Nothing Is Ever How You Thought It Would Be

It’s me again, walking by my old school locker. ‘That used to the locker I shared with Susan,’ I think each time, and then I rush to my destination and start teaching history lessons again.

My personal history there, by my rusty locker, is of no real interest to anyone – just some portion of my brain which holds memory, thought, emotion, and evocation of these things, and keeps reminding me of them,  unwittingly.

I can’t help but think of my teenage self in those same desks I teach at, walking those same halls. And the memories which come back to me have helped me realize something about THEN me and NOW me.

I was SO WRONG back then.  Right? 

 

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Teaching At My Former High School, I’m Reminded of MY Time There Daily

Did I think I’d be thirty years old and a student teacher back at my high school? Not in the slightest. My best friend and I genuinely believed there was a chance we’d marry our favorite members of Nsync. We huddled together in relative seclusion, wrapped in our fantasy world.  Was that wrong?

Well, technically. I mean, neither of us is married to Justin Timberlake.

But I say we weren’t wrong at all. 

Our predictions were often way off as adolescents. Or at least, mine sure were.  I thought I was in love with a person who loved me back. But it was limerence, an alluring lie I told myself. I thought I’d be living by the beach in California at 25. But I was living in North Dakota helping take care of my mom when I reached that age. I thought I’d be married to a Mormon, have eight kids and still have time to be a best-selling author. So far, none of former are reality.

Everyone always tells me what an optimist I am. How rose-tinted my glasses are, how naive I can be, how  unrealistic my expectations of people are.

And I’ll often agree, wearing the label with the knowledge that yes, I am like that. Not the naivety, per say, but I can agree with being a bit too unrealistic .

Anything is possible, right?

And I think that’s true. Anything IS possible. But does  life often have other plans for you?

Yes.

You know that old adage – ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’

It is true. And a realization of life as something other than what I had in mind, due to circumstance, choice, choices of others, chance, God…..this is part of what happens when you reach adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve found life to be.

I think accepting the curve-balls, embracing the choices we maintain within some imposed limitations, and learning to love ourselves and others for for who we all ACTUALLY are is an important step to happiness and adulthood.

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Colorado Is My Home Now, Again

When I was a teenager – at the high school I still teach in every day – my friends and I would lament about how booooring Colorado Springs was. How conservative and closed-minded and ultimately booooring it was here. Was there ANYTHING to do? And oh, the slim pickings of date-able boys we moaned about ceaselessly. I couldn’t wait to move. California, Scotland, anywhere!

So we went to Scotland and thought it was, without a doubt, utopia. The guys were hot and like, so into us, yeah? Those accents! The stream of phone numbers and offers to date…wow, where had Scotland been all our lives??  Colorado Springs had NONE of this.

Fast forward a few years and my best friend and I were sitting around talking about how poor we were in Scotland, and how we missed the mountains. Oh, and Thanksgiving. We really needed pumpkin pie.

When I did move back to Colorado Springs, Scottish husband in tow, I was excited…for a few months.

Then it was the same old story, this time with a husband instead of my friend: it’s boring, it’s conservative, it’s just, like, totally lame. Time to move to Boulder. So we did.

And now we’re back.

And I’m seeing Colorado Springs through a lens which never would have been possible back then. I’m seeing it as a mom, as a working adult…as someone who now cares about good preschools and grocery stores.

I’m also seeing Colorado Springs with new eyes…the kind of eyes I refused to use when I lived here as a teenager and young adult. I’m seeing it as a place to settle down, a place to grow, and a place to raise my son.

And it’s like a totally different place.

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As I Raise Alistair, I Can Introduce Him To Places Where  My Love For Humanity Flourishes

Speaking to friends and relatives and therapists and folks beside me on plane rides, etc.,  I’ve come to the conclusion that while my experiences are my own, the sentiment is universal.

Life never turns out the way you planned it to.

What prompted me to write this blog post tonight? I was flicking through the radio stations and landed on ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. I’m not even a country fan but I was listening and it evoked the thought of how even if we don’t know how things are going to turn out, the journey usually makes it all worth it.

Don’t live a life of regret, but don’t live a life of undue expectation on yourself or others, either.

I remember the teenage me, every day at work now. How she spoke, how she dressed,  how she talked. I can feel she is still a part of me. And I can see how despite how ‘wrong’ she was about the future, she was right, for that time and  place.

