Homebody

Every day now I am redefining my idea of home, of what grounds me in this life and where I hide from the bigger world when I need quiet and solace and solitude. Is it this rolling tin can of a “house” with its four aluminum walls and painted fiberboard interior? Is it my little family of husband and dog and the choices we make together for our days? Is it something I carry within me, separate from structure and routine and external validation?

I don’t really know yet. I suppose that’s part of what we’re doing out here, part of why we shook things up in the first place. And this not knowing is both thrilling and liberating and deeply uncomfortable. I swing from feeling wholly rooted one moment to entirely rootless in the very next. 

I am a homebody in the truest sense of the word. I love to be at home, to tinker in the kitchen and fiddle in the garden and rearrange the furniture so that “cozy” is always the most applicable adjective to describe the space. But I am also very much at home snuggled deep into my own inner life, under the soft knit blankets of my ideas and plans and imagination, thinking and wondering and allowing my curiosity to roam freely. And when I’m strong and running through the woods, when I’m connected to every muscle and sinew, I inhabit each millimeter of my body and know that it is home as well. 

So I’m finding that as we alternatively move and stay, I must take time each day to think about “home” with real attention, to consider where I will find my sense of home in this moment. It’s no longer a static place on a map, but a fluid idea that must take the shape of whatever container I have on hand at any given time. I am learning how to do this. I am learning how to be a homebody with no fixed address, to relinquish all of my old ideas about how that must look. And as I do this rather uncomfortable learning, I’m reminded yet again that cultivating meaning and purpose in my life is about honest, no-getting-around-it hard work, the work of growing, the work of deepening my understanding of myself and my world and where I fit into it.

Where do you find home?

Featured: Susan Lager's BlogTalk Radio Podcast

I was so honored to be invited to talk with psychotherapist and relationship coach Susan Lager on her podcast on Wednesday evening. We talked about the idea of "noticing" and the difference it makes in the quality of our daily lives and I can't even begin to tell you how much fun I had...this might be my favorite subject! While I definitely overused the words literally, absolutely, and, of course, noticing, I just loved the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite tools for practicing greater awareness and I hope you'll check it out and let me know what you think!

If you missed the live broadcast, you can find it here or listen below!

I'd love to hear your thoughts- leave a comment below!

I'll Take The Reminder

There is a grackle on our little deck who, by the sounds of it, is quite upset by something. His angry caws compete with the constant cheerful song of the passel of white-winged doves that have taken to spending their mornings in the skinny, gnarled live oak tree next to our camper. Someone is cooking bacon outside and the salty smokiness is making my mouth water as I take another sip of my coffee and think about my own breakfast. Behind the birdsong, I can hear a train whistle and the subtle ceaseless hum of I-35 and people talking to one another around the RV park we are calling home for these eight weeks.

Tessie and I have crawled back into bed and I’ve taken up my pen to jot down these early morning noticings. Justin is off at work and I think of him with more gratitude and appreciation than I can begin to articulate. It takes a lot of courage to agree to a lifestyle that requires you to face being “the new kid” every 2-3 months and he’s done it with his usual good humor and openness. This life on the road wouldn’t be possible right now without this and as I work to transition my business more entirely into destination and lifestyle work and submit more and more of my writing for publication, I am reminded daily of just how fortunate I am to have a partner who believes in what I have to offer this world and is willing to make sacrifices alongside me to help me build and grow.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and as I’ve said before, it’s simply not a holiday that particularly resonates with me in the traditional way. The idea that love looks like red roses and chocolate and fancy dinner out seems so…I don’t know…wrong, somehow. It seems to miss the very best parts of what deep and abiding love gives. Beyond the sexy (which is great, don’t get me wrong!), there is the not-so-sexy, the plain ol’ day-to-day partnership and life-building. To be seen and heard, to have a home in another person that is so rooted in trust it liberates you to explore and risk and grow and challenge every notion you have of your own limitations…how can Hallmark possibly capture that on a card?

But I’ve come to appreciate any day that honors love. Lord knows, the world can sure use as many expressions of love as we can throw at it right now and far be it from me to disparage a single one of them. And I can always use an extra reminder to tell the people in my life how much they mean to me, how grateful I am to them for all that they bring to my little corner of the world, how much my life is improved for the simple knowing of them.

