I fixate. I obsess. My mind sticks in a groove, and when it tries to wander, I move the needle back into the groove. I become stuck in a feedback loop that results in rigidity of thought, emotional instability, and a narrowing of life. I have fixated on one thing or another for as long as I can remember, and it’s only recently I’ve understood it’s willful. And only more recently have I begun to understand the foreshortening of horizons this way has caused. Continue reading
There are parts of myself, eras of my life, and things I’ve done that I simply can’t bear to remember. Scenes that embed themselves into my deepest memory banks and lodge themselves under my skin. I try not to revisit the images, relegating them to the corners of my mind, preventing the inevitable shame attack. Continue reading
My perceptions of reality became so wholly dependent on external validation that I pretty much stopped having them. Or maybe I had them, but couldn’t access them. It was as though what I was sensing had to be passed through the filter of someone else’s perception. I had to get someone’s opinion on whatever was before me in order to even sense it sometimes, that’s how far outside myself I was living. Continue reading
This month marks seven years since I quit drinking, since my life went off the rails and skidded out of control. I memorialized that experience with a post I shared last year, a warts-and-all portrait of alcohol use gone unmanageable.
I believed my drinking gave me an edge, allowing me to express my most unhinged, outrageous desires and thereby differentiating me from the group at a time I felt invisible. It turned out, however, that when I got right down to it, blackout drinking (I know no other kind) was a form of self-erasure, a way to pull the plug on my conscious self and disappear. What good is standing out from the crowd when you’re not even there? What had gone so horribly wrong socially that I felt such a need for otherness, when my sense of otherness was the source of such pain? Why was I unable to make a choice about how many drinks I was going to have and stick to it? Why wasn’t one cocktail feasible? I was living with my foot pressed to the gas, and dying all at once, and these questions had to be answered. Continue reading
I’d been up to Sedona once, last decade when I was living in Arizona (before the ill-fated move back to Seattle) and hadn’t given it much thought since. I remembered the stunning unreality of the colors–rusted reds striated with washed out yellows, deep azure and dark greens. I had the overall impression of a tourist trap, however, and didn’t go for the whole vortex, center-of-the-universe spirituality trip. I’m too atheistic, too urban. Ten years later seemed like as good a time as any to make another visit, see what I could see. Plus, it was a full moon that night, a blood moon, in fact, and maybe we would stay long enough to see it rise, away from the bright lights of Phoenix.
In the car on the way up I jokingly suggested to my two companions we should buy a crystal each and use them to guide us to the vortex. Why not embrace some irony while reveling in nature? Continue reading
In the full daylight of 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 I slept the deep, tunneled in, wake-me-and-die sleep of the depressed. My mom’s voice began to come through my bedroom door, joined by that of my boyfriend’s–a surprise since he had no car and rarely showed up of his own volition. They knocked, then walked right in as I struggled to gain consciousness and go back to sleep all at once. Sleeping my activity of choice when I wasn’t working or at school, I resented the intrusion and bristled, scowling at them from my cozy den. I wasn’t a morning person, and they both knew it. I was not friendly or even really coherent before my first cup of coffee, preferring silence for the first hour or so of wakefulness before the more reasonable hour of 10 a.m.
“Ryan’s here,” my mom, Captain Obvious, began, her brow furrowed, manner grave. “New York has been attacked, it’s all over the news. Why don’t you get up and watch with us.” Ryan towered over her in my doorway, wringing his hands, face ashen. “I ran all the way here,” he said. “I told him he should come over immediately,” my mom continued, “because we don’t know what’s going on yet, or if something more will happen.” Continue reading
Junior year in college I started hanging out with some new friends, who happened to be very ambitious people who had their lives neatly mapped out to include all kinds of tall orders, pies-in-the-sky and grand visions. I hadn’t thought much beyond next quarter’s class schedule, let alone life after college. I would listen in rapt fascination at their conviction, wondering if any of what they wanted was possible, and secretly dismissing their plans as grandiose, their future lives as boxed-in before they could begin. One time one of them said, “people without goals are losers. I simply can’t understand them.” Not long after that assertion the relationships ended and I parted ways with the group. There’s only so long a loser can hide out, before her lack of goals is revealed, her worth as a friend diminished. But to me they were the losers, setting everything up into tight patterns in advance, every detail accounted for. What about spontaneity? What about living for the moment? What about crisis, and life is messy, and shit doesn’t always go your way? These people knew nothing. I was the realist. Goal setting was out, because life smashes your plans and hope spirals down and away, and I was a cynic already at age twenty. Continue reading
I’m starting to come around to the idea that how we perceive our lives and daily reality contributes hugely to our happiness quotient. Have you ever looked back on a period of time in your life and realized, hey, I had it pretty good right then. I was happy and didn’t even know it. I have. I’m challenging myself to have those realizations more closely to the moments I’m living, rather than in retrospect. I’m doing it one small bit of awareness, one little shard of presence at a time. And it’s kind of working. I’m going to keep trying and see where it leads, with gratitude as my guiding force. Continue reading
You’re supposed to choose the former above the latter. Chris Guillebeau, an author and entrepreneur I admire refers to this concept throughout his guides to living freely. I’ve read his stuff and felt so on board with his ideas of finding our passions and making them our life’s work, about freeing ourselves from convention and seeking life on our terms, about taking bold, radical action, about using our talents to help others as an essential vein that runs through all messages. But I stumble when he gets into choosing abundance. Oh, that doesn’t apply to me, I think. Yeah, like it’s that easy, I think. Well, maybe I can just work the other stuff and ignore that section, I decide. Because at some point along the way I began living a life of scarcity and then it became my life. What started as a superstition, a reaction to crisis became my plain reality. It was, scarcity, because abundance may never come, and then at least you know how to live with less.
