Reflections From the Eye of the Storm

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Last I managed to write a missive for this space I was treading water in the deep end of the writing pool, living for the deadline of June 1st for all my final term papers. As much as I wanted to spend the summer playing and traveling alas, it was not to be. As soon as term papers were submitted I jumped from the writing pool into the dissertation ocean. The vast, overwhelming dissertation ocean.

I haven’t had much time to think about anything besides my dissertation since the beginning of June. I lived and breathed research and writing. Until the four days ago. Suddenly, I was free. The dissertation was submitted with much shaking and trepidation. I shifted from the stress of completion to the utterly different–but no less stressful–anxiety of waiting for my grade. Then I was blindsided by the realization that I go back to work (aka real life) on Wednesday. I’ve known the timeline all along but I was so consumed with the dissertation work that I just did not have the mental space or emotional energy to deal with the future reality. It will be exactly one week from the end of my student life to the return to my teaching life. In between I’ve packed up my London life, flown home, cried frequently and am desperately trying to reorient myself to my old normal.

I’m so discombobulated I have no idea what is going on. I am definitely in a weirdly calm(ish) moment between the dissertation storm and the teaching storm. I am struggling to process all the change and emotions and things that need doing (soooo many things!). I was in England long enough that it truly became my new normal. The idea of returning to my old/former/previous life feels odd and foreign, precisely because it was on hold for so long. Also, I would prefer not discuss facing my storage unit at the moment either, TYVM.

I’ve moved multiple times in my life. Big moves. Cross country and cross continent moves. This scenario is entirely different. It is the longest slowest slow motion move ever. This isn’t merely changing jobs or changing cities–though those things are big and daunting and I’ve done them before–but this is none of that and more of that and all of that and something beyond that. I lived a whole year of amazing, adventurous life smack in the middle of a move that lands me right back were I started, more or less. Which is just an odd feeling on every level.

People keep asking how I feel. Conflicted? I can’t come up with a more precise answer. The joy of seeing long missed faces. Of hugs from friends. The comfort of waking from a nap (hello, jetlag nice to see you) with my feline furball snugged up to my side again. The oddity of driving my own car. Of having to remember how to get a destination I previously could have found on autopilot. All that contrasted against feeling out of place. Disconnected from what my friends are living and doing back in London–rallying them to finish well with their own dissertations while I watch their struggle, through which I just so recently passed myself, from the sidelines. Missing the freedom student life afforded me and dreading the rigidity of a 7-5 work schedule again.

Change is a weird beast. Getting through it can be awful. The end result is always worth it but the path there can be full of so many unexpected turns. I am thankful for the moments of calm in the middle of storms. But I’m also thankful for the storms which challenge and change me. Even more so I’m thankful for a faithful God who allows, and brings me through, the storms. This year has been such a challenge in so many ways but it has also been rewarding in ways I did not ever anticipate. I wish I could have done more. More traveling. More adventures. More. But I cannot loose sight of the huge adventure I’ve had and the blessings of new friends, and new places that have expanded my world immensely.

 

On the Grind, and Being Without It

Life is weird right now. I have a significant amount of work to do. The real problem is not the work itself, but the lack of any schedule. I used to believe I was super organized and disciplined. I wrote my lesson plans, graded papers, did homework, wrote papers, submitted paperwork, kept religious track of my calendar. My Mondays through Fridays, and most Saturdays, were scheduled if not to the hour then at least to the event or “thing” that needed doing. There was always a “to do” list. Always. I had to stay organized, productive and keep up….or drown. Not any more.

IMG_5818Right now I have one due date. June 1. Four term papers are due that day. On June 6, I will present my preliminary dissertation research. Once those papers are complete I will have until I return Stateside in August to research and write my culminating dissertation. Every day and every hour between now and then is up to me and has been since the end of term in late March. I realize many of you are rolling your eyes at me and thinking “I WISH!” (believe me at the end of last school year I would’ve rolled my eyes at me too!). I’m amazingly grateful for this change of pace in life; however, self-imposed discipline is way harder than externally imposed deadlines. SO MUCH HARDER.

The natural human inclination toward sloth is real folks. I thought pulling myself out of bed for my 5am alarm was tough. Self-motivation is hard in a whole other way. We all know the feeling of doing something because you HAVE to. You drag yourself from bed to go to work, even when you are exhausted because the bills need to be paid so you need that job. The list of responsibilities and burdens in adult life, the things we HAVE to do, is seemingly endless. I’d been in the grind so long that I no longer realized how deeply entrenched I was in the rut of life.

This year has been grind-less. The stress of papers and the process of writing is intense. But in terms of grind. Yeah, no. Therein lies the problem. The grind has been my Enforcer; my ever-watchful companion making sure I remain productive. Intense schedules place demands on time, energy and resources. Without those demands I have realized just how undisciplined I truly can be. It is astounding.

