Slow recovery

I like to dive into the deep end. I love this facet of my personality. I love that I dive head first into things - projects, ideas, relationships, hikes. I love complete absorption. I love to be absorbed and to absorb - everything about a person, a place, a project.

Most recently, I dove headfirst into a spring and summer of planning programming. First, the nonstop planning, incessant questions, mountain of details. Then the implementation, the program, the management. I’m sure you’ve had projects like this. The projects that require your 100% attention - to detail, to progress, to excellence. This project required all of me, and I’m not disappointed that I gave my all. I am incredibly pleased with the results of my summer and relationships I formed.

One result is a physical reality called adrenal fatigue - I’d been running on empty for so long that my body began to break down, and I have been experiencing symptoms like extreme fatigue, depression, inability to concentrate (or, function). It’s been difficult, and recovery is a long journey. I’m at the beginning of a very slow, long climb out of the Grand Canyon of recovery. True to my nature, I didn’t consider the conditions or the weather when I started my hike down. I just dove headfirst. Then I discovered what was hiding at the bottom.

Healing is taking my full attention has also taken a few things away - money, social energy, and in some cases, mental health. But what it’s giving me is a spiritual journey that I would never have uncovered without its assistance.

//when you think you’re going slow, go slower

When you think you’re going slow, go slower. Walk at a slower pace. Take things off your calendar. Pay attention to the fullness of your experience, rather than the fullness of your social calendar or to-do list. I’ve said “no” to SO.MANY.THINGS. I’ve slowed my social pace and extracurriculars to a slow trickle. And you know what? It’s paying off.

Personal wellbeing, personal growth, social justice, community development - these all take time. They take deliberate action, perseverance, and pacing.

//use your resources

One thing I love about my all-or-nothing nature is that I’ve discovered so many resources in the wake of this physical healing journey. I dove into bodywork, herbalism, functional medicine, and research. I struggled to find the right resources and the right answers for what is happening to my body. I refused to listen to an oversimplified version of what is happening to me, instead insisting on a full picture of my health.

Resources came to me in different forms - close friends, mentors, podcasts, medical professionals, Facebook groups. They came to me as surprises and from deliberate action. Each answer, each conversation, was the right one at the right time. Those things couldn’t have been possible without my vulnerability and my seeking.

So when you’re looking for something - an answer, a new job, a new resource - make your needs known. Don’t be afraid to express what you want. Surround yourself with the resources that could give you pieces of the answer. Then use that information to create your own answer.

//celebrate the wins

When you’re in any sort of physical recovery process, healing can seem s-l-o-w. In my case, it is. The physical and mental impact of my spring and summer of extremes changed my entire approach and outlook on life. What used to feel like “wins” can now sometimes seem out of reach. Perhaps in time I’ll be able to reach the higher goals again, but now I choose to celebrate. I’m becoming attuned to the small markers of recovery: an afternoon of energy, a full night’s sleep. A willingness to make social plans. I am learning to feel satisfied with a day of work that is moderately productive compared to the hyperproduction I felt this spring. I am learning to dig in and find true satisfaction in the small wins.

Finding our strength(s) in a weakness-obsessed world

I spent time with a friend of mine this Saturday at the High Museum of Art, drinking in a dance performance by gloATL. This particular friend shares my top strength in Clifton’s StrengthsFinder assessment - connectedness. This means that we both see how the world and the people in it are fundamentally connected. We see the world as a series of spiderwebs, with each human’s actions impacting all others in the web(s). And, when the world and our life experiences are challenging - think political turmoil, human rights abuses from our government, conflicts in jobs and relationships, our sense of connectedness is fried.

My own sense of the world has been fried lately - my physical health a challenge, my dating life… confusing, and the feedback in my professional life less than stellar. Add in systems-level challenges, I feel fried. I feel weak. The philosophy of life that I rely on when things are hard - that we are all connected, that rising tides lift all boats, has been tested.

The program I ran this summer exposed twenty five young African leaders to their top strengths. The tool asks us to consider how we fine-tune our strengths into superpowers. How we approach the challenging tasks and life experiences with those superpowers. It asks us to build the major muscle groups so that we can then turn toward the minor muscles. It ask us to think of weaknesses as simple the “edge” that we must contend with

In a world where we twitch to focus on things gone wrong, it was refreshing to be in a room honoring the things that are going well. It was energizing to watch African leaders, whose challenges and environments can sometimes be extreme, build a sense of their own efficacy in their positions. In a world where feedback on mistakes and constructive criticism abound, where it’s too easy to throw your hands up and express my soul felt nourished.

//with our children

One of my favorite things to do with the children in my life is to call out their successes and strengths. “You’re so brave,” and “what you did just now was really kind” is really FUN feedback to give a kid. When a creative, kind, compassionate child hears an adult acknowledge something they did well, they stand up taller and smile. A little seed of pride is planted. A seed that grows into character, into strength, and self-efficacy.

//in our minds

This summer has been one of my wildest personal health experiences. I struggled mightily with fatigue and hypothyroidism while executing one of the most intense programs of my life. As my boss noted - it chews you up and spits you out. I spent a lot of time focused on that fatigue this summer, and I spent a lot of time addressing it. “You’re good at self care,” my chiropractor friend told me. This reframed my approach. It reminded me that when one part of my life feels difficult, I can shift to another part of my life that feels easy. In this case, the casual comment from a healthcare provider reminded me that I can always rely on my ability to take care of myself.

//with our friends

“What do you know good?” was the particularly Southern way that my friend welcomed our whining-focused colleague. This particularly colleague was known for entering someone’s office, plopping down, and running down the litany of stress and anxieties in her life. What do you know good? or - what’s going well in your life? What is good in your world? What do you know that’s good? Quickly pivoting away from the litany, my friend masterfully changed the conversation to focus on the good things in life.

//in our jobs

Jobs give us ample opportunity to focus on failures, mistakes, and weakness. What if, for one feedback session, we celebrated our strengths - the strengths of our organizations, of our managers, and of ourselves? What if I start every sentence with “well, I know that one of my strengths is….” and go from there? What if I spent an entire session with my boss talking about the things I do well in my job? What kinds of seeds will that plant?