Everyone is a work in progress. As John Mayer says…..’I’m in repair….I’m not together but I’m getting there.’

High School: September 2001 versus 2016

I’m working at my  former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up  bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.

First, a list.

Things I did as a teenager:

  • Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
  • Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
  • Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
  • Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
  • Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
  • Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
  • Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
  • Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
  • Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
  • Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
  • Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
  • Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning

I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if  I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.

Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)

  • Plugging their phones in during class to charge
  • Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
  • Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
  • Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.

But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way,  the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.

Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however.  In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This  nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.

The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:

The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future. 

I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.

An us with a bright future, and little to fear.

Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.  As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.

For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.

Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.

Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.

But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.

Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.

So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.

But when I see them faced with the world we now live in,  and their quiet acceptance that accompanies  it….I see the biggest change of all.

And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.

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Apologies, but this is the only photo of me as a teenager I have in my WordPress archives except the Featured Image. Like I said, I thought I was hot s**t….

 

 

Scotland as home.

(Blog post Home: Part Two)

In 2003, internet cafes were a thing. So were calling cards and phone booths – sorry, phone boxes.

As a nineteen year-old American living in Edinburgh, reaching home to Colorado involved purchasing  a phone card from the newsagents and finding an open telephone box. You know, the red ones everyone gets excited about.

Only once you were in one and the door closed, you’d wish to be anywhere else. They smelled of urine, and that’s if you were lucky. After dialing about 100 different numerals by way of categories, pin numbers, etc, you’d sigh with relief (but inhale reluctantly)as you waited over a static-filled line for the endless ringing and ultimate, ‘Hello’ (from the other side).

This is how I told my parents I was engaged to Alex. I  stood in a disgusting phone box in the Grassmarket hoping my credit didn’t run out as I plunged into the rather  shocking news I was getting married to my Scottish boyfriend of five months, the one they’d never met. And then it was, “Oh, no, it  just told me I had one minute!” And then a beep, and then “Hello? Hello? Oh, I ran out of credit.”

And in a week, repeat.

Internet cafes were better for speaking to my friends in Colorado. Brevity was the key, however, as time ticked away. Here is an actual email I sent (all names omitted):

 

Alana <starlalorien@yahoo.com>

To

———@aol.com
 
09/29/03 at 11:23 AM
My life in four lines: Gossip, I moved, quick quip, ttfn!

Internet cafes, calling cards, soup in a cup, drink specials and being out until 4 am just about summed up the first part of my life in Scotland.

Something else was a thing for me back in 2003, as well: establishing who I was outside of my parents’ home. My best friend and I were on our own for the first time.  Baptism by fire, you could say. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Just, fire in general. It was hot, alluring and potentially dangerous.

But I LOVED it.

So much so, that when I settled in Edinburgh in 2004 on a fiance and then marriage visa,  Scotland slowly grew into the land where I learned how to be an adult. How to pay bills, rent flats, look for jobs, navigate relationships, and make my own decisions for the first time ever.

It is home to me because I lived there, but also because of who I became there.

The castles, the scenery and the history were amazing, but secondary to things such as going with my best friend to Pound Stretchers to buy linens for the first time in my life.  Or having Alex carry me over the threshold of our hundred year-old tenement apartment.

We’ve moved between Scotland and the USA numerous times: I’ve lived in the United Kingdom under five different types of visas ( BUNAC, fiance, limited leave to remain: marriage, and two separate student visas. )

Maybe it sounds strange; I don’t care at all.
You can’t choose where your heart calls you (though you can supress it). And my heart led me to Scotland, which led me to Alex, which led our son, Alistair.
With Alistair’s dual citizenship, I feel even more tied to the place which I love.
When Alistair turned two, surrounded by his Scottish grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins and friends, I made a wish it wouldn’t be his only birthday spent in Scotland. I can look back  on videos and see where Alistair first learned to talk in Edinburgh…with a Scottish accent. His first friends were  in Scotland -Winston and Alex – his little soft-play mates, fellow pebble tossers, play-group goers, and hand-holding buggy buddies as we walked up the street. He won’t remember those tender moments, but I’ll never forget them.
From simple streets, less than glamorous flats, days in and out of menial jobs to stressful universities and suburbia…and countless bedtime routines with Iggle Piggle and ‘cleaning your teeth,’ the years have passed and adulthood has blossomed.
I’ve known Edinburgh single and partying.
I’ve known Edinburgh as the place where I fell in love and got married.
I’ve known Scotland as my first train ride, my first time abroad..most of my travel firsts.
I’ve  known Edinburgh as a mom going to playgroup.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a graduate student spending all day in the library.
I’ve known Edinburgh as my home, where half of my family and friends reside.
I think the place where you ‘learn to adult’ will always be a home. I think the place where you have your first child will always be a home.

I think the place you find love will also always be home, and if you love the place as well….then you are doubly lucky. 

Dear 31,

Dear 31,

Your predecessor haunted me. It followed me for months:

3-0

three oh

30

thirty.

It screamed at me from writing homework – reflections and recollections and every single unanswered everything in my real life or fake life or would-be life or could-be life or should-be life or might-be life; it deafened me to new sounds.

I walked through Scotland’s haze with a ringing in my ears and a coffin in my back pocket.

30.

The drama pronounced itself in both circumstance and surroundings: I lived out my  grown-up dream of a creative writing degree in the city just a decade before I’d lived out my growing-up dream.

I pushed my toddler in a pram down the same roads I’d drunkenly stumbled through in the past. I came home in the evening to diapers and literary theory and a husband who’d just a decade before been sweeping me off my feet but now collected the dust of our stagnant relationship.

Panic overtook me in the most privileged guise imaginable; a married white woman,  mother to a healthy child, living in a European capital to pursue an arts degree, was having a case of existential malaise over the loss of a number, of a decade, of time.

I freaking loved my 20’s.

But then 30 came, and it went. And with it, the crisis.

Because 31, you taught me more than any other year of my life. I’ve never felt more like ME than any other year of my life.

Yes. I loved the freedom of my 20’s, the laughter, the chaos, and the possibility. But yes, the burden of unfulfilled potential still haunts me. The weight of choice still keeps me up at night. I often wonder how anyone sleeps, knowing the impact of each minute gesture. The power of our choices.

But 31, you’ve taught me those aspects of my personality aren’t a crisis, but the state of my soul, regardless of age.

The state of my soul has never been been more grounded in reality. In clarity. In understanding.

My 20’s were fun, but I lived in world of black and white. Eithers and ors. Nothings or everythings. Certainties.

Turning 30 wobbled me, spun me around on my axis, and landed me in a position where everything is a shade of grey.

And I’m fine with that, now.

I get it.

Life is colorful, but it’s never black or white.

The water of life is murky, and seldom clear, but refreshing nonetheless.

31, you’ve shown me I know who I am. What I’ll never be. And who I’ll always be (for better or worse).

Thank you, 31.

 

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Photo courtesy Unsplash

Dear 31,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home. Part One.

Scotland, 2013:

I rarely walked down Balcarres Street in the daylight. The number 23 bus took me directly  to my Edinburgh flat.

The night buses dropped me off on Morningside Road, a main thoroughfare, though still shuttered  and empty after nightfall (save a few pubs).

The 10 minute walk from Morningside Road was dark and residential. Pavement wound past a graveyard and adjacent to a mental hospital. Just up the hill sat the old asylum turned college, now an abandoned, wooded campus frequented during the day by hikers.  But at night, blackness.

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The woods on the hill in our Edinburgh neighborhood.

As my family’s year abroad neared an end and I prepared to finish my degree, I’d walk down this road with earbuds in and music loud. It took away much of the creepiness. John Mayer’s Paradise Valley is one of the albums of my Year of Writing Creatively (the other being, in all seriousness, Katy Perry’s Prism).

Mayer’s song “On the Way Home” resonated with me, especially with our Scottish adventure coming to an end. A sample lyric reads:

“The summer’s over, this town is closing.
They’re waving people out of the ocean.
We had the feeling like we were floating.
We never noticed where time was going.
Do you remember when we first got here?
The days were longer; the nights were hot here.
Now, it’s September; the engine’s started.
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted.
But just remember on the way home….
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.”

I’d climb up to our fourth floor flat and turn off the music…eventually.

I cried when I said goodbye to every place which made our/my time there…home. They were  never big things- the university campus, the church building, the friends I’d made – which brought out the tears. My tears were in the details of home. 

The Morningside Parish playgroup. ( I’d never park Alistair’s buggy in the foyer again.Sob.)

Continue reading

Nocturnal Reminders/ Existentialism

I’m a nocturnal being. I come alive at night once everyone else is asleep in their beds, or laying around looking at their phones in the dark. I come alive, but it just happens to be I’m usually sitting alone in my living room.

This can be a good and bad thing. Night is when I do most of my writing (even evidenced by the timing of my blog posts, which are, admittedly, unplanned rambles most of the time).  Night is when I act on whims (such as applying to graduate school and subsequently moving with my family to Scotland to study creative writing).*

*We didn’t move at night. I just apply for things at night.

The darkness also brings out nostalgia. This tendency is also well documented on my blog. But before this blog, there was another one. Some readers my age may remember…. LiveJournal. A good half-decade of my life is documented within its pages, the rambles and dramas of a teenager with a phone line and AOL.

I sometimes lurk back there in the wee hours, taking a look at what I was doing on this day in a certain year. Laughing at myself. Cringing. Struggling to remember what on earth I was going on about.

Tonight I looked at ten years ago, in 2005.

I worked at a daycare in Scotland and was taking an Open University course in Existentialism, which helped form my love of the particular branch of philosophy. Ten years ago, I was contemplating this passage from Nietzche in my journal:

“How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest and loneliness and say to you…..

‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence…the eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it…how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life and to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

A decade ago, at 21, I thought I knew it all. My entry reads as smug in my recollection of life, as if two decades of breath brought with it the wisdom of the ages. I thought yes, I’d love to live my entire life over again, Nietzche. That’s how happy I am with it. Ha.

Much changes between 21 and 31. I don’t approach this proposition with the same confidence I did back then, on the cusp of adulthood and with zero responsibilities but my own daily happiness.

I love to reminiscence on those feelings, but the jolt I felt reading this tonight reminded me I should try to live my life with the same fervor I lived life ten years ago. So that if I were, as Nietzche proposed, forced to relive my entire life over and over again…I would have tried for my joy to outweigh any languishing, to seek laughter over tears, and to find happiness in the present.

Having this reminder laid on my soul tonight brought up many emotions, and most of them good.

We should all strive to live lives we can be proud of;  but those lives are made up of days, and those days are made up of moments.

And if we had to live those moments over and over again, wouldn’t we want to enjoy them?

You only get one shot.

Peak Experiences

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Near Monterey, California, 2013

I chased my one-year old through the sand as he toppled over, laughed, and stood back up again, rubbing sand in his palms and licking it off his lips, taking in each new sensation. We stood near the rough surf,  but far enough so Alistair didn’t fear the crash accompanying each wave. Instead we looked on in awe, together. Just us on this secluded strip of beach behind our cheap motel, far enough off Highway 1 to be deserted at 10 am. Certain logistics of our mother and son road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway were fraught with difficulty. The cheap motel didn’t provide cribs, so I had to buy a pack-and-play. Caring for a toddler alone on such a long drive involved frequent stops, diaper changes, outfit switch-outs and forays into grocery stores for fruit pouches.

But something happened to me on that drive. We wound through coastal towns and over historic bridges, beside beach-side campgrounds and through high, twisting cliff tops. Alistair didn’t say much at his age, but I never felt alone. I sang music at the top of my lungs, stopped to take photos and take in fellow travelers. I listened to the birds and the seals and the wind.

We got back into L.A. after dark and with a crashing reality I sat in a gas station parking lot booking a hotel on Priceline. I GPS-ed my way through Los Angeles traffic to the hotel, adjacent to a shopping center with a parking lot the size of small town. Alistair, as usual with hotels, was beyond excited. I felt elated but wasn’t sure why. My exhausted body wrestled an over-tired toddler and worked out a major calf cramp from being in the car so long. But I got Alistair to sleep right away and I sat alone in the darkness of the hotel room in bliss.

The road trip had been magical. I felt renewed, more in touch with myself than in a long time. Infinite possibilities stood before me. I could do anything. Life was amazing. It didn’t matter how a messy life existed back in Moorhead,  waiting for me. In that moment, all was clear.

I’ve since learned what I experienced on that day in April of 2013 : a peak experience.

Abraham Maslow, of the hierarchy of needs fame, described peak experiences as occurring when a person “feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.”

Maslow also said, “Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a book or painting, or from some creative moment.”

I’ve been considering my own dedication to the experience and pursual of peak experiences recently.

Everyone who knows me would probably agree I’m a sensation lover, a novelty seeker, and an experience-minded person, sometimes to the detriment of stability or comfort. But comfort, to me, is stifling. (In one sense of the word, that is; comfort can have different meanings.)

There is a song by American Authors which I don’t particularly love, but these lines always stands out to me:

“I guess I’m going home,

’cause all my cash is gone,

I spent it all trying to feel alive.

Go big or go home…”

The rest of the song eludes to the singer being adventurous, sleeping when he’s dead etc. So he’s….going big, yay! Oh wait…he can’t anymore. He’s going home.

And that, I feel, is the struggle. I don’t want to give in to the status quo. Life IS too short for that. I’ve been lucky enough to live with few regrets (but some I’m still trying to work through, such as moving my entire family to North Dakota after college).

Maslow speaks of being hit by a book as an example of a peak experience. This can happen for free at your house. It’s certainly happened to me (Harry Potter, seven times over). I’ve felt this even more through my life over movies.

I remember leaving the movie theater -Tinseltown- at age thirteen after watching Good Will Hunting. I cried in bed that night, feeling so ALIVE. I was never going to be a math genius – but when Matt Damon drove down the road to get Minnie Driver, I realized I could come from my own version of Southie and be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go. Life stretched before me.

(I could list movie examples all day. For example, I still can’t listen to Secret Garden by Bruce Springsteen without feeling the same deep emotions evoked from the Jerry Maguire movie soundtrack…..)

Another ‘free’ peak experience I’ve been consistently hung up on is love. Maslow would concur love invokes incredible peak experience potential. Some of the times I’ve felt most brave, most myself, and the most clarity is regarding matters of romantic love and maternal love for my son. When I started dating my now-husband Alex, I felt I practically floated through life. I was riding a cloud of elation from his flat to my flat, and the town we lived in took on a character of its own. Edinburgh, Scotland will forever equal LOVE to me because of this connotation. The city doesn’t provide clarity to me the way Maslow’s peak experience theory would suggest, but it does evoke the emotion of the true peak experience which occurred there, when I fell head-over-heels for Alex. I just get off the plane there and feel like a better version of myself.

I’m not a drinker, a smoker or a drug taker. When people say they get ‘high on life’ , though, I understand what they mean. Because life is where the genuine ecstasy comes from. It can be hard, and sometimes life feels like lurching from one doldrum to another with some tragedy and unfairness thrown in. But peak experiences can be sought and lived, and they make life out of day-to-day living.

I want to live a life full of peak experiences. I urge others to do the same.

( And what’s healthy for the soul is healthy for the mind and body, too.)

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One of my first and most profound peak experience occurred while traveling to California with my best friend our first year of college. This adventure seemed epic enough to warrant its own blog post, Where Dreams and Hobbits Come True….

P.S. Here’s a better video than the American Authors’ one about the same kind of thing (if you like EDM) :

Nevertheless…

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My fourth grade classroom was on the top floor of a century-old, brick elementary school, since demolished. My teacher, Mrs. C.,  was a middle-aged woman with a frizzy perm whom I remember little of, except for this incident, which will stay with me forever.

The school implemented a ‘Gifted and Talented Program’  that year and by some process chose a few students who would leave regular classroom time, go with a special teacher from the district, and work on puzzles and word games and other mental gymnastics to utilize and ripen those ‘gifted’ brains.

One day, Mrs. C gave the class some busy work and called out a handful of names, mine included, and asked us to go with her into the hallway. Here we stood in a circle while she enthusiastically explained we’d been chosen for the Gifted and Talented program, and we should be very proud. It would be additional schoolwork on top of our already heavy fourth-grade workload, she warned, but with a blanket statement of praise explained she knew we could do it.

I  loved school, got good grades and great test scores, and when Mrs. C explained the program, I felt eager and happy.

I swelled with pride. I stood with my gangly limbs, my long stringy hair and thick plastic glasses and all of a sudden felt older, confident, excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad.

Mrs. C dismissed us from the hallway and we started to file back into the classroom, chattering under our breath.

“Alana,” Mrs. C, whispered, “I’d like to talk with you a minute.”

She closed the door behind the other children so we were alone in the hallway. Maybe she wanted me to be in charge of the group in some way? Why was I being singled out?

And then, Mrs. C  let out a breath and told me she was…..concerned…..that my name had been on the Gifted and Talented list. She held reservations about whether or not I could keep up with other students in the group. She told me she was concerned about me doing additional work and expressed it may be too hard for me. She asked if I really wanted to do it.

I stood, dumbfounded. My pride extinguished, my confidence deflated. My teacher didn’t want me to do it. She didn’t think I could.

The memory of the disappointment in the pit of my stomach is as vivid as the day this happened. I stammered that I was certain I could handle it, and I did. But each time I went with the Gifted and Talented group, I felt somehow less than, like I wasn’t really meant to be there.

My teacher’s words really hurt me. They affected how I went forward with the program.

Nevertheless, I did it. And I kept my grades up. And when I ‘graduated’ from fifth grade a year later, it was with some kind of presidential academic award ‘signed’ by President Bill Clinton, as well as the title of co-Class President.

Ten years later and a continent away, I lay on my boyfriend’s couch by the light of a golden IKEA lamp. The Scottish autumn made the nights draw in quickly, and we lounged in the near-dark and chatted, Alex in his soft Edinburgh brogue and me in my neutral Colorado accent. Long, mundane chats were the first thing we did when we met up at the end of the day. He’d rest on his back and I’d lay sprawled out across him,  my elbows near his ears and our faces inches from each other. I’d keep brushing my hair off his face as we laughed and talked about everything, anything. But this day was different, somehow. Alex seemed jittery, and more intense.

He sat me up so I was half on his lap and he sat up, too, growing serious. I was scared to know what was coming, taking in his nervousness. We knew I only had six months in Scotland, and we’d just take it easy and date, but everything between us seemed to move quickly, intensely.

“I have to tell you something,” he said breathlessly. “And you don’t have to answer me, it’s fine. But…..I love you.”

The world was spinning.  I was scared to respond. The way his face lit up as he looked at me, the gentle grip he held around my waist, the way I felt his chest heaving against mine from my spot on his lap. I took it all in, and I thought of Colorado. Of home. How I’d be leaving in a few short months.

“I……I can’t tell you I love you,” I said, terrified. Terrified I did love him, terrified I didn’t. Mostly, terrified of leaving him and going back to a country that didn’t have Alex.

A week or so later- time never seemed to matter with Alex – we were walking across the cobblestones to see Love, Actually at the movie theater. We were holding hands, walking in step, practically bouncing with the glee of young love.

I let go of his hand outside the theater, turned to face him with a rush of traffic behind me, and blurted out, “I have to tell you, I love you too.”

I didn’t want to love Alex, but I couldn’t help it. I was careless with my heart, knowing we came from different worlds.

Nevertheless, I did it. I let myself love him. And we worked so hard to keep ourselves in the same country. This week is our eleventh wedding anniversary, but in those eleven years I’ve had five different British visas and he, two different American ones.

Some love is measured in years, some love is measured through dedication to paperwork.

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When my mother was pregnant with me, she grew very ill. Her family was told she may not make it. Or that I would be born handicapped. The odds were against us.

Nevertheless, we’re both still here. And I was born healthy.

The list could go on. The stories could continue.

I believe everyone has a nevertheless experience or two, but the good news is, as long as you’re alive, there is ample opportunity for more.

We don’t need to be BECAUSE people, or DUE TO people, or IF ONLY people.

We can choose to be NEVERTHELESS people.

I saw this written on a gym mirror the other week: Our circumstances don’t determine our lives. Our actions do.

I believe sometimes, we are a victim of circumstance. It’s evident plenty of people get a leg up where others don’t. Not all things are equal or equitable as they should be. Circumstances dictate some things. They may dictate our past.

But they don’t need to dictate our future.

Even if something seems hard, do it anyway.

If a dozen obstacles stand in your way, adopt a nevertheless attitude and work through the obstacles one by one.

Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on SHOULDS.

I know I do.

The expectations I have of others and myself leave a lot of undone SHOULDS.

But I say, even though this SHOULD happen, it’s not, and so….. nevertheless gosh darn it.

There is so much power in our actions.

And only we get to decide what our actions will be.

