259 // Soften

Woke up to another frigid fall morning, but all forecasts point to another scorching afternoon. I’m feeling good despite my late start and lazy bones. We’re on the downhill side of the week and the work and as we make our way to the weekend, there’s promise of more time to myself and a little space to think.

My pocket notebook has been filling fast these past days, but my larger ones—the journal and the planner—are languishing, unloved at home. I miss the surprising insights that come from such private expression and the chance to document the days before the nightly culling of mundane facts in favor of space and efficiency.

I keep saying to myself that I don’t have the time, but I know I do. I watched three episodes at least last night of Reservation Dogs and while the show was entertaining and certainly took my mind off the day, there is more I could have done. It’s not so much a drive to be productive, but a simple need to feel fulfilled.

When I reflect on how I spend my time, how I eat, the things I say, and all the things I don’t do, I feel more regret than pride. I wonder, who is that person? And why can’t she do the good thing, the right thing, the hard thing? I feel out of control as if I’m made of little more than a cobbling together of cravings and reflexes. I’m troubled by how little of who I am turns out to be my choice.

But I’d like to change. I’d like to be more aware. It starts with noticing the body. The way my physical self feels and moves. It starts with noticing my need, my hunger, my hurts. It takes slowing down and noting the position, posture, and proximity of my body to people and objects and moving toward or away with purpose.

Some takeaways so far: 1. I tend to tense rather than relax into a slouched posture. 2. The muscles of my lower abdomen clench when I am stressed the way others might in the jaw or shoulders. 3. I hold my breath often as if I am waiting for something—or bracing for a blow—that never comes.

Forcing the shoulders back, the spine straight, and taking a deep breath helps relax the gut and soften the disposition.

258 // Peripheral

The season is settling in. This morning felt like the coldest one yet and though the afternoon’s temperatures are still rising above 80 degrees, I think it’s time to change my wardrobe over to long pants and sleeves.

This week continues to strain, but after today I’ll have made it halfway and the worst will be behind me. I hope that by Friday my workweek will relax and I can focus on my home and family and the next tasks and to-dos I need to tackle.

I’m looking forward to a few days of rest next week and doing a whole lot of nothing the weekend after.

One thing going well and my only source of fulfillment lately is reading. I’ve delved back into The Odyssey and The Body Keeps the Score.

The former is a more recent translation than the previous version I read and I’ve had to adjust to a simpler and more relaxed telling. At first, it turned me off, but keeping in mind Emily Wilson’s reasoning for the wording she chose has helped to see the epic from her point of view and glean something new from it. It’s got me thinking about what it means to be a morally good person vs a successful and powerful person. In what ways are those two things at odds and how has the ideal version of each changed through the ages?

As for the latter, I had to take a break. It turns out that reading about trauma and thinking about your own past without leaving time to process can leave the mind and body too engrossed in remembering and worrying to engage with others or get a good night’s sleep. I’ve learned there is a lot left to notice and to learn about myself. There is a lot left to heal and more I may miss without having ever known of the gap.

A little time away and a chance to lose myself in physical labor has seen me back to calm and I’ve dipped my toes back in. I’m ready to slip into the shallow end, with my feet finding the bottom and the past firmly in my peripheral vision.

256 // Big Courage

The morning started out rough but slowly, slowly, the day, and my mood along with it, is improving. Much of what I felt anxious about has resolved and the rest is turning out not to be as bad as my gut felt it would be. The universe is ordered. Everything will be okay.

The summer is subtly waning. I can feel it through to my bones. The drive to work and the drive out on the routes are getting darker day by day and the midday takes longer to warm. Each evening the chill blows in earlier and I drowsiness takes me over as the sun sets. By the next morning, the cold has crept into the house and as I struggle to pull myself from the warm bed, I wonder if it’s time yet to turn on the furnace.

I’m thankful for the end of this past weekend and eager for the end of the next too.

Between the many birthdays, appointments, social engagements, errands, projects, and long work hours, my wife and I are feeling absolutely exhausted, but this shared suffering is bringing us closer than ever and we’re absolutely in love too. The paradox of love. When you have all the time together you want, you want to work on other things, and when you don’t have the time, all you want is each other.

Every day that passes brings a deep relief and increased self-worth as I accomplish again and again all that I feared I will fail. Big goals are being met and that takes big courage too. I’m grateful to find I have it in me after all.

252 // Absorbed

All year I have struggled to read through even a few pages at a time of the books marked for this year, but these past few days I’ve been completely absorbed by The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I suppose I have always had an affinity for these kinds of books, the ones that put into words what I have been trying my whole life through blogs and journals to describe. This book, in just the first few chapters, has given me more words than any book before.

I’ve been on a journey to discover how exactly I survived so much and how I have been lastingly changed by both my traumas and my responses. The healing in many ways has been as lonely, confusing, and painful as the hurting, and it isn’t over yet. It isn’t ever over.

Acceptance has gotten me far and by simple accident and incredible chance I was able to find safe people and create safe spaces to reboot and reconnect the parts of myself that were utterly obliterated. If I didn’t know better, I would believe miracles existed.

The more I am absorbed by this reading, the more reabsorbed I become with writing. My pocket notebook is back in hand and the pages are filling with insight and hope. This little black book is now at least half-filled with fragments of perspective and reflection, and my hope has always been that these pieces will become a larger body of work one day.

Beyond the self-discovery and the new age of healing, and my renewed ability to wordsmith, I’ve relearned that the key to reading fervently is by finding books that speak to me rather than forcing myself through books I think I should read. Finding books that you are ready for isn’t easy. You stumble upon them and through them realize you needed them. I’m revisiting the advice of Austin Kleon that I fought so hard to accept: “Quit reading books you don’t like.”

I want to read books that I don’t like so I fight and fight and fight to finish them, but maybe putting a book down doesn’t have to mean putting it down forever. The book might not be for me today, but tomorrow? Next week? In a year? Maybe. Put down books you don’t like, but pick them back up again when you become the version of yourself that needs them.

Imperatives

The most important job of the brain is to ensure our survival, even under the most miserable conditions. Everything else is secondary. In order to do that, brains need to: (1) generate internal signals that register what our bodies need, such as food, rest, protection, sex, and shelter; (2) create a map of the world to point us where to go to satisfy those needs; (3) generate the necessary energy and actions to get us there; (4) warn us of dangers and opportunities along the way; and (5) adjust our actions based on the requirements of the moment. And since we human beings are mammals, creatures that can only survive and thrive in groups, all of these imperatives require coordination and collaboration.”

— Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

244 // That Old Enthusiasm

We’re seeing a small drop in temperatures and we’re promised the trend will last through the end of the week. Downtime is decreased today as I’m taking on a longer route for the afternoon and spent the morning back in the dentist’s chair receiving a temporary crown.

The procedure went well, better than the root canal for sure though still not as “painless” as they try to convince you it will be. My bite is no more comfortable and my anxiety no more eased, though I’m still grateful for the ability and opportunity to save my teeth. There are a few more that need work, but the fire is out and pain no longer dominates my day.

I’m feeling a bit better about the rising Covid threat. The mask mandate has been reinstated for all of our students and staff, and I’m relieved. It’s nice to work for a district that believes in science and takes the health of the community it serves seriously. It’s less stressful for someone like me whose immune system is not only overactive but kept cooled by medication with a myriad of side effects. My vulnerability to Covid is in question, but I’m at ease in the workplace.

Writing is slow going, obviously, but I assure you a paragraph or two was written. I’m proud of myself and I’m determined to keep the ideas flowing and the momentum going. My pocket notebook is close at hand and the pages are getting filled a few at a time. Every article I read, every conversation I have, every song and silence I hear is a spark.

Something is changing. I’m finding a little of that old enthusiasm I used to feel. I’m coming into the prime of a new age. I can feel it.

243 // Looking Up From Here

The workweek is moving right along and though my jaw is still sore and my tooth still bothersome, I’m miles away from where I was just under a week ago and grateful beyond words. I’m down to a low, dull throb and that can be turned down to nearly normal with just a little Tylenol, a little ibuprofen, and a big cup of cold brew.

The route I’ve been on has some significant challenges that at first felt small and temporary but seem to be increasing in intensity day by day. I worry about what will happen in a week’s time, or even in a month. We have an unsafe situation and it’s only going to go on getting progressively more volatile until someone is seriously hurt and chances are that someone will be me.

I’ve had enough experience to know that you cannot wait out certain behaviors. They have to be addressed for the person in crisis, for the others involved, and for yourself. I stood my ground, advocated for my kids and it looks like I may have convinced the powers that be to make the changes needed to keep everyone safe and, just as importantly, happy.

The rest of the afternoon is looking up from here. I have a busy day ahead, and a busy week beyond, but there is some good on the way too. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I will finally get a proper crown on this tooth and this soreness dissipates, and beyond that, there is a nice, long four-day weekend to relax and heal in.

The only thing keeping me down now is the lack of progress I’ve made with writing. Some of it is my fault, but a lot was out of my hands. Great strides were being made, and just as I was on my way to getting a little more organized and on the cusp of getting down to work, pain and fatigue put me off track. Now I’m stuck catching up instead of starting anew. I’ll get there, I just can’t give up. I can’t lose focus, which has been the tendency of the past. I’m determined it stay a bad habit I used to have.

241 // Almost Unbearable

This is the first moment I’ve had in days that I could sit up and think clearly enough to write anything. The short of it is I had to get an emergency root canal after a tooth I chipped many, many months ago decided to start causing problems.

It started around lunchtime last Wednesday with a strange discomfort while chewing. By the end of the workday, the left side of my jaw was throbbing. That evening I was mixing acetaminophen with ibuprofen and trying desperately to find a dentist in network that would see me the next day.

I made it into work the next morning, running on little more than caffeine and deep guilt. I didn’t want to leave my coworkers hanging. I didn’t want to leave the kids confused. Luckily I was was able to see a dentist that afternoon. The good news was they could save the tooth. The bad news was the pain would only get worse unless I took care of it as soon as possible and damn, were they right!

By Friday morning, the pain was almost unbearable. I was sleeping on the couch with an ice pack on my face and fighting the impulse to pull the tooth myself. Anything would have been better than how I felt. I knew I couldn’t give the students my best care when I could barely think through the pain, so I did what I felt was best for them and for me, I stayed home.

That afternoon I was in the endodontist chair awaiting a root canal and within an hour I was feeling…different. The pain I went in with was relieved, but I left with new pain and there was more to come. Stomach pain from the medication, headaches, soreness, and getting used to chewing and talking with the temporary filling has been hard, but with plenty of rest and a little TLC from my wife, I am slowly getting better.