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Literally.

8 Jul

Lately, I’ve been sorting through past traumas like forgotten boxes in the attic — complete with overwhelming reminiscence that can often be followed by sudden weeping, dust from the trauma floating in the darkened air around me. And, like the stirred air, I am unsettled.

Looking at the past me, watching her again face these experiences that she was not ready for, I want to explain things. I want her to know the things she didn’t understand. I want to redefine the very meaning of the words she clung to — phrases she passionately scribbled in journals and scraps of paper stored in an old metal suitcase. In the midst of these recent moments, as I try to help the younger version of myself finally rest into the past where she belongs, I realize I still need to redefine the words I use to shape my life now.

Love.

Connection.

Help.

Truth.

Attention.

Art.

All of this makes me feel detached. Wandering. Searching again for some explanation for the beauty and ugliness around me. And inside of me.

So I sit and try to organize positive and negative space, these symbols that represent the meaning I am trying to simultaneously give and discover. The shape of each letter, the structure of the sentence, the placement of a comma — all of it changes the meaning. Perhaps this tiny curved line, like a dislodged and discarded eyelash that has floated down to the page, will interject just the right pause to accentuate the word before — what is that word trying to say? what is it trying to connect to? how is it representing me? how is it representing anything? — all of these questions have been circling around me every time I try to write.

Yet, though I feel a bit lost in all of this, I do find answers as I go. At least, enough answers to not stop, to keep going, keep writing, keep searching — all in the same motions: My small fingers flitting over the keys, the bottoms of my palms sticky against the smooth surface they rest upon, my eyes gliding back and forth over the clear black words I’ve just written and the unseen outline of the words I have yet to write.

The words are crowded now, but they bump against each other inside of me, sharpening some and — thankfully, for the tired and overwhelmed 17-year-old me — softening others.

Someday I’ll figure out what I’m trying to say.

Defined connection.

30 Jan

con·nec·tion

noun \kə-ˈnek-shən\

1) Something that joins or connects two or more things.

2) The act of connecting two or more things or the state of being connected.

3) A situation in which two or more things have the same cause, origin, goal, etc.

 

In a way, I am a connection. Without me, certain introductions would not have been made – or broken. Certain ideas would not have become product. I have joined “two or more things” simply by my curiosity. Simply by my presence.

In this way, I have been a connector. The offspring of creator. A found-object artist. I asked questions and gave answers. I stepped in and shied away. And those decisions influenced a “state of being connected.”

My brother and I have the same parents. We have the same list of childhood addresses that trail across the nation. We share memories of holidays, stupid jokes, friends. We shared the same songs — writing lyrics simultaneously. And yet, we aren’t wholly connected. Even in the past reminiscence, often we have differing viewpoints — like separate movie screens focused on opposite frames within the same scene.

Connection, to me, is illusive. It’s layered — like a bolt of gauzy cloth. I can see every layer, but cannot differentiate them. They are connected, yet separate. And I am wrapped up in it all.

As a sensitive soul and an abstract mind, I long for connection. For definition in connection. For connecting to tell me who I am, what I am worth.

My memory lurches forward, “I remember being there,” I say. What I mean is, I can see it in my mind. Memory based on visuals. But I connect to the emotion, the thought, the idea of the memory. It is unfocused and complex. And it often builds a picture of my past-life that is inaccurate. My mind building within the blank spaces — an innate desire to smooth out the gauzy fabric of my mind, to create a foundation structured on a rich black timeline, to connect myself back together again.

And even as I reach back, to re-connect, to rediscover old connections that rationalized reality then, I am still anchored in this moment: My fingers touching the smooth plastic keys, my wrists resting on the edge of the computer, my mouth moving slightly with the words.

Even now, I am still connecting.

On dreams and reality.

15 Jan

I’ve always had a strange dream life. Nightmares mostly. Some might even call them “night terrors.” But even with the rare good dreams, came wild imaginings drawn across a mental plane that is only loosely attached to reality. Adventures with movie-like plots, where I began as a young and agile female character racing through darkened city streets on a mission of unmeasurable importance, to a wizened male character looking through a bright window at the peaceful countryside.

Once, during a dream where I was playing myself, I stood in the downstairs portion of my two-level apartment — the squared-off twisting staircase behind me, my large square mirror to my side — and looked around the room. “I’m dreaming,” I said, self-aware. So I woke up, walked downstairs, peeked in the mirror and realized with shock, “I’m dreaming.” So I woke up, walked downstairs, scanned the room and glanced at my reflection and thought, I’m still dreaming. Panic filled my sleep and I ran back upstairs to my bed to wake up.

