Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Running Observations

So I run almost every day. I say "run" because it sounds so much better than jogging and panting. I usually run the same route, because I'm a creature of habit and I like it, so why change a good thing. Here are some random things I notice along the way:

  • There are two cute little houses on Tustin Ave., that when I first started running here about 10 months ago were nothing more than foundations. Now they are live-in-able. That's incredible to me, having spent the better part of a decade building my parent's house in Oregon. Guess things move faster when you have more than a part-time contractor (my dad) and a couple of teenagers (my brother and I) working on a building.
  • Open garages are funny to me. I like to peek in and see what people like to do with their spare time. Some people, apparently, just like to clean things. There's one garage in particular whose shop-vac I am constantly tempted to run away with. It's very big and industrial and it even has rollers for the easier rolling up the street and using to clean my car. I'd return it, I promise.
  • Another open garage that intrigues me is the Woodworker's. This old fella is constantly sawing, hammering, sanding and talking to his cats. It smells like sawdust and sweat and childhood memories. He always waves at me, and it's one of my favorite houses along the way.
  • I don't understand people with large yards and no flowers. Why would you waste a yard with concrete or crab grass or anything but flowers?
  • I also don't understand people who keep their blinds closed all the time. How can you stand to be in the dark on beautiful days? And don't you know that looking in is how we get entertainment when we run by?
  • Eventually I get out of the neighborhoods and into the Back Bay Wildlife Preserve. This is where I spent much of my childhood, imagining that I was exploring unknown wildernesses, rollerblading, bike-riding and rambling to my heart's content. I still get deja vu sometimes.
  • There are a few wealthy people on the hill above the bay who own horses and ride them down the trail. Smelling the distinct horsey smell and hearing the clop of their hooves raises a longing in me I can't describe. Sometimes it makes me homesick and lonesome, sometimes it fills me with euphoria. I always watch as they go by and I'm sure they think I'm just another "slicker" staring out of idle curiosity.
  • Men are friendlier joggers than women. They almost always nod, women almost always glare.
  • Whenever I see someone running with their dog, it makes me want one. Until I see them stop to clean up said fuzzy pet's business. Then I'm glad I don't have one.
  • I think being pushed in a stroller must be the most relaxing thing ever. I have yet to see an even halfway alert baby on the trail. I really wish I could go back and try it, because every little chubby face I see looks supremely content.
  • I love my iPod shuffle. Best $75 I ever spent.
  • When I finally head back towards home, I run by a house wherein resides a misbehaving little boy named "Danny". His mom is always yelling at him, and I feel like I'm in trouble. Every time.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Muddy Waters

I have fought with myself long and hard over this. I’ve never thought of myself as a work-a-holic, but the strange stagnation of unemployment has assured me that I am one.

When I look through my old journals and into my dreams, I see so many longings. Some that could have been allayed by simply doing something rather than staring misty-eyed into the dusk - some that are just vague longings that I still fear to capture - lest they poof away like a spritely fairy in my hand.

I am always thinking that something should change - that I would be better, more creative, that I would be more beautiful, if only - fill in the blank. As I look back at my life, these mere 23 years, I’m increasingly convinced that all of my blanks have much less to do with my success than I give them credit for.

I have also realized that I am far too focused on my success in the first place. Greatness is not to be grasped. While I suppose it’s accurate to refer to myself as a work in progress, am I relishing the work or just hanging on, hoping, straining and longing for progress - the end result?

I am always gazing around the bend, never content to drink in the joys of this moment, this sunlit stream, these pauses for laughter and reflection. Without even realizing it, I heartlessly rob myself of today because of my lust for tomorrow, and don’t grant myself the pride of a job well done because I always think I could have been better.

I have fought for inspiration for months now. What was once a clear-flowing stream has become a muddy trickle, so full of weeds and contradictions that I’ve grown tired of even looking for the source, the spring-water, but have simply turned my back, leaving my fields to parch and my soul to burn.

I feel so inadequate, even admitting to people out in the world that I aspire to write. “I think I’m kinda creative,” I say with a shrug, and think condescendingly of the many nights I have sat and stared at a blank sheet - or worse, given up completely and zoned out to the mindless blare of the TV.

Every night that I have failed to create I find it harder to go on. I recently read somewhere that men most of the time already know what they are thinking or feeling, and talk about it only to communicate if they feel it’s necessary, where as women often don’t know why they think or feel something and talk about it to figure it out. I suppose I do this from time to time, ( I was recently informed that I talk a lot - I suppose “a lot” being relative.) But I think the deepest part of my “self-discovery” to use a disgustingly narcissistic word, comes from a deeper place than my tongue. Writing and art - for all its challenges and the self-loathing that it inevitably produces - reach the deepest parts of me. I can find places there, with my journal or trusty laptop, that I couldn’t find without sitting down at the blank sheet and opening a vein.

Because of this infernal desire to be perfect, to succeed at the cost of contentment, the blank sheets have piled up and the simple joys of doing what I was meant for has dwindled down. The blank sheet pile has gotten more and more daunting, the water’s gotten muddier, the parched field is looking increasingly desert-like and I am blaming every circumstance and my own ineptitude for what really amounts to a lack of courage.