The freedom of my current schedule, or rather lack thereof, means I can be more spontaneous. Which is great for exploring London, and indulging my inner night owl. It is not so great for accomplishing schoolwork. It also means I have to actively focus on being productive, because it’s far to easy to just let hours slip away. There is a reason that “I should be writing” is a whole class of meme’s unto itself.

I wouldn’t trade this time for anything and I’m relishing every day. But it has taught me an unexpected lesson about myself. The pride I took in productivity and organization was just a false front. An externally imposed effect of my chosen life grind. When left to my own devices I’m a lazy bum. An unproductive day is fine occasionally. When you are buried deep in life’s grind a day of nothing is a mentally lifesaving necessity.

But without that Enforcer – the schedule – breathing down my neck I struggle with discipline. I can’t wait until I find some motivation. I can’t wait to do work until I “feel” like doing it. Discipline is an internal mental muscle that needs exercise to be strong. No external responsibility truly replaces it.

Now pardon me…I’ve got books that need reading and essays that need writing.

 

I don’t usually do this but….

I’m supposed to be writing an essay right now. However, I can’t. My brain and my heart are simultaneously aching and numb. This post has been fomenting for a long, long time. I kept telling myself I don’t need to jump into that morass. I kept trying to remind myself that I have things which need my time, energy and attention. But I can’t focus my brain on those other things because this aching, numb, frustrated place in my heart demands attention. So I have a choice, I either write or I try to ignore. The latter doesn’t seem like much of an option any longer.

So I’m going to write this post. It reflects my thoughts in this moment. It will offend people, on both sides of the political aisle. I reserve the right to not engage in vitriol or inflammatory argumentation.

This post is not about the epidemic of school shootings in America. It is not about gun control or gun rights. It’s about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement in America. It is not about the double standard that inculcates gender inequality across our society. It’s about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Standing Rock. It is not about Flint, Michigan. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about #BlackLivesMatter. It is not about #BlueLivesMatter. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about LGBTQ rights. It is not about the definition of marriage. It is not about transgender bathrooms. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Republicans and Democrats. It is not about gerrymandering. It is not about voter rights. It is not about lobbyists. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about health care reform. It is not about Social Security. It is not about Veterans. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about climate change. It is not about protecting our National Parks. It is not about oil dependence or alternative energy. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about abortion. It is not about pro-life. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about funding education. It is not about standardized testing. It is not about the teacher shortage. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about jobs or economic growth. It is not about minimum wage or median income. It is not about taxes. It is not about the rich. It is not about the poor. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about immigrants. It is not about Dreamers or DACA. It is not about deportation. It is not about citizenship. It is not about a wall. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Conservatives or Liberals. It is not about right-wing or left-wing. It is not about fake news. It is not about sound bites or tweets. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about any one of those issues. This post IS about ALL of those issues. This post IS about the lack of productive conversations.

As a society, as a people, we are facing difficult conversations regarding so many topics at so many levels. My social media feeds are a neverending litany of confrontation – not conversation. I’ve sat and watched this boiling pot of anger, frustration and vitriol with a paralysis that has prevented me from joining in the foray because I sense the futility.

There are so many issues to be addressed. Where does one start? How does one engage in a way that creates solutions instead of stalemates?

Being out of the country at the moment lends an additional odd perspective to what I see and hear coming from America. My international friends, UK and otherwise, ask me questions. I am at a loss to respond. I can explain social-political factors. I can discuss various party lines. I can agree/disagree with what they are hearing and seeing in the news. But I cannot answer the fundamental question:

Why are there no productive conversations? Why are there no solutions?

We have reached a point where division is the norm. Anyone not with us is against us. IS OTHER. We do not respect what is different: socially, religiously, sexually, racially, economically or ethnically. Respect is not the same as accept. You can respect a person’s right to live a certain way or believe a certain idea even if you do not accept that idea as truth/reality. Respect is not based on agreement. It is based on acknowledging another person is entitled to their ideas/beliefs just as you are entitled to your own. Since we do not respect we are not genuinely concerned for anyone beyond ourselves. We are merely a huge group of people who happen to be living in the same general vicinity. Society is rooted in the Latin for “socius” which embodied the concepts of alliance, sharing, partnership, unity and fellowship. We are no longer a society.

Compromise is the nature of human interaction. Solid stable healthy personal relationships only flourish with compromise by both parties involved. The same is true of society. We are not all going to get what we want all of the time. However, we are at a point where we cannot even discuss the concept of compromise, let alone actually come to productive solutions that benefit the majority while protecting the rights of minorities.

So much of this conversational paralysis is rooted in fear. Fear of other. Fear of what we don’t understand or what is unfamiliar/different. Fear of loosing our own in preference to others. Fear of infringement on our “entitlements.” Fear of what is “sinful.” Fear of reprisal. Fear of injustice.

