Border Crossings

Crossing borders can be uncertain. You might find a used condom under a bed in a hotel on the Ethiopia/Kenya border, or you might not almost be let into Syria because you put ‘news assistant’ on the customs form (thank you, stranger, who somehow convinced the custom officials to let me in after an hour of discussion. The official ripped up the form and instructed me to put “secretary” on it instead).

Or, it might be reaching your hands to the windshield and yelling “First to Missouri!” or “First to Washington!” in triumph as the car passes over an invisible line.

There are liminal periods and transitioning places and collaboration around borders too, such as the town Kanorado on the edge of Kansas and Colorado, or Calexico near California and Mexico.

We all know borders are arbitrary, constructed to create order over open lands and along rivers.

Our internal borders are arbitrary too, ones that we build from our past to identify ourselves and categorize our lives.

But, they are there for a reason. Perhaps it is so we can cross them.

Endless

I am poised to write – ready to go with a blank page and a blinking curser. But, what to write about?

The possibilities are endless. I could write about the long tongue of a giraffe curling around a leaf of lettuce held in my hand, or the dangerous seductiveness of a Midwest thunderstorm, or the masterfulness of Truman Capote.

There is the image of the Taj Mahal to describe, or the space of the Sahara, or the expression on someone’s face when something bad just struck.

I could write about the mosque alarm clock I bought in Syria that brought back childhood memories of a friend who brought the exact clock to show-and-tell, or how my boyfriend found three ticks on his body yesterday after we went shooting and I am worried because I found none, or how my mom just sent me the new Coldplay CD.

There is the meaning of life to embrace, the urge of not residing in the moment to contemplate, the fear of losing control to consider.

I can write about the gratitude of waking from a bad dream, or the shame of accidentally pushing a toddler in the sand as he cried reaching toward his mom, or the relief from taking a deep breath – accepting that what happened was true, and that I can live with it because I will.

There is the warmth of the sun, the healing of a drop of Neosporin, the truth of a smile.

The possibilities are endless.

Ancient Meditations

I stand outside the Great Pyramid of Giza. The ancient blocks are taller than I, their surfaces perfectly hewn from weather and time, stacked on each other for support. The breeze cools part of the dry heat away, violently blowing hair across our faces.

Someone tells me to enter the pyramid. I do. Inside is ancient darkness, a sacredness, a stifling heat that sucks out the freshness of the world. I walk in darker, deeper, into the core.

There is a holed tomb, or according to the guided meditation today, a fountain in the shape of the Sphinx. I can hear the water drip on the rock, and am told that this is the pool of truth.

I am asked to find a question, a deep question, and pose it to the pool. “How do I grow up with kindness?” is what I ask. Not what is this pain, or is this worry worth worrying about, or am I worthy – all questions that plague me. But no, for some reason I ask “How do I grow up with kindness?” Although, I am 30. I “should be” grown up by now.

But we never stop growing. Just like life – there is no end goal. There is no destination of “grown up.”

The pool told me to give, and to trust.

I am instructed to walk into another chamber, filled with light, and open my eyes to the sand and the camels walking on the horizon.

I sat on a camel, one tattooed and chapped, as someone guides us around the shape of the pyramid. My father sat on one too, and my mother smiled at us.

The Pyramids, and a camel, during a family trip to Egypt in 2008

Haar

It’s softly dropping mist this evening in Topeka, after a previous night of thunderstorms. The rolling cracks woke me in the early morning just enough to feel a little fear, and beauty, and mumble “it’s thunder baby.” He pulls me closer because he knows I’m afraid.

In Oregon, I love thunderstorms. The heat, the warm rain, the thunder, the lighting that strikes in a high desert sky. Here, I am afraid. I don’t know yet what is a thunderstorm and what is calling for a tornado.

But this evening, it is calm. Like a haar. Living on a medieval coast of Scotland my first year of college, my Scottish friend told me the thick bank of coastal fog was called a haar. We all giggled and wrapped our foreign lips around the noise coming out of our mouths: Haaaaarrrr. Like a pirate.

The Harr was thick and calming. Encompassing and safe. It was soft. Kind of like it is tonight in Topeka.