(Our reactions, too.)

Our choices determine our destiny.

But when circumstances step in….

May the odds be ever in your favor.

We can say nevertheless, I did it.

Don’t Give Up On Me.

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This was just another day living in Scotland. I try to remind myself of the person I am there.

I drove alone across Minnesota this weekend. I passed through rain showers, bouts of sun, road construction and traffic jams. I sang along with music blasting until my throat grew sore. I listened to Joel Osteen Radio until I was in floods of hopeful tears, though I’m not usually a fan of televangelism. I even drove in silence with nothing but the tarmac to invade my senses, but my mind still wandered the entire 9 hours, into areas I’d learned to forget. I indulged in dreams long since cast aside. My thoughts went to dark places. To hopeful places. On and on I drove.

I embarked on this solo trip to visit my mom in her care facility. It’s not a stereotypical group home for the mentally ill. It’s a house of Somalian women, one rotating staff member, and my mom. The state of Minnesota is providing, but I still feel sad every time I see the grot in her bathroom. The dank darkness of her bedroom. Her very few possessions, all lined up in a few rows along her dresser and night stand. A cell phone without a charger (which she doesn’t have the eyesight or memory to use, anyways). A clock radio she can’t work properly, stuck between stations with static intercepting the music. Half used bottles of body spray….so much lotion, and greeting cards and photos. These take up most of her space. Photos of her family members making memories. I’m one of those. I send her pictures of everywhere fun I go, and here those photos sit amongst the rest, reminders of all she’s not doing. The limitations of her life.

I visit my mom a lot, but she’s receiving ECT treatments which mean she rarely remembers my visits. It doesn’t deter me, but the way she treats each visit as a fresh treat from the heavens, a joy beyond joys, makes me wish she were able to hold on to the memories a bit longer.

On this visit I decided to take her somewhere I’d want to go with my mom if it were a ‘normal’ circumstance. We embarked on a day trip to the scenic town of Stillwater, MN.

I tried to reason with her paranoid comments, always left not knowing what got through. I tried not to feel the weight bearing down on me, the pressure she imposed by extolling every aspect of my existence, my visit, my role in her life.

It’s so hard to be somebody else’s everything, when you aren’t even enough for yourself.

We found a nice beach to park by and walk. I felt soothed by the sand and the sun, but my mom wouldn’t join me. She was happy to sit on the bench in the distance and watch. I tried not to cry as I watched her sitting there, so frail and small. Lacking any autonomy or choice in her own life. She reminded me of a little child in a grandmother’s body.

I loved being with my mom, but I missed my old mom. My ‘real mom.’ I’d catch glimpses of her as we spent the day together.

Why did bipolar have to steal her from me?

This is what I’ve been asking for years.

But I got a strong impression this time that I’ve been wrong. I’ve been….giving up, so to speak. Is it to prevent myself getting hurt by her setbacks? I’m just not sure.

It was while we were ordering food in this gorgeous waterfront restaurant. She sounded just like my ‘old mom’ and as she looked over at me, I saw it in her eyes.

“Don’t give up on me.”

I won’t, mom.


Upon reflection, it’s obvious.

I’d become such a fatalist over the past six years; hardened by life’s troubles. “You have it so hard,” people would say to me. “You have so much responsibility for someone your age,” my therapists would tell me. “You’ve had to give up so much for others,” they’d all say.

And I heard it all, and instead of blossoming from it, I turned it into armour. Not to be strong, because I hopefully already was. But to become hard.

Tomorrow doesn’t matter, I’d think, because there may never be a tomorrow.

I’ll stop planning for the future now, I’d reason, because we never know if the future will come.

I’ll just live for now and not think about later, I’d decide, because ‘later’ is scary and unknown.

This translated into all areas of my life. I just stopped planning long term. It made it easy to gain weight, because the future didn’t exist. It made it easy to be lazy in my marriage, because I didn’t see a forever in my future. It made it easy to treat my mom with tenderhooks, because any time she got ‘better’ I was just waiting for her to get ‘worse’ again.

I’d given up her, and I’d given up on myself.

Over the past few months, as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been doing a much better job at self-care. The future is still murky, but it’s no longer opaque. I’m making choices that will effect greater change in the long run – such as working out six days a week. A few years ago I wouldn’t care about a work out because the results were too far in the future.

I’m not going to give up on my mom. Or myself.

I know that change and healing is possible.

Mighty change is waiting for me, for us…as Joel Osteen might say.

NOTE: I’m very honest about my past and present struggles in this blog. I have had some readers express worry about me. Please be assured I’m taking all necessary steps to keep my own physical and mental health in order. I see a therapist, I’m being treated for GAD, and I practice holistic exercise and medicine, including EOs, aromatherapy, mindfulness and meditation, yoga, and nutrition supplements, all of which I’m happy to share more about if asked. 🙂

Rain, Sweat and Tears

Mother’s Day dawned wet and dreary, with a windy chill in the air. I was exhausted from my girlfriend getaway I’d just returned from, and I felt the let-down Sunday usually brings. I was greeted with gifts and cuddles from my family, which I appreciated, but I just can’t stand the expectations of this particular holiday.

We went to church and I lurched out of my funk quickly upon seeing Alistair, my three-year old son, singing a song about mothers from the stage. He waved proudly and then sprinted to us before the number was over.

But when we arrived home the tiredness and gloom settled upon our apartment again. My husband wanted to nap and Alistair needed a nap, so I just joined them, knowing I’m a ‘bad napper.’ I usually wake up feeling guilty, not refreshed.

This proved to be the case. I woke up disoriented, feeling sad about missing my own mom (who is in a long term care situation over 4 hours away) and guilty about all of the Mother’s Day chocolates and feeling that, as predicted, this holiday wasn’t living up what it ‘should’ be.

Alex took Alistair to the grocery store to thoughtfully by the makings of my favorite dinner. While gone, I contemplated laying on the couch and eating chocolate. But I knew I’d feel even worse. I needed air, no matter how wet.

I proclaimed I was going to go work out. I arrived at the YMCA to find the place deserted, especially of women. But I felt an immediate lift just being there, knowing I was going to do something.

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I contemplated this blog and thought, “This is a win. It’s a small win, but I’m here. I’ll photo chart my journey and write a post about the magic of the small win.”

I was even in my favorite shirt at the moment- Perfect Is Boring.

I began in earnest, pushing myself as I racked up some cardio.

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But it was HARD, much harder than my usual trips to the gym. I only managed 20 minutes and a mile.

And the darn machine timed out before I could even photograph my stats (see above) I tried some weight machines but was intimidated by all of the dude-bros.



The lack of any other women started to get to me. “They’re all having a great time with their families, and I’m here with a pathetic mile to walk.”

I’m not generally pessimistic, and I’m not generally gloomy, but this was SUCH.A.GLOOMY.DAY.

I went to the exit, mopping my brow with a towel and then wondering why, as it was a torrential down pour at this point.

A man came running up to me with a bracelet. “Is this yours?” he asked. It was. And one of my favorite pieces, purchased from Top Shop in Edinburgh with an emotional attachment.

Something about his thoughtfulness cheered me up.

I was  incredibly hot, and decided on a whim what I really wanted was stand in the rain.

So I did. I let it pour down on me as I slowly walked to the car. I did the cliché thing, putting my hands out and letting it drip over me while I looked up in to the cloudy sky.

I jumped into my car damp and shivering, a few tears springing to my eyes as well. I couldn’t place them. Relief tears? Missing-my-mom-on-Mother’s Day tears? Tears celebrating my teeny tiny win on the elliptical? I wasn’t sure.

I drove home and felt a release. The release of the expectations I’d put on myself and others. The release of the longing for my own mother, so far away in too many ways. The release of the idea that my small win was the one mile at the gym.

Because my small win WASN’T the work-out. It was letting myself feel what I needed to feel, and not feeling guilty about it.

It’s important to celebrate the small wins, for sure.

And after I pulled in to park the car at home, I realized my face was a mixture of rain, sweat and tears.

I took this photo to document the ‘Small Win.’

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Later that evening I contemplated the amazing weekend I’d had in Winnipeg. I thought again about Alistair waving to me from the front of the church. I thought of the delicious meal my husband prepared to celebrate me in my role as a mother.

I almost felt selfish for my earlier cry. Until I reminded myself….. THAT was my small win of the day.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the good things, but we ALWAYS need to remind ourselves that we are human.

Rain, sweat, tears and all.

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Flowers from Winnipeg.