And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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A Catch-Up and a Blissful Week of the Mundane

It’s been a while. I feel like before I write about anything I should update about my dad. After the surgery I was so drained that I didn’t feel like writing. But the good news is, everything went well! It was a long surgery. Grandma and I were there waiting for maybe six hours before we heard anything, and Grandma grew increasingly nervous. “I have a bad feeling. It shouldn’t take this long.” “It look a long time last surgery,” I pointed out. “Not this long.”

But Dad is okay! Our badass Norwegian neurosurgeon, whose first name is Thorer (I know. I. KNOW.) said everything went really well. Both tumors came out, and when we finally came in to talk to Dad, he was sensical and cognizant and all there. It’s hard to explain the relief that comes with knowing that the bad stuff got removed from the brain and yet the good stuff is still there. I so often wonder about the holes. They must fill in eventually…but it’s odd to think of our grey matter as rearranging around foreign objects, then getting used to their absence. 

My dad’s mind was all there immediately, which was a relief, but his body is a taking a bit longer to recover, especially his left leg. He is out of the hospital now and able to walk with a walker. Recovery is slow, so we postponed our Scotland trip to 2014 which is a relief and so sensical. Dad needs this time to heal and, as it turned out, I need this time to sink into summer life with my new housemate Pumpkin. 

Pumpkin is my friend’s older sister, and even though I’ve spent far less time with her, we clicked instantly because I already knew her sister and that bloodline and I get along, apparently. She is in love, she smokes on the porch, and she reminds me why having the a great roommmate makes the mundane so awesome.

This week I worked every night from 3 pm-10:30 or so. And every night I get to come home, sit out on the porch and drink wine or whiskey, play my ukulele, watch Pumpkin’s cigarette smoke billow outside the halo of our porch light, and share our thoughts from the day.

It’s more than just this great time with Pumpkin, though. I have finally, finally come to a point where I am able to be happy with what I have and abide in whatever I’m doing, fully and joyfully. I’ve stopped wanting things to be different. Every moment is a good moment. It’s the complete opposite of when I was depressed, when even the good days were bad. Now it’s the opposite. Last weekend I went on a short camping trip out on a nearby lake with a few friends. I was so stoked to go, and while it was a great time, I wasn’t any happier than I was working at the bakery. This wasn’t to say that I was unhappy. I just attained a steady happiness that doesn’t seem to waver whether I’m having an awesome experience or a “mundane” one.

I think three-months-in-the-past me would’ve been shocked that one of my happiest weeks was this week, where nothing particularly amazing happened. I went to work at the bakery, enjoyed my time there, singing along to music when there was nobody else there, or getting to know my coworkers better. Bonding with the muffin batter, finding satisfaction in mopping the floor. Admiring the oven burn on my arm, that red stripe stinging in pain. And then coming home and laughing myself silly with my housemate. I realized, finally, that I’ve been wanting all these experiences that wouldn’t make me any happier. I have it all right now. The age of 23 is one big lesson in experiencing the present. I dance from paycheck to paycheck. Pumpkin and I paint our bodies and wash our warrior designs and smeary swirls off in the shower. We line up our empty wine bottles by the trash can and wonder what else we can scrounge to eat from the freezer. I feed my rats and let them run under my futon and then try to find them again when it’s once again cage time.

Three months ago I thought that happiness was somewhere else, in the mountains, with a group of people I wasn’t cool enough to meet, within a finished book. Now I finally am free to exist where I am, and while that may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, it was such a revelation that everything feels different now. Nothing has changed outwardly. But my perception has. And wow, what a difference that makes.

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Yoga and a Quiet Blossoming

I’m sitting in the dark on the porch swing outside my house, starts twinkling–Big Dipper is right overhead, and yes indeed, summer is here. The breeze wafts over the scent of the lilac bushes lining alleyway I just walked down, sweat-drenched, yoga mat slung over my shoulder.

For a long time I’d thought of yoga as something pretentious, at least in the states–something rich white people do to show off how flexible they are. In some ways this is true. I went to the $5 community class at Hothouse Yoga (usually pretty darn expensive for a lowly baker/simulated patient like me) into a class of all-white college-aged students, most wearing designer outfits. This used to bother me. I remember going to a yoga class at Luther three years ago and finding the whole situation ironically stressful. I would fret over my downward dog and wonder why my wrists hurt so much, then I’d scowl over at the curly-haired girl who brought her own yoga mat (most of us just used the ones in the studio, as dubiously sweaty as they were) and made a point to get into the deepest lunges, the best tree poses, and to be all-around smug.

Or maybe that was just my perceptions.

This class, too, had its all-stars…and the one shirtless man in the front who breathed extraordinarily loudly and pushed himself too far…but I found myself not caring. I happily walked in with my shaved head, my normal old t-shirt emblazoned with “Got Libros?”, my old running shorts, and my somewhat wobbly midsection and found that I did not care if I messed up or was behind the “regulars” of the class or if I needed to take a break. I didn’t feel flustered if I stumbled over from tree pose…I just grinned and planted my foot back above my kneecap.

What had changed over the past three years? I had changed, slowly, quietly…and it was only when I was in downward dog, sweat-drenched hands slipping over the mat, that I realized it. I feel at peace, happy…wow.

