The Epiphany

Once you experience an epiphany, there is no going back. So it was when I realized that my emotional difference was an integral, and beautiful, part of me rather than something to be feared, suppressed, and eliminated.

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But the other side of the epiphany, the point when everything you ever believed to be true is found to be a lie, is lonely. Those who have not reached that peak, who are lost in the struggle of self-discovery, cannot see what lies on the other side. It is not because they are blind, or see the world with disillusioned eyes, but because they have not yet organized the frames of reference necessary to make sense of this strange new world. It is a blur, a frenzied state of meaningless fluff that is of absolutely no practical use.

So for those of us who have an epiphany, in whatever field we practice, we have an obligation to make what we have envisioned, and found to be true, more clear and more real to others on a similar life journey. Sometimes we do this by prodding them on with tough love, other times we seduce them with incremental measures of success, and yet other times we bridge the new world with the old, weaving together intellectual, cultural, and mythological wisdom into an inclusive tapestry that captures our collective imaginations and life aspirations.

The epiphany, the discovery that opens up unlimited new potential discoveries, is a unique, personal experience. It is one that compels us to share that experience with others so that they, too, might benefit. Doing so in a meaningful way is a burden borne with love by those who experience these life-changing moments. We write, we talk, we use our lives as an example, we hope that someone will understand. Not to confirm that this new world exists, because the epiphany is not tainted by uncertainty, but to give it wings.

Bat Out of the Belfry

I was recently looking through a three ring binder in my attic for a document that I thought might be helpful to a coworker who, just the other day, reached out to me for this specific type of assistance. While I was unable to locate the document, I inadvertently aroused another object, an animal actually, which would soon met me face to face. At least that is my theory of how it all began. bat Bats tend to make a grand swooping entrance that usually takes the room’s occupants by surprise. Few creatures can provoke such horrified excitement merely by entering the room. Refined, sophisticated woman that I am, I was unable to contain my surprise on this day not so long ago.

I have a certain type of scream, a shrill first soprano, which clearly indicates that a bat is within close proximity. My dearly departed cat Sugar had what I affectionately called his ‘bat face’ — eyes wide open, ears perked forward, and head titled at just a certain angle. While the visit of a bat is purely unpredictable, our reaction certainly is — particularly as it becomes something to which one becomes as accustomed as one can become accustomed to such a thing.

As I sat in my bed, where I often jokingly refer to as the place where I do my best work — not because I am a sex worker but because it allows me to spread out my papers and invite the company of a feline companion who usually blocks my access to as many papers as possible — setting up the final exam for the Introduction to Sociology class that I am teaching this fall, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. This something was flying around my room in circles. At first I thought it was a bird. While the odd bat finds its way into my 150 year old Victorian home that sits on a hill near the intersection of two rivers, which I imagine makes a lovely habitat for our bat friends, it was broad daylight and never before had I encountered a bat without my back to the sun. And usually at 2 a.m. on a day when I am expected to arise early, full of energy, to complete one task or another.

But then it hit me that yes, indeed, it was a bat. The screams, the shrieks, commenced. I had to think quick, a skill with which I am not largely endowed. I am usually plagued with abundant afterthoughts, and the perfect comeback or strategy magically pops into my head a minimum of 48 hours too late.

I managed to stand up, and grabbed the tennis racket — one that my mother used to play tennis as a teenager, at a club which she often reminds me was a very long walk from her home, but now rests near by bed to be used for just this sort of occasion. I tried to gently persuade the bat, coax her or him onto the racket so that I could escort him outside.

At some point during this ordeal, my mother — who was sitting downstairs — heard my screams which she later told me let her know in no uncertain terms that a bat was in the house. I told her to open the door. Then I asked her to bring me the oven mitts. I remember a former coworker once telling me that, when a bat visited their home in the middle of the night once long ago, she used oven mitts to pick her or him up from the ceiling fan to which he affixed him self (hmmm…I hope it wasn’t turned on, that would be a not so fun ride for a bat in crisis). She came up the stairs with the fishing net we purchased two years ago (but luckily didn’t need in 2014 as it was the year without a bat). I told her I didn’t want the net, and to go back down and get the oven mitts. It was a crisis, and I was commanding. She insisted that I take the net so I reluctantly did as I was told.

After a few minutes of some crazy woman screaming and chasing her or him around in circles in a relatively small room, the bat decided to take a rest. She or he perched on a shelf near the corner to the room. I grabbed a shirt from my closet and approached with it and the tennis racket, wishing I had the oven mitt lest I get bitten by a rabid bat. I tried to pick up the bat, but she or he would have no part of that and started flying around the room again. She or he found solace in another corner of the room, and crawled about my stereo speakers. As she or he rested there, I was somehow able to open up a window, shaking the whole time as I recall.

