Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How To: Acceptance

Don't wear eyeliner, and for Heaven's sake, don't try to eat a banana. You'll gag. Wearing long sleeves helps in case you need to mop up tears.

Don't look "knowers" in the eye, the type that will wonder if something is wrong and ask. Give kind but shy smiles, but pass people quickly. Keep your head down. Leave right at 5.

Walk down the street and feel numb to the cold. Feel numb in general. It won't last but cling to it while you can. Puff out your chest a little and pretend nothing fazes you. Not the wind, not the cold, not the little burning in your stomach, not the wide open future, nothing. Walk faster.

When the bus comes, sit next to a man that reminds you of your grandpa. Hope that he talks, but in the next moment hope that he doesn't, because an unfamiliar voice would crush you. Check to see if you still have his voicemail from your birthday in 2012. Blink back tears. "Bobbi Baby" was such a great nickname.

Go to yoga. Cry a little in child's pose. Do the most beautiful dancer's pose you've ever done and forget for a second that you have ever doubted anything. Feel capable, brazen, strong, until you try it on the other leg and wobble. Feel surprisingly calm; your outsides match your insides.

Back at your apartment, try to treat yourself in little ways. A bubble bath, a hot apple cider with honey. Spend a lot of time sitting uncomfortably on the floor petting your dog, wondering what to do next.

Cry. Cry so hard you cough. Cry so hard you hiccup and scare your dog. Cry some more. Cry while stretching, because if your mind can't be limber, your body may as well be.

Observe your dog. Notice how she loves without expectation, without hesitation, without fear. Feel sad. Observe that humans will never be capable of such love. Watch as she accepts any kind of love she gets. Feel more human than ever.

Get into bed. Sink into the mound of pillows. Be soft, be malleable. Think about vastness. Think about possibility. Make your mind a string of inspirational posters, a montage of beautiful, if foreign, futures.

Count your blessings. Be grateful, even when your mind goes blank. Even when your mind goes where you don't want it to go. Flip over. Feel empty. Feel more you than ever.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Unknown knowns

I took an impromptu trip home this weekend to see Henley's vet, and while the rental car fee and extra 12+ hours in a car with an incontinent and therefore restless puppy were not ideal, I chose to look at the bright side: Extra time with my family and extra time outside. An unexpected but welcome pit stop, if you will. 

We watched old home movies that I haven't seen in more than a decade, and I still haven't shaken the experience of seeing my memories come to life on the screen. It was exactly how I remembered my family and my childhood, and it was also, at once, so very, very different.

On screen, my mom was nurturing and selfless, my dad was doting and funny, my baby brother was curious and sweet--I expected all of that. I was joyful and moody and sassy and shy, depending on the moment--no surprise there. All of that I know, all of that I carry with me as part of my roots. That was the home and family I know and cherish.

I can't really put a finger on how it was different than I expected. Maybe the word I'm looking for is surreal. Maybe it was just the mind-warp that my mom was three years younger than I am now in some of the tapes. Maybe it was recognizing some of the ways, even then, she was shaping me to be a confident, caring, curious person--the way she was bringing out the Bobbi in me even then--and the ways my life has turned out different from and similar to hers so far. Maybe it was seeing my dad back when lifting my brother above his head was no big thing. Maybe it was seeing loved ones we've lost come back to life with a bear-hug you can almost feel or a familiar laugh that moves you to tears. Maybe it was recognizing a neediness in myself on screen that I still carry with me, even though I've worked so hard to outgrow and shake it.

Maybe what's most surprising is that what was on the screen--the truth--brings into focus my memories, which are subjective, fuzzy, molded by other realities, tainted by ego and hope and growth Seeing the then right next to the now makes it all so clear that it's almost jarring. And it's disorienting because that's not how life is, all linear and sense-making and clear.

It's funny, but on the drive home all I could think about was the Iraq briefing that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave the year I graduated high school:
Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns--the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

While I was home, I had two conversations, one with family, one with friends, in which the people I was talking to gently pointed out that what I was feeling wasn't necessarily the truth. Or the whole truth, really. That perhaps I had decided that something was true without considering the other true things that affected or even contradicted it. Both conversations eventually led to this: We do the best with what we know right now, and we learn, and eventually we'll know what the right choice is.

I realize this is very vague and abstract and probably hard to follow, but what I am trying to say is that known knowns--when what we feel matches up perfectly with what is actually happening--are very rare. It happens usually in retrospect and after a lot of reflection. More often we live in a state of known unknowns (the state of acceptance I've been cultivating and sharing on this blog for years--knowing that there are some things we don't yet know), and unknown unknowns--things we can't see about ourselves or our lives when they are happening, things we can only see when we watch them, on video or in our mind, twenty years later. Things we might never know.

But what I think Secretary Rumsfeld forgot, because maybe it can only be true of people and not of an entire country, is that we very often have unknown knowns, things that we feel and don't need to verify with facts, things that don't need validation or context because they make intuitive sense, things that are a reality simply because we feel them so intensely. I think those are the most difficult, because they are hard to articulate, hard to communicate, hard to convince others of.

But even if they don't last, even if they are only part of the picture, even if they are eventually debunked by other truths, unknown knowns have their place, their worth, their weight in our lives. Sometimes unknown knowns are enough. 

I'm sure of it. At least for right now.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Toast to Emptiness

I've had the kind of week that leaves you scraping the bottom of your barrel. I'm out of creativity. I'm out of capacity to deal with complex emotions. I'm quite literally out of space in my inbox. I'm out of patience for other people's shit. I'm out of laundry soap (and therefore dangerously close to being out of underwear). I'm out of oatmeal. I'm out of time. I'm out of me.

I've spent it all.

And it occurred to me this morning while binging on cinnamon rolls and cracking overtired jokes with my coworkers that maybe what follows is the sweet spot.

Knowing that tonight--after seriously kicking butt at work and contributing to something bigger than I ever thought possible, after a four-hour jam session co-writing something inspiring with three brilliant people, and the subsequent panic that ensues to get every. detail. just. right.--I get to exhale. After managing to fit in a few work outs I still feel in my tush, a few pep talks for others, a lot of cuddles for a needy puppy who just wants to be near her mama--after managing all that, I get to dissolve into the quiet space of my cozy apartment, cook myself whatever meal I dream up, and toast a well-earned cider to myself. A toast to emptiness.

Because emptiness affords you the chance to fill up again. Tonight brings 8 (or, really, let's be real, more like 11) hours of sleep. Tonight brings affection from the aforementioned love monster, who will greet me with a wagging tail and an entire day's worth of anticipation and kisses. Tonight brings clean sheets and tea and a brand new book (thanks, me, good looking out). Tonight brings solitude and centeredness and grace.

Tomorrow brings friendship and shopping for tights and a phenomenon heretofore known as Crockpot Crafternoon. Tomorrow brings laughter and spirit and probably a fair amount of snark. Tomorrow brings gratitude, and encouraging words, and community.

Next week promises more opportunity to use an intricate balance of words and psychology to engage people to give money to shut down a horrible, horrible disease. It brings more opportunity to honor my aunt and my grandpas and everyone else whose suffering amounts to a lot more than just the emotional fatigue resulting from having used all your words. Next week promises drinks with an old coworker and the opportunity to interview an 80-something man who has made substantial contributions to science.

Next weekend promises a little bit of home right in the middle of Chicago. The weekend after that promises comfort on a direct flight in from Colorado. Thanksgiving promises dates with so many of my people, chilly hikes in the Peninsula, and warm soul food cooked by my mama and my crazy aunts. Home promises jokes and hugs from my dad and arm-punches-turned-bearhugs from my brotherbear.

Being empty isn't so bad when you know what will fill you. Cheers, to pit stops and knowing that the inhale is always sweeter after a long, slow exhale.