Wednesday, September 7, 2016

This Strange Thing Called Grief

Morning light spills into my tiny kitchen, painting ripples of light on the cottage walls -- the benediction of a new day. In my bedroom, over FaceTime, my boyfriend sleeps soundly beneath the companionable silence of long-distance love. Coffee drips slowly, punctuating the soft rumble of Josh Garrel's Break Bread. My cat, still a wide-eyed kitten, peers around my laptop as I type. Sunrise and thoughts of the future have raised me from sleep. Instead of classes and reading lists, jobs and new pages are the new rhythm of my life.





So much has changed. In only two months.

It's strange how one can blink and home, friends, setting, even the you one once knew seems like a lifetime away.

It's a strange thing, this sense of fleeting oddness. Of permeating displacement. Of bittersweet melancholy. Of a quiet ache that slips quietly in during an ordinary moment that suddenly overwhelms. So much has changed. So much is different. For better, for worse.

Grief, I think, is the name for it.

The boy and I went for a midnight stroll on campus one night, beneath the softly glowing lampposts and canopied trees. Everything was hushed, still, and dearly familiar as ever. The occasional laughs and snippets of conversation from over-eager freshmen carried over the breeze as they too wandered with older students, part of the summer experience before their first semester begins.

In comes the new. The young. The bright-eyed.

We stopped almost immediately, he and I. The old. The ones who had come and gone. The quiet-eyed. Our hands linked, yet pausing.


Reduced to strange silence as we stood in a place that had been our home and that now, without our permission or even desire, was no longer ours.

This is strange, he said quietly. I looked up at him in the night shadows and lamplight mingled with moon + star light, and said nothing.

There was nothing to say.

How does one say goodbye to a place that has already forgotten you? To a life that is no longer yours? To a world that keeps moving without you?

We stood there for some moments, in the hushed darkness, silently paying our respects. Passing lampposts like lit candles by pilgrims, aware that no longer were we parishioners but merely visitors, moving through the leafy cathedral flanked by brick and stone, steps and benches.

It felt like a dream - one that tasted sad and sweet on my tongue. We continued walking, hand in hand, and I shivered. Understanding at last, that my time there had ended.

Time. So long and quick. So short and far.

I understood, too, finally, that time-travel was indeed real. We stood in the same place, upon stone and earth, and yet time was different.

Perhaps we were different. We're not young, the boy said, quiet thoughtfulness in his eyes. We are and we aren't. Not that young. Not young enough to belong anymore in the place that had been our home for so long. Time and space are different for us now.

We left hours later, quieter. Yet at peace.

It's funny, this strange thing called grief.

We mourn what was good almost as much as we mourn what was sad. Bitter and sweet. Change and solidity. Isolation and togetherness. Shadows and lampposts.

My cat curls on the toaster oven, basking in a patch of sunlight. So much seems different and unfamiliar to him. My boy sleeps on the screen of my phone, peaceful and dreaming. Two months ago we were merely friends.

So much has changed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Of Rain and Beauty

It is raining again...prompting soft thoughts of beauty and loveliness. 

There is a reason, I think, why museums are so delightfully crammed on grey, stormy days. Art, simple and complex, muddled with colors and caressed with strokes of a brush. Oil and color and vision swirled together in a swath of emotion and lines and life, made all the more vivid on days of gloom and dampness. 

Why music, soft and haunting, fills the spaces and moments of quiet. The aching strains of a violin and deep throbbing of a cello that touch the air, the soul, with a gentle, discernible mark. With a stain of loveliness so sweet and secret that tears almost form. Breath catches, spirit stills. And wonder fills, swells, rises beneath our skin. 

Why the verdant green of trees and leaves becomes more lush, more magical, more deep somehow, keen and fresh in the feather-soft grey of an overcast day. 

Why we turn to tea and coffee and chocolate, in frail cups with thin petals of china, and sturdy mugs of solidity and warmth. Finding comfort, and strangely enough, the sense of home and belonging in the warm stain of pale brown clouded with creamy milk or deep and dark and rich, secure in a bitterness that is curiously sweet to our souls. 

Why books, the dearest and oldest friends for so many, beckon and embrace with the gentle weight of words. Words that enfold us, fill our mind and senses, flowing across the page and into our fingers, imbuing our blood with story and hues, songs and poetry -- flashes of feelings and places that perhaps we have known, or only dreamed of. 