I went back to the corner with the racket and shirt, and the bat moved around slowly until finally her or his what we in Pennsylvania Dutch country call a ‘hinder’ was hidden underneath my blue yoga mat. It was then that I was able to carefully examine her or his face. The bat was cute. Really, really cute. She or he had a sweet little face, adorable feet, and a stripe down its back. I got the net and put it on the floor near the yoga mat to try to get the bat into it. She or he totally ignored my sweet talking, during which I called her or him just about every term of endearment in my sweetest of sweet voices. But sadly the net made the bat scared, and she or he started making a chirping noise. I could tell that the bat was even more afraid than me.

After several tries, the bat finally made her or his way into the net. I somehow stumbled to the window and placed the net outside. She or he flew off in an instant.

Bats really are amazing creatures. They are essential to our ecosystem, providing many benefits as described in this article from Bat Conservation International — an article which I read every time I have a bat encounter to help me be more understanding and compassionate toward this unwelcome house guest. While it was an exhausting event, I am grateful (in retrospect only, not that I ever want it to happen again) for this opportunity to get so close to a bat and speak to it lovingly rather than with screams.

Giving Up

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Not too long ago, I was given an opportunity for which I worked very hard. But it just didn’t work out for a multitude of reasons. So I gave up. I walked away. And I haven’t looked back since.

But at the same time, I feel a sense of emptiness related to this decision. I’m not the kind of person who gives up; I’m a survivor who perseveres. It isn’t about winning or even about being successful — it’s about having the opportunity to try.

A lucky few people are given opportunities. Others voraciously hunt them down. Others are good at spotting and taking advantage of them. Others create them from nothing as a means of transforming energy because it is necessary for survival. The opportunities I have had in my life have been of all four sorts.

This particular opportunity was of the third kind, one that emerged in my life and one which I actively pursued. I thought about it, dreamed about it, for a long time. But those thoughts and those dreams were soon squashed by the reality of the situation. In retrospect, it really wasn’t an opportunity — it was something else, something which I can’t yet fully describe — at least not in public — cloaked as an opportunity. And I naively fell for it.

Yet, I am still filled with regret — not because that situation is no longer a part of my life, but because I feel like I packed it in. And I am too young, too smart, too clever, too kind, too hardworking, too (fill in the blank) to give up. It feels like I not only gave up on this opportunity, but like I gave up on my entire life. On myself.

But not really. I left that one thing behind so that my life could be more full of beauty, happiness, fulfillment, and peace. And it is. It really is. But I also feel like I went from a situation of struggle to one of stagnation. Albeit one that is temporary and transitional. Next stop, new journey: splendid searching and pursuit of new opportunities for learning and growth. That is what it means to be fully alive — to be open to the unexpected unknown opportunities, both subtle and obvious, that emerge from moment to moment. I’ve just stepped off the train for a moment to catch my breath and take in the beautiful view.

Seasonal Sensitivity

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I can remember a time when, at about 12 years of age, I walked through the snow in bare feet. For fun. I loved the feeling of the crisp white flakes beneath me. I can also remember loving hot summer days and coming home a hot dirty mess after playing outside all day long and feeling perfectly content and fully alive.

I must be getting old (and you need not remind me that I celebrated a big birthday just two weeks ago), because I no longer enjoy the extremes of the seasons. I function best when it is about 50 to 85 degrees. When it is colder or warmer than this range, I find myself feeling uncentered and longing for those perfect weather days that seem to be becoming more and more rare. So I find myself spending way too much time indoors, protecting myself from the both the blistering heat and the chill of cold winter days.

We find ourselves in patters such as these throughout life. We become trapped in our comfort zones, avoiding things we dislike and becoming somehow disengaged when forced to deal with undesirable circumstances.

What alarms me most is that my comfort zone seems to be getting smaller and smaller. While I once enjoyed the extremes of weather, and not all that long ago, I now only feel my best when the weather happens to be within a range of just 35 degrees. Perhaps this is because more life experience results in a stronger sense of what I most appreciate and desire. Or perhaps this is because I am stuck and clinging to something that arbitrarily brings me comfort in a world where so many things seem to be out of my control.

Either way, immersion in a variety of experiences, especially those which seem challenging to us, make us stronger, more compassionate, and more interesting human beings. So while I really don’t like it when it is hot and humid outside, I am going to do make the most of what is magically presented to me every day and look for the enjoyable excitement, rather than the distraction of discomfort, which that brings. Such is life.

Who Am I To Save The World?

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As a naive young college graduate in the late 1990s, I can remember actually telling people who interviewed me as I embarked upon a career in the nonprofit sector that I wanted to help save the world, or something like that. Nearly 20 years later, I look back on my career in human services and wonder if I have actually made any difference at all, let alone save the world. Yes, I have touched thousands of lives, listened and offered understanding, created opportunities, made visible and tangible positive changes, and stuck my neck out to get a result that would otherwise be impossible given the intricacies and bureaucracies of nonprofit and government systems. But during that time, is the world really any better off? And if it is, can I really claim to have had any influence at all?

Who am I to save the world? And who am I to determine that the world is in need of saving in the first place?

I wonder what the world would be like today if I had chosen a career in banking, or real estate, or hospitality, or marine biology instead. Would the world be any different? Would the lives of those thousands of people be the same, or even better off that they are as a result of my intervention?

We can never truly know what the impact of our actions will be. We can only act with a hopeful heart filled with love. If we all did that, all of the time, imagine how beautiful the world might be.

Forager, Farmer, Fool

A straw bale

About 13 years ago, a good friend told me that I should just do one thing if I wanted to be successful. As I approach my 40th birthday, what he said to me all of those years ago is finally starting to make sense.

I have approached much of my life as a hunter-gatherer. With insatiable curiosity and a strong desire to learn and do as much as possible, I exposed myself to many different kinds of ideas and experiences. I dabbled in a multitude of areas, leaving many projects incomplete. For example, I have always been a writer and have long wanted to seek a publisher for one of my books. As I sort through old computer files, I find half written book proposals, lists of agents who have never been approached, and the remnants of a clever and ambitious girl who just couldn’t focus on one thing at a time.

While being a hunter-gatherer may not have resulted in me fully articulating and achieving all of my goals, it certainly has made me a wiser and more interesting person. I have foraged my way through the bounty of life, feeding my soul with a rich feast of ideas. Within me is the depth and breadth of one hundred ordinary people. Ordinary people who are, admittedly, enjoying the fragrant blossoms of the single seed they have planted and lovingly tended for so many years. So while I feel a certain level of smug self-satisfaction and gratitude for the life I have lived, I also feel a bit of regret and remorse for everything that has been left behind in my feeding frenzy. I feel it is time to transition from surviving to thriving, from languishing to flourishing.

I, too, have planted many seeds in my life. Thousands of them. A brilliant idea here, a dream for tomorrow there. But I abandoned those seeds for sparkling meadows and alluring forests. The seeds were left behind in the wrong places, not planted deep enough into the earth, untended and unloved. Quantity over quality, exposure but never intimacy.

As I enter the fifth decade of my life, I am drifting back through fond foraging memories to glean those that most deeply resonate with the person I am today, the person I always was but hadn’t quite discovered yet, the person I will always be. Those memories will shape the farm of my future, the place that will be my home, my salvation, a reflection of my most significant commitments to myself and to this planet. I will continue to plant seeds, but will do so selectively and with the intention of offering my love and attention through the last blossom, from season to season.

Interconnected Self-Sufficiency

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The concepts of interconnectedness and self-sufficiency may, at first, seem incompatible. Interconnectedness implies that all living things have a special, spiritual or natural relationship through which states of being, experiences, and consequences of action are intrinsically linked. In contrast, self-sufficiency emphasizes rugged individualism and reliance on each person’s own abilities, skills, and resources. How is it possible that these are two of my most cherished values? I believe that these two ideas are, in fact, complementary and mutually reinforcing — and that one without the other is insufficient and even destructive.

I resent being offered help or being told what to do; I think all people do to some degree whether or not it enters their conscious thought process. I strongly feel that I need to figure things out for myself, and by doing so, I will have both learned a great deal and produced something in accordance with my values, goals, and vision. Interference from others contaminates the creative process, whether I am creating a project or my life — the greatest project of all. While my insistence on self-reliance has roots in my need to prove myself in response to low self-esteem and bountiful prior life mess ups, in addition to the necessities of near poverty, I am grateful that I have the will and ability to accomplish a great deal on my own. An aunt once taught me how to make turkey neck soup using what would otherwise be discarded meat from the butcher, and while I am now a vegetarian, I shall never be hungry due to the skills I have developed through these and similar life experiences. I think a lot of my ideas about self-sufficiency comes from the poetry written in my epigenetic code through generations of farmers.

Which brings us to interconnectedness. Who I am, what I believe, and what I do all have roots in family and community, in the context of relationships with other people and with the planet. I could not exist as a unique human being were it not for the generations that came before me, nor would I be as I am without the many people and places who have influenced me throughout my life. I did not learn to be self-sufficient in a vacuum; I learned specific skills over time through intentional observation, informal learning, and lots of practice. I have also been supported, nurtured, and encouraged by other people, both with and without economic exchange, and the most helpful have been shared with love, not in furtherance of a personal, organizational, or political agenda. I only hope that I have been able to unselfishly offer the same to others.

We are all connected — through in and out breaths, through economic systems, and through the need to survive. But we can’t truly thrive unless those relationships and systems which connect us also give us room for our own little flowers to bloom.

Bibliophilia

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I love to read. An early precocious reader, I worked my way through chapter books in kindergarten and by the end of elementary school, few of the great classics had escaped my attention. Thousands of books have passed through my hands in the past 35+ years.

Books have always been like friends to me. My bestest of best friends. I am unable to throw them away, to cast them aside, as that would be the same as discarding an important piece of my own self-discovery, my emergence, my livelihood — essential to my being. Thousands of books sit on my shelves like old lovers, at my immediate disposal to satisfy whatever whim may enter my mind. There they wait for me, sad, lonely, neglected, and underused — but not abandoned altogether. Each book I read becomes a part of my own story, a part of me.

Cicero said (or maybe not as the exact origin is disputed) that, or something like, “a room without books is like a body without a soul.” Whenever I inspect a room and find it without books, I wonder how bleak the soul must be to exist in such an uninspired space.

I recently decluttered my living room, which had been populated with at least two hundred books in addition to many pamphlets. Those books have all been moved to make way for photographs, of actual people with souls; yet, the room does not feel quite right. There is a heavy emptiness, a desperate lack of the positive energy that only books can radiate in that special bookly way. This needs to change. A room filled with books is a room filled with hope, with possibility, with curiosity, and with love. It is where I feel safe, inspired, and natural.

My love affair with books is a never-ending saga. There will never be too many books in my life. I may be an addict, but I am one that truly cherishes my unharmful object.

Excuse My Vulgarity

I recently met someone whose perception of the proper intersection of authenticity and propriety was skewed slightly differently than mine — especially when making a first impression. Call me old-fashioned, but I think there is a civility, and a tenderness, to using discretion when sharing the most banal and vulgar aspects of ourselves with new acquaintances. If I have offended anyone in this way, and I’m sure that I have, then please accept my apology.

That is not to say that deception ought to be employed. Nor should positioning and manipulation.

Rather, we should slowly and softly reveal ourselves. I long for the mystery and intimacy of gently unveiling our complexities, an art form which has sadly become scarce in modern society. I would rather lie awake at night, curiously anticipating more, than bend over the proverbial toilet proverbially puking because too much has been revealed much too soon.

Excuse my banal vulgarity.

Procrastination

My life has been a series of unfinished projects. Yes, I have seen many books, reports, home repairs, and other projects to their bittersweet end, and it would probably surprise most people that I suffer this perhaps self-imposed impediment. But there are many more, thousands more, that remain submerged inside of me.

Some of them are in bits and pieces, swirling about, searching for the perfect moment of emergence. Others are already complete, inside of my head, but have not yet started the journey to the outside world. Yet others have been spewed out — here, there, and everywhere — but have not yet been brought together into a final masterpiece. My unfinished projects are toys in the box, lonely and neglected, yearning for a playmate to make them come alive and have more than a symbolic meaning.

I tend to be good at starting things, but not finishing them. I once worked with a man who was good at finishing things, but not getting them started. We were the perfect (working) pair.

I have tried to organize my projects with index cards, notebooks, two different types of note software, file folders (both electronic and hard copy), websites, spreadsheets, three ring binders, sticky notes, and posterboard. I’m sure I’m missing something. And don’t even get me started on the calendars.

Perhaps it is subtle self-sabotage. Maybe it’s ADHD, mostly but not entirely without the H. Or it could be my vain and fickle heart that chases one dream after another. Possibly a fear of failure? Bashfulness?

Whatever it is, I have enjoyed the creative journey of generating ideas, whether or not they are shared and brought to fruition. The unfinished, and even the unstarted, project carries with it the allure of what might be. As long as it doesn’t cross over into the regret of what could have been, a certain amount of disorganized procrastination may be healthy. It serves as a reminder that creativity is a generative, rather than a depleting process, and that the process itself is what really counts, most of the time.