Summer Solstice

And now I will attempt to describe a terrible darkness in terms of great light.

Like grains in an hourglass regularly turned,
the units of light readily apparent in any given spot wax and wane:
from a crisp autumnal sunset on a day when the globes are perfectly matched,
slowly draining through a long, dark winter,
until a day comes when there is scarcely any light remaining,
and the tender hand of the universe slowly and methodically turns the glass again.
Here the osmosis gently reverses.
The grains of luminescence gradually accumulate
until once again the scales sit unwavering,
the hourglass balanced precisely on a cool spring morning.
But only for a moment.
Because the sunlight doesn’t stop;
it accelerates as the spring races to meet the summer,
passing the solar baton in a spectacular fashion,
the grains rapidly piling up and up and up,
culminating in a tremendous crescendo of brilliant light

on this day:
June 20th.
(Or thereabouts.)
When the opposite end of the sun’s hourglass hangs heavy
as a plump peach, ripe for the picking.

It is this very day that children live for.
For this marvelous day when
“you can play outside until dark”
feels like getting away with murder.
This fantastic solstice and its surrounding cushion
are where sweet summer memories are made.
The concentration of sunlight in these days is almost violent:
with firecrackers popping
and bomb pops melting
and cannon balls exploding into cool, clear neighborhood pools
— all on what feels like “bonus time.”

And of course, the epitome of all things summer evening:
fireflies.
Like the last little bits of sun,
protesting the eventual onset of darkness,
easing its arrival with a reassuring reminder that light’s still there,
winking knowingly as you try desperately to hold them in your hand
and keep them forever.

Catching fireflies was always my favorite summer thing.

I hope this resonates with you.
I hope you have your own memories of wringing the last drop of sunlight out of those summer evenings,
tap-tap-tapping on the hourglass to make sure you got your June’s worth of adventure.
I hope that you closed your eyes and smiled softly inward as you recalled them.

Because if you, too, passed the other 3 inferior seasons eagerly anticipating the abundance of sunlight that summer affords,
waiting with bated breath for that hourglass to flip and fill,
then maybe you’ll understand

when I explain to you that depression is waiting for the sun to hurry up and set so that you can rightly go to bed.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up on June 20th and realize that you haven’t seen a single lightning bug this year–
not because they’re not there,
but because you aren’t.
Because for a couple seasons, now,
after waking up already tired,
and passing the day in a sad, uncomfortable haze,
unable or unwilling or both to do much at all outside of your bed,
you just sit nightly by your window
and wait in agony for the sun to set,
cursing those extra minutes and seconds of daylight
that you once treasured.

Because all you want to do
is go back to sleep.

That which once brought you such pure, unadulturated joy,
now brings you a mocking, tormented sort of pain.

This is depression.

But thankfully, just like minutes of sunlight,
the weight of depression waxes and wanes,
and with time,
and hard work,
and courage,
and patience,
the desire for bedtime to arrive
gradually eases.

Just like the falling of night,
the longing for sleep comes a minute or so later
every night
until one night
when you find yourself sitting around a backyard with friends,
in still-damp swimsuit,
smiling and laughing,
and just as the thought strikes you
that you haven’t done any of those things in a very long time,

you notice the knowing wink of a firefly.

 

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Love: No Lighter Fluid Needed

I originally published this post on my Medium page. But I can’t decide whether I actually like Medium. So now I’m putting it here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve had a handful of enjoyable yet ultimately inconsequential relationships. These were largely about sex, about buying each other lunch, about having another warm body around. They were nice and full of caring and, best of all, uncomplicated. And there’s nothing wrong with having relationships like these.

I’ve also had two relationships that each changed the course of my proceeding life. Two decidedly un-un-complicated relationships. Two “real” relationships, “grown up” relationships. Relationships where saying “I love you” was never even flinched at, and words like “our” and “future,” and “when we” and “buy a house” were smashed together without a second thought, like particles colliding and creating big booms of emotion. You know. Those relationships.

Both of those two relationships were wild straight out of the gate. They were each like a campfire started with a healthy dose of lighter fluid and newspaper: the meekest match-flame rapidly expanded with a flash of blinding light and a wave of overwhelming heat. Yes, with those two women, love went from a schoolgirl crush to a roaring fire in what seems in retrospect like the blink of an eye.

But then in both of those relationships, eventually — just like fires founded on lighter fluid and newspaper and other such shortcuts — love quietly sputtered. It happened so suddenly that we were still dancing around the fire before we realized it had gone out. We were left quite unexpectedly in the cold, dark night, each blinking blankly at the space where we had just moments ago seen the other standing beside us.

