In Progress

I’ve been writing and rewriting this blog post for two days now, so I think instead of trying the same route, I’ll switch gears for a second. The original blog post was an examination of a small realization with large consequences, but it was one of those things where you start writing and open up a maze of topics that you’re unprepared (or in my case, unable) to tackle at the moment. I wanted to talk about an instant where I felt safe, where an unexpected knowledge that I could trust someone led me to make a small, brave choice that I would normally have avoided. Literally, I wanted to write a blog post about how I climbed a ladder without hesitation the other night, because I had watched someone else do it, and knew that I had nothing to worry about. But once I mention that I climbed a ladder, then I have to explain why that’s special. And then I have to go into greater detail about why I’d suddenly feel OK to do it now. And then I’d have to examine the difference between feeling safe, and feeling trust, and feeling brave. Believe me, the difference between the concepts is vast enough to keep me erasing entire blog posts for two days.

So instead, I’ll keep it short, and concentrate on the obvious bits. First, it’s obvious that I’m cautious – in some cases, overly so. That being the case, what many people wouldn’t know is that I’m actually game to do just about anything, as long as it’s fun and probably not going to get me killed. I love adventures. I just need to be with teammates that I trust implicitly. And there’s the rub – the older I get, the more I realize that I have very little trust to spare. Because I don’t trust, I don’t feel safe. Because I don’t feel safe, I don’t move far outside of my comfort zone. And though I’ve done some things that people seem to find courageous and amazing, I can’t do some of the most simple things that everyone else takes for granted. I will force myself to try just about anything, if someone that I know I can trust offers me a hand and tells me they’ve got my back. And pretty much every time that’s ever happened, I’ve had an amazing experience. I know this, and wish it could happen much more often. Too bad about that pesky not-trusting-people thing.

But the other night, I was brave, because I knew that I was with someone I could trust. I actually had two people that I could trust, who made me feel safe, though in different ways (one was a nurse). Of course, at the time, I was just concentrating on getting up a ladder and seeing some fireworks. Then the moment of truth came when I had to go back down, but that worked out just fine, too. It was only the next day that it hit me that in years past, I would have just stayed at the bottom of the ladder, letting the “cool kids” have their fun while I stayed in one piece on the ground. What was different?

I think that the answer is that I’m a work in progress. I’ve spent most of the last year on my own, just hanging out in my head, examining the things that make me strong. I’ve also looked at a lot of the things that make me feel weak, unsafe, and scared. I’ve done some soul-searching on just what it is that hasn’t worked in my life in the past, and what I wish I had done differently – and more importantly, what I wished that I’d required others to do in their dealings with me. I reassessed what it means to give, to allow others to give, to set up boundaries, to allow others to set up boundaries. Somewhere in there, I decided that I’d have to come out of my shell and make new friends if I was going to survive here. I haven’t become a social butterfly, and I’m not blindly trusting everyone I meet, but I’ve managed to luck into some great people. People who can get me to climb ladders.

This process is not done. This process will never be complete. I burned down my life and built it back. It’s not the first time, and it’s not the last, but hopefully it’s the most drastic. I just don’t want to go out on the same boring, listless wave I’ve been riding. I don’t just want to dream big. I aim to live it, too.

 

Going boldly…

Something good is in the works. There’s reason for me to feel optimistic, even excited. But at the moment I’m apprehensive and don’t really want to share too much information, lest I be disappointed again. If you have any time/love/energy to spare tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2pm CST, though, please send it my way.

I’ve also had a really good idea that I’m working on setting up between now and November 1st. A new blog, a new plan. It needs more detail, but the basic gist is this:

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I needed to turn my energy inward for awhile, focus just on loving myself, and all that entailed. Somewhere along the line, I found this really cool TED talk on marrying yourself, and I started reading up on that concept from people who have done it. Really liked it, so I’m doing it, too. I’m giving myself a timeline, at first, so it will be a little more like a handfasting than a traditional marriage. But I expect that it will end in forever 🙂

For the next year and a day (starting November 1st), I’m going to focus on my relationship with me. I don’t know if that means that I’ll stay single or not, just that I will dedicate myself to listening and loving my mind/body/life. I’ve still got some work to do on building a plan that I can stick to, but I do know that one thing I’m going to plan for is to do one thing that scares me every month. An adventure, something WAY out of my comfort zone (many things scare me, so I have to make a rule that I can’t just, say, go out to a bar by myself and call myself done for the month).

