January 11, 2015

Wintry Blahs

Potts Point, Maine in February 2012
I think as I get older the cold gets harder for me. Growing up in Maine, I don't remember being bothered much by the cold, even though we lived in an old farmhouse with no heat upstairs. Even in college in Boston, I had no issue scurrying between lecture halls and dorm rooms during the snowy Massachusetts winters. But then after college, when I worked in Boston, the commute to my job just about killed me. There's something about waiting forever on a chilly T platform that eats a bit of your soul. I soon purchased a North Face Artic Parka (on clearance at the outlet...best $175 I ever spent) and that coat has been my winter haven for almost 10 years. It is seriously winter gold. And this winter in DC has been so chilly combined with the fact that no one down here can handle the cold so you have people whining in your ear all the time. All I have wanted to do is curl up in a ball and not leave the house until spring. I think city life in general makes winter harder. Though cold and snowy in Maine, we always had less people with whom to contend, which helped with the bearability.

I long to have a more positive about winter. I miss skiing but there's not readily available XC/alpine skiing opportunities close to DC. You have to drive so long to get anywhere. I can't wait for the day when we live closer to more natural settings but until then, my goal is to try to do at least one outdoor activity each weekend for the rest of winter and to try to embrace winter in the city as best I can!

January 5, 2015

A Coming Out

It's that January time of year when newly sneakered feet are thumping treadmill ribbons, blenders are whirring with deliciously vile green smoothies, and closets are being purged of their dust-covered inhabitants of the past year. I drove by Goodwill on both Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend and the line to donate had spilled out onto the road causing a major traffic jam. The rush to clear one's life of aged objects so fierce that people were willing to wait in major traffic on a precious weekend day.

Don't get me wrong. We have several stuffed-to-the-gills bags clogging up space in our second bedroom. I really love gathering things for Goodwill in an effort to make our lives more pure, minimal, efficient. It feels like a mecca to me, especially in post-holiday season hangover days of early January. I feel like I am exfoliating the layers of encumbering objects and materialism. In many ways, material goods feel like a barrier to my true self. Like superficial icons distorting our true worth. This time of year is when people try to dig deeper to get to their true spirit. In many ways, it is the most wonderful time of the year because we are trying especially hard to get to the roots of ourselves.  I mean look at me: I am blogging again after a multi-year hiatus.

At church this past weekend, the theme of the sermon was about coming out. It was in reference to 12-year-old Jesus being found by his parents in the temple, or "his Father's house." At age 12, Jesus had begun to sense who he really was. In other ways and perhaps more commonly referred to as a "coming out," people realize and share their sexual orientation. But the phrase, "coming out," for me, is clearing away the detritus and becoming the person you have always been.

For my 2015 coming out, I want to find my joyful, go-with-the-flow self. I want to celebrate the love I have in my life - incredible friends and family. I want to write more (ahem, blog posts) and I want to sing more. Singing lifts my soul and makes me feel more like myself than anything else. I hope you, dear friends, can have your own 2015 coming out and have the time to embrace the parts of yourselves that make your hearts sing!

March 5, 2014

Expect Nothing

I gave up sweets and being angry for Lent. I usually choose two things: one related to food and one related to my behavior. My success at upholding my Lenten vows hovers around 50/50 - one I am usually able to keep while the other falls by the wayside. However, this time around I am hoping to keep both and at least the former (anger) as a permanent behavioral adjustment.

The past year has been the hardest of my 29 years. Lately, I am acutely feeling the raw edge of what it means to be human. It's funny how you think one time in your life is the hardest only to have a later season make that previous time feel like a cakewalk. And yet, I always hold in my heart the knowledge that it could be so much worse. And in fact, I am so very blessed to have people in my life to catch me and to love me and believe in me when I have lost belief in myself.

Not having a job is a strange and scary experience. I graduated my Master's program with a feeling of confidence after a successful run at a prestigious university, thinking that would be more than enough to seal my fate in a new career field. Au contraire. In hindsight, it's a quite funny that I thought I could easily obtain a professional-level job in a new career field. Pure entitlement without proper training. I mean, I had experience and now the education. The very expensive, brand-name education. But, unfortunately, in this current job market, a good resume is not even the first thing to get you into the door of any place. It is all about who you know and networking, networking, networking! And it's about having the right kind of experience.

I feel like I have been fighting these past months to find a job full of meaning - working to mitigate violence exposure for children - that I have so desperately craved for so long. Fighting to make all my finances work with a contract job here and a contract job there. But it has been scary. I have learned to appreciate so much of what before I took for granted - a fat savings account, health insurance paid by my employer, being able to buy something without worry.