So, I woke up and raced downstairs to see if I was awake. I leaned forward at the bottom of the staircase, my hand resting possessively on the little wooden crown at the end of the railing, and searched the room. My heart began to slow. I looked in the mirror. I breathed deeply. I must be awake now, I thought with comfort. I let go of the railing and turned to go back upstairs. A small gold and glass lamp twinkled halfway across the room to my left. I paused. Something wasn’t right. I don’t remember that lamp. And I certainly don’t remember it resting on the ceiling, with its white cord trailing along the popcorn crumbs as though gravity were reversed somewhere above my head — a mirror image. “I’m still dreaming!” I said, my mouth filling with a yell.

I sat up in bed, panting. My dog — a mini, grey and white thing that I allowed to sleep under the covers with me — snorted and moved away. I pinched my arm (seriously). I swallowed. I listened. And that’s when I knew I was finally awake.

The sound of reality is a layered and complex orchestra of noisemakers at varying distances, which dance with the tingling pressurized ring in my ears and the thoughts that are so subconscious I’m always nervous I’ve said them out-loud. My dreams, though sometimes filled with screams and explosions, are virtually soundless — save for one single tone, voice, focus. There is no complexity amidst the confusion and emotion. There are no layers that paint an invisible, textured canvas over the scene played out in front of me.

As I sat up, breathlessly deciding on reality, my dog settled in and began to snore immediately. A lone car pressed its tires against the paved country road just outside. The elderly wood and brick house resettled in the night around me. The wind tickled the loose glass in the window frames. And my heart — which was still steadily thumping — banged against the bones in my head and chest.

I’m awake, I thought, laying back down to sleep.

New.

3 Jan

The New Year whispered it’s chilly speech, leaving a crust of snow over everything outside my windows. I’d been telling people for weeks just how much I love snow, the cold, and basically anything to do with layering knitted garments before heading outdoors. But today, as I shivered under my shirts, sweater, coat, scarf, hat, gloves, I mumbled “It’s too cold,” my breath billowing out in a white fog in front of me before I closed my stinging eyes.

It’s strange how I long for the clear cold nights during the Ohio summer days that last into humid 9 p.m. sunsets over the Appalachian hills. It’s funny how I dream of stretching out in bare legs and arms, out behind my duplex apartment soaking up the sun, while I duck even deeper into my knobby knitted scarf. Apparently I am satisfied with every season for about 4 to 6 weeks at a time.

I’ve always been that way. I’m the straight-haired girl who wants curls. The East Coast born, who has Oregon plotted as her next move. The word-nerd who often just wants to drift off from the concrete ties of language and into an abstract world.

This quirk in my personality has brought me through more than 5 majors for my undergraduate degree. It’s drawn me to homes in more than a few states, house-hopping every year or two (or less). And I now have a scrolling photo album of my many hair transformations.

Another year has drifted by, another glossy page on my calendar turned, and it makes me think about the near future. I tried making resolutions once, years ago, and quickly realized that I only end up with guilt in July. But this year — 2014 — my thirty-third year of life on this earth, I do have one resolution. One that I know I won’t fail to maintain. One that won’t leave me with self-reproach:

I will embrace my need for adventure and change. I will celebrate the boredom — like a shoreline seen in the distance, my boat soon to discover. I will know that this often burdensome need will only create a life worth looking back at — a life filled with awe and effort, inspiring people and difficult challenges. A life that I would have sincerely lived. And I will feel satisfied at last with that.

I have a black thumb.

5 Oct

To get to the root of it, you have to dig. Which requires you to get down in the earth, on your hands and knees, back aching and fingernails ruined. Even more unpleasant if you weren’t planning on this level of gardening today.

People tell me I’m very self-aware. They tell me I really know who I am. And apparently that’s great. What they don’t know is that the root of me is still stuck in the ground. I’m still buried beneath the public relations filter that we all walk around with: Like me. Think I’m smart. Support my choices. They hear me talking honestly about my emotions or traumatic experiences and they think I’m so real.

The trouble starts when I begin to like that perception of me – and even to depend on it. I stop gardening. I stop digging.

Today I started to dig again. And I’m not very pleased with what I’m unearthing. It’s a little too honest to fit into my schedule right now. A little too messy – covered in dirt long undisturbed. But here I am. And here I choose to be, working in the garden, trying to cultivate a real life. I’m exhausted and aching, but I’ve managed to face it this time: the work of it.

I will be grieving the loss of parts of me, which I’ve found rotting just below the surface. And I will be extremely conscious of my black thumb, but I am determined to bear good fruit. Unfortunately, that requires some Saturday afternoons spent sweating just inches above the earth, being honest again. Digging into life again.

It starts by planting an awkward blog-seed into cyberspace.

Four miles down, one billion to go.

26 Aug

For the first time since major surgery, I ran four miles without stopping. This was a significant milestone for me {pun intended}.

