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Archive for January, 2012

Location, Location

From the front porch of my new apartment, I can see the Lutheran church where I attended preschool.  My memories of this place are spotty and are more likely than not tied to pictures that I have seen and stories that I have heard.  To the right of my new apartment is the empty lot that once housed the elementary school where I attended my Talented and Gifted programs.  I remember reading (grudgingly) the Chronicles of Narnia, building bridges out of popsicle sticks and, most vividly, playing Four Square on the cement playground.

                If I crane my neck far enough, I can see my high school.  I see the different classrooms where I strived to make the grade and worried about if I was pretty enough.  I see the spots where my group occupied our lunch breaks, full of smiles and pizza from trucks and thoughts of grandeur.

The irony is not lost on me that so many reminders of my childhood are present in this location where I have vowed to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. 

                And while I strive to ‘live in the now’ and not dwell in the past, I think that there’s a certain amount of reflecting backwards that one must do to take a big step forwards.  What are the lessons learned from your youth that allow you to become the adult you are today?  What are the good memories that you hold close to your chest that bring you comfort in the worst of times?  What childhood dreams or fears do you still need to conquer?

                So at night, when I let my dog out before bed, I look over at the church and take a deep breath.  The building is bathed in a yellow glow and stands out like the beacon of a lighthouse from a block away.  I look at it and think about how far I’ve come.  I think about that laughing little girl that I’ve seen in pictures and I know that she still lives with joy.  For that I can be proud. 

I must count my years in terms of smiles and know that at some point, I can look at this little apartment and see it as part of a bigger story.  Nestled amongst statues of my childhood, it is still a place of growth, still a place of playfulness and learning.

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Running in the Rain

I woke up wondering what I was going to write about today.  My thoughts spun, as they sometimes tend to do, down a spiral.  I thought that maybe I should just give up this blog thing.  Because how was I going to come up with something day after day after day.

                Luckily, I know what to do when I’m feeling like that.  I go for a run.  It’s always been the surefire way for me to clear the cobwebs.  When I return from a run, breathing hard and sweat sealing the clothes to my body, I feel like I’ve gained insight over the miles.  It’s like magic—though I haven’t necessarily focused on the issue that was plaguing me when I left the door, I feel better about it when I return.

                Today is a strange winter day.  After a few days of cold and snow, the temperature has jumped up and the dark clouds in the sky now speak of rain.  The wind is so strong that it’s redistributing neighbors’ trash cans, blowing them across streets and alleys.  After running for about a block, I started to talk myself out of any kind of distance, thinking maybe I’d just run a mile and return home.

                But instead I kept going, knowing I’d feel better if I did.  At one point, in a display of nature’s playfulness, the sun came out at the same time that the rain started pouring down.  I finished a loop through some neighborhoods and came back to the park and glanced at my left at the menacing hill that climbed by the tennis courts, up to the back of the park.  I really didn’t want to run hills but for the same reason that I decided to run more than just a mile, I turned to my left and took a deep breath.

 Running is full of analogies about life—putting one foot in front of the other, keeping a steady pace so you won’t burn out too quick, etc.  But my favorite analogy comes from a book called “The Other Shulman.”  Shulman is a slightly overweight middle aged man training for his first marathon and his coach is a man named Jeffrey.

                Jeffrey says this about hills to Shulman:  “They break up the monotony of the flat.  But like any other challenge, you have to accept and learn to live with them.  And then they’ll make you stronger.”

                And so this is why today I head up that hill though everything in my body screams against doing so.  I do it to remind myself that challenges are meant to be overcome and that writing this blog, like running in the rain, isn’t an easy thing to do, yet I will do it anyway.  Because I’m trying to learn to love the hills.

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Today many of you may find yourself with a day off from work, for a holiday that should remind us of freedom and a great man who fought so hard for it.  Today is also the birthday of a dear friend of mine who passed away when we were just sixteen years old.  He reminds me of youth and strength and the fact that our lives are not to be taken lightly.  Today, he would be 34. 

It’s been a long time but every year on this day, I can’t help but to wonder what he would be doing if he were still alive; I also take moments throughout the day to reflect on my life a little, to be thankful for what I have had the chance to experience.

So it seems to be a good day to talk about gratitude lists.  Have you ever done one?  I have friends that keep notepads by their bed and start the day with a list of things that they are grateful for, big and small.  In the act of doing this, I suppose you are laying claim to your day, for whatever bad things may cross your path for the rest of your waking hours, you still have this list to hang on to, letting you know that there are still some things that are very right with your world.

They can be small things, such as:

                I am grateful for the coffeemaker’s beep that lets me know my caffeine is ready.

                I am grateful for the hot shower that wakes and warms me up this morning.

                I am grateful for a day off so that my Monday doesn’t actually occur until Tuesday.

They can be big things, but ones that you may take for granted:

                I am grateful that I have a house/bed/big screen TV.

                I am grateful to live in a country where I am allowed to speak my mind freely.

                I am grateful that I have people who love me and care about my well being.

They can be things that may not mean much to other people but mean the world to you:

                I am grateful to people who write great novels that allow me to escape for an hour every night before my head hits the pillow.

                I am grateful for people who understand what hard work waitressing is and who leave me fairly generous tips.

                I am grateful that I can run for three miles because it is only at this point that I can reach my runner’s high.

                And while I sit here at my computer, puzzling a little bit over what to say, knowing that it could all come out a bit cliché, I feel a little bit better.  Because amongst the whirl that is this day and this life and this person, there is so much to be grateful for.  Sometimes all is takes is telling someone else, even if it is the little piece of paper that sits beside your bed, just waiting for your words.

