Monday, March 16, 2009

Leaving the nest

One of the most obvious issues we all knew this little bird would face in leaving Judy Branch for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest is homesickness. Perhaps even more obvious, but preferably left unspoken, is that I'd be leaving my nest - the intricately woven network of family and friends that, for more than thirty years has encompassed me in an approximately 300 mile radius.

When I was a child I would, every so often, find myself lying in bed both terrified and engulfed with a mixture of panic and grief as it hit me that one day I may have to face losing my grandma, my grandpa, my mom, my dad, my brother... The grief was like a two ton stone in the middle of my chest. It was agonizing.

I spent my sixth birthday at the funeral of my favorite person in the whole wide world - Nanie. She was my great grandmother. The day before we made the drive down to Lyon, Mississippi, my Kindergarten class threw a birthday celebration for me and gave me a goodie bag to take on the road. It had Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum sticks and Nerds and peanut MnM's. They also gave me a yellow balloon. I remember being picked up from school early and getting in the back seat of the station wagon, which was already packed for the big road trip. The balloon bounced around in the back of the car. My present from my parents was a stuffed Corduroy Bear, complete with his signature green overalls and a Corduroy Bear book. This was the first time I remember feeling numb while other people were trying to make me feel festive.

This week, I was reminded of those feelings. The terrifying realization of how fragile life is, especially the lives of the people you love dearest. My dad was hospitalized for a heart condition that took him - and us all - for surprise. After nearly a week in the hospital, a lot of observation and tests and a procedure that "re-set" his heart, it looks like he's going to be just fine. But I'll tell you, I don't think there's any amount of re-setting or testing or treatment that anyone could do that would make me just fine if I lost my dad.

I know that people lose their parents every second of everyday. My best friend lost both her parents before she was 25. I know about mortality, and I know about loss. I can't even keep count of the number of dead friends and family. Each loss shuck me to the core. But there are some people that are such an immense presence in your life, it's as if they are actually part of you.

I'm getting overwhelmed in the process of even trying to write about this. It's not something I ever want to think about. But last week I was smacked in the face with it, and the effect is lingering. To say the least.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Sometimes it seems that we spend (or I spend) a lot of time and energy looking for love, grieving lost love, and so on and so forth, when really... love is just love. It's there when you feel it. It's in the most common and unexpected places. Yes, it would be nice if you could have it in the way you want it. Usually that would be a romantic, sweep you off your feet sort of experience or a feeling completely synchronized and understood moment. The thing is that for every bit that is missing, there is some place where it exists in a different form. Yes, one day I want to have that dreamed of romantic love feeling, but just because I haven't found it yet doesn't mean there's a lack of love in my life right now.

The reason I'm writing about this is because I fall so easily. Not in love, but into a deep dark hole. Could be grief, could be depression, but it's not a nice place to land. And I find myself falling over and over and over again. Like a well practiced habit, it's become comfortable. This is something I've experienced since I was about 6 years old. Over the years, I've learned how to live with the often sudden and unannounced increased bursts of gravity that pull me down. They really do hit me quite suddenly and with great force. I am actively working against gravity and grief on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. The lists of new things to do and trying out the Artists Way and working like mad and all that. It helps. But I wonder. WHY does that downward spiral energy seem to strengthen? Shouldn't these conscious efforts to resist wear it down... eventually to nothing?

How is this connected to love? Well, as intensely as I feel all the horrible things I feel when I fall, I also feel a deep appreciation, awe and love for so many beings and blessings in my life. I feel loved and I feel love for so many. I am overwhelmed with the people and creatures in my life who make it a point to remind me just how much they love me.

So how do these two mix? How can a person feel completely encompassed with love and at the same time feel so hopeless and lost and unworthy of any love at all? Is it a chemical thing? A basic human crisis that everyone faces all the time?