Another thing out of this experience has been unmitigated anger. I am not angry person, but I have felt such irrational anger at different moments over the past few months and this scares me. I am angry at our neighbor upstairs who has a heavy tread. I am angry at the person who cuts me off walking to the Metro. I am angry at my 6-year-old computer for being on its last legs. I am angry at the potential employer who doesn't respond to my carefully crafted cover letter and resume. I can feel this anger wear on my body. Because the person that anger hurts the most (for the most part) is the person who feels the anger. Which is why I am trying to control it in this Lenten season and hopefully, permanently.

Today I read this incredible Pscyhology Today article about expecting nothing. It talks about the careful balance between being realistic and being optimistic. A balance that I have been desperately seeking each day. I was raised to be an optimist, but life has forced a good bit of realism (read: pessimism) into my psyche. And now, in this struggling time, I am trying to find a balance to cool my anger and level my head so that I may persevere and find the right job and get my life back on kilter. The article talks about how we tend toward anger when our dreams fail to realize. But dreams without hard work, timing, and luck will hardly have the chance of being fulfilled. I have been doing this new career path for a little under two years...I need to put in more time and I need patience. I need to take that reality and use it as a calming mechanism in understanding why I still do not have a job. I need to be grateful for what I have and derive strength from it. This article was exactly what I needed to read.

I also happened upon Alice Walker's poem, "Expect Nothing," which is a beautiful tribute to humility in the face of adversity.

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.
Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star; 
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why

So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. 
Live frugally
On surprise. 

October 11, 2013


She won! This phrase joyfully danced in my mind when I woke up yesterday morning to discover that story story writer, Alice Munro, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature (check out her delightful phone conversation with the Nobel team - it is SO her). It was the most delightful surprise and I was giddy all day, sharing the news with anyone I encountered.

In truth, I found myself tearing up at the news because Alice Munro was the subject of my Senior English Thesis in college. I feel like I had an extra roommate in Alice that year. I spent many late nights reading books upon books of literature analysis and writing away in Bapst Library (i.e., Hogwarts) to craft a 125-page monstrosity that I still don't believe captures Munro's true essence as a "short storyist" (inside joke with my thesis advisor - hi, Paul!). Her enigmatic characters and bizarre-yet-so-realistic plot lines bemused me in my efforts to unpack their complexities and elucidate a thesis. I still don't think my thesis does her justice. In fact, going through it last night, I wish I could rewrite parts of it, knowing now what I didn't know then. Knowing about human relationships -- romantic ones, friendships, family. I could probably rewrite every few years as I grow and am changed by time as her characters so often are.

The living I have been doing over the years has enriched my understanding and appreciation for how artfully Munro has captured the human experience in a short story form all her own (they often border on novellas). In fact, my thesis advisor pointed out that she is the first writer to have won the Nobel who is purely a short story writer. As she said, it is a "wonderful thing for the short story."It is a wonderful thing indeed - for the story, for her, and for those that love her.

Photo Source: The New York Times

October 2, 2013

What It Is

Okay, I know this is a winter picture (something no one wants to see right now). Side note, this was my car after Nemo and I dug that lady out MYSELF. GIRL POWER, what? Okay.

So I am using this picture as a metaphor for those times in your life when you feel buried. Buried by anything from a break-up, unemployment (c'est moi), the loss of a loved one, or just that depressing monotonous feeling that sneaks up on most people at different points in their lives. I see evidence of people feeling buried everywhere...on the blogosphere, amongst my friends and family, and even this cashier at the grocery store today who literally looked on the verge of tears. Like that original hippie blogger, Thoreau, once said, "we all lead lives of quiet desperation."

But then, what do we do with this buried feeling so that we don't lose our friends and family in the process of trying to make it go away? Because feeling buried spills out and onto the people who love you most. It hurts them so to see you sad and they become frustrated when nothing they say or do makes you better. That's because, truly, and like my car situation above, you need to dig yourself out (or perhaps find someone who is not a loved one to help such as mental health professional).

In my last semester of grad school earlier this year, I saw a therapist every few weeks because I felt like I couldn't handle everything that happening - some health issues, an accelerated graduate program, working two part-time jobs, a long-distance relationship, and a not-so-great living situation. I really liked my therapist because not only did she have no connection to my personal life but she was direct and neutral yet kind and sympathetic. She used cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is a goal-oriented form of therapy performed on a short timeline (in my case, it was 8 sessions). I liked the structure and focus of our time, and one of the greatest revelations from our sessions was when she came right out and said, "you are so hard on yourself."

Something so simple and yet so vast in how I have lived my life. That phrase became the primary tool I would use to pull myself out of the rubble....rubble that was often there because I buried myself with it. It is not a perfect system. But having this truth to hold on to has helped over the past months. However, I have not been very successful at it lately in the wake of not being able to find a full-time job and all the financial woes and self-esteem issues arising from my unemployment.

