“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery–air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it means to be happy.'”–Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Possibility. . .
The word rings with magic. This is what possibility feels like for me. What are your possibilities?
Of an early morning when you wake up before the alarm
Before a run when your legs are limber and your lungs are fresh
When someone you have started flirting with calls you on the phone
When stepping into the library to browse for books
The smell of rain as the clouds gather and begin to let out their blessings
The moment when eyes close and voices go quiet at the beginning of communal prayer
When you walk out of a movie theater, reality altered
Running back to the car after a thunderstorm-filled hike
In the middle of chapter three and you are glad there are still 300 more pages
Reciting a favorite poem
Receiving a letter in the mail
The whistle of the tea pot, mug and tea leaves at the ready
When the night truly becomes dark and you can begin to see the stars
Pulling out the bulky wool sweater on the first fall day
Putting the last of the laundry on the line on a sunny afternoon
Car packed, gas tank full, map unfolded
The beginning of a love letter you are going to write, “Dear. . .”
Realizing a solo life is pretty amazing
The last box taped, the last furniture hauled, and the clang of the moving truck door closing
A new set of keys to a home
The dusty box of family mementos, finding a picture of your parents you have never seen
Vegetables assembled on a cutting board with knife, ready to make soup
A bottle of wine and two glasses, anxiously waiting for the second party to arrive
A twirly black dress, red toenails, and a woman feeling beautiful
A baby held in arms, the quiet sigh and sound of sweet slumber
The first whispered “I love you.”
The ping of an instant message from a best friend, halfway around the world
Friday afternoon on an empty playground
A full backpack and hiking boots waiting by the door for the next morning’s adventure
The first bud in the spring
The smell of lilacs
Earthworms emerging after a long wet rain
The first ride without training wheels
When tears turn to laughter
Pulling on cowboy boots, anticipating the two-step
Friends coming to visit
The naked plunge into a cold lake
Staying up all night talking
The hushed goodbye on a conversation you do not want to end
Butterflies in the stomach before a race, a reading
The second grader who hugs you as you say goodbye
The first sour bite of a fall apple, just picked off the tree
The crack of the spine of a new composition notebook
The feeling when time evaporates into a second
The hush when bad news is not as bad as anticipated
The splash after a puddle has been depleted by a big jump
Running until you can run no farther
Getting up from the desk after writing for hours
When someone shares a secret
The first pop of a piece of pink bubble gum
The honk of Canada Geese
The whisper of leaves in an aspen grove
A perfectly sharpened pencil
Scraps of fabric laid out for the beginnings of a quilt
An old juke box in a dive bar
Singing along to a favorite song by your favorite band at a concert
Getting over a crush and feeling joy, not jealousy, at your crush’s new love
Getting back in touch with an old friend
The beginning of a small town parade
The nervousness and risk of pursuing a dream
Planning a vacation itinerary, even when you know you can not afford to go for some time
The first deposit into a savings account
The last payment of a debt
The smell of an old antique store
Watching the sun rise and watching the sun set in the same day
A day and night with no electronic gadgets
The feeling of chopping the last piece of wood and being ready for winter
Repotting plants in terra cotta pots
Cutting an aloe leaf and soothing a burn
Making someone’s favorite dessert
Fresh bread with melted butter
Getting on the train
Packing a trunk
The shudder of aluminum dropped in a bin for recycling
Giving two weeks’ notice to start a new dream
Chile roasting in fall
When your loved ones are happy
Getting a healthy report from your doctor
Losing 25 pounds
Reaching for and grasping a hand that was reaching for yours
Thinking of all the possibilities
Souvenirs. Trinkets. Knickknacks. Tchotchkes. Ornaments.
These words tend to make us think of belongings that we accumulate over a lifetime, sometimes with little thought or intention. They clutter up our desks and tables. They take up space on shelves and windowsills. We ignore them. We dust around them. We let them collect dust. We complain about the clutter.
And then there are keepsakes and talismans.
According to my red, battered Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a keepsake is “something kept or given to be kept as a memento.” According to that same dog-eared dictionary, a talisman is “an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune.”
To me, keepsakes and talismans are kept and treasured with intention. We keep them because they remind us of something important and bring meaning to something that may be abstract. I recently packed up all of my belongings and put everything into storage, minus some clothes, some shoes, some jewelry and accessories, my computer, my camera, three boxes of books, camping equipment, a wire file box of essential documents and papers, and a small plastic shoebox of “stuff.” That “stuff” was my box of important things that I wanted to have close, that I wanted to have with me all summer.
