The queerest fear

I’m not quite sure when the fear began. Sure, I have never been that into reckless behavior or extreme sports, but I like to think I’ve mostly maintained an air of courage when it comes to navigating this great Earth. Truthfully though, I have never been “good” at getting injured. I suppose I’m referring to the way in which my eyes well up with tears when I’m suddenly injured. How upset and scared I feel, even as an adult, when I’m faced with the reality of the impending physical doom that awaits us all. Wounds and mortality beget us all, even those of us who race fearlessly race toward that end with nary a second thought.

In this case, I have to assume that my inexplicable fear was bred from my dreams. That somehow a string of specific recurring visions wrought with overwhelming emotion eventually brought me to this current state of terror. It’s as if my unconscious imaginings slowly forged themselves into being and that my chronic state of maturity is not solely responsible for my shrinking sense of invulnerability.

What is this newly apparent phobia, you may ask? A simple fear of hills. Yes, hills. Specifically, rolling, falling, or sliding down them (though in my dreamscapes, I also slide backwards in an attempt to surmount monstrous terrain). This coming from the girl who up has somewhat intentionally relocated herself from the vast flatness of the Midwest to the rolling hills of upstate New York and now to a city that is ridden with steep inclines and in my reality, often compares to a mild San Francisco ‘scape.

Of course, this fear is situational and is often made worse by my participation in activities that require the relinquishment of control for my general well-being: biking. When I’m on foot, though I’m exceptionally clumsy, I like to pretend that there’s safety and stability of my pair of size tens. That somehow grounding myself physically on the earth precludes me from catastrophe (the lies we tell ourselves). But I digress.

The panic I feel while biking down steep hills was undeniable today as I rode home from a friendly brunch date not more than two miles from my home. The ride there: delightfully challenging. There is no easy route here to any one destination. This is something I discovered quite quickly here, though I took pleasure in denying that fact for a good few months. Biking up and down dry hills is one thing. Getting caught in the spontaneous fits of rain that are quite common here is another. And so, as I biked home at snail pace and with great caution, gripping my wet handlebars and grimacing at the sound of my squeaky, rain-spattered brakes, I had the realization that I was utterly petrified by every coast, every slight turn, even by the most trivial surface change on the road. There I was, thirty years old, clutching my brakes as I glided down what some might find to be joyous descents. Instead of enjoying the freedom of gravity and the  refreshing mist of rain, I was mentally preparing for sudden injury or death, for sliding into traffic, for wrecking my body yet again, in even the smallest spill.

Therein lies the source of my fear… maybe? Except for the fact my hilly nightmares began ages before I’d ever taken on mountainous territory or flown over my handlebars as an adult. Before I had cracked a rib just by the mere act of hitting a curb at the wrong angle or had my wheel snag in a trolley track causing the temporary debilitation my shoulder. Heck, I still get tense in yogic headstands and I do them on a near-daily basis on the safety of my trusty mat.

So, perhaps it’s age? Perhaps it’s that I am (we are?) all haunted by pains of the past whether we like it or not; subconsciously recovering from spills, ego-bruises, and wounds to our delicate, ever-hardening hearts. But we can choose to face our fears, focus on the present, and still find those shadows hanging nigh in the periphery. After all, we are immortal, pervious beings and what’s worse, we fully realize this. Some embrace it, understanding and accepting that there is no true lastingness, while the rest of us sigh and shudder at the inevitable pains to come.

Even in picking this apart, I have no solution. I simultaneously occupy and reject this fear. I gear up, tell myself a lie (that even if I wreck it’s going to be okay) and gingerly take on those hills. On days like today, I take baby steps; ditch my pride, and two-step my way down even the smallest slopes. I embrace awesome clichés and do the one thing I can: I get back on that bicycle again.

Domesticated:

A word that has always made me think of cattle. Some how, some way, it now describes me as I sit here, freshly showered (a great way to cleanse myself of a day at the office), adorned in leggings and a cardigan, easy gliding with my feet propped, ready to start the evening, or at least write about it. I came home from work today with my mental To-Do list in tow. I walked the dog as I planned dinner and the activities that I ought to commence before or immediately thereafter: put dishes away (check!), practice yoga, put laundry away, bake bread pudding-to-rid-yourself-of-aging-bread, and so on and so forth. Even a year ago, my evening agenda looked incredibly different. How did I go from a spontaneous dance-party-seeking adventurer to the slipper wearing, yoga-smitten, homebody that I’ve now become?

I have never been a great partier. Perhaps that’s why I postponed my initiation into drinking until the age of 18, while many of my peers had years of boozing under their belts. I grew up in a dry household, which probably didn’t help. Wild nights weren’t modeled for me. Staying home and sitting around the dinner table was.

I had my Wild College Years, as so many of us do. I remember how somehow during my freshman year, the “weekend” would start on Sunday and how by Thursday I was so burnt out and physically exhausted that I had to stay in and rest up for a weekend of work and studying. I managed to maintain and interest in going out through grad school. Looking back, I hypothesize that the stress led me to it. That reading 200+ pages a week lends itself to raucous Thursday night outings and 4am gay bars (I was in Chicago, after all).  After grad school, something started to shift. Perhaps it kicked off by my six-month stint living back at home with my cat, feeling badly about myself and working at my high school retail gig. Living in Swanton, Ohio past the age of 18 is not conducive to having a social life. I am certain of this.

Drinking and nesting are by no means counter indicative, of course. Plenty of people stay home, drink, and get silly. I have partaken in numerous living room dance parties that have stemmed from the most modest affairs, yet my aim here is to somehow re-trace my path from having lots and lots of “fun,” out, socially, to being here– where I sit, contentedly, with no social plans for the next three nights and a stack of W-2s that I’m far too eager to get my hands on.

The answer is this: I. Got. Old.

I smile as I type this, because I am, in fact, the ripe age of twenty-nine. Dirty thirty has yet to take a hold of me with its thick calloused claws and, really, beside my ever-graying hair, strangers seem in disbelief that I’m a day over twenty-three.

Yoga is most certainly one of the culprits of this developing domestication. My practice has aged with me over these past few years. It’s somehow grown from a wee bud of a hobby into a generous blossom of a practice that is my identity, my spirituality, my clarity, and my light.  Yoga is also my health, both mental and physical. And it is a killer on the nightlife, to say the least. Show me a yogi with a daily practice who feels inspired my sleep deprivation and a hangover and I’ll show you my false left butt cheek.

So, that’s part of it, I think, as I sit in a too-dark (now that the sun has set) room, wishing I had reading glasses or at least a headlamp. It is also this aging process–not of the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” variety—but just in the way that this body I inhabit  has begun to feel worn. I am aware of its limits and what seems to await it. This domestication is also, undeniably, the side effect of a biological clock that is tick-tick-ticking. It is the warmth and security of a loving, supportive partnership. Of a shared home that brings me comfort. Is it the result of day-after-day of tiring work, whether I’m in a field or stuck in a chair.

Often enough, I miss being able to stay up late. I wonder what I’m missing at a friend’s rock show or at the party that I left at eleven. I reminisce over about nights spent dancing for hours or out on the town. I laugh at myself as I recall, fondly, times in which I had far too much to drink and ended up lying in the neighbor’s bushes or wrestling with a friend. I wish, sometimes, that I didn’t tire out so quickly after the sun sets. That I could loosen up, let go, finish a second drink and think not about the consequences (whether it be a headache or a loss of precious sleep). Alas, I cannot.

I am twenty-nine going on fifty. I am a veteran farm hand that can’t ditch the memory of exhaustion so compelling that cereal sounds like an arduous dinner option and reading feels like a chore. I am a health nut and a stay-at-home girlfriend. I am a yogi and a crafter. An adoptive dog mom and a woman who is (suddenly) elated to have a few incredible friends to focus on instead of hoards of acquaintances that used to cloud her periphery. Still, knowing all of this, and even feeling a certain degree of gratitude for life and all of its transitions, I sometimes can’t help but look in the mirror and imagine for moment that I’ve got “Lame-O” scrawled across my forehead.

Moving meditations

It is strange to think that just a couple of months ago I was living on a few acres in central New York, carpooling with my fellow crew members to a farm just down the street. It was less than a mile really, or, measured in time (as we like to do ‘round here) “about five minutes.”  I often thought how seemingly ridiculous it was to be driving and not walking or biking. We were farmers, after all. Presumably tree huggers, as green in spirit as in thumb. Still, I knew perfectly well that for the lot of us, it made perfect sense. Every second of our breaks was invaluable (read: food; rest). Every ounce of energy saved, much the same.

At present I reside, once again, for this brief moment, in bustling city of Ann Arbor. I can’t walk a dog in five minutes, much less get to work on time. I have my own wheels, but until recently, haven’t had much income and so burning gas seems counterproductive, not to mention contradictory to, what is, my true tree-hugging nature.  What are the alternatives you ask? They are endless. I can walk 5 miles to work (highly unlikely and supremely time consuming, not to mention mildly unpleasant in the winter, even with the climate change), bike to work (also not entirely safe/appealing/and-we-all-know-how-fun-it-is-to-pack-two-meals-AND-a-change-of-clothes-every-morning), carpool (extremely time efficient and generally inconvenient, given I’m not the one with parking pass and flexible faculty work hour), or take advantage of local public transit.

This morning was my second consecutive ride into work on the university commuter bus. To get to this bus, I have to book it on foot for just under a mile. These walks are hurried, but also entirely pleasant and awakening. I find myself enjoying the fresh air, the damp chill, and even the seemingly permanent grayness of the sky. Thanks to the alignment of the stars, luck, or something of the sort, I consistently manage to make it to the bus stop in-the-nick-of-time. I arrive breathily, squeeze into the sardine can that is campus transportation and say a silent thank you to the God of All That is Timely and Good.

It is then that the meditation begins. My fifteen minute walk is nearly a warm up.  I move past memories–flashes of packing into busy trains in other cities, other countries–and observe my surroundings. I am swimming in a sea of college students and I feel like a century-old sea turtle amongst a school of young fish. They look like children and I find myself both fascinated and disturbed. I feel out of place and wonder if they can sense my age (Do I smell older?), or maybe spot one of my many gray hairs. In the end, it doesn’t matter really. I retreat from my people watching and move inward. I chant silently in my head or sometimes just fix my gaze on something innoccuous (How did I become that women covered in dog hair?). I sit down, if and when the opportunity presents itself- typically a whopping two stops from my destination, as students pour out by the dozens, off to their classes. Ready to start their days; start their lives.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I listed off reasons in my head to excuse the purchase of a parking pass, to warrant a daily (independent! Expedient!) commute that would relieve me of this twice daily pilgrimage. By the time I was walking home, I had thrown those excuses out the door. This is a practice of its own. It is an opportunity. It is saved energy and expenses. It is fresh air and exercise and an extra forty minutes (at least) of time well spent. For a woman who just recently transported back into the office from a glorious, wide-open field, it is even, perhaps, a blessing in disguise.

It makes not sense

It is a new year, but the theme as of late, is more akin to death than to birth. I have three friends who in the past few days have all experienced the loss of someone dear to them. For one, the miscarriage of her unborn child, nearly halfway through her pregnancy; for another, the sudden death, via drunk driver, of a friend of a friend (a married mother of three young children); the third, the seemingly senseless murder of a close friend, a shining soul no older than myself.

I am saddened by these losses, overwhelmed with empathetic thoughts, and also in awe. In awe of this universe and the way in which it works. All things, all together, meaningful and painful. Glorious and profoundly upsetting. Timely and frustratingly random. We are all so overworked, overwrought, and spread thin. More so, we are also all so blessed, if we can stretch ourselves to see it.

These deaths reminded me of my own loss, not so long ago, of the kindred (dog) spirit who captured my heart and kept me company on the farm. Her gentle soul left the earth on the morning of my departure. Cruelly. Strangely. It makes not sense. But it. Just. Is. We all come and go from this planet. Plants, animals, sentient beings. Our lives are brief or extend for decades. I have to think they all serve a purpose. What that is, I cannot say.

For me, these deaths encourage gratitude. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. Without the cruelty of life, we might for a moment forget the qualities that bind us. Forget our impermanence. Mistake a feeling or a moment as anything but fleeting.

An unfinished thought

It is December 26th and I’m sitting outside on a large porch in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is brilliantly sunny and breezy, but mild. I’m in the best of company (thanks to Mavis, my four-legged friend) and the best of spirits. Somehow even the fact that I’m unemployed can’t get me down right now. I am too fortunate. Too terribly blessed.

It has been a bizarre and incredible year. Had someone told me ten months ago that I would be sitting here, at this moment, looking back on such experiences, I likely would have shaken my head. It was an array of factors that led me to leave this place that I have, for years, called home and it was a whole different set that brought me back here, for this brief moment, to yet again redefine my existence as I wait to take off on yet another adventure (this time with a bit of company).

I have never worked so hard as I did this past year and it’s likely I have never learned so much. I learned about plants and what it takes to feed communities. I learned about healing, distance and love. I learned about friendships and what it truly takes to maintain them. About practice, intention, and limitations. I also learned that The Universe will give and give, but that it also sometimes has to take away.

I struggle with change, even as I bring it upon myself in these necessary periods of transition. I shapeshift, moving from place to place, pick myself up and sometimes slap myself across the face- just a reminder to wake up and notice what is right in front of me. I am a fortunate one and I try to remind myself of that, even though I sometimes find myself failing to find gratitude.

This path that I’m following moves all about. It’s nonsensical in a way, taking me this way and that. I run into barriers, dig myself into holes. I sometimes find myself back in a place that is familiar, only something subtle has shifted. If I’m lucky, I’ll take note. I don’t know why I pursued graduate work in clinical psychology, only to leave the field only to work, well, in a field. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how strange it may seem that I am knowingly, willingly, leaving an exceptional community and a family I adore for an unknown place. I am ready to gamble this. I have to.

An old friend of mine, in Chicago, once reminded me that no matter who I leave or what place I choose to move from, I can always go back. Surely, some of the faces will be different, the landscape will likely change. One cannot leave a place and expect to find it the same upon return, but I know this. Even as it pains me to leave the ones I love and to start again from scratch, it always seems worth it. After all, to never leave is to never know.