problem as of late: I've been on a search for personal purpose, but my search has been frantic and forced. I have been making choices with a desperate need for control, which has only led me to anxiety and chaos. I learn by going where I have to go, Roethke says, and it reminds me to learn from the journey, instead of always trying to dictate my next steps. I have time. I can wake slowly. I can go where I have to go.

I used to believe very strongly in fate, in the idea of things happening for a reason. I let go of that for a while, but I think it's time to return to middle ground. I still believe I have choices, but I think I need to start letting those choices breathe--instead of always watching for the moment that will prove I made the wrong decision. I learn by going where I have to go.

I am finally starting to listen to my inner rhythm, and understand what I need in my professional life to achieve the balance I crave in my personal life. It's about listening to my body and nurturing my mind, and letting go of the things I can't control.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. Roethke reminds me to take it easy--that even when I wake, I will return to sleep before long, and in the mean time, I should move slowly and deliberately. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. It is easy to be afraid of the future, but if I want to move forward, I cannot fear it. If I "wake slowly," if I embrace the path I'm on and loosen my grip on its direction, I just may be able to find the inner rhythm I've been looking for.

And maybe then, I'll remember how to sleep.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

He Must Go To Sea Once More

I've never really been one for nautical themes. When it comes to decorating, you won't find little dishes of seashells and sand in my bathroom, or wind chimes of sea glass on my front porch. Living in Pittsburgh and growing up in a fresh-water-and-mountains kind of family, the ocean never particularly appealed to me. Add in the fact that I have the incredible super power of getting a sunburn in less than 30 minutes, and the beach becomes one of my least favorite vacation destinations.

Still, I always had an inkling that Maine would have the kind of ocean I could finally enjoy. And I was right.

Visiting Maine in the off season was like having a park all to ourselves. We visited antique shops, hung out on docks, ate fish sandwiches and watched fishermen unload the last of the season's lobsters from their boats. We even got to climb a light house.

But what really got me were the sailboats. It hadn't occurred to me before we got to Maine that I would want to ride in one, but by the end of our first day, I was googling local sailboat tours. I was determined to get us out on the water.

It didn't take me long to find Captain Daniel and his boat, the Bufflehead, which he rebuilt himself. The next day, we were scheduled to sail with him.

With a fedora, a braided beard, and extensive knowledge of his craft, Daniel was pretty much the coolest dude we could have picked to spend an hour in a boat with. His five-year-old daughter was on board that day, running up and down the length of the boat in her boots and life vest to tie off sails and help steer the boat out of the harbor.

"She's been sailing with me her whole life," Daniel said.

"Can we go over there and look for seals?" she called to her dad while steering between lobster buoys.

"No, honey, let's get out of the harbor and try to catch some wind," he replied, "I want to try to get out past the light house."

"Okay," she said, "and then can we go look for seals?"

Kid was pretty cool. In fact, I think I want to be her when I grow up.

As it turned out, we didn't catch much wind even outside the harbor--we mostly used a motor to get out past the lighthouse. Just my luck, that I would pick the calmest day of the week to hop on a sailboat. Still, it was just about the coolest way to spend an afternoon.

There was something about the sailboats that appealed to my tactile side, the side that likes to fold paper and tear up kitchen floors and sand old wooden furniture. I wanted to jump up and get my hands wrapped in those ropes, feel the weight of the sail as it lifted up the mast.

You still may not find me painting seahorses on my walls--but I do have a new model sailboat sitting in my living room.

Oh, and we did manage to see a couple of seals. Daniel's daughter and I were pretty excited about it.