So I’ll take it, this little “Hallmark holiday” of ours, and I’ll continue every year to embrace the very best of what it stands for. And I will do my best to apply its lesson to the other 364 days a year and share my appreciation for the love I am so lucky to have in my life, even when things are “un-sexy” or routine or less-than-perfect. I will continue to spend my mornings noticing the sounds outside my windows and the scents that waft on the air and how sweet our dog’s little face is when squished in sleep and how beautiful this damn life is even in the torn, ugly spots.

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I wanted to share a few last snapshots of our drive from Maine to Texas…we took a little side trip to the New River Gorge Bridge in WV, hit up a slew of bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, explored the wondrous Mammoth Cave National Park, wandered around Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas (not at all what you might expect!) and sampled a bit of craft brew, and had our first couple of nights “camping” in Walmart parking lots as we started to get crunched for time. I will share a bit of our Texas home next week…the impossible-to-remove astro-turf on our deck really classes the place up!

Departures

We fumbled the hitch into place and clamped it down. We plugged in the electric brakes and tested the connection. We took one last long look at the farmhouse and the view down to the river and we listened to the geese who have been congregating down at the bend where the tidal ice pops and cracks in the unseasonably warm January weather. 

I put my phone between me and the moment, used the screen and the desire to capture just a slice of the early afternoon sun and this moment of departure to create a tiny shield so that I wouldn’t have to look it all straight in the eye, something entirely out of character for me. I hit record as Justin put the truck in gear and began to roll forward, pulling our camper from its resting place and into the long driveway. As I hit stop and ran for the passenger side of the truck, I snuck one last look back before resolutely turning my gaze to the road before us and willfully ignoring the lump in my throat and the rock in my stomach.

Change is hard. Even when we know it’s exactly what we want to do and exactly where we should be in this moment, it’s difficult to let go, to release. Or perhaps that’s just me? I do have a tendency to hang on too tight. Even while I’m so very thrilled to be underway, so very eager to begin, I’m confronted by my own resistance to this choice we’ve made, this pain of departure.

I’ve been thinking so much lately about what I want to get out of this whole mess we’ve made for ourselves. And also what I want to give, how I can contribute something meaningful through this slightly odd life choice of ours. I don’t know the answers yet, and I suspect they will be ever evolving anyway, but I know that tucked in between the tremors of fear and the wild exhilaration and the creeping exhaustion of being an introverted homebody without a “home” per se, truth is at the heart of it all. I want to see myself and what I have to offer this world more honestly than I’ve ever seen them before. I want to question everything I think I know for sure and see if old truths stand up when examined carefully under the microscope of time and experience. I want to see clearly and notice when I’m allowing old baggage and old stories to shape my views. I want to find exactly the right words and craft them into sentences that create connection and understanding, that open me to honesty through and through. And I’m looking for more. More moments, more breakthroughs, more growth, more awareness, more truth. More everything

Large departures and small, external departures and internal...each carries with it a lesson and an opportunity to embrace the pain and ecstasy of growth.

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A little snapshot of our travels since leaving Maine two weeks ago today! I hope to be back to my regular Wednesday posts next week, but no guarantees- things on the road are a bit unpredictable and wifi simply isn't generally my top priority! 

 

Go Time

D-day is upon us, you guys. It's time to do this thing.

At times, this has felt like the world's longest transition, from selling our home, to renovating our camper, to adjusting to temporary camper life, to moving into this sweet little rental for the last few months as we wrapped up what we could of the life we've built here in Maine. At other moments, it's felt like the minutes were slipping past like sand and I've been struggling to find a way to hang on to them even for an extra breath or two. 

It turns out that time neither speeds up nor slows down, however, and we must simply bring our best awareness to the moments before us. Shocking, I know. So here we go. Unsure and a little shaky on our feet. It's sinking in that this is no two-week road trip vacation, but a decision for the long haul, a choice to change the years ahead of us. It lacks the glamour of the vacation road trip...it won't be all shiny vistas and unplugged adventure- we'll need to plug in, get wifi, have access to showers so we can go to work. We have bills to pay and responsibilities that we won't step away from. This isn't Travels With Charley or even Blue Highways, but rather some other story of long-term change that we haven't quite wrapped our heads around yet. 

Our journey will happen in three-month intervals, as Justin will be travel nursing and the average travel nurse contract is for approximately 12-ish weeks. While we'll drive away from Maine tomorrow without a specific nursing job in hand yet, we've decided to try to make our first official stop in the Austin/San Antonio area of Texas! We'll take 2-3 weeks to get there with a few stops along the way to see the sights and visit with friends and family. This is our very rough itinerary...let us know if you'd like to meet up for coffee along the way!

A: Leaving our sweet little rental cottage in Alna, Maine
B: Hugging Justin's folks long and hard in Hollis, NH
C: Visiting with our dear friends in Lewisburg, PA
D: Catching up with some family in Sharpsburg, MD
E: Doing some hiking in Shenandoah National Park, VA
F: Taking in some history and visiting a good friend in Williamsburg, VA
G: Hitting up our old stomping grounds and lots of wonderful friends and family in Durham, NC
H: Doing a little fly-fishing and remembering our relationship roots down in the Nantahala Gorge in NC
I: Taking some distillery tours and tasting some good bourbon on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky as well as hitting up Mammoth Caves N.P.
J: Soaking in the smallest National Park in Hot Springs, AR
K: Popping in to see family in Dallas, TX
L: Hoping by the time we make it to central TX, we have some sense of where to land (cross your fingers for us!)

If you know of somewhere along the way here we need to see/eat/drink/make merry, please let us know! We are planning on mosy-ing along and making the most of the journey!

So here we go, y'all. Hands clasped and breathing in long, deep breaths. While everyone we know seems to be building lives with deep roots, we are upending ours and hoping it turns out for the best. Send us your camping recommendations. Send us info on farms and organic markets where we can support local communities along the way. Send us the contact info for friends and family who can show us the ropes as we land in new places. But mostly, just send us your love and well-wishes...we'll take all we can get with gratitude.

 

Courage & Integrity

A few weeks before I graduated from law school, I made an appointment with a local tattoo artist. After months of denial and bargaining and flip-flopping, I had made the decision not to sit for the bar exam and to walk away from a career practicing law. I was terrified. I was overwhelmed. I had this roiling monster living in the pit of my stomach telling me that my decision-making was no longer to be trusted (wasn’t that what got me to law school in the first place…alongside the hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt that would now accompany me for much of the rest of my life?). Despite my success in school, I felt, unequivocally, like an enormous failure. I was 31 years old and beginning from scratch. Again. It seemed like everyone else I knew was settling into their callings, into careers and families and building big lives. And here I was, with years of toil behind me and a feeling of having nothing to show for it.

There are two very opposite and opposing sides to my personality. On the one side, I have my “oldest child” self. She’s a bit of people pleaser who thrives on discipline and organization and checking things off an immaculately organized to-do list. She’s the part of me who very sincerely adores making a beautiful home, cooking elaborate meals for family and friends, excelling in the rigors of a competitive learning environment. She loved law school, the way her understanding was stretched every day, the simple work of it, the challenge to wrap her head around complex ideas and nuance. She also loved law school because it satisfied her need for approval by others, the way people seemed to automatically assign her intelligence and capability upon learning that she was studying the law. Despite what the other parts of me knew, law school seemed to tell the world that I was a person in the midst of living up to her potential, and that “oldest child” part of me can be entirely too dependent on that sort of external validation.

And then there is my other side. I think of her as my “wild woman” (if you haven’t read Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s seminal Women Who Run With The Wolves, stop reading this right now, immediately go buy it, and prepare to savor her words and ideas over and over for the rest of your life). My “wild woman” is the part of me that has needed a little bit of risk all my life, who got grounded in third grade for riding her bike off of her friend's roof into the pool below, who savored (without even the tiniest hint of guilt) skipping high school to joyride around the Texas Hill Country, who felt like the whole of the universe must have irrevocably shifted when she was introduced to the outdoors and the big places away from other people. She’s the part of me who quit school in her final semester as an undergrad because she was too broken to continue and began her healing by walking alone with her backpack into Glacier National Park, knowing that the only path to wholeness was to battle her demons in the support of uninhabited and unparalleled beauty. She’s the part of me who came fully alive in my first season as a river guide, who felt a contentment and a rightness so bone-deep that I ached with the sheer beauty of my days. She’s the part of me who, when she allows herself to be pushed into a corner, will bite and claw her way out, setting every single bridge in her life on fire to escape if necessary. She can make a real mess of things when she wants to.

Over the course of my life, I’ve tended to swing between these two sides of myself, toward the extremes. So when cancer (and a body that couldn’t easily walk to the mailbox, much less paddle a river or carry a backpack), the subtle pressure to “get a real job,” a certain craving for intellectual rigor, all combined in a bizarre stew seasoned with the gravy of some complicated relationships, I decided to go to law school. It was the biggest swing I ever took toward my “oldest child” self, the most extreme end of that spectrum. I packed away my outdoor gear. I traded Carharts for navy suits and Chacos for matching pumps. In some ways, I thrived- I was good at law school and I truly loved the learning. But I never quite fit, I never quite managed to fully lose the uneasy feeling that this wasn’t my place, wasn’t where I should be. Sometimes I would pass an outdoor store or see a kayak on a car roof on the highway or go for a run and the “wild woman” part of me would start to writhe in the center of my chest a little, and I would feel suddenly like it was hard to breathe somehow.

