Memories: Simple Kindness

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The subway doors parted, and I quickly entered. I snagged a seat against a window before melting into a puddle of tears. I was fighting with my boyfriend and struggling through law school. Like many times when something distressing happens in our lives, I allowed my walls to come tumbling down. With my head lowered, I secluded myself in my grief, descending into a world surrounded by nothing but my own silent sobs. When you live in NYC, you quickly learn how to steal a little space for yourself even when you are surrounded by people. 

The train came to a stop and a mass of people entered and exited. I didn’t even have the heart to people watch. Frankly, I was just trying to disappear for a moment. I heard a tap on the window. Looking up, I saw the smiling face of a young woman. She held a small scrap of paper against the window. Scrawled across it was written, “you are loved.” As tears welled in my eyes again, she gave a little smile and stepped back from the train. The subway zoomed out of the station. 

With those three little words, I was changed. I was moved by the kindness of a stranger. She didn’t know me or owe me anything, even her attention. It didn’t really matter what the paper said. It was the thoughtfulness in the action. I will never forget that moment and that small act of kindness. It cost her nothing but a moment of compassion for a girl, overwhelmed by life, sitting across the train from her. That small gesture moved me beyond words. She will never know the impact she had on me that day. 

It is easy to underestimate the power behind even the smallest of gestures. We have no idea the struggles another person may be facing. Sometimes merely acknowledging the presence of an individual can make them feel seen in a world that feels lonely and desolate. Compliment people. Practice small acts of kindness throughout your day. You never know whose life you might be changing, but it will surely give back a lot more than it costs. 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

 

Memories: Falling

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The wind swirled my loose hair into tendrils. My attempt to keep it under control with a bandana was not completely futile, but a few wisps of hair always seemed to escape. My back rested against a styrofoam bench wrapped in cloth, Behind me were two rows of some of my closest friends. We ate, drank, and slept together, and we breathed skydiving. It made up our being. It was woven into our fibers. It had become our identity and the thing that connected us all. A passion. We would trade it all for this one thing.

The work was done. We were racing the sun as it threatened to set. It was the last load of the day. I looked out over the wing of the plane at columns of fluffy white clouds in the distance. The light was always brighter at altitude this time of day. I checked my altimeter and started my pre-jump routine. I clipped my helmet in place and checked all my handles. My cameras were on standby as I bumped fists and slapped hands with my friends. 

Someone yelled. “DOOR!” I lifted the plexiglass door and thrust my head outside the plane, making sure the spot was good and the air clear. The light turned green, and I swing my body into the blast of wind outside the plane. I hung to the outside as two more jumpers clambered out with me. “READY?! OUT! IN! OUT!” We pushed off the plane and let go. We were flying…well, falling with intent.

Maybe the base came off the plane perfectly and we turned points with precision and nailed hybrids with spinning pieces that came back together effortlessly. Or, maybe it turned into a zoo-dive, and we fumbled around in the sky tracking away as far as altitude would allow before opening our chutes and flying into the sunset. No matter the outcome, we landed with smiling faces and ribbing elbows, teasing each other about our mad flying skills. As our feet skimmed the earth and we shut down our parachutes and gathered our gear and headed for the hangar, we knew the secret to living. 

This was happiness, and the beer light was on.


If I traded it all
If I gave it all away for one thing
Just for one thing
If I sorted it out
If I knew all about this one thing
Wouldn’t that be something

—Finger Eleven, One Thing

Thoughts: Connection

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The recently mown grass prickled my skin as I lie on my back in the yard. The old welder’s mask I held to my face was dirty and a bit foggy from its many years lying idle in the barn. Through the small window in its front, I could just make out the beginning of the solar eclipse. 

What an amazing thing to witness, and I wasn’t even in the zone of totality. But what really made it unforgettable, surprisingly, was social media. I’ve had a turbulent relationship with these sites and how they fit into my life. It is easy to become addicted to the constant stream of content, liking, sharing, and commenting. I harbor a fair amount of guilt over the time I spend perusing Instagram, waiting for my favorite accounts to post a bit of entertainment. It wasn’t until August 21, 2017, that I felt the connection social media allowed. As the eclipse cut a path across the United States, I felt united with my fellow citizens as we all spent the day staring at the sun or wishing we could. 

Our country is currently divided. Emotions run high over various issues and our current president. On the day of the solar eclipse, we all seemed to take a day off from politics. We came together, united in wonderment. 

From the moment I opened my Instagram account, there was electricity and anticipation in the air. The eclipse’s path arched across the US, from west to east it traveled across the country. My first thoughts were, “Great, my feed is going to be full of nothing but eclipse posts.” Then, I saw the first clip from the zone of totality. It started with friends and strangers out west. I watched mesmerized as people gasped and giggled and were struck as the moon slipped over the sun and everything went dark. I can’t even explain the connection I felt as post after post showed this same sense of wonder at the world, and I would take a moment to glance up from my little place in it. The feeling of awe was palpable in every shared experience of this spectacular event. 

Sitting alone in my yard, I felt connected to a nation. I was a part of something bigger than myself. Mother Nature had our attention and we couldn’t look away. We were a country in turmoil that stopped everything to spend the day outside staring up at the sun with unbridled curiosity.That moment of darkness elicited a response from each and every person. It brought grown men to tears. Even the insects and animals came out to play, momentarily tricked into singing their evening songs in the middle of the day. I am so happy I tuned in to listen.

