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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Help, I’m Alive

I think if I could be anywhere right now…I’d be standing alone on a rocky overhang, toes curled trepidatiously over the edge, preparing to plummet into water as dark and glossy as silk.

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There would be no rush. I’d take advantage of my hyper-awareness, reveling in the sensuality of the wind as it kissed the nape of my neck. I’d breathe in the fragrance of fresh water, breathe out all things toxic. Perhaps I’d do this until I was filled to the brim with pure, untainted oxygen.

I’d try to immortalize that anticipatory feeling. That indescribable sense of power, vitality, freedom. Of timelessness.

And then–with my heart beating thickly in my chest–I’d spread my arms, and fall.

Can you imagine the adrenaline rush? Transforming veins into live wire, fingertips and toes sizzling with electricity. Every atom screaming with life; not a single cell left unconscious, if only for a few fleeting seconds.

Gray sky, murky depths. Everything blurred together, like paint blended on a palette. Shrieking, hissing, biting wind: no longer a lover, but an enemy.

It must feel incredible, to relinquish everything to gravity like that. To hurtle deliriously toward a liquid abyss, a flailing bundle of flesh and blood and joy and fear. Of humanity. To challenge the transience of existence with one act of senseless bravery.

And then AND THEN the collision! The pressure! The air, ripped from lungs! No time to think. Just a velvety heaviness, every which way.

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The cold, so pure and overwhelming and utterly heartbreaking. The immense darkness, paralleled only by the darkness that exists within the womb that surrounds a fetus.

There would be a moment, multiple moments, of chaos–possibly panic. And then a resurgence of instinct, a cluster of kicks in the right direction. Finally: blinded, resurfaced. Triumphant.

Glowing. Effervescent. Reborn.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

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

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpressed

Tangles of damp bronze hair strewn across pillow and face. Hands with chewed nails hiding red eyes, fringed with salty lashes.

I’m channeling all of my energy into keeping this emotional drizzle from evolving into a torrential downpour. How did I get here? I ask myself wearily, not for the first time.

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Tears trace hot patterns down cold cheeks, are brushed away by tender hands. The harmonious scents of shampoo and soap linger on his fingertips. I burrow a little deeper into the warm space above his collar bone. Inhale shakily, taking in small sips of his skin. I close my eyes, appreciating the tightness with which he is holding me. The physical proximity is helping to bring my mind back to the here-and-now, to extract me from past and deposit me into present.

We are horizontal on a bed that is not my own, in a small room vibrating with the whir of an air conditioning unit. Movement feels impossible; my own inertia is overpowering. I find that I am suddenly exhausted.

I’ve been gripping onto him too tightly, as if he were a flight risk. (As if I were in danger of drowning.) I work on unclenching the hands-turned-claws, smoothing over the ten crescent-shaped marks on his back with a gentler touch. I am so grateful for his patience, his palliative presence. I love him for it.

Concentrate on breathing, I instruct myself. Back to basics.

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I was happy-crying, at first. We were cheek to cheek and tuned in to the same frequency of I love you/I love you/I love you. But at some point the emotional current carried me into deeper, murkier waters. Under-explored territory that I generally choose to steer clear of, sail around rather than through.

The tears triggered the gnawing unhappiness, even though happiness triggered the tears. It began with I love you so much (and I do! insert 50 more exclamation points here) but it ended with Jesus, when will this ocean of psychological distress finally start to dry up? 

The past year has involved a lot of unlearning old survival tricks, ones that I’m finding I can live without these days. Trick number one: hold in tears at all costs, so to preserve the veneer of invincibility. To be honest, it’s going to take a while until I can cry without feeling a little bit embarrassed and guilty and weak. Until I can be upset about something without quickly becoming upset about everything. It’s just that, well, I’ve turned down so many chances to cry throughout my teenage years. I’ve been saving, compacting, internalizing all of the things I should have been releasing, voicing, admitting. I have years of raw, acrimonious, tangled-up hurt to sort through, and often when I’m overwhelmed with emotion on the surface I can feel the full weight of what’s beneath.

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But hey, I am taking baby steps toward being able to own and express my emotions as they come, even if only to one person, not counting my small leather journal. And every time I allow my misery to manifest via crying, another drop of my residual sadness evaporates and is gone for good.

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I’m wondering when is the last time you quietly asked yourself: Am I alright?

When is the last time you held onto something heavy and harrowing, and when are you planning to let it go?

