Unzipped

Boone Hall Butterfly Pavilion, South Carolina

Hi.

Hi, hi.

Last time we spoke I was in this strange, but not-entirely-unusual-for-me place of feeling totally and completely paralyzed. Not, like, technically (but, I certainly wasn’t getting my steps in every day), but this overwhelming feeling of being…stuck. I know perfectly well how to run, it just feels like my feet are stuck in cement.

Well, turns out, perhaps the most efficient way for me to get un-stuck is to have my legs kicked out from under me with a not-at-all graceful face plant. And with that, I unzipped my paralyzed suit, stepped out, and my mind and body quickly remembered how to fly, how to run.

Like anyone who hasn’t been working out regularly, it will take a little while for me to fight back the atrophied muscles and build up my endurance, but soon I’ll be running a 6-minute mile again.

Uh, that’s a big huge lie. I have never once run a 6-minute mile, nor do I intend to. I’m more of a 12-minute mile kind of girl.

Also, I’m not really talking about running here. That’s a life metaphor. But it’s also kind of factual. In the last week I’ve been to the gym 4 times and that is 4 times more than I have shown up in the previous three months. I’m making lists and plans like a madwoman and finally feel like I can breathe a little better.

I know that kind of vaguely talking about feeling stuck, and then bringing up a kind of horrible running metaphor for being un-stuck is not exactly blog du jour, but this is me, the good and the bad and the ugly and the broken, all just trying to make it through.

On ruts (and vacuums, apparently)

Lately I have been wrestling with a MAJOR desire to get rid of everything “extra” in my life. I’m not talking about relationships or commitments, I’m talking about stuff. In the last month or two I suddenly am feeling suffocated by stuff, piles and piles of stuff. The almost non-existent closets in my house seem to be bursting (although, they actually aren’t) and it seems that every corner is “temporarily” housing a half-finished project or stack of things (also, not true). I’m not entirely sure what is going on in my brain to make me believe that I am going to be buried alive by unnecessary stuff…although, truth be told, I legitimately feel that way a lot of the time.

Now, my house is not a maze of piles, it’s fairly tidy, no one would assume that I am a budding hoarder. Nor do I particularly believe I am a budding hoarder…except, well, I might have something like 20 empty glass pickle jars in the garage….no reason, I just think they are a nice size, and they are glass, not plastic, and I think they might be useful someday…? Ok, so maybe a *little* bit of a budding hoarder. Don’t judge too harshly.

Here’s what I think: I think that I have been in a rut for a long time and I’m finally coming out of it. Without an actual medical diagnosis, I’m gonna call it: for months and probably years I have been noticeably depressed and unhappy and that has affected every other aspect of my life in large and small ways. I can finally see a faint pathway leading out to the rest of the bright, shiny world and I am desperate to get rid of everything that has been holding me back from that glorious sunshiney version of my life. Where constancy and sameness feels comforting and cozy while a big nasty Depression has its foot on my neck, now that I’m trying to shake all that dust off those “comforting constants” are suddenly oppressive. I have a palpable and tangible urge to run as far and as fast as I can. This is a new feeling, it’s strange and kind of unnerving. And exciting. And scary.

For most of my life I have been completely content with “good enough for now” and have sacrificed what I really wanted for something that was close, but not quite. Now, I’m a logical realist, my hopes and dreams have never been out of the realm of possibility, but they do require some long-term planning and a lot of patience, both of which I excel at but haven’t exercised in my personal life very well.