When care trumps idealism

I find it ironic that the last post I wrote here was about Amazon, and abstinence. Amazon, that monolith of consumerism. Abstinence, that word that hastens to memory the puritanical evangelicalism of my youth.

Just yesterday I was laughing about the irony that I wrote an entire blog post about not using Amazon, and then I proceeded to use Amazon for two months as a sweet sweet tonic to my exhausted soul.

You see, these last few months have been nothing short of challenging. The only way I know how to describe the level of fatigue I’ve experienced - clinical, documented, medical fatigue - is that I’m like a phone battery who won’t hold a charge. I charge overnight, only to wake up to 20% juice. Within hours, my juice is gone, and despite my deepest desires, I have to push through.

I am in week five of six of the most rewarding, incredible program I’ve experienced. I am not a participant in the program, but an administrator. A logistics person. The stage manager and answerer of questions. The solver of problems. The traffic cop and responder. Or, as one friend put it - “Erin is the operating system (picking up the iPhone from the table) - like, the OS.”

I’m good at these things. Good at traffic-copping and direction-giving. Good at logistics and details and demands. Good at answering 17 questions quickly and decisively. And, somewhere along the way, between a totaled car and a few dogsitting jobs, and a few crises here and there at work, my battery drained. There is no place to go but through, and so I continue, putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve spent a lot of money on myself these last few months. I’ve spent money on healthcare, on body care. I’ve spent money on healthy food and not healthy food.

And I’ve spent money on convenience.

You could say that I’m no longer abstinent.

Or, that I’m allowing myself the grace of self-care, and ignoring the angel on my shoulder who speaks in mildly critical tones that I’m doing the wrong thing and abandoning my ideals.

Because, when your care requires it, you order the Instacart delivery

Because, when your care requires it, you order takeout

Because, when your care requires it, you order toilet paper on Amazon

Because, when your care requires it, you do the convenient thing

In the grand scheme of life, I’m extremely committed to my ideals. I want a world free from Amazon’s monopoly. I want a world of no plastic straws, no styrofoam packing materials, and no food waste. I am actively working toward that world for myself.

AND, when my body is so fatigued that walking to the train feels like a feat, I am forced to retreat from my ideals and my self-criticism. I am forced to silence the voice in my head that to push that 1-click button is to backslide on all of my progress. I am invited to give myself the care, nourishment, and patience that I need and deserve, even when, and especially when, that requires a Prime order.

Amazon and Abstinence

I spent the month of April abstaining from Amazon. Well, almost abstaining. I did slip up once - to order a Kindle book because it’s JUST. SO. EASY.

That Bezos billionaire and his peeps sucked every bit of information from the HQ2 contenders that they could, amassing oodles of tax information and development data, potentially having already selected a 2nd location before courting these cities. They had mayors and state legislators eating out of the palms of their hands, handing over tax breaks and data in prettily wrapped packages, their eyes shimmering with the promise of the corporation setting up shop in their metropolis.

Atlanta was a contender. Amazon’s presence would have meant a lot for this city, economic development would be booming (or so the state legislator and mayor’s office were led to believe).

This Bezos behavior isn’t unlike riding the Tinder train to see how many free meals or hookups you could get before returning home to your pre-selected suitor. Maybe that behavior fits into your ethical puzzle, but it’s not really something I want in my life.

Before I go further, I want to say - I’m sure Amazon does good in the world. Every corporation has a pretty package tied up in corporate social responsibility speak. But the news I hear of Amazon’s bad behavior is enough to make me stop and think - is this where I want to be spending my money?

You see, I come from a community where local banks and businesses sponsored little league teams. I come from Wednesday night suppers at church and potluck dinners. I come from sharing extra produce, and farm stands on the side of the road. Perhaps I carry some sort of outdated nostalgia for local businesses and community, but I really think we have a choice.

We could spend our money on Amazon’s packaging and convenience (which someone really pays for in the end) or we could press pause and think a moment before we use that 1-click button.

I feel less calm about this post than others. It’s spilling out of me like a little bit of self-righteousness, but I contend that it’s more of a fervor for the return to community. The sheltering of our tax dollars and our support for local businesses. The demand for more relationship in our transactions. We have become so addicted to convenience that connection has been taken off the shelf. We’re more inclined to click a few buttons on an app than to go through a line in the grocery store and say a friendly hello to someone paid to make a service pleasant. Chick-fil-A and Target and Starbucks make it so easy to pre-order food that now we barely have to say hello to someone before filling our stomachs with sugar and unnecessary home decor.

Yes, I feel fervor-ish. I feel sad. I feel like we are losing something. The bank drive through used to have suckers for kids when we drove through the drive through. I would look forward to saying hello to the teller and getting a sugary treat when my mom went through the bank. We knew the folks that owned the Mexican restaurant and the Cajun place. We knew the cashiers at the grocery store.

What is the outcome? What future do we foresee, apps and drones making our lives so convenient that our sense of community slowly seeps away?

So, I abstained. The result was - less convenience. It’s more… slow. I have to consider how I might acquire certain things before opening a website or clicking an app. I have to stop and think a little bit about the supply chain of the item that I pick up, instead of having a few (oversized) boxes plop at my door in a mere 48 hours. I have MORE than 48 hours to wait for something to arrive at my door, or in my hands, or in my kitchen.

It hasn’t been the most comfortable month, but it has been more intentional. I dearly wish to keep my dollars in my community - to support farmers instead of Whole Foods, to buy books from independent booksellers instead of the Amazon marketplace. I want to know what it feels like to walk into a bank and greet a cashier by name, or to know the person who makes my coffee, or to know the seamstress who made my clothing.

Convenience doesn’t trump community. Convenience numbs us, removing the unpleasantness of some of our daily tasks, the things we must do to keep ourselves alive. And convenience suffocates us, allowing us to amass incredible amounts of possessions in little to no time. Let us find the ways to balance these things, to think intentionally about the impact of our dollars and decisions. May we find a way to truly connect with a person during a transaction, to taste the coffee and the community, the connection and the freedom.

Making Space: Constraints & Choices

The first time I went to WalMart in 2006 when I returned from three months abroad, I almost had a panic attack in the light bulb aisle. It wasn’t pretty. Light bulb aisles are overwhelming on a good day, but on this particular day I was in the throes of the return, coming back to a first world country from a third world country. Returning from a place where meals and schedules were prepared for me, where the simplicity of summer camp had ingrained in me a trust for the wisdom of kids, the security of a group, and the wonder of being in East Africa.

I was immediately overwhelmed by all of the choices before me. Light bulbs! Light bulbs shouldn’t be complicated! Why are there so many choices? My head was spinning and the fluorescent light bulbs above me were buzzing and there were people everywhere and I had to leave. I took my tired body outside and sat on the curb. Called my mom and told her where I was. Tried to breathe without hyperventilating.

This isn’t an uncommon reaction to a return-to-the-U.S. Perhaps it’s the novelty of being away or the separation from our physical things, but reverse culture shock is a very common experience. My brief stints living abroad have all created containers for a simple life. In many cases, I had no cell phone, I had no bills, and I had only a walk to and from my place of work. Grocery shopping was simpler because I could only bring home a few bags, and I was often broke. Commuting was simpler because I was either living in my place of work (a hostel) or less than a mile’s walk from the home I was nannying in.

I think about this experience a lot. I’m convinced that we are entranced by the promise of choice. But it’s a paradox. Too many choices can make life difficult. Too many cereal options can cause stress. Too many light bulbs can make a person hyperventilate.

When I feel overwhelmed - and I often do - I remember to narrow my choices. I start from the light bulb moment (haha, get it??) and work my way back. I try to find the simpler option, the more constrained path, the store with the fewest cereal boxes. I avoid stores altogether and order groceries online. I focus on a color scheme for my wardrobe. I write 3 tasks on a post it and put all of my other papers away. I close my tabs.

What is overwhelming you right now? Could you perhaps be paralyzed by too many choices? Could you narrow the field, limit your resources, omit some options?

Making Space: Constraints

I remember clearly a conversation I had on the phone with my mentorsister Jill while I lived in Pine Lake. I was complaining about something or another, perhaps frustrated with the slower pace in life, feeling out of place in the sequestered and beautiful community of Pine Lake, concerned about something going on in my relationship.

She said, “constraints force creativity” and referenced an artist’s palette, the forced creativity of a small number of colors, the expression created in a few shades of grey and black, the simplicity of a charcoal painting.

Constraints force creativity.

I live in Avondale now, a semi-suburb of Atlanta. It is beautiful and quaint, carefree and small. It is just beyond the town of Decatur, still on the train line, and still ITP - inside the perimeter - or, the geographical mark of a true Atlantan. Still, I feel sequestered. A friend referred to it as the “frontier” and I can count the number of gasps I’ve heard from my intown friends about the move I made “all the way out there".

It is far, and it feels far. I have come to understand myself as an urbanist, a walker. I like having things nearby and at my fingertips. I like accessibility and walkability. I like options.

Yet there is something in my spirit that craves the constraint of the far away. My “country manor” is simple and limited. It forces me to consider my plans. It forces me to power down and truly rest. My quiet space is abuzz with bees and birds instead of train noises and freeway sounds. I’m a walk’s away from one Waffle House, one coffee shop, one brunch spot, and a newfound apothecary inside a small gift shop. There is a farmers market and a record store, a lake and a pizza cafe.

It is just enough. Just enough to make my frenetic mind slow down. The constraint of “just one” of each of these options means I get to be a regular at new places. The limitations of simplicity mean that I listen to my breath more. The far-away-ness means that I am more deliberate about my plans.

I think that I like the constraint, for now. I crave urban life but I also know that there are complications that come with more options. We are a nation of more-more-more. So, when I have the opportunity to live less-less-less, it feels like a fair and good and beneficial challenge.

I want to live into and consider this constraint, and others. Perhaps there is a spiritual lesson unfolding in the just-enough. Perhaps there is a generosity embedded in the far away. Perhaps there is a nuance and luxury in the constraint.

In Praise of Materialism

Did you take a moment to feel the fabric against your skin? Really revel in the smell of the shampoo, feel the soap run down your thigh? Have you marveled at the joints of your dresser? Or appreciated the careful hems of the seamstress? Does the mug in your hand inspire memories of watching the potter at her wheel? Is there a piece of art whose every stroke you memorized? Do you dine with a hand to the stem of a wineglass, the smooth clarity pulling you to center? Did you see the way the carpenter carried the lumber, shaped the spindle, cradled the curve? Is it just me? Is it me whose skin responds with gratitude to soft linen? Whose hands pick up every mug as if to consider its fit? Am I the only one who courts clothing and drools over fine cloth?

Were that we knew the finery of life, but not just for finery. If we are clothed in slapshod mass production, do we come to understand ourselves as cheap and unworthy? Does it matter how you dress yourself in the morning? If materials come from the hands of a maker or the output of a factory?

Is there a direct line from the maker of a product to my skin? Is there a correlation between the appreciation of a craft to the appreciation of my home? Whose work do I choose for my walls, and how will my eyes take them in? Am I a curator or a consumer? Do I walk blindly through the aisles and, drunk on input, throw things into my cart? Am I wielding my credit card with carelessness or with deliberate action?

It is not privilege that I seek, or to keep up with those elusive Joneses. It is the materialism of the Shakers, the fine baked good from a Mexican bakery, the careful creation of the pastry artist. I want the Amish quilt, the Danish chair, the small cup built from local clay. I am interested in craft and curation. I’m interested in careful consumerism, a considered life, an appreciation of the life span of a material, the relationship between the consumer and the creator, the deep pleasure of knowing that something was held carefully between informed and reverence hands. The deep pleasure of knowing that my own hands have become informed and careful, appreciative and honoring, reflective and grateful.

Wise Words: John O'Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

//John O’Donohue

Making Space: How to Slow Down

I spent the weekend gallivanting around town in a borrowed car. I’m dogsitting and it’s been a wonderful week, full of convenient travel, going to places I’ve never been, and driving on interstates. I miss driving, but I realize during these weeks that there are reasons I love being car free. I’ve felt a little tumbled about this week, like my insides are in a washing machine or a giant tumbleweed in the desert.

I’ve thought a good bit about why my body feels this way, and I realized that it’s probably due to the existence of a car in my week. You see, I don’t spend much time in cars anymore. I’m back and forth between my apartment in Avondale and the train station, and then around downtown, in my office and back again. Most of my life activity takes place along one train line, the east/west MARTA line in Atlanta. I’ve deliberately made choices that put me close in proximity to my daily and weekly activities, and having a car hasn’t been a necessity for about three years. When I have a car, it feels like a surprise, a big treat! I take advantage of it by putting things into my schedule that don’t normally exist.

To counter the feeling of being tumbled around in a washing machine, I’ve taken some moments to think through how I can slow down, make space in my days, and calm my reeling body.

// walk slowly

I’m a “leave me alone and do not talk to me” fast sprint walker. I have learned that the way to ignore catcalls and daily comments from passersby is to walk like you’re late, headphones in and head down. Street harassment is a topic for another writer, or perhaps another post, but suffice it to say that when you’re a walking female-identified person, street harassment is an issue. I’ve tried to take more deliberate steps, moving away from my New York City sprint to a more leisurely stroll. I may never be a calm walker, but I’m trying to be present in my body, my feet, and my surroundings as I travel by foot.

//create triggers

One of my favorite ways to increase mindfulness in my day is to create triggers for myself. For example, walking to the water cooler or to get coffee can be a trigger for me to take deep breaths, look around, and redirect my thoughts from the constant motion of my work brain to the reality of my physical self. I use a real plate and silverware for lunch most days, and stopping to wash those things gives me access to a new sensation- warm water and soap, and lets my body engage in my work environment in a different way. You could try breathing deeply on your elevator or escalator rides. You could let the car door closing signal a moment of mindfulness. You could take a cue from Mr. Rogers and calmly and quietly change out of your work clothing into more comfortable home clothing. There are thousands of moments in our days that can serve as gentle reminders for us to stop and reengage with our bodies. I’m sure you already have a few ideas. Try implementing them and report back.

//eliminate noise

This week I’ve been challenging myself to put away my phone during the day and to stay off of gchat (my most alluring workplace distraction). Perhaps there is something that is constantly pulling your attention from the present moment. Is your cell phone sitting next to your computer mouse? Is it in your pocket when you’re walking around? Do you take it with you to the bathroom? Do you have seventeen tabs open on your browser and an equal number of programs open on your dock? Is your desk littered with post it notes and empty water bottles and coffee mugs? Pick one of those things and make a deliberate choice to change it today. Sink into a quieter environment, let your mind rest, and become a few percentage points calmer.

//eat mindfully

How many of your lunches have you eaten at your desk, or in the car, this week? I’ll admit that I have become a desk-eater, which is never an identity I wanted for my working self. What I do love about my desk eating ritual is that it requires me (usually) to use a real plate, a real fork, and sometimes a cloth napkin. Interacting with different textures and looking at real food gives me a chance to let my mind rest from its normal warp speed worrying. Food is so visceral. It is texture and sustenance and fun and enjoyable. I want to know that my time spent eating on this earth was spent trying to honor the ways that food sustains my physical being.

//

I’m considering getting a car this summer. I anticipate that this will add a lot of freedom to my life, but I also anticipate more complications. Right now, I have a simple life by default, and by design. I try to limit my daily events and activities to a manageable number of things I can do while walking or taking transit. But life with a car has infinitely more possibilities. I will have to work to be more deliberate and calm. I’ll have to build in more mindfulness and perhaps be even more guarded about my schedule. But I’ll have the wind in my hair and the ability to get into nature. I’ll have a dog-carrying device and a vehicle to use to carry my favorite kids to new adventures. I’m excited about the possibilities, and looking forward to the challenge of living slowly with more access to speed.

Making Space: Community

Not too long ago, I wandered into Candler Park on a really terrible day. We’d just received news about a pretty big decision in our denomination, and my heart was aching from old wounds and fresh pain. I left work early that afternoon, found my way to the train, and walked to my church. I shared space with our director of worship, painting the backgrounds for what became new, vibrant pillars of color in our sanctuary. I sat with my seminary student friends, talking shop and talking crap, being goofy and mourning. I listened in on conversations of great importance. I ate Girl Scout cookies.

We stood around outside chatting, and I walked down the street to grab a few groceries. I stopped by again after my trip. Across the street, some friends were walking home from school with their kids. A few folks walked up to chat. We kept standing around, shooting the shit.

I walked to the train. On the way, I was passing through the parking lot in front of my yoga studio. Out walked the owner, who has become a friend. She gave me a huge hug, on her way to a retreat. She told me she loved me.

I walked to the train. I passed more neighbors, people whose faces I am only slightly familiar with. I walked by the home of one of my buddies at church. I appreciated the familiar sidewalk. I appreciated the familiar train.

I’ve thought a lot about this experience and how symbolic it is of the life I’ve created. I am a person deeply committed to place, and somehow I’ve found my way into the fabric of this community. I’ve woven myself in. I’ve shown up, even when I haven’t felt like it. I’ve been loyal. I have been a person, for better or worse, who has been in this city for almost a decade. I’ve met business owners and teachers, servers and bartenders, preachers and baristas.

I’m not bragging; I’m grateful. I am honored to be known and to know others. There is something really sacred about being a regular. There’s something about knowing the stories of your chiropractor, your hair stylist, your massage therapist. There is something about knowing the ages or names of your barista’s kids. There’s something about knowing the stories of the business owner down the street, being able to catch up on the gossip, or being able to greet friends when they come in the door. There’s a special kind of significance to receiving a warm greeting from the security guard when you come back from a week of vacation. It is an honor to be a part of a community. It is a pleasure to be a friend to many.

My father taught me the special meaning of knowing people. He is a person who can run into a friend in an airport half a world away, on another continent. He’s a person who knows the cousins and grandparents and nicknames of the guy at Home Depot. One reason I love this is because when I’m out in town with him, I feel like we belong. I feel connected to my heritage, and to the stories and jokes and friendships of my ancestors. I feel like I’m part of my family, a true Oakley. I feel rooted, and significant.

Our lives are made up of those consistent interactions - those weekly coffee shop visits, the “how are ya” conversations with folks you see on a regular basis. The shared inside jokes and water cooler gossip moments. We are influenced by our daily interactions. A bad day can be made better when someone greets you warmly when you walk in for a muffin. A great day can be made better when you realize that five of your work friends have come into the same shop over the course of your hour there. A hard day is made better by a hug from a friend in the lobby.

I am known by my community, and that brings me a sense of stability and peace that didn’t exist before. The first time I ran into someone in the grocery store in Atlanta, I was thrilled. I’d made it! This was home! Now I run into people in the grocery store, on the train, on the street, in the coffee shop, in the parking lot, and in the lobby. I’m overrun by connection and being known. I hope I seek to make others feel the same sense of being known, the same sense of belonging, the same sense of safety, love, and rootedness.

A Rare Breed

My grandparents are a rare breed.

My grandmother, Claudine, is a wonderful and generous soul. My memories of her are made up of the bright floral polyester shirts she makes for herself, always in the same pattern, and paired with a simple slack. To complete the outfit, she’s taken to covering her low pumps with the same fabric as her shirt. There’s a closet in her home filled with bright floral polyester, and it might be my favorite place in the world. When we were young, the back room at my grandparent’s house had an old brown refrigerator filled with store brand sodas. I drank ginger ale and root beer, knock off Coke and Dr. Pepper, chasing down the old fashioned peanut butter bar candies that were always kept on hand. My grandmother makes a pound cake for every one of our gatherings, and for a while, my princess-favorite-granddaughter status guaranteed that I had a carrot cake to consume while my family members begged me to ask for their favorite cake. I took bribes.

In the den of my grandparents’ home there is a collection of framed photos hanging around a clock. They’re not framed photos of our family, or pieces of art collected over the years. Instead, they’re photos of their home. You see, the home my grandparents share is a bit of a puzzle. It started as one room, now the kitchen, and has expanded over the years, starting with a den, and then a living room, bedrooms, and additional bathrooms. Every iteration of the growing home is captured in fading photos, framed and hanging on my grandparents’ wall. I love those photos, the growth and evolution. I love thinking of which pieces were added first, whether the vinyl couch ever sat in a place other than where it is now. I love the pink carpet and the record player cabinet in the formal living room, and the memories of the brown and tan carpet that was there when I was a kid.

My grandfather is a Navy man. His young sailor face sits framed in that pink-carpeted living room. My cousin and brother are the spitting image of the young Abner. “Annie”, they called him at Delta when he worked in the machine shop. James Abner “Annie” Oakley. Abner is a musician, a dancer, an entertainer. He plays around with his stand up bass, Johnny Cash in imagination. He goes to monthly dances and makes all of the old ladies swoon. He washes the dishes every night, fries chicken fingers for us at Christmas, and makes sausage balls, the thought of which make my mouth water. I live for my grandfather’s hugs. He’s a back scratcher and a cheek kisser, and he often sweeps me into a little dance with a wink and a cheerful smirk on his face.

I know my grandparents wish that we would all live together on the family property, just a holler’s distance away. We drive through Fayette County while they recount all of the memories of dirt roads and “necking” and naughty things they did as teenagers. There is never a shortage of stories of pranks that my paternal great grandmother pulled on the family, never a beat missed between jokes and stories recounted at family gatherings, never a mouth left empty of pound cake, or chicken fingers, or German chocolate cake, or sausage balls. I still get my carrot cake every now and then, specially requested. I still get swept up in a waltz with my performer goofball grandfather. I still wonder what the next iteration of that home could be, what it would look like if my sentimental cousin or I move into it, renovate, and keep the legacy going.

The foundation of the home is shaky, the tresses below questionable. My dad crawls under the house every once in a while to fix something, and comes back above ground, shaking his head. I wonder if it will be torn down, this home. This ranch home that started as a one room cabin. This long legacy of memories, this sweet homeplace, dance floor, Christmas gathering spot, cake baking haven, holder of stories and jokes, framer of family, hug central, floral polyester storage space. Maybe the foundation is crumbling at the same pace we build our own foundations, our own sense of homeplace, our own stories. But we won’t soon forget the refrigerator in the back room, the pink carpeted living room, the smell of freshly baked poundcake, the feel of a long back scratch, and the warm welcoming hugs from our wonderful, rare breed grandparents.

Making Space: Creating and Curating

The tagline for this blog was almost “Creating and Curating” because I felt a pull towards two actions that directly challenge the act of mindless consuming. When I am in creation mode, I am thinking of using things that already exist - intellect, words, ideas, media, materials, groceries, detritus, pieces of nature, and putting them together in a new format. The act of creation is sacred. It was, in fact, the first thing that the divine spirit reports on doing with their time. To create is to imagine a new thing out of old things. It is to put together a puzzle of existing pieces into a beautiful new item.

We are humans, built to create. Newness is innate in us. Give any adult a ball of silly putty or play-doh and watch them go to work. Put a paintbrush in the hands of a toddler and see what happens. We sing in the shower, we mix cake batter, we paint our walls new colors. Creation is inevitable, and it is innate. It is also healing and renewing, if we but allow ourselves a break from consuming to become immersed in a new thing. If we but allow ourselves grace to fail and be beginners. If we turn away from perfectionism and insist that to make something new is valuable just because it is.

In curating, we are taking things that already exist and matching them with others. We are building an experience, or a variety of experiences. We are carefully constructing and environment, an experience, a relationship or collection. I had a friend once who talked about this act of curation, and I began to ponder it for myself. What would it look like for me to curate my life? To carefully consider each added relationship or experience, each article of my wardrobe or art for my wall? What does a curated set of relationships mean? How might I be careful about constructing my calendar and considering my time?

In creation and curation, there is a considered and deliberate sensibility. We become agents of our own lives instead of receivers. We are proactive instead of reactive. We think carefully and respond instead of reacting from some lizard-brain place. In creation and curation, we are living into the deepest parts of ourselves, the part that lives with the divine in the deep. We are connected to the darkness before the world came into being. We are in the soil below the surface, pulling in nutrients and pushing up through to sunlight. We are deliberate designers of our lives, thoughtful creators, peaceful practitioners.

From Cait Flanders’s considered post:

We are porous, highly susceptible creatures whose words and actions are affecting each other constantly. We’re taking cues from each other in every moment about who and how to be. The consequences of this are pretty massive. Everything is contagious. Every word, every action, every tweet, every Facebook post is a contribution to the collective. Every encounter affects us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and then that affects our next encounter, and our next, and so on and so on. We are wildly underestimating the impact we have on those around us. Those of us who are visible—and by that I really mean all of us—have a beautiful and holy opportunity. We can be contagiously good.
— Josh Radnor 

When I break free from my cycles of consuming, I find myself closer to who I am really meant to be. In writing, I connect with the inevitable flow. In throwing clay, I remember that I am formed of clay, in careful calendaring, I’m less of a victim of time and more of a conductor of the symphonies of my experiences. When I protect and consider my belongings, I feel my experiences become richer. I am creating and curating every day. The question is, am I doing it deliberately?

Inspired: Zero Waste

Have you heard of the term “zero waste”? It floats around in my blog reading so much that I assume it’s something that is familiar to everyone, but perhaps you haven’t encountered the term before!

Zero waste is a movement that promotes gradual and radical behavioral changes for the elimination of wasteful consumer practices. I understand zero waste to be the change of both consumer strategies and elimination strategies - changing both input and output.

I find zero waste to be fascinating on many levels, but mostly it feels like a game - how little can I consume? How can I change my practices so that I don’t throw things away so often? How little trash can I create in a day/week/month? How few things can I have delivered to my home, and how little packaging can I employ?

Beyond my personal practices, this is a much bigger policy question. We’ll get into that later, when I can explain it more succinctly. Suffice it to say that unless we change the practices of our cities, companies, corporations, and governments, we’re making little impact. I do think our collective small and personal actions have an impact, but unless we are actively advocating for change at a larger scale, we won’t make much progress.

Zero waste, in my experience, isn’t a system of shaming or a self-righteous practice. It’s an enthusiasm towards changing our practices and it almost feels like a game.

Here are a few things I’ve changed:

//groceries

I love investing in a CSA for several reasons: 1. It’s stunningly convenient and I despise going to the grocery store. 2. My box comes with very little waste! Beyond a few small plastic bags, I’m able to forego the usual grocery store detritus and save some energy and 3. I get to support local farmers.

//compost

I’d been keeping my compost in the freezer and depositing it into a plastic container outside of my apartment, but this strategy isn’t the best. For one, I don’t actually thing it’s effective. Instead, I am now using CompostNow, which delivers and picks up buckets of compost at your home and then returns compost to you at your request! This is satisfying so many of my needs, and I love having a use for all of those veggie scraps that come out of my CSA box.

//soap

Sevananda, a local food co-op, sells bars of soap in bins (and castille soap in bulk!). I’ve switched from my liquid soap and body wash life to a more sticky, but more sustainable bar soap life. I actually really like the anticipation of a new bar of soap. I like how soap smells and looks, and how many options there are! Bestowed Essentials sells soap “loafs” with even less packaging.

And a few I’d like to change:

//farmers market

I love farmers markets, and I plan to go weekly to the small market in my town. Perhaps I can form connections with some farmers, maybe bring my compost to them (!!) and eliminate even more waste from my personal life-cycle. Here’s a list of Georgia farmers markets.

//amazon

I use Amazon Prime more than I’d like to admit, and the amount of packaging and waste that comes with the addiction is pretty astounding. I’m considering cutting Amazon out of my life altogether. My wallet (and my sense of ethics) will probably thank me.

//coffee

I plan to bring in a small container to collect our coffee grounds at work to add to my compost bin at home. We go through at least four pots of coffee daily, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask of my coworkers to deposit the coffee grounds into a small container rather than the trash can nearby!

//sharing economy

I wonder how many things I could borrow when I need them, rather than buying them? Recently I borrowed a dress to wear to a wedding, an umbrella for a rainy afternoon, and a book for a nice read. I’d like to encourage and live into a practice of sharing. We are numbed into a sense of self-sustainability when we purchase every little thing that we think we need. I’ve learned a lot about the beauty of sharing by living without a car (more on that later!) and love to take advantage of sharing my things.

//

Wherever you are on the journey, there are possibilities! Perhaps you consider making one change this month? April is the month of abundance, of spring and of creation and of beauty. Maybe we can honor that sense of abundance and make a few changes in this our practices! Check out a few tips here:

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Yesterday I sat at the park for about an hour and watched a rotating doubles game of volleyball. It’s a beautiful game when played well - it is a dance and a challenge, a game filled with angles and surprises and shouts and whispers. I loved playing volleyball growing up, and want to get back to it now.

My volleyball days come back to me often in metaphors and memories. Volleyball is such a beautifully technical sport. One thing I loved about it, beyond that fact that it didn’t have to run a lot, is that it is built up of a thousand of tiny nuanced angles and practices. One minute difference in how my arms are angled could mean the difference in a ball hit inside the court or outside the court. Timing and practice and practice and timing are SO necessary to playing a good game.

My brother and I learned the game together, on the sand courts of our childhood church. Our parents had played volleyball and wallyball (ask me about it, it’s fun!) for years, and we were thrown into the mix rather early. I played against tall teenagers and very skilled players, and learned to return a hard hit. I maybe still brag about it. My brother and I learned, over hours and hours spent on the court together, that consistency is key in building a good skillset. Consistency and repetition build muscle memory. Consistency and repetition are the practices that differentiate a good player from a beginner.

With consistency comes form and agility. With consistency comes this incredible knowledge of the habits, strengths, and weaknesses of a team. With consistency comes stability. With consistency comes knowledge that one bad day won’t ruin the whole batch. With consistency, the pathways in our brains are strengthened and we become better all around. As I’ve pondered this way of being in the world, I’ve started thinking more about how consistency benefits. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

//subconscious thoughts

I’ve been trying to pay closer attention to the b-roll of thoughts in my head lately. Especially in the mornings, I can be very fearful and anxious. I realized that I am subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) expecting failure or difficulty during the day. In an effort to protect me, my ego assumes that there is danger everywhere.

What if I challenged those thought by repeating a positive phrase to myself? “You are safe” or “all will be well” or “you are loved”. I feel the effects of just one phrase being repeated to me over and over at church - you are loved, just the way you are. When the message of love and acceptance sinks in, I become more confident. I walk through the world more full of love. I accept others more willingly.

The more we wield our negative thoughts against ourselves, the more likely we are to believe them. In contrast, the more we repeat promises, good words, and affirming phrases to ourselves, the more we believe we are worthy of love and affirmation. We become the things we consistently repeat to ourselves.

//good habits

In my new favorite life-changing book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear references a person who lost a great deal of weight in their physical body by asking themselves “what would a healthy person choose?” What a question. I so often go to comfort food or comfort thoughts when I feel down. I worry or eat or numb myself in different ways to avoid feeling pain. Recently, though, I’ve been asking myself - “what would a healthy person choose to do?”… would a healthy person choose this burger or this salad? Would a healthy person choose to continue this habit? Would a healthy person choose sleep or another Netflix round? Would a healthy person go for a walk or sit on the couch? Would a healthy person continue this argument or seek a resolution?

Habits are built on consistency. Showing up is important. Knowing WHY you’re showing up is even more so. When I build my life on a desire to be the most healthy (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually) I can be, I grow. Those little tweaks and changes move me in a direction of action.

//showing up

My friend Rachel once said to me “you know what I love about you? It’s that you show up.” This is also something I love about her, and something that I love about many people in my life. I love loyalty. I love presence. I love quality time. I love when people show up to celebrate together, to grieve together, and to just be together. We are a disconnected people, with an unnatural reliance on media channels to connect us. While they can be connective tissues, nothing, and I repeat NOTHING is more important than being in the same space with other humans. Sharing energy and space, and doing so consistently, is foundational to creating healthy and long lasting friendships. Show up to your people. Show up to practice and to games and to wins and to losses. Be in each other’s corner.

On another note, does anyone want to play a game of volleyball?

The Abundant Yes

I’ve spent a lot of money on nourishment lately, from supplements to tinctures to salves and creams and oils and serums. Maybe I’m afraid of aging, the little crackle next to my eyes or the disconcerting wrinkles that I’m noticing on my neck. Maybe my elbows are dry, yes, and maybe everything I read tells me that as a 30 something woman, my salvation will be to moisturize and wear sunscreen.

What I feel, though, in the sweet moments when I say yes to myself, is something abundant. It’s reaching beyond the oils and creams and serums into a more abundant way of living. What do you want today, Erin? I ask myself gently. I crave body work, chiropractor visits, and massage. I schedule a haircut, a facial. In the wake of a breakup, my body craves touch. The touch of my hands, gently moisturizing my face and wrinkly neck. The touch of others’ healing hands, assessing the alignment of my hips or the tightness I’m holding in my chest.

When we experience trauma, our bodies protect us. Our hearts are tender, and sometimes need extra layers. We tighten up and muscle through, we tense our bodies to brace ourselves against the pain the world causes us. When our hearts our threatened, our bodies respond.

I want the abundant yes. I want the gentle care, the long list of ways I show my body that it is safe. I want the careful words, the quiet rest, and the full shelf of products, used to nurture and nourish. When the world isn’t designed to make me feel safe, perhaps I can create the sanctuary that my body and soul so long for. Perhaps I can show myself that I am worth the abundant yes.

The Void

My friend Jennifer used to say “nature abhors a void” which I’m sure can be attributed to another wise human but I’ll give her the credit.

Have you ever felt the void? The void of loss - a job, a friendship, a season of life? I tease my mom because every time I left for college for another year, it seemed, she would get another animal. “I got a kitten!” she’d say and I’d ooh and ahh over the fluffy sweet thing and think about how she was filling the void of “something to care for” with a feline, a canine, or something else.

I’ve just ended a brief but significant relationship, one that felt promising and aligned with my goals. It wasn’t the perfect relationship by any means, and I hadn’t yet discovered if this love was the love of a lifetime, but I felt confident that I’d found someone special. When our connection ended, I was both glad and confused. I was sad and lonely. I was angry and frustrated, and I felt a void.

The void of nighttime phone calls. The void of shared meals. The void of that specific way I nestled into his side and his arm rested on my waist. The sweet things and the insignificant things, the shared moments and inside jokes and burgeoning comfort. It wasn’t long, but it was what I longed for.

I still do. It’s nothing that will go away, this longing. I have a deep desire for companionship, a craving for comfort and inside jokes, a knowledge of the type of life I want to build with someone. It’s not insignificant, and I no longer apologize for it or try to change it.

And with the ending, there is a void. A great cavernous space that I had carved out for him. A future that I had imagined and sweet curly haired kids that we will never have. The void is a little like the hunger you have when you’ve had too much caffeine and too little real sustenance. It’s shaky, it trembles, it is insistent.

Nothing really solves it, no food or dates or sleepovers or one night stands. Nothing soothes the pang of the departure immediately. You can’t fill a well with first dates and new compliments when what you want is lifetime promises and sweet nothings. The comfort of middle of night cuddles isn’t overshadowed by first kisses.

And so, I wait. I nod my head toward the void. I see the crater and I bow to it. I make my peace with the empty spaces. I dumped a few first dates and first kisses and new attractions into the void, but they were swallowed up. The strength of my craving dismisses the empty attempts at companionship. My body and my spirit say - live with the void. Let’s see what comes of it.

Perhaps my favorite moment of my life happened when I was ten, in the middle of nowhere South Africa, returning from a faraway place on an overnight road trip. I was woken up gently by my mom, summoned outside the van where we were sleeping.

It was PITCH BLACK. Blacker than anything I had seen or experienced in my life. We were nestled between two cliffs and the only way to look was up. To the sparkling sky, the Southern cross, the twinkling stars of the Southern Hemisphere. African skies are expansive in a way you have to experience. No words can place you in that setting. But what I saw that night, in the void of light pollution and dust and debris and noise, was something I’ll never forget. It was mesmerizing, and we were completely hushed and in awe.

The void is where I stand now, trying to wake myself gently from the stupor and look up. To the night sky, to the constellations, to the quiet guidance that hushes and awes me. I stand at the edge of the crater and I listen for my own voice to bounce back. I open my arms and I surrender.

Making Space: Celebration

Years ago I had a friend who had finished a graduate program and started a new, incredibly challenging job within the span of a year. I remember our conversation about aspirations and dreams and goals and about her recent graduation. She was anxious, concerned about all of the new things ahead of her, and verbally recounting all of the things that she wanted to accomplish in the near future.

It occurred to me during that conversation that she wasn’t giving herself time to stop, revel in her accomplishments, and celebrate what she had just done. I told her that she needed to take some space to celebrate! To feel the experience instead of rushing right past it. To taste the things that she had done, and to let them integrate into her life.

Long ago I had a partner who laughed at me and my hiking pace. He told me he was convinced that I was whistling away up there, mentally skipping my way through my hike. But what I was doing was trudging forward. Head down and feet fast, I was trying to get to the very top, to the end of the hike, to the summit. My whistling and skipping were only his imagination of me. It was far from the truth. In my “old age”, I’ve wizened to my own approach. Now I stop more, I whistle more, I celebrate more, I take in more. Have you ever stopped in your tracks on a hike to turn around and take in the path behind you? Breathing heavily, with burning calves, the best feeling of a hike, to me, is to see what I’ve come through. I love the feeling of disorientation when I turn around. I love the heaving of my lungs and the burning in my legs.

Too many times we rush right past our accomplishments. We sprint through our celebrations, we turn our eyes too quickly to the next thing. We are so conditioned to accomplish that we don’t stop to breathe and take in the road behind us.

What if you took a moment at the end of every work week to think, or write down, what you’ve accomplished? What if you took some time out of your day to call someone and chat about what you feel great about this week? What if our yearly reviews were more about celebrating ourselves than chastising ourselves? What if we took the time to write celebratory messages to one another on dreary spring days when we feel like giving up? How might our world be different if we celebrated occasionally instead of constantly trudging forward, cogs in the great productivity race of the century? Let’s breathe the air in our lungs, try to whistle a little bit more, and smile and cheer each other on.

Longform: Why I Want to Read 100 Books this Year

I chose an outrageous goal for myself this year. Read one hundred books. Inspired by my friend Sara and my book enthusiast best friend (WHITNEY), I settled into the goal around the first of the year, quickly calculating how many books I’d have to read each month and each week to achieve my goal.

At the end of the first two months, I was “ahead of schedule” by 6 books. I’d read 21 books by the end of February and the pace wasn’t slowing down. As I screamed around the corner into March, I started thinking about the real and true vision for this experiment - was it to add as many items to my list as possible? Am I interested in pursuing a set of ideas in order to write about them? Am I trying to refine my understanding of different topic areas? My answer to these questions are still revealing themselves, but I’m slowly uncovering a few motivating factors:

//longform v. 40 characters = instant peace

Being consumed by this reading goal has done a lot for my mental and physical health. I ignore TV, Netflix, and social media because my goal pushes me to focus my time on the longform. I’m finding that I am less anxious without so many screens to toggle. Without the cacophony of a Twitter feed or constant notifications from Facebook, I’m able to sit for hours at a time and become consumed with a narrative or a set of ideas. I daydream a little more. I cry. I let my defenses down. My cat is happier and my body is calmer.

//immerse myself in ideas

I believe that in order to expand our knowledge and skillsets, we have to do deep dives into content. I love immersive experiences. Getting away from daily distractions, finding quiet and solitude, and sinking into a set of ideas or a piece of literature - wow. When I’m immersed, I am free to ignore the worries of my brain and instead put it to work on a set of ideas. As I dive further, I realize the nuances of those ideas and further refine my interests and desires.

//consider my intellectual pursuits

One gift of this experience is that it is leading me to a more defined understanding of where I want to go intellectually. Instead of gathering books and content and knowledge willy nilly, I get to be the conductor. I am in control of the paths my brain takes. I get to curate a reading list and construct a container for my thoughts. This one idea is so marvelous to me that I can barely contain my enthusiasm. The endless paths for intellectual pursuits stretch out in all directions, and I’m limited only by time. Consequently, I find that I want to spend my time on worthwhile topics and worthwhile writing. I more easily abandon books that don’t hold my interest. I skip entire chapters that have no meaning for me. I am more attentive and astute about the content I want to consume.

Perhaps, one day, I’ll live the life of Maria Popova, hours and hours of reading, connecting ideas, bringing seemingly disparate subjects together into brilliant pieces. Perhaps I’ll capture this content into complex, beautiful notes and systems. What I’m most excited about, however, is enjoying a thrilling and stimulating intellectual life. To read is to learn, and to learn is to grow. I enjoy the experience of being human so much more when I have a few books in queue.

//more

Follow the lead of the billionaires // Mission.org

Bill Gates and his 50 book a year habit // Time

A helpful guide to reading better // Farnam Street

Notable Reading Lists // everyone’s favorite professional reader

Dry & Brittle

I’ve felt a little dry and brittle today, worn out from an unusual night out on a school night, a busy weekend, and a few nights away from the comfort of my bed and routine. I’ve become so dependent on routine for a sense of well-being that it is hard to find my sense of solid ground when it is gone.

Despite my newfound rebellion against the idea that productivity = identity, I continue to equate productivity with who I am. I see my short list of “accomplishments” or to-dos as a personal failure. I berate myself for not focusing more, and I keep score. It’s hard to break free from a lifetime of these messages.

But break free I will. I will take my cracked and brittle self and submerge it in some water. I will make myself something nutritious. I will give myself the gift of rest.

I hope you find some time for yourself today. For some supple and generous care. For some gentle and compassionate self-talk. I hope you’re able to recognize the lie that is the productivity industrial complex, and I hope you find a bit of ample slowness in your day.