Saturday, August 3, 2019

Tradition. It's a word I sometimes shy away from--perhaps because there are some connotations with that word that I don't like. I'm a wee bit worried that, if I say I enjoy the concept of traditions, the next thing I know, people will think I'm a conservative James Dobson follower, grumbling about gender fluidity, and planning an annual fox hunt with my fellow friends who "focus on the family".

Well, I'm not a conservative, not anymore, not by any stretch. And I guess I suppose that traditions and progressive life styles are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There are lots of traditions I enjoy--harmless ones, I hope, and usually ones that my family and friends and I have cooked up. Late Night Margarita Party with my sisters on Thanksgiving Night, for example. Visiting my friends in Indy right before Christmas and making rumballs and watching Hallmark Christmas movies, at least somewhat ironically. Busting open our fortune cookies all at one time, then taking turns reading our fortunes and adding on, "in bed." Greeting my cats with a cheerful curse the moment I come home.

One more...uh...traditional tradition that I absolutely love: Sunday dinner with the family. For several years when I was growing up, my grandparents and I were good church-goin' folks, and from time to time, after church, we'd have a lovely lunch/early dinner. It just seems like a good thing to do with your family on Sundays, whether or not you go to church or not.

As an adult--and one who lives rather far from most of her still-living family--I don't have an opportunity to do this very often. So, sometimes (although not as often as I would like, alas) I manage to wrangle an invitation to come have a Sunday dinner with my uncle and aunt. It's always a lovely little event, because my aunt and uncle are lovely, warm people, and seeing them, catching up with them, is such a pleasure.

So this last Sunday, after a long day in the library mines, I took myself over to their home to indulge in this lovely tradition. And every moment of it was lovely--even the drive is a bit special, for they live 'way out in the country, and I have to journey past prosperous little farms, around lonely old graveyards, and through the woods (alas, no river) to reach their home, at the end of a long, winding, sun-dappled road.

Before I headed into the house, I paused to admire the many butterflies flitting about. Not for the first time, I promised myself that one day, I'd hunker down and learn more about the flora and fauna and insects of the region.

Then, into the house to see Darling Uncle (Duncle) and Aunt Jo. We hugged. We talked. We caught up, caught up on local gossip. We ate dinner--quiche, salad, green beans and potatoes; much of the meal came from Jo's garden. We sat on the sun porch and watched the evening wildlife go by. At one point, a buck with magnificent antlers meandered through the backyard, on his way to somewhere else--probably to get shot by one of the neighbors who like to hunt. Eventually, we walked out into the yard, and my aunt showed me her produce and recounted the trials of the current growing season (this year, voles appear to be the scourge of the neighborhood.) My aunt, an extraordinarily kind woman, spent a considerable amount of time urging me to bring fresh basil, tomatoes, and cucumbers home with me.

Eventually we headed back inside to the sunporch and continued talking until the long summer twilight had almost drawn to a close and almost the only illumination came from the fireflies starting to light up with their gentle, ephemeral twinkles. It was time to head back into town, and so, reluctantly, I bade my family goodnight.

It's silly. We live in the same town, and I don't see Duncle and Jo nearly enough. But still--seeing them once a month, or even every two months, is far better than once a year, when I lived in California. There, I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy these Sunday dinner traditions with my family very often. I still don't have the opportunity, often enough--but who knows? Maybe I'm more likely to value this tradition when it occurs less frequently. Too many times in my life, I have taken things for granted. And this Sunday family dinner tradition is something that I never intend to squander again.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Dreamtime with the Indy Grrl: Where Freedom Lies

"Her freedom is her chains."

This morning I awoke, as reluctantly as usual, but with a more unusual sense of disorientation. I had been dreaming, intensely, right before I awoke, and my dream was populated with very real people, very relevant situations, very intense emotions. And someone said something about someone else right at the end of the dream, and it lingered far more than any of the complicated emotions that cluttered my mind. "Her freedom is her chains."

Even as I shook off the last of my sleep and started to face the day, I knew two things: one, that this sentence was, although technically sound, also grammatically awkward; and two, that they hadn't been talking about someone else, not really. 

They had been talking about me. 

The momentum of the day and its usual concerns carried me forward--answering emails, planning a training session, dousing potential dumpster fires, attending meetings, trying not to look vaguely insane--and really, working on a future schedule was enough to knock the lingering grip of the dream from my overtaxed brain. But tonight, at home, as I sat on the deck, enjoying the summer evening and knitting with my cats and my wine and Welcome to Night Vale, I found myself going down an unexpected road in my mind. 

Ten years ago, right around this time, I was falling in love with my future husband (now "was-band") and starting to dig in for what I thought would be a marriage and a life in the deserts of Southern California. I was harnessing myself to that wagon, committing myself to the vision of a life as a wife and partner and stepmother and stunted librarian and fish out of water. I gave it my best at the time, but my best wasn't very good, nor was it very long-lasting. But I was chained to my life, my partner, my work, my commitments, my vision of what things should be like, and I was bound to my reluctance to reveal myself as a failure.  I became not particularly happy, but at no point did I pause to think that maybe in remaining in my prison, in choosing to hold on to that unhappiness, I was making those around me unhappy as well. 

Four years ago, right around this time, I was breaking free from that self-constructed prison. Emancipation wasn't quick or clean or easy, but at no point did I deviate from the end goal of divorce and returning to my roots. So many times--especially on relentlessly hot, sunny, lonely Sunday afternoons--my hopes faltered, and I would entertain fears that I would never escape, would never be free.

And then, the freedom came. A new job, a cross-country move, a divorce, a "room of my own", another new job that stretched and challenged me in new, exciting ways. I'm definitely free now; my time is my own; I choose my own company (and perhaps, more than I should, choose no company.) I grow older, possibly more of a loner. Definitely more independent, less eager to surround myself with people or plans that aren't to my liking. 

In short, I am reveling in my freedom. And this morning, I awoke to a strange echo of a fear that I didn't know existed, and who knows? Maybe it was just a dream. I becoming too free? Too entrenched in my own life and preferences, and therefore limited by it?

Imprisoned by it? Chained to it?

Or maybe whatever path we choose in this life is a prison. Even freedom. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Mid-March Meanderings

There it is.

Every year, sometime in March or April, I have a moment when I feel it--the return of spring. I felt it the day before yesterday, walking back to the library during lunch. It was almost sunny, almost not chilly, and a slight breeze was blowing through the not-yet-budding trees.

We just sprung forward, this last Sunday, so the sun (when we see it) lingers into the evening later. Daffodil shoots are thrusting from the cold, brown ground. Birds are starting to pep up and sing more. And of course, with the slightly-warmer weather, come the tornie warnies; we spent a fair bit of yesterday afternoon at the library taking shelter as a strong storm and possible tornado moved through the county. So, winter has almost relinquished its hold. And as much as I dread the upcoming summer--hey, at least it's not summer in California. I actually had a dream the other night that I lived in California; that the summer was coming; that months and months of brutal sunshine and unrelenting heat were approaching. I was so sad. Suffocated. Trapped.

That time in my life, thank god, is done. I'm coming up on my third year Back Home Again; the exciting novelty of the first year has of course worn away--much like it happens in a relationship after the honeymoon period. But what remains is ideally what happens when the honeymoon is over; the love I have for my home has deepened, hopefully matured. I think I know my home's beauties and flaws, but just like in a relationship, I hope that I will continue discovering more. And like what should happen in a relationship, I shouldn't take my home for granted. Shouldn't ignore it.

(Funny that I seem to know how a good, long-term relationship should work, yet I've managed to sustain...well, none of them. 😂😂😂)

Whatever. The spring is almost upon us, and now it's time to shake off the winter doldrums, put away the heavy sweaters, and plan a few adventures and road trips and maybe just some jaunts around time. Here are a few of the places I'd like to venture forth to in the next couple of months:

Jordan Greenhouse, on campus (although, to be fair, it probably would have been a great place to visit during the worst of the winter months).

Southeast Park: For three years, I've been driving past this little park. From the road, it's a pretty space, with a little stream burbling through. Why haven't I made the time to go there? This spring, I'm going to make sure this happens.

Le Petit Cafe: In my defense, this place is not the easiest place to visit. The hours are funky. But there's a lunch buffet sometimes (a buffet of French food? Um, yes.) And the restaurant scene in Bloomington is a bit of a tricky scene--places come and go--so I need to move fast on this.)

Spring and summer are great times to venture forth and see new places and do new things. Anything you're planning on for the coming warm months?

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Fuck Off, February!

The subject says it all, yes? Fuck off, February!

Maybe it was the winter doldrums, finally getting to me and depleting my energy, motivation, and productivity. Maybe it was the health scare (my doctor found a lump, I had to get my first mammogram, I imagined I was going to die, and thankfully it turned out to be nothing). Maybe it was the work stress, occurring simultaneously. Who knows? What is a certainty is that February was a nasty little month. The best part about this last month (other than the fact that I am not likely to die in the immediate future) was that, hey, at least it was a short month.

Now, on to March. It goes in like a lion and out like a lamb, or something; this just means that the meteorologists have an excuse to fall back on whether there is a blizzard, tornado, or heat wave. We will spring forward, which I absolutely hate, and spring starts, which I kind of want to happen, at least for a minute or two. We're already a day into March, and at least for me, it hasn't been as shitty as February. It's still cloudy and cold, and there's snow in the forecast for tomorrow, but the daffodil bulbs are starting to thrust out of the never-dead earth. I'm hoping for a renewal of my normal energetic, bustling, cheerful self, and I am ready for a new month. What about you? Was yours a good February, or was it rather thorough in its shittiness? And what do you have planned for the month ahead?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Let's Review! January

Well and so! We've finished January, the first chapter of 2019. We've had a month with our plans and goals and resolutions, whatever you want to call 'em; a month to set our intentions and buy the various equipment we thought we need to support us; a month to spend a few days leaning into those goals and a lot more days resenting them. Some of us set ourselves up with the "one word" idea--one word to encapsulate how we want to conduct our lives in the year to come. I don't fall in with this notion, myself--limit myself to one word? Poppycock! Like that will ever happen--But I have kind of fallen into line with the concept, "Be proactive."

I suppose it's similar to what a lot of people say about "Intentional" being their word. What it boils down to is this: I'm turning 39 this year. If I'm lucky, my life is only about half over. But there's a lot left I want to do with my remaining time left--a lot I want to do, see, read, experience, watch, learn. I know I need to be deliberate, strategic, and intentional with all of these things that I want to put into motion; I know I need to be proactive in bringing these goals and dreams about. Some of them are simple (build up more self-care habits), some of them are bigger (go to Australia this year), some of them are seemingly insurmountable (get around to losing that 60 pounds), some of them are simply pleasant but profoundly important (invest more time in my family and friends, read so many of the books that are piling up on my nightstand, work on my scrapbooks and memory keeping), but I suppose they all boil down to how I can proactively live my best life.

So! How did I fare in the first chapter of 2019?

Let's look at the good, for a moment:

Australia-For a while now, my friend, North Star, and I have been talking about going to the Great Barrier Reef. Part of the reason why I worked so many jobs last fall was so that I could put away money for this to happen. And then, in January, we came across round-trip tickets to Cairns for less than $800 per person, so...we bought them. We're going to the Great Barrier Reef this November! We've already booked most of our accommodations, as well, and I've sent in my passport application.

Spending More Time with My Family and Friends: The drawback to the whole working-three-jobs thing is pretty apparent, I should think: I wasn't able to spend as much time with my people as I would have liked. So, in 2019, I'm trying to be more proactive in planning things and spending time with my favorite people: Skype dates with my sisters far away, letters to my college pen pal, after work drinks with one of my work comrades, regular meetup events, Taco Tuesdays, and so on. It drives a couple of my more spontaneous friends a little barmy, dealing with me and my plann-y ways, and I think I maybe need to try to be a bit more spontaneous myself, but I supposed, just start where I'm at.

Build Up More Self Care Habits: Okay, brace yourselves for something that is really, truly sad. I never wake up on time. I never drink enough water. I usually skip breakfast. I make lists and promptly lose them. I come home and play Angry Birds or re-read a book I've read 10 times before rather than read something new, or exercise. These are not the best ways to live another 39 years on this earth, and I'm well aware of that, so I have been deliberately trying to build up better habits. In January, I drank a lot of water and ate breakfast about half the month, so steps, right?

You know what? Let's not ponder the bad or the ugly. I made some tiny steps in my goals, and while I don't think I moved forward a lot, I don't think I lost any ground, either. So...small victories, yes?

What were your victories, big and small, in January?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Blue Monday

There's this fantastic reference book that I quite love--it's called Chase's Calendar of Events. Essentially, it's a catalog of every day of the year, and anything and everything, remotely important (and otherwise) associated with that day. Birthdays of famous people (death anniversaries, too), lunar events, historical events, national holidays, (inter)national whatever months and weeks and days, inconsequential things (think National Cheese Lover's Day--no, wait, that's actually very important.) I love perusing this reference book, because overall, while I usually rather enjoy this life, I'm always looking for silly, fun ways to jazz up my daily existence.

Recently, when idly flipping through Chase's, I came across a rather intriguing date:

January 21: Blue Monday.

Apparently, it's the saddest day of the year, based on some math-y equation that factors in variables such as weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, days since Christmas and New Year's (and the corresponding resolutions that are probably faltering, blah blah blah). Basically, on that particular Monday, we are assumed to be disillusioned, in debt, and stuck in the doldrums of winter, and therefore, at our saddest. Stuff and nonsense! I say. I mean, if you want to be blue and miserable, that's totally your prerogative, and your feelings are valid, etc. etc. But as for me--the doldrums of winter are almost my very favorite time of year! What's not to love? While we had a little bit of cold sunshine during the day, by the time I left work, it was below freezing, and the heavy, gloomy clouds had regrouped and crowded in. Home beckoned, warm and cozy, and I was happy to get there and curl up in my armchair and listen to the wind moan.

We had some snow last weekend, and when I left for work on Monday morning, there was still plenty of snow, all around. It didn't trouble me a jot, stuffed into my heated car as I was, and of course, I rather loved looking at the snowscape and the cloudy skies and relished how safe and cozy I felt. But it made me pause and ponder: the ability to enjoy winter is, in and of itself, a privilege and a luxury. I need not worry about a lack of food, or being exposed to the cold. I have the resources to acquire more sustenance, and the concept of a poor harvest isn't something that troubles me. I have shelter and warmth, and am never exposed to the elements for a prolonged period of time in my travels. Briefly, I tried to imagine my ancestors in Indiana, back in the 1820s and 30s and 40s--there were no roads, really, and the only modes of transportation they had to get about wouldn't have kept them warm. There weren't necessarily reliable sources of food, beyond what they themselves could provide. I've no doubt that my great-great-great-grandparents did not look on these snowscapes with pleasure.

I also have no doubt that my great-great-great-grandparents knew what a Blue Monday in January really was.

Monday, December 10, 2018

And Now, December

Now, December. It's a morning with a lowering grey sky, a morning with just enough chill to allow my breath to linger in a little puff. As a child in Florida, walking with my sisters to our school bus stop, I would huff away continuously, delighted by that rare (for Florida) reminder of cold weather. I'd be lying if I said I didn't prounce and puff about in these chilly mornings, even now, as I push into middle age. I've still not acclimated to the delight and gratitude that surge through me whenever I realize that I'm here, home, and able to experience the progression of life, happening in cycle with the season.

Fourteen years ago, around this time I hopped on the bus and rode it into campus for my last classes of my first semester of grad school. Then, I was 24--so young, although silly me, I didn't feel like it at the time. So certain about so much. That certainty is one of the things that dies with youth, I think--thank goodness. I knew I was loved and that I had a life partner who would stick by my side through thick and thin; I knew I was surrounded by fun, young, smart people, each of us enduring a similar grad school experience. I knew that there was so much still ahead of me, if only I could survive grad school.

And then this morning, I hopped on the bus and rode it into campus for my last class of the semester. Perhaps because it's cold and early, perhaps because we have become a population absorbed with our phones, the crowd on the bus was silent, each rider wrapped up in their own thoughts and world. Normally I'd be happy to immerse myself into social media, but this morning, I gazed out the window at the bare trees, the students and faculty hustling about, the grey limestone of the university buildings, the endless rhythms of academia expanding and contracting. I'm no longer 24 or even particularly young; the partner and friends I had have all moved on, although we are all, more or less, in touch. Graduations, jobs and careers, cross-country moves, marriages, divorces, even death have been our lot. Climate change, hope and change, recession and recovery, making America great again which made it worse again. It's like a Billy Joel song, without the music.

I'm older but not wiser, sadder, yet strangely, happier. Certainly more content. Hopefully able to keep things in perspective, to know when to fight, when to give something up as a bad show, when to stop when I'm ahead. Hopefully able to appreciate this fleeting life and its countless privileges, and hopefully able to embrace opportunities and adventures.

Today is the last class of the semester. Somehow, I survived (I mean, really, there was no somehow about it; it's not like I was actually going to not make it through)--at the expense of my social life, perhaps, but I'm enough of a natural hermit to put that shit on hold for a while. But three jobs simply require too much of my mental resources; it's difficult to devote all of my mental energy to one particular job at a time, to say nothing of the other facets of my life. It's not fair to anyone, so at the end of this semester, I'm indefinitely giving up teaching. I'm no longer in the first flush of youth, but I ain't old, either, and it doesn't make sense to me to keep plugging away, working so much, when there are places to go, people to meet, things to create, lessons to learn, winters to wallow in.

Now, December, for a moment.  But not forever.