So here I was, on the precipice of graduation, surrounded by classmates talking about job offers and preparing to put all that we’d worked so hard for over the past years to good use. And I was making a tattoo appointment instead (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course). It wasn’t my first tattoo. I had a few small ones from my late teens and early twenties- nothing particularly horrid, but nothing particularly good, either. But even those silly tattoos felt like a reminder of my wild woman self, the part of me who wasn’t cowed by the idea that I might someday wish I hadn’t placed ink on my body in a certain place or in a certain way. They were a comfort in that way, a tangible reminder that there was more to my story than navy suits and matching pumps. I wanted- I needed- another such reminder as I began to step off the path I’d been on for so many years.

I needed that reminder to be visible to me every single day, something not easily covered or hidden away. I wanted to keep all of the parts of myself out where I could see them, where I could keep an eye on them and pay attention when they began to show signs of neglect. I needed that reminder to be a mantra, a truth that could be a grounding force for my life, no matter my outfit, no matter my occupation. 

I was scared. I was scared that I was making a gigantic mistake, scared that I had all of this debt and no idea how I would pay it, scared that I would be a burden to my brand-new husband, scared that I would wither to nothing if I kept putting on those suits, scared that I would be one of the people I met in a chemo room who kept talking about all of the things they wished they’d done differently if only they’d known how little time they might have. I felt lost and directionless, not sure who I was or where to begin. I felt too far away from the world of guiding rivers and the me I’d been there and I wasn’t sure how to make my way back towards it from our little urban townhouse with two bathrooms. I'd recently had my eyes opened to the world of photography, but was struggling to see myself as creative…I had never taken a single art class in my entire life and it seemed self-indulgent to embark on an artist’s unpredictable life when I had more than $150,000 in student loans to pay off. But I also knew that once I’d seen that I couldn’t put on a suit every day, it was bell I couldn’t unring- there was simply no going back to pretending I could. 

So where do I start? Where do I stand when there’s nothing but shifting sand beneath me? What are the non-negotiables for whatever life I would lead next?

Courage and integrity. 

I kept coming back to these two words over and over. I needed to find the courage to seek the life I am called to lead, the courage to begin again as many times as I must to figure that out, the courage to call myself out on my bullshit excuses. And I needed that courage to come from a place of integrity. To be honest with myself and others, to fulfill my commitments and obligations, to take responsibility for myself and my life and my choices, to operate from my value system and to do the work to identify and evaluate that value system over and over and over again throughout my life.

So I tattooed those words on either wrist. You can make fun of me if you’d like, I don’t mind- I know it’s a bit cliche. I tattooed them in Chinese because I didn’t want others to be able to read them, I wanted them to be just for me, to serve as my own daily reminder each time I looked at my outstretched hands. And because I think the characters are beautiful and simple. And because the way they slash across my wrists reminds me of my choice to end the life I was leading, my choice to let the fear bleed out of my decision-making.  

I have been looking at them a lot lately. I’ve been leaning on them, needing that reminder once more. 

Because the fact of the matter is that I’m scared again. Excited, of course, but scared. Terrified, actually. In 8 days we drive away from this place, this community we’ve so loved. Today is Justin’s last day of work and we don’t have his first travel nurse job lined up. I don’t have any weddings booked because I don’t know where we will be. As of tomorrow, we are two nearly-forty-year-olds who are unemployed, soon to be homeless, and our savings isn’t sufficient to make it for long without work. I still have all of this student debt and I am once again not sure how I will pay it. Once again, it seems that everyone we know is building something in their lives- careers, families, homelives- and here we are, utterly dismantling ours. We have no idea what this will look like, where we will be in a year or two or five. We have no idea what we are doing. We have no idea if this will work. 

And so I look at my wrists and remember the last time I felt this unsure, this overwhelmed, this giddy with freedom and open-ended possibility, this petrified. 

Courage. 

Integrity.

These are where I start. And how I proceed. And how I will continue on. Over and over. Courage. Integrity. Courage. Integrity. 

Courage. 

Integrity.

And maybe a healthy dose of my ceaseless, occasionally damnable, curiosity tossed in to keep things interesting.