I feel like I should explain the “hot yoga” phenomenon, because it sounds miserable, at least to heat-hating me. They basically put you in sauna for an hour and you do yoga and try not to die. I was anticipating sweat, of course I was, and I brought my waterbottle to compensate, but I’ve never sweated like this before. Within the first five minutes of the warmup poses, sweat was tricking down the side of my face. Soon my entire arms glistened with wetness, and then my entire body was absolutely soaked. I am eternally grateful for my short hair so I could dunk it under the faucet in the bathroom immediately after class. 

The purpose of hot yoga is, presumably, to let you get into deeper stretches, and hey it worked. Ms. I-Can’t-Touch-My-Toes did manage to wrap her digits around her big toes with relatively straight legs tonight. Then I suppose there are the benefits of sweating out all the blech in your body. When I did step out into the starry night with my mat, I felt like I was floating down the street. I hovered down the ped mall, full of students done with finals, drinking, eating meals, sitting on benches with cups of frozen yogurt, preteen girls doing gymnastics on the springy floor of the play area by the library, people on iPads studying at Bread Garden, an old man playing blues guitar. 

I walked past the blossoming trees, petals falling like snow, and under the leaves on the trees that just a week ago were nothing but buds, past dandelions which seemed to have burst from yellow tufted flowers to the halo of fluffy seeds in less than a day. And I never saw this happen. The change came and I only noticed the shocking disparity between what was and what used to be not long ago.

Where was I three years ago? In such a different place than I am now. Even three months ago I was in a completely different place, though my outer circumstances haven’t changed much. And where will I be three months from now, three years from now? Maybe I’ll be in a low place again. Maybe I will be looking back and realizing how something inside blossomed without me seeing it. So past me, three-months-ago-me, things did get better. Things do change. And no, you didn’t have to go to a wild party or run away across the world or lose ten pounds. You were stepping forward and sprouting quietly amidst all your sorrow and chaos.

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Doing Everything, Being Everyone

I love it when people tell me what someone my age “should” be doing. And by “love,” I mean I want to flip out every time they “should” on me. It doesn’t help that now more than ever 20-somethings are being barraged by conflicting Utter Truths poured forth in every Tweet, blog post, online forum, Facebook status or social media trend. We have access to all information and every opinion, and perhaps this is empowering but it is also overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, having information and choice is an amazing gift. It’s when you start getting daily information about others’ lives and choices and beliefs that you start wondering whether the choice you made was the right one. When you’re given the opportunity to do everything it’s ever so easy to think you’re obligated to do everything.

And to go everywhere. So many of my friends are working, studying, or traveling abroad right now: one is studying at a film academy (were there any two words with more capacity to instill envy than film academy?) in London (LONDON), one has a job in Japan, one is teaching in Prague, one is living in Mexico with his boyfriend, one is teaching English in China, etc. etc. etc. I love hearing about their lives and their adventures, but occasionally (often) I’ll fall into the trap of thinking, “Why aren’t doing that? What the hell am I doing to advance my future/live my life to the fullest/suck the marrow out of life/live each day like it’s my last/follow my dreams/do something every day that scares me?” 

These quotes, which are meant to be inspirational and pop over all over the place, often just serve to torment me. They seem to constantly scream that my life isn’t full enough, isn’t exotic or faraway enough or movie-montage-worthy-enough and that if I’m not hang-gliding or partying on the roof in the moonlight with champagne and exotic artistic friends then I am not doing it right, dammit. 

And therein lies the trap of seeing everything possible and expecting it to be yours. 

Sometimes, when I decide to be reflective instead of slipping into these damaging thought patterns, I realize that nobody can see the whole world. I simply cannot do everything there is to do and see everything there is to see. There are so many streets in Iowa City that I haven’t even walked down yet, and that realization is comforting. In this trap of comparison, it is heartening to know that nobody gets to see and experience everything.

Then I’m reminded of a book I’m reading for my Buddhism group, Stepping out of Self-Deception by Rodney Smith, which is all about how one of the core tenants of Buddhism and one that’s often ignored by Westerners, is the concept of Anatta, or this idea that the individualized “self” doesn’t really exist. 

It’s a challenging concept to wrap my head around, especially because our entire culture is based off this idea that we’re individual selfs seeing the world separately from outside our head. But as I’m reading through this, I’m starting to feel a weight in my chest lightening. My friends’ joys become my joys, and their pains become mine as well. And just when I’m thinking that I can’t do everything, I realize that being able to share our collective experiences gives me the opportunity to dig my heels deeper into the Iowa City soil and be okay with that. I can get an understanding of what it’s like to walk the streets of Hangzhou, China or how all-consuming it is to make a professional-looking short film without having to do it all. 

Then, instead of scrolling through Facebook statuses, endless photos and blogposts and thinking, “Why isn’t my life like that?” I can think instead, “Wow! Look at all the ground that we’ve covered!”

I am not sure if this is the mushiest thing I’ve ever written or the most convoluted, but I feel liberated as I begin to realize that it’s not this constant stream of information that is making me drown, it is my perception of what it says about my life and how I feel I should measure up. When it stops being about “me” and starts being and feeling collective, all of that pressure, all those “shoulds” melt off and I am happy to be where I am, what I am.