Blind Pursuit of Happiness

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another blog absence coming to an end–I have been busy in the real world, scribbling notes in my bedside journal and the moleskine in my bag when I can so I don’t forget any insight I’ve grasped at in the last weeks.

We moved. Again. Actually, we moved home. All through the years we were in Massachusetts, and this past year in Charleston, we never stopped referring to Maine as “home.” It is comforting that we’ve returned to enthusiastic and open arms after so many years away. Though I am a bit sad to say it took a scary car accident and 12 months of melancholy loneliness to get to this point… such are the trials of life. We are happy now which is all that really matters. The past is over, we learned some things, and we have moved on. Moving into happiness is always the goal, right?

Marriage, moving, motherhood–all of these things are loosening my grip on rigidity and perfection. The more I seek perfection the farther away it seems. So I’ve let go of trying to be that perfect girl in my 20 year old mindset (I am 30 now, after all). That 20-something doesn’t have years of independent living in her memories, she does not do yoga, she is lonely and though she may look lovely and beautiful, she is sad. It took ten years of running–literally around the planet–to settle back where I began, but this time it is with happiness on my side.

Happiness currently takes the form of a toddler, a wonderful half Japanese man, a dog with a curly tail, a yoga mat and salty air, a deep bath, walks along the rocky coast. But my experience of happiness is fluid, and I am happy when I am soaking wet in the hurricane-like weather we had last week, running late, splashed with spilled juice, and in uncomfortable new shoes. Because happiness doesn’t really have just one form, or any form at all. It isn’t a big house in the suburbs with a husband making a gajillion dollars a day so we can stay home and eat bonbons and write poetry. It is not traveling around the world, it is not spending every day at the beach until the skin is tanned beneath earnest coats of sunscreen. It doesn’t have a designer logo, and it will never ask for dues. It is not a destination, as the saying goes, but a way of being and breathing.

Happiness is a feeling of peace. It is waking up in the middle of the night and being able to go back to sleep without worrying about the agenda for the day ahead. Happiness is a deep inhalation and a steady exhalation. It is a soft seat for a weary body. It is gratitude and hope and humility. It is quiet pride and loud reverence. Happiness is knowing when to be persistent, and happiness is knowing when to let things be still. Happiness is waking quietly in the morning, and sitting softly beside the bed, honoring another day we have all been granted on the earth together. Happiness is meditation, happiness is action in inaction.

Someday soon this sentence, sunset and life will be over, so what sense is there in crunching up over worries? It seems we’re all on a path towards goodness, and though there are difficult times in life, happiness is always just around the corner.


Southern Sojourn

So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.

A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.

I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.

I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.

…in no order of importance:

  1. Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
  2. Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
  3. Sitting outside on the patio all year long
  4. This place. And the view from this bar
  5. Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
  6. The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
  7. Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
  8. The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
  9. My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
  10. How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.

It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.


On Unseen & Deliberate Creation, or: A Highly New Age Way to Look at Rejection

(I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.)

There are possibilities everywhere, and it is hard not to let the mind wander toward exciting uncharted territory. There are the possibilities we actively seek out, taking their shape in goals, cover letters, bruised wrists, and brazen moves out of state. Then there are the possibilities that we can only wish and pray into being. We all wished to win the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket though), we wish natural disasters don’t occur, we wish for lovely weather when our far away friends visit; and I wished that I said the right thing in the right conversation that would have landed an offer of employment.

The HR rep greeted me warmly, and reminded me to “just breathe,” which I brashly shrugged off.

I could have used another breath.
I sat down parched, then thankful to see paper cups of water in front of each place. As the deputy director was going over some initial details, I gratefully sipped my cup.  It slowly dawned on me that, in fact, there was no paper cup of water for me. I had just touched my lips and tongue to the executive director’s cup. Burning with apologies, I tried to move on from my error as the interview trio politely shrugged it off. There was probably a way I could have recovered from that egregiousness, but whatever it could have been was beyond me. Those interview questions I should have practiced would have come in handy then.