Was that right? Don’t get me wrong, when I started to live lean it served an important purpose. It helped me feel less bad about myself and my circumstances. If I didn’t want or need as much, it didn’t crush as hard when I didn’t get as much. Much of what? Luck. Opportunity. True friendship. Joy. The material. Love, even. It was just, I’ve narrowed it down to the basics, with the occasional modest luxury. Frugality began to feel like an art form, it was so creatively used. Needless/wantless. A lean startup of a person, if you’ll forgive the tech industry metaphor.
It wasn’t right. It stopped working. It started to look self-imposed at best, self-righteous at worst. Someone accused me of being sanctimonious. He was wrong, of course, but it was an interesting idea. Had I become so scarce I appeared to be looking down from some great height? Yes, I felt removed, but living on the periphery is comfortable, now that I’ve learned to accept it. The lone wolf side of my lone wolf extrovert personality/lifestyle deals in scarcity. There’s a deep streak of fierce independence that thrives on austerity. But does it have to exist across all aspects?
I used to expect so little of the people around me that small courtesies felt like large kindnesses. If we’re being honest, I’m still struggling with this. Only now I’ve rebranded it as gratitude: seeing immense wonder in the miniature. But during times of famine, it looks like a woman running into a pack of ex-friends at a nightclub and panicking, knowing she’s alone to deal with it, even though a new friend is by her side. The friend walked with me to a corner of the bar, not visible to the line outside which contained six cold, hostile people with axes to grind. By then I’d been not drinking for close to two years, and this crew had been there for the black-outs, been on the receiving end of and borne witness to my bad and reckless behavior. They hated me. And I hated them for ditching me as soon as I quit drinking. The timing was miserable, as we were there for a burlesque performance in a medium-sized venue with one restroom. We were all going to have to work not to run into each other. The friend ordered us a couple of drinks and I engaged in my silent freak-out. The friend looked me over, sensed it and said, hey, I think it’s going to be OK. In that moment my stress dissolved, her beautiful words washing over me. It was the nicest thing someone had said to me in recent memory, and I was grateful for her deep caring. I told her so. That is the kindest thing anyone’s said to me.
That’s not good, she replied. I remember her sitting back and looking at my questioningly, perplexed. At the time I didn’t understand why she couldn’t accept my thanks, take in my appreciation for her character.
Scarcity. I get it now. Telling someone you think they’ll be OK is kind, sure. But is it a great, large-scale act? In times of scarcity, yes. What I realized is that abundance is being in the life where those words are just a starting point. Where you’re willing to accept an arm around your shoulder, shielding you from the exes. Where you allow yourself to be comforted and protected. I wasn’t there. My friend couldn’t give me more than that because I displayed an inability to accept it. I had no place to put it.
I’m thinking about scarcity first, and how exactly it’s affecting my life. It’s not that I’m cleaning out my existential closet. You can be assured it’s been bare for a long period of time. It’s more that I’m seeking to understand the payoff of living that way, so I can change it.
An acquaintance casually told me this the other day during a conversation about her life, as though it was a self-evident, universal truth. In fact, the sentiment may have blown out the back of my head, that’s how revolutionary, novel and resonant it sounded to me. Talk about the right words at the right time. I’d been dealing with some unwanted change and conflict in my relationships (which are, as an extreme extrovert, the center of my world) that were causing me some major emotional upheaval. If you know me outside this blog, you understand how rather emotionless and flat I tend to be day to day. We joke about it, even. So being inside an intense emotional storm is uncharted territory for me, and I was struggling. I consider myself a woman of action, full-bore, straight-ahead, take no prisoners, let’s fucking DO this. This way of being has mostly rescued me and moved me toward a good life. But right now it wasn’t working. Continue reading