Currently // June 2021: The Edge and End

It is June. I am tired of being brave.

― Anne Sexton, “The Truth the Dead Know

The heat has been harsh and when it lets up it only serves to let the rain in and it has been just as extreme. There have been clouds climbing in from the west and thunder rolling over every night. There have been threats of flooding and hail tearing leaves from limbs, but nothing disastrous, yet.

The season has only just started and like most years here on the front range Spring came and went before we could blink and the daytime highs have risen well past pleasant. Still, this is my favorite time of year. I only wish work would let up so I could enjoy it more. These weekends won’t be enough for all the outdoor adventures I want to have.

I have promised myself to do what I can and already there has been a beautiful hiking trip and more have been planned for as often as our bodies will allow. There have been whispers among our friends of camping trips and I am hopeful for at least one weekend tucked away in the mountains among the bass and the bears.

At work things are ramping up but this is normal for my department. We hire more at the end of the summer and we are planning for our yearly all staff training day. I’m not overwhelmed yet but looking at the calendar ahead I know it won’t be long.

Personally, I’m not doing great. Like Anne Sexton, I am tired of being brave. The month of June, like many months and more than a year before, has been one of endurance that has waned to exhaustion and the brave face I show is threatening to falter. The edge and end are near, though both are temporary and overcome if only I can hold on. If only I can find space to let my guard down and let the light in.

But before I do, here is what I am currently:

Writing many many notes, fragments, journal entries, and drafts. I used to be stressed about how little was making it out of the “in progress” phase and into the realm of “published” but I’m learning to trust my process and to give my mind a chance to show my the way. I’m tried of forcing my feet to one path when they clearly want to walk another.

Making time for myself. I still have a whole lot of worry and a good amount of trauma to work through, but there is a lot more light in the tunnel and things don’t feel so hopeless. Learning to live with this hurt and this uncertainty is getting easier and easier. A new normal might be a good thing and there is space for me and my needs too.

Planning some major life improvements. I’ve been given some good news, and it looks like accomplishing some of those big impossible goals isn’t as impossible as it felt after all. A weight has been lifted and the way has been cleared substantially. I’m looking forward to new siding, tile, cabinets, flooring, and more! I wish we had started sooner but later is a whole lot better than never.

Reading nothing. I’m sad to say reading has been hard to keep up with this year. I blame chronic illness and fatigue. I blame a wandering mind and an anxious body. I blame being too busy and I blame being too tired. I blame loving life and I blame apathy. Underneath it all, I blame myself. There were too many hours of TV and Twitter that could have been used otherwise. A lesson I seem to need to learn time and time again.

Watching Ozark on Netflix, a dark drama following a financial advisor who agrees to launder money for the mob and must move his family to the Ozarks in Missouri when things go wrong. I started binge-watching just a few days ago and I will say, it’s been surprisingly engaging. Some other favorites this month include The Mare of Easttown on HBO and both Loki and The Bad Batch on Disney.

Learning to ask for help. I am learning, As in, I haven’t learned. As in, I’m still trying to ask. A lot has been on my shoulders, on my chest, and on my mind. Some of it is from this past year, but much of it has collected over a lifetime. Try as I might I can’t let it go and I can’t keep carrying it either. Someone has to hold something. Someone has to help me sort it out. Someone has to be there to say it’s ok to give it back. It’s ok to throw it away.

Anticipating some quality time away with my wife. We’re planning a trip, a real and proper vacation out of state complete with a flight, a hotel, and an itinerary. We’re going to spend five whole days drinking and eating our way through the great city of New Orleans. I just know it’s going to be just what we need to reset and restart just as the new school year looms and we begin another 10 month work cycle.

Reflecting on the difference between judgment and criticism, of listening and solving, of helping and hurting, and how easily each is confused for the other. I only ever want to help but help isn’t much help if it isn’t what the other person needs. Still the act of judging has an undeserved connotation and unbridled empathy has it’s risks. No one talks about that though. No one even considers it a possibility.

Fearing loss. This past year meant loss, some real, and some only threatened, but all was felt nonetheless. I have a feeling there is more to come. Of course, there is more to come. The older I get the more there is to lose and loss is more than anything a numbers game. The more you love and the longer you love, the higher the chances climb year after year. This knowledge is what keeps me up at night.

Hating getting older. I didn’t mind it so much before, but these past few months the signs have been showing. It’s harder to move, harder to wake and harder to recover. It’s harder to change and harder to change back. I don’t recognize myself some days and other days I am disgusted by what I see. There is so much to regret and less and less time left to make it right. I want to go back, or at least stay as I am. I hate that neither will ever be possible for me.

Loving myself. I love both how amazing I have been, how strong, and smart, kind, and helpful, and how well I have realized my faults, my wrongs, and all the ways I can improve. I love how far I have come and how far I have to go. I love the good and the bad, the light and the darkness. I feel more whole than I ever have and I love every piece and part, all the past, the present, and the potential and promises.

Needing a little more love myself. My relationships are feeling a little one sided lately and I suspect in my attempts to appear smart, strong, and steadfast others may have forgotten I have a heart and hurts of my own in need of addressing. They may have forgotten that I need them as much as they need me. They may have forgotten there is more to me than what they take.

Hoping to reconnect with my talents. I miss the things that used to get me out of bed early in the morning, the things I couldn’t wait to read or write about. The thoughts that wouldn’t stop until I got them on the page. I miss my notebook and the pages that would fill from my pen and hand and mind with ease. I miss the weight being lifted. I miss the feeling of creation and connection.


So, yeah, all in all, June was a hard month but I’m used to hard months now and I’m grateful that time has started moving a little faster. It’s hard enough to hurt, it’s worse to hurt while the world stands still. It’s hard to hold your little hurt against a global grief too enormous to fathom. June was hard but it was the first month to feel normal in such a very long time.

But what about you? Have heat waves or flash floods affected your community? Have you finally been vaccinated? Have you returned to your own sense of normalcy? Are you comfortable eating at restaurants, swimming in community pools, or enjoying a night at the movies? Does the idea of each excite you, or does it fill you with fear?

Let me know in the comments.


A Way to Discover

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research—it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.”

— Cory Doctorow, “The Memex Method

Currently // April 2021: After the Storms

April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

― Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring

I’m not in the mood for Spring this year. Though I’m glad to be rid of winter’s frigid drab, I’ll admit that the flowers and sunshine serve only to remind me more of this last year’s hardships and the long road of growth and healing that lies ahead. This particular April has been the cruelest month.

Normally April is the beginning of my own personal new year. In April I grow older and in April I come alive. It’s in this prelude to the summer when I come into my prime emotionally, physically, and professionally. There is still some of that, some days. I can’t keep the sun from my heart, no matter how much it breaks and, anyway, time heals as much as it hurts anymore.

The snow is melting, and the storms are passing. There is sunshine and rainbows, life coming back to life, and a new cycle appears ready to begin.

I’m desperate to begin with it.

But before I do, here is what I am currently:

Writing on a real schedule. It isn’t much, just one hour a day after work and two to four hours starting just before sunrise on the weekends. I’ve only just started, but I have noticed a two-fold benefit already. It’s not only easier to write when the time comes, but easier to do non-writing things without guilt at any other time I feel like it.

Making some blog changes. You may have already noticed some small design changes and I’ve been posting regularly again too. I’m working on a lot more posts to come and trying out different kinds of posts too. In addition, I’m keeping up with comments, following new sources of inspiration, and working to connect my writing to real people. There might even be a newsletter revival around the corner too!

Planning those weekend house projects. We’ve gone too many years letting too many things fall into disrepair and we’ve come to a point where we have to face what is difficult, make the time, and simply take the work weekend project by weekend project, and for the overwhelming bits, we’ve decided that it’s better to pay someone else who knows what they’re doing than to continue procrastinating or take action where we are ignorant.

Reading Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. I started it many months ago for a bookclub I never met with and only just now getting around to working through it. This month I also finished The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and Poetics by Aristotle. According to Goodreads, I’m just 12 books behind schedule for my goal.

Watching A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO for the laughs and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC when I don’t want to think too hard. Some other things I enjoyed: Tina on HBO, an account in her own words of the life of music icon and domestic abuse survivor Tina Turner and Exterminate all the Brutes a frank account of race, oppression, and genocide through European colonial history.

Learning how to focus on breath and body again. I’ve rejoined Headspace and after three or more months away it’s amazing how much effort it takes to keep the body still while the mind follows each breath in and out. The worries intrude easily now, but I know with practice I can find my peace again.

Anticipating additional anxiety as we return to some semblance of “normalcy”. I feel as though I have forgotten entirely what I used to enjoy before the pandemic began, and the proper way to socialize outside of work and immediate family escapes me. Worse still, there is a part of me that has grown to like my isolation and would perhaps prefer never to come out of it again.

Reflecting on the lessons of right now. I am not exaggerating when I say that this last year has been the hardest I’ve ever been through. I’ve lost some people, almost lost others, and even lost myself for a while too. Life is looking vastly different from here than last May, and since I can’t change a single second of it, I may as well take in the new lessons and find the new joys.

Fearing more missteps and misunderstandings. One lesson I’ve learned this past month is how quickly things can change. I’ve dealt with downward trends that took weeks or even days, but it is possible to come to such a volatile time in life that within hours your entire universe can invert. I fear now that nothing can be fully predicted, least of all the people you think you know the best.

Hating how little control I actually have. We pretend at control. We imagine free will. We think ourselves each the master of a little universe willing and manifesting day in and day out. It’s an illusion. It’s worse than that. It’s a lie. What choice and will you have is smaller than you know. It’s ok though. Work with what you have and let go of the rest.

Loving the chance to learn from someone younger than me. I’ve struggled with my fears for a long time. I thought I had come to a place of progress, but it was only a place of comfort. I have been hiding while pretending to be brave. I’m learning to find my courage by watching the next generation surpass me in every way.

Needing rest. I don’t mean sleep exactly, but simply, rest. I need a place or a time to put down the weight I’ve been carrying. I’m not just talking about the weight of the last year. I realize now I’m carrying things that have been with me for far, far longer. I need to stop for a moment. I need to lighten the load.

Hoping the worst is behind me and my loved ones, and we can finally look forward to a life of light and love. I’m hoping for a sense of self and safety that won’t be shaken again. I’m hoping with all my heart for joy, for connection, for meaning and purpose. More than anything, though, I’m hoping for a reason to hope.


So, yeah, all in all, April, was hard but I’ve learned and loved and taught and been loved back so much that the heartache and heaviness have become at least possible to bear. I know where my strength lies and I know what weaknesses need work. I know what to look for and I have a better idea of what to do next. None of it was in vain.

But what about you? Has Spring sprung where you are? Have you received your COVID vaccine doses? Is your world opening up? Are you yet in bloom?

Let me know in the comments.


Currently // December 2020: Never Be the Same

“It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.”

― Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat

The end of December has arrived and with it the end of one of the longest and most horrific years in my memory. Thinking back to this time last year, it’s shocking to mark the number of changes. I hardly recognize myself or the world around me. I can hardly believe how much has changed, how much has been lost, and how much we have to gain back.

The official winter season has only just started here in the northern hemisphere, but we are already halfway toward the next summer, my favorite season of all. The dark days and the deep cold will be with us for a long while more, but it helps to know that slowly, slowly the sun will start setting later and the number of days above freezing will steadily increase.

Twenty-twenty has been quite a year, one none of else will soon forget. We’re living through a time of unprecedented uncertainty and grief. The pandemic is still ravishing communities here in the US and though, like Spring, the vaccine is bringing an end in sight, there will still be many more dark days to survive.

Still, there have been some small victories, and plenty of lessons learned. I’ve never felt more connected to my local community and have found a sense of trust and pride in state officials and local business and leaders. I’ve had more time than i have ever had—or will ever have again—to rest, to read, to write, and to learn about myself.

Besides the fear and anxiety brought on by the pandemic raging around me, inside I was also experiencing what would turn out to be the longest and most severe flare up of my ulcerative colitis symptoms since my diagnosis. This disease took so much from me in 2020, but it also gave me something back. It showed me how strong I am. It showed me the power of the human body, of my body, for both good and bad. It brought me back to my meditation practice and reacquainted me with the calm of early mornings. It taught me it is possible to overcome yourself, and it taught me gratitude.

I’m ready to take these lessons and many, many more that this dumpster fire of a year taught me into the next. Though I know that things can always be worse, from here, looking on the innocent potential of the New Year, I can only see how good things are finally going to get. The world has a vaccine. The US has a new President. I have a new medication. I am healing. We are all healing.

As with every norm and tradition, making New Year’s resolutions just doesn’t feel the same this year. What used to be important has become trivial and forgettable, and what used to feel unimportant is now vital.

This year I’m setting very few large goals and instead focusing almost entirely on self-care. The biggest lesson I’m taking with me into the new month and year is that I must build and continually rebuild emotional endurance and resilience. This year I am putting I have to put my health and my well-being before all else because it turns out I am vulnerable in many more ways than I knew, but before I do, here’s what I am currently:

Writing from a new place in my home. The old creativity room had to be converted back into a bedroom this year, and I was left without a place to call my own. For weeks I wandered through the house from couch to bed to counter to floor, and nothing felt right until the idea struck to clear the cluttered dining table and claim a corner of the kitchen for writing alone. I’ve got my old office chair and all my notebooks here, the only essentials I need. I will have an office again eventually, but for now this will do.

Making this house a home. My wife and I are notorious for procrastinating on needed house projects and repair, but with reduced hours at work due to the pandemic, boredom has pushed us to complete project after project just to have something to do. My wife has taken the lead and going forward I have a feeling my role will be regulated to simply approving or disapproving plans but that’s ok. Slowly and steadily these ugly fixtures, bare walls, and outdated decor are being transformed into something personal, something more livable.

Planning and tracking each day of 2021. In preparation for the coming year and upon reflection of the last, I thought it might be a good idea to move back toward an all analog system of allocating my hours. I have long been a fan of author Austin Keons system of note taking and logging and have tweaked it somewhat to include to-go lists and goals. I have a new, and quite plain just the way I like it, Moleskine daily planner to my habits and schedule. I have a Journal to record the day’s moods and thoughts,

Reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. Many of Beauvoir’s ideas are now outdated since the advancement of science and the understanding of gender, but her writing style is wonderfully unique and her power to inform and impassion is inspiring. I haven’t technically started Poor People’s Movements, but it has moved to the top of my TBR since I, on impulse, joined a book club that is meeting virtually in just a few weeks to discuss the introduction and chapter one.

Watching The Stand on CBS and old episodes of Veep on HBO. Some of my favorite shows this year include The Mandalorian, Raised by Wolves, The Queen’s Gambit, and Lovecraft Country. I have tried these past months to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of the TV, and largely I feel I have been successful. Unfortunately, Disney recently announced a slew of new Star Wars shows coming to their streaming app, and I suspect my couch time will significantly increase as a result.

Learning about Social Psychology. I’m two weeks into the course and while I find the material interesting, I’m having a hard time progressing due to time constraints. This course requires has quite a bit more reading than the previous courses I’ve taken. Still, I’m excited to get through it, not for the subject alone but for the courses I have lined up to take after. On a whim last month, I enrolled in four new Coursera courses—the certificates were being offered for free, I couldn’t resist!—and to keep from overwhelming myself, I’m only allowing myself to take them one at a time.

Anticipating a return to a normal schedule and routine. All through autumn I had wished and wished for my district to go fully remote, but when we finally did it wasn’t at all what I expected. Unlike the last shutdown I have still been expected to come in and without the kids, there has been very little to do. At first the quiet, easy days were nice, but experiencing boredom and isolation both at home and at work has proved detrimental to my mental health in ways I couldn’t imagine. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but actually I’m ready for more work, for more coworkers, and to see the kids smiling again.

Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic. There is no doubt that this year will be a defining one for all of us. It will be one of those times in which there is a great before stretching back through our lives and along after the is laid out long after our lifetimes. We’d all be fools not to spend some time taking in all the ways the spread of this virus has shaped and reshaped our new world and in turn shaped and reshaped who are. I know I’m not the same person I was just last March and I don’t think any one of us is, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Fearing things will get worse before they get better. The vaccine is here and already the most vulnerable are being inoculated, but it will be a long while before the reports of record-breaking sickness and death are behind us. Now that the worst of winter is upon us and the cold is driving us indoors, now that we are desperate for community and connection, now that we have grown weary and stupid, the virus has grown more contagious and we are all the more vulnerable now. My fear is the worst is yet to come, for me and for all of us together.

Hating how little empathy and care is being shown to the American people by their own government. I’m thrilled to know that in just a few short weeks the office of the presidency will be handed over to the Democratic party, but I have little hope Biden or the Democrats who hold a majority in the House of Representatives will be able to do any good there. The Republicans will more than likely hold the Senate, and majority leader Mitch McConnell will go on blocking compassionate legislation and allowing the most vulnerable among us to go on suffering.

Loving this sense of community I feel everywhere I go. Whether I’m at home, at work, in the grocery store, on the internet, or watching TV, I feel part of something. It’s the neighborhood, the city, the state, the country, the world, we are all in something together and though I wish it hadn’t taken so much fear and anguish to bring us together, I’m happy we’ve pulled together to pull through it. We more united than ever. We are more like mind and like hearted than we’ve ever been. This is one thing I hope will never go back to “the way things were”.

Needing to see my friends again. I have spent some time with family throughout the year and that has been a great salve to my mental woes and lonely heart, but I have had no time with my friends and I miss them all very much. I miss dinner and drinks. I miss brunch. I miss movies and house parties. I miss our laughter and our talks. My family has been great, but I miss being around people who are under no obligation to like or even tolerate me.

Hoping that 2021 will be a little kinder to us all and if it isn’t I hope we all have learned how to care for ourselves and go on living and loving despite our fears and failures. I hope that we conquer this virus and we learn how to prevent such great losses when the next one—perhaps even more virulent and deadly than this—rises and spreads. I hope we have learned what it means to be species, united in our struggle to survive. I hope we have learned the meaning of humanity.

I hope we will never be the same again.


So, yeah, all in all, December, like all of 2020, has been fraught with both fear and hope. Better days always felt near and yet never quite arrived. I begin the new year in much the same place, still just on the horizon of a new world and way of living.

But what about you? How has the month, and the year itself for that matter, treated you? How have you learned to cope, and how will you go on coping when the world begins its next revolution around the sun? How will you celebrate tonight and who, if anyone, will you celebrate with?

Let me know in the comments.


The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Unsplash

Controlling Experience

Writing is control. The part of the university in which I teach should properly be called the Controlling Experience Department. Experience—mystifying, overwhelming, conscious, subconscious—rolls over everybody. We try to adapt, to learn, to accommodate, sometimes resisting, other times submitting to, whatever confronts us. But writers go further: they take this largely shapeless bewilderment and pour it into a mold of their own devising. Writing is all resistance””

— Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six Essays

I Don’t Know How to Speak

I speak a lot, I mean, a lot of words, and I rush, and it always comes out wrong. And why is it that I speak a lot of words and it comes out wrong? Because I don’t know how to speak. Those who know how to speak well, speak briefly. So, there you have my giftlessness—isn’t it true? But since this gift of giftlessness is natural to me, why shouldn’t I use it artificially? And so I do. True, as I was preparing to come here, I first had the thought of being silent; but to be silent is a great talent, and is therefore not fitting for me, and, second, it’s dangerous to be silent, after all; well, so I finally decided that it would be best to talk, but precisely in a giftless way, I mean, a lot, a lot, a lot, to be in a great rush to prove something, and towards the end to get tangled up in one’s own proofs, so that the listener throws up his hands, or, best of all, just spits and walks away without any end.”

— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons (via Erica Avey)