bike:hill life analogies

In San Francisco I used to pedal around on this spray-paint-can-painted baby pink bicycle.

Rocky had been made from the frame of an old, well-loved Schwinn World Sport, and he was homemade, but he was fast.

Between home and school there was an intimidating hill, one that took me a full two minutes to ride downhill when heading home after class. I often struggled with the uphill, finding I had to stop mid-way every time to walk my bike up. I would be embarrassed as city buses full of onlookers bumbled up the hill, eyes meeting mine as I trudged. I would curse at myself under my breath, red-faced and wishing I was just better, faster, stronger. Thinking “I should be able to do this, damnit, there is no good reason not to, I have to.”

One morning I changed my mind. That morning I decided it was OK to walk my bike if I needed to–that I would let myself stop whenever I wanted to, without a single harsh word to myself in the process. Every day I would just try to go a little bit further. But this morning, this morning, I made it up the hill. The whole way up I told myself “It’s okay to stop if you want to….” and found myself answering back “I don’t want to stop! I don’t want to!” I caught a glimpse of my face in a passing window, smiling ridiculously, just as I got out of my saddle and pushed into the pedals hard, flying to the top of the hill, giggling and out of breath, I threw my arms up and pedaled down the straight away to the next stop sign, laughing. I had given myself permission to fail, and I had found my success.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::yesterday

Dad called. and something incredible happened..

It was a heart-to-heart, which is rare from him now, but had been unheard of prior to my leaving the country for Mexico and Guatemala in ’09, the trip in which I apparently scared the crap out of and the emotions into him.

In this call, he wanted to impress upon me that while I have never asked him for anything outside of my college years, which he has noticed and appreciated, that I can, I can ask if I need something (see: previous journal entries re: lessons in learning how to ask for assistance).

And more importantly, that he supports my adventures and my risks, and even thinks I could be pushing the limit further…

He wanted data, statistics, numbers, factoids, on how I would make my crazy dreams happen. He wanted me to say these goals aloud, to write them down so that someone could hold me accountable to living them. He wanted to be that someone.

He told me to be sure I keep an account with enough money to get me home from wherever I go, whenever I might need it, and he promised to be there, at the airport, waiting for me.

He told me that he has taken on the burden of flag-bearer in our family for this very reason. I will always have a soft landing, so I need to fucking go for it, tear the world up.

::::

It is hard to describe how impossible the idea of a soft landing had been until that moment. I had never considered a soft landing, had always taken on the underlying stress of my risks, had begun to meter myself accordingly. And with that, just by knowing I can go as far as I want to or can do, and it will be OK to stop. With that, my world opened up, and I could see the first top of many hills I can climb because I want to.

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mom’s island

today mom called me from her island. she is only allowed ten minutes, but she pushed it to 16:54. I heard her gently persuade whomever nearby to allow her to stay on the phone in that charming sort of way that I’m starting to believe is a familial trait. as I grow, it’s funny to find those parts of myself that I consider to be so very much my own that are in fact birthed from family-in some way.

she’s feeling. better. it’s hard not to get my hopes up, so I have decided to not make it about me and my hopes anymore-it’s no longer about last chances and waiting to see if this time (this time) I’ll get my mother back (the one I seem to remember from 15 years ago). it’s just about right now and how we can be to and with each other in this time.

and the truth is her voice sounds clean. her stories were not curdled by victimized emotions, her syllables were articulated, her words distinctly separate from one another. I haven’t heard that clarity from her in years-can’t deny it sounds like progress.

she tells me about the only woman there that she didn’t like, one who was eventually caught abusing and was sent home. “she was sleeping all day long, I mean, it was obvious, how could you not know?” she asks, and I’m sort of shocked in dissonance. to myself I think “sometimes it isn’t always so easy to tell the difference.”

—-

our paths are similar right now, albeit headed towards different destinations.

she feels exuberant, ready, committed.

I advised her that while it’s a time to celebrate the discovery of that curtain to pull back in her own personal dark room, it’s also important she be kind to herself once the room starts to feel dark again. with kindness she’ll be strong enough to find the curtain-pull again and again.

that’s her biggest struggle–the spiral. from one negative self-talk-point to the next. I asked her to hold on to this good feeling and remember it next week if it gets hard again.