I celebrate these small victories of health with mini-parties. If anyone is around, they receive the gift of my wide grin and an endless stream of words explaining to them the awesomeness of my run. If they’re lucky, there is also a vigorous high-five involved. But often, after these moments of effort and focus toward a specific goal, I am alone. Unlacing my shoes, stripping of my socks, walking with sweaty tip-toes across the cream-colored carpet, and still talking out loud a half-octave higher.

Running changed my body, my health. It changed my lingo (hello, farleks and PR). Eight years ago, it changed my perspective.

With these milestones I built a road. A smooth path to remember moments of strength and sweat and rhythmic determination. And miles. Miles and miles and miles. And every time I return from this road, I celebrate the miles I have left to go. Which suddenly seemed odd today, when I looked at how many rows were left in the database, how many to-do items were left on my list, how many months until I graduate. Too many, I thought.

Yet, after running another four miles last night, I considered how many miles I have left until I simply can’t run anymore.

Not enough, I said out loud. With a wide grin.

Docking in Illinois.

15 Aug

As children, we use friendships as boats. We sail along, exploring the world that crashes against our bow. Some days we are pirates — pillaging and lying and singing rowdy songs. Some days we are sailors together, our boats with sails a pristine white against soft blue skies. Our shipmates are our comrades of discovery. We are in this together. Until our boat hits an ice-burg in frigid waters. Or our ship runs out of ocean and we run aground.

Most friendships don’t last through childhood, teenhood, and into adulthood. The ocean ever-expanding as we age, and our boats shrinking in comparison.

Last weekend I drove to Illinois to visit a friend that built a boat with me when we were both twelve — barely old enough to realize how fragile these ships were. Within a year and a half she was gone and our friendship was tested with the distance between Virginia and Florida, and with the naïvety of the strength of a telephone cord wound around our hull.

We lost touch. We found each other. We got lost and found again. Years washed by. There were marriages and divorce, while illness threatened to toss each of us overboard and we hung on over the phone. Meanwhile, she had created three sweet girls that trail behind her like baby ducklings, as I wonder how I haven’t had children yet. Our twelve-year-old selves would not have predicted this outcome.

In Illinois, the middle point between our two homes, I sat drinking tea (which the children tried and declared was just “okay”) and nibbling on dark chocolate (which the children also tried, but decided was pretty much inedible, “like coffee”). I sat and watched and listened and wondered aloud, “How did you figure out all this Mom stuff?” The other half of this story, the half that belongs to the other captain of this boat, is filled with tragic details and heart-wrenching dilemmas that would have dismantled any person, much less any friendship. And yet, I sat there observing what I had only been hearing over the phone for years: She is amazing.

As a twelve-year-old I was shocked by her brazen disregard of social norms. She would plow, headlong, into any situation that she wanted to be a part of. While I, the timid one who didn’t question bedtime, covered my mouth with wide eyes and yelped.

As a thirty-something, I am amazed at her brazen disregard of social norms. She has defied the abusers in her life, the ignorers, the nay-sayers. She has a 3.95 GPA in pre-law and economics. She will be a lawyer.

I have a picture of our bright, preteen faces. One of those thumbnail-sized images captured in a mall photo booth. We’re grinning, squeezed into the frame. The picture brings back memories of silver hoop earrings and seeing how high we can build a ponytail on the top of our head. It brings back tearful conversations about very adult concepts. It brings back a handful of lyrics from a Toni Braxton song. It reconnects me to the rickety frame of a ship, built by two brokenhearted little girls who had no tools between the two of them. All they had was love and complete acceptance. The pockets of their baggy jeans filled with mistaken ideas of what love should be, yet somehow offering each other love unconditional. Vowing to not abandon ship, even if it meant risking tender hearts dashed against the rocks.

I showed the picture to her three girls and they giggled. Her oldest is now on the cusp of twelve. They listened as we laughed and tried to explain the beginnings of us. “Who is that?” one pointed to my tiny face in her hand. “That’s me,” I smiled, looking at each of the faces that I hadn’t met before, seeing small pieces of a face I’ve known for more than half my life. A face I’ve only seen once in the last eighteen years.

They looked back at the picture and giggled again. They all recognized their mother.

So did I.

Life as circus art.

29 Jul

I wake up, get ready, pack my lunch bag, pack my work bag, (don’t forget the textbooks), grab my medical bag, bring a scarf and jacket for layers, good shoes for walking, the check to deposit, the grocery list I started, turn on the dishwasher on the way out, take out the pork loin for dinner later, remember to call that person at 10 a.m., text the other person about the appointment later, guzzle caffeine and then water and then caffeine. Is it 8 a.m. yet?

——–

“Plate spinning is a circus manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls  and other flat objects on poles, without them falling of,” quips Wikipedia.

