Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Know Myself Already, Thanks

I've noticed something. 
People who have gone through a tough experience, a major life change, or a difficult challenge tend to respond to queries with some version of this sentence: 
"I sure learned a lot about myself."

Well that's good, isn't it? Self-awareness? Improvement? Greater humility, greater understanding, greater effectiveness? What's not to love?

I'll tell you what's not to love. 

Learning about yourself is a depressing experience. It's like the sponge I was using to clean something very grungy at work yesterday. It looked fine, but when squeezed all kinds of gunk came to the surface. 

Our family is not that far along this new road, and already I've learned things I wish weren't true. Like the fact that I'm a whiny complainer a great deal of the time. Seriously (or maybe you don't need convincing), I can find something wrong with any and every situation. And all these years describing myself as an optimist! Not quite. Is there such thing as a cynical optimist? No? Alright then. 

I also seem to be angry often. If I'm not Angry, I'm Anxious, or Aggravated: a real "type-A" personality. If I was one of the 7 Dwarves my name would be Angst. I'd have bloodshot eyes and a perpetually pensive expression, and wear ripped jeans and 90's plaid shirts. 
(Insert sad-clown laugh track)

I actually used to think I was pretty balanced and cool-headed, with only short spurts of frustration to mar the blissful mindscape. But no. It's the opposite, truth be told. I'm just one long spurt of frustration with isolated patches of calm. It's like seeing the other side of a rug or tapestry and realizing you've had it backwards the whole time. 

Rather than continue to explore these fascinating wonders that unfold with every bright new day, shall we turn our attention to the Why.

You no doubt know the answer already, but humor me and let's hash it out a bit. 

In the thick of new experiences, a person reacts more from the heart. Or the gut, if that suits. We don't have our defences organized yet. The involuntary ways we learn to deal with situations are not programmed in; the "system" is adapting and therefore in a vulnerable state. 

I could describe my feelings as fragile, my mind as unstable, my thoughts as fragmented. The mind jumps from thread to thread and it's harder to follow one strand or focus for any length of time.
Granted, this description isn't exactly new....maybe I'm noticing it more. 

Metacognition. Thinking about thinking. It's what crazy people do

Q. Why am I learning things about myself that I don't like?
A. I'm being squeezed by situations I don't quite understand and can't control.
Safe in our comfort zones, surrounded by the same people, the same routines day after day (generally speaking), we learn how to deal. We have coping mechanisms. We may even have vices or habits that mask our true feelings and keep the ugly down. We convince ourselves that the reflection we have learned to paint and craft is the real us. 
The mirror is showing only what we've allowed. There are big blind spots we've learned to see around. 

Case in point- has anyone ever said something about you that caused instant scoffing because, obviously, they just don't understand you?

"You're cheap."
"Whaaaat? No! I'm simply a good steward of our provisions."
"You're jealous."
"Pphhttt!! Whatever. I just think it's a bit excessive."
"You complain a lot."
"I'm not complaining, I'm stating facts."
"Maybe you need some help."
"Ha! You're so wrong. I enjoy banging my head against this wall. It's kind of fun."
(I can only be serious for so long.)

I suppose I've just admitted to being a bit of a mess. 
Well, I am a mess right now. I'm in the middle of trying to learn new coping mechanisms while desperately not wanting any coping mechanisms. 
I want to be real and honest with myself, but oh I was so much more comfortable before!! I Had It Handled, at least on the outside.
I'm in the middle of learning things about myself while wishing earnestly that I could just be whole, just get it right, for once! Why haven't I grown up? Why are all the answers I had in my twenties not working?

I'm really tired of writing blog posts about ME. Very ready to be done with this personal journaling phase and get on with some Deeper Thoughts about say, someone else's life.

My parents had two plaques that I can still see in my mind's eye and that impacted my life growing up. 

One read, "Please be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." I must have pondered that saying and the picture that went with it a thousand times growing up. Maybe you did too.

The other was a lovely etching on a small mirror quoting a piece of Isaiah 30:15, "in quietness and confidence shall be your strength." 
Oh I read that so many times! Before I had any idea what the long words meant, it brought me peace. 

Well, I think I've still got a long ways to go in "learning about myself". One day, years hence, someone will ask me about this time and I'll say it. "We learned so much about ourselves. It was great. No, actually it sucked."

I'm on the ground running, but I can't make it with all the blind spots. I have to see clearly. If that means dealing with some ugly truths then bring it on. I'm tired of tripping over life because I refuse to open my eyes.

All the changes - moving, trying to sort out jobs, new schools and schedules, second-hand stress from exams, papers, homework, cash flow issues, a body that hurts and just being really really tired - are squeezing and it's not pretty.
Kind of disillusioning, because what do I think I have to offer the world? 
To be honest, before these past few months I had kind of given up on life. At my having any significant role in it. I was hoping to just fade...away...become part of the wallpaper. 
And yet here I am. Uncovering, exposing, learning stuff...ouch.

I'm not that nice of a person. I really want to be...whole. 
I guess the word I'm missing here is grace? Maybe I have been through a lot lately and maybe I need to stop struggling and accept some grace. I suppose I don't have to get it all together by tomorrow. 

Thanks for listening. I wish I was in a cafe with you, hands wrapped around mugs of coffee, and you could give me your napkin because, well, mascara seems to be running down my face. 

Next post, I promise, will be about something else. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Got Me Some Trees

If you've been following a bit of our journey from padding our wallets in Edson to padding Dylan's brain in Three Hills (illustration courtesy of Lauren Graham), you will know that chief among things mourned are my beautiful trees. The tall stately giants of my former yard brought peace and beauty to my life.

(I realize I've been yammering on about my childhood whimsy fairly often - here's one more - I used to name the trees in our yard where I grew up...imagine the scene when trees needed to be cleared...ah yes)

So the other day I had a window of time. Supper was miraculously on the stove, kids were busy, hubby I took off on a bike armed with my iPhone camera. Every day this glorious Fall I passed the trees of Three Hills with a sigh and a smile. Too fast to take in. Tottering on the bike seat, fumbling to pull my phone from a jean jacket pocket, standing still - 'click' - 'click'. 

There are some beauties here. I rode up the tree-lined old streets, past the picture perfect houses with quaint front doors and colourful trim, sniffing the crisp autumn air. All shades of yellow leaves on the sidewalk, all blues in the sky above. 
Up Main Street a ways, looking for a better angle. Maybe some drivers confused, "what's that woman doing in the middle of the she going to dear I think she's looking at something in that tree. How odd..."

I didn't ride that far. Just a few blocks from home really, and up and down an interesting street or two. 

Also I was a trifle unsteady at times, balancing one hand on the handle bars, one hand on the phone. So we're not looking at photography here, simply snapshots. 

Capturing autumn's glory, or trying to anyway. Sometimes it's important to do a thing even if you don't have time to do it proper justice. Like when you are fairly sure the chili is burning black on the stove. 

Birches...oh I could launch into poetic crazy. But Robert Frost did so well; read his poem "Birches" (it's long-ish but wonderful):
 When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

This one, up through the branches, reminds me of a poem I posted once:
September 30, 2011
A Walk in September

Yellow-brown leaves lie gently on 
the hardening ground
and wet grass
A mouldering fence reclines, at ease
amid the poplar stands
Tall white queens 
through sun-yellow crowns
filter cerulean sky
Regal and silent 
the owl swoops low
gray-black on a cinder snag
Berries in red translucent glory
glisten unbitten
Hidden in damp sprigs 
the embroidered
early morning frost.

There are trees in my new town. Sure, maybe not out my window, but I've got a whole town in my backyard and places for exploring. 

Thankful for October, for burnt-yellow leaves, amber harvest fields, and new trees to get to know. 

Yes I like people too, even better actually. 
But right now is a time to notice the last Herculean push of color and glory before the shedding, before the black-and-white arms of winter stand still over sparkling drifts of snow.