Inside the Greenhouse

I’ve been hitting the ‘snooze’ button on this writing thing for a number of weeks now.

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While I’ve missed the discipline of frequent documentation, I don’t regret having taken a step back from the keyboard. It’s been nice to rediscover that a moment doesn’t need to be eternalized via the written word to be real, or meaningful. On a similar note, it feels so, so good to hit the sack at the end of a hectic day without first feeling compelled to extract meaning from the week’s messy details. It can be nice to just let yourself get caught up in the chaos, you know?

Besides, I haven’t had to look too far to find a sense of purpose, lately. It’s all around me.

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We’re at that pivotal point in the race where summer hands the baton to fall, and fall takes off sprinting. When I stop and think about it I know I’ll eventually long for the lazy spontaneity of summer, but right now I’ve got a hankering for all things autumn. I love the cooler air, the richer colors. I love that everything seems to be marked important. I love that my agenda planner has a serious deficit of blank calendar squares.

Oh, did I forget to mention? I’m back at college, cue the sighs of relief. Every morning that I wake up in my room that sits five stories above quaint Bowling Green I think: there are far worse places for this chapter of my life to be unfolding. This town may have a reputation for being a windy wasteland during the winter months, but it is absolutely lovely mid-September. An added bonus: It’s home to my favorite coffee shop (within walking distance!)

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I had all summer to think of ways to revolutionize the college experience, and when the time came to pack my bags for school I had formulated my plan, even boiled it down to a mantra: Get more involved. Establish a routine. Get enough sleep. Take chances. Work out daily. Do whatever it takes to be happy.

Needless to say, I’ve been taking my own advice, for once. I’m renting a cozy little space on the corner of life’s pretty much perfect and there’s always room for improvement. I’m also trying this new thing where I state out-loud the things I’m grateful for, whenever those things occur to me. (On today’s list: charcoal skies, warm croissants, having a Saturday all to myself.) To the people around me this might sound something like bragging, sorry, guys. To me it feels like a necessary step toward being unguardedly optimistic.

Being the cynic that I am, I’m not without doubts. I know there could come a point in the winter when I’ll abandon the desire to overachieve and run for the hills; revert to survival mode. It’s happened before. But next time around, I’d like to think I’ll be kinder to myself, more forgiving. Wilting flowers don’t grow new blossoms when stomped on.

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The important thing is that right now my flower garden is well-watered, flourishing, free of weeds. And I’m happy, and I’m working hard, and I’m writing again.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

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A Series of Little Leaps

Peering through window panes: I’ve been doing a lot of that, lately.

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Before there was a lot of ambiguity about what lay ahead, beyond the glass. A lot of squinting at indiscernible shapes and cloudy images. But mountaintops are coming into view. Waiting to be scaled, conquered–If I dare. And through my unsmudged aperture, the sky looks bluer than I ever dreamed it could be.

There’s a catch. (There always is, isn’t there?) The more I gaze into the distance, the more unsatisfied I become with my vantage point. With my increase in potential energy comes a painful awareness of how stationary I’ve become. Unfulfilled in my daily routines, restless–to the point where I don’t feel like myself. I feel my limbs turning to lead when all I want to do is run, climb, soar. The planner, aching to trade places with the do-er.

I feel as though I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. If I indulge in a string of nothing days I tell myself I’m being unproductive; if I spend time mapping out my future I’m soon convinced that I’m missing out on the present. Guilt follows me everywhere I go. I want so badly to have it all–to be able to live happily in the here-and-now while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture. But more often than not I find that I’m engaged in a wearisome, mental tug-of-war between the two. Striking the perfect balance often feels impossible.

I think it’s difficult not to get torn, nowadays. Society loves a good paradox, and it’s easy to become the monkey in the middle between two mutually exclusive concepts. It’s easy to have the best intentions and still wind up a hypocrite. Me, for example: I bend down to smell the roses, fretting all the while that I’m missing out on something Bigger and Better happening behind my back. The end result looks a lot like neurosis and self-deprecation, I’m ashamed to say.

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I had a perfectly synchronized moment, a couple of weeks ago.

