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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Letting Go and Clearing Out

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There are so many parallels and polar extremes in our daily lives. Sometimes they are so obvious that we cease to recognize them. But even so, strange things happen in patterns to me, to you, to friends, and neighbors. Some call it coincidence, serendipity, or synchronicity. These are the things that are too strange to explain. This is the stochasticity of the universe at play in our lives. It makes life completely unpredictable, and in a way that it is worth starting each day new.

Each day has been unpredictable for me for the past week or so. I just finished up a challenging grant project, and am doing a fair amount of coordinating, management, and physical labor for two (or three?) additional projects. This is freelance I suppose. It’s up to me to get these projects done, but in a way that I see fit. There is something exciting about doing the things I need to do in a way that works for me, but there is something unsettling about it as well. It would be a joke to think that having a flexible work schedule leaves room for more chaos. If anything, it allows room for order to emerge.

This is a good thing, because order has always been a challenge for me. I was raised with little understanding of organization. And as I strive to understand my perfectionist tendencies, I realize the polarity that I have created within myself. I seek perfection in the final product. This is true, especially when its related to writing, art, and aesthetics. I realize that it is up to the creator to say when. Any of these could go on forever. Perfection is not attainable if the objective is to share the final product.

While I seek perfection in the final product, I am rather chaotic in the process. Doing tends not to be about getting done, it tends to be about exploring. I want to see what unfolds before me. I rearrange many times, see what works, and play with possibility. It drives my husband completely crazy. “What are you going to do today?” he’ll ask. “Um, probably whatever I do.”

A strange pattern arises in the parallel I experience with what seems to be a new chapter in my process of healing and recovery. I am beginning to see the impact of my choices on my physical well being in very clear ways. Drinking a Pepsi with dinner leads to leg cramps in the morning. Wearing my favorite wedge heals while carrying and moving things around their space leads do ill aligned posture and positioning on my pelvis, resulting in pain from my back to my feet. Staying up late, trying to get a project done does not help me feel my best in the morning. For the longest time, I would have taken these discomforts as a part of life. But now I am seeing the connections. I don’t want to feel bad. I want to feel healthy, and I have the ability in my own choices to do that.

It is a small step in bringing order to my life. I’m through with waking each morning feeling bad in some way. I’m through with abusing or neglecting myself. It’s up to me to know when to say when.

The parallel to this experience in physical being aligns with physical space. We create our own environment that we live in. And for some, this is easier to create a space they are comfortable in than others. As I tend to do things with spontaneity and chaos hand in hand, my environment is not as tidy as I would like. When I get busy, I lose my keys, my glasses, my purse, my phone, and on and on. I feel a bit of hope in that this doesn’t happen everyday. I feel a bit of hope that I can discern patterns that impact my physical well-being. It seems possible too that I can identify why/what/how/when I do things that result in an uncomfortable living space.

I can feel order emerging, slowly. As my grandfather told me once when I asked him why he had very little hair on his head, “Grass doesn’t grow on a busy sidewalk.” I think that might be applicable here too. This month marks the third year that we have been in our home. That is the longest I have called one place “home” in over twenty-years. Even amidst juggling projects, life has settled enough to maybe, just find a pattern that works well.

Wish me luck today as I finish cleaning my home office- which will probably result in returning displaced items to their rightful spaces, thus cleaning and organizing bathrooms, kitchen, and bedrooms as well. More than anything, I hope to be able to let go of items that no longer have a use in my life. Like texts from graduate school, receipts and lists from last summer, notes and notebooks from previous projects and jobs. Only by letting go of this clutter in my environment and my mind, can I truly hope to see what the future has in store.

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Sometimes you have those really profound realizations. You know, the ones that strike you like a lightning bolt, right before you doze off to sleep? Well I had one of those the other night and it was life changing. Best of all, I still remember it. Even better, I am going to share it.

I’ve been learning a lot about how my body responds to stress and relaxation. A few weeks back I had an intense stress response reaction after I heard my three-year-old yelling outside. It sounded like he had lost a limb. I was certain it was a life or death situation. I was helpless and I was alone. I didn’t see him right away, but I continued following the screams. There was no injury or blood. It turns out he was vocalizing with the chickens in very inappropriate ways. Even though he was fine, it took me three to recover from the stress responses that went off in my body.

What has helped me understand a bit about this phenomenon are three things: 1) Ongoing emotional therapy 2) Ongoing yoga practices 2) Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book Mind Over Medicine.  It is not until the final chapters that I really understood the point of her work: stress inhibits physical healing, stress causes us to get sick. Relaxation helps us to heal.

Well, then you see. I got sick. I’ve been struggling with a peritonssilar abscess for almost two weeks. Is stress to blame? Uh… maybe.

Which leads me to my life changing realization. I’m an entrepreneur, right? I do the things I love, right? I’m a writer, an artist, a small scale producer. I provide professional services in areas of my expertise: sustainable agriculture, environmental education, community development. I manage an art gallery for a local art center. Sounds great and sometimes it is. BUT, I have this one problem you see. And actually, I’ve had it since college. I pursue the things I love, which inevitably leads to some kind of stress at some point: deadlines, conflicts, responsibilities, whatever. Well, what happens when you do the things you love, is it gets harder to turn to those things into a form of relaxation.