I’m also going to work at defining myself, and figuring out how to show the world who I am. My physical form does little to explain my true passions and personality, and it’s off-putting, even to me.

But first, I need to finish up this night shift, work tomorrow, then go home and get a good night’s sleep. Then there’s Wednesday afternoon, and after that, the world. Welcome to my new, bold life.

 

Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 1) – Leaving Villafranca Montes de Oca

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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An early view from the day’s walk. Even the most difficult mornings carried their own quiet joys.

From the moment that I awoke, I was feeling run-down and pensive. The day was a struggle, one of the hardest of the Camino, especially mentally. It was also one of the most beautiful and memorable. It was the first day since leaving St. Jean Pied de Port that I walked alone for much of the day, something that provided me with a chance to reflect and come to terms with the changes that I intuited for my near future.

Since leaving home, my anxiety had abated significantly, but this morning I felt that old familiar post-anxiety attack feeling, like someone had hollowed me out, leaving my shell, both fragile and strangely pliant. I am always slower, sweeter, my sense of humor skewed slightly more towards the bittersweet (typically I’m firmly in the schadenfreude camp). I went with the flow, letting my body guide me, packing up and getting ready in a haze. As I’d thought they would be, my clothes were cool and damp in the morning. I knew I should have brought them in from the line overnight, but I left them outside anyway, and by morning they were soaked with fresh dew. It was crisp out, making the effort of donning clammy running capris especially daunting. My butt was cold, and my feet were freezing. I worried that I hadn’t brought enough clothes to get me through colder weather than this.

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This little guy REALLY liked my shoelaces. I’ve got a whole set of photos of him nom nomming away. I didn’t mind one bit; I’m not above bribing adorable kitties to like me.

As usual, I was one of the last few to finish packing and leave the dorm. I joined the rest of the pilgrims in the hotel’s little cafe/breakfast area, reveling in a steaming cup of cafe con leche and a little glass of sweet, freshly-squeezed zumo. I also seem to remember a slice of tortilla (which wouldn’t be hard to believe, given that I ate tortilla at every opportunity – several times a day, on average). This particular specimen must not have been great, though, because I can’t remember anything special in conjunction with that morning’s breakfast. The best part of the morning, as far as I was concerned, was after breakfast, when I plopped down in the garden and let the cats play with my shoelaces for a few minutes. This was just one of many animal experiences on the Camino, but again I was relieved to find that a few quiet moments shared with animal friends gave me the energy I needed to press on.

I walked away from Villafranca Montes de Oca in the morning with the knowledge that we wouldn’t all be heading to the same destination. Terry had decided the night before that she’d like to spend the night in Ages, a tiny, ancient town that she’d fallen in love with on her last Camino. Natalie and I had talked it over, and agreed to walk further, to a town called Cardeñuela Riopico. It would be a challenging day for the both of us, but would make up for some time we’d lost in taking a few shorter days, and also allow us to get into Burgos early the next day, on relatively fresh legs. The promise of a short walk, and maybe even a day off from the trail, buoyed me along for the first half of the morning. Even so, I was to spend much of the day alone, for better or worse.

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From time to time, the Camino Frances intersects with other hiking trails. The yellow arrow tells you that you’re still on the Camino (and headed the right way), while the other trail markers denote the other paths encompassed on this stretch.

Click here to read about Day 16 (Part 2). 