I had been telling myself the same thing. and in the same way that her house-imposed routines are healing her, keeping her honest and grateful, I am finding the healing in my self-imposed happiness routines. my time spent both ecstatic and pained during volcano climbs on my bicycle and my time every evening in the sand, quietly watching the sunset, remembering to breathe deep. these grounding measures have been going to work on me, healing in ways I can’t force, control or see.

and I silently give myself the same advice as I speak to her. remember these moments.

distance

it was three p.m. and I was striding through the cranks, feeling the wheels bounce and gravel crunch along the road, and the sun was pushing me forward, strong, a soft heat concentrating on my right shoulder, indicating freckles along the way. and I imagined you in that same moment, that very same moment, so far ahead (or is it even linear?), sitting shoreside in a salt-loved wooden chair in the evening’s darkness, watching from a wall as distant lights danced in the lapping waves of a different ocean (than the one over my left shoulder). and there I saw you and laughter around, you. a southern drink in your hand and family nearby. and all I could be was shocked. at the sun’s orbit. fascinated.

the little sunset dwellers

Saturday, during one of those evening sunsets, one where I was sitting in the sand trying to force myself into something you can’t force (presence), I met the little sunset dwellers. I sat cross-legged, pushing the palms of my hands into the sand until they were devoured by the tiny seashells and cool ground.

I was breathing cyclically, trying all the little tricks I knew, staring off into the ocean, contemplating my vastness and my smallness, and I closed my eyes and just tried to listen to the waves, but all I heard was my brain muttering and clammering and spinning around with all its self-importance.

and just then there was a scurrying, the sand moved around my hands, and I opened my eyes to find two little black dots staring back at me. two black dots attached to little sproingy eye-holding arm-devices and a transparent body connected to so many little scurry legs-and the entire body was sideways, half out of a sand-hole. one little eye dipped back in the sand, the other stayed, watching me.

I turned my head sideways to match and the other little eye darted into the sand as well.

another little scurry leg popped out of the sand out closer to the water, and then another and another. and slowly, the funny little sunset dwellers emerged to watch me and sneak sand and rocks around. every time I looked away from them, they would scurry with impressive speed across the sand, freeze when I caught them, and then throw the sand away quickly when I faked to look away. they would grab a rock and run run run, then pause, and I would turn away, and they would duck into the sand, and pop one eye out to watch me.

It’s hard to describe how funny these little sunset crabs are and how happy this made me.

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Sunday, in the middle of this lack-of-presence-feeling-so-alone-oh-my-why-in-the-world-did-I-do-this?!-place-and-space I found myself picking up and starting “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed. I wasn’t quite sure how perfect of a decision this was until after the Prologue I found myself on the first page of the first section where Cheryl describes the many beginnings to her solo journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.

There was the initial beginning, the quick decision to do it. Then there was the actual, serious deciding to do it. Then there was the weeks of preparation to do it. Then there was the realizing she was doing it moments after she started. Then there was the freaking out and doubting all reasons why she would ever think it was a good idea to do it. Then there was the actually doing it, the actual hiking, the actual experiencing. So many beginnings…..

A-ha! I felt wrapped in warmth by those words, I felt as though there were a friend next to me in the sand, enclosing me in the perfect hug in that moment. I was encouraged, inspired, not alone in my need to be alone, not alone in my doubt about what I need to do.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I’ve gotten further into the book, and today feels a little different, like my heart has a lightly-wrapped ACE bandage supporting it, just in case its needed.

today my steps down the road to work were cautious, aware-I listened to the crunch of the gravel under my feet and the breeze and the birds and the waves and the cars flying by and thought over and over “…and then there was the actually doing it.

this evening I almost walked straight home, I almost went straight home to tea and reading, I almost just skipped the beach, the three blocks away beach. and then I remembered, the crabs! those little sunset dwellers! I have to see them!

on my approach to the ocean this evening, I discovered that the same sand felt different in my hands, the clouds seemed to be more full of bellows and blush, and the waves that had previously sounded softly muted, like hearing a television through a wall in the house, the waves seemed to roar upon crashing.

I saw and I waited, and when I took a breath in, the air seemed more humid than the last time, and I wondered how I hadn’t noticed the evening before how the wind carries a scent of tuberose and saltwater.

and then a little scurrying in the sand and a pair of small black eyes appeared. and another set, and another, all across the sand, all along the beach just before the point where the wavewater receded. I dared to get closer, to see the details, I slowly raised myself into a squat on one leg and leaned far forward. all of the little sunset dwellers ducked away and hid, except one, the closest.

that closest one stayed out of the sand completely, and I couldn’t help but smile, a big ridiculous smile as we partook in our teeny tiny staring contest. …..”hi” I whispered, and it jumped into the sand….peeking one little eye back out at me.

I fell backward and I giggled. And giggled, I couldn’t help myself, I took a breath in and I smelled the tuberose and saltwater-fragranced air, and I fell backwards into the sand and I laughed and smiled too big.

“…then there was the actually doing it.”