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He inquired with calm, guiding questions about my feelings that night, (and again the next morning over donuts and coffee) prompting me to put words to my woes. The best I could offer was a tiny smile and an apologetic shrug, palms turned upwards. I hadn’t fully understood what happened in that hotel room, and I still don’t. But–if I had been gifted with the ability to vocalize my thoughts as well I can scribble them down or type them out– this is what I would have said.

What I wouldn’t have left unexpressed.

 

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

Prelude

We met in October, a month of changing colors, clean air, and new beginnings.

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We lived in the same building, two floors between us. For a few weeks we were nothing more than acquaintances who bumped into each other during fire drills and in laundry rooms.

But then something happened. A conversation happened, to be specific.

I was passing through your hallway, and your door was open. Even before we really knew each other I’d already figured out that you were an open-door kind of person, a trait I admired. I had decided to come in and say hello–only for a moment, I told myself. I was on my way to Elsewhere. But somehow I wound up lounging on your sofa (used, homey, covered in flowery fabric–out of place in an otherwise nondescript dorm) and we were listening to your music and having the best time. You were so attentive, so earnest, so kind. So authentically you, so unapologetic about it. After ten minutes of talking to you I had forgotten all about my other plans and was well on my way to convincing myself that maybe this had been my final destination, after all.

There was just something so shocking about the intensity of our connection–it felt as though we had already met in a past life. Like our souls were old friends, finally becoming reacquainted after several thousand years of journeying on separate paths across the universe.

Maybe that’s what I found so mesmerizing about your eyes that day, aside from their earthy hues of green and gold and brown–as I looked into them, they shone with a comforting familiarity. They told the story of us before it had even begun.

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Your sofa was where I let you tuck me in, later in the week.

I was drowsy and ready for bed; you were getting ready to explore the city’s rooftops with a friend. Our paths crossed. I could’ve gone up to my room, but you offered me your couch as a makeshift bed. Already dozing off, I kept my eyes closed as you covered me with a blanket that was warm and just-shy-of-scratchy, and the weight of it on my shoulders felt like a hug. And you told me, in a voice that soothed like a lullaby, that this wasn’t just an ordinary blanket, but a valued possession of yours. It was special to you, and in the last moments before I fell asleep I abstractly hoped that I would one day be special to you, too.

I woke up once that night, blinking groggily in the dark and feeling momentarily lost. But as my eyes adjusted I spotted a note on your desk addressed to me, scribbled in your impatient handwriting. I remembered where I was. And I felt a warmth emanating from my core that wasn’t entirely unlike love.

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In the days that followed we got closer, to say the least. The boy with the blue jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and warm smile found a permanent residence in my thoughts. Your name was suddenly a commonality in my journal entries, each one overflowing with hope and optimism. I could sense change in my future and I welcomed it.

Which is why a few nights later, as I stood waiting in the hall outside of room 1213, I was calm, my heart steady-beating in my chest. You let me in; you closed the door behind me.

We each had a beer, but I’m not sure mine ever touched my lips. As we talked it became less of a drink and more of an anchor to cling to as the room was flooded with emotional memories, the kind stashed away in the mental filing cabinet labeled toxic and do-not-touch. I’m not sure what my justification was for unburdening onto someone I barely knew, but suffice it to say that I did. I guess you just seemed like the sort of person I would want keeping my secrets. It felt easier, having you hold on to them for me. And I was happy to hold on to yours for you, too.

The rest of that night was a blur of honesty and compassion and hearts-worn-on-sleeves. Hold out your hands, you said at one point. So I did. You took them gently into your own, you looked at them closely. I remember thinking they looked very small and pale in comparison to yours. I think hands say a lot about a person, you said, and I think yours show elegance and strength. And I wanted to tell you that yours spoke of determination, of resilience, of tenderness.

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I’m of the belief that any activity can become an adventure when you’re in good company. We wandered all around our building that night and I never grew bored, not for a second. We sat in secluded-stairwells and in plain sight. We danced in a dimly lit lounge. We talked, for hours and hours, about all sorts of things. We confessed mutual feelings.

And oh, how glorious it felt to be eighteen and invincible and falling in love with you.

The night ended, because suddenly we realized that it was morning already. I think it was something like 4 a.m. when you walked me up to my room (taking the stairs, dragging things out). But in my head, our time spent together was eternal, along with all of the memories we’ve created since then. Filed away in a shiny new cabinet, labeled best-of-times in bright, bold letters.

Do you want to know the best part? At the very last second, we kissed. And it was breathless, and the room spun, and there was an inferno in my chest, like my blood was kerosene and you were breathing fire down my throat. And amidst erratic heart beats and burning, feverish thoughts I discovered that you were what I’d been searching for all along.

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