I don’t have the courage to sit down and write something less than amazing. I am afraid to dip my hand into today’s flowing stream and not compare it to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, or to bask in the joy of “my best” - at this moment, anyway. No, I cruelly hold myself to the best ever - my best ever. I have to do more, be more, write more - and when my longings are more than my capabilities, or a little more mud gets into the stream than I was hoping for, I lack the strength and courage to dive in anyway. Why can’t I create something a little off-balance? Why can’t I spend an hour writing and let it amount to nothing more than this?

This is not the stuff of great novels. It is not even something that is particularly lucid or inspired or even well-written. But it is awakening.

Something within me has stirred in these last few months. I have realized my inability to live up to my own expectations, and after several wrestling matches with my personal angel, I have learned this:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
~John 15:1-6

Isn’t that beautiful and freeing? It’s not my responsibility to be great, I have no one to impress, no future or past to live up to. I am abiding. To abide is to reside in, to sojourn. These are words of rest and peace and contentment, not contention and perfection.

So today I make a promise. I am abiding. Today. This day’s sunlit stream, this day’s tasks, this day’s challenges, this day’s creativity. Knowing that as a lone branch, all of my striving is pointless, but as a branch connected to the Vine, I am of great value.

All of my blank pages, all of my hopes, fears, and longings are connected to that Vine. That is where I find my contentment and the courage to face the less-than-perfect - the muddy waters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Tale of Two Jobs ...er, wait, it's been more than that...

Ah, college. When you're in those dear old halls of higher learning, all that seems to matter is the getting of great grades and getting out. We are assured regularly that as soon as we step out, beyond our campus - with our funny-looking black hat and hard-won diploma in hand - we shall want for nothing. Great jobs will fall from the sky, and employers will be dying to hire such bright and shining new grads, with a gleam in our eyes and the world at our fingertips.


So maybe nobody ever said exactly that to me, but subconsciously, however much I talked the tough talk of a hard-knock life, I expected something awesome to just kind of... well... happen.

So I packed up my little couch and endless pictures and punching bag and memories, and waved a tearful goodbye to House 9... knowing that as much as it hurt, something great was just around the bend. A year and a half later, I'm still straining to see around the bend, and still hoping against hope for something great.

Today I am stuck in the middle... in-between my heart and my wallet, my dreams and what makes sense, the idea of a career versus being fulfilled in daily life. None of these questions have been answered for me. I have found with certainty what I absolutely do not want to do with my life, (Thank you, LA Times...) but beyond that, I swing strangely between the desire to do something great and memorable, and the simple desire to get off early enough to go kayaking before sunset.

This week I'll be making a choice about which direction my life goes. I know that I'm being rather dramatic, but I believe that all of our little choices affect the big picture. I also know that He hasn't led me this far to leave me... and no matter how many other jobs I take, or where this bend leads, I can rest in knowing that, ultimately, I'm not really in charge here.

And once you get past the scary part, that's actually a comforting thought.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Wonderful Thing That Is Escapism

The TV blares the evening news from the next room, informing us all of the earth-shattering new discoveries that exercise is good for you and politicians lie. My cell phone goes off, again, reminding me that I am not as hard to find as I wish, I hear the teenage girl next door giggling to her boyfriend, and the neighbor’s dog lets out a lonesome howl that was rather pathetic a month ago and is now just annoying.
When I leave the house, I am reminded, (as though I could ever forget,) that I share this place with a gersquillion other people, and some of them aren’t very nice. They honk and do the one-fingered “California wave” (haha) in the car, glare at you in line at the store, and talk loudly on their cell phones in public places, as though you really want to hear about their “f***ing ex”.
I’m a country girl at heart, so sometimes I get a little over-stimulated by so much noise. Sometimes I just need to get out and away... which is why Monday (Labor Day) was the best day EVER.
As the aforementioned country girl, I am also a total morning person, so I was really excited to start my day relatively early with a big travel mug of coffee and a pretty drive to Dana Point. Adam and I loaded up his kayak and went to Dana to rent one for me... and proceeded to spend the next couple hours kayaking from Dana Harbor, out beyond the Jetty (and into some pretty big swells, mind you - Thanks, Henriette.) and back in. A couple of guys from Adam’s work and small group came too, and it was beautiful, sunny, idyllic... and balm for my poor over-stimulated soul.
After having our kayaking itch sufficiently scratched for the day, we had to have fish tacos. It was just the thing to do, after having been on the ocean all morning, to feast from it’s bounty. :) And oh holy jeez. Pedro’s Fish Tacos might just be the best I’ve ever had. After a full tummy and the lull of the FedEx Cup... (Adam likes to watch golf, which to me is the equivalent of watching grass grow - but nice to nap to.) I promptly fell asleep.
However, we couldn’t sleep for long with the knowledge that the Pacific Ocean and its accompanying sandy beaches were waiting all of a block away - soon we had towels, magazines, sunglasses and a body board in tow and were headed for more sand and surf.
After enough hours in the sun and salt on our bodies to make us human jerky, we headed back home for showers and clean clothes and the Bourne Ultimatum, which was a fantastic finish to one of my all-time favorite book/movie storylines. Thank you, Robert Ludlum, for being a genius, and thank you, Matt Damon, for being insane. Wow. I had been waiting for this for a while, and it was so very worth it.
So that was my Labor Day. Probably the best 12 hours of the whole summer.