It was as simple as traipsing barefoot through a quiet, wide open space with my best friend. And maybe it was the scent of roses on the breeze or the easy bliss stitched into the fabric of a summer evening, but suddenly everything crystalized in my mind’s eye. I pictured my life as an arrangement of stepping stones, and all I had to do was find the ones marked with an H for Happiness.

Follow them, in a series of little leaps.

Forgive myself, for occasionally missing the mark. (Try not to cringe too much, at the resulting SPLASH. )

But also: recognize the value in staying put, sometimes.

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And later I thought to myself: Why did it take me so long, to reach such an uncomplicated conclusion?

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There are days where I’ll wake up with just the right mindset. I’ll feel light, limber. And my metaphorical window will be cracked open, wide enough for me to stick my head out, smell the fresh air, feel the sun. Almost wide enough for me to slip right through, run toward those mountains. There are days when I’m happy with the curtains drawn. There are a lot of days where I’m frantically pounding at the glass, praying for it to shatter. Frustrated, exhausted when it doesn’t.

On those days, I try to remind myself of what I know for certain. That the greatest curse (and blessing, as the optimist will remind you) of the human experience is awareness of one’s own existence, and the need to fill all empty spaces with meaning. We are all just creatures wandering the Earth in search of something more. Occasionally, when I find myself spiraling into a state of anxiety, I think about how I am nothing more than an arrangement of cells capable of self-analysis, and that my anxieties are shared by the entire human race. I laugh at the time I waste thinking about all the time I’m wasting. It seems so silly, when I spell it out like that.

The notion that we need to strike the perfect balance between the present and future is nothing more than a fallacy, one that I get lost in all too frequently. But I can forgive myself for that. I know that I belong to a flawed species, one that collectively spends a lot of time worrying about theoreticals. It’s just in our nature.

I can’t time-travel. I can’t simultaneously exist in “right now” and “down the road”. But I can still find purpose. In writing, in running, in loving. In thinking. In wistfully watching the clouds pass by. In being an imperfect, emotionally-driven, mortal being.

In existing, whatever that entails.

I just have to keep telling myself that’s enough.

My very existence is more than enough.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

 

 

One Coffee-Sip At A Time

The cheerful whirring and tinkling of the coffee pot, the smell of hazelnut roast wafting in from the kitchen–these are today’s gentle reminders that I overslept. That by 12:30 p.m. I should be dressed and moving, not pajama-clad and scrambling for the nearest source of caffeine.

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But hey, I’ve never been a morning person. Are you? I’d love to offer you a fresh cup of coffee–do you take it black or with a splash of something sweet?–and hear your thoughts on the subject.

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I must admit, there is something kind of great about my daily routine this summer. The luxury of waking up minus the panicked what’s-next, what-am-I-late-for feeling that accompanied each buzz of my alarm back at school. To have a mid-morning sip of something steamy, to curl up on the couch and lasso-in runaway thoughts with nothing but the subdued ticking of the clock to divide the silence. I like that I have this time to breathe, to plan, to worry, to daydream. To let the circles under my eyes fade away naturally, without cosmetic assistance.

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My typical weekday doesn’t truly take off until the sun is high in the sky and the roads are trafficked with people headed home on their lunch breaks. And then it’s a whirlwind of errands and grocery lists. Outdoorsy exploits. Attempting to replicate interesting new recipes. Driving beyond the limits of my forested hometown with the windows down, signs labeled Kent, Ohio receding in the rear-view. Trips to the pool, pooling quarters to buy raspberry dark-chocolate milkshakes. Making time to cross items off of my bucket list, no matter how small. (Most recent: plan a road trip.) Speed-dialing the boyfriend when it’s been a little too long since I’ve listened to his laugh.

Evenings are even busier, with long shifts at work that don’t end until the sky’s standard blue has melted into a velvety black and the streets are 90% deserted. Nightfall has always been my favorite. Cruising through the inky darkness, through unassuming neighborhoods with the radio turned down to a murmur: you can keep your early mornings, this is the time I feel most like myself. I feel alive, alert; I love the feel of a city asleep. Whether my next destination is a friend’s house or my house or nowhere at all, I relish this lump of left-over time that I can spend however I please.

But we’re not there yet, are we?