As most heartbroken exes have, I’ve spent many long, weepy nights struggling to figure out what went wrong in each of these cases. Where could I have done something different to create a different outcome? Why didn’t this work? How did this happen? There’s some gasoline in the shed, I think– should I go get it?

Eventually I learned that those questions don’t necessarily have answers, and if they do, they’re unhelpful at best (and mentally anguishing at worst). I realized that in both those cases, beneath the violently passionate flame of new love, we didn’t have much to support us. It was like we’d gone out and bought all these fancy lights and bells and whistles and accessories for a bicycle that was missing its drivetrain and back wheel.

I’ve learned that if you want a relationship to burn steadily for a long time, it must be built upon a solid foundation. Whether you like your campfires teepee-style or log cabin-style, it doesn’t matter, take your pick — as long as there’s something underneath you for support. No lighter fluid needed.

That brings me to my second — and perhaps harder to swallow — point. When you’re building a campfire for the long haul, one that will burn steadily and keep you warm for a very long time, it means that you might not necessarily see a great rising pyre at the outset. Love doesn’t always start with a wild roar. Sometimes it starts with a whisper that slowly, methodically increases in urgency. Don’t assume that because a person didn’t radiate a sort of heavenly light the very first time you clapped eyes on her, she’s not “the one.”

Maybe we have to grow our love from seed. Maybe we don’t always have a jump-start, a dramatic reaction, a quick ignition. Maybe we have to build love the old-fashioned way: with tinder and kindling and fuel to burn on. We have to provide the spark ourselves, then fan it tenderly, giving it plenty of room to breathe. No lighter fluid needed.

I guess what I’m asking you to do is to not ignore the one who seems like a great partner but ahh there’s just no chemistry, ya know? No spark. You might be surprised to figure out that you are capable of making your own spark, with a little patience and effort. And the fire you make by your own hand will be brighter and warmer for a much longer time.

On Purpose

Here’s my response to WordPress’ daily prompt: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/purpose/

Purpose is something I’ve struggled a lot with lately. It’s queer how such an abstract noun can affect such concrete consequences in one’s life.

We speak often about our lives “having Purpose.” What does this actually mean? Is Purpose a little slip of paper with a short checklist of tasks to be accomplished, passed out by someone on your first day of adulthood? Did I miss that day?

Is Purpose a vocation — firefighter, accountant, kayak guide — that I was supposed to choose based upon that multiple-choice test they had us take in high school? I think I was under the bleachers kissing my first girlfriend when they went over the results.

Is Purpose finding a thing that you love to do, and doing it all the time? I’ve seen written: “do what you love and the money will follow.” So I spend an afternoon birdwatching, and when I return to my car and go to put my binoculars back in their case, I am shocked to find that no currency of any sort has materialized in there.

Is Purpose a prize you stumble across while sweeping the sand of some great beach with a device designed to detect destiny? Am I to simply keep walking, plotting a methodical course, waving my arms steadily back and forth in front of me, waiting to hear a beep? How do I know I’m even on the right beach?

A couple months ago, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as an Interpretive Planner with Taylor Studios, Inc., one of the nation’s premiere exhibit design firms. I was over the moon. I pulled myself up by my roots and found myself trying to replant them in Champaign, IL.

Obviously, this opportunity was a Big Deal for my Life Purpose. A full-time job! A salary! Moving On Up! Finding My Way! Lots of capital letters, and all.

And it was, sure. It was a great job, working with great people, doing important things. TSI is an incredible company. I loved it there.

But things happened. Things I didn’t expect and couldn’t have foreseen even with the best pair of optics on the market. A latent depression that, cicada-like, returns to stretch its legs and see what’s new. Anxiety that I’ve always carried around abruptly getting much heavier, and commencing a curious ticking sound. A longing for my family and friends and homeland so profound that it must surely be some evolutionary remnant of a migratory urge.

I had found Great Purpose in my Great Move and Great Job and Great Growing Up. So why was I suffering to the tune of unbearable?

I think it’s largely because I thought I knew more about Purpose than I really did. I find this is a great causer of problems in many different arenas, this gap between what we think we know and what we really do, and then between those two and what we can ever actually really know.

So here I am, just giving you a gentle reminder that maybe you don’t know all that much about your Purpose, even if you think you do. Don’t be surprised if Things Happen and quietly, almost tenderly tear your theory to shreds. Don’t be surprised, and don’t despair. You’re on the same beach I’m on. You can keep searching frantically for Purpose if you want, but I’ve decided to just sit back and watch the tide for awhile, and I’m doing just fine.