 

Sailing

This blog post is inspired by the new iPad Air commercial, aired sometime between women’s inaugural skiing half pipe and the epic women’s figure skating final during the Sochi Olympics.

It quotes a Walt Whitman poem, O Me! O Life!

“That you are here – that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse”

 

Here’s my verse.

 

 

A full desert and an empty ocean

Sweeping and falling

While the compass, reliable

Shifts in spinning; Rests in pause

 

Only always

 

 

Trains of Thought

With a dry run of inspiration for blog post ideas (after more than a year), it’s time for that fun writing exercise: stream of consciousness writing. So, the following is four minutes of “train of thought” writing. It’s always fun to see where this stuff goes.

          

The sun glances through our new curtains in a divine filter. Makes you smile when you get up in the morning and see it. My boyfriend noticed it first when he got up – oh baby look at the curtains – and yes, it is beautiful. Trains planes and automonames. Automonames. Sounds like a failed Disney movie.

Oh it’s almost Christmas! We are wrapping gifts and cooking things and listening to my Holiday play list of random holiday music that is not holiday music. Kind of fun. Snow outside. Cold outside. Sunny skies and squirrel nests in the trees. Ryan Adams makes me want to dance. Dance with honesty.

There is a pile of books next to me – some of my favorites – waiting to be wrapped. It will be my first Christmas in Kansas. That has a ring to it, huh? Christmas in Kansas. With the north wind and freezing temperatures and icy roads and Christmas wonder. Wonder of everything we know and don’t know, of God, and God. Of control and trust. I know there are more things I don’t know, than what I think I know. We never know, really. Our opinions and what we think is right or wrong or what is going to happen in the future or what we actually want even – we don’t really know. We just watch, and feel, and appreciate wherever the path may wind.

A Death Letter

Dear Death,

Hello!

I just wanted to let you know that you have been on my mind of late, especially since turning 30. I fear you, big time, even though I have been gifted such amazing moments and feelings in this world. It’s more real now, getting older, and after meeting my boyfriend I feel that there is more to be possible in this world, and I have “more” to lose now too – a future I wasn’t expecting (which will of course not happen the way I expect anyway, so perhaps a mute point there).

So, just in case something does happen any day now (like dad comfortingly says, “if it’s you’re time, then it’s you’re time”), here are a few thoughts.

Key to accountability: self-forgiveness.

Key to shame: don’t be ashamed of feeling ashamed.

You’re ego: give it a hug – that’s what it wants anyway.

Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to love. Don’t forget to not be hard on yourself. Don’t forget that you don’t have to earn self-worth because it is there the whole time. Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to be thankful. Don’t forget to love.

We all know these things. But, I need the reminders in a book or a movie or a song or a laugh or a landscape that angles these thoughts in a new slant.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s love. It comes down and back to that: love. So why should death be any different?

Fifty Shades of Something

Seventy million copies of the trilogy sold worldwide. The motion picture will be released in 2014. I have been involved in numerous discussions about the plot, the “bad” writing, and the romanticization of control and abuse.

So, I finally read the book.

Surprisingly, it hit me on unexpected levels. After participating in a destructive relationship of my own in the past, I had to put the book down for days or weeks until returning to it. Here are a few pull quotes that made me pause (and apologies for getting a little soap-boxy here…)

“So you want to possess things?” You are a control freak

“I want to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do.” Pg. 12

It falls back to self-worth; we reach to external answers to mask our internal holes. Things are not our identity, and more things collected for that reason begets more holes. Traveling in Jordan years ago, one of the girls in the tour group bought two paintings that hit her heart. After leaving the Roman ruins and dusty gladiator show at Jerash, she noticed the paintings were not on the bus. Understandably she was upset, but then someone commented, “It’s ok. Easy come, easy go.” True. We are gifted things and people in our lives, and when they leave it’s because we don’t need them anymore. It’s rather freeing, to release the fear of control and impermanence. As my boyfriend commented the other night, we can just hold on tighter somewhere else. We can be grateful instead of wanting – that might really close those holes.