Nope, it’s still early and sunny and the day is still begging to be taken advantage of. The coffee pot is still keeping warm an extra few sips of black energy, saved for emergencies. And I’m appreciative of my morning quiet-time, no really, I am. It’s during this time that I can plan color schemes for my future apartment, Google search the exact breed of dog I want to own some day. Envision myself speaking fluent Spanish with the locals at a farmer’s market outside of Madrid (two years from now, fingers crossed!)

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I can eat spoonfuls of oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon-sugar washed down with milk. Count exactly how many days are left until I move back to college (seventy-one!) Journal all about my dreams from last night, dissecting them for shreds of real-life intuition. Construct a book list, scope out sun-drenched spots to start a flower garden.

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And maybe, just maybe, I can learn how to love mornings, one coffee-sip at a time.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Imminent Rain

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

It’s taken me a while to get started, today. My mind is mimicking a snow globe that’s been shaken enthusiastically and replaced on its shelf. A flurry of thoughts, a pseudo-tsunami. I’m still waiting for it to subside, or at least to settle to a state of semi-transparency.

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I’m curious to know where your thoughts travel to. What do your daydreams look like? When you’re just a touch too tired for let’s-make-plans, when a thunder-clap promises a watery onslaught, soon to come. When the headache chooses today. When you were planning on an afternoon nap, anyways.

And while we’re on the subject, what’s your opinion on summer rain? On the flash-crackling that convinces the cats to dart upstairs, to hide somewhere safe and dark and extra-warm. On the humid unpredictability of it all. Are you easily accepting of an excuse to keep the lights down low and the covers pulled high, tucked not-too-tightly under your chin? If so, I have a hunch you’re also the type of person who’s secretly pleased by the prospect of a spontaneous power-outage (outwardly rolling your eyes–c’mon, let’s go find the flashlights–but smiling on the inside).

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Or maybe you’re more the type to groan inwardly, on days like today. Days that leave you alone with yourself, for what feels like the slightest bit too long. Restless days where you wind up spending a lot of time sitting, contemplating (over-analyzing? yeah, that too). Days that are too hot to stay in, too drizzly to go out. Misty, sedated, slow-moving days that clear your schedule for you, without asking.

Do we call these mental health days or lazy days, unproductive days? I have a hard time distinguishing between the two, sometimes.

Call me neurotic, but in the past I’ve had to schedule my free time. Hear me out–it’s not the worst idea. If you are the kind of person who starts shallow-breathing the second your life deviates from the well-outlined plan you so carefully constructed for it, it’s sometimes nice to manually pencil in a day off. To know that tomorrow will rain; to leave that calendar square blank. To wake up not to an alarm but to the hushed yet insistent sound of water droplets against house-top, and to be lulled right back to sleep without a worry in the world.

Today, however, I did not wake up with the intention of liberating myself from my listed obligations. The idea snuck up on me, tapping me on the shoulder. I think the possibility of having a nothing day occurred to me somewhere around mid-morning: the yawns never fizzled out, the air was already thick and sliceable by 10:30 a.m. Something-or-someone was squeezing my head in all the wrong spots, with too firm a grip.  All signs were pointing me back to my bed, and I opted not to ignore them. My instinct was to scold myself for what initially felt like taking the easy way out, but I slowly–uncharacteristically–warmed up to my decision. I made a trip to the bank, munched on a mini-omelette, and then crawled back under the blankets, not bothering to change out of my cotton dress or shake my hair free of its ponytail. This is where I’ve been all day, (intermittently, at least) making sense of a mountain of mismatched thoughts (when I should really be sifting through the mountain of laundry sitting at the foot of my bed).

And, miraculously, I’ve finally managed to iron out a few, no longer too wrinkled to interpret.

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I decided that in the event that an unplanned, not-leaving-the-house sort of afternoon should roll toward me on a chariot of cumulonimbus clouds, I shouldn’t feel guilty for embracing it with open arms. I never want to be the kind of person who’s content with complacency, or a sedentary lifestyle, but I also don’t want to be the kind of person who’s too fixated on What’s Next to appreciate all of the perks that come with a non-agenda afternoon. Said perks include things like the opportunity to have a wonderfully unhurried phone call, or the chance to take photos of a new, delightfully sunset-colored plant-baby. To stay holed up in my room with a well-loved book, venturing out only for a nibble of something crunchy (and then again twenty minutes later, for a sliver of something frothy, delectable).