I packed up, I moved far away to an island.

I packed up, I moved far away, to an island.

This isn’t a metaphor, though it feels that way, it’s real.

I moved to an island.

How much further away could I have run than to put 3,000 miles of deep blue ocean between my community and myself?

And when I arrived I discovered that everything I could possibly run from is here as well.

I took it with me. I had thought it snuck into my baggage. Had burrowed itself in my hair disguised as a bobby pin. Nestled into my belt buckle or tied itself into my shoelaces-but, in reality, it resided exactly where it had all along–inside of me.

How many thousands of miles have I traveled to find that what I have run from for over a decade resides with me?

If you actually did the math I think it’s right around 11,900.

Here’s the thing-I     am      terrible     at      being         alone.

Which is very odd to me, because during childhood, I spent  a     lot    of    time       alone.

And which is very challenging, because many of the things I want to do   you    have   to     do     alone

(or at least need to be okay with the option).

Even when alone, I have The Distractions. The Distractions are to-do lists, health goals, post-graduate school planning, hobbies, hobbies, hobbies–and they have been more than distractions, they have been safety nets. Years ago I travelled alone and the safety nets dropped away and I felt empty. Even with a beautiful world all around me, I was wrecked inside.

I wasn’t ready then. I am ready now.

Sitting here, with a tropical rain outside of my window, memory of today’s rainbowed sunset in mind, I feel empty. And I am ready to look straight into that emptiness.  I’m ready to roll around in it, question it, ask about its beginning, ask it why-get to know it.

Maybe I’ll get to understand it. Maybe I’ll destroy it. Maybe I’ll just be OK with it.

But at the end—being alone will simply be….being alone…. rather than being lonely (hungry for the next Distraction).

————————————————————————————————————————————————Mom.

She went to her own kind of island.

She went into a facility where you are forced into the “alone” place. Where they tease it out of you and force you to live in it. And they watch over you with clipboards and pens and books, and tell you if you’re living in it the right way.

Sometimes I think I really understand her. Sometimes I wonder if her empty feels like my empty, or when my heart pangs from rejection if she knows this same pang.

Because then I get it. I get why she wants to avoid.

Hardly anyone has confronted me about my Distractions. In my life I am rewarded, patted on the back, because they are “accomplishments”, resume-builders, fitness-boosters……and “…you know you could have much worse addictions.”

And her Distractions? They lead to the Honesty House.

But really, it’s all the same. It’s what we do to get the heart pangs to stop. It’s what we do to run away from the empty.

And the coinciding of her island time and mine — is it a coincidence? I’m starting to doubt coincidence.

After all it was her Distraction from the empty that started to dig the hole where I now so firmly hold my emptiness (and anger and pain).

I keep telling myself I’m over all of that, healed and done. I mean, it’s been well over a decade now…..

but a brilliant woman once told me that after we first open the curtain to bring light into our darkness, we spend months or years re-opening that curtain and bringing in more and more light, because these are lessons to re-learn and it’s a darkness that doesn’t go away easily. And we all have this inside, it’s just a different room,a different size, a different place, a different curtain-pull.

And here I am on my island, facing the pain, the hurt, the rejection—trying to pull that curtain back again.

And there she is going into the House for her last try, her last attempt, because she “doesn’t want to die”–where I can only hope she will learn there is a curtain in the room.

promise ring dream

The day after I bought myself a promise ring, my grandma called to tell me about her dream the night before. It had made an impression on her because she very rarely experiences such lifelike dreams. She dreamt she had gone shopping with someone for a golden ring. Only, the ring wasn’t a simple gold band, it was rounded, “bubbled out” all around, carried with it more weight than a typical band.

‘Well Grandma, maybe it was time you bought yourself a promise ring as well.”

“You bought one? What’s a promise ring?”

“Well, typically one person gives a promise ring to another to promise, well, whatever their meaningful promise might be. In this case, I decided to make a promise to myself. A promise to take care of me. It’s a daily reminder, like tying a ribbon on your finger, that I have to take care of me. That might mean big decisions and it might also mean simply remembering to drink enough water and put myself to bed early. Consistently taking care of myself is the only way I will be an effective, whole, present lover, friend, sister, or mother.”

“Lover, friend, sister, mother…..how many bands are on your new ring?”

“Four. Ha. Life has its way of keeping everything connected, doesn’t it?”

In how many ways a day can you ask yourself what you need? How many times a day can you move your fingers and toes, and roll your shoulders and shake your hips, and remember to breathe fully?

Life already throws up enough barriers outside of your control–might as well secure your internal footing as much as you can. It’s a return to the basics. You decide the basics.