But I love Natalie's post this morning because it resonates a lot with where I am. Some years are amazing and some years are terrible. We have waves of light and dark and it is often darkest before the dawn. It feels pretty dark right now, so I am hoping for some dawn soon. And I know it can always be darker.

In the meantime, as my friend Cynthia so wisely said, the best thing we can do is to know things will turn out okay and to not allow the unhappiness of others to get in our way. Sometimes hope is all you have but what a beautiful thing to have perched in your soul to sing a tune without the words that never stops at all.*

Note: to give credit where credit is unduly due, the last sentence was paraphrased from a poem by my namesake, Emily Dickinson.

September 30, 2013

Coming Home

At the crest of the hill, a clump of scraggly firs sit illumined by a Prince Edward Island sky painted in chambray blue and burnt reds. This scene is most often the place I go when I need refuge. My "happy place," if you will. I have a couple place such as this and one of them is this blog. I come here when I need an outlet for my thoughts and, let's be honest, my feelings. Blogging is such a funny bird, but I have only experienced good things from this space and the people I have met through it. Such beautiful, warm people. I love the creative expression that comes from blogging. People curate such lovely online spaces.  It is so inspiring. I do sometimes find myself comparing myself to others, which is so dangerous. But lately, I am trying to be happy for others in their lives and also to delight in my own blessings. We'll see how it goes...

I said that I wouldn't blog until my life was in a better place but here I am in a raw, uncertain, vulnerable place looking once again for a bit of refuge in this small plot of online property. So, here I am again and we'll see how long I stay for this chapter. Each chapter is truly something for which I am grateful.

March 20, 2013

A Visit to Marblehead

Marblehead in winter
Because of school and life commitments, I wasn't able to see M for almost 2 months. When he was scheduled to visit last weekend, I knew that it would make our reunion all the more special if we went away for a little adventure. We found ourselves in Marblehead, MA, a little coastal village filled with colonial homes and a quiet charm that soothes a weary soul. While chilly, our time in Marblehead was so lovely - strolls down quiet streets, delicious seafood at a local pub, walks along the rocky edge of the coastline where waves of the most brilliant green-blue crash against dark, jagged rocks. The violent pulchritude of a New England sea. There's something utterly spiritual about walking by the ocean in late March.

A charming property

View from Crocker Park in Marblehead

Castle Rock on Marblehead Neck

 Photo credit: Emily Bowen

February 17, 2013


Pretty late-summer blooms in a Alexandria, VA garden
 I'm there again. Planning the next phase of my life after graduation in May (the downside of a one-year Master's program). The never-ending "next phase" that has become a particular hallmark of my generation. Never satisfied. Always moving on to find the "right place" to be. I know for certain that I do not want to be where I am now but that only serves to eliminate one place. I could go northward to Maine or south and once more to Washington, DC. These two places seem to be the strongest contenders and so very different in what each choice affords me. And so I continue to mull and feel muddled over these choices.

And also weep and grumble over the inevitable moving of my possessions that will happen with this new transition.

Outdoor dining at Virtu in Alexandria

Store window in Old Town Alexandria, VA
Burning lamps on Prince Street in Old Town
Strolling down Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria 
Mum at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA

Parents at Monticello
Parents at Mount Vernon
Miss my old apartment
Camden Harbor, Maine

Whitehall Inn (where Edna St. Vincent Millay was discovered)
M and Me at Pemaquid Point, ME
M at Walden Pond, MA 
Mum at lunch yesterday

Her Royal Highness
Just plain cute

January 11, 2013

Transitional Seasons

Always in January, I crave a warm landscape. Sandy beaches. The sound of waves. And the glowing sun. A Maine summer (which tends to be more moderate in temperature).  My mother scoffs at me and says I never appreciate the season I am in. I correct her and say it's only the extreme seasons -- winter and summer (in DC) -- where I take issue. I am truly a child of moderate temperatures and the dynamism of a refreshing spring morning or a magical fall twilight. But she is right about appreciating the here and now. SO. For now, I am learning to love the chill and the piles of snow. Maybe I will even take a winter tramp this afternoon.

Photo: Emily Bowen

January 9, 2013

On a Winter's Afternoon

Oooo, it's that time of year for a clean slate, a fresh start. Where cleansing (both body and home) and organizing are the activities du jour. But to be quite honest, this year begun rather shakily for me. I failed to feel that burst of hope and inspiration that this time's resolutions usually incite.

So instead of beginning with grand goals or hopes, I just want to take one step at a time this year. Small, simple, deliberate steps that will bring health, wisdom, and sincerity in this new time.

Photo: Emily Bowen (via Instagram)