I bought a vacuum this week, not a $1,000 top-of-the-line machine that will steam your curtains and make you a smoothie, just a well-rated, not-on-sale model and I paid an extra $20 dollars for the automatic retractable cord because that is one of my favorite features of my no-longer-will-turn-on vacuum (RIP). Now, I vacuum several times a week, it’s an easy way for me to feel like my house is more put together and keeps the dust allergens at bay and my FitBit thinks I’m taking a walk and awards me activity points. Are you bored to tears yet about my home cleaning appliances!? It’s cool, part of being an adult is getting excited about a retractable cord on your vacuum. As I was comparing features and prices I had this very sudden and kind of sad realization: this is the FIRST vacuum I have ever purchased and the first new vacuum I have ever owned. For the last 16 years I have had a hand-me-down vacuum (from my grandmother, my aunt, my brother, my Dad, a friend). AND I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY COMPARED VACUUM FEATURES BEFORE. I’ve just accepted—gratefully—whatever reject was on its way to the donation bin and called it good enough. So, while most people would consider spending $100 on a vacuum a low-point in their week I am THRILLED TO DEATH about it. A vacuum! I just bought my own vacuum! One I got to pick from a zillion different models and options and with the exact features I want. I feel a little like a depressed 50’s housewife swooning over the latest nifty gadget, but also a lot like a liberated adult woman who picks out her own damn household appliances and pays for them too, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve been losing weight, and the clothes that currently fit me are YEARS old but mostly in great shape, I bought quality pieces back then and they have been worth the investment. I’ve held on to them, hoping they would fit again sometime. And they do, and I hate them. I’ve been putting shirts and pants in the Goodwill pile in the garage for weeks, I’m thisclose to giving up on some darling dresses that just don’t fit me the way I want them to, maybe they never did and I didn’t care? The point is, I care now; what used to “good enough” is no longer acceptable, I only want “great” and “wonderful” and “irreplaceable.”

(Sidenote: have you been clothes shopping lately? Why does every store seem to think that the height of spring fashion is athleisure or tacky fringed RTW circa 1992!? I have seen more broomstick skirts and janky denim jumper-dresses than were in my 5th grade class picture. It’s abhorrent. All the dress pants are cropped (huack) and the blouses have a distinct hippie vibe. I am not impressed.)

So. This is what coming out of a depression looks like? I rhapsodize about buying a vacuum cleaner while simultaneously berating “fashion” designers; I want to chop off all my hair and get rid of everything I own. Frankly, I sound a little bit like I’m in the midst of a nervous breakdown, which is maybe a necessary part of resurfacing after years of living in gloom?

Who knows. After years of sitting quietly (but miserably) in my deepening rut I’m just happy to be moving again; and I like to think that I’m climbing out, not digging in.

Sabbaticalette: Week Two

Whelp, my sabbaticalette is officially over and I am back at work, which has been exciting and wonderful in its own right. I intentionally took time off between my old job and my new one to try to decompress a little, get my heart rate and stress levels back to a manageable number, and to just be for a minute.

My first week, naturally, was JAM PACKED FULL of projects and activities and crossing things off The List. I don’t think I overdid it, I maintain that I needed to clear those things off my proverbial plate in order to get some relaxing in.

My second week? Oh man, those days were gloriously unstructured and downright slothful. The last two days I got a little antsy, but overall it was also exactly what I needed.

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I caught up on my 6-weeks-neglected feed reader.

I finished watching The Time Inbetween, one of the top-rated shows in Spain about a young woman during WWII who gets caught up in dressmaking and spying and espionage between Franco’s civil war and Spain entering WWII with the Germans. I mean, it’s in Spanish with English subtitles, so unless you’re fluent you do have to read the TV to figure out what’s going on. But it was wonderful. Recommended (via Netflix).

I went to lunch with a friend and I made fancy lunch at home–you know, an actual cooked meal instead of eating bits and pieces of leftovers while standing in front of the fridge. (I should note: I actually really love cooking for fun).

I continued to read and listen to audiobooks like crazy. I’ve finished 30 books so far this year and show no signs of slowing down.

I went shopping for pleasure for the first time in I don’t even know how long. Months? Almost a year? I didn’t go on a splurgy spree or anything, but I did buy a new pair of classy heels for my first day of work. At TJ Maxx. Ahem. My financial spending freeze experiments seem to be doing their job!

