blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: September 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Just Breathe...

The following is a transcript of some free writing I did this afternoon.  I don't often hand write things because I find that my hand cannot keep up with my brain in any meaningful, legible way.  There are times, however, where I make an exception for some reason.  Today was one of those times...I did not overthink it much, I did not take the time to edit or craft it.  I just put it from paper to screen.

I'm sitting in the Arboretum as I write this.  It is probably my favorite place to be of late, especially near to home.  My summer was full of turmoil - much of it of my own making - and I often retreated here for solace and to escape the noise of the whirlwind around me.  Numerous visits for several months brought me from late spring through summer and now into fall.  This has afforded me the opportunity to see the change from the growth of spring to the vibrancy of summer and now the slow decay of autumn as Mother Earth prepares herself for the long winter to come.  It is hard to stay lost in man-made desperation and chaos when each step rattles the world -- a chipmunk darts across the path ahead, while a turtle slips into the waters to one side and something rustles in the dry leaves on the other.  There is silence, but it is folded into the scurrying of unseen creatures, the call of the bullfrog, the song of hidden birds.  From visit to visit, the swamp would rise and fall according to the will of the rain, and a single leaf falls or countless cascade around me at the will of the wind.  Not a single care I bring with me can stop this ebb and flow of nature's endless cycle.  I have watched the brook near to bursting from spring's powerful torrents and cautiously stepped around fallen logs and bending branches which were not there the walk before.  I have startled wildlife, sat in the sunlight, been drench in a sudden downpour.  I have wiped sweat from my eyes as I peered into a tree where two herons perched and crept as quiet as may be towards sunbathing turtles, hoping to capture them in frozen image before they slipped away.  I have peered fruitlessly into the trees trying to see what rustled in the undergrowth or hopped from branch to branch.  I have had camera on hand in exactly the right moment to capture snakes, crawdads, a rainbow of birds and flowers, dragonflies and bees, a fawn and a snapping turtle.  All allowed me to step into their world and, for a time, live there in respectful distance, my errands no less important than theirs.  My survival differently but equally dependent on what I found there.  

I have sat for hours on the board walk, on a log, on a patch of leaves, on a grassy hill above the wetlands, searching for peace and coming closer to it than I dared hope.  Immersing myself in nature is profoundly moving in seemingly contradictory ways - I feel at once alone and yet in tune with the vibrant life around me.  I feel insignificant but somehow an intricate part of something powerful at the same time.  I am equally enamored of a bug skimming the surface of the water as I am of the trees pushing their way towards the bluest of skies.  Each remind me of the strength and grace that nature gives both her largest and smallest creatures.  Each intricate leaf, each unnamed plant, each unrecognized flower, each sound I cannot place is part of me and I of it.  I owe my soul and my heart to the hours I've spent listening to my own footsteps, hearing my own heartbeat, feeling the air fill my own lungs, and taking in each minute beautiful detail of the world with my own eyes.  This is peace  - I come seeking it, outwardly, and find it within.  Tranquility in endless movement and chaotic rhythms.  Finding beauty in a submerged log, a fallen leaf, browned grasses pushing through a stump half drowning in swampy waters.  No matter what ails me, what troubles I found or made, life will go on.  Birth from death, renewal from decay, the promise of a greater tomorrow. And even in the crumpled leaf and the broken twig, there is hope and beauty and promise.  Serenity.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
—Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Walk Right In, Sit Right Down...

Today, on this 18th day of September, I am resurrecting my blog. I am doing so because I miss writing because I don’t do it enough. I am doing so because I feel that it would make me a more genuine teacher of writing if I practice the craft I teach. I am doing so because this is the area of writing in which I feel I am best. I don’t think I will ever be a writer of fiction; I don’t have the stamina or the detailed mind for it. I fear my stories are in a permanent state of stasis. But this, this I can do. So, I will, and I will simply by diving right in...

Last night my friend the dragon, who has had pretty serious battles with depression was talking to me about how he was acutely aware of his mood and he felt the need to go read or watch anime or otherwise be away from people. Because of this, he was forcing himself to be in a place where he had to interact with others. When he explained why, it made a good deal of sense to me. He knew that if he gave into that need to be alone, it would lead down a path whose destination he already knew and to which he did not want to go. I made a point of talking to him for the rest of the evening about my own recent internal battles and how I felt I was better learning what it meant to have healthy friendships on which I did not feel wholly dependent for my own validation. Towards the end of the evening, I asked him how he was feeling. His response was that he felt much better – that the online group activity in which he was engaged and the steady conversation he and I had been having had pulled him back from walking down that road of isolation. I went to bed that night feeling like I had done some real good in the world – it wasn’t so drastic as having saved someone’s life, but I was able to figure out what someone else needed and was then able to provide it. And it worked.

Fast forward to today and once I was done with my classes, I found myself embroiled in trip plans that involved a travel agent, the chair of a committee that grants funds for professional development, and the coordinator of a conference I’m attempting to go to in November. It was aggravating, time-consuming, and ultimately is still unresolved completely. Added to that, my lunch plans fell through because my companion’s own schedule had become ridiculously complicated and so I could feel a desire to just go off and buy lunch somewhere and sit alone until meetings called me back a few hours later.

And then I remembered my friend from the night before.

Before I continue, I should point out that I am not normally one to run at a problem. I dislike conflict of any kind, so I’m much more likely to retreat, even if there is no real conflict and I’m just running away from the world. It does not help that I am an introvert, so sometimes running away seems like the only sane option. If there is no one around, you can’t be let down and you can’t get tired of interacting with the world. You just ARE in those moments, but not in a Zen sort of way.

I thought about how my dragon friend forced himself to socialize because he knew where isolating himself would lead him and he did not want to go there. I thought to myself, I wonder if that would work for me. Would forcing myself to come out of the Flight of the Introvert actually help? I mean, it wasn’t like I was depressed or otherwise in a dampening mood – I just didn’t want to be around people. This would be a problem, however, if I embraced it and then had to go actually run a meeting later that afternoon. So, I decided I’d give Dragon’s idea a try.

When a former student stopped by after her class, I took the plunge. I wonder if she realized the words sort of tumbled out rather abruptly; “What are you doing? Do you want to go to Wegman’s for lunch with me?” After that, it was easier and it was not long before I felt the need for isolation subside. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my head or heart or something and I could face the world again. This is especially significant because I call this friend Switch for unrelated reasons, but the name seemed even more fitting today. After we ate and I took her back to campus, I went for a walk in my Arboretum (perhaps I will blog about that next) to temper the surge of energy I felt from conquering what I knew was not a good state of mind in which to be. Life was good.

I came out of the Arboretum ready to sit in one meeting and run another one and I’m not sure I could have said the same if I hadn’t made myself take a leap of faith off not a cliff, but at least a small hill. And you know what? It was worth it.

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun” – Benedict Cumberbatch