 

“My worst fears have been realized. And strangely, it’s liberating.” Pg. 510

Right now, for some reason, my worst fear is death. I worry about it. In my 20s, I thought I could die happy at any time – I have been lucky to lead an amazing life full of love and dreams coming true. But, at 30, I notice that there is a whole new level of living I’m just beginning to touch on. I have more to lose now – a future that is not just mine anymore. Maybe I am worried about this transition, the death of my old self and reaching into the unknown again. Hmmm…that is rather liberating.

 

“All those decisions – all the wearying thought processes behind them. The ‘is this the right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now?’ You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail.” Pg. 224

Free will is the basis of America, Christianity, the human condition. It is sometimes a relief not to have so many options, not to think there is always something else that is better. I totally get that. But I found my answer about it (thanks mom – I know you’re reading this): It is the right thing to happen, because it is happening right now.

Bottom Line? When we tap into our true nature – devoid of ego or want or stories or man-made suffering – then we don’t have anything to question.

 

 

(Just a gratuitous picture here of a gladiator and I)

29 and (Not) Tattooed

The Barabaig men jumped high to the rhythm of dusty chants and vivid yelps. Wrapped in Massai-red blankets and holding spears, they reached high to impress the women standing across from them.

They jumped without bent knees, displaying virility and skill and energy, reaching out to a woman in attempts to find a soul mate. The women, with scars decorating the curves of their eyes and cheekbones, watched and discussed the men as they flew.

 

 

 

 

 

At a courtship ritual on a flat plain in northern Tanzania, I photographed the movement, the intention, the time. I was sixteen, probably the same age as the women. At the end of the ceremony, an elder banged one of the tribe’s heavy brass bangle onto my wrist, and I vowed never to remove it.

It stayed on my wrist, sometimes turning the skin green, for five years. I eventually took it off on the behest of an ex-boyfriend. I now wear it when I want to connect, need a little extra strength, or simply when I feel it.

Suddenly, a few days ago, I knew I wanted the tribe’s design tattooed on my back on the right side of my spine. I wanted it there to always give me strength, a reminder to lead with my heart, and as a memorium to my adventurousness before I would turn 30 in a few short weeks.

I made an appointment, went to a consult, researched the artist and was drawn to his work. But I didn’t feel a connection with him. I tried to justify it, that maybe I shouldn’t need a relationship with the artist since this was my tattoo, but still something was just a little off. Whatever it was, it was in me.

So I listened, and canceled the appointment.

Then another tattoo artist came into my life – one who appreciates the cultural and human connection, knowing that a tattoo is part of a healing and growing process.

But, it still didn’t feel right.

Even though I want the tattoo, the timing is off. And although I want to rush it, I know that it just needs to marinate in my heart for a beat longer. Even though I am growing older and feel that I need this now, I know there is still time. I don’t know why, but I trust that I can’t force this. It’s just not right yet. Some things need to sit. And that’s ok, because there is a time for everything.

Driving by the tattoo studio on the day of my canceled appointment, a few hours after I would have had a freshly minted record on my back, I knew that the tattoo would have been beautiful, that he would have made it beautiful.

But I can’t force my own internal dusty rhythms and vivid yelps. I have to trust that when a decision or action needs to be made, it will happen through patience and space, without force.

It will happen effortlessly, in its own time.

Six Tears

Why was I crying? Why was my mother crying next to me? Les Miserables was not even an hour in, during the I Dreamed A Dream song, and I was already hiccupping breaths in efforts to keep control. But six tears unregretfully ran down my cheeks, four on the right and two on the left.

I like Anne Hathaway, but not that much.

So what was it? The violins reaching into a poignant and somehow familiar crescendo? The empathetic feeling of losing a dream? The well-crafted buildup to this one scene, shot from this one camera angle, capturing this one sense of rawness?

Nearly 15 years ago, on my first trip abroad, I sat in the audience with my mother next to me watching Les Miserables on the stage in London. I cried then too, at the exact same moment.

Surprisingly, some things never change. Genuine human emotions endure through lifetimes, through generations, through art, through Anne Hathaway. Some things, perhaps, actually stay the same.