And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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Comfort Is Not An Advantage

Let’s move to New York together.

Okay, I write back, and am serious.

My friend on Skype is mourning the loss of London, which she’s just left after finishing film school. And now it’s back to Iowa, which has few if any opportunities in the film industry, so her options are rather limited to LA or NYC. Ideally she would stay in London if she could, but work visas are more or less impossible for an American to obtain. 

As for me, I’ve been living here in Iowa City a little over a year, and already things are too familiar. I know people on sight down the street. There’s the tall Norwegian God of a man with his perfect blonde hair and square jaw who works in the library and is often at the Foxhead. There’s Santabeard. I think he’s homeless but maybe not, because his beard is a brilliant snow white and grazes the bottom of his shirt. There’s the barista who wears clever shirts and takes my order at High Ground, and there’s our mail woman, with her bundle of envelopes for the 20 people in our house. Note that I don’t know many names. I know these people by sight and those that I do know by name, I don’t associate with very much. I don’t get too close to people, and things are comfortable that way. There are friends that I hang out with, there are people that I allow to see me cry when I need to cry, but I don’t allow myself to grow close to them. 

I don’t have a high-paying job, but my room is low-rent and I’m not in school so I can study what I like, but without any outside forces pushing me I accomplish less than I think I can. I go to bed when I’m tired and wake up when I wake up for the most part, and it’s very comfortable. The comfort has turned me stagnant, allowed my creativity to slow and ease up and become easily distracted. I’m drifting more than living, a tourist instead of a resident, and I’ve overstayed my welcome.

So she and I are both a little desperate. 

Going to New York is absurd, of course. It’s ridiculously expensive, the people are mean, everyone is elbowing for a job or an apartment that doesn’t cost a bazillion dollars a month. The city would crush me. Plus, what kinds of skills could I possibly bring to a job market, or even to an internship? Zero. The mere thought of moving to New York City terrifies me to the point of wanting to throw up.

Then I think about the time I was the most joyful, the most blissful. Last summer I worked at a canoeing camp in northern Wisconsin. The first time we went to the Brule river to whitewater canoe down some heavy rapids and ledges, I was sure I couldn’t do it. I was pretty sure I would end up dead at the bottom of the river, canoe turned inside out, wrapped around a rock from where it broadsided. I didn’t die. I had an insane amount of fun. And for the rest of the summer I stooped over hot fires to cook, I hefted 50-lb packs and 80-lb canoes on my shoulders, I pitched tents and slept on the ground and got eaten by mosquitos. It was a three-month journey of discomfort, and I’d never been happier.

Sometimes (read: nearly always) what I want and what I need are completely different. I lean toward laziness and comfort, but I’m truly happy when I’m being pushed to do something truly great. So the fact that the mere thought of moving to New York City makes me a little nauseous is a sign that maybe I’m heading in the right direction.

Or, quite possibly, maybe it would be a huge mistake. 

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
-Neil Gaiman
Then again. Maybe mistakes aren’t always something to be afraid of.

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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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Change Comes In Threes

My coworker Mermaidhair was saying a few weeks ago how she believes in karma, and that things come in threes. “In three months, everything changes.”

“I doubt three months from now things will be much different,” I said. I was in one of my oh-god-I’m-never-going-to-get-anywhere-worth-being slumps.

“Just wait. Three months from now, things will be really different. Maybe not the situation as much as the way you see things.”

I’m making Mermaidhair sound like some kind of mystic, but really she’s just a hilarious coworker with a blunt way of speaking who I disk-golf with. She is, in her own words, a delight.

And damned if she wasn’t right. Here it is not three weeks later and everything feels in flux. Ever since I shaved my head, I’ve perceived myself different. Not as a dorky loser who quotes Futurama too much, but as someone who has enough “cool factor” now to walk into White Rabbit or Prairie Lights or some grad school shindig to look fitting for the place. So shallow, this perception, but then again, how I perceive myself shines through on how others perceive me. I feel more like an adult with my hair short, less prone to lull in bed and RP over Skype instead of being a productive shit and getting my ass out of bed. 

This grown-up-looking me is taking some getting used to. She’s still stretching her limbs and seeing what’s possible. She’s made a pact to finish a passable draft of that damn story by the end of the year, in time to give it as a present to Drunk Grandma (I have two grandmas: Drunk Grandma and Tiny Grandma. I feel they deserve a blog entry of their own), the grandma who ate up Harry Potter along with her grandchildren, who read the entire Wheel of Time series (kudos, Grammie), who tore through Hunger Games on her Kindle during late nights with her porch door open toward the lake.

This shaved head, then, really does feel like a new start. And while I try to figure out myself, it is snowing and raining in May when it was a sweltering 87 degrees less than 48 hours ago, and people pull their winter coats out of the closet, angry that the coats haven’t even gathered any dust yet, and they squint at the wind and cold and talk about soil temperature and corn planting schedules and everything is in turmoil.

And the third thing: (things really do come in threes, eh?) My dad has brain surgery Tuesday. This is like stepping onto a boat after a few years. Yeah, you had your sea legs before, but now you’re still seasick and even though the risk isn’t as bad there’s still that chance of the big wave and the capsize.

They discovered his first tumor when I was twelve or thirteen, a big fist-shaped shadow on the x-ray scans. We all drove to Sioux City for the brain surgery. Mom made my older brothers pack funeral clothes, but I didn’t know about this until at least a year later. The surgery was fine. Dad had a dent in his head. We bought him funny do-rags and celebrated as he recovered.

When I was sixteen it came back, and it was like I’d been expecting it. He was supposed to be having routine scans, but when I’d ask about them, he’d say, “Oh, yeah, they were fine,” in a vague, vacant sort of way. He hadn’t been going. And it came back in roughly the same area. The surgery took longer. There was a lot of scar tissue to work around, and recovery took longer.

A few months ago Dad told me they’d found two small ones. The surgery is going to be “less severe” this time, but the surgeon is still cutting open his skull and pulling out something (two somethings) that keep coming back for we don’t know why. So I’m going up to the tiny town where I was born and lived before my parents divorced and be with Dad and Drunk Grandma and sit in waiting rooms and try to read and try not to think of all the many many possibilities that hang on the edge of a surgical knife. I will not pack funeral clothes but I can’t help be intensely aware of how much could change in three seconds’ time.