While my summer flies away in miles run, laps swum, stories scribbled, essays drafted, and Spanish phrases learned, this box is the permanent amongst impermanence. I take time out in New Mexico for exercising, writing, and learning. I labor to figure out fall plans for Colorado: where will I live, how much will I work, when will I return to school. Those questions get answered with a sprinkling of dreams and a heavy dose of pragmatism and logistics, but I keep coming back to that little plastic box.
Inside the little plastic box are the reminders of my heart and soul. They are what I bring with me, no matter what road I take, no matter what adventure I choose. They are little things, of which there is little cash value. These are not priceless heirlooms, nor are they junk. Some were gifts, but they have been erased of others’ essences and now fully inhabit my heart and personality. I could live without them, but they feel sacred.
I do not know if they provide good luck or good omens, but they do provide comfort and purpose. I am not sure that keeping them protects me from harm or bad luck, but it does help to remember what formed me, what shaped me, and what is deep down and inside of me. Of course, I know I was formed by experiences and loved ones and my own mistakes, but the things inside this little box remind me of all of that and more. They are touchstones, markers, memories, reminders. They are part of me.
Jars of holy dirt and holy water from El Santuario de Chimayo. There is a beautiful and quite sacred little church in northern New Mexico. I remember going there with family in junior high. We were told that the church and all within was miraculous. People from all over come to take some of the holy water and the holy dirt, believing in the blessings and healings that the water and dirt provide. There is historical and cultural and religious significance to the place. It is also a place of quiet beauty. When I graduated from college in northern Wisconsin, I returned to my beloved New Mexico to find work and begin a life. I lived in Albuquerque for a few short months, working a wonderful temporary job as a front desk secretary for a senior citizens’ center. Although the job had nothing to do with my undergraduate studies (environmental studies), it had everything to do with building a life. In two months’ time, I had approximately 20 newly-adopted grandparents. To this day, that was my favorite job even though I was itchy to work in my chosen field. I chose to move to Minnesota and live with two college friends, and all the grandparents and staff threw me a sweet goodbye party. One of the gifts was the jars of holy dirt and holy water, “to keep me safe.” Right after that party, I put the jars in my glove compartment, but then on my last day of moving, I took them out of my car in a flurry of looking for insurance papers. I didn’t replace the jars and two hours later I had a car accident that shook me, damaged my car, and made me doubt my choice to move to Minnesota. I still moved to Minnesota, but the love of those people at the senior citizens’ center stayed with me. I carry the dirt and water to remind me of love, the power of prayer, and to remember the fragile-yet-determined 22-year-old I was. Those jars remind me to believe in and look for miracles.
Storyteller figurine. In my lovely little hometown, we have a lovely little library. In late spring, before my first year of high school was finished, I asked the librarians if I could put together a story hour. Like most librarians, they were patient and willing and open to the idea. That they were willing to work with me and my sporadic summer schedule (think travels to see my dad, family reunion, summer leadership camp) and leave me to my own devices was quite amazing. Each week, I scoured through the kids’ books, agonizing over what I would read. Then I tried to come up with a craft or an activity that could go along with the book or theme or holiday. Preparing for the story hour was almost as much fun as reading and playing with the little ones. At the end of the summer, the two librarians gave me this small Native American figurine. That summer put my love of teaching and reading into a new phase. That summer working with those librarians helped to plant the seeds for my current career. Those librarians opened up a world for me, and helped me realize that I might be able to carry on their tradition of working with children and community. I hold this little statuette and gain strength and remember the joy and love of sharing a story. I love telling and hearing stories. All cultures have stories and storytellers. And at the end, all we really have are our stories.
Small framed picture of the cottage at Walden Pond. I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau in the summer before ninth grade and it changed my life. It awakened a new consciousness, it inspired my career and spiritual path, and I fell in love with someone who had lived more than a century ago. Since then, I have read many other books that have changed me, but none that have shaken up everything I knew before and after, like Thoreau did. I have yet to visit Walden, but Thoreau is a spiritual brother (I have tried to move on from my literary and spiritual crush) and his experiment in living simply inspires me daily. It reminds me that kindred spirits can be found across the times. This small picture, a pen and ink reprint, is my talisman, to remember that one can change things, to remember that it is important to have a higher purpose. It is my remembrance to live my ideals.