Some of those fears, for some people, are validly based on actual experiences; but for the vast majority our fears are unfounded. Either way the only way to make progress is to acknowledge our fears. Only then can people from different points of view, different experiences, different beliefs, and different ideologies productively converse to create actual solutions.

If, while reading through that list of issues above, you felt your hackles rise over a particular topic or sentence (or two or three or four), can I ask you to return to that idea and ask yourself what made your senses tingle? Is there a fear there that needs acknowledging so that you can foster productive conversations with those around you? Those who might believe differently? Can you challenge yourself to read information outside your sphere of belief? Can you actively seek out someone who holds the opposing viewpoint and discuss the issue face to face over coffee and ask genuine questions and genuinely listen for authentic answers? Can you be more concerned with understanding their view and experience than you can with projecting the “correctness” of your own? Can you respect their ideas as their own, without feeling threatened? Can you accept and acknowledge the person, even if you do not accept their ideology?

We have a long list of problems that need solving. The current social environment reveals what happens when productive conversations cease. Nothing. No solutions. No improvement. No progress. Nothing.

To solve complex problems we must first be capable of productive conversations. We do not have to agree. But we have to refuse to allow our differences to separate us indefinitely.

Table for One

Two months and ten days. That’s how long I’ve been in London. It still feels surreal at moments. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Definitely not a “typical” one for me. This morning I rented a car and ran away for the weekend. Mostly because I’ve done two big papers back to back and NEED to get away from my room, desk and the library. I’m making plans for Christmas. Stay tuned for those shenanigans.

So the car…It’s okay. I didn’t crash or hit anything. Even though they drive on the wrong side of the road. And even though I was driving a manual left handed. Though the reverse gear is a little persnickety.

Anyway. I’m traveling solo and learning to embrace it. I am growing accustomed to the quick (and sometimes funny) ways people cover when I walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. Apparently its not terribly common….who knew? *insert slight sarcasm here*

Last week I sat in a restaurant in London and read Dante. No joke. (Don’t give me that look, Mom.) Today I purposefully chose restaurants that looked cozy, included fireplaces and this time I left my books in my BnB.

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Tomorrow I’m going on a foodie tour all by myself (I know, no surprise there). Thanks to my sweet ride I was able to stop in the random perfectly quaint medieval town of Burford and explore to my hearts content – which means peeping all the stores, taking pictures, and standing inside an empty 1000 year old church and singing all to myself.

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Tonight I had dinner in the oldest inn in England – circa 947 AD – carbon dated no less! 🙂 Apparently its been a lot of things in the intervening centuries, some of them not quite so reputable!

As I sat at my table the dining room slowly filled with couples and dinner parties. At my little table for one I enjoyed a delicious dinner with a side of people watching. It’s one thing to work alone or go through my daily routine alone – getting the daily stuff done is just that, routine. There’s a grove to it. Traveling alone is different. I can’t take pictures while driving without stopping, which is a tad inconvenient when I see funny/unique things whiz by and I have traffic behind me. I have to pay a bit more attention to the GPS because I don’t have a co-pilot. But there’s a space to savor that is quintessentially different and hard to describe. Solo travel is more reflective. Since there is no one to talk to you process your experiences differently.

Do I want to share a MILLION things with people. YES! Like the Crocodile World sign I saw today…???…Crocodiles…in England? And thanks to the wonders of technology I can snap pics and text them to friends, post them to Instagram and Facebook, and post them here. (Sadly I don’t have pictures of the Crocodile sign because like I said, driving + traffic.)

The moments are my solo experience and I decide what is shared. Which is a pretty powerful ability. So I think for now I’ll take a table for one. It pushes me to experience the world differently. It’s still awkward. But I think it is good for me. Plus, it means I’ll be able to keep cherishing moments like this…..

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Some Kind of Miracle

Two posts in a week!

Who is this person?

This person is working on a research paper and wants…nay- NEEDS – to think about something else…anything else.

I went for a walk earlier today. Ostensibly to clear my head, as I’d finally finished all my background reading and had composed my introduction. In reality, I just needed to get on my feet and off my posterior and MOVE!

Found this little beauty.

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I went where I am wont to go when I need mental space and fresh air. I went to a park. Specifically I went to Windsor Great Park – which if you caught my life video on Facebook, I’m sorry. It was an experiment. *shrug*

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Windsor Great Park truly is great. Not just because it is large. Not just because it is attached to Windsor Castle. Not just because it has a beautiful lake, gorgeous gardens or miles and miles of trails. I’ve only managed to explore a tiny corner of the park thus far. Every time I go I kick myself for not visiting more often, especially considering it takes me 12 minutes to walk there. I know. I timed it.

This evening it dawned on me, while making dinner, why I don’t go more often to a place I clearly enjoy so much once I’m there.

