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)

December 17, 2012

On Another's Sorrow

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief
And not seek for kind relief?
 Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be sorrow fill'd?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear,

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity into their breast;
And not sit the cradle near
Weeping tear on infant's tear;

He doth give his joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.

O! He gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by use and moan

~On Another’s Sorrow by William Blake

I was uncertain if I should write in this space about the Sandy Hook tragedy. The word tragedy does not do justice to what happened. And writing on a blog seems futile, self-indulgent right now. Actually, most things seem self-indulgent over the past few days.

But I cannot move forward personally without articulating the utter sorrow that weights my heart.

I just don’t know. This phrase runs through my head on repeat. The past few days I have found it hard at times to keep from crying. I weep for the innocence that was ripped from loving hands, for the bravery of the Sandy Hook teachers, for the heroism and strength of those first responders, especially the ones who removed the deceased from the school.

You just don’t do that. You don’t hurt children. You don’t senselessly enter a school and murder children. I often wonder about the motive. But I don’t think I want to know. I don’t want to understand what cannot be understood. My only concern in regards to the killer is that I worry, if he did in fact have autism, about the repercussions on the autism community and other children afflicted by mental health. 

The President’s speech last night reverberated in a deep part of my soul – we weep with you – and I was proud that he recognized we as a nation are not doing enough to protect our children. That we need stricter gun laws. After its 1996 mass shooting, Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and has not had a mass shooting since. I feel like Friday’s horrific event is the breaking straw – an opportunity to do something we should have done long ago. And I hope that the strong words of the people who have the power to change things do not evaporate into air but become iron-clad, irreversible agreements to protect our children.

I was alone when I heard the news on Friday. Being alone in shock and sadness is a strange and awful thing. Sadly, I felt the only way I could connect was through Twitter and vented some of the painful emotions there. I wrote letters to my local representatives, appeasing them to legislate stricter gun laws and advocate for more mental health supports. You see, my graduate studies are concentrated in the area of child trauma studies and intervention practices, and I wonder, from a clinical perspective, about the unfathomable struggles the Sandy Hook students and their families face over the coming months, and perhaps years.

Life feels so different now. I don't know how it will ever be the same.

The weight of Friday’s incomprehensibility ebbs and flows in its effect on my spirit. We are a week away from Christmas and yet all the glow and cheer of the holiday feels trivial…almost shameful. But then I think of how excited at least some of those sweet children must have been about Christmas. How they had written their letters to Santa and wondering if all their Christmas wishes would come true. So I am making a personal commitment to revel in this season of magic and miracles, to hold my loved ones close, and delight in the simple joys of this special time for those beautiful little angels and their heroic caregivers.

December 8, 2012


I am full this day. Full of gratitude. Full of love. I have known such love in the past few days and I wish for everyone to know this feeling because THIS feeling is what life is all about. Grateful and humbled, indeed, am I.