Three seashells. I grew up in New Mexico, so water and the coast are still a bit of a mystery to me. A couple of childhood vacations to California included time to play and shiver on the beach and collect sea shells. My mother gathered up our bounty, poured them into a decorative jar, and placed the jar on a shelf in the bathroom. That jar of shells was part of my reflection all throughout adolescence as I inspected pimples and picked at my braces and hoped for a hairstyling miracle. Two summers ago, my mother and I sorted through several of her boxes, in preparation for a garage sale, and found the jar of shells. I pulled out these three shells and we parted with the rest in the sale. Those shells, while forgotten for years, remind me of those childhood trips and those glimpses of what felt like the edge of the world. The shells serve to defy expectations, because they are strong while seemingly fragile. They defy other expectations because my limited experience at the beach is of remembered goose bumps, blue lips, and a heavy sweater, not heat, sunshine, or bikinis. I pick them up and think of past and future travels, and expectations to be defied.
Music box. I received this little music box as a small child. I loved that it was uncovered and as I turned the handle the little pins moved as they struck the metal comb. It played a familiar lullaby from childhood and to this day, turning the handle of the music box reminds of bedtime, story books, and rituals of night. This little music box reminds me of being little. I teach children and I think it’s important to remember what it was like to be the age of my students. Machinery, music, memories, this is a keepsake, and perhaps a talisman to keep from forgetting childhood.
New Mexico license plates. New Mexico is one of the states that only requires a rear license plate. I have two license plates, from two different cars I drove in my 20s. Both cars were used cars from New Mexico and came with me (at different times) to Minnesota. I keep those license plates as confirmation of my identity as a New Mexican, regardless of the place where I live. My heart and soul and sense of place are all New Mexico. I cannot explain it, but it is there in my blood, in the oxygen in my lungs, in my bones. These are part of my identity and sense of self, not memories of cars or road trips, but the state where I grew up and was formed and feel most complete. These plates are talismans against forgetting and perhaps my road signs for returning.
Rosary. I am not Catholic, but grew up in a mostly Catholic community and I am fascinated with the ritual of praying with a rosary. I bought this strand of rosary beads when I visited the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, or Wieskirche, while traveling with my sister in Bavaria, Germany. Sure the purchase of the religious artifact was as a souvenir, a remembrance of the trip. I chose it, though, as a symbol of the larger part of my spiritual and religious journey, which is bumpy and filled with curiosity and faith and debate and prayer. Prayer beads, like those in the rosary, are used in many religions and traditions, and I find them complicated and beautiful and sacred.
Navajo sandpainting. Three years ago, my two sisters, niece, and I drove to the Four Corners (where the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all meet) area to visit Mesa Verde National Park and to see the Four Corners Monument, which is located on Navajo tribal lands. Several Navajo artists had set up booths and tables to sell their artwork, jewelry, and crafts. I bought this sandpainting, freshly finished the day before, and talked for a while with the artist. The painting is titled, “End of the Trail” and he referred to the Trail of Tears, when many Native Americans were forced from their lands by the U.S. government and into resettlement in “Indian Territory.” Many Native Americans died along the way, along the Trail of Tears. The painting is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It is my talisman to remember the pain suffered by so many before me. It is my talisman to remember the world is full of good and bad, often close by and together. History and the present come crashing into the ideas we hold dear. We cannot whitewash the past, but we can learn and do better. How can we find the beauty? This painting is a talisman against the darkness and is the attempt to bring in the light.
Blue wood block. The blue is the blue of a late night sky. The four-letter word “Live” is stenciled in the color of old book pages. I bought this at a craft fair where I was busy coordinating the recycling and composting for the event. The simplicity of the design and the word struck me. At that moment, a dark one in my psyche, I needed that very word, Live. Not that I needed the reminder to live, but I did need the reminder to examine what that meant to me. It was at that moment that I began to examine my life and think about not only what I wanted, but how I could be of service. I am still figuring out some of those directions, but this little wood block helps me to remember that a simple life is complicated. How we choose to live and create and be is our own talisman.
These objects lead me to memory. They lead me to action. They lead me to reflection. They lead me to prayer. They lead me to new journeys. They lead me back to myself. These are the objects that have become the building blocks of my life.
What are your talismans? What are your keepsakes? What are the touchstones that remind you of your journey? Where do they lead you? What do you hold sacred? What do you hold dear? What are your building blocks?