Beauty so curiously and wonderfully marks our souls. Stirs us. It moves and changes, always for the better, our understanding of creation and even ourselves. Beautiful things...lovely things. They are so precious and small. And yet --like all lovely things, like all of creation-- so much grander and larger than themselves. 

Mozart's Requiem is always bigger when you return to it. Time is leaven to lovely things, writes Joshua Gibs. Beautiful, gentle, lovely words themselves that settle and warm deep within:

"There are certain substances (maybe all substances) that can be so rendered, affected, touched, furnished, submitted— loved, really— that they do not break against the heavy leaning weight of time, but grow as time pours into them. When you taste a fine Pecorino, you are not merely tasting milk, but milk and time. Time is powerful and violent and terrible, but love can tame time. The Acropolis is stone which has tamed time. The blue in the windows at Chartres Cathedral is a color which has tamed time. Wine is grape juice which has tamed time. The Nicene Creed is a poem which has tamed time."
Joshua Gibs

There is something haunting, something humbling and awe-inspiring in that...what I find beautiful and lovely, what moves and stirs me, has been found beautiful by, has moved, has stirred countless other souls, before me, and will, after me. Time passes and leans and grows and deepens, and still these things of beauty, of loveliness, go on. 

Time is leaven to lovely things. We must hunger after them, after the beautiful and the good, as George Eliot says. 

I sit, hushed and silent, notebooks piled near, cup of coffee a dear companion, facing a window --always, always a window and clear, soft light -- to see the rain, filling my ears with gentle quivering notes of Ennio Morricone coaxed into air by Yo-Yo Ma. 

And keeping my heart, my mind, my soul open to receive these lovely things that are beautiful and good. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Butter and Solitude and Cats

Because sometimes you make the pasta and eat the pint of ice cream and watch the rom-com and play the song by Jacqueline Fran├žoise that always makes you think of Paris at Christmastime*, and miss the boy.

Because even three hours is too far away. 

So pet the cat. Spoon the ice cream. Boil the water. Squeeze the lemon juice. Sprinkle salt + pepper. Slice the butter. Put on the slippers. Pull the blanket tighter. Curl up with music and words for comfort. 

This is life. Good and hard. Full of joy, deep and full, and solitude of long nights with looming questions. 

*Noel Blanc

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Be Where Your Feet Are

'Be where your feet are.'

That's what growing up is, I think. 

It's learning to love vegetables. To choose of your own free accord to buy mushrooms and turkey and kale and balsamic. To get up at 4 a.m. when you've been tossing and turning instead of staying in bed and waiting to fall asleep like your mom always told you. To make midnight eggs and look your lions of anxiety in the eye and tell them, "You do not get to speak louder than me."

To call someone babe for the first time in your life and to smile unsarcastically when you say it. To not caring what your life looks like on Facebook any more - or even wanting to have a FB account, even.

To realizing relationships are about compromise on your part just as much as on the other person's and that sometimes you have to give up something.

It's learning how to do life well alone and then learning the even harder lesson of how to let love in.

To remembering what you laughingly said to a friend months ago, "I want a pet because I need something or someone to love," only to understand later on that you had someone to love - and that person was you, and damned if you didn't finally start doing a fine job of loving yourself after twenty-three years. 

It means falling asleep safe in someone's arms and understanding that home can be a person, not merely a place. That as Bea Taplinn says, sometimes 'it has a heartbeat.'

Monday, June 20, 2016

One Small Fact

Ghosts, contrary to belief, exist.
They are everywhere.
Writers are just the ones who see and name them.

"I suppose we're all ghosts when you really think about it," he said. "We become something different, never again who we were during this exact moment...just ghosts of our old self."

 She wrinkled her brow, looking around at the golden November light falling on the crisp winter ground, melancholy and sweet all at once. Quiet surrounded them, and for a moment, she could see all the faces passing through the years who had come and gone, who had walked that very path stretching before them and stood in the very sun they now sat in...nothing had changed. And yet nothing was the same. She, too, would leave with no visible mark that she had ever been here. A slight shiver of wistfulness ran through her. 

She looked at him. "What about when we leave places and people - when we move on to different ones?"

"I think all they remember is how we were then - who we were in that exact place during our time with them. All they have of us are memories..." he finished softly. "Ghosts." 


Thursday, June 2, 2016

This skin I've been wearing

I tend to find for myself, and others as well, when things are quietest on social media or on the blog, it's because life is either very full. Or very hard. Life's been a mixture of both this semester.