Sounds like my life (emphasis on the without them falling off  bit). Somehow, while managing my schedule, dietary requirements, close relationships, and autoimmune issues, life becomes some kind of circus art.

Ten years ago, a doctor sat on a hard chair across from me — his white lapel parallel with my knees — and struggled with the decision to declare me legally disabled. I was so young, he said. But he had no answers, he said. I could barely work part-time and spent the rest of my days soaking into the couch in front of the television. Stairs had to be planned for in advance and food was my only enjoyment.

I used to sulk in the monotony of unplanned days — days I couldn’t plan, or wouldn’t plan, because of the likelihood that I would just end up in pain on the couch. I used to weigh the option of effort for hours before making any attempt. Is it worth it to do this, I’d ask myself during commercials. Will things ever change, I wondered at midnight, noon, and all the hours in-between.

My body required so much to be healthy and I spent years balancing plates, giving them a tentative spin, and watching them fling to the ground with surprising force. I practiced and gave up, practiced again and gave in to the couch that had comforted me for years. Every so often, though, I would get a plate or two whirling and enjoy the feeling. I was discovering that this art required training and effort, sacrifice and acceptance.

Now, I busily spin my plates and discover some kind of dizzying art when I manage to keep them from falling all around me. I’ve learned that the circus, which had intimidated me in my inexperience, is simply: Life. In all its wild, flailing forms. In its ups and downs. In all its speed and fragility. Plates spinning.

Thunderclaps on sticky afternoons.

10 Jul

It has stormed here for most of the summer. Loud storms rolled over us with a thick grey blanket of clouds. A shaken aspirin bottle with the cotton still capping the pills. My after-work naps interrupted by a flash illuminating the shadowed living room, and a simultaneous outburst from the mouth of the storm. Wake Up! it crashes against the house.

In between the sudden drenching, the heat shoulders back into the day. One minute I’m stooped against the onslaught walking across the street, tucked underneath my polka dot umbrella. The next minute, the sun crackles heat along my moist hairline.

 

Fog for the river mornings.

Slick and tacky thighs and back.

Weary evenings with moist patio chairs.

No need to water the outside plants for a week now.

The air conditioner ruining the environment, more so than normal.

I haven’t seen the two neighborhood cats for days and days.

 

While at work, I will hear the sudden downpour pattering the roof three floors up. I go stand under the awning  – a smoke break without the smokes. I watch the puddles gather themselves along the dips and ruts of the parking lot, and I nod at co-workers standing along the length of the view. We are birds arranged on a power line. Tittering to each other hear and there, readjusting our wings, nodding our heads, and generally admiring the view. Until the rain stops as abruptly as it began, and again we all wonder aloud how unusual, before we fly back into our little nests.

On the rainy weekends, I crack the windows while in the car and curl my fingers over the edge. I open the kitchen door and stand with a cup of tea watching the wet assalt on the already waterlogged lawn. My bike seat is covered in droplets like a black duck. There are small dirty pools in the recycling bin. Boys ride their bikes through the street during rain-breaks — a stripe of mud along their spine as they hover over seats. Girls are conversational around flooded storm drains, their colorful rainboot-toes pushing the water around politely.

Right now the sky is bright and young, summer is still new. After a slow rainy morning, it covers itself in cloud puffs organized in a grid. But they are moving fast, hurried along by a high mother-wind like kindergardeners on a field trip. A pale sky blinks blankly as they all pass. The horizon is murky and uncertain, while streets are still brown-flooded from the days of rain.

It seems, like me, the sky has no set plans for the evening.

Dinner on the porch.

24 Jun

We sat with old friends. The aroma of the hot meal mixed with the scents from the surrounding countryside. Honeysuckle and tilled earth. White fish, hot and flaking, on a bed of sautéed kale. White wine and pineapple.

Our conversation drifted throughout the last couple of years, as we played catch-up with news of life from different countries. It was good to sit back and listen. Good to hear familiar voices that remind me of songs and white elephant Christmas parties. I breathed in the fresh twilight and smiled as they all laughed around the square table.

We hiked along a wide-cut trail through the hillside, stopping now and then to smell the fresh-bloomed trees. Still talking. Still laughing. Until the dusk settled like dust in between the blades of tall grasses, where an abundance of ticks slowly crawled. Until the fireflies came out and spoke their bright, spotted language on the horizon line.

Some springs are a tame lion, purring with a depth unheard by the ear, but only felt in the vibrating marrow of our bones. Some springs offer calmness and solitude, some offer reconnection and renewal. Some simply bloom the landscape around you, if you choose to see it.

I’m glad we moved the dinner table, room enough for four set of elbows, out to the crumbling cement porch. I’m glad we talked easily, and later walked easily, as the end of the day came in closer — its darkness brightening our moods with the textured sounds of swaying grass and wandering insects.

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