Inner Collaboration

I am in the process of building up amity between myself and myself – encouraging collaboration, as it were. It’s slow-going, but I guess I’ll get there at some point. For awhile now, I’ve been working at being more mindful, teaching myself to pay attention to my fleeting thoughts and impulses, to discover why I often regard myself with such negativity, and why certain destructive behavior patterns have developed to shape my life. My eventual goal with mindfulness is to be able to practice a larger degree of self-love, while curbing my most troubling behaviors – namely binge eating and excess spending. I started recording my daily thoughts/struggles over on my second blog, 50 x 36, a month ago, and it’s helped me to spot patterns and give extra time to thoughts that would have just skittered away were I not endeavoring to write down the details.

One of the benefits of taking inventory of my life and needs was that I came to the conclusion that, though I needed to move to a larger apartment, I’d never be able to move if I continued life as usual. It’s not a really great thing to realize, but I spent hours working and reworking my budget, and found that there was no way for me to save enough for a deposit on a new place with what I’m making at my primary job. To make it work, I’ve started picking up shifts at a second job, and cut back on every expenditure (except for the splurges I need to make to keep my cats healthy). I’m budgeting every move. No social activities, no spending money on myself (other than $30/week for groceries), and every single penny is going into savings. If I work 70-hour weeks for the next month, I’ll have saved up enough to move to a new place, assuming I can find something in my current range (which is a huge assumption, honestly, but I can only do so much).

After I’m done saving up for the new apartment, if I can keep up the work schedule, I will start applying myself to paying off my credit cards. Once that’s done, I’ll save up to pay off my IRS debt. Once that’s done, I’ll save up to buy a car, braces, and Lasik.

Hopefully, at some point in there, someone will either give me a substantial raise, or a job offer for a something that pays me enough where I won’t have to work quite so hard for so little money. But I’m sure something will come along. Maybe I’ll somehow magically beat the anxiety and I’ll get to go back to being a marketer, or perhaps I’ll figure out a way to put some of that savings towards my last two classes for the copy editing certificate, and open up my own little business. There’s also the chance that the kids’ book that I’m writing will get illustrated and picked up by a publisher. That would be cool, and I’m sure would pay at least enough to pay off a credit card or two, right? I’m not holding my breath for any of these, though. Got to keep moving forward with what I’ve got.

It’s 6 a.m., and time to make coffee for the continental breakfast bar, then put on my office clothes and head to Job #2. Catch y’all on the flip side.

 

 

A Pat On The Back

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Mark Anderson comic via Ebook Friendly.

I want to take a moment to celebrate a massive achievement: today I finished reading my 15th book of the year. To some people, this will probably be a “So what?” moment. However, since I only managed to read a grand total of 15 books in all of last year, I am very proud of myself for getting my act in gear and doing some serious reading in 2017. Also, I’m ahead of my schedule, which is to read one book per week. We just finished Week 10, so I should be starting my 11th book, but instead I’ll be starting my 16th.

I’ve read some heavy stuff so far, and several of the works still weigh on me, particularly Resistance, by Agnes Humbert. I’m not sure what I’m going to read next, though I did just find a copy of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, at the Little Free Library down the street. So maybe that; we’ll see. If you want to see what I’ve been reading, the Reading List is up in the tabs at the top of the page.

But now it’s time to pack up for tomorrow, then hit the hay. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be trying something new – heading to the gym for a run and some weights every morning before work. It’s going to take some serious effort on my part, since y’all know I’m definitely not a morning person. Wish me luck!

 

Deactivation

Just deactivated my Facebook account, and am feeling a little ill. I took the app off of my phone this weekend, went a few hours without it, added it back, went a few hours without…etc. Finally took it off for real last night. Instagram was easier, though I did see a really funny Instagram account called @tchoupacabra that had me looking through the photos one last time this morning. I mean, who doesn’t adore a (really poorly) taxidermied raccoon in a miniature police uniform, attending various Mardi Gras events?

Anyway, I think that the first week or so is going to be pretty hard. I know that sounds lame, and weird, and like I could possibly need mental help (spoiler alert – I do). But I realized on Sunday that Facebook (well, my phone in general, but Facebook more specifically) is where I go when I’m bored, when I need validation, and when I need an update on news. OK, and it’s a great place to share kitten videos. Guess I’ll just have to share them here now.

But what makes it worse is that it’s become a community for so many, yet it is empty, so empty. It’s where a LOT of people go when they’re bored, need validation, want to get up-to-date on whatever new horrible thing is happening in the world. Somehow we’ve managed to become convinced that Facebook is the real world, a true hub for finding out all the things you need to know to be a successful and connected human being. And maybe that’s not all that bad for more extroverted folks. But along with the fleeting promise of online connection, people like me receive the gift of real-world isolation. We’re so busy being plugged in, checking on who likes our latest photos or music recommendations or snarky updates, that it’s easy to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable: everything outside the front door (well, you know, other than trees and rocks and other inanimate, outdoorsy things). It’s easy to convince yourself that online existence is more meaningful than it really is. It’s easy to ignore that there are real people out there with whom we could be making meaningful, in-person connections.

And if there’s anything I should be sure about, it’s that real friends are made in the real world. Yes, I have two friends that I’ve met online and have never spent time with in real life. It’s not impossible to get to know people over the internet – especially if you’re actually writing TO each other, and not just commenting on the same posts – that’s just having a modern day pen pal. It is, however, extremely unlikely. If anything should remind me that it takes depth of interaction for me to make true connections, I only need to look back to the Camino. I met hundreds of people over 45 days of walking in Spain. We all had at least one thing in common, and there were quite a few superficial conversations, to be sure. But out of those superficial conversations, a few deeper ones grew, and out of THOSE conversations, a tiny handful of friends were won. Good friends. Lifelong friends. People I love like sisters and brothers. However, had I not been forcefully removed from other online options, I might never have started talking.

Here’s the thing – friendships are beautiful, and I truly believe that making connections on that level can make life brighter. But making friends is HARD. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s not quite as bad as having a tooth pulled, but honestly, it’s close to it, and it lasts longer. It is also fraught with pitfalls, even after you’re pretty sure the other person likes you (but DO they REALLY? What if you screw this up? What if you say something that upsets them? And do you know ALL the things that could possibly upset them? Isn’t it easier to just not make the friend you’ll inevitably piss off at some point, and just forgo that pain?). And after all that, after you overcome what feels like insurmountable fear, you press ahead, you ask the person if they’d like to hang out sometime, you become friends, it weirdly turns out that you’re complete opposites but still enjoy each other’s company…and then the other person abruptly moves back to Minneapolis and once again you’re on your own. (You know who you are, and I’ll be up to visit soon!)

As Carrie Fisher said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I’m not certain that I’ll ever be confident about anything. I’m only ever confident about traveling and trying new things that don’t necessarily involve having to interact with other people. Give me a flight plan and a suitcase, and I will go. Don’t care where it is, I will happily traipse right off to whatever foreign desert or jungle or metropolis you’ve chosen. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it, too. But ask me to attend a house party a block down the street tomorrow night and there’s a 99.9% chance that I won’t be able to force myself out the door. But maybe this is just the first step of feeling slightly more confident. Maybe this will help me start to feel less like curling up and dying whenever I get invited to a social function. And if not, well, maybe it’ll give me the extra time I need to start a new hobby, maybe learn to knit, like a proper crazy cat lady. (Actually, my bestie gave me a paper piecing kit, so that’ll be the first crafting attempt.)

Overall, I think there are going to be three major things that will suck in my social media detox process:

  1. Being comfortable in public. On Sunday morning I was supposed to meet up with a friend for brunch, and arrived early. Since I was already trying to get used to not using the phone, I started to read a paperback while waiting in line. Even though, technically, I was doing exactly the same thing that every other person who was in line and on their phone was doing – reading – I caught people giving me weird looks. Which of course took me right back to the days before phones, when I always had a book or a notebook with me, for reading or jotting down thoughts as I waited in lines or had a solo lunch. Back then I wasn’t suffering from anxiety (that I know of), just experiencing introversion, and though I felt like I was under scrutiny for my nerdiness, I let it roll of me. It’s going to be interesting trying to recapture what that felt like.
  2. Sharing music. This is probably the worst. I connect to other people through music. When I hear a song that touches my heart, I want to share it, to share a feeling that I can’t describe in words with the people that I love. On Facebook, only a few people interact with my music posts, but they’re all my favorite people. It feels good to be jamming out to a song on Spotify, hit “Share” and share on my FB wall. Now I won’t be doing that anymore. I know that when a tree falls in the forest, it still makes a sound. The song has still touched my heart; does it matter if anyone else knows? But who are we without sharing our experiences? Well, for the next 40 days, we’re confining that kind of sharing to my blog. Probably not too much music, though. It’s not as impactful if it’s not of the moment.
  3. Not creating beautiful photos via Instagram. This isn’t that bad, really, because I’m just going to get a different photo app. Instagram makes you post your picture in order to make the filter and editing last (otherwise you’re asked if you want to discard these changes, or if you want to save as a draft). I don’t want to discard or save as a draft. I want to edit my photo, then keep it. I don’t really care about sharing, or getting likes, etc. I just want to take a picture of my cat, edit it to look nice, and save it.

Today, though, my big focus is just not losing my cool and logging in to Facebook. We’ll fill the void with work until 4:30, then it’s home to check on the cats and clean the house, and after that, well, it’ll probably be time for bed, but maybe I’ll get to start a new book. Did I tell you guys that I’ve already read 13 books so far this year? I’ve almost beaten my (sad, oh so sad) record of 15 books read last year. I’ve been working on putting together a list of feminist comic books to share with my book group, but I just realized that I won’t be able to access our group Facebook page for awhile. Hmmm…

What I Read in 2016

You might have noticed that I have a tab at the top of the page called “Reading List 2017.” Last year I had “Reading List 2016,” and so forth and so on. What’s weird is that I could swear I used to have an additional link somewhere to all of my old reading lists…need to get that added back on. No use recording what I read if I’m just going to chuck the list at the end of the year.

Anyway, my yearly goal is to read one book a week, and this year was NOT a great success. But I just won a Kindle at my office Christmas party, so maybe I’ll have a good excuse to read some lighter fare off of the 99 cent list on Amazon this year. Plus, for every book that I finished this year, there’s at least one book that I started and have yet to finish, so if I can get my act together, hopefully those will pad my 2017 list. Let’s cross our fingers!

Either way, what is done is done, and what was done in 2016 was a grand total of 15 books read. Holy crap, that’s sad. But let’s turn it into something fun by charting out what types of things I was interested in this year, and comparing it to last year’s numbers! Here’s my blog post recounting what I read in 2015, along with a handy little pie chart of the genres I devoured in 2015. I read 35 books, but for the purpose of this chart, where the genres overlapped, I counted them again:

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And here’s the list of what I read in 2016:

  1. Birthright, Vol. 1: Homecoming, by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas (1/9/16)
  2. Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro (1/9/16)
  3. Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, by Joel Priddy (1/9/16)
  4. Tales of the Cairds, by Anne Cameron (1/12/16)
  5. The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden (2/14/16)
  6. Mystic, Vol. 1: Rite of Passage, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell, Andrew Crossley & Dave Lanphear (3/5/16)
  7. Mystic, Vol. 2: The Demon Queen, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell & Andrew Crossley (3/5/16)
  8. Harbinger, by Joshua Dyshart, Arturo Lozzi, Khari Evans, Lewis LaRosa & Matthew Clark (3/23/16)
  9. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (3/29/16)
  10. Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands, by May Cravath Horton (7/6/16)
  11. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (7/28/16)
  12. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion (8/14/16)
  13. Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, by Ian Morgan Cron (9/18/16)
  14. Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work, by Mari Graña (11/12/16)
  15. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, by Jacob Tomsky (11/12/16)