#humblebrag: I’m a Writer (capital W)

Good evening, readers! I wanted to take a moment to apologize for my recent absence from bloglife.

Actually, that’s a stiffly-built formality if ever I wrote one. I really just want to #humblebrag. (I only feel comfortable using this word since it recently appeared as my Word of the Day.)

I’ve been busy of late. After a lovely holidaytime with my family, I jumped into my car and raced off to dazzling Rantoul, IL for an interview with Taylor Studios, Inc., an interpretive design firm.

greeings from rantoul.jpg

Home of 12,000 people, three Mexican restaurants, a healthy population of old-timey fighter pilot ghosts, and one killer interpretive design firm.

The interview must have gone well, because I was offered a position as Interpretive Planner. If you have no idea what the terms “interpretive design firm,” “interpretive planner,” or “fighter pilot ghosts” could possibly mean, you’re not alone. I’ll cast some light on these very vague, millennial-sounding job words in a forthcoming post. (Well, the fighter pilot ghosts are exactly what they sound like.)

For now, I’ll just say that I’ll be doing a lot of writing. And that makes me incredibly happy.

I’ve loved words as long as I can remember. Collecting them like stones, sorting them by color and feel. Stringing them together in different patterns, testing each prototype on paper or in speech, feeling the effects of that particular combination. The only sport I played in school was Power of the Pen; I’ve gone through notebooks like toilet paper.

So when I was offered this position – working with the same concepts I knew and loved from my prior work as an interpreter and programmer, but using the vehicle of writing more than speech, as a part of a small and passionate company that creates incredible products and experiences – I couldn’t be happier.

That is, until last week, when the editor of Adventure Kayak magazine told me that she’d like to publish my last blog post in their next issue as an op. ed. piece. The new job was like a slowly growing campfire: a rising, glowing, hard-earned satisfaction. This? Well, this was a firecracker – one that went straight to my head.

All this #humblebragging to say that I’m very grateful. I’ve worked very hard in my life, particularly in the last year or so, to get to this point. To the point of calling myself a Writer, capital W. And it feels awesome to finally be here.

This time last year, I was flailing, not knowing what I wanted to do or why. I was, by and large, working for my paycheck. Sure, I was invested in my agency, and its mission, and I enjoyed what I did. But my work seldom brought me joy. It rarely got me passionate. I never felt challenged. Perhaps more importantly, I felt resentful toward the people in my life who were so committed to and enamored of their careers that they felt deeply and personally fulfilled by them.

So I guess I’ll try to bring this around to some sort of moral, try to infuse this wholly self-indulgent post with some sort of redemptive message. If you’ve ever been jealous of someone who is totally, sickly in love with their career…

Harness that emotion. Put it to work for you. Tell yourself “I want that,” and take steps toward getting it. Think about what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, what you love. Figure out how to make it your life’s work. Write down some goddamn action items, the whole nine yards.

And make it happen.

Because when I was asked offhandedly the other day what I did for a living, and I simply said “I’m a Writer,” the feeling was worth the work.

Love doesn’t keep a Life List

Ah, the elusive “day off.” One of those days that is free of meetings, but best spent addressing loiterers on the ‘ol To-Do List. A day for sweeping floors (all of them), reorganizing bookshelves (I made the Dewey Decimal System look like child’s play), and copious vacuuming (look for my cat hair sweater on etsy). Despite these dull endeavors, my “day off” was far from uneventful. Oh no. Today was full of love and birding.

It was a challenging day for both these items.

I won’t rehash all the details, but I’ll give you the overview; it may sound familiar. A situation agitated me, and instead of confronting my mate, I brooded silently. This allowed an acute annoyance to spiral into overblown doubts about our priorities and values. I ultimately arrived at the unfounded conclusion that our relationship was, in short, doomed.

Amplified emotions drove me to look beyond the situation in question. I found myself combing through the archives of our relationship, subpoenaing any little injustice I could recall from weeks or months gone by. I dragged these out from their quiet resting places into the harsh light of a grumpy day, where they could serve as further evidence to support my wild mind’s ridiculous conclusion.

Well, as usually happens given a little time, I am no longer so emotional. I’m writing this in bed, beside Kristina. We took Stella for a long walk at Maumee Bay State Park; I hoped to glimpse their resident saw-whet owl, but alas, it was too cold for even him. Kristina made a delicious dinner, and despite it being before 9 pm, I feel ready for bed. (I’m picturing a toddler who collapses into deep sleep minutes after a tantrum.)

Before I rest, I wanted to share this experience, and the revelation that bridged the gap between the preceding paragraphs. Somewhere between “she never cleaned out the garbage can three weeks ago” and “what a great lady, let’s watch some Friends and hit the hay,” I recalled an observation made in an old book. With my thoughts lingering on the saw-whet, my brain produced this statement:

Love does not keep a Life List of wrongs.

Listing is for birds, not for every little thing that you have ever found remotely bothersome about your partner. Unless your Life List of Injustices involves serious offenses with grave implications, it is far better kept unlisted. Why? Because just like in birding, every day is a clean slate, and a chance to make a new list – preferably one of happy things, like birds observed, or times your partner made you smile.

Despite having had a mildly standoffish morning, and a rocky start to our Maumee Bay adventure, Kristina was still there to give me her gloves when my hands were cold. She was there to tell me a corny joke when I grew weary. And perhaps most importantly of all, she broke the stony silence between us by asking, “so what color is this bird we’re looking for?”

That “we’re” is what helped me get over myself and my melodrama. She isn’t a birder; she wasn’t there to bird. Despite this, she inquired about the bird that we were looking for. Because even on the hard days, the long days, the emotionally exhausting days… We are a team. And we do much better as a team when we bury our little hatchets and focus on the adventure at hand.

When we dwell on past annoyances, we close our minds to the bright spots that appear all around us, in a  far more important time frame: the present. After all, I would argue that we can only really truly focus, with all of our energy and our emotions and our logic, on one thing at a time. So if we’re stewing over yesterday’s dirty coffee mug, how can we possibly hope to appreciate today’s corny joke?  If you’ve been keeping a mental Life List of Injustices, I encourage you to crumple and toss it, and start keeping a Life List of Happy Moments in its place. I promise you that growing that list is far more rewarding.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

And on the seventh day, I did stuff.

Well, I’m here at last. I’ve messed around with my settings. I’ve changed my theme about two dozen times. I’ve spent an hour cropping photos just so. I’ve opened a word document and brainstormed topics for posts. I’ve done just about everything I can with this blog except… well… blog.

I guess this is as good a topic as any for an inaugural blog post. It might not be about birds, or about love, but that’s okay – not every post will be. Disappointed? Tough acorns! Over to the right, there, you will discover a list of subspecies; I shall dutifully sort my posts into these categories. You can choose to view only those which interest you.

For now, though, I’ll offer a few thoughts on something that may sound simple, but really couldn’t be more complex: doing stuff. Yeah! Stuff! You do it! Well, sometimes you do. Other times, you set out to become a freelance writer, and you establish a nice blog to help that dream along, and you spend six days fiddling with the theme and the photos and the title, and before long you’ve got yourself a very handsome waste of internet space.

I’m not sure why I have found it so daunting. I enjoy writing; I do it all the time. I don’t have writer’s block; like I said, I have plenty of ideas for posts. It’s not as if I haven’t written anything in the six agonizing days that have slipped through my fingers since I established this blog. I’ve written quite a bit, actually.

Just not for other people to see.

Perhaps this is just the process that any Creator of Things goes through, upon embarking on a journey to Create Things. Maybe the intimidation of writing my first blog post is akin to the fright of the musician when he first takes to the stage, or the dread felt by an artist before her first gallery opening. Hey, wait, forget what I said earlier – I’ve thought of something relevant about birding! Perhaps it’s the same feeling a rookie birder gets when she wants to ask a question or make an observation, among a group of more experienced birders or on a birding forum or website, but refrains out of fear for being “wrong.”

Perhaps it is something that lurks inside all of us, to varying degrees: the fear of “putting ourselves out there,” of coming up with something brand new, presenting it to people we love (or people we don’t even know), and seeing it rejected, or mocked, or scoffed at.

This is the key, I think, to rousing ourselves to action. We have to remember that everybody feels this way; whether you are a writer, a musician, an artist, a teacher, a student, or even a birder. Being a rookie at anything is just hard, period. But as intimidating as it may be to think about taking action, inaction almost always carries an enormous weight – one that is unpleasant and even downright painful to bear. So what do we do? We take a deep breath, put on our Big Girl Pants, and just do stuff.

So here I am. I’m doing this blog thing. I hope to become a better writer, to humbly share my oft-scattered thoughts on birding and love and an array of other topics, and to elicit a smile or a chuckle from you, dear reader. It’s a brand new day, and a brand new year! Even if you, like me, have opted not to chisel into a stone tablet some highly specific Resolutions, there is simply no better time to start doing stuff. So pick your stuff and do it!