I am working with an artist who recently did a collaboration with a dance company. They did a cabaret sort of show that explored the disconnect between how other people see you and how you see yourself. I got to watch a video of the performance, and it left me wondering... Are we all on this rollercoaster and we just don't realize we're sitting right next to each other?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Working Woman

I did not put on my list of new things to do my first year in Oregon: get a job. Probably because I don't want a job as much as I do want a job. I guess you could put it as, I don't want just any old job. RIght now I'm writing SES applications for companies that want to provide Title I tutoring services. Each state has a different application. It's work I can do, but I can't exactly say that it's the kind of work I really want to do. Frankly, it makes me appreciate arts fundraising. At least I'm writing about something that excites me, something that I love!

One of the things I'm in process with is doing The Artists Way workbook. I've had the book for at least five years, but I've never actually taken the time to do it. Now I am in week three! I feel quite accomplished, having gotten up every morning and written my three pages (the morning pages). Now that I'm working, I also have to fit into my morning a walk with Bella. I really enjoy our strolls through the neighborhood and everything that we see. Recent wonders include doors strategically leaned up against shrubberies. We have spotted two so far. We have not tried to open one yet...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lists are supposed to be kept secret

I talked to my friend who inspired me with lists. I learned that she never let her list out ahead of time, in case something interesting, new and worth trying came up and warranted being one of the new things to try that year. Good point. Let's consider the past two posts simply warm ups to the list of amazing new experiences to unfold this year.

So far, I've done quite a few amazing things. I'll choose to start with:
1. Uprooting. Yup. We all know now that I quit my job and moved 2,500 miles from home. That doesn't happen every day.
2. I went roller skating, and it was really awesome, because Ethan Rose was playing the organ and wearing his cool leather vintage pilot hat (you know - the kind with the ear flaps)

I'm sure I've done many other super-cool and new things, but I'll have to relay them as I go. I've got tricks up my sleeve yet.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The List Grows

I consulted with some friends on expanding my list, and I'm still running short on my goal of 32 new things to try my first year in Portland.

Here's what I started off with:

1. Go rollerskating to the sounds of someone playing the Wurlitzer pipe organ at Oaks Park Roller Rink. (DONE this week, I went to Ethan Rose's Oaks performance and it was amazing. Over 400 people rollerskating to an original score he composed just for that place and purpose)
2. Go to an Asian spa. There's a large Asian population on the West Coast, and I've never been to really any kind of spa. The ones back home weren't really spas, if you know what I'm talking about! I don't know what I'll get done, but I want to try it out.
3. Visit the Oregon desert
4. Take an overnight train trip. I've done this in Poland/Ukraine, but not in the U.S.
5. Take an overnight bicycle trip, preferably camping.
6. Go sailing.
7. Go whale watching (Cape Lookout has been suggested as a good spot)
8. See the Northern Lights. (This includes going to someplace where I can see them.)
9. Learn to knit.
10. Visit Alaska.
11. Try "Body Talk" sessions, a kind of energy work based on Chinese medicine
12. Sleep in a treehouse in the middle of an old growth forest.
13. Go on a blind date.
14. Go horseback riding on the coast.
15. Visit a foreign land (one that I've never visited before). I have to do this about every couple of years. It's in my blood.

And here's the new additions:

16. Hike portions of the Pacific Crest Trail
17. Go cross country skiing (I've only done down hill)
18. Check out the Roller Derby.
19. Watch the Salmon swimming upstream
20. See a show at Darcelle's (A premier Drag Queen cabaret)
21. Catch a show at Tony Starlight's (an old school concert hall/lounge)
22. Go up the Space Needle on a clear day
23. Walk across the Saint John's bridge
24. Design my yard into an urban garden space
25. Grow some plant I've never grown before
26. Spend a night in a yurt.
27. Go to Bagby hot springs
28. Try snowboarding at least once.