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In the winter of 2003, I tucked my master’s degree in Marine Science under my arm and moved to the land-locked state of Colorado.  I moved to Aspen, where I vowed up and down to find a way to use my degree.  Yet, I lived in a place where no one did what they actually studied in college.  The bartender had gotten tired of Wall Street, the ski instructor was paying off his medical school bills, and the guy driving the cab had enough of practicing law.  So after seven years of studying to be a marine biologist, I took a job at a ski shop.

                Everyone wondered what the hell I was doing.  Myself included.  My mom sent me a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?”  Are you familiar with it?  I wish I could tell you in more detail what the book was about.  However, after years of moving it from bookshelf to bookshelf, and only opening it occasionally to thumb through the pages, I got rid of the book.

                The gist of the book was to provide a guideline in which a person could determine the perfect career for themselves—the thing that would bring them never-ending joy in the workplace—and then steps on how to procure that career.  The one time I had actually started reading the book was years later and, as technology moved at warp speed, the suggestions in the book no longer made sense.  Facebook hadn’t even been invented when the book was published….or the smartphone. 

So I took the Parachute book to the thrift store.  I wonder who picked up that book, thinking “I want to know what color my parachute is!”

Flash forward to a few months ago.  I was explaining to a friend why I was leaving Colorado for the winter.  I told him (in an e-mail) “I hope to come back from my winter in West Virginia with a better idea of what will spark my interest and bring me joy.”  I then told him about the book that my mom got me, concluding the e-mail with “I guess I’m just trying to figure out what color my parachute is.”

This friend happened to be in the same boat.  He was getting ready to leave Aspen for Hawaii (now, that would be a smarter place to go to avoid a winter of snow) and after ten years or so in the valley, didn’t know if he would return. 

He said to me “I too would like to figure out what color my parachute is.  Maybe that’s why so many people don’t know what color their parachute is; we’re too busy looking at the onrushing ground to look up at the thing that, if properly attended to, will break our fall.”

So here’s to looking up, to finding flashes of color and pattern in the air above me. 

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Back to the Beginning

I lived the first half of my life in Huntington, West Virginia.  A large part of those years were the angsty teenage years.  So I can’t really be too surprised that when the time came, I ran away with all that I had. 

                In the years since, I have returned only for short visits, and then gone back to a place far away…and then even further away.  I had good friends in Huntington, and parents that I loved very much.  And I never faulted any of them for choosing to stay there.  But I knew it couldn’t possibly be for me.

                You see, there was this train whistle that I always heard from my childhood room.  There were times, during high school, when I would hear that whistle and literally feel like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.  It seemed to be telling me that everything was going to be OK because I could leave; there was more out there for me.  I never really thought about where ‘out there’ was but I was comforted nonetheless. 

                And then, this past July, I returned to West Virginia from Colorado.   This visit was different.  I wasn’t a child returning home to my parents; I was an adult with responsibility.  My mom was in the hospital and my dad and I were taking shifts staying in the room with her.  So that meant that each evening I would return home to an empty house, the one that I had lived in since the time I was two years old, the one that never knew much silence in the memories that I had.

                Those nights I listened for the train whistle but heard nothing.  And I was relieved because this time, I didn’t know which way I would want it to take me.  For the first time, I was seeing my hometown as an adult rather than a restless child.  I was seeing it through the eyes of someone who had seen a lot of the world and could finally recognize that this town had provided a gentle cradle for my youth and a strong mold for my adolescence. 

                I cried when I was in the Huntington airport that July, not worrying about the strangers that surrounded me who saw my tears as they called for my departure.  Every time the sliding glass entry door opened, I caught a whiff of the rolling green hills trapped in the humid air and realized I still thought that there was something else “out there”.   And I’d spent years looking for it, drifting to places far away, calling them all ‘home’ at some point.

                But that July I started to wonder if I was searching for the wrong thing.  I began thinking that I needed to start with what was “in here” rather than “out there”.  And the best place to start was right back at the beginning, at the place that I first called home….the place that would always be.

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Starting Now

I’ve been waiting to start this blog.  I’ve been waiting until I had moved to West Virginia, and then until I knew more about blogs, and then until I got my internet up and running, and then until after the New Year because it would be too cliché to start on the first of January.  And then and then and then and then. 

                I know what I’m doing; because I’ve done it most of my life.  I’m putting off happiness until some future date when everything around me is perfect.  In high school it looked like this—“I am going to stop liking so-and-so because he’s a jerk and makes me feel bad about myself.  But I will wait until next week after the football game.”  Never mind that in doing this I was completely giving the time between ‘now’ and ‘after the football game’ over to misery.  And I was being OK with that…because I was starting later.

                Ah, but it’s so easy to look back at that high school girl and shake my head at her for being so silly—however, the pattern still remains.  I no longer have adolescent boys or football games but I have this blog I want to start…and this journey of self discovery…and happiness.  And I keep putting them on a back burner.   

                When I think about why I do this, some ugly words come to mind.  I have fear about what starting could mean for my life.    It’s too easy to keep going along with the present state of things, even if they aren’t necessarily working for me.  It’s scary to start something new because I have no idea what something new will look like.  And even harder to admit…there’s probably some part of me who thinks I am unworthy of this something new.  Who am I to want more than what I have?

                And so I will start this blog, on a regular Wednesday when I still don’t feel like I know enough; even when I’m scared to press the “publish” button that will put all of these words out there to be seen.  Because this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. 

And so I’m starting…now.

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