A Vulnerable Life Update

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one conversation in the past few months about how I am a sensitive person. They weren’t, for the most part, people telling me how great it is to be sensitive. I’ve often been told I’m sensitive like it’s a bad thing.

I’ll own it, though. Sensitive comes from the Latin sentire, or feel. And I feel things.

I also allow myself to be vulnerable. Or at least, I try. Vulnerable comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound.

I feel wounds.

I may be sensitive by nature, but I am vulnerable by choice.  And I think everyone should strive for more vulnerability.

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Seven years ago today I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I was living in Boulder, Colorado in university-owned apartments at the bottom of campus called Smiley Court. I rode my bike uphill to the main campus in first gear, dripping in sweat, for classes. I coasted back down the hill to my home with nothing but forward momentum, sometimes barely keeping control I was going so fast , and I was usually helmet-less. .This is not the kind of vulnerable I advocate for.

My mom had, a year earlier, jumped off a bridge in a suicide attempt. My last year of college was spent living two lives: the student who tried to blend in while learning about foreign policy and allowing herself dreams of changing the world, and the daughter who drove 6 hours every other weekend to the state mental hospital to visit her mentally ill mother, going through metal detectors, speaking to social workers and doctors (though, in all honestly, my husband and dad did much of that, as I tend to get angsty with authority figures).

For anyone who knows me, this isn’t news. It’s just my story.  I graduated college, we all moved to North Dakota, and lived happily ever. Right?

No.

Vulnerable stems from the word wound, but its modern definition is:  the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you’re in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that’s unprotected by any defensive players. (Vocabularly.com)

You see, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not then. I just wanted to make things tidy, and help my parents get moved to this utopia I’d created in my head: Fargo, North Dakota. I thought it would be everything they needed, and my husband Alex and I could move to Washington, D.C. after spending a summer helping them get settled in and, to be honest, me fulfulling my need to mother my parents.  But we’d taken a road trip to D.C. to check out our future. I saw myself walking those streets, changing the world.

Then my mom had emergency bowel surgery late that summer, and we didn’t move.

Okay, one more year would be okay. We put in our notice on our apartment the next May, and moved everything to my parents’ garage.

Then my mom got respiratory distress and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few scary days before being sent home with orders to live a different, healthier, life.

We didn’t move. Another year would be okay, just to make sure everything was okay. Okay?

I slowly felt my dreams changing. Like John Mayer sang in Born and Raised, ‘I’ve still got dreams…they’re not the same…they don’t fly as high as they used to.’ 

My husband and I had a baby. I decided to go back to school to be teacher instead of a politician. It seemed Fargo was our destiny. I believed in destiny, after all.

Back when we’d all moved from Colorado to North Dakota, it was me convincing both my mom and dad it would all we’d hoped for and more. I remember signing my mom out of the state mental hospital after a long year. She had no money, no possessions. She loved Colorado. She loved it so much. But I had lived in Colorado since 7th grade and it was just another boring state to me.

“North Dakota is where you belong, mom,” I said, and she protested that it was a stupid idea but I was stubborn and she had no leverage.

I didn’t realize how emotionally vulnerable it is to move. I had expectations, and vague memories of my younger years in Fargo. When these didn’t pan out, I grew mad at North Dakota. I didn’t WANT to be vulnerable.

I felt stuck, though. The perfect solution – the only solution- was a temporary move. It was the only way to do something good for Alex and I without sacrificing too much time away from helping my dad care for my mom.

And so in 2013, we made a purposeful, vulnerable decision. We moved to Scotland for one year, dates set.  My husband’s family was there, and our son got to know his other grandmother, his cousins, etc.

When I stepped into my new classroom in Scotland, I recognized the buzz I got from new experiences. From exposing myself, emotionally. I guess I always knew this, but it was during this year abroad (where everything seemed condensed- our flat, my quickly-forged friendships, my writing) where I felt I was really able to look at my husband and son clearly. From a distance, everything in the USA seemed clearer, as well.

It’s always a risk to lay yourself out there. I think I learned to be purposefully vulnerable, and not just sensitive, when I was in Scotland that year.

And while my blog often speaks of authenticity, I think being vulnerable is an important part of that. It leaves you open to being hurt. It leaves you open to fail. But it also leaves you open to great things, new things, better things.