It was not something you could call friendship; it was at once less and more. The sharing of such experiences created a bond and set them apart from all others. —Anne Perry, A Sudden, Fearful Death

Moments: Evenings

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Customers were streaming in and out of the store. It was a rainy day in July, and it was Sloss Fest, a music festival held at the old iron furnaces annually. As the rain pelted the roof and streets outside, people clambered for ponchos and rain jackets and rubber boots. 

I was safely stuck inside working until evening. By the time I exited the building and pointed my car towards home, the rain had subsided leaving the roads steaming in the summer heat. As I peaked the hill, Birmingham was on fire. 

Glorious oranges and yellows burst from the ground and licked the sides of the buildings. The sun was melting on the horizon and colors bounced off the glass of the city and reflected off the rising steam of the concrete and asphalt surrounding me.

Stopping wasn’t an option, so I continued on through the moment. The orange air swirling through my open windows, the music of life streaming from the speakers. I relaxed back into my seat, extended my arm out the window and ran my hand through the flames of the evening air. 

You should have seen that sun[set] with your own eyes. It brought me back to life. —John Mayer, 3x5

Memories: Adventures in a Canoe

Droplets of water dripped shimmering from my wooden paddle into the glass-like water. Anderson Creek narrowed around me. In the other direction, it widened as it flowed towards the Elk River. I was intimately familiar with that part of the creek. I grew up there, skiing and tubing and swimming and boating. We spent many vacations visiting my Grandma’s cabin positioned on this very creek doing those very things. But today I decided to adventure in the other direction where it narrowed considerably. This section was not safe for bigger watercraft. I chose an old metal canoe to explore these unknown waters. 

I passed by several small houses of neighbors I didn’t know. Houses I had previously only seen the tar and gravel road during our periodic escapades on foot. Soon all the homes faded away as I paddled my way further down the creek. Trees grew tall on either bank and I suddenly felt like I had entered another world. 

Ahead of me, the creek widened a bit. The water was crystal clear. So clear I could see fish swimming about, some slow and confident and others quick and erratic. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding me my breath caught in my throat. I slowly paddled onward desperately trying not to bang my paddle against the sides of the canoe. The resulting clank would surely break the spell. 

Suddenly a beaver surfaced several feet in front of me. Just swimming along, not a care in the world. Then, “SLAP!” He slammed his tail against the surface of the water and dove to the muddy bottom. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was deafening in the silence. He had caught sight of me and dove for cover with a distracting tail slap for good measure. As I was contemplating what had just occurred, he nonchalantly resurfaced and was just casually swimming along, leaving a small wake in his trail, as if nothing had happened. He caught sight of me again and “SLAP!” he was gone again only to resurface seconds later. I could hardly contain my mirth as this charade continued. Eventually, he disappeared and I continued on. 

The wildlife was just spectacular, birds chittering about, squirrels rummaging in the leaves, and fish darting about in their underwater world. Up ahead I saw a doe cautiously approach the water’s edge to take a sip from the creek. I don’t remember at what point I turned my vessel towards home. My stealthy canoe without its sound shattering motor eventually transported me back to civilization. The experience seemed almost surreal. I had been a part of something like never before. I was more than a mere intruder. 

This experience didn’t have me swearing off motor vehicles, but it did change me. And, for a few magical moments, I felt what it was like to be something other than a conqueror. 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. — John Muir

Thoughts - Home

The soft, pliable dirt gives a little under my bare feet. I have slipped off my sandals and attached them to my pack. The gentle rush of the creek sings the song of nature as I lightly skip from one rock to another along the bank of the river. The different textures I feel through my feet keep me grounded. I am a part of my surroundings. There is no barrier between me and the earth, no layer of rubber shielding me. 

There are so many distractions in the world today. Yelling and screaming, all vying for our limited attention. Out here it is much more peaceful. There is no internet connection, so, at best, I am limited to podcasts and music previously downloaded on my iPod. I usually make the decision to silence these voices and opt instead for writing pen to paper or reading a book. These simple pleasures ground me as well. I can look up from the pages, enjoy the beauty surrounding me and get lost in thought for a moment without the chattering of voices in the background calling me back in. 

Hiking down to the creek is a wonderful escape. I love the diversion and entertainment movies, tv, and social media allow, but they pale in comparison to the beauty and life and wonder of the woods out my back door, to the conversations with good friends, and the simple joy of watching a dog run unbound. These sojourns make me feel rooted in something real.

My feet flex and my muscles contract. My eyes on a bird hidden in the brush. My ears take in its melodic song as I sit crouched on a log attempting to burn its plumage into my memory for later research. Even if I never discover its name, that bird still exists and I know its song, its beautiful feathers, for a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

These trees and birds and creeks are to me as a rose. They are my peace. I am nothing and I am everything. Maybe the meaning of life lies in these rocks and the pulse of the stream.

The earth has music for those who listen.George Santayana

Moments: Skinny Dipping

I lay naked on a rock, the sun streaming broken through the trees. Its rays dance across my body sucking the droplets from my skin. The water is rushing all around me. The sounds of nature cacophonous. I don’t think there is a more pure way to spend the morning than sunning on a rock after a dip in the creek, a book my only shield from the sun. 