I need four more things to add to my list. Any ideas?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daily Rejection and Transformative To-do Lists

Perhaps one of the hardest things that any person or creature has to deal with is rejection. No matter how independent or laissez-faire we may be, it still hurts. To put yourself out there only be turned away, turned down or simply ignored. It bruises your ego, brings on self-doubt and breathes life into that inner critic that you've spent your whole life trying to ignore. In my former job, I had to write grants to raise all the money needed to run my programs and pay my staff as well as my own salary, health insurance and fringe benefits. Actually, I had to raise that plus an additional 22% that went to the organization as a whole. The only outlet I had was foundation grants. I couldn't go door-to-door asking people to donate. It takes a lot of time and energy to write a good grant proposal. But even if you write a proposal that is a work of art, you still have about a 10% chance of it getting funding. Even though I knew that funding decisions were incredibly impersonal, every single rejection letter had it's own distinct and painful sting. After five years, when I finally left that job, I swore I would seek out a new situation where financial panic and constant rejection were not part of the daily grind.

I'm not there yet. Applying for jobs when you are a stranger in a strange town is far worse than supporting your work through foundation grant writing. Instead of getting rejection letters every few months, you get a rejection letter every single day. Sometimes multiple letters in the same day. Often they are form letters, but every so often you get a personalized letter telling you, even though you were not chosen for the position, how impressed they were with your cover letter or resume. These are the worst, because they lift you up just a little higher only to find yourself falling a greater distance when it sinks in that yet another job you could have really done well has disappeared into pile of countless other jobs that you haven't been hired for.

Here is what I have been learning: 1. Before now, I have been tremendously fortunate in my professional endeavors. 2. It can be even more draining and stressful to be unemployed than to be over-employed. 3. Job hunting is a full time job that doesn't pay. 4. Waiting turns you into a zombie. 5. It is far easier to survive with no money in the mountains than it is in the city. 6. Even in the city, soup beans and cornbread still taste good and keep the belly from grumbling.

I have two different kinds of days: 1. "Productive days," spent composing and submitting multiple cover letters and resumes - sometimes up to 8 or 10 a day. 2. "Blank days," spent laying in bed, staring at the ceiling feeling and thinking nothing. Seriously feeling 100% blank and hopeless.

I am hoping to kick myself into gear and have myself some creative days. Blue Artichoke, one of my best pals since childhood, has been making a list of new things to do/try that corresponds with the number of years she's been alive. I am working on a similar list myself of things to do my first year living in oregon. This gives me until October 1, 2009 to complete the list. For the most part, they are new experiences. I only have 15 so far, which means I need 17 more to equal my age. Send me your suggestions.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

City Life

I've taken a break from blogging since landing in Portland. Much and little has happened. Hard to really tell. I should have been writing all along. Alas, all I can do for you dear reader, or two, is promise that I am sincerely going to to try to get myself back into the writing habit. Think of these past few months as a much needed respite. During this time I've explored Portland and surrounding forests and coasts. I've not had to endure the endless Oregon winter rains yet, because it has hardly rained at all since October. I did, however, get to experience the freak "Snowpocolypse" that hit the Great Northwest. We were snowed in under about a foot of snow for nearly ten days! I've also been learning a lot about bicycles and being unemployed. I've noticed that I am far more productive on my creative projects when I am overwhelmingly busy in other aspects of my life. The struggle to find myself gainful employment has had a slowing effect on just about everything in my life. I'm trying to pick up the pace and get back to work, even if right now the only kind of work I got is the kind I do for myself! One of the greatest blessings about being in a new environment is that there are countless everyday occurances and objects that, because of their newness, are potential sources of inspiration. Even in the depth of winter, I am going to do my best to pay attention while it is all relatively new.

One of my childhood best friends makes a list each year, corresponding with the number of years she's been alive, of new things to try within that year. I'm thinking of copying her idea and trying that myself. Or perhaps coming up with a list of things to do/experience within my first year living in Oregon. I'll sleep on it and get back to you. I already have one for the list that I plan to check off this week:

1. Go rollerskating to live music played on the Wurlitzer pipe organ at Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink. Just so happens there's some interesting musician playing a show on that very organ this Tuesday!