The Last of Thirtysomething

This week I enter the final year of my thirties. It's oddly surprising to find myself here at the end of my fourth decade of life, to suddenly realize that my next birthday will begin a new decade and that I am firmly in the center of what is commonly referred to as "mid-life."

I am not dismayed by age or aging. Perhaps I would be more saddened by the lines around my eyes or the bits of sag here and there that seem to arrive overnight had cancer not strode so boldly into my life at an age when I still believed myself invincible and that time was something that stretched out luxuriously before me with no end in sight. Perhaps there are survivors out there that lament the grey at their temples or the softness that doesn't disappear with an extra run or two, but I've never met one. I am, inherently, deeply grateful for each trip around the sun I am granted, each year that I am given to work toward the potential I carry within me, to strive to grow and stretch just a little more and perhaps even put some small beauty back into this world that has given me so much.

Like so many others, I was deeply moved by Amy Krause Rosenthal's open letter published recently in the New York Times (if you haven't read it yet, grab some tissues and go read it now, I'll wait right here).  Her writing is that perfect combination of poignant, self-effacing, humorous, and brutally honest that every person who desires to put words on paper aspires to and this letter had me snot-crying by the halfway point. It struck me for the 875 millionth time that cancer is a fucking rat bastard thief and that, in this particular case, it stole not only this woman's future dreams and plans, this husband's partner, these children's mother, but it stole this amazing voice from the world. Fuck cancer.  I don't mean that in cutesy hashtag form, I mean FUCK cancer.  Fuck it.  

But I digress. In addition to being so very moved and in awe of this woman, her letter did what every story of someone stolen by cancer does, especially when it's ovarian cancer. It reminded me that I'm damn lucky to have survived, and that my body carries within it a lurking murderer who may, at any time, choose to steal my future and my husband's partner the way it stole my ability to be a mother. In his book Half Empty, David Rakoff says about remission, "The assurances are momentary, at best half comforting, like being told 'That's not a man in your room. It's just your clothes draped over the back of a chair casting a shadow, see? However, there IS, actually, an insane, knife wielding murderer loose in the neighborhood. G'night.'" Seriously. Did I mention fuck cancer?

So birthdays. Birthdays aren't lamented by me and neither is aging. I am so grateful to have made it nearly four decades and I am not beyond begging the universe for four more in any way that might get the message through. I love being alive and I love the incredible mess that being alive entails. 

I also feel the way I think most people feel as they get older, a bit surprised at how the time has passed, at the disparity between the self in my mind and the one in the mirror, to realize that if I'm lucky enough to get forty more years, I'm somehow already halfway through my precious time. And I find how others perceive my age utterly fascinating.  In a class I took in January, I was patronizingly asked by an early twenty-something if I knew what a smartphone was, and then ten minutes later, I was told by a dismissive sixty-something that I was too young to really "get it" yet. Apparently I am both too old AND too young to know anything worthwhile. Hilarious. 

All of this rambling to say what? To say that, holy crap...I made it to 39, y'all! I am here and I am breathing and I am, in this sweet moment, free from diseases that want to kill me. I will celebrate this gift of time and of years, of life and of lessons, of mistakes and of mess. I will bow my head in humble gratitude knowing that I did not earn them, that I was not more special or more deserving than those who did not make it this far. I will go forth in this final year of this whirlwind decade of my life and I will do everything I can to inch toward the exceptional human I know is inside of me (as is inside of us all). I will do my very best to bring more love and laughter and forgiveness and compassion and courage and beauty into this world that at times can feel broken. I will lift up others so that we might all rise together. I will reach and I will fail and I will get up and reach again.

And I will live. Loudly and without apology, I will live.

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We've been doing a bit of bouldering recently and have been loving Bull Creek Park along Austin's famed Greenbelt...

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?

Thinking Recursively

We hit the road in exactly four weeks and one day. Yikes.

No, we don’t know where we’re going yet.

I recently engaged in a discussion with a good friend of mine on the idea of recursion and recursive thinking. This is a complex idea rooted in a process calling itself. For example, a recursive definition is one which uses the word or concept being defined in the definition itself. Recursion pops up a lot in computer programming discussion where it is often initially described as the process of solving larger problems by breaking them down into smaller, simpler problems. 

I know I’m oversimplifying this concept, but since my discussion with Lisa, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of the recursive mind, of problem solving by first breaking things down into smaller problems. It’s sort of obvious, right? That in order to answer the big questions, we first have to answer all of the smaller building block questions? But it doesn’t stop me from initially feeling overwhelmed by the big questions, like…where do we go first when we drive out of Maine in four weeks?

So using recursive thinking, we begin by identifying the smaller questions:

  • Q: Where do we want to go? 
    • A: West. West. WEST. Anywhere that has mountains or canyons or whitewater or desert. Anywhere that gets us access to outdoor space and wilderness, preferably somewhere where I can begin to dip my toe back into the world of outdoor education and guiding

 

  • Q: What are our limitations? 
    • A: If we want to live in our camper, then we have to choose somewhere that won’t freeze (our tanks and water lines aren’t set up to handle freezing and cracked tanks/lines are just no fun!)
    • A: Justin will be working as a travel nurse, so somewhere that one of the agencies he’ll work through has a job
    • A: That job can’t be night-shift work (we tried the night shift thing…it doesn’t work for us- it’s not good for our health, happiness, or marriage and it’s a job deal-breaker)
    • A: That job can’t stick us in the middle of a city where access to the outdoors means driving 3 hours in traffic…getting outside is the entire purpose of this whole exercise, after all!

 

  • Q: What other considerations factor in?
    • A: Temperature considerations mean that our best bet for camper living means going somewhere also frequented by “snowbirds”…this means heavier competition for jobs, fewer pay incentives, and more expensive campgrounds
    • A: I have family in central Texas and some family matters that would be easiest to resolve in person

 

Sooooo…Austin? 

I think Austin is where we are going to aim for our first three-month assignment. If we can find Justin a travel nurse job. If we can find camping. If we can get the pieces to align. Cross your fingers for us.

In the meantime, we have four weeks and one day to take care of the 6,479 loose ends here. We have a truck bed to build out (we have landed on a very similar design to Becca Skinner’s #HappyTheTruck) and will be hammering away this Sunday in 20-degree weather! I have my last wedding of the season on Saturday (it's gonna be awesome!). We have paperwork that needs to be scanned and organized to accommodate our soon-to-be-fully-paperless life. We have some lingering camper-life questions to research and resolve (any recommendations on wifi extenders? the best methods for solar-ing out a camper? outdoor shower set-ups?).

Oh, and holidays to celebrate. And friends to spend some time with. And...And...And....

And we’re back to recursion…when the overwhelm begins, break it down into smaller problems. Simpler problems. Handle the small stuff and the big stuff begins to resolve itself. Recursion is my new best friend.

So maybe Austin…February-May…that has some serious possibilities...