As much as I enjoy the park, I dislike going alone. I went today out of the sheer desperation to just move and be outside and breathe fresh air. But my realization clued me in to the fact that not only have I been isolated due to focusing on work – which is totally reasonable to a point – but I’m isolated because I don’t have the kind of friendships here where I can just call people up, send a text or stop by their place and do something fun on the fly.  I don’t have the kind of social structure where regular weekly intervals of solid people time are built in. In short…I’m legit lonely.

Being the extrovert that I am, lonely is a rough spot to be. Per my last post, vulnerability is scary. Owning up and saying I’m lonely and asking people to help me do something about it (to at least make them aware) feels desperate. It’s not the sort of problem that solves itself overnight. In fact, the only real solution (sort of some kind of miracle) is probably patience and time. Patience with the process of building authentic connections. The miracle will happen but occasionally it takes a little time.

In the meantime, I have to remind myself to get out and go smell the roses.

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Behind the Mask

Somewhere along the line in the last few weeks I’ve managed to get lost in life. Not in a bad way necessarily. Just in the day to day, which I suppose is a sign that I’m settling into a routine. Classes. Homework. Reading. LOTS of reading. Fascinating stuff really, I assure you.

I’ve ventured into London a few times recently  so that means I’m getting a handle on the whole “public transit” thing. I realized the other day that this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve lived without a car. It is both freeing (hello no sitting in traffic) but also annoying (hello waiting for trains and trying to learn to navigate huge subway stations). Also, hello not just being able to go where ever I want whenever I want (re: the grocery store!) – takes a bit more planning, and time, and effort than I’m used to.

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On one of those trips to London I came across this little gem in the Sutton Hoo exhibit at the British Museum.  It’s a replica of a 7th century Anglo Saxon warrior helmet that was found in the burial site at Sutton Hoo. It’s a replica because the original helmet – that was buried for nearly 1300 years – looks like this:

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Not too shabby for something that spent 13 centuries underground. However, not anything in comparison to what it was like when it was buried.

I started thinking about the two helmets.  Both are on display because someone took the painstaking time to figure out what the original helmet might have looked like all those years ago. They are clearly the same helmet (well, you get the idea) but also very clearly NOT in the same condition. The question that came to my mind is which one is more “real”?  Now the obvious answer may seem like a “duh!” answer. The original. And at this point you may be wondering what exactly I’m learning over here in merry ol’ England. But hear me out.

The original helmet used to look like the replica. But centuries of wear, oxidation, burial and time had their effect on what was once a glorious piece of armor. How much is that like our own life? We wear our helmets and masks to combat our everyday lives. When we are young and hopeful and full of ideals the face we present to the world shines gloriously.  Over time those masks and helmets take some serious abuse. Maybe we become cynical. Maybe we become bitter. Maybe we become resigned. Or perhaps just lonely – hiding behind the now worn armor that can’t and doesn’t protect us as well anymore.  We THINK that the face the world sees is shiny and new. Perhaps parts of it still are. Or perhaps it is totally crumbling and we don’t even know it because we’ve been wearing it so long.

Which begs the question – which is more real? Is, or was, the shiny younger version (the “original” if you will) the real one? Is the life battered, battle hardened version the real you? Or maybe neither one entirely and the real you hides behind the armor regardless of the condition it is in – the world hasn’t ever actually seen the real you.

These are odd questions to contemplate when I’m in a place where no one around me really knows me very well. They have little choice but to accept whatever mask I present to the world because they haven’t known me long enough for me to let the armor down.  The opposite is also true of them, I can only asses any new person based on the face they show to the world. Facing a dearth of experience and time there really isn’t much choice.

As an extrovert you’d think meeting tons of new people is great. And it is. But only so far as I miss my “peeps.” I miss the people who know me well enough that masks and armor aren’t necessary. I am working hard to build connections but that takes time. People can be incredibly unwilling to take off masks and armor. Vulnerability can be painful and scary. But once you’ve found people with whom you can safely be vulnerable – then you will forever long for that connection. That is the deepest desire of human hearts and once found it feels constraining to put the mask back on again. Regardless of how good it looks or how faithfully it has protected us – nothing is more freeing than not needing a mask or armor in the first place.

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Comfortably Uncomfortable 

I’m always nervous before I travel. I have no idea why. You’d think after a certain point it would be familiar, but it never is. I always worry just a bit and feel a tad overwhelmed. So when I took the wrong metro train in Paris the other night I had to check myself- after I was annoyed- and give myself a little grace. 

You see, I really do like traveling. I prefer not to do it alone. Yet even that is becoming more comfortable. It seems that I need to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. That and the grace thing. Once I slip into that place of being okay with uncomfortable and offering myself a little grace to be awkward and slow navigating unfamiliar places I can relax and enjoy the journey. Which really is what all this adventure is about, no?