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Not drowning, facing down a fear & learning to live

30 Aug

I don’t know how to swim.  Put me in water over my head and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll drown.

Don’t ask my why because I don’t have an answer. The closest thing to a swimming lesson I ever had came at the age of 12 when my mother enrolled me in a beginner’s swimming class filled with 6 to 8 year olds. I was embarrassed and angry and frustrated that the pool officials wouldn’t put me in the teen swimming class even if I was a year too young and I was even more angry that my mother thought a swimming class with 6 to 8 year olds was what I meant when I said I wanted to learn how to swim. The class served only to solidify my hatred for putting my head under water and fueled my passion for writing angry teen poetry.

Prior to age 12, various stepfathers and a stepbrother spent time threatening to throw me into a body of water where I would surely figure it out. They were convinced my survival instincts would kick in and just like that I’d be a swimming machine. It’s a small miracle that I survived.

At 16 I got my first set of contact lenses.  I became convinced that, if I let water splash my face, I would lose a contact lens, get turned around while out in the ocean and mistake the horizon for the shore. The ocean would pull be out to sea and I’d either drown or get eaten by whales.

So here I am: 26, unable to swim and pretty much terrified of any water that’s more than 5 feet deep.  

Every time I go to the beach it’s the same thing. My friends go out in the ocean and show off their stupid swimming skills while I splash around on the shore acting like I’m totally content to take pictures and hunt for sea shells. They yell for me to get in the fucking ocean already and every time I squawk back about how I’m busy and fine and don’t want to get in the water because it’s cold and wet and oceany so leave me the fuck alone you swimming assholes.

This time I wanted it to be different. I was determined. With my laser-corrected eyes I knew I wasn’t going to end up losing a lens and swimming out to sea to be eaten by whales. I still couldn’t swim, but I desperately wanted to get in the water. And I did. Someone brought a boogie board and I took it out to sea with me. Instead of freaking out and yelling at everyone to leave me alone, I listened. I went.

The ocean floor dropped out from beneath me and I kept going. Andrew and the boys were there. My breath kept getting caught in my throat and I screamed every single time the board shifted and I felt like I would sink to the bottom, but I was okay. I didn’t drown.

The boys kept asking if I was joking with my pathetic feet kicking and terrified screams. I assured them that no, I wasn’t. At 26, I’d never been out that far before. I’d never not been able to touch the ocean floor. I’d never been that brave.

There’s some sort of hidden meaning here, I’m sure. Some sort of message from the Universe. Something to do with my need for control and firm footing and how sometimes it’s okay to let go and let the world hold you up. I’m taking it as what I know it to be: a fist in the face of fear.

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An Autumn Lesson, or, learning how to not be such a spaz.

24 Aug

School starts back up on Thursday. Three classes. Nine credits. The heaviest course loaded I’ve ever attempted while being employed full-time. In the past week, I’ve felt myself get tense. I keep catching my shoulders inching up toward my ears and my foot tap-tapping away. I am jittery and jumpy.

I spent the summer joking about what an asshole I was going to be once fall rolled back around and school started back up. Throw in a few nervous laughs for good measure, and it’s pretty clear I’ve been worried about this semester since I signed up for it back in April. I’d scale back a class, except that I know I can do this. My nerves hit before starting last semester. And the semester before that. But everything was fine. My GPA continued to inch up and my head failed to explode. Plus, if I get through this semester, I’ll be just 21 credits away from my degree. That’s 7 classes. Spring, Summer, Fall. If I keep it up, this time next year I could be entering my final semester of undergraduate work.

In order to stay sane this Autumn, I’m setting out on an additional learning adventure:

I want to:

// learn to be still.
// relax.
// let the bulk of the stress and anxiety go.

I don’t want to:

// spend the next three months stressed out, throwing snippy remarks around and stomping around the house.

SO, I’m going to:

// try new things.
// remember to breathe.
// exercise more.
// be still for a few minutes each day.
// squeeze the things bothering me really tight and then just let them go.
// remind myself that I’m lucky to have something like college and a secure job to get stressed and anxious about.
// enjoy a few mini-vacations.

By the end of the season, I hope to:

// have found something that helps me let go and relax.
// be a few steps forward on the path toward being less of a high-strung asshole.

When life gets to be too much, what helps you unwind? Do you have a hard time letting things go, or are you more of a mellow mushroom? What keeps you grounded?

Vegan for a weekend, it feels good to laugh & the stupid things that used to matter.

23 Aug

The weekend brought two of my favorite friends from high school to Richmond.

One of my most favorite parts of getting together with old friends, especially old high school friends who knew me at my most ridiculous, is the part where we sit down, drink too much wine, and laugh at ourselves. Everything in high school felt like a matter of life and death. Relationships, strange breezes, grades, car rides. Every little thing was a GREAT BIG THING back then. I was latched on tight to a silly, immature boy, spent a lot of time writing really awful poetry and cried more than I smiled. It was ridiculous.

I realize now, with some distance between then-me and now-me that it was all true. Everything any one said about being a teenager was true. It does get better. It’s not the end of the world. You really don’t know anything. You really do have a lot to learn. He’s a douche. You can do better. Fact. All of it.

I still sweat more of the small stuff than I should. I think it’s just how I’m wired. I worry. It’s my thing. But I realize now that the world is much, much bigger than I ever could have imagined. There are more important things than elected positions in Drama Club and boys with bad hair who smell like feet.