I used to go out bird watching and get completely overwhelmed by the course content I needed to develop for  a wildlife class I was teaching. Now I start planting my garden, and think about the summer months in which we will sell herbs at the Farmers Market and then I start thinking about the grant project I am working on in relationship to sustainable economic development and direct market options for vegetable crop producers. I go to work on some art, and I think about the work I need to do for the expansion of the gallery space by July 4th. Overwhelming.

Well, I realized in order to overcome the stress response and achieve a relaxation response from the things I love, I needed to first flip a switch in my brain. That’s what I did. I flipped a switch and did something I never did before. I visited cuteoverload.com.My brain juices benefited from the cute photos of primates.

And I laughed out-loud, hysterically while watching a 2 1/2 minute video of a dog slurping an orange. 

I’m not ashamed. It felt good. It was good for my heart and my soul. I was able to relax at night and be more productive and healthy as a result.

My lesson learned: laughter is good medicine. And there is always ALWAYS time for a little joy in life. 

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Nearly all my writings are memoirs. I write about a variety of topics: nature, culture, food, community, emotions, professional options, art, creativity, entrepreneurship, recovering addictions, making life changes, family, loss, and growth, all from my perspective. I don’t try to be an expert and provide definitive information. I try to convey a point of view.

I began to wonder if there was something wrong with this kind of writing. After all, who wants to read about me? I’m not really that narcissistic, am I? But then I realized that I am a vehicle for the words I write. In reality, very little is about me. I’d like to think it is about humanity, as I am learning to understand it. It is just as much about you. If not now, then perhaps at some other point in time.

My chosen genre of the written word is creative non-fiction. Perhaps it always has been, but it was hidden for sometime.

In high-school we are taught not to write what we think. We report. We regurgitate. If we are lucky, we create. The use of the first person is discouraged. Undoubtedly, this carries over into college. I remember taking my English class at a community college. It was taught by this wonderfully inspiring and creative young hippie-chick. One of our assignments was to write a narrative.

I came back with a fictional story with characters inspired by the archaeological lab work I had been doing near Cahokia Mounds. It wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. She wanted a narrative of our life. I was baffled. I didn’t want to write about my life! Writing was my escape from my life! Luckily she allowed for revisions and helped me develop the narrative to be about the work I did cleaning artifacts and how certain details of ancient life could be interpreted from these pieces of the past.

Image from cahokiamounds.org

I cherish what she taught me. It opened up a whole new world of writing. Sadly, accepting writing from my own experience did not transfer over to the university. I shared before about the trauma of my first writing assignment at the university level. I may forever blame that professor, with his full beard, thick glasses, flannel shirt, and overly critical ways for the blow to my self-confidence. From then on, I stuck to the acceptable way of writing. No use of “I”. Write about the subject as an expert would. Be authoritative. Be clear and concise. Use proper paragraph structure with at least five sentences to support the topic.

It worked, through courses in anthropology, ecology, wildlife biology, geography, and American Indian Studies. Even into graduate school, I stuck to the strict method. Even in my field of study (American Studies) which was, as an Anthropology professor described, “Heavily reliant on narrative rather than analysis.”

I remember the day when that all changed. I was half-way through my third semester of graduate school. We had just made our way through an intense unit on cultural theory. We had an open-ended assignment to write a response paper on the theory unit which was full of works that questioned authority and power. I had an idea that had nothing to do with my prospective thesis topic, but everything to do with my life at that moment. I was five months pregnant and, for the first time in my life, facing physical limitations.  So I ran it by the professor, who interestingly enough also had a beard, glasses, and might sport a flannel shirt from time to time. But let me tell you. This professor was a thousand times cooler than the other professor.

He listened to my thoughts on the assignment, but was stunned when I asked the question, “I can write this in first person, right? The use of “I” as the subject is okay?” I think his response went something along the way of, “I don’t see how it would be possible not to.”

The whole world opened up. I wrote a paper entitled “Redefining Pregnancy through Expressions of Agency”. The opening quote read,

Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility.              -Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs

I do believe from that moment on I continued to enlist the possibility that rested in the use of “I” in my writing… even my thesis became part memoir, part cultural-environmental history. What a powerful thing to be able to do when thesis writing coincided with bed rest!

Writing my thesis “The Coyote in Kawuneeche: Story, Relation, and Experience in a Rocky Mountain Landscape”

What a delightful thing for me to revisit now, as many of my emerging perspectives are influenced by multiple-versions of physical well-being. Something I was just beginning to explore in that assignment. And what a wonderful way to reflect and appreciate that the greatest things we learn are about our own abilities, even in graduate school!

The Cooper House, home to students of the American Studies program at the University of Wyoming

The Cooper House, home to students of the American Studies program at the University of Wyoming