The only way to know…. is to be vulnerable.

I think social media (and I’m a fan, I am) encourages us to hide our vulnerability. I try not to. I do, on a quite regular basis, have old friends contact me to ask if everything is ‘okay’ for me? (And if this is you, I actually really appreciate it  and I love people showing they care). When this happens I wonder if I’m being *too* visibly vulnerable. But that quickly passes as I realize it’s actually a bit like a pat on that back that I am doing it right – being authentic, being vulnerable.

I think ‘real life’ also encourages us to hide our vulnerability or not seek it out. No one wants to be seen as weak, right? No one wants to look like they’re floundering.

But it’s no secret I am a flounderer. And I don’t mind floundering for a bit, as long as my family is safe.

This summer, my husband, son and I are moving back to Colorado Springs. After seven years of trying to make North Dakota work for us, we just know the life we want for ourselves and our son Alistair lies elsewhere. It’s nothing against North Dakota. I’m like Josh Duhamel. I will wear shirts that say Fargo and go on the TODAY Show and talk about how wonderful it is, if they want me.

 

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An entire Daily Mail article on his North Dakota attire 

 

Because…if you have what you need here, North Dakota can be nice. If you have a house (not a tiny apartment) — to get you through the cold winters with a space to run and play — the winters can be okay. If you have auto-start on your car, you don’t HAVE to freeze. If you have ‘toys’ for summer – a boat, heck, a paddle board – and a place to go, summers can be lovely. The people ARE as nice as everyone says, as a general rule. I’ve found great community within my church and within a local mom’s group. If you have your people here, North Dakota can be great.

But we don’t have a house, a paddle board, a lake, auto-start or a clan. Our ‘people’ move a lot (thanks, friends, for always moving away -ha-), the family we ARE in touch with in this area don’t live close to us at all (except my dad, but he is part of ‘we’ , my immediate family) and the magical life we envisioned for my mom never happened. (She’s in Minnesota’s mental health system, which, for the record, isn’t any better than Colorado’s….)

So, we are returning to Colorado in stages this summer. I find Colorado to be MY roots and they are Alex’s American roots. The details are tedious, but by summer’s end, me, Alistair, Alex, my dad AND my mom should all be back in Colorado.

My mom, who kept telling us over and over as we drove through the midwest to bring her up to North Dakota, ‘This is a bad idea!’ is not going to be left behind. She’s under a psychiatric commitment until September, but essentially lives in a central Minneapolis slum nursing home. I’ve never seen anything like it in Colorado. The housing couldn’t be worse than where she is, so it seems like a good time to bring her back to where she raised me. (She has two sisters in the Minneapolis area who are very, very good at visiting her and being there for her, but they are the same sisters who used to visit us in Colorado, so same difference, more or less). Most importantly, it ‘s my mom’s ‘dream’ to return to Colorado.

And if we can make dreams come true….we should.

Life goes in cycles.

I’m goin’ back to my roots.

———————————-

I think this blog post goes under YAGE.

See ya later, Fargo. Hello, graduation, teaching, and a fresh start…..again.

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A heart shape in the sand. Woooo. 

 

Since this blog was mainly autobiographical , I’d suggest this TED Talk for an actual expert opinion on being vulnerable:

 

 

 

 

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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

The Weight of Things

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to start completely over at 30 years old, I can tell you:  Difficult.  Expensive.

Slightly maddening.

My husband, my son and I sold everything we owned in 2013  so we could move to Scotland for a year. The list of reasons for this break from Minnesota and the year in Scotland is long.  We needed a change for our sanity and our marriage. We wanted our son to get to know his Scottish side of the family (as my husband is a British native).  I wanted to fulfill my  dream of completing a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, and a competitive program in one of the world’s most literary cities let me in.

We knew  it was the right thing to do, and the initial shedding of all of our ‘things’ was easy: we just sold or gave them away. We got rid EVERYTHING, except a few boxes of books, mementos  and cothes. My dad moved into our empty apartment where the only thing we’d left for him was our dog.

It felt liberating to move with three suitcases.

But, inevitably, stuff started to mount up again in our tiny Scottish flat.  Two-year olds need a lot of stuff, I learned. And our space was…wee.

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Tiny spaces! If you stood in the right spot, you could be in the kitchen, dining room and living room all at once!
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You could use the radiator as a pillow in our Scottish flat. It looks clean here…but we’d barely moved in. There wasn’t actually room to lie down and stretch on our living room floor.

When summer of 2014 rolled around and I was still scrambling with my dissertation, we began a process we had grown used to doing: whittling everything down to a few measley suitcases. Vacuum packing. Squishing. Creating “maybe/hopefully” piles. But this time the emotional toll  was greater. I didn’t feel liberated, I felt sad.

I loved those curtains we bought.

Why couldn’t I keep every single book I read for my Master’s degree?

But, you can’t GET these boots in America.

Alistair played with this digger every day!

Our route from Scotland to Minnesota was the cheapest we could find, but it meant lugging everything we owned through Edinburgh, Belfast, a train to through Ireland to Dublin. Dublin Airport, Orlando, and then, finally, home.

But it wasn’t home anymore. My dad and my dog were there, and the walls the were the same, but it was full of my dad’s belongings now. I walked in half expecting to see our old living room set. To go to my room and sleep off the jet-lag and the reverse culture-shock. But my room wasn’t there.

I finished my dissertation on a variety of surfaces: air mattresses, grass, my signature table at Starbucks. We were back in America, and reality hit: we were homeless (in one sense), jobless, and owned…nothing.

The six months which have followed have been the worst for us, financially, since we got married 10 years ago. And that’s saying something, considering how young and naïve we were back then.

This is because we had to start over…again.

And while in Scotland you can rent furnished flats and you don’t need a car, in most American cities this isn’t possible.

Beds, chairs, toasters, lamps….apparently we needed it all to survive in 2014. And it added up, to the point that we fell behind on everything else.

I’ve never cared for possessions, anyways. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve heard me say, “We spend our money on experiences, not things,” and it’s true.

But I grossly underestimated the cost of starting over.

We’re now back on track, with jobs and schools and a routine which involves appliances and toys and smartphones and couches and simple things you need to feel comfortable in a two-bedroom townhome. We don’t  have very much stuff. But it’s too much for me!

These things I felt we so badly needed are cluttering my floors and my brain. It’s hard to keep up with.

When the new year started I had every intention of decluttering, minimizing, and getting this weight off my shoulders.

But The Neighbors stepped in, and they don’t like the sounds of cleaning, the sounds of packing, the sounds of 3 year olds, or any sounds at all, really. The Neighbors DO like harassment, so my family and I have the opportunity to move again. As we are bound to a certain rental company and lease, our choices were limited.

But my husband and I agreed. Give us a ground floor, and we don’t care what it is.

We are moving out of our townhome and into a smaller two -bedroom apartment next month.

And I intend to shed so much of the weight of things.

Exhibits A and B, below:

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The living room is lived in.
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Walk-in Closet….or Wade-in Closet?

It’s not that our home is a huge mess. We’re not at risk of being invited on Hoarders. But I know there’s an inverse  correlation  between clutter and clarity.

And I can always use more clarity.

I love to hold on to things. Tangible  things, like clothes which I wish would fit and cards I’ve received for my birthday.

But I hold on to abstract things as well: relationships I wish wouldn’t have changed, ideas of who I wish I were, unattainable ideals not grounded in present situations.

I’m hoping that as I shed the heaviness of holding onto too much junk, I can shed the weight of so many unmet expectations as well.

As so many of my blog posts reiterate, I’m on a quest for the present.

I’m picturing President Obama dusting the dirt off his shoulders. (I don’t think the abstract things I’m holding onto are DIRT- of course not, because if they were meaningless I wouldn’t be carrying them around) But I like the mental image of dusting these loads off my shoulders. When I let go of ‘should be’s’ and embrace what IS-  I imagine my body will feel lighter. I’ll be able to stand taller.

Since starting this blog, I’ve  made some habit changes which are making my body feel better. I’m exercising regularly. I’m more aware of what I put into my body. I’m practicing mindfulness, increased spirituality and have added some homeopathic and prescription supplements.

I believe that shedding the weight of ‘things’  is the next step in my journey. I’ll be sure to share the results!