Saturday we broke out the yearbooks. It hasn’t even been a decade yet, but already our yearbook pictures look like silly versions of ourselves. There were so many things, so many moments worth laughing about now. I laughed so hard my abs hurt, my throat closed up, and tears sprang from my eyes.

Before my friends arrived, back when I made my to-do list of the month, I made the decision to go vegan for the weekend they were here. I’ve talked about contemplating vegetarianism about 1,000 times already and while going vegan isn’t really an option for me, I figured going vegan for the weekend my two vegan friends are in town wouldn’t be too much of stretch.

It was…different. We had vegetable kebabs, garlic fries and a grain salad Friday night for dinner that was right in line with food we normally eat. Saturday morning my friend cooked vegan “sausage and eggs” that tasted surprising good even if the texture was a bit off. Dinner Saturday we had tofu-dogs on the grill, corn on the cob and salad.  I was unimpressed with the tofu-dogs. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about them though. Sunday morning we brunch at Strange Matter where I ate some absolutely delicious vegan french toast. My friend had vegan biscuits and gravy that was killer delicious. I was impressed.

You know it was good night when you wake up to a dining room table that looks like this:

Yes, that’s a board game, a bottle of vodka, a few empty beer bottles, 4 empty bottles of wine and a vegan chocolate cake.

42 Years.

18 Aug

Yesterday I got on a Black Hawk helicopter piloted by what very well might have been the oldest pilot in uniform on that given day. It was for his final flight. After 42 years of service (!!), at age 62, he retired. He’d been in since Vietnam, had spent thousands and thousands of hours in the air. He met his wife after Vietnam and his daughter said all she’s ever known is her father as a helicopter pilot. The only reason he retired is because the Army said he had too.

I wonder if I’ve ever loved doing something so much that I would want to do it for 42 years. I can’t even begin to imagine what four decades must feel like, having not even lived through three yet. Sure, things changed to keep things interesting, and yes, flying helicopters is super bad ass and it’s probably really hard to get tired of doing something so fucking awesome, but still.

This pilot had another job, his civilian job doing something totally different from the flying he does for the National Guard, but still. To keep the uniform on for that long, to keep serving, to keep learning and training – it’s amazing to me. I’m awed and inspired.

I try to relate it to my own life, and I can’t. There’s nothing I can think of, short of rolling in a field with puppies, that I would want to do for 42 years.

I love and enjoy my job. It’s challenging. It’s fun. I get to see and do some really wonderful and amazing things. But could I do it forever?

It makes me wonder if attention spans are shorter than they used to be. I mean, why not? We’ve got the internet now. I don’t need to focus. I need to multi-task and flit back and forth and do 16 things at once because I’m got the internet, man. I wonder, when I’m 62, if I’ll know someone who’s done something, one great amazing thing, for 42 years. Better yet, I wonder if it’ll be me. I wonder if, after serving my first decade in the Army, I’ll just keep going. I like it. It’s not for everyone. It’s a special sort of crazy, but  I like it.

Is there anything you could do for 42 years?

Yep. Still trying to figure out the difference between who I am & who I want to be.

16 Aug

It’s humid again. Big surprise there.

Andrew told me this morning that I hate summer. And he’s right. I like the idea of summer. Spring hits and I start to looking forward to sitting outside, reading a classic novel, sipping some fruity concoction, but then reality hits harder and all I can stand to do is open the door for the dogs to go outside and occasionally peek into my mostly wilted garden. I don’t want to sit outside and enjoy the weather. I don’t like sweating. I don’t like melting. I don’t like it when my legs stick to one another and, around here, that’s what summer is all about. It’s about sweating and sun-burnt grass that crunches under your feet, air so thick with humidity you can almost swim through it.

As it turns out, I fucking hate summer.

Realizations like these fascinate me. I’m astounded. How did I not know, after 26 years of life and countless days sweating it out in the sun, that I hate summer? What the hell took me so long? Why do I keep looking forward to summer? Why have I convinced myself that I like it?

It makes me wonder: Have I been so wrapped up in discovering REALLY BIG AND IMPORTANT things about myself that I’ve totally skipped over the little things that make me, me? Like my favorite color. It’s green, but I didn’t decide that until about 2 years ago. As a kid, I couldn’t tell you what my favorite color was. I didn’t have one. I liked blue and green and purple and red and so on and so forth. I don’t have a favorite food, or a favorite alcoholic beverage, or a favorite movie or song. So far, I’ve gotten to favorite color. That’s it for the favorite department! Color me undecided on everything else!

In life, I like order. I like plans and lists and schedules. Everything needs to be decided and defined. But when it comes to me, when it comes down to who I am, definitions are out. I can’t define myself. Or rather, I don’t want to. I don’t want to be this or that. I ride the line. I don’t have a favorite. I don’t want to choose. I don’t want to decide. I want to be everything and nothing, different, sometimes opposing, parts of a whole.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. There’s no rule book for life that says you must have favorites or that you have to define yourself using a 74 topic, 12-point scale. I just think it’s neat, how each time I learn something new about myself I get firmer in my belief that I’m undefinable. I’m not one thing. I’m a million things and undeniably in between on everything. I love steak, but crave vegetarianism. I proudly serve in the military, but, at the end of the day, I’m still a tree-hugging hippy. I love defining plans, but hate defining myself.

Ultimately, I guess I love little discoveries. I love learning that I don’t like eggplant or that I hate summer or that capers are one of my most favorite things to toss in a pasta dish. These little things give me a clearer picture. They don’t bring me closer to a definition (which I don’t really want, anyway), but they do help me to paint a bigger and brighter picture of who I am today.