Saturday, January 23, 2016

Oh won't you please, please, please like me????

People like me...
I have a morning routine.  The first order of business is the bathroom, followed by feeding my feline mistress.  After this I pour myself a coffee, take a sip or two and then begin my morning yoga.  I write a few pages in my journal, do some sort of breathing exercise or a short stillness meditation.  During this process I am continually fighting the urge to pick up my phone to check for text message or Facebook notifications.  Generally, I do a fairly good job of resisting (putting the phone on Do Not Disturb helps) which means that by the time I finish the first thing I do see what’s happening in the world of social media.  

This morning was no different.  Well, mostly no different. 

I scrolled through my feed while sipping my coffee, clicking likes, making short comments, sharing stories I found interesting, moving along my Facebook feed at a steady pace until…

…I saw the post.  Not an offensive post.  Not a post by someone who is down in the dumps who I want to try to console.  Not a post of a horrific news story, or a funny cat picture, or a lost animal.  It wasn’t anything that was in the content of the post that made me stop.  It was who made it. 

I stared at it, my fingers hovering above the home keys, wanting to write a response to the post but unsure of what to say.  

I typed a sentence.  No, no, that won’t do it sounds too over thought.  Backspace, backspace, backspaaaaaace. 

Maybe just a like and a smiley face?  Uh uh.  That will seem like I couldn’t be bothered to actually write a real response. 

Tippity-tappity-tippity-tappity…a paragraph.  TWO paragraphs.  Oh I’m on a roll here!!!!!  Wait. No.  You can’t write that.  It comes across as trying to show how smart I am.  I definitely don’t want to sound like a douche. 

Time check.   Holy smokes I’ve been staring at this post for 20 minutes?  What is wrong with me?  Tap “Like” – move on.  Breathe.  

Do something!!!!!

Nothing.  I delete my paragraphs. Scroll down.  The post is soon lost in the depths of my feed. 

I think we all have someone like this in our lives.  Well, maybe not all of us do.  Maybe the rest of the world is perfectly secure in who they are and never craves or has a need for any sort of outside approval.  Maybe I just don’t want to be alone in my insecurities, but however together the rest of the world may or may not be, I do have someone like this in my life.  Someone who I admire and respect and who I really, really, really, really, really want to like me. 

This isn’t admiration from afar.  I cross paths with the person on a fairly regular basis.  We are friendly when we meet (though my tongue usually refuses to cooperate beyond, “Hello.”) and I manage to not jump up and down frantically screaming, “Notice ME!  Look, look I’m over here!  I think you are really awesome and I do awesome stuff too and can we please be friends?”  Instead, I agonize for twenty minutes over Facebook comments.

I know some of you will try to tell me I’m a great person and that I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy, and you are right; I don’t need it.  Logically I know this.  I know that if I just keep working on this self-love thing, that I’ll one day I won’t need anyone’s approval.  That I’ll be a super hero of self-esteem.  But today, today I’m terribly human.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

Slow and steady...

Preparing for the semester...
Tomorrow morning at 8:45AM the new semester begins.  It is my last semester. I started the journey towards my bachelors degree five years ago in 2011.  I started as a part-time student and had plans to continue working full-time through school.  Due to a variety of circumstances, such as the realization that I'd come to detest my job, I left full-time employment and began the life of a full-time student.

Translation: This was one of the scariest things I've ever done.  I might have hated my job but I liked the security of it.  It was safe and leaving full time employment for a part-time job and full-time school was unknown territory.  I was not at all sure, even after I made the decision and gave my notice, that I could do it.

It has been a very intense five years. During these five years I worked two part-time jobs, I managed a performance troupe and began to teach belly dance classes.  I maintained a very full performance schedule with many hours of  dance and music practice each week.  Yes. There have been moments where I questioned my sanity and the wisdom of my choice to return to school.  I had many times where I considered quitting altogether.  My stress and anxiety levels were pushed to their limits.   I lived and died by my datebook and relied on my buzz of my iPhone to remind me of when things were due. 

Translation: It was difficult as fuck getting through these past five years.  Most days I was stressed out and the anxiety that I've managed for my entire life was triggered to the utmost.  I fought against my natural inclination towards procrastination but knew that if I put something off it would only feel that much worse later.  How more things didn't slip through the cracks is beyond me. 

Somehow I also managed to have a social life.  I know my friends at times must have been frustrated with my seemingly endless event declines and the need to schedule even a cup of coffee weeks in advance.  I'm am grateful for their patience, their understanding and support.  I believe I probably, maybe, could have done this without the amazing people I have in my life but their presence made it far easier. 

Translation: My friends were my life saver.  They answered my 2:00AM text messages when I was in the midst of panic and self doubt, they listened when I went on and on about some fantastic new energy or business idea I'd encountered that I was completely jazzed about, they were patient with my scheduling issues and they stepped in to tell me when they thought I was taking on too much.  And when I hit really hard times a couple of years ago, they arrived with food and love to get me through a very tough winter.  When asked how I manage to cram so much into my life I can really only answer with one thing:  I have a lot of help.

The semester that is ahead may be the toughest semester I have had yet.  Academically I am taking four of the most difficult courses that I have ever had in one semester.  I am actually looking forward to the challenge of this as they also appear to be four of the most interesting classes I will have taken.  I am anxious though, perhaps more so than I have been in the past, about keeping up with the rest of my life over the next 14 weeks. 


I will be making self-care a priority.  Taking time each day to myself; making sure I get enough rest and hopefully not falling in to a food rut of pizza, wings and coffee; dancing and making music as regularly as I can; walking; and of course making sure I spend time with those I love. 

Translation: I'm going to need a pile of sticky notes on which to write reminders to do all of these things and I shall stick them all over the apartment, in my textbooks, in my notebooks, and in my underwear drawer.  If I don't take care of myself I turn into a stressed out, angry, overtired, crank of a human and no one wants to see that.  "Breathe...breathe...breathe..."

I'm on the edge of finishing up a long term goal.  I'll be counting the days until May 14th, when I will be donning the cap and gown and going through the ritual of commencement.  That day seemed so far away five years ago, something I barely dared to think about, but today I can see the finish line. 

But there will be no sprinting to the end of this race...slow and steady, slow and steady. 

Translation: There's gonna be one hell of a party when this is over. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I blog a lot about my struggles with insecurity and anxiety.  I publicly worry about my ability to get everything on The To Do list completed.  I share my worry over school/work/life stresses.  I do these things often enough that at times I have worried about what sort of image I am projecting. 

Do I come off as too neurotic?  Will my readers stop visiting the page because I seem too negative?  Should I work harder at projecting more of an image of "having it together?"

Okay, wait a minute, I am neurotic.  I live with anxiety and I obsess about seemingly unimportant things.  I struggle with body image issues and my self-esteem has days that its level could be measured as somewhere between "in the toilet" and "flushed."   Yes, I have days where I feel pretty darn good about myself too, but I also have days that are just sort of okay and others where surviving them without bursting into tears is an achievement all on its own.

Yes.  I am human.  And more often than not my anxiety and stress is due to the amount of work I am putting into achieving the goals I've set for myself.  The struggle IS real, so why not own it?

There are plenty of blog posts, Instagram photos and Facebook status updates about how #blessed,  and #lucky everyone is to be #livingthedream.  There seems to be plethora of luck, blessings and perfect lives being scattered about social media these days.  If it isn't #amazing it's not worth posting and gods forbid we have a hashtag that says #iworkedreallyfuckinghardforthis or #Iamreallystressedoutrightnow. 

The internet is full of folks in workout gear with perfect hair and makeup who apparently don't sweat.  We've all seen enough yoga mats surrounded by flowers and soft lit by candle light, selfies with the best sunset EVER in the background, status updates that are counts of how many mantras were said today and just what we are #soooooooograteful for. 

It seems we've all become our own brand, marketing ourselves and our lives to the world.  Just who is it we are selling to?

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions but I do try to set some general goals for myself.  This year I have two, one has to do with learning to let go of control (another blog post for another day) and the other is to be more honest about what I am feeling, both to myself and my community.  That includes social media and my blog.  I want to own my good days and my bad ones.  When good things happen I want to acknowledge what it took to bring those things into my life.  When I am struggling I want to be able to share that too. 

I hope we all have an awesome year but it's okay if that year also includes a bit of #imperfection, #doingthebestIcan and #onestepatatime.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year! (almost)

There is for sure gonna be more music
in 2016!!!!!!!
New Years Eve is one of my favorite holidays.  There are three main reasons for this...

1. It is a secular holiday.  There is no religious tradition that lays claim to it.  It is a holiday open to anyone to celebrate in the manner they choose to do so.

2. It's a holiday for adults.  You can be too young for New Year's Eve, I mean you have to have lived long enough to have a few regrets behind you, but you are never, ever too old.

3.  I love that we have a day in which we take the time to assess where we have been and where we hope to go. In our go-go-go lives this is not something we often take the time to do and while it might seem like nothing more than a day to take down the old calendar and put up the new, I believe this sort of intentional reflection is important.  New Year's Eve is the annual reset button and the fact that so many of us do it at the same time feels like a collective deep breath. 

New Year's Eve is a reminder that no matter how much we have struggled, or how much we feel we've failed we recognize that there is always the opportunity to do better. Whether measured in moments, days, months or years all things in this life are temporary.  New Year's Eve is the chance to acknowledge and celebrate that. 

Normally this is the paragraph where I'd summarize my year by listing my successes, failures and struggles, and then ponder my hopes for the next year, but this year instead I'd like to just take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of this past year. 

This year I witnessed people and communities stepping up to help friends in need.  I shared creative space with folks I'd only dreamed of ever collaborating with.  I saw so many individuals who stepped up to speak on behalf of those without a voice. I was brought closer to old friends and made several new ones.  This year for sure had its ups and downs but it was the people that made it a good one. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Post SAS Reflection III: The Processing...

Not the same woman...
In the week that I have been home there are two things nearly everyone has asked, the first, "How does it feel to be home?"

Which I generally answer with, "Oh good, I really missed my cat and good beer."   

And it's mostly true. I'm happy to have my cat sleeping next to me again, to not worry about how long it will be until the next good wi-fi and I am soooooo grateful to be back in the land of good beer and buffalo wings. I'm happy to have regular access to a washing machine.  I was thrilled to spend Christmas with family and that I'll be among old friends for New Year's Eve.  I am indeed glad to be home, but...

(oh you had to know that was coming) grateful as I am for all these things familiar, I've a deep desire to be far away and alone.

Which brings me to the second things people ask, "Wow.  That must have been a transformative experience, I bet you have a whole lot of processing to do, right?"

And I respond with, "Yeah, I'll be mulling this over for some time.  Please pass the cheese..."

Because the truth is I don't know how to answer that question.  Part of me wants to roll my eyes and thank them for stating the obvious.  I mean, I stepped out of my life for 100 days.  A life that was well established, safe and at least somewhat predictable.  I may not have had a long term plan but I was fairly sure where I'd likely be in the next year or so.

And over those 100 days I lived out of two suitcases, on a ship with 500 other people.  Together we visited three different continents, 11 countries and 13 port cities.  We crossed the Atlantic Ocean, journeyed south of the equator and sailed through the Panama Canal.  I met dozens of new people, heard a hundred or more stories, tasted new foods, danced to new music, played drums I'd not known even existed, and reconnected with long abandoned forms of creative expression.  At 43 I found myself feeling deeply homesick.  I battled and (mostly) came to terms with the sense of loneliness that has been my life companion.  I cried, shook my fist at the sky, sent weepy emails to friends at home and yet by the journey's end when it came time to leave, stepping off that deck on to the shore and was one of the last things I wanted to do.  I had come to love living on that ship, as well as the people on it and the experiences we shared...

After three and a half months at sea it took only about 24 hours for me to go from the World Odyssey gangway to the baggage claim at the Portland Jetport. 

Yes, it was transformative.  I know I am not the same person I was when my plane left the ground in September but right now I've only a tiny inkling of who this new person is.

When I'm asked about the trip and how it was I find myself faced with a traffic jam of thoughts; thoughts and feelings I've not even begun to assess and sort out in my own mind let alone summarize in 60 seconds or less.

And so I find myself wishing for a week of retreat from the world.  A time to adjust to not being on board that ship, to convince myself that the past three and a half months really truly happened; to pause and take a deep breath before I jump back into my life and the processing really begins...

I know that in the long run, as with anyone who has had a life transforming experience, whether traumatic or amazing, I will only know for sure how it has changed me once I have started living my life again.  It is only when faced with  how things were that I will know who I am now and who I might become.  There are no, "Tah-dah" moments in these sorts of things. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Post SAS Reflection II: Just Being

Learning to be...
When the MV World Odyssey is at sea there is no cell phone access, and the internet is limited to the few sites needed for class research and seamail, the somewhat unpredictable email service Semester at Sea provides.  Instead of television there is the six channel streaming service that includes the ship channel with map and current weather; a streaming webcam of the view from the bow; three channels of ever rotating movies and documentaries meant to supplement class material; and one ship sanitation channel that runs a continual loop of what to not flush down the ship toilets.  Students pretty much do not have access to alcohol while on board (there is this thing called 'beverage service' which occurs with some sort of regular frequency that I was certainly never able to figure out and which most folks, myself included, didn't seem particularly interested in it anyway).  In other words, many of our modern day distractions are simply not available on board. 

Not that there isn't plenty to do.  Every student is enrolled in four classes which take up several hours of each day and each class of course has a couple of hours of homework to do.  There are research papers to write, reading to be done and tests to study for.  There are also a lot of community activities such as exercise classes, seminars about upcoming ports, game nights, post port reflections and talent shows type events but there is still a lot of down time, or at least more down time than I was used to.

What there isn't a lot of are those sorts of distractions that allow you to numb out or escape yourself.  If you are having a bad day or are in a funk or facing a bout of loneliness, there is no Facebook to scroll through, no Google rabbit holes to get lost in, no bar to drown your sorrows in.  And while the streaming shows did cause me to develop a situational obsession with the Dalai Lama (another story for another time) a quick peruse of the generally depressing deforestation/child exploitation/women's suffering/etc. would bring the realization that there was no escape to be had there. 

While I definitely went through periods of obsessive email checking or Wikipedia (one of the few sites that we had access to the actually connected with any sort of predictability) meandering, in the end when I was feeling sad, lonely or just out of sorts there really was only one option, to learn to live with whatever frame of mind I was in.  Which is why you see a photo of the 10 of Cups above.  In the Tarot of Transformation this card is titled Joyous Flow and is about "feeling at home in the emotional world."  Despite its title the card is not about being happy all of the time but instead cultivating an acceptance of where ever you are and whatever you are feeling in the moment.  I've been using the card as a focus to remind myself to work on keeping connected to this state. 

Being busy has always been my distraction of choice.  Just keep doing and doing, keep busy, keep moving, keep going...if you are always on the go the bad feelings can't catch up to you, so get a move on!!  I didn't have this option available to me though on the ship.  It was difficult.  I was often annoyed with myself first for feeling whatever I was feeling and then doubly annoyed for not being able to distract myself from it.  In fact there were times I had no option other than to just sit and be still.

And because of this, slowly, as the days passed I learned to live with whatever I was feeling.  I'm not sure I could point to a specific moment but at some point in the journey I found that some of the loneliness I'd been battling was no longer overwhelming.  It wasn't gone, instead it had moved from being something that seemed ready to occupy my entire being, to just being just a piece of who I was at the moment.  I also found myself experiencing moments of joy that existed alongside my homesickness or loneliness.  This often occurred with I'd experienced something beautiful, whether a sunset or music or dance, that I found personally moving but which also made me long to share the experience with certain friends at home. 

By the time we docked in San Diego I was beginning to truly cherish the still moments.  The times when I could just sit and exist in whatever state of emotion I was in.  I have never been one who bought into the idea of finding a state of perpetual happiness and bliss, and I still don't, yet while I did believe in the transience of all things and have often written about how accepting the temporariness of one's current state can make the so-called negative states easier to live with, I don't think I fully grasped the concept of allowing oneself to exist within those states of being. 

I have learned that it is entirely possible to feel shitty and great at the same time.  That I can wake up in the worst mood but I don't need to run from it and in fact, I can actually get up and go on with my day.  And probably the most important lesson, to not judge what I am feeling; that there is nothing wrong with whatever it is I am feeling in the moment. 

Now that I am back in the world of easy distraction I hope I am able to maintain this new ability to be present with what I am feeling, particularly since I'm still only just learning to do so.  Of all the things I learned about myself on the voyage this is the one that I have the greatest desire to hang on to.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Post SAS Reflection I: Home Again

Sunset at Civitavecchia - 2015
On December 22nd I returned home to Maine.  I was met at the airport by my friend Max-Anthony and my mother, whose home I am staying in for at the time being. 

Before I left for Semester at Sea I had decided to give up my apartment.  I sorted my belongings, selling what I could and giving away quite a bit.  The remainder I packed up and put into storage in my father's basement.  Other than a few winter clothes, my drums and my stuffed bunny, most of my stuff remains there and I'm still unsure of what to do with most of it. 

During three months that I was at sea I lived out of two suitcases.  Everything I needed, clothes, shoes, toiletries, snacks, school supplies, two drums, zils, jewelry, textbooks and technology all fit into those two suitcases.  While I did manage to collect a few new items during my travels, they took the place of things I was not returning with, such as used up toiletries and donated text books. I returned with the same two bags with which I departed. 

One morning about a week before we arrived in San Diego, while I was having my coffee on deck nine of the ship, I decided to make a list of what I knew I had in storage.  I was curious to see what I recalled.  I didn't allow myself to add generalities such as "kitchen stuff" or "clothes" to the list.  I wanted to be specific. I had the idea that whatever I could clearly recall must be most important to me.   My list was as follows:

  • Black sweater
  • Gray sweater
  • Riq
  • Tambourine
  • Dance sword
  • Dark Follies costume and top hat
  • Cast iron frying pan
  • A patched pair of jeans
  • Winter coat
  • Combat boots
  • Vampire folklore books
  • My desk and my bed

Considering the amount of floor space that my stuff takes up in the basement, this is not a very long list.  I expect that when I have time to sort through all of it I will have many happy discoveries of things I've forgotten.  I'll ask myself if the fact that I forgot that I owned them means I value them less or have less need of them.  It is unclear how I will answer that question.

While on board the ship I did not feel that I was lacking anything.  Of course some things, such as my kitchen items, I did not have need of at all on the ship but would definitely have a need for should I have  my own kitchen again.  And when it came time for the ship dance show case I did miss my top hat and dance sword, but I never felt that I was missing any immediate necessity.  I was quite comfortable with my small cabin and my limited belongings. 

There are many things I discovered on this journey that I wish to carry forward into my daily life.  This simplicity of living with less is one of them.  Right now, while I am living in my mother's small apartment, that will be fairly easy, but what will happen should I find myself in a larger space?  Will I want to fill it up with objects, gee-gaws and comforts or will I look back and recall the less material life that I led on the MV World Odyssey?