Summed up, I decided to add a pinch of go with the flow, subtract a smidge of by the books. Because the strictest of schedules can go terribly awry, and unplanned days can be filled with the most spectacular surprises. So let’s make a pact, shall we? Let’s promise to take ourselves, our anxieties and our plans a little less seriously; let’s vow to be a little more accepting of the spontaneity of life.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

 

Nighttime Transient

Allow me to describe to you what I think Insomnia is–or rather, who.

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Have you ever been paid a visit by this shape-shifting transient of the night? Perhaps you could share with me what that encounter was like. I’ve never seen the face of this shadowy drifter, but I’d like to think I know him rather well.

Even in the silence (you can hear cat one and cat two sashaying softly through the house, but only if you are hold-your-breath quiet) he knows how to notify you of his presence, as the rigid red numbers on the desk clock dutifully, sluggishly proceed toward what I consider to be the “black hole” phase of the night that yawns endlessly between way-too-late and bleary-eyed-early.

And you cross your fingers behind your back where he can’t see them, not tonight, please not tonight. Because tonight just might be the night you get sucked away into that black hole, where even the sun can’t be bothered to stop by, where you’ll wait and wait for a morning that will never show up. (And it doesn’t matter if you think you’re sleepy, exhausted, drop-dead-where-you-stand tired. When Insomnia slips under your door and sidles up next to you where you lay, he will zap the sleepy serenity right out of you. You’ll quickly learn that feeling weary is not the all-access pass to the kingdom of the comatose that you once thought it was.)

He’ll remind you gently of your subservience to him by planting an itch in your left foot, a desire for just one more sip should do the trick.  With jumpy, giddy, twirly thoughts that just won’t settle down, dammit. With sheets that are just a tad too whispery, murmuring unintelligible nothings as they rustle past one another. Or maybe it’s just your ears that are a touch too sensitive tonight, because you swear up and down that you can hear yourself blinking, the trees rustling outside, the neighbor’s dog rolling over in its sleep, and why is everything SO LOUD?

If you try to ignore him…well, you probably shouldn’t. Because then he’ll see to it that you’ll switch sides of the bed fifty times in ten minutes, because maybe just one more readjustment will solve all of your problems–you know it won’t, but you’re a little panicky at this point, and the hour of logical thought came and went who knows how many flipped pillows ago. You’ll start counting sheep, but you’ll give up when the 160th one appears in your mental pasture and you are no closer to being unconscious, and you’ll curse at all of the adults from your childhood who promised you that this tactic would work (just keep counting, honey).

And don’t even think about counting the seconds as they march by, the minutes, the hours. That, my friend, is a dangerous game to play. Before you know it you’ll be pacing around your room, and you’ll envision everyone you know resting easy all snuggled up in their beds like the actors in NyQuil commercials, and the envy will trickle through your veins glowing emerald-green. And all the while you’ll be stealing paranoid glances at the clock as it apathetically reminds you that time is a train that stops for no one. And you’ll feel sick to your stomach and remind yourself to throw a towel over the stupid thing tomorrow night.

It’s best to play it safe. It’s best to resist the urge to dejectedly get out of bed, plod down the hall to the medicine cabinet with your eyes half-closed, and swallow those three (four, five, six?) tiny pills that are supposed to ease your restlessness but most likely won’t. It’s best to remind yourself that another trip to the kitchen to refill your glass of water won’t fix the never ending dryness in your throat. Another round of on-again off-again with the blankets won’t magically produce the perfect sleeping temperature. It’s best to ride out the merry-go-round that is your thoughts until it spins its way into oblivion; to let the tornado in your brain carry you to wherever it is you go in your sleep.

The result still won’t be too satisfying, I’ll warn you of that right now. It’ll be a grayish, fleeting, tempestuous encounter with the unconscious, and if you’re lucky, you won’t see anything while you’re there. If you do, the images will be chills down your spine unsettling, because Insomnia becomes displeased when his spell (finally) ceases to enchant you and he’ll see to it that you suffer in the dream world.

And when you get up the next morning people are likely to comment on the circles under your eyes, couldn’t sleep again, huh? They’ll smile sympathetically when you speak of Insomnia, but try not to get too upset if they breeze over your recollection of events from last night (cue nods and vague condolences). After all, they are familiar with his clinical definition, not with his persona.