I walked out of that interview more defeated than I’ve felt in a very long time. I wallowed for the evening, and the next day. I perked up here and there, convincing myself my errors really weren’t all that bad. But they were. Oh reader, they were heinous.

This was April 1. For many reasons that I hope to go into with another post, I joined an instagram yoga challenge.  So when I finally got that email that said, “thanks, but no thanks,” I had something else to think about. It was a moment of unseen, though very deliberate, creation, and it has re-ignited my buried passion.

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I’ve done more yoga in the last two months than I have in many years…maybe ever. It has helped me realize that job was not my dream job, it was just a job. Looking back, I see my hesitations.

Self-sabotage of the best sort.

How did that spark inside me that trained to be a yoga teacher five years ago get so obscured? It is a little strange for me to be on the cusp of the next decade of my life, and still not know precisely what my career will look like. But I’ve been opening to new possibilities that I never would have seen if I got this 9-5 job I lusted after. Teaching yoga. Getting a 2nd Masters. Going to the beach every beautiful day with my son. Volunteering with the troubled local school system. Going to France and to live in a little cottage by the sea. Meeting and celebrating my new niece this summer.

Anyways, I felt like I needed to document this episode of my life, and thank you for reading. It is reassuring to know there is no such thing as a dream job, for me, right now. That position for included zero discussion of creativity. And yoga, definitely no yoga in the job description. So I’m settling in for a summer of possibilities manifesting, and setting the stage for a happy next decade of my life.

Surely Hafiz can’t be wrong:

“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”


Chrysalis Phase in Retreat

The last few months have been tiring, notable here on my blog by the glaring lack of posts. I rarely opened my computer, but when I did and saw the wordpress icon, I looked away guiltily.

I suppose I am guilty of overextending myself sometimes, my aspirations are greater than the minutes each day has to fulfill them; eyes are bigger than my stomach. 2013 has been a mostly quiet year so far. Introspective and temperamental, but not unhappy. Reassessing and planning, as I’m wont to do every 4 months (sometimes 3) I find there is a shift. Sometimes with the seasons, sometimes with circumstances, but routines get broken up and as we’re settling into our new ones, life can feel a little rocky.

I do not have enough words to express the gratitude I have for the few constants I do have in my life: yoga, nature, the sea, my family, my friends. Today I actually practiced on my mat at home while my son played with the combination lock on my train case, and explored the rest of our usually off-limits adult rooms. Seeking strength through my core, knowing the limits of my flexibility and wanting to push past them: these are lessons from my mat that I need so badly to apply to the rest of my life. Holding my spine upright as I walk into scary meetings with new faces just might be the edge that gets me the job I am interviewing for next week.

As always, I’ve been doing my best. Many mammals hibernate in the winter, here I am stretching out of my air chrysalis phase and ready to dig my feet into the earth.

“We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea.” –Thanks, Pema Chodron!

If I can offer one piece of advice so far for 2013: accept your state, do not judge yourself on sad or lonely days because they will end, and when they do share your happiness freely.

One more thing: This morning at the gym I was in the bathroom, washing my hands. I looked up at my face in the mirror, for half a second, and the lady washing her hands next to me turned and said “you look adorable, so cute.” She wished me a happy Easter (after asking if I celebrate) and breezed out the door. She infused me with joy. Husband had left for work very early, and my sweet son does not have much of a vocabulary yet. That kind stranger’s words gave me a kick of confidence, as I dragged my yoga mat into a deserted wall space.

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Instead of kicking up to warm up my handstands against the wall like I always do, I floated on my hands in the middle of my mat for a few moments of unexpected bliss. Thank you, kind strangers everywhere!

Image: http://www.deutschefotothek.de/obj87503021.html


On Creation & Old Trees

Creation is a funny thing: concentration improves with age, but imagination (an essential ingredient) wanes. It is a muscle not unlike the gluteus maximus or the biceps femoris. Imagination requires a wide array of highly individualized nourishment. Some, like myself, prefer nature (trees and water, specifically). Others find their muse in bourbon, animals, museums, watercolors, rivers, and clouds. image

It is hard to say why trees inspire me the way they do: maybe their versatility, resilience, properties of regeneration, and magnificence. Every growing thing starts off as a small seed, and trees are a quintessential example of this tremendous change. I hope the arc of my life will one day show such a grand spectrum of experience.