I planted some little seeds and puttered around with my flowers and vegetables.

I went on a really great hike at a state park near my house. I climbed/clambered/jogged 7.5 miles in less than 2.5 hours. There were zillions of cacti and wildflowers and it was cloudy and cool and, generally, perfect.

And the rest of the week? I slothed. I slothed so good! Part of me (the SUPER Type A part) is a little annoyed that I spent so much time doing essentially nothing; the rest of me, however, is thrilled about that choice. Good job, Harriet.

Sabbaticalette: Week One

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It has been only one week of my sabbaticalette yet three people have commented that I seem like a completely different person. I feel more myself than I have in months, and despite a very strange crop of zits all over my face (the hell, face!?) I feel like I look about 5 years younger than I did 3 months ago. I sometimes break out SKIPPING or GIGGLING for no apparent reason. It’s weird, yo.

So, what have I done with my newfound freedom and head space? Well, you know me (or you don’t, and the rest of this post will be very telling of my personality); I made a huge list and started checking things off one by one.

I painted the last room in our house, banishing the cardboard-box-brown paint that is ubiquitous in all Arizona homes forever. It is a lovely, soothing gray now and waiting for the last touches. (Check that off my New Year’s Resolution list!)

I pulled the millions of weeds in our yard, the rain lately has turned the gravel into a jungle. I also replanted a bunch of veggies and started two pallets of flower seeds for the front yard. I spent an entire afternoon pulling a WHEELBARROW FULL of concrete bits and rock out of the window box in our front yard. It needs some topsoil and then I can plant the lovely fuchsia bougainvillea bushes and bright yellow daisies in there. I potted a bunch of ranunculus for the front porch and back patio and am loving those little splotches of color.

I scrubbed all the corners of the house that have been neglected, I opened the windows and let the breeze blow through the rooms and air everything out.

I pulled up some nasty industrial-grade carpet that the previous owners GLUED to the side patio cement…I think a few months of the blazing southwestern summer sun on the remaining glue-gunk, with some strategic spraying and scraping will get rid of that stuff quite nicely. I’m just so glad to have it gone, I don’t like thinking about what was probably living/lurking in that nasty nasty carpet.

I’ve been to the gym, or on a walk, or a bike ride, almost every day. It has been GLORIOUS to move every day! My FitBit hardly knows what to do with me.

I did a mountain of laundry (see: deep clean everything) and watched some of my Netflix list for the first time in…weeks? (I’m watching The Tudors which is about the history of Henry VIII, because even my Netflix stuff must be nerdy. Hashtag: Harriet Life)

I’ve finished reading two books, started two more, and listened to three others while doing all my chores.

I went grocery shopping at Costco (for the FIRST TIME EVER! (I know.) (I SAID I KNOW!)) did some large-batch cooking, and filled up the freezer with some meals I can reheat later. I also bulked up our nearly non-existent pantry storage with a few cases of canned foods.

I unpacked the last of the moving boxes and have made a towering pile of things to send to Goodwill.

I’ve spent several hours on the phone with family and friends I love and feel I’ve neglected the last few months. I’m so grateful for technology, and simultaneously annoyed that I’m so far from the people I love.

I volunteered at a church event for young girls ages 8-11, we had a blast laughing and giggling and, uh, being super spiritual and stuff. Ahem.

Things I haven’t done, but intend to: hiking; painting on canvas/panels; a little photography spree to catch some early morning or pre-sunset light on the big rocky formation down the street from my house; take the pile in the garage to Goodwill; tidy up my side of the garage, especially the piles of project pieces that need to be corralled or recycled or finished up already; lunch and a movie matinee with a friend.