He’s never paid them a visit.

But that’s probably because he’s been too busy visiting you.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

A Wonderful Something

Let’s pretend we are clasping steamy, too-hot mugs of tea between hands protected by bunched up sweaters. Let’s pretend we are sitting in a small sunny booth with our elbows planted defiantly on the table, and let’s discuss our safe havens.

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Do you have more than one? Are they places or are they feelings? Is it the texture of a familiar, well-loved hand clasped firmly in yours, or is it perhaps the rich scent of your favorite novel greeting your nostrils as you open it to page one for the millionth time? I’m curious.

I’m in one of mine right now, in case you were wondering. If I were to invite you in, please, close the door behind you, the first thing you’d see would be my bed. It’s a small one, just large enough to accommodate a slightly-shorter-than-average 18-year-old girl as well as the occasional kitten that wanders in every so often (sometimes the clumsy calico, sometimes the timid gray one) looking for the ever sought-after perfect napping spot. On the bed you’d see a lavender bedspread and a thick, multicolored, polka-dotted blanket bunched up at the bottom, and if you asked, I’d tell you that it was a gift from a good friend from middle school and that it’s one of the few things from those years that I’ve never considered parting with, not even for a second.

You’d be sure to notice that the room has a glow at this time of night, partially from the neighbor’s too-bright garage light, but mostly from the assorted lights hung carefully from walls and draped just-so over mirrors. They are pink and multicolored and soft white, and don’t they add a lovely luminescence to this tiny space? I like to think they do.

And what color are these walls, anyways? you’d ask jokingly, Are they pink or are they purple? And I’d grin and shrug and say well, both, I guess.

You might at this point peer into the closet, the one that’s not closed off by a shuttered door, and notice the tiny bookshelf packed as tightly as possible with novels, or the puzzling pile of shoes on the floor that doesn’t seem to abide by the careful organization scheme that dictates the placement of the books and blouses and blankets.

Are you looking for a place to sit? Here, I can move my laptop and the granola bar wrappers and offer you a spot on the bed, or maybe you’d want to snuggle into the futon–yes, you can move as many of the pillows as you need to, make yourself right at home.

It’s always secretly pleasing to re-learn the joys of my small, squarish bedroom through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. Especially when they finally look over above the mirror, as you probably would at some point, and see the collage I worked on tediously all through high school until it was juuuust right. And after you’d ask me all about the carefully chosen selection of pictures and posters and postcards and poems, I’d probably still catch your eyes straying to my vibrant masterpiece here and there throughout our time together, and mine probably would, too. Even though I memorized it long ago, it’s still nice to gaze at every now and then.

Do you have a cozy little room too, somewhere? With a guitar sitting in the corner, or a bright quilted blanket crocheted by a loved one and saved for rainy days? If I were to visit, would it tell me a story about your past, your hobbies, your aspirations?

It doesn’t have to be your room, but I’d love to hear about it–about your sanctuary, that is. About the place that you feel safe to exhale that breath you’ve been holding all day, and relax, and just be you, for once.

I’ve discovered something wonderful within this past year, though, while I was busy working my way (sometimes blindly stumbling, sometimes elatedly soaring) through my first year of college. And that wonderful something was as simple as realizing that a sanctuary can be a person. Looking over at him from the passenger seat as we fly down the highway a little bit too fast, as my heart beats a little bit too fast, but in the best way. Tossing and turning all night with him in a way-too-narrow bed, but giggling, because who-cares-as-long-as-we’re-together. Laying in bed with the lights off and my eyes closed and my phone pressed to my ear, because he’s laying in his bed with his lights off and his eyes closed and his phone pressed to his ear, and it’s two a.m., and we’re talking about insignificant nothings, and we can’t stop exchanging I miss you’s and I love you’s and we don’t want to hang up, not just yet. It’s feeling happy and overwhelmed and anxious and stressed and so in love my stomach hurts, but through it all, it’s feeling safe, because I have my haven by my side, and we’re invincible, and nothing can hurt us, not when we’re together.

But while we’re apart, just for now, don’t worry, my bedroom is a pretty acceptable backup haven.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel