Tag Archives: musings

Start with the life you have

After several days of having an artist in residence and mild sleep deprivation, my mind is swirling with ideas fantastic and elastic. Moments after imagining a non-profit to service career-minded military spouses, I imagine that the same group could offer divorce counseling, since so many military couples end up getting divorced. Fantastic and elastic.

The power of dreaming is alluring and intoxicating. I see this power operate in the mind-suck of video games, novels, handi-work projects (think automobile repair or woodwork), really at any activity where your mind is forced to work just hard enough to block out the outside world, but you are still functioning on some mechanical level. Yes, reading a novel just barely qualifies in this category, but you are still holding your head upright and turning pages, so lots of senses other than imagination are regularly engaged (touch of the paper, sound of page turning (or finger stroke on e-reader), blinking, etc).

Unlike other alluring and intoxicating activities like sex and drinking, dreaming is relatively harmless and likewise relatively unrewarding, unless you turn the power of those dreams into action that affects your reality. This is a sticky point for many, and definitely a mental block for me in many areas.

The one common trend I am focusing on recently is to start with the life I have. Always. When I start daydreaming away my reality – unpalatable aspect of my job, cleaning up cat hair, not having enough time to do everything, wanting to sleep in, etc., I remind myself of several things. First, I arrived at this point where reality is through my own choices. Second, that faced with the same environment, resource limitations, and other factors, unless I make a different choice, I will be dealing with the same reality. Third, therefore the power is within me to transcend this reality for another.

Yet, it is obvious that I have attempted to make wise decisions in the past. I didn’t choose willy nilly and end up here, I made conscious choices that I thought would lead to contentment at the very least, and happiness in the hopeful. So, where does that leave me? At the starting point of my reality, the life I have. The life I have is pretty darn great, but I can also see another life with a few changes around the corner. I am not sure what the road does between here and the corner, but I am curious to find out. Where will I take myself? What power do I have within me?

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Twenty-twenty

This weekend, I ran 20 miles for my marathon training run. Like most sane people, I experienced some suffering during the 20 miles. This is the second 20 mile run in my training series and it is the signal of the three week taper until my race.

One would think that the mere completion of the run would fill you with exhilaration, relief and joy. One would be wrong.

I am full of sore muscles, fear of the future and loathing for miles 12-15. I run my long runs slower than my marathon goal pace, but I think like I am racing as much as possible in the way I mentally approach the long grind of energy expenditure.

The worst part of my long runs are always miles 12-15. There is some mental hang up as I near the halfway point (13.1 miles). Once I reach 13.1, the relief and expectation for the second half are eclipsed by the realization of what is to come and the fear that for some reason I will not finish.

This weekend, mile 12 found me cursing and spitting mad as I had to reroute my path. The steep hills here are a bit unpredictable when you have to make a 20 mile course and after I shredded my legs during my first 20 miler, I vowed to protect my legs by avoiding steep inclines this time around.

I mustered through and was actually feeling quite chipper again as quickly as mile 12.5. I picked up a second wind at mile 14 and coasted along all the way to mile 17. Then, the dreaded exhaustion set in. My mile splits started creeping up and it was all I could do to keep moving one foot in front of the other.

Finishing wasn’t even as climatic as I would have liked. I was disappointed how much my time slipped at the end and knew I had at least two days of tight and tender muscles ahead of me.

The best part of the 20 mile run is the instant respect and appreciation from others when they hear of the run. The clerk at the gym where I log my miles, our artist resident/houseguest, friends and family, and my colleagues. And when all I want to do is go back to bed, I ain’t too proud to beg for a few kudos from my blog readers, too. Show me some love in the comments!

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Contemplating the marathon.
Tartu, Estonia 2012

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The Weight of Lies

If you’re feeling at all contemplative or like you want to give some thought to how we try to hide within ourselves, give The Avett Brother’s a chance. These guys write some really honest lyrics that strike me as simplistically beautiful. Big props to my cousin Steph for initially introducing and to my brother Jim for re-introducing me to The Avett Brothers.

The music hits that same simplicity, but it is more nuanced with harmonies and hums, sharp dynamics and pitch changes that draw your attention right back to the song just at the moment that your mind started wandering away on the implications of the lyrics.

“Nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there”

This lyric has always been the one that stands out most to me. Due to my introspective nature and my wanderlust soul, I have made several self-check-ups over the years: Are you running away from something? What do you think will be different in the next place? What is making you feel like leaving again? What challenges are you seeking with this next adventure?

Between 17 and 27, I lived in three dorms, my parents’ house, three sublets, one house share (unknown roommates), four apartments with seventeen different roommates, my friend’s parents house, a host-family house (Ecuador), my suitcase (extended travels), and one apartment all to myself. I was the opposite of settled down. Because I was not running from the law, or debt, or even a bad break-up, I thought that I answered all the self-questions correctly. I thought I was just curious about the world.

While the song is couching its lyrics around the concept of lies, I think the lies at issue are really those that we tell to ourselves. Hiding who we really are, or holding back from expressing ourselves really only charms others, and sometimes ourselves, into befriending, or be-lovering, a facade. While it is still true that I am curious about the world, I have been enough places and put myself in enough situations that stretch the limits of my comfort zone to see that I didn’t necessarily need to travel the world to have these growing experiences (though it is certainly a great way to do it). I just need to be brave enough to be honest with myself about my dreams, opinions, doubts, ideas, loves, hates; about why I avoid conflict to my detriment until I seek it out to my detriment; about my career status and how I chose each step on the path to this point…and, that if I am brave enough to be honest with myself, well, that would be the grandest adventure of all.

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Musica Sconosciuta

While wandering Cefalu the other weekend, I heard a lovely tonal hum and soft percussive thumps of a street musician cutting through the slow-moving crowd in front of me. The sound alternatively dropped into the rhythms of Italian and French around me and pulsed through the parting of the crowds as I neared the musician. His modest look and handsome face together with the beautiful noise stilled my feet; caught in the moment, I stopped and stared. As I regained my senses, I reached for my camera, caught his eye, and with his slight nod, began attempting to capture the serene stillness emanating from him and his music. It was the sort of stillness that rises out of unknown sounds, the ever-present heartbeat you can’t hear when you’re in a crowd, the ribbon of calm that leads you through fields of adrenaline and exhaustion as a runner finishing a race. His hands were in constant motion, and passersby steadily chipped into his offering tray, as did I. The moment passed, my group had moved ahead, and I felt a stirring renewal of curiosity and compassion for the unknown histories of my contemporaries in this life.

Unknown music, “musica sconosciuta.”

Cefalu, Sicily
September 2012

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All that we see or seem

The vibrancy of twilight often leads my mind astray and tonight was no different.

Wondering about the future and the past instead of choosing to engage in this moment, I stepped onto a path of surreal exploration and ultimate dehydration.

Sin querer, old memories were brought to light.

A blog post reminded me of the awesome movie “Waking Life.” (The blog post contains a link to the full-length movie).
– The post’s author reminds us that:

“The title is inspired by philosopher George Santayana‘s maxim: «Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.»”

Then, my brother’s email brought an inspiring quote of the long dead Persian poet Rumi.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ”
Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273); Persian poet, mystic (Email of the day by Values.com)

Finally, my daily-poem-by-email brought me the Edgar Allen Poe poem that ignited my passion for wordplay, for poking my finger into the ether that composes reality, for taking a big bite of life and experiencing as much flavor as I can while the juices try to escape and run down my chin.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

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Frank Bruni is Rethinking His Religion, and you can too

It isn’t every day that we have the space and opportunity to put our minds to the task of deep thinking. Yet, so many wonderful changes in life come from the sparks of insight we gain when we stop to think things through from time to time.

The Cinquecento Project began as a multi-faceted attempt to inform friends and family about life in Sicily; to educate myself about my new culture – both military and Sicilian; to give me an excuse to order a new food, take another picture, or trek to Cefalu for gelato (no regrets!!!); to focus on the positive perks of daily life; and so much more.

Frank Bruni over at the New York Times shares a touching story about changing perspectives through deep thinking. Rethinking His Religion begins as a coming of age story. Immediately, Mr. Bruni encounters a deeply religious student, and Bruni is turned off.

This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him.

Over the years, they had some interactions, but nothing could have prepared Bruni for the turnaround achieved by his former classmate.

About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.

Bruni goes on to describe the journey his classmate underwent to reach the point where he reached out to Bruni. The classmate attributed college with opening his eyes to just how diverse and far-reaching this world is, to the injustices and prejudices practiced and coveted by those in power, to the constant fragility underlying even our most successful achievements.

Questioning his church’s position on homosexuality made him question more. He read the Bible “front to back and took notes of everything I liked and didn’t like,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom there,” he added, “but it’s a real mistake not to think about it critically.

Then, Bruni highlights the crux of how this gentleman bridged his Catholic upbringing with his decision to perform abortions. For many in our nation, abortion is a touchstone issue prompting knee-jerk reactions. Bruni’s classmate had followed the beliefs preached to him only so far.

He has thought a lot about how customs, laws and religion do and don’t jibe with women’s actions and autonomy.

“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.

The discord between the ideal and the real is apparent to all of us. Every time we wish for another hour in the day, we are recognizing the limitations that prevent us from reaching our ideals. Not only in finishing the dishes in time to enjoy 30 pages of your book before bed, but limitations that prevent us from flying across the country to tend a fragile friendship, or the limitations that lead to the choice between a time with your kids or a second job to fund their college dreams. On the ways religion falls short, Bruni speaks through his classmates thoughts:

And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need.

He has not raised his young children in any church, or told them that God exists, because he no longer believes that. But he wants them to have the community-minded values and altruism that he indeed credits many religions with fostering. He wants them to be soulful, philosophical.

While this article touched on many areas worthy of deep thought, what especially touched a chord with me is the emphasis on “community-minded values and altruism.” As a non-religious person, I have faced the question about what role I have in our overwhelmingly religious society. How much credibility do I have in the eyes of a strict Catholic, a Mormon, or evangelical (of any religion)? Would they trust me to doctor, guide or legislate for their community?

These deep thoughts are the stuff of mind wanderings on a still evening, and they are also the questions that pull me along. I look forward to finding time in my day to think about crunchy problems like how do I justify disagreeing with policies that are paying for my life (military)? How much have I changed my opinions as I have learned more about the mission of the military, particularly in this overseas station?

Turning over the events of the day in my mind and selecting five highlights was skimming the surface of the ever churning thoughts, questions and doubts swirling within me. I am re-entering engagement with these thoughts, it is a little scary, but like Bruni’s classmate – I hope I have the courage and wisdom to continue on the journey.

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Space and Place

Cinquecento

Cento

My college English seminar on Space and Place majorly impacted how I take in the world around me. We dissected poems, prose and pop culture for ways the author/creator used space to create or enhance a work. Another way of relating space and place is physical – the most cultural example is the “space bubble.” A space bubble is considered the distance people maintain between their body and another person. ‘Mericans (people from the U.S.) are notorious for having the largest space bubbles – cuz we’re spoiled with space. Do you ever notice yourself backing away from someone on instinct? Space and Place.

(Uno) 1. A great lecture series available online: LearnersTV. While not every lecture can be related to space and place, one lecture sparked this notion in my mind.

(Due) 2. Finding hidden gems in colleague’s interests. My colleague Gene (of volcanic photo fame), is also interested in the way he can relate scientific theory to everyday living. During a discussion, he mentioned “the way energy pushes against the wall” – but we don’t even feel it. I LOVE thinking about perspective and how we relate everything back to our human-ness. How else could we relate, right?

(Tre) 3. Keeping this Friday stream of consciousness running, the point I am making is that if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear the sound, it is not a sound. The waves that a person would hear as sound are just air disturbance. But that air disturbance still has an effect on the world – so I like to say that the tree does still make a sound. What do you say when people pose that question to you?

(Quattro) 4. You may be thinking that this list is not very Italian, (and you want to hear about Italy, darnit!) but remember that many great thinkers (ahem, Galileo), and writers (ahem, the guys who wrote the Odyssey (yes, it wasn’t just Homer)) spent oodles of time here thinking about these big picture ideas, too. Take a step onto the journey with me.

(Cinque) 5. “Lean into it” is a phrase that I hear running through my head from time to time when I feel an uncomfortable emotion. Instead of backing away from it and seeking comfort in isolation, food, drink or a snuggly hug, sometimes you have to “lean into” the emotion to find any clarity. Can we apply that to the icky feeling that makes us withdraw when someone is inside our “space bubble?” Try it next time – take a step toward that person, put your hand on her arm or his elbow, align at the hip but open your body.

Happy weekend! Buon fine settimana!

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