Summer brings to mind heat, sunshine, vacation, and play. This year, I am honoring summer and a break from my job. I do not work in the summer, read: I do not receive a paycheck in the summer. However, most people I know, no matter their income, always complain about a lack of time. After years of fighting my summer un(der)-employment, I am going to follow some dreams this summer. I want this summer to be a break and a change and a chance to accomplish something with all that free time.
Coincidentally, the lease on the apartment I share with my sister, was also up near the end of June. I decided to celebrate the glorious matching up of desires and deadlines and not pay rent for the summer. I packed up all of my stuff and rented a storage unit, still much cheaper than a month’s rent, and will take advantage of no rent to travel to New Mexico for much of the summer. Lighter in my load and fancying a change in scenery and a change of pace, here is what I hope to do during the summer.
1. Scribble – Since starting this blog, back in November 2010, I have long talked about my desire to be a writer. In fits and starts, I get closer to that goal. I have had a few things published, mostly essays and short stories, but I would like to write a book’s length work. I plan to write a series of linked essays this summer. Vast amounts of time will help this endeavor. I also plan to research and find markets for my work. If a writer is one who writes, then a published writer is one who gets their work published. I can not control what an editor decides, but I can submit and try. When work and school and other parts of life resume in the fall, if I have accomplished the goal of writing a book’s worth of essays, it will be much easier to revise, edit, and proofread, rather than start from scratch. Scribbling and thinking and reflecting sound like a glorious way to spend part of my summer.
2. Splash – Summer means swimming. In June, I signed up for adult swimming lessons and have thoroughly enjoyed going to the pool two nights a week for help in tweaking my stroke, getting more efficient with laps, and learning to breathe. I have one more lesson and then it is all on me. The summer lessons combined with competing in a mini-mini-triathlon make me realize how much I love swimming. The small town, where my mother lives and where I will be staying for part of the summer, has a lovely new indoor pool. I can buy a monthly pass for $30 and start swimming. I hope to see an improvement in my swimming, time and distance and breathing, and to find clarity through smudged goggles.
3. Stride – Slowly, my running is coming together. I can now run three miles, when only a few short months ago I was winded chasing after an exuberant group of third graders on a field trip. I find myself delighting in the strides and solitude and simplicity. Running keeps me going, literally and figuratively and spiritually. Quietly, well huffing and puffing, I take to the streets and run. I will run in New Mexico and enjoy the memories of paths taken during my childhood. Shoelaces, soles, my soul, they all come together.
4. Speak – Learning to speak and understand another language besides English has been a lifelong desire. Languages in general fascinate me, Spanish in particular grabs my heart. A couple of months ago, in preparation for the summer, I bought the Rosetta Stone Spanish program. I am excited to follow a plan and to expand my brain. Stilted and stuttering, I begin, excited to learn and play. I am lucky to have grown up in northern New Mexico. I have pronunciation and rolled rrrrrrrrrs on my side. Thinking and dreaming and speaking in another language may finally come true with the foundation laid this summer.
What are your heart’s desires? What do you want to learn? What do you want to do? Find a dream, find pockets of time, find your heart, find yourself. Here’s to summer!
Three months ago, I was in the midst of a “normal” emergence into spring. Spring always makes me think of new birth and new beginnings, but I was continuing the spring like most of the vernal arrivals of previous years. In other words, same old, same old. Nothing new, while something deep inside of me was yearning for something completely different. Yearning and doing, though, are very different things. How does thought get into action? How does a long dreamed for desire finally become the impetus for action, the “spiritual kick in the butt”?
From my mid-twenties into my mid-thirties I have lingered in a cocoon, not fully participating, but longing to emerge and fly. How does one finally wake up and begin again? How does one make a small change that might become permanent? How does one make real and lasting change, and not of the nickel and penny variety? How does one take long-talked-about and long-dreamed-for desires and make them newly-lived-for-actions? In my case, it’s about loving myself and returning to the actions that make me, me. Running and hiking and playing and doing. Yeah, it’s about weight loss and health, but it’s a lot more than that.
In fits and starts over the past few years, I have hiked and ran and wandered and played, but it never felt permanent. Soon I would return to a sedentary life of reading and watching and thinking. This spring, though, the seeds and desires were different. First steps can be easy, but what about second and third and fourth steps? What about the continuation of something that becomes a movement? When does something go from being a verb to a part of your soul? When do you begin to pick up the pieces of your heart and keep the ones that you need to thrive and discard the ones that have weighed you down?
Several things came together for me this spring.