This year, rather. From the very start, 2016 has been different than any other year. Last year, I dyed my hair blonde as a way of being bold and proving to myself that I was strong, that I could stand alone on my own two feet, that I could take adversity and change and survive. And survive, I did.

But the beginning of 2016 has been the aftermath of that survival. It was the ugliness that comes after crossing a long, hard finish line. It was the collapsing, the part where my knees gave out and I couldn't get up for a very long time. Anyone who runs and has done a half-marathon or a full one can tell you that the moment you cross the finish line...feels amazing. The next 5-10 minutes are full of adrenaline and you feel like you can do anything.

Because you've survived.

You did it. And damn it all if you aren't proud as hell about it.

But then, all of the pain comes flooding. The ache and wear and tear that you've just put your body - your self - through comes roaring in.

And it stays.

You're sore for days and can barely move or walk. And you're starving. Starving and hungry and yearning for food, for nourishment.

In many ways, so far, 2016 has been sore and painful and filled with yearning.

Starving for love (all the different kinds, not merely or even the romantic sort), for security. For solidity and safety and strength. Because sometimes the world tilts and everything changes, and you're standing in the exact same place, yet nothing is how it was. Nothing is the same anymore.

I've gone through hard seasons before...we all do, you know. And I will continue to, for life is filled with ups and downs. But this year...this season...this semester was different.

Because for the first time in my life, I looked in the mirror and saw deep unhappiness in my eyes.

It's the skin I've been wearing this year. This semester.


It's why my hair went dark and shorter, why I snipped bangs late at night over a sink. Because I felt so very fragile and quiet and lost.

Transitions are always strange and hard and painful, and I think mine came early. While other friends were excited for the last semester of college, I spent my first week on campus struggling to keep back tears at the sight of a familiar building. The beginning of many last firsts...and first "lasts." Life's beauty and fleetingness was especially poignant those first few weeks, made even more so by the fact that so much had changed in my personal life.

Emotions and friendships and love and self-care. Boundaries and esteem and lines and things unspoken and moments uncaptured.

The past five months have been ones of quite suddenly, and without reason, wanting to cry. And yet nothing tragic or terrible has happened. There have been many happy moments...and many lonely, hard ones. I started vlogging in February because I wanted to capture my last semester and the people in it on film...and then halfway through March, while looking at the footage, everything came to a startling halt. And I stopped filming.

Because I looked unbelievably unhappy in every. single. video.

As someone who's always worn her heart on her sleeve and can't hide any display of emotion of her face, even I finally saw the truth. The spark in my eyes had gone out. And hadn't come back, even months later. I went on a few dates with a boy at the beginning of February, and we went to go see Tina Fey and Amy Poleher's film Sisters for our second date. I laughed so hard that night, and laughed some more with him after the movie. And was shocked to realize I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed that hard.

I sat there and tried and I couldn't.

I've felt the darkness of depression before, and this wasn't it. There were many circumstances out of my hands that had to be endured, and choices I had made that caused ripple effects. Details aren't really important because I think perhaps everyone experiences at least once, a soul-deep, skin-covering unhappiness.

And being aware of it was perhaps the best thing. Because I began to consciously make choices that would bring happiness.

 I started saying no when I could to commitments or extra tasks that I didn't have to do but was asked to do. I started taking myself to the park to sit in sunlight and silence, alone with only music and books. I started moving slower, giving myself permission to nap. I sought out the people who made me smile, who made me feel loved, who didn't require a performance or extreme emotional energy from me. I treated myself to a favorite meal and stayed in my room on the weekend for some much-needed introvert time to watch a film I'd always wanted to see. I gave myself permission to cry and to laugh. I prayed a lot and tried to lean in to God, to lean my head on His knee and just sit in His presence.

I tried to give myself grace and sunlight and kindness. I tried to take care of myself and stay away from bullies.

I'm slowly, very slowly, becoming. Becoming me...becoming Grace - this strange, wonderful, silly, deep person who dreams about worlds and elves and love and babies and good cups of coffee and the rolling hills of Ireland and England. This person who is made up of words, who dances and sings, who says too much and feels too deeply and always overthinks.

But she's me, and I'm proud of her. Proud of who is she is today. Who she is becoming.

Together, I think we'll be quite something.

So, slowly, I'm shedding the skin I've been wearing, the skin I've thought I should be wearing, and learning to love my own.