Let It Be

 

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Where do YOU go for solace?

I go to the sky. 

I talk to the heavens through prayer.

I soar through the atmosphere on jet planes.

And all my life I’ve been told my head is in the clouds.

 

But I also seek solace here on earth, even though I’m not very good at being grounded.

Historically, the same things often work to soothe my soul, and some of them may be the same for you, too.  Church. Music. Yoga. Dog cuddles.  Human hugs. Therapy. Books. Movies.  The ocean or mountains.

And then there’s that thing I’m kind of scared of but I do anyways and love it even though I have to make myself do it: meditation. 

 

You see, meditation is rooted in being grounded. My meditative pose involves my feet being FIRMLY PLANTED ON THE GROUND and I’ve been told even if you are sitting up with a pretend string in your head pulling your body upright, you must be connected to the earth.

It’s a foundation for good meditation, I’ve been taught.

Since I’m a terrible meditator even though I enjoy it, I seek out opportunities to meditate in the community. A few years ago I did meditative yoga. I’ve taken mindfulness meditation classes through the library, community organizations and universities.

I’m currently attending a series entitled, “Exploring Mindfulness, Discovering Delight” through my local library district.

And through this class I have learned what makes meditation both difficult for me and rewarding: letting things be.

In this particular class, we don’t hum or recite a mantra or even close our eyes. We sit with a diffused gaze and let our thoughts come. We don’t encourage or discourage them, or follow trains of them. We simply acknowledge that we are thinking, and we continue to meditate. So many things go through my mind while I sit there. Each time, I ask the instructor questions afterwards. Is it, like, my subconscious bringing this or that up? What is the meaning of the song that ran through my head or the person I kept seeing?

And she always tells me the same thing.

It doesn’t matter. We don’t need an answer for it or  to search for meaning in every thought. We shouldn’t be thinking about our thinking during meditation but rather just accepting what is, right now. Just be present.

Just be present.

The absolute hardest thing for me; the thing I work on constantly.  My genes and my disposition and my anxiety disorder make it darn near impossible to live in the moment. I am always in the future or the past. A past that didn’t work out or COULD have or SHOULD have and a future that SHOULD be or COULD be or MAY be or HOPEFULLY WON’T be.

But the universe has been telling me often to let go out of the SHOULDS. Life is full of shoulds and woulds. And they don’t do a damn thing for us.

The only reality is the one we sit in, right now. And sometimes…..even just sometimes….it’s okay to just let it be.

Are you always seeking after your next great adventure? Even if you’re on one?!?

I am. And I think a lot of it is my avoidance of the present. Sometimes the present can be uncomfortable. So I avoid it.

We all love stories.   True stories, fictional stories,  stories with lessons, stories we tell ourselves to make sense of things, stories we follow to create rules, stories, stories, stories.

If I’m having a bad day, this is my mind:

“FIND A STORY, ALANA! QUICK! Go to church, see a movie, read a book, watch a YouTube video.  Listen to music REALLY LOUDLY.  FIND A STORY or…..PLAN A STORY!!  PLAN YOUR NEXT STORY! MAKE IT HAPPEN!!! FOCUS ON ANYTHING EXCEPT RIGHT NOW!!!!! YOU CAN DOOOOOO IIIIIIIIIIIT.”

Okay, so my brain doesn’t exactly scream at me, but this is how I’m portraying it for emphasis. My mind doesn’t like to let things be.

But there is something freeing in letting go of the shoulds and woulds and coulds and cants.  Maybe I haven’t discovered delight at my local library meditation class yet, but I think I’m on my way.

It is rather like the Serenity prayer: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Give me the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

I’ve prayed that prayer a million times and I always focus on the part where I ask for courage to change things. Well, change isn’t my problem. It’s the first sentence of the prayer that I need to work on. And maybe you do, too. So I thought I’d write this blog post.

Enjoy the subtitles:

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….

 

 

You Were Family Here.

 

 

Friendship is everything, when you don’t have a nest.

When you enter adulthood to build your own next.

When you sit alone on a branch until someone flutters over : ‘join me’

And your own nest widens… from one to two to three.

And soon you realize you have the whole tree.

 

Friendship is everything to me.  

I sat with a friend over dinner and mused,

‘Why don’t people come visit when they move?’

She said….’Because they have families to go to.’

‘Oh yeah,’ and it hits me, like it always does.

I have very few ties with blood.

‘Your friends are like your family,’ she confirmed to me.

That’s how it’s been since my first friend at three.

Amber sat with me and dug in the sand.

But….

My parents are the only link to my  entire past. 

And parents aren’t meant to last.

My husband and my son don’t know who I used to be.

They never can, because of those roles which hold me.

I got married young but I was well past the sandbox.

Amber and I hid in a station-wagon trunk once.

Because we didn’t have seat belts when the cops stopped us.

 

And Nikki, she played BSC with me.

I was Kristy Thomas and she, Claudia Kishi.

Nikki starred in my first fan-fiction.

We were ‘models and musicians’ with a Smashing Pumpkins addiction.

Katie and Nichole helped me seek Jesus in middle school.

And Hannah helped me know Good Will Hunting was cool.

Susan stuck by me the day I was left at the lunch bench.

And two decades later she’s still my best friend.

 

One Thanksgiving neither of my parents could be home.

Rachael took me in like I was one of their own.

And ‘one of their own’ is the mantra I stood by.

As my building burned down, with Susan’s grandma on standby.

To take me in when I was homeless, and feed us deli food.

The good kind, we ate it and re-watched  Moulin Rouge.

 

I hung out at Blockbuster like it was a second home.

If I wasn’t ‘on the clock’, I’d go there just to roam.

And purposefully work holidays so I wouldn’t feel alone.

 

Or chase tornadoes with Kristi and cruise those winding roads.

Can a city be a friend? I think I found one, if so.

My Scottish love affair was with a guy…and his  post code.

Life took us from our first flats, to Fargo after college.

And that’s the first time I realized without parents, we had….?

 

The childhood friends on pedestals, for sure and evermore.

But it hit me we had no one to ‘do life with’ anymore.

Just a tiny dot on a map of  this huge country.

Nothing like the capital we’d lived in, young and hungry.

 

And this is where I found a tree.

Or the tree found me.

 

I  had bump buddies in the flesh and we went to all those classes.

Amanda and I waddled together until bed rest kicked our asses.

But truly brought us closer as we went through it together.

It was like having a pregnant sister two blocks over on messenger.

And then Alistair was born.

Lindsey sat with us in the ER while I struggled to even move.

And I cried the whole way home, not from pain but from how I felt loved.

This sentiment continued as Alistair learned to crawl.

I knew no one with babies…until I knew them all.

 

I learned that though my blood family was tiny or erratic.

Friends were family in adulthood, too; blood is just semantics.

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Friends aren’t like family to me, my family is my friends.

And to this end….

Now that I know…now that I’ve seen…friends can be everything, even after nineteen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“What Lights You Up?” ….She answered, smugly.

“What makes you light up?” my therapeutic healing yoga instructor asked as we melted into the mat, nothing more than fleeting thoughts and deep breathing. Semi-meditative, we welcomed flashes of feelings instead of the usual focus of a mantra.

Alistair exuberant, Alex laughing, my parents hugging, Weasley’s run in an open park. Susan’s arm link and brisk walk. Fi’s knowing smile on the top deck of a Lothian bus. Walking out to my sister standing in my living room and seeing a missing piece of myself staring back at me. 

These were all people; this was all love.

“Try not to think of relationships,” she’d urged previously. “Try to think of the feeling- the physical feeling of lighting up.”

The acceleration of a plane taking off, cold feet in hot water, walking into a classroom, the opening sequence of a film, the full-body vibration of live music, the initial crack and smell of a new hardback, hands in Alistair’s thick hair, hands on Alex’s rough cheek, being squeezed in a full embrace, the texture of a scone, the tapping flow of the keyboard, the rush of a roller coaster, the reverence of personal prayer. 

As the exercise ended, we took out our journals.What did our feelings tell us? What makes us light up?

I wrote with ease, with the assuredness of being self-aware. Upon reflection, almost smugness. Knowing oneself and knowing oneself well was something I was oh-so good at. I studied philosophy for fun. I’d taken that existentialism class through the Open University just because I’m the type of person who knows what I don’t know or what I’ll never know. You know.

Smug.

I wrote:

1- People with whom I share love — a short list, but whatever, suckers who don’t like me. ( I let them go; see past blog posts. )

2- Travel. Obviously. That’s my thing. Novelty, exploration, adventure, etc. Finding a good airfare- ding- that lights me up big time. Getting lost in big cities- almost as fun as finding the place.

3- Film. Obviously. That’s my other thing. Everyone knows I’m, like, obsessed. 