1. Inspiration: Write it down. One Sunday afternoon, I copied down the plan for the 10 week “A 5K Training Plan For Beginners” on a big sheet of paper with calendar dates and all of the details of each workout, and taped it to a wall in my bedroom. There are a lot of “beginner” and “off the couch” plans that assume one can already run for 20-30 minutes. I like this plan, because it really does start at the beginning. There’s a pattern to the workouts that are soothing, with Sunday track workouts and midweek cross-training sessions and breaks on Fridays. There’s enough flexibility in the plan that I can switch a Tuesday workout to a Wednesday and not fall behind. The pattern and the workouts have given shape to endless work days and to my less structured summer.
Lessons learned: Writing it down with dates helps the goal become all the more real. Going through the whole training plan helps me to envision the pattern and path I am taking. On days when it’s hard to know where to start, look at the workout plan.
2. Motivation: Enlist the help of a friend. Out of the blue, in early April, I got a message via Facebook. It was from a new Facebook “friend,” who is just enough years older that it mattered in high school, but is blurred away in adulthood, who wanted to know how to get in touch with my mother. I responded with her phone number and then sent the obligatory we-should-catch-up-message. A flurry of messages followed later that day and we spoke on the phone. Do you ever have that instant connection with someone? It was the best combination of a new friend wrapped in old familiarity. We knew bits and pieces of each other’s lives, what has been chronicled through relatives and small town gossip, but caught up on a much deeper level. We flirted, we chatted, we laughed, we listened. When we reconnected, he talked of his recent first marathon and his transition from a full-time career to a summer of free time. He starts graduate school in the fall and new beginnings are his forte at the moment. I talked of my plan to finish massage therapy school while continuing to work in environmental education, and lamented wanting bigger and deeper changes. Almost four months later, he has become a good friend and something of a coach. We exchange text messages like mad men, but somehow, in our transition from strangers to long-distance friends, he is concerned about my food choices and exercise plans. With an informal agreement cementing us together, he receives my messages about what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks. I send my plans for the swimming and running workouts and he follows up to see that I completed the work. He knows my weight and I have to think twice before eating something. Will I be embarrassed that I ate a Snickers bar and must text him the details? We both embarked on a bit of a “clean eating” campaign in the spring and it has helped me. He has a half marathon planned for August and one in November, while I target a mid-summer 5K and an October half marathon debut. It helps that he is far away and does not judge. Sometimes, though, I wish this friend, who lives more than a thousand miles away, was closer and that we could share an occasional meal or run together, instead of texts about said meals and running adventures. When I beat myself up about a greasy breakfast, he encourages me to make different choices for lunch. Congrats texts from him are as exciting as the low points on the scale and the new times I run in the mile. He seems to be in it for the long haul and talks about the six month point and new benchmarks for me to target. While this is a mostly solitary journey, it helps to have a friend right there along the way.
Lessons learned: Look for help in an unexpected place. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People like to share their expertise. Having a friend help means I don’t want to waste my time or his time. Now I have some built-in accountability.
3. Perspiration: Shut up and do the work. Except for the text messages to my friend, the big change was not talking about my plans, and instead just doing the workouts. The simplicity of running is helpful. Tie the laces and go. I usually run in the dark of early morning, cloaked in the anonymity of shadows and solitude, but it’s easy enough to make adjustments based on work schedules and weather. I find that if I go early, my myriad excuses do not hold any weight. I prefer to be up early and greet the day with exercise. I follow the day’s assignment (the workout on my wall) and supplement running with jumping rope, another childhood activity that, like running, I have again embraced fully, along with biking and swimming. I can slowly feel the difference as I run farther and gain stamina and strength. I like how sweat, after effort, feels clean and renewing. I like the monotony of track workouts and the scenery of my favorite lake trail run, but even a jaunt in the neighborhood makes me feel good. Granted, I am panting and puffing, like the wolf about to blow the little pig’s house down, but I love the effort and how it takes my whole body, including my mind and soul, to complete the run.
Lesson learned: I can feel my body getting stronger. I feel lighter on my feet as I lose weight. I feel lighter as I rediscover one of my life’s great loves, running. I like how it’s just me, a watch, and a path. Doing the work, rather than talking about it, is sometimes easier.
Like a braid needing three strands, for me, it takes all three: inspiration, motivation, perspiration. When all three are present, there is change. When all three are present, I can feel it going beyond the moment, to a lifetime. One step at a time, one sweat bead at a time, there is direction.