It is a serious thing to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. —Mary Oliver

Free

I am sitting under the cover of a tree, my back up against the trunk in the perfect crease of a rock. We have hiked through the rain down to Kelly Creek, me and the dogs. It has been raining for the past week. The creek is looking more like a raging river. I tell Halo he cannot play in the water; it is too swift. Of course, he wades in anyway. We strike a compromise. He can splash and dig in the shallows where the water is calm. 

Siku is unsure of my tactics. He doesn’t mind hiking and playing in the rain, but sitting? He tucks his wet little muzzle under my arm. He can only sit still for so long before the call of the woods draws his attention. He will come back periodically and lay at my feet. Those moments between sniffing out wild things and barking at turtles. 

Halo barks to get my attention while he continues to splash around in the safety of small pools well away from the rapids. He wants me to watch. Siku pretends to tree a critter in an attempt to impress me. He does this sometimes, barking at the base of some tree like he just chased a scared wild thing up the trunk, the creature barely escaping with its life. I call him a faker.

The sound of the rain bouncing off the leaves and the rushing water drown out the sounds of the nearby highway. We are in a wooded oasis far away from all civilization. Terabithia is real, but it didn’t take a bridge to get here, just a short hike and an enveloping rain. Water is dripping down my collar. I am slowly becoming saturated. I rise from my perch to go splash in the water with Halo. I call off Siku, the intrepid hunter, who is viciously spraying spittle all over a box turtle he has found in the damp leaves. I distract him and hope in our absence the turtle will slink away, disappearing into the leafy forest. I pray a train doesn’t come by and spoil our magical hidden world, drawing us from our reverie. 

The day is beckoning with dry clothes and warm drinks, but we refuse to hear its call. Out here, right now, there are no deadlines or bills or…anyone…it is just me and the dogs and a small patch of woods by the river. We are free. 

To live would be an awfully big adventure.“  —Peter Pan

A Hero Among Us

It is possible to live your life as a hero and never know it. It is also possible to have someone in your life that you hold to such a high esteem that they become your hero without you even realizing it. My Grandma is 86 years old, and she is just such a hero to me. 

Despite her age and an inherent knowledge that by conventional standards she has always been old in relation to me, I never remember considering her as such. She was always in and among the action. Outriding us grandkids on her bicycle. Boiling up crawdads we had caught in the creek, not because of their enormous size (they were tiny), or their delicacy (we were all picky eaters), but because of the adventure of it. And because her grandkids had requested it. She was captaining the boat or skiing behind it. We heard tales of her adventures in far off places, of riding trains, planes and automobiles. I distinctly remember a period of life where treats at Grandma’s house included banana flavored PowerBars, I’m sure my parents were thrilled. 

She is such a cool lady. I have fond childhood memories of summers spent at her cabin on the river. There were canoes and kayaks and wave runners, paddle boats and barges. We would mornings fishing and the afternoons romping through the fields to our favorite meandering creek to wade through the icy waters catching turtles and other critters. Don’t think Grandma sat idly by waiting for us to return with great stories of wandering. She was right their rallying the team. And she was always game to participate in any crazy plan we grandkids came up with. She was holding her own on the Seniors’ Tennis team at the age of 70, everyone else was in their 50s. And boy can she love. No matter what, she loved us all. Oh, she is not shy in telling you she disagreed with your life choices, but she loves you just the same. 

She is my hero in every sense of the word. You tend to mimic the people you admire. I can remember sporting a fanny pack in junior high because Grandma had taken to carrying one instead of a purse because it was more convenient when traveling to exotic locales. A couple of years ago she started warning us that she was slowing down. Although, since this new trend started she has ridden in a self-driving car, rode an elephant and danced the night away on a cruise ship. I like to tease her that I cannot wait to be her age, so I can have so much fun. She is quite possibly the coolest person I know.

Recently, she has taken ill and actually started slowing down. I realize that one day there will exist a world that this beautiful woman is no longer a part of. I cannot imagine that world. There are too many stories about her life I have not heard, too many three mile walks on Christmas day that have not been taken. I went to visit her recently and was warned that she was not doing well; it scared me. As I sat down next to her chair, we chatted and we laughed. She showed me a book someone had sent her, and I told her about an inspirational book I was reading. I saw my hero lying there, and I knew we would all be okay. My grandma is tough. She has a beautiful spirit that does not allow her to give up.To this day people are still surprised when they learn her actual age. Even as she struggles with her version of kryptonite, her beauty and youthfulness shine through.

I believe in her. I cannot not believe in her. I will believe in her until her dying day. I don’t have a choice. She is my hero after all. 

“…and in those perfect moments you find beauty that you never knew existed. You find yourself and you friends all over again, you find something to fight for, something to love. Something to show the world.”  —Gerard Way

Seeking Happiness

Happiness is a byproduct. It is not something we can seek out. It is not something we can predict. The more we force it, the more elusive it becomes. The best we can do is seek a good and fulfilling life. According to William S. Burroughs, “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict.”

So, how do you live a good life? Jonathan Fields suggests in his book How to Live a Good Life that it is by maintaining three life buckets: vitality, connection, and contribution. Along with my focus on ‘productivity’ this year, I have been experimenting with Jonathan’s prescription for living a good life. I am constantly checking in with myself making sure I am maintaining vitality through self-awareness, better eating habits, moving regularly, and connecting with friends and family through visits and regular, intentional contact. I have especially been focusing on strengthening and deepening my relationships. 

Then there is contribution. I struggle with satisfaction with this bucket. It is more than just giving beyond yourself. It is about knowing your values and spending time on things that are meaningful. One of the daily challenges in Field's book involved taking the VIA survey of signature strengths. After taking the quiz, your results identify your character strengths in order of score. You end up with five or six top traits that you can integrate more intentionally in your life. Your character strengths help shed light on what you find meaningful and give you an idea of what traits you might wish to bolster. By shifting your focus from what is wrong to what is good, it helps take a strengths-based approach to life. 

My top six traits were a love of learning, kindness, curiosity, appreciation of beauty and excellence, fairness, and humor. Not surprisingly, I already nurture these traits naturally. These top traits tend to be what engage, energize, and comfort you. Since taking the survey, I have become more aware of the ways I do and can use and express these characteristics in my life. 

Love of Learning

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood your whole life, but in a new way.” —Doris Lessing

I really do love learning. I enhance this trait by taking the time to listen to engaging podcasts, read interesting articles, and learn from the people around me. 

Kindness

“If there is anything I have learned about men and women, it is that there is a deeper spirit of altruism than is ever evident. Just as the rivers we see are more compared to the underground streams, so, too, the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what people carry in their hearts unreleased or scarcely released.” —Dr. Albert Schweitzer

While I try to be aware of the kindness I show to others, I also try to offer up the same to myself. 

Curiosity

“Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of that question.” —Tennessee Williams

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but think of all that she saw before her death. I am taking more time to actively engage with my environment. Asking questions, not for the answers, but for the conversation. 

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” —John Ruskin

We do live in a beautiful world. It is easy to lose focus of that. I have been working on not just silently appreciating beauty, but also sharing it with others. I am especially interested in the beauty of individuals. We are so harsh on ourselves sometimes. We fail to see the beauty in the ordinary.

Fairness

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” —Abraham Lincoln

When making decisions and judgments, I constantly strive to take into consideration the perspective of others. 

Humor

“This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought.” —Lin Yutang
“The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.” —Maya Angelou

Laughing is indeed medicine. I seek out mirth more intentionally, whether it is laughing at myself or reading a little Calvin and Hobbes. Life is too silly to be so serious. 

I challenge you to take the survey. It is fun, free, and enlightening. I would love to hear about your top character strengths!

“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.” —John O’Donahue

Confessions and Understanding

Skydiving was a part of my being for eight glorious years. I immersed myself in the culture. I lived and breathed the sport. I loved the people, their eccentricities and their normalcies, their acceptance of people and their rejection of people. The realization that you can be a weirdo among a bunch of weirdos is an enlightening experience. 

The time has come for me to let go of this wild and wonderful sport, at least for this chapter in my life. I don’t have the capacity to do or afford everything, and my focus has shifted to other things. Skydiving taught me many things. It wrenched me out of my shell and helped me look at the world through a different lens.  The skydiving community is made up of a vast array of weird and beautiful folk from all walks of life. I was introduced to people that thought and acted differently than the people of Pell City, Alabama where I grew up.

 I was forced to be open-minded. I was just shy enough when I entered this lifestyle to be somewhat of a wallflower. To take things in and think about them before forming an opinion. Staying quiet sometimes allows for this to happen. Listening and observing with interest has a powerful effect on a person. Once you voice an opinion, you are more likely to try to support it staunchly and less likely to be open to suggestion.

Skydiving shaped me during a formidable time in my life, but I think I was predisposed to be open-minded. I am an optimistic person by nature. My default is to find the good in a situation, to a frustrating degree sometimes. I am also, myself, different from the average gal. I think these facts, more than others, make me open to different

I grew up very much a tomboy, not much has changed in that degree. One of my dad’s favorite memories of me as a little girl is me bent over in a pretty Sunday dress turning over rocks and bricks in an endeavor to find roly-polies, the frills of my dress and bloomers exposed to the world as I innocently searched for these cute little creatures. At a fairly young age, my parents boldly allowed me to make the decision to chop off all my hair. I loved having short hair, but I confess I looked like a little boy. I didn’t help onlookers out, either, dressing in camouflage and loose fitting, more masculine clothing. 

I am sure many people in my life thought I would eventually come out as gay or, at the very least, transgender. The thing is, I never felt like a boy or was particularly attracted to individuals of the same sex. I was just Amy. I remember somewhere around the second grade being told by a fellow classmate that I could not do a certain thing or dress a certain way (I don’t remember the specifics) simply because I was a girl. My immediate response was, “then, I’ll be a boy.” It was as simple and innocent as that. ‘Boy’ and ‘girl’ were merely labels to me. I realize now why this was a cause for concern for many of the adults in my life. I only carried on this charade in class because, the truth is, I didn’t care to be a boy. I just cared to not be judged and put into a category with such frivolous standards. 

I just wanted to be me. A girl that liked to wear her hair short, don clothes that allowed her to play rough and tumble, and to do the things that interested her most. Sometimes those things were playing with Barbies or baby dolls and sometimes those things were playing backyard football and wading through a creek. I confess that I do get a thrill out of overturning assumptions of normality and how a person is supposed to be, especially as I get older and less self-conscious. I was just me, a little masculine, a little feminine, who, as a female, liked certain things. I never thought about whether I should or should not like something based on something as arbitrary as gender. 

These experiences predisposed me to accept others as they are. This doesn’t mean I don’t find myself sometimes judging people for their views or on their outward appearance, but then, I take a step back and try to understand. To resist making snap judgments for a moment and see the person as they are and try to understand their views and decisions. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with them or even, ultimately, like them. What is does allow is for me to understand them, at least on some level, and accept them and, even, sometimes, love them for introducing me to a new perspective.

My life so far has been a crazy awesome journey. I love it and the unique people I have encountered along the way that have helped to shape my life. Life, consequently, comes with bumps and bruises and lessons sorely learned. Embracing these bumps along the way are some of the most beautiful aspects of life because many times they lead to an amazing view from the top of a glorious mountain of understanding or at the very least an exhilarating leap from an airplane. 

“Extremes are easy. Strive for balance.” —Colin Wright
“There is no right or wrong way to live. Just ways you’ve tried and those you haven’t yet.” —Colin Wright

A New Year

I just got back from a solo polar plunge in a local creek accessible by a short one mile-ish hike. There is ice on the ground and the temperature outside is around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was cold . . . ice cold. It was awesome! Cabin fever and the promise of an adventurous new year lead to such things. 

Last year I experimented with choosing one word to help shape my year as opposed to setting a resolution. My word was focus. It served me well. Whenever my attention started to wander to new, exciting projects, I reminded myself to focus on the task at hand. My main focus for 2016 was landing a paid freelancing gig. This didn’t stop me from having side projects, but focus allowed me to not get side tracked. 

I accomplished my goal and actually have two freelance writing gigs that I work on part-time. This year I have decided my word will be productive. I want to actually set deadlines for myself and keep those deadlines. I want to grow some of my side projects into rewarding hobbies or financially viable sources of income. I want to set financial goals for myself. Create a real budget and stick with it. Build flexible routines that provide structure without the rigidity that usually leaves me abandoning them within a couple of days. 

Productivity doesn’t just pertain to work. I want my adventurous life to be productive as well. As I experiment with new routines, I plan on incorporating one off day a week where working is not an option. The day will be mine to explore and read and go on adventures or rest and eat pizza and binge on Netflix. I was unable to travel as much this past year as I would have liked. Although long road trips may or may not be possible this year, I would like to take advantage of shorter road trips and also exploring some of the wonderful things Birmingham has to offer.

Being productive helps me finish my work more efficiently with less procrastination. This opens up time to do more exciting things. To deepen relationships with family and friends. To go on long hikes with the dogs. To have time for an occasional beer with friends. To finance a life that focuses less on making money and more on the joy of living. 

Being productive allows me to be more intentional with my time, a valuable and non-renewable resource. Getting the job done now lessens the time spent worrying about what I should be doing. Allocating time for specific endeavors opens up space to truly enjoy the moment, whether that moment is spent writing an article, researching a podcast guest, reading a book, or exploring a new city. I hope framing my year in this way will actually be less stifling and more freeing that my current state of being. 

I cherish new experiences. I look forward to a year full of exciting adventures, productive business, and moving closer to my dream of living on the road. I hope to have a nice balance of work and play and be productive in both areas. 

I wish everyone the happiest of new years!

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”   —Stephen Covey

Happenings

I am currently working on launching a podcast, Heroic Things. I hope to have it go live sometime in March. I am compiling a list of potential guests and working towards setting up interviews. I will keep everyone abreast of new developments and look forward to working more intently on this new project. 

Shinrin-yoku and Exploration

Yesterday, we took a different path, veered right where we normally turn left. It wasn’t a completely unknown trail, but it lay unexplored for at least a year. Our normal route takes us steadily up the mountain. No steep climbs but ever upward to our turn around point. There are wide swaths where the underbrush isn’t so thick. The path is a mix of dirt, sandstone, and leaves. Sticks and pinecones abound. 

This path that is the other is not as obviously beautiful. It has been logged more recently. The trail is more open and been pounded to dust by large trucks and regular four-wheeler use. It peaks out early before descending into a valley. The path is loose with a mix of large and small rocks, so you have to watch your step. The trail is lined with thick sticker bushes that pull at Halo’s fur when he attempts to go for a romp.

I remove my headphones and pause my podcast. I need to listen more closely. The dogs are off leash. They aren’t wearing their harnesses or even collars for that matter. Our morning rambles are more about freedom than constraint. As we are off our property and on a lesser known trail, I remain alert for the presence of free-roaming dogs and the sudden appearance of houses. In the country, a house can emerge from the trees with no warning. Although I know these woods well from my childhood, a lot has changed since then. I am armed with nothing but a cup of coffee and an iPod, so I prefer to go unnoticed by wary landowners, an unseen wanderer in the backwoods. 

We see no one. Surprisingly, we don’t even stir up a cacophony of backyard dogs who usually sense our presence without us ever seeing them. We turn around at a gate and start our scramble out of the valley. We are soon back on familiar soil. I replace my earbuds and head toward home. 

It is good to find the hidden beauty in something new. To occasionally arm the senses. To flex new muscles on different terrain. At the very least, it makes you aware of the wonder in the everyday that you’ve become numb to over time. 

We made no new profound discoveries, but we opened our eyes anew and embraced exploration, even if just on a small scale. Maybe we don’t know what the future holds, but we can try new approaches and seek beauty wherever it might be found. Today is a new day, and we will explore all of its possibilities. 

“Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones.” —John Burroughs

Naked and Afraid

I consider myself a tough, independent, and fairly resilient country girl. I go on regular romps in the woods taking spiderwebs to the face frequently. I calmly peel the sticky mess from my skin, scanning for any dislodged spiders and only occasionally performing the frantic spider dance. 

Recently, I experienced some hot water heater issues. This would be devastating for most, but, thankfully, I have a spare house with a functioning hot water heater. You see, I live on my parents’ property in an apartment over the garage adjacent to the main house. The house is semi-abandoned because my parents purchased a small house on a quiet lake several years ago and slowly picked over the main house, leaving it mostly empty but functioning. It still has electricity and running water and houses the occasional visitor, but it is not lived in.

When you reside in the country, you are in constant battle with insects, most notably spiders, wasps, and scorpions. The insects slowly creep in the longer a house is unoccupied, no matter how much you spray and secure the premises. I knew this and entered the bathroom cautiously the first few times I ventured over. The morning of the incident I had let down my guard thinking I had successfully rid the shower of the resident creepy crawlers.

So, I’m in the shower doing my thing when a movement caught the corner of my eye. I glanced up to see a huge wolf spider on the shower curtain directly between me and my weapon of choice, the removable shower head. Let me take a moment to stress how vulnerable a person is when naked in the shower. Something about not having any clothes on makes you scared shitless when facing down such a predator. Also, I am normally a live and let live kind of person. 

Anyway, I stare down the beast while devising a plan. I obviously couldn’t continue my shower in fear of being attacked. I decided to gently shake the curtain in hopes that he would scurry to the other side, out of sight, out of mind. And it worked!, for a second…

Then, he started moving down the curtain towards me. It was the beginning of the end. He had advanced far enough in my direction, away from the shower head, that I could now slowly and stealthily, with my back pressed against the opposite stall wall, slink towards the sprayer. Once in hand, I began throwing gently blasts of water at him, again hoping he would simply run to the other side of the curtain.

By this time, my heart rate was elevated. That is when he suddenly dropped down into the floor of the tub. My adrenaline spiked and I shrieked as he scurried between my legs, deftly trying to gain traction on a nearby wall as I wildly tried to prevent another attack. I am dancing and spraying like a mad woman. This foray had escalated into a war, and I was taking no prisoners. I thwarted his attempt at escape up the wall several times before putting him out of his misery in a small pool of water collecting at a low point around the drain. 

In the aftermath, as the steam cleared, I felt a tinge of regret for killing the creature. I stepped from the shower and began mopping up the battlefield, drenched from the water of war. I remained vigilant for any retributive fellow spiders. I left the house swaddle in only a towel without even my dignity intact, alive to live another day.

Spiders: Nature’s way reminding you that you are in fact…A LITTLE GIRL!” —Unknown

Savor Every Bite

My plate was piled high with delicious breakfast foods. I had just fried some bacon, scrambled some eggs, and cut up some fresh watermelon. I stood at my counter blissfully devouring this splendid meal. As I chewed and swallowed my last strip of bacon, barely tasting it, I paused and looked at my plate. All that was left was my watermelon. I had prepared myself a delicious meal, yet I had not even taken the time to sit down and enjoy it. I picked up a slice of watermelon, dripping in its watery sweetness, and sat, determined to slow down. 

I am the type of person who eats delicious things with ferocity. Instead of savoring each delicious bite, I get excited and just want more of this good thing. I dated a guy that was just the opposite. He enjoyed a meal with painstaking slowness. I remember watching him once and thinking, “Man, I wish I could sit down and enjoy a meal that much.” He would eat cheesecake in the most sensuous way. In small bites followed by a blissful expression before taking another. Of course I would be done before the plate settled on the table and be forced to watch while salivating on my side of the table. 

I want to experience life like he experiences a meal. I want to savor it one delicious little moment at a time. I want to taste all the delicate flavors. As I strive to live more intentionally, I occasionally notice little moments of pure, unadulterated joy. Early morning car rides home from the farmers market, wind whipping my hair, the promise of home cooked meals in the future, and the perfect song on the radio. The joy of unwinding from a long day curled up with a book and surrounded by my boys. Laying in the cool grass under a blanket of stars. These moments are not profound in their complexity. They are profound in their simplicity. It’s the little joyful moments that make up a life. 

Of course it is easy to enjoy and long after those happy moments, but with happy moments come unhappy ones. But I want to savor these as well. If I am sad or lonely or angry, I want to feel it, understand it. Discover the root of my angst. That way when I move forward, these feelings are sated with the time I have spent and less likely to bubble up later. And when these feelings do arise again, I know and understand them better and therefore, myself better. Soak up all the pleasure, satisfaction, and contentment of a good moment. And get to the root of your less pleasurable emotions instead of allowing them to fester. Give them their due then move on. 

Feelings demand to felt and moments are meant to be lived. So get out there and experience this life. 

“And at the end of the day , your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.   —Shanti

Loneliness Lost

By all counts I should be lonely, sitting at home pining for a companion. But, surprisingly I am not. I have such a wonderful network of friends spanning not only across this country, but several countries. New friends keep walking into my life. Some are brand new and some are reemerging old friends. My family is amazing and supportive. They have learned to deal with my eccentricities — my gypsy soul, lust for adventure, and need for alone time — and they love me through it all. All of these people quell the loneliness, but it is my dogs that are there for me everyday. Wriggling and smiling when I return from work. Whining incessantly to go on walks. Giving abundant kisses and hugs. 

Siku is my wild one. He maintains our daily schedule and brings added excitement to every situation either through uncontrolled body wriggles or physical manifestations of anxiety. Either way it is never boring with him around. Halo is my sweet, laid back guy. He generally goes with the flow. He enjoys long walks in the woods and never-ending games of fetch.

Halo and Siku keep me grounded. They remind me that not all routines are bad. Long walks in the woods are a mandatory ritual worth dancing about. They know what time breakfast and dinner should be served and politely remind me should I forget. Affection is always appreciated in the forms of snuggles, pets, and fetch. 

Each morning, I wake to a soft whining in my eat and two loving sets of eyes upon me, and I know it is going to be a good day full of laughter. Siku hops into bed for some rigorous snuggling, and I reach over to give Halo a belly rub and receive my morning kisses. Breakfast is served immediately at 5:30 followed by our morning walk. The boys dance and bark and wriggle as I fix my coffee and slip into my shoes. Walks are one of their all time favorite things. Just a mention of a walk solicits their rapt attention. Throughout the day they are always nearby. Siku periodically encourages me to get up and move or at least have an impromptu play session. Halo reminds me that an occasional lazy day is just fine with him.

These are my boys. They chase away melancholy and infuse each day with abundant joy. They are always down to party even when they aren't sure what we are celebrating. It is good to have the affection of two beings that enjoy the simple pleasure of your company.

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” —Doris Day

“Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog; but you’re never friendless ever, if you have a dog.” —Samuel Butler

The Cleansing On the Outside Reflects the Inside

My three years were up. I was saying goodbye to my crazy stint as a city girl. The lights had inspired me, but it was time to move on, to start a new chapter. I did not yet know what this next chapter would reveal about me, how the story would continue.

I had already filled three garbage bags of clothes. Where did it all come from? How did it all fit? Pare down. That’s what I needed. Strip it all away. When did I last wear/use this? Did I even know I owned it until this moment of rediscovery? Will it fit? Is it worth it?

With each thing release, a feeling of renewal, of cleansing, washed over me. I don’t need this. This thing has no power over me. 

I had just started hearing snippets about this movement called minimalism. Or maybe I had just started listening. I didn’t know what Alabama would hold for me. I just needed a reprieve. I needed space. I needed room to think. The past several years had changed me. I needed to get lost in the Alabama woods, to find myself again. And all this stuff was weighing me down.

I had illusions of what life should look like. Society, culture, social media. They were all yelling at me. Look at what’s expected. Look at what she has. Look at his life. Maybe he has all the answers, maybe she does. Maybe I should do it their way . . . Maybe . . .

Is their an alternative to a culturally prescribed life? For me, there was, there is. Minimalism is one of those paths for me. It allowed me to find my center. What are all my decisions based around? What do I want out of this life, this moment? I decided what I wanted was a lifestyle. My lifestyle. Minimalism allows me to be more intentional in everything I do. I scrutinize my purchases more closely, and, in turn, I scrutinize my life decisions more closely. I exam my life and try to reflect on how the money I am spending, or not spending, will enhance it. Consumption, contrary to popular belief, does not bring satisfaction. Living a meaningful life does. 

Love life, every dam minute of it, because anything less is a waste of time.

“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”  —The Minimalists

I was infected

It was her laugh that first caught my attention and drew me towards her. I was driving to work listening to a podcast when this full, hearty laugh came through the speakers and caught my attention. I had not been actively listening and had to skip back to discover to whom this wonderful laugh belonged. It was Elizabeth Gilbert, Liz to her family, friends, and fans. How had I not heard of this wonderful author who had written the likes of Eat, Pray, Love. Well, I was smitten. From that point forward she kept popping up in my life promoting her newest book Big Magic. And I knew her, every time, by her laugh. 

A few weeks later I heard she was speaking in Tallahassee, Florida, a mere six hours away. I hit my mom up to see if she was down for an adventure on a dime. I absolutely love a good road trip. This was going to be a slam bam thank you ma’am kind of trip. The conference was Tuesday night and I had to be rested and ready for work by early Thursday morning. We figured that gave us a solid thirty-six hours at our disposal.

We were on the road by six a.m. Tuesday morning with a loaded cooler and hot coffee in our hands. The plan was to hit a beach for a couple of hours before heading to Tallahassee to meet our Airbnb host and drop our bags off at our room. We would attend the conference at seven that night and visit St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the way home the next day.

Liz must have infected us with her laughter because their was no shortage of it on this trip. My mom and I talked and we laughed. We ate bags of salty sunflower seeds and drank delicious black coffee. I got to feel like a twelve year old again as my mom watched me skim board at the beach and cheered me on like any good mother of a thirty year old would do. We stood in awe of nature at St. Marks and were mesmerized by Liz Gilbert. We discovered our mutual love for belting out songs to the chagrin of my older brother and many elementary school choir teachers. We saw alligators and snapping turtles. We dug our toes in the sand, pounded the sidewalks of Tallahassee, and explored the coastal marshes of Apalachee Bay. And we laughed, oh, did we laugh!

It is funny what becomes of a laugh. Liz’s freeing and unrestrained laugh one morning on a podcast infected me. It swelled and grew inside me. It led me to thirty-six hours of laughter and mirth with my mom. It spilled out of my own body as I traveled to the coast and back to hear a magnificent woman speak. I gave it back to her that night in thanks for sharing her stories and wisdom. But I kept a little for myself. It lives on as a joyful memory of a fun-filled road trip with my mom where we belly laughed until we cried. 

Infect others with your laughter. It’s a contagion worth spreading, and the best form of medicine. 

“Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

 

Everyone's talking about love . . .

And I am just over here gallivanting in the woods with my two dogs. It is funny how love takes up so much of our collective societal time. Disney taught all of us little princesses that we were in distress and needed a prince to come and save us. And princes, princes spent their lives looking for beautiful princesses to save. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for romantic love. I just don’t feel I need it. Maybe one day I will decide I want it . . . maybe. I have always been the independent type. My dad always let me help him, be it changing the oil or building a house. He made sure I knew how to fix a flat tire and drive stick shift. I was allowed to run wild in the safety of the woods, sometimes even carrying a gun. I was never told I needed a man, so I never believed I did. I am sure my parents thought, probably even hoped, I would find a nice man and settle down. Start a family. You know, with human babies. Instead, I am still running wild in the woods, a band of dogs by my side. 

The thing about love is there are some many different forms. We tend to hyper-focus on romantic love and think our lives will magically be fulfilling once we find that perfect someone. But I’m not buying it. The ancient Greeks actually had several words for love.

Eros — the passionate, intense desire for something; often referred to as sexual desire

Philia — fondness or appreciation for the other

Agape — paternal love of God for man and of man for God; extended to include brotherly love for all humanity

Storage — Parent/child love; extended to family love

It is interesting to contemplate these different forms of love. Songs and romantic movies seem to focus on the mad passion of eros. Plato had a different theory about eros love. “The Platonic theory of eros is that ideal beauty, which is reflected in the particular images of beauty we find, becomes interchangeable across people and things, ideas, and art: to love is to love the Platonic form of beauty-not a particular individual, but the element they posses of true (Ideal) beauty.” (sourcehttp://www.iep.utm.edu/love/). I personally think it is good to have a balance of love in your life, a little philia, agape, and storge mixed in there. 

I cannot think of a time in my life where I have been surrounded by more love than currently surrounds me. When I wake-up, I look around me, and I am so happy. Halo is sprawled next to the bed and Siku is curled up on the pillows. My parents and I communicate almost every day if only to wish each other a good morning. My best friend and I stay in almost daily contact. I occasionally get the chance to video chat with my brother’s family in between visits. And my sister is among my favorite people to hangout with. I have several close colleagues that make going to work a joy. I am wrapped in love, and none of that love is romantic. I am very happily single and swaddled in a soft blanket of many other forms of love. So when you are feeling lonely, take a minute to look around you. I am willing to bet you are surrounded by more love than you realize.

My cup runneth over, and I hope yours does too.

“I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.”  — Haruki Murakami

Inspiring Others Through Inspiring Yourself

I think I have had a pretty amazing and self-inspiring life so far. At 18 I ran off to Auburn to be a cowgirl. I milked cows and rode horses by the light of the moon. I got some mud on the tires and even rode a bull. Then, I stumbled upon skydiving and the thrill of falling through beautiful blue skies at 120mph and skimming right above the ground under a sexy magenta parachute. I learned to be relaxed in situations that would have most people wetting their pants. I ran around with people that took risks and truly knew the meaning of the phrase “the sky is the limit.” I’ve gotten paid to scoop more poop than the average joe. I’ve collected plants and pulled creeks for darters and explored the ecology of Florida from the Panhandle down to the Keys and back again, all in the name of higher education. I’ve lived in Brooklyn and gone to school in Tribeca. I’ve ridden my bike across the Brooklyn Bridge and through the streets of Manhattan. I studied for a law exam in the New York City Library. I’ve visited the Bronx Zoo. I saw the Colbert Report live and sipped Dos Equis at a nearby bar after. I experienced Wicked on actual Broadway. I learned to sail on the Hudson River, where at times my heading was the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. My law school graduation ceremony was held at Carnegie Hall, and we stormed the streets afterward.

I tend to be the type of person to follow my whims (to my parents’ chagrin I am sure). One of the hardest things I have ever done was to abandon the prospects of a career as an attorney. Not because it was a hard personal decision, the idea of becoming an attorney became progressively more nauseating as the days went by. I knew deep down practicing law was not for me ,and I have never been the settling down type. I thirst for adventure. My exploits in law left me feeling inadequate and lost. But . . . I went to law school. I HAVE to pursue law . . . right?

Wrong. I was no longer inspiring myself. I enjoyed learning about the law (I only regret the debt I am now in), but I had (still have) visions of living on the road by my bootstraps. For my home to literally exist anywhere. To escape the pressures of my education. To live a life of freedom. Now that was inspiring to me. I threw convention to the wayside (again to my parents’ chagrin) and started exploring ways to cultivate a different lifestyle. Freelancing seemed the key. I began writing more and developing skills in editing. 

Today, I am happy to announce that I landed my first freelancing gig. It combines both writing and editing skills. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are coming together. Following my inspiration was a risk (how big a risk probably depends on your view of the world and whether I came from your loins), but it was a calculated risk. By pursuing my inspiration and a meaningful life, I have found a lot of happiness.

I hope to inspire others through inspiring myself. I try to live authentically and true to me. I hope that by pursuing a life I find meaningful that I can inspire others to live their own version of a meaningful and inspiring life. I thrive off of meeting people who are in love with their own lives; it inspires me. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration in your own life. You never know who is watching. 

“When you are living the best version of yourself, you inspire others to live the best versions of themselves.” —Steve Maraboli