4- God (He is first, but came to mind fourth — keeping it real here) 

The rest- water, music, reading, writing, physical touch, adrenaline, contemplation. 

Yep, that was me. I wrote in my journal and listened as the instructor told us to seek the things that light us up. It would make us happy.

Doing things you like makes you happy. 

This class, held in a strip mall yoga studio in a new sub-division, sent me all of the good feelings a person likes. Assurance. Hope. Confidence. I even drove away with a certificate when the month was over- hey, I could teach this if I wanted to.

Half a year has passed.

I’m not as smug anymore. I know what lights me up…the same things that lit me up before. I haven’t changed. Because people don’t change, not really, not ever. I’m still working on the same things I started working on when I started blogging. I’ll probably work on them forever. I can make positive change in my circumstances, but changing me, and changing what makes me who I am, will never change. Probably not.

This new chapter, the one where I accept I don’t know it all, is scary. But since I love novelty, it’s also kind of fun.

The same platitudes pass over and over again through my life, on a loop. Maybe everyone hears them.

Changes begins with you.

You’re the only person responsible for your actions. 

You never know unless you try. 

The first step is the hardest.

People never change.

Change is possible, if you really want it. 

One small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

I have an inkling they’re all true. Just like when my mom used to say to me, “These are the best years of your life but you just don’t know it yet,” when I was a carefree young adult. I dismissed it; my immediate needs outweighed thinking about adulthood. But now I see, it was the truth.  It’s all probably true. The things older people tell us on rotation.

And I…..I  don’t know shit. None of us really do.

We just need to know what lights us up, and keep at it.

We need to do the best we can. 

 

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. 

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.)

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Who Are You People?

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Dear World,

These are two photos of my family. We’re just as happy as the photos convey. We often take long autumn walks to rustle in the leaves. We’re about as middle-class as our use of a professional photographer suggests. I’m Alana, the mom, and my hair always looks that good, because I’ve added an extra hour to the day in order to curl it just-so. Alex is my husband, and when he’s not playfully wrestling our son in the afternoon sunshine at the weekend, he’s usually at the gym or volunteering at the local homeless shelter. He works hard during the week, but always takes time to give me a candle-lit back massage before bed, and afterwards his favorite thing to do is talk and talk and talk to me about the ways of the world. Alistair is our son. He was born after 24 hours of incredibly easy labor, and his toddler years have been a dream. He always does exactly what he’s told, he’s a child prodigy by all accounts, and his favorite food is green beans. Thanks for getting to know our family, world —

Oh, screw it.

*wrinkles up paper and throws it in the trash*

Dear World,

These are two photos of my family. But my not my whole family….there are many people missing from those photos. My parents have to live apart due to my mom’s illness, with my mom in a group home, my brother is dead, my sister lives on the other side of the country and all of my husband Alex’s family live on the other side of the world. We see them once a year, if we’re really lucky. Most of the time it’s just us and my dad, who lives 5 minutes away. We hardly ever take family walks, because our weekends are a chaotic juggling act of who-goes-where-when and we’re hardly ever together as a unit. My hair never looks that good, and it’s only now that the academic year started again that I’ve stopped wearing yoga pants every day. My husband works so hard during the week, supporting us on one income, that talking is one of the last things on his mind at 10 pm on a Thursday (and I love discussion). Our son Alistair is the most lovable boy in the entire world. He subsists on frozen fish sticks, fruit snacks, mac and cheese, and whatever else we can convince him to eat.

The pictures above tell many truths about us, world. We live in an area where autumn can be beautiful. My husband is super playful with our son. We love scarves.

But if I wanted to find that scarf again, I’d have to dig through a garage so packed with boxes our car won’t even fit in there.

Portrayal is one thing;  reality is another. And with social media becoming a main form of communication , the lines between portrayal and reality are becoming increasingly blurred.

I go on Facebook and Instagram, on my phone, in bed at night in the dark. Every night, I scroll through before I roll over and fall asleep. I mostly use Facebook and Messenger to keep in touch with friends all over the world. And I love it for that.

But I can’t keep up with the ideals you seem to expect from me, world. Twenty years ago, I would have been blissfully unaware of what society considers my inadequacies.

But I just can’t do it all.

I’m Alana, and I am pretty good at some things. But I’m woefully inadequate at others.

And I think a lot of people are the same, even if the internet would tell us otherwise.

Love,

Me.