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.

Paralyzed

Firstly, I’m not actually paralyzed, all fingers and toes work perfectly fine, but thank you for your concern.

Secondly, I am totally paralyzed, but I’m not 100% sure the cause. I’m not sure if it’s a weird case of writer’s block, or just a super normal droll case of writer’s block. I can write in my journal just fine, I can write lengthy emails to friends just fine, but when it comes to this space I am…stuck? Afraid? Both? Something else? All of the above?

You know that quote “A rolling stone gathers no moss” which basically means that an object at motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest (thanks, Einstein), and it takes a significant amount of energy to get that rock rolling, or to stop it completely, but much less energy to keep it going along at whatever level of kinetic energy it is currently assigned…? Yeah, Einstein probably said it much better, but I’m not Einstein, so you get stuck with my paraphrasing.

I had all these goals and plans, and then Things Happened and I lost my mojo; I haven’t been going to the gym, I haven’t been writing here, I haven’t been doing many of the things that I love…and I’m starting to feel a literal strain, or tangible atrophy, that I’m not exercising those physical and mental muscles. I often have said that the hardest part of working out for me is just getting out the door, if I can do that I’m fine, but it is SO HARD for me to lace up my shoes and get my butt out the door. My mental lack of willpower is strong, yo. It’s tragic I can’t always harness it for positive forward movement. The hardest part of writing is that first paragraph on a blank page. As soon as I get my stone rolling I’m off like lightning, but that start? Ooouff. It’s a toughie for me.

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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Bad things always happen to good people

Point Bonita California_feistyharriet_July 2015 (6)

I have never in my life wondered “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Soul crushing grief eventually comes to us all. I think I somehow instinctively knew this, or my very early years were truly so horrible that I couldn’t ever imagine a world in any other way. I am never shocked or surprised at truly horrifying news. Sad? Always. Gutted? Often. Unable to get out of bed? Sometimes. Surprised? Never. The world is full of shitty people who do shitty things; the world is full of shitty things that affect people indiscriminately. All. The. Time.

A friend lost her parent far too soon.
Another lost her unborn babe, there was no more heartbeat.
Another lost his children, both of them.
Another lost his faith and footing.
Another discovered she’d lost her husband months ago to someone else, but he conveniently forgot to mention it.
Cancer, more cancer, young moms with cancer, teenagers with cancer, babies with cancer, beloved pets with cancer.
Being unable to protect the people who make up a million little pieces of your heart.

None of the above stories are my stories, they are all the heartbreak of friends and loved ones, people I would give up a kidney for if it could save them from a broken heart; for some I’d fight a full-grown grizzly bear. Their heartbreak absolutely affects me, deeply, but the circumstances don’t ever shock me. I guess that means I’m a pessimist–I expect the worst to happen to everyone at some point. Hell, The Worst will probably show up more than once.

I’m not a total pessimist, the hopeful part of me truly believes that, sooner or later, most of us will struggle back to our feet and keep shuffling along, even after The Worst has smashed us to pieces. We won’t be the same, we will never be the same, but we keep going. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who has the luxury of clutching her pearls and taking to her fainting couch for the rest of forever; eventually have to keep going. After a while it doesn’t hurt to breathe anymore, then we can go whole minutes at a time without falling to pieces. Eventually, we get up every day (or, most days) and we struggle to our feet and we keep going. We rely on friends, family, and strangers to help us along, but we don’t FullStop forever because our life is torn to pieces.

We all experience indescribable loss, hurts that should actually stop your heart and prevent you from feeling anything ever again. But we keep going. We may not want to, we may hibernate for days or weeks or even years, but most of us keep going. We help each other get up and keep going. We give a metaphorical kidney (or, you know, an actual kidney), or we send text messages that require no response, just to let them know they are loved.

In my time I’ve fought some battles, many for myself, some on behalf of someone else. I’ve got my scars and my war stories, and with a tricky combination of therapy, medicine, and sheer will power I’ve found a way to keep going. For now. But I 100% expect to be hit with another freight train full of bullshit, I 100% believe my life will be turned completely upside down again, torn to pieces, and then stomped on. It will happen. It happens to everybody. And all we can do is a) try to remember how to breathe, and then b) take the rest of it one step at a time.

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PS. For those who are struggling with demons too big, too torturous, and too overwhelming…even after they stop fighting, even after they are gone, there will always be a space in my heart where they will are safe and happy. Mike. Stacy. Daniel. Micah. Ryan.

A million colors of white

Van Gogh_feistyharriet_July 2016

I dabble a bit in painting, I would hardly call myself even an amateur, really. But it’s a fun hobby and I get a ridiculous amount of joy from an afternoon in my little studio with all those little tubes of paint, mixing and painting and remixing and painting on another layer.

There are probably a lot of lessons to learn from mixing and painting, but there is one that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’re trying to make an interesting painting–contemporary, abstract, realistic, whatever–you need lots of layers and subtle differences in color. Red is never just red, in fact, it’s most interesting when it’s got a little green in it. Blue is most interesting with a little orange or yellow in the shadows or highlights, respectively. And white and black are the most realistic when there are bits of all the other colors mixed in.

That image up there is a still life by Vincent Van Gogh hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. From across the room it looks like floppy white roses; but when you come up close, one white rose is lined in lavender, another in seafoam green, blues and purples, yellows and reds are probably more frequent than straight up Titanium White, the whitest white.

Consequently, the deepest, velvety black patches of paintings have bronze and purple, forest green and burnt umber, and sometimes even stripes of silver or yellow to offset those deep, rich dark colors. (Also, coincidentally, it’s a LOT harder to get a decent cell-phone photo of all that variation with unforgiving museum lighting and guards nervously pacing, anxiously intervening when they think you are too close. Ahem.)

I like to think about people in terms of those flowers, and the dark skirts of Victorian ladies, or the sumptuous midnight backgrounds of Dutch portraits, with gorgeous browns and vibrant reds and inky blues. We all have undertones and edges that change who we are, that reflect where we have been and what we have experienced. The variations and changes, the subtle glint when the light changes, the differences in perception depending on where you stand.

This is what makes us human. This is what makes us interesting. And this is what makes us so dang hard to understand each other, and so beautiful to each other when we finally can see all the colors and undertones and variations that work together for each, individual person.

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