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

 

 

 

 

Vacancy

Are you happy to be home?

The fourth time this week I’ve been asked this question, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I’m sitting on my bed, my legs pulled protectively to my chest, while she hovers expectantly in the doorway, one hand placed on its frame.

My suitcases have been unpacked and tucked away, but the room still has just-returned-from-college written all over it. Two new precarious stacks of paperback novels on my desk, a royal blue journal with golden-etched suns and moons on the floor beside my bed. An organizer bin heavy with things I haven’t found homes for just yet: lab goggles, a hefty psychology textbook, crisply folded sheets.

I have an answer ready, well-rehearsed, but behind my customary facade of nonchalance I’m drawing a blank. Home? I’m not even sure I know what that word means.

…Okay, sure, I’m accustomed to the traditional definition of the word, the one people are most often referring to when they use it. Home (n): The place where someone tucked you in and read you your favorite story before bed each night, once upon a time. The place where, if asked, you could point out all of the best hide-and-seek spots. Where the meals are made from scratch (except for when they’re mac and cheese). Where the cabinet above the bathroom sink contains your toothbrush, where the attic contains your old Halloween costumes (oh, and where there are embarrassing photos of you lining the wall along the staircase).

Technically, I have one of these places. On days that I choose to view the world through rose-colored glasses, I could tell you singular things about it that I find familiar, even comforting.

The cat’s eyes, shimmering yellow-y green in the headlights when I pull into the driveway late at night.

The smell of liquid lavender soap, tendrils of steam dissipating into the air as I meditatively wash the dishes.

Non-serious, nonsensical debates with my brother. (Because why not?)

The leafy canopy that stretches solicitously over the backyard, making a time capsule of the viridescent enclosure.

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But. But, but, but.

Am I happy here?

Every time I try to come up with a truthful, organic response to that question (one that hasn’t been practiced to perfection fifty times in the mirror) I feel a heavy ache in my chest, a hitch in my throat. And I have a sneaking suspicion that those two symptoms of something’s-not-right probably speak for themselves.

To be entirely honest, it is very difficult (often impossible) to find any similarities between the tiny red house I was raised in and the Hallmark version of what a home should be.

After all, I remind myself bitterly, a home isn’t a place where sickness is in charge and logic constitutes punishment. Where restriction and religion are inseparable, a toxic cocktail. Where a child must be the adult while the adult indulges in a deranged daydream. Where being yourself is against the rules.

I found ways of distracting myself back then, while things were bad. While I was suffocating in plain sight, but hiding it well. I was in my own dark little world, I once wrote in an angst-filled letter to an entrusted teacher. I was angry all the time and I loathed my parents for what they were putting me through. The secret they were forcing me to choke on.

I’ve been able to breathe easier, since those days. Freedom tends to associate itself with the purest of air. Once I put roughly 140 miles between myself and my heartache, I slowly began the process of re-learning how to exhale properly. After that I was even able to mend a little bit, to grow and develop (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). But right now I’m back in the house that once doubled as a prison, and even though it’s only for the summer, I feel a little bit like a fish on dry land–flopping about in a panicked frenzy, desperate for water.

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It seems that I unpacked questions along with my wardrobe when I moved back in with my parents. Enormous, intimidating ones with unclear answers.

How do I begin the process of forgiveness?

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When will I be able to hug my parents without cringing internally?

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Why is all of this so damn hard?

The truth is, when I think of the concept of “home” in a broader sense–a place of refuge, acceptance, unconditional love, et cetera–I don’t think of this place at all. The truth is, returning from college feels a little bit like taking two steps forward, one and a half steps back. The truth is, I’m a little bit trapped between wanting to feel better and not being ready to let go of the past.

The truth is, I’m not quite sure where to go from here.

In terms of forgiveness, I’m just not there yet.

I think that some people grow up with the luxury of never having to mentally untangle “house” from “home“. I think that those people are really lucky. I hope that one day I’ll get to share a nice little place with the person I love most, and maybe then I won’t have to distinguish between the two, either.

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My favorite person visits me on weekends. He wakes me up, shaking my shoulder, and we giggle like the happiest goofballs alive. When we’re barrelling down the highway, racing toward new adventures at ten miles over the speed limit, it’s easy to talk about all of the dysfunctionalities I’m leaving behind with a flippant, light-hearted tone. They feel trivial, insignificant.

But our reconciliations last two days, my week lasts five. And the emptiness always finds its way back to me eventually and settles in to my stomach, its standard residence. So I embark on quests to find the missing pieces of myself. I go for long runs on shady paths, I take photographs of trees and ferns. I buy tiny trinkets at shops with extravagant names. I sit in my favorite booth at the library (the one with red leather seats and natural light) and write, attempting to pin down my run-away thoughts. I sip tea, I lay in the grass and read books. I tell jokes to make my friends laugh. I run errands.

I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that home, for me, is not what it is for other people. Some days it is a hard pill to swallow, one that leaves a bitter after-taste in my mouth.

Lately I’ve been stuck on this habit of taking the longest possible routes back to my house. There’s just something vaguely reassuring about a city as it’s closing up shop for the night. After a trip downtown I often drive in an erratic pattern of lefts and rights, passing by a park, a book store, my favorite coffee shop. I’ll circle through out-of-the-way neighborhoods, I’ll weave my way through the college campus just to kill time. I’ll cruise along windy stretches of road illuminated by moonlight. Sometimes I park next to the soccer field two blocks from my house, just to watch the different hues of twilight blend together.

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I don’t know what it is that I’m looking for…or maybe I do.

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Maybe I’m looking for pieces of a home–the unconventional kind, my only kind–to last me through the night. Maybe I’m looking for pieces of this town that I can tether myself to. Maybe I’m looking for secluded spots where I feel a little more me, a little less lost. Or maybe I’m just putting off the inevitable return to the place where I’m the smallest version of myself. I’m not really sure.