Sometimes, I want to go back in time, revisit my languid days of idle leisure to bottle up as much sleep and boredom as I can possibly handle. Life is so full now, sleeping late and ennui are rare occurrences. So as I am approaching the youth of my middle age (it is nearly 6 months from my 30th birthday after all) it is interesting to reflect on the creations of my life so far. There are fewer moments of quiet awe when I am infused with ideas. My moments of astonishment are usually accompanied by shrieks of joy from my son’s first steps and new tastes; my days are immediate, noisy with streaks of peanut butter, wonder and tears.

I can’t go back in time, and I don’t really want to (well, maybe some Saturday mornings I’d like to sleep until 9). What I’ve lost in rest, I’ve gained in patience. I wasn’t meant to have my grand moments young. My life’s work at age 30 is vastly different from what I thought it would look like, but if I ponder it deeply, I know it is still important, and that greatness is possible whether I am changing a diaper or changing my perspective.


Print vs Digital

If you follow me on Instagram, you might recall that I recently snapped a picture of a book– Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, (print).  I was following my personal collection development policy, which favors aesthetics and sentiments over informational value.  The bookshelves throughout our home contain a rather exclusive assortment of titles.  I used to amass books in the name of book love, but moving 2 times in the last 17 months, I’ve gotten rid of the detritus and diversions from the heart of my collection.  My reading tastes tend towards fiction, but just a sliver less than half is non-fiction: poetry, religious guides, history, handbooks and thesauri.  I’ve weeded all of my travel guides, except my dog eared and postcard laden copies of Paris: 2010, and St. Petersburg: 2006.  I only have two college text books (out of probably 50), zero grad school texts.  The oeuvre of an author is important to me as I grow older, and I feel like McEwan is a great friend I have gotten to know over the years.  Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Woolfe, too.

When I lived in foreign countries, I often bought books for the beauty of their cover art, but as time has passed I’ve retained only the ones whose words are most meaningful.  I guess that is what is so troublesome to me when people moan about the demise of print books, the loss of tactile experience, the cover art, the damn smell of dead trees and chemical laden paper, for goodness sakes.  As a book consumer, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has been seduced by a nice cover image, uneven pages, the pristine surfaces that lie below our fingertips, virgin words.  This copy of Sweet Tooth was decorated in red and green, curlicue fonts, like a gift that was so pretty it didn’t even need wrapping.  I laughed at myself later when I noticed this.  I imagined myself, eight years ago, standing in a London bookshop.  I might have snatched up a copy of a similarly designed book, maybe even two copies: one for me, one to send to my mother back home.  Agreeing to try a new author based on the physical product, but then falling in love because of his words.  I can accept the nostalgia some people have for print books, but outright refusal to read digitally because it is not the purest form of the book is faulty logic.  When reading a digital version, the text goes directly from the author’s formulation of the words to your own mind, and that is the purest form of love a reader can have for a book, I think.

My valuation of McEwan’s new novel notwithstanding, I am glad I have it in both forms, if only to make that area of the bookshelf  more complete and devoted.  I imperceptibly leapt with joy when I spotted the cover at Indigo Books.  I can’t remember the last print book I bought for myself before that.  Do you feel the same way about digital books? Are you a reluctant ereader?


Give a Girl a Bone

Dear Readers,

I am confused! I used to love living in Boston, the construction and the sirens were a charming white noise, and the hot stepping industriousness of the masses excited me, even if I was just pretending to be part of the pack on my way to Neimans. I loved living in a 874 square foot apartment stacked neatly above and beside other square living spaces. It was liberating to go to the grocery store and keep my head down, not making eye contact was part of the game (judge people based on their walk and their shoes, not their facial expression, I learned). I rarely got upset by traffic, I began to appreciate public radio and audio books, I walked everywhere I possibly could, and I outsourced all my errands that there was a market for.

Living in the city, we started to hold hands when we crossed the street, not for safety, but to feel a connection among the multitudes of people we were surrounded by all day. I shared tables at the library, knew where all the free dog bags were, sat rubbing elbows with strangers at bars, and discovered the easiest route across Mass Ave during rush hour. I learned to strip my pants off at the gym mere inches away from other women (it is much more efficient to forgo modesty when you’re changing into a bathing suit).

But something about my attitudes towards city dwelling has changed in the last three months. I guess I’ve gone soft in my new state of semi-retirement and stay-at-home motherhood. I have an expectation that people will return phone calls, & emails, especially when one spends 45 minutes composing the latter to a fellow new mother with solicited advice on things already learned. I have little free time, and believe me, I would have preferred to spend it working on my nano project, taking a bath and eating chocolates, bouldering, or playing with my toddler; not recounting my days with the nightmare inducing medela pump, or reliving my first days of returning to work after maternity leave. Sure, we’re all busy, in the city and in the suburbs, but what is it about some people who have such colossal stores of disregard for other people? Boston traffic illuminates this clearly: try driving near the city on I-93 between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, and please, try to find me one example of someone who isn’t entirely offensive and self-interested. The dudes driving the new mercedes or giant SUVs are on the ultimate ego trips, if you ask me.

Anyways, I recently returned from a ten day trip to New England. We flew in and out of Boston in favor of convenient flight times, and though I had moments of awe as I looked up at the skyscrapers, I was mostly disappointed by what I left behind. I spent six years of my life running in the city rat race, though I didn’t really realize it until going back. I joined in on restaurant week fun, tried not to be appalled when a friend’s husband nonchalantly ordered $100 bottles of wine, shopped for cocktail dresses at overpriced boutiques I’ve only ever worn once, attended various bridal and baby showers at over-hyped trendy cafes. I guess I did a fine job of feigning interest, but I have no desire to take part in those activities anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Boston is beautiful, and I loved my time there, but looking back my attitudes were all wrong and much of the time I was helping to perpetuate the Masshole stereotype. I was pregnant during our last seven months of living in our little apartment on Beacon Street, and in that time my husband and I nested, lived quietly, walked the streets and observed small marvels of life existing there; we grew kinder. It was quaint, and I had as much fun in those months as I had when we were regularly meeting people out on the town.

Living in the South, I think I am starting to understand what the Dutch (and Europeans in general) meant when they said that people get colder the further north you go, and friendlier as you travel south. I don’t know if it is the cold weather in Boston that gets people going on the rude train, but it is a lifestyle I am so glad I am no longer perpetuating. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the friends I cancelled on last minute, all the times I snagged a taxi when someone else five feet away was looking at it hopefully. I want to take back the crappy tips I gave to delivery food drivers for being half an hour late with our dinner because of traffic, and I forgive the pedestrians who walked out in front of me when my stoplight changed before they could halt their stride.

I’m not saying that people in the South are superior. I am sure I’ll find their (our?) faults soon enough, but the common sense of decency, gentility, and genuine kindness here is downright intoxicating. Definitely a pay-it-forward kind of society, whereas in Boston, I look back and see all the times kindness stopped because it was more convenient for someone (myself included) to hang on to it to get a leg up.

Whatever happened to a quick chat over tea? Or shows of thankfulness and appreciation? This is the season for gratitude, and I definitely saw very little of it in Boston. It was barely discernible in Maine which was disappointing to me, Massholes be Massholes, but I expected more from my home state. I had a wonderful trip, all the family and friends I did get to see were amazingly kind and generous, and spoiled my son with more love and attention than I ever thought existed.

But I’m not eager to go back. Family and friends have promised visits here over their cold winter, and this way I can avoid the rude stewardesses who gawk at me shuffling down a narrow airplane aisle with 3 bags and 26 pounds of dead weight. I miss the birch trees, but I think palm trees are a great holdover until we go back.

With love,

your ever loyal bloggess

P.S. In case you wondered, I’m taking a little social media (read: twitter and facebook) hiatus for the rest of the year. Time to focus on the family I have here, my projects I want to finish, and the new goals I want to get started on.