A few friends, upon hearing a little of what I’ve been up to, have commented that I don’t quite know how to “relax.” And…well, partly that is true. But the other part is something my friend Saskia wrote about, inspired by this article: There is a different between “self-care” and “resourcing.” Self-care is the spa day, or the massage, or the relaxing night at home. Resourcing is taking care of all the “life” stuff that you’ve somehow been neglecting. For me, before I can get into the self-care piece (hiking, painting, photography, etc), I need to take care of that resourcing bit that has eluded me for months. The resourcing part is almost done, I’ve got a few little projects I’d like to wrap up, and then I’ll have a few days truly to spend on myself, and then it will be time to go back to work. And for me, that sounds like the perfect sabbaticalette. (You know, because “two weeks in Europe” wasn’t quite in the budget/cards.)

How do you replenish yourself? Does the “self-care” and “resourcing” thing look different for you? If you had two weeks off, but limited funds for big adventures, what would you do?

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Authenticity

I don’t like scary acrylic nails or plastic shoes, and I don’t like overly photoshopped images. I don’t like artificial cherry, grape, or banana flavoring and I don’t like disingenuous compliments. I do, however, have streaks of purple in my hair and several plastic IKEA plants greening up corners of my home. So, my authenticity requirements are a little bit fluid and loose around the edges, I’m not some kind of hard ass.

Joshua Tree NP_feistyharriet_May 2016 (7)

I have struggled to fill this space lately, there have been the Big Life Things that only get a passing mention here, and Unbloggable Things that don’t get mentioned at all (let’s go to lunch, I’ll tell you ALL about it). I wonder what having this quasi-anonymous place is for, if not to be able to write about those things!? But, it’s hard to be completely authentic, even if doing so results in lower anxiety levels for me. Also, perhaps it isn’t always entirely healthy to share every thought and feeling and frustration every moment that I have it. (Besides, isn’t that what Twitter/Facebook is for?)

I feel like the last several years I’ve noticed a particular shift online AND in my real life away from the more genuine and towards something that feels more plastic-y, more artificial, more–dare I say it–“styled.” And I get it, I do. The Internet is not the same place it was 10 years ago, trolls are everywhere and you have to fiercely protect your own privacy and family. Hell, I don’t even write under my real name, I’m hardly one to complain about others who curate their outgoing messaging. But I also miss the days before the pretty filters, and the lightening-brightening tool, and the cropping out the unseemly, the messy, and the dark, in order to stay true to a “personal brand.” Whatever that means.

I know there are plenty of places where you still get the Real Deal, you see all the warts and the cracks and the scary bits of someone’s life. It’s a super vulnerable and scary thing to do, to open up and show your true self to the world. It’s probably easier to set up a nice little vignette, three paragraphs of words, or an image, and retouch it a bit to present a shined up version, the “better” version. And sometimes, we all do that. We have to, I think. We all filter ourselves as we interact with humans in our daily routine, and perhaps even more so as we put ourselves “out there” via Twitter or Instagram or blog posts or whatever. I think we’ve all found ourselves unsubscribing from a completely unfiltered feed, it’s too much, too extreme. But, do we also unsubscribe from the other end of that spectrum? Do we put so much value on the filters and the visual tricks that we lose sight of the beautiful and honest core?

The beginning of a new year–calendar or academic–is always a prime time for decluttering and simplifying my life. I unsubscribe from spammy email lists like crazy, weed out my closet, and get rid of the piles of unnecessary and unremembered stuff that tend to accumulate in the corners of my house. Simultaneously, I am also trying to clean up my own Expectations feed, to remind myself that my imperfect, feisty, sweary, nerdy, ranting, defend-the-underdog core is just fine. I need to remind myself that it is much easier to be myself, the sometimes petty, sometimes jealous, sometimes selfish, oftentimes kind (but also sometimes not, see: petty and jealous and selfish), usually nerdy, usually serious version of Harriet that has pulled me through to adulthood. I am not perfect, and that is okay. Sometimes (okay, most of the time), I’m not even trying to be perfect, and that is okay too. Year after year I get slightly better at being comfortable in my own skin, and therefore more honest and authentic about who I am and who/what is important to me; it’s a process.

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