All I know is that some nights as I drive through the dark, the moon looks as melancholy as I feel, and it helps me pretend that I’m not alone.

That I’m not the only one with a vacancy in my heart, instead of a home.

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Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

Fond Reminiscence

I guess journaling feels something like being my own mood ring.

(Today’s color: hazy orange, not unlike an August sunset.)

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I woke up blanketed by the soothing color of fond reminiscence, of something once-brilliant now just a bit blurred. Something delightfully nostalgic, if only slightly smudged. I enjoyed the tranquility of a day not yet touched, a silence not yet broken as I emerged from my slumber; I breathed in the air infused with the flowery fragrances of past pleasures to be savored all over again. Like a handful of cool glass marbles, I marveled at the smooth surfaces of these moments, their individual swirls of color, their aesthetic as a whole. I closed my eyes and sank back down into my still-warm pillow and allowed yesterday’s happiness to temporarily serve as today’s reason to smile. I remembered.

Have you ever watched the sun set?

It is very likely that you have, and if you’re like me, you’re always the tiniest bit in awe of (and occasionally vexed by) the way the light drains out of the sky with so much subtlety, so much grace that you never truly see it happen. It always seems as though the sun and moon wait to do their nightly hand off until you’ve closed your eyes for a moment too long, or averted your gaze for a split second to look at some other element of the natural world. The particles of pinkish-gold sift to some other section of the globe and leave you to admire the universe’s starry black backdrop, (and let it be noted that there has never been something more worthy of admiration than this glorious display of far-away radiance) but this change always occurs too indistinctly for you to track. The artful transition from day to night adds to the ever-present mystique of the skies.

After revisiting the events of this past weekend I am of the conviction that life’s sweetest moments are similar to the setting sun. Fleeting, bittersweet fragments of the best that life has to offer: so full of belly-aching laughter and eyes-closed contentment that they always slip away a little too swiftly, while you’re too busy appreciating them to worry about the fact that all good things must eventually end.

Or maybe you’re all too aware that they are passing you by, and this is the source for a slight heaviness in your heart, even during your most amazing adventures.

This afternoon, as I stretched out on a clean towel cushioned by a bed of clovers and overgrown grass, I allowed the sun to seep into my skin as I thought fondly of my favorite snippets from a now-immortal, magical weekend.

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I thought of a long overdue hug, of a spontaneous change of plans (actually, several of those). Of a shared sack of french fries, eaten in a parking lot. Of hearty, tears-in-your-eyes laughter.

Of an out of the way trip to a pet store (related: of falling helplessly in love with the wiggliest puppies, shivering with excitement).

Of a never-ending quest for new experiences. Of a dinner date, an evening drive.

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Of a let’s-take-our-time kind of morning spent writing in a library. Of appreciating the little things: a cup of tea, a handwritten note, a forehead kiss.Of not quite perfecting a tricky dance move but damn, you should’ve seen how much fun we had trying.

Of a million I love yous, each one unique and so, so sincere.

Of a much-needed cry, of holding on tight. (Of wishing that a moment could be suspended in time.) Of laying hand-in-hand, side-by-side on a wooden dock, enjoying an almost-chilly evening.

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Of a prolonged goodbye, of being unable to look as the car drove away.

I am not a believer in leaning heavily on the past (the fondly remembered good-‘ol-days) as a primary source of elation–I cannot endorse that, not in good faith. But I do believe in using memories as a means of embellishment, kind of like a smattering of sprinkles atop an ice cream cone. They are pretty, then sugary as they melt into something sweet and indistinguishable on your tongue.

Yes, the greatest experiences can only be treasured briefly before they are translated into mere mental images. Just like the elusive sunset, they end quietly, beautifully.

But the sun will set again.  And you will have so many more lovely moments, which will become lovely memories. You will be sad when they’re over, but you’ll find new adventures to embark upon.
And in this manner, life proceeds.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Desiderata

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” –Desiderata

What comes to mind when you think of solitude?

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I always think of this photograph, which sits encased in a magenta-colored frame on my dresser amongst tiny colorful boxes and a turquoise owl candle holder.

It’s something about the way my neighbor’s run-down shed can nearly look quaint and picturesque with just a spritz of ethereal evening sunlight, how it seems to sit quietly and listen to the animated conversations of the birds that hover nearby. How once-yellow, dying dandelions become spheres of glowing energy as they reach desperately toward the sky in a last-ditch attempt for acknowledgement, like twinkling stars slowly fizzling out of existence. The way that the overgrowth shrouds this abandoned structure in a cloak of shadows, encapsulating it in a perpetual state of serene semi-darkness, allowing it to slowly, safely, discreetly, gracefully begin the inevitable transition from structure to rubble, as this is the fate of all things; as the universe favors chaos over order.

On slow summer days like today, as I sit cross-legged on my bed idly watching the afternoon light filter in through the spaces between my drapes, I am content. I am happy today to be like my neighbor’s desolate shed and sit as a silent observer, watching the clouds play tag with the sun. This isn’t to say I that I choose observation over participation in life, I am merely saying that on days where I find myself alone, I do not panic–I celebrate. I can appreciate the warmth of a not-too-hot day, the whirring of a passing plane, the calm loveliness of summertime. Every now and then we could all stand to take a lesson from nature and learn to appreciate our own existence instead of living with the incessant fear that we are somehow missing out on life. We can be like the grass and the trees and the creatures of the Earth, all of whom are happy simply “being,” and realize that being alive is a treat in and of itself. It is okay to be alone, and it is okay to take time to breathe and to reconnect with the natural world.

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel