Wandering and Belonging

Sunday morning, we take our time leaving Columbus.  We have all day to get home and nothing on our calendar.  We decide to stop at the Wildflower Cafe for breakfast before heading out of town.  We’re surprised by their almost empty parking lot at 10AM–there used to always be a line by this time.  I wonder if the fact that they’re now open for dinner has diluted their breakfast and lunch crowd.

I think about having a small, healthy breakfast.  Something my body would much appreciate after nearly a week of a “see-food” diet.  However, I have a hard time resisting the eggs benedict on their Sunday brunch menu.  And while I’m at it, I might as well have their potatoes, which are sliced thin and pan-fried to a nice crisp brown on the edges.  I tell myself I’ll start eating healthy again tomorrow.  I laugh at my optimism–seems like I’ve been telling myself that for many months now.

After stuffing ourselves and trying not to drink so much coffee that I have to stop every 15 minutes, we take turns using the restroom before getting on the road.  I don’t feel like a visitor today even though we’re about to leave–the owner recognized us when we came in and the restaurant is just so familiar.  It feels like there’s been a time warp and we never really went anywhere.  But, as we head out the door, the prospect of a long drive looms before us and I feel like a visitor again.

Pat drives and I write.  But I am not feeling prolific today.  I suddenly realize that we will have only 3 days at home before we’ll be packing again for our Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Smokies.  We’ve decided to spend the long weekend at a lodge we discovered on the way home from Great Smoky Mountain National Park over Labor Day weekend.  Originally, Pat’s family was going to come down to see us for Thanksgiving.  Then, Pat’s sister was going to join, so the date changed to when she could be gone from the store she manages (which is not Thanksgiving weekend).  Unfortunately, she couldn’t travel on a date when we didn’t have a commitment, so she went to Youngstown instead and the rest of the family decided not to come for Thanksgiving.

It occurs to me that while Thanksgiving has been the holiday we spent with my husband’s family vs my own for many years, this will be the first time in my life I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without getting together with any family members.

I stop musing and start talking to Pat about our upcoming plans.  We are both looking forward to the mountain lodge–a mere two hour drive instead of an 11 hour drive to Pat’s family’s house.  I find myself wondering if we should have stayed in Columbus a few more days and then driven up to Youngstown for Thanksgiving, though.  We need to think more about how to get together with Pat’s family now that the drive is so much further.  It’s hard for us to stay in Columbus that many days, but it’s easier than trying to work from Youngstown.

In any case, this coming weekend, we will be in the Smokies enjoying the mountains and relaxing.  I am looking forward to the relaxing part as we haven’t really done a lot of that lately.  To ensure I can really relax while we’re there, I am working on writing blog entries ahead of time.  That way, I can have all my blog posts scheduled to run without me and I don’t have to worry about keeping up on my blog in case there is no internet access from there.

The drive flies by for me.  Between writing and napping and talking with Pat about his plans for his business, we seem to arrive in no time.  Pat, however, is stiff and sore having driven the entire way himself.  I feel guilty that I didn’t do any of the driving, but it did allow me to use the time productively.

We pull up in front of the entry to our building and unload the ridiculous amount of stuff from the van.  Even though I reduced my load by a couple of bags on the way out, Pat picked up a bunch of guitars while we were there, so our load looks vaguely reminiscent of moving day.

A neighbor comes in while we’re unloading and gives us a nasty look.  I’m not sure why, but it’s the same one that was irritated the day we were moving in because we had an elevator blocked.  Apparently she didn’t realize she could push the button and the other elevator would come and she stomped off with a big “huff” to the stairwell.  Another neighbor comes along with a friendly dog who I greet while Pat is parking the van.  When he returns, we load our stuff into the elevator and head upstairs.  I think to myself that we really ought to just invest in a cart if we’re gong to continue to do this on a regular basis.

We get unpacked and then head out to grab dinner.  We end up at Taco Mamacito’s because it’s close and decision-free.  We talk about our trip to Columbus and how much more enjoyable this trip was.  Besides having a get together with friends we haven’t seen in a year who came in from Seattle, we also enjoyed the pace of a Saturday vs a trip where it’s all weekday time.

I contemplate the impact of not having an assigned office at work anymore.  There is something freeing about it–like not having a door with your name next to it implies that no one is waiting for you to show up.  It feels, finally, like we really have moved and when we go to Columbus, we really are just visiting.  As we sit in this restaurant where at least half the wait staff recognizes us contemplating sleeping in our own bed tonight, we feel the sense of having returned home in a way that we haven’t felt here in Chattanooga before.  I find myself wondering how important wandering is compared to having a sense of belonging somewhere.

Chocolate Chunks

It’s our final evening on this trip to Columbus, we will have dinner with friends we met when we were neighbors int he Walhalla Ravine.  They are picking us up tonight, in the alley behind the house where we’re staying.  We stand in the garage waiting for them.  When a car comes up the alley, we try to judge if it could be them or not.  In the dark, the glaring headlights obscure the shape of the vehicle behind it.  It’s impossible to tell.  When a car stops several houses before they one we’re at, we step out and wave.  But they aren’t looking our way and we are unsure if it’s them or not.

Eventually, they see us standing in the road and pull up.  It is them.  We arrange ourselves in the truck, me and Cindy in the back and Jeff and Pat up front.  I tell Jeff that  there is a home OSU game and that George suggested taking North Broadway to avoid traffic.  North Broadway is the opposite direction from where we want to go and seems out of the way, so Jeff decides to take us straight through the heart of campus instead, hoping to take Neil Ave to Lane Ave.  We’re eating at a new restaurant in Upper Arlington, so this would be the most direct route.

Unfortunately, as less optimistic Columbus locals might have predicted, Lane Ave is closed through campus.  Had Ackerman been open, there might have been some hope of getting out that way, but the bridge is being replaced and we cannot get over the river.  We head back up Lane in the opposite direction we want to go.  We next try going down Pearl Alley.  It’s back-to-back traffic with no where to go.  It’s now about time for our reservation.  I look up the restaurant and let them know that we’re on our way, but caught in game traffic.  They say it’s no problem, so we all take a deep breath and relax as Jeff wrestles his way through the thick of OSU football traffic.  We end up on Fifth Ave eventually, working our way back to Lane.  After a few more turns through traffic, we make it to Lane Ave feeling like we’ve gone on an OSU safari.

A half an hour after our reservation, we arrive at the restaurant.  Fortunately, they still have a table for us and we sit down to enjoy “Asian Fusion.”  I’m always a little perplexed by “fusion” restaurants.  Somehow, the use of the word “fusion” in the context of food makes me think they are preparing two or more distinct styles of food and then searing them together with a blow torch or something.  Given that this has never turned out to be the case, I find myself wondering why they don’t say “blend.” Or how about, “Americanized <type of food>.”  Is there something inherently appetizing about the word “fusion” that I’m just not getting?

In any case, the food is OK.  It’s a background to catching up with our friends, so I can’t say I really care that it’s not exciting enough to distract me.  Not that I don’t like to combine visiting with friends with really good food.  But, not great food goes down a lot easier when smothered in friendly conversation.

These friends have not been reading my blog, either. This is a relief to me.  First of all, I hate repeating myself, something I do more and more often even without considering the blog.  Second, Cindy is an editor for a newspaper and I’m not sure I can handle the pressure of knowing a pro is reading my blog.

We have plenty to talk about.  But, sometimes recounting what we’ve done just seems dull.  The thing I really want to talk about is how bad I am at hang gliding.  Really, it’s the realization of what it’s like to be really bad at something and to keep struggling and struggling to learn it that fascinates me.  Jeff and Cindy seem to get this.  The experience of a level of empathy that I’ve never really fully experienced for this type of situation before.

We swap stories of what we’ve been up to and what our plans for Thanksgiving are until all the food is gone and it’s time to wrap up and head out the door.  I suggest we walk over to Graeter’s for dessert.  After all, it’s our last day in Columbus and we have yet to eat any Graeter’s since arriving.  We all agree and head out the door.  It’s surprisingly warm for mid-November.  I expected to be freezing all week, but there has been only one day that was bitterly cold so far.  The wind is kicking up, but it actually has a balmy sort of feel to it.  This is good because it’s hard for me to enjoy ice cream when I’m shivering.

The black raspberry chip is as delicious as usual.  The big chunks of dark chocolate melt from too-cold chocolate into a creamy mouthful of goodness just like always.  I have tried a lot of ice cream in my life, but none has ever compared to Graeter’s.  Not famous Italian ice in Rome, not farm fresh ice cream in Utica, not Tilamook dairy ice cream in Oregon, not Ben and Jerry’s, and not even home made.  I will take Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip, the only fruit-flavored ice cream I’ve ever liked, over any of it.  The transformation of the chocolate from solid to liquid in your mouth is a religious experience.

We sit and talk over our ice cream before venturing back across the street to the car.  There are teenagers in this place.  I try to remember being an age where you want to be out doing amazingly fun things but you don’t really know what to do, so you go back to something age appropriate that you know you like.  Oh wait, that’s now.  And look, we all ended up at the same place.

Visiting

Saturday, our last day in Columbus.  We have a full agenda today.  First, a visit with the world’s best doctor for me.  Then we are taking lunch to some friends who just had a new baby.  We will wrap up the day with dinner with another set of friends.  I pop out of bed an hour earlier than my alarm, already preparing in my sleep for our day.

Seeing my doctor is always a treat.  The only thing that would make it better is if we were meeting over coffee instead of in her office.  But, this way I get to see her and get a minor issue addressed at the same time.  I suppose it’s somewhat odd to be friends with your doctor, but I’m not sure why.  Who better to trust with your health care than someone who genuinely cares about you?

After my appointment, Pat picks me up and we head to City Barbecue.  We are running ahead of schedule.  We decide to go to the grocery store first and pick up a few things for our hosts that we have been consuming.  Then, we go back towards City Barbecue, still ahead of schedule.  We decide it may take several minutes to get our order together, so we go ahead and go in.  We order a family pack, but can’t decide on only two sides, so we add two more.  When our order comes, each side is packed in a 1 quart container.  We have enough sides for about 32 people.   You can never have enough sides.

We arrive at our friends house, still a few minutes ahead of schedule.  It never fails that all the lights are green when you need to slough off time.  We even took the slower, back way to get there.  Sara is home with both children.  Geoff is not yet back from a grocery store run.

Sara greets us at the door with Lella cradled in her arms.  Her tiny pumpkin head perfectly round against her mother’s arm.  I am surprised to find myself pleased to see her.  While I’m never going to be one of those people who swoops in and snatches the baby out of mom’s arms and goos and gah’s over it, paying no attention to anything other than the baby for hours on end, I feel less afraid of appreciating the baby.  I think that in my younger years I felt like I had to reject babies entirely in order to avoid any regrets about not having any of my own.  That somehow there was a threat that I might suddenly wish for one and my biological clock would click on and my relationship with my now husband would be threatened as a result.

Having recognized that I would not be the world’s best mother and subsequently decided that the world would be better off if I didn’t reproduce, I have not, as of yet, regretted that decision.  While there are times I think my life would feel more purposeful if I had children, I have a hard time imagining giving up on so many of the life experiences I have been able to have because I don’t have kids.  Now nearly 45, there is little possibility that I will suddenly awake and want to have a baby.

Today, instead of feeling repulsed by this tiny life, I am intrigued.  She is beautiful, this tiny Lella.  I like to say her name, “Lel-la.”  It rolls on my tongue and feels like “lullaby.”  It is both a soothing baby name and a strong adult name.  I am amazed that no one ever thought of it before (well, that I know of)

As Lella awakens and looks out upon the wide world before her, her eyes open, big and bright.  She appears to watch things across the room and I wonder how far she can see.  I remember being told infants can only see the distance from the breast to the face, but she looks so fascinated that I have to ask out loud.  Sara also believes she can only see about 18 inches.  Lella makes a fist, twists her face, kicks her legs and farts loudly.  Henry, her 4-year old brother, is not the only one who is amused.  We take her upstairs for a tour of the nursery and a diaper change.  I rub Lella’s head and make sure she doesn’t roll off the changing table while Sara looks for something.

I am reminded of a terrifying event in my early teen years when an infant I was babysitting kicked his diaper off the changing table and I bent down to pick it up.  The screaming infant, probably suffering from colic, kicked so hard in the instant I bent to pick up the diaper that he flopped off the table and landed on the floor at my feet.  I believe this was the first nail in the coffin of my desire to have children.  Fortunately, the baby was not seriously injured, but I stopped babysitting infants after that.

Today, I stand next to the changing table with my hand cupped over Lella’s head rubbing her fuzzy hair, relaxed and happy to have this moment to experience baby-ness.  I can’t say that I really want to fuss over this tiny infant all afternoon.  In fact, I occasionally forget about her as we eat lunch and talk of adult things, but it’s nice to at least feel at home around this tiny, fragile life and not feel afraid that my mere presence might in someway break it.

After hanging out for a few hours, we head on back to our host’s house.  We are already exhausted and it is not even 3PM yet when we arrived.  Pat heads upstairs for an afternoon nap while I sit and talk with Georgia in between games of solitaire.  I keep thinking I will doze for a while, but in the end I never do.  It’s just as well–when Pat wakes up, he seems groggy and disoriented.  A long afternoon nap will do that to you.  I smile as I look at his rumpled hair when he comes back downstairs.  Back up we go, smoothing ourselves and making ourselves presentable for our evening out.

Ah Ha

On Friday night, we have dinner with our hosts.  Our new tradition is to go to La Casita, a little Mexican joint on Bethel Rd that we all like.  Tonight, it’s hopping.  Gill, Pat, and I arrive first.  Gina will meet us there, coming directly from work.  It’s only 5:30PM when we arrive with the blue hair crowd. We have no trouble getting a table, but by the time Gina arrives, the restaurant is full.

We have our dinner and a round of margaritas.  Then, Gill and I, Gill having had no alcohol and me having consumed only 1/2 of my margarita in the past hour and a half, drive the two cars back while Gina and Pat order another round.  Gill drives the two of us back to the restaurant again and we return to our table to hang out until two friends Gina and I are meeting arrive.  We send Gill and Pat home when Vivienne and Andrea get there.  Gina and I are now free to indulge in margaritas knowing that Gill, who doesn’t drink, will safely get us home when we are ready.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time letting go of feeling like we’re inconveniencing others.  It’s Friday night and we have already occupied the table for 2 hours by the time our friends arrive.  I watch the crowd grow–standing at the door holding beepers–and try not to feel bad.  I am not sure if my conscientiousness when it comes to making people wait came from some childhood trauma or if it’s just normal politeness, but I seem to have honed in on “Thou Shalt Not Make Others Wait” in etiquette while I am simultaneously oblivious to many other basic rules of consideration.  So much so that things like sitting at a light for more than a split second after it turns green creates anxiety in me.

I had to learn early in my career not to be several minutes early to meetings because it not only wasted my time, but it made others think I didn’t have enough work to do.  Learning to be fashionably late to parties was another tough adjustment.  I’m still often the first to arrive.  This is a case where my impulse not to keep others waiting puts me in the awkward position of potentially inconveniencing the host by arriving before he or she is ready for guests.

In cases where I know the host well, I have made arrangements to come over early and help with prep just so I won’t have to go through this anxiety.  In cases where the host is an acquaintance, I have sat in my car contemplating which is more awkward:  to be the only person at the party or to be seen sitting outside in my car.  This led to the practice of drive-bys.

Tonight, when we decide to pay the check and start over when our friends arrive, I try to dispel my anxiety by tipping the waitress generously.  Apparently it wasn’t generous enough because she doesn’t seem to notice and I am still anxious.

Our friends arrive and I’m relieved that one of them orders food.  I order another margarita not because I want to drink it but just to try to run up our tab a bit.  When it comes, I take two sips and realize that I desperately need water, but I’m not about to ask for it.

After everyone has had their fill of food and beverages, we decide to head over to Vivienne’s house.  I tip the waitress more generously this time.  I do a calculation of what her total tips would have been had she turned the table over 2x with 4 people ordering entrees, which seems about right since we’ve now been there 3 1/2 hours.  Apparently I did my math correctly; this time she smiles at me and says thank you when she walks by after taking the checks.

Now that I have alleviated my anxiety, I relax and enjoy this collection of women.  We are an eclectic mix.  Gina and I became the best of friends after sharing an office at work.  Interestingly, sharing office space seems to work well for me when it comes to making friends.  Many of the closest friends I have are women I shared space with most of the day Monday-Friday for some period of my life.  My other friends, Andrea and Vivienne, I met through Gina.

The three of them, along with a collection of other wise and wonderful women, had formed a book club around Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.  Gina and I, as close as we were, had never ventured into such topics.  I was never particularly interested in anything related to “spirituality.”

It’s funny how you can push away something and have no interest in it and then it suddenly pops up at a moment some window opened a crack when you weren’t looking.

When I got past the point in life when I was dreaming about what my future would be like and instead realizing that the future had come and gone while I wasn’t looking, I was left asking myself, “Is this it?”  As I matured (if that’s what we call it), drama receded into stability and with stability, life somehow lost its luster.  I suspect the timing of this sudden sense of disappointment was also a factor of not having children.  Without the distraction of young people taking up my time and energy, I had the space to notice that my life was disappointingly mediocre.

There I was with this little nagging feeling that there had to be more to life when Gina introduced me to Vivienne and Andrea and A New Earth.  For me, A New Earth introduced a new world.  The simple state of Being and simply feeling present allowed me to feel connected to life in a way I’d never felt before.  Although these teachings have apparently been around in countless forms for thousands of years, this book was like a portal into a realm I’d never entered before.  Unfortunately, like so many lessons in my life, it was fleeting and I found myself completely losing the ability to experience a sense of connectedness as quickly as I discovered it.

As I continued to explore Tolle’s teachings with my girlfriends, I got further away from the experience of and more into thinking about those teachings.  Eventually, we stopped pretending to be meeting about the book and just got together to socialize.  The realization that laughing and sharing together was a lot easier than seeking enlightenment overtook us.  Truthfully, a glass of wine with empathetic friends is its own form of enlightenment.

Now, at Vivienne’s house, Vivienne and Andrea introduce a new book to us.  It’s called Nonviolent Communication.  I have to smile.  I have been curious about Nonviolent Communication for some time.  I have seen flyers for workshops, received emails advertising classes, and seen references to it repetitively enough to realize the blinds have been pulled up even if the window hadn’t quite opened yet.  Now, here is a book on the topic and friends who want to learn it’s content together.

I am thrilled to have something new to read and secretly hope it will help me reestablish my lost connection.  But a little bell goes off in my head somewhere behind all the excitement: seeking is not the way to find.  Being is just being and you can’t find it by looking for it; you find it by doing it.  I am reminded of one of my favorite Yoda quotes (gotta love StarWars wisdom):  “Do or do not; there is no try.”

I appreciate the wisdom and insights my friends bring to our discussion.  Every time I talk with them, I learn something new and have many ah-ha moments.  It’s funny how addictive momentary insight can be.  It gives me the impression that I’m getting somewhere.

As we wind down the evening, I wonder how much of this book will actually make its way into daily practice in my life.  I wonder what space I will need to make for it and how much time incorporating it will take.  I wonder why reading about changing behavior is so exciting while actually changing it is so burdensome.  I think about the cycle of hope and despair that comes from the belief that we can change.  That we can be better people. We can feel connected and fulfilled.  And then, the realization that maybe we can, but it’s hard.  It requires making choices–consciously stopping mindless habits that happen on autopilot and choosing a new way instead.  Finding the energy to even notice mindless habits is often the most difficult part.  I smile, amused at myself, as I think, “Maybe this time it will be different.”

Special Ed

When Pat drops me off at the office, I head to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast.  I decide to stop by the gym to say hello to my former workout buddies.  The gym looks dark.  I swipe my badge anyway, but the door doesn’t unlock.  I stand there perplexed for a moment.  If I felt like a visitor yesterday, I feel doubly so today–I worked on this campus for 5 1/2 years and the only time my badge failed to open the fitness center door was when I broke it in half.  I’m a bit indignant about being locked out of the gym, but I remind myself that it’s lucky I decided not to show up un-showered and in my gym clothes only to discover I couldn’t get in.

After a full morning of back-to-back conference calls, I dash down a flight of stairs to meet up with a couple of my friends who are taking time out to have lunch with me.  I arrive still on the phone, but manage to get off the phone before we get into the car.  We decide on Chinese and head to a local favorite.

An interesting phenomena of having a blog in which you record much of your life is how conversations go with your friends when you see them again.  Many seem to feel obligated to read your blog and will apologize for not keeping up with it.  I am not offended by people not reading my blog.  While I like having an imaginary audience because it seems to keep me writing, which is my real goal, knowing that my real audience is busy and often doesn’t have time to read my blog takes away some of the anxiety about “what will people think?”

Vince, however, does not feel obligated or apologetic when it comes to reading my blog.  He simply says, “too many words.”  I am not offended by this either.  After all, I’ve made a personal choice to write my blog because I want to develop a habit of writing.  While I know I should be reading too, I’ve not made the choice to make time for reading.  I do not surf other people’s blogs except to take a quick look at people who leave an indication that they’ve read mine.  When someone who also has a blog clicks the “like” button on one of my blog entries, I take a quick look at what they are posting out of a curiosity to understand what they liked about mine.

Recently, a photographer and blogger “liked” several of my blog entries.  When I go to his blog, I see that he is an artist–someone with vision.  When I look at his work, I immediately see the difference in what I do and what he does; the stark contrast between “having fun with it” and creating actual art.  I ponder why he reads my blog at all and wonder what he likes about it.  I am too intimidated by his talent to give him a “like” in return.  I find myself hoping he reads this entry and than alternately worrying that he will.  My admiration makes me feel foolish.

The fact that my friends do not read every entry in my blog is actually helpful–otherwise, I really would have nothing new to say to them after not seeing them for 6 weeks.  I tell them about my realization that I suffer from a learning disability when it comes to hang gliding and the empathy that I have suddenly discovered for all the people whom I’ve known in my life whom I judged as stupid because they didn’t have a talent that I had.  If nothing else comes from hang gliding, I am at least reminded of the Zen lesson of allowing the ego to be diminished.

Humility is a difficult lesson in the end.  In my complete incompetence, I have realized that a lifetime of making humiliating experiences into funny stories is not the same thing as having humility.  It seems I have taken the approach of creating a good defense by taking the offense in the form of discovering and revealing my personal weaknesses before anyone else does.  As if me announcing I suck at something before anyone else does makes it all right.

What I learn now is that humility felt purely comes not from a fear of others finding you out before you do, but from compassion and empathy and the understanding that I am no better than anyone else.  I am reminded of a recording of Marianne Williamson a dear friend loaned me for 3 years until I finally listened to it out of guilt.  The quote I recall vividly from that multi-CD set is: “You are not special.”

This is what I do not explain to my friends:  What I get from hang gliding is the visceral realization that I am not special; I am as limited and inadequate as everyone else. I have intellectually feared and suspected this all along, but when I hang glide, I feel the truth of it physically.  The physical realization of this fact leads to the physical sense of humility.

Turns out that when I thought I was feeling humility before, I was really feeling shame.  The difference between the two is striking.  Humility sneaks over me gently, making me feel more connected to others, more part of the whole of life.  Shame strikes suddenly at my gut, causing me to shrink within myself, feeling alienated and alone.  When I am shameful, I am full of fear.  When I am humble, I feel remarkably safe.  I hold on to this fleeting feeling just long enough to understand that it’s a breakthrough moment.  But like all breakthroughs (at least for me), they appear suddenly and briefly, only to retreat to be learned all over again at a later date.

I shake away a sense of sudden vulnerability I feel and return to my social self.  I become effusive; I can’t stop talking.  It’s as if I shield the soft places with a torrent of words, distracting from what’s important but frightening.  Afterwards, I think about my friends and wonder why they even make time for me when all I do is babble at them.  I think about how lucky I am to have patient and caring people in my life.  Maybe my luck with friends makes me special?  No, no.  I am not special.

Closing Doors

When I arrive at the Columbus office Wednesday morning, for the first time, I feel like a visitor.  My group has changed buildings.  Although I’ve been to many meetings in this building, I don’t belong there.  The people in the foyer, on the elevator, in the hall, look up as I go by and their eyes roam for a badge.  This is a sure sign that I seem out of place.

I wander around the perimeter of the building, stopping to say hello to a colleague I haven’t seen in a while and asking for the general vicinity of my team.  I wander around some more until I locate the office of one colleague and then the cubes of the rest of my team.  I stop to say hello and then find a vacant office to set up in.  I miss seeing my name outside the door.

I have a face-to-face meeting scheduled first thing.  It’s a team meeting with my one-person team.  He and I catch up and spend time going through all that’s going on until we run out of time.  Then the conference calls start.  I do not leave the office until a half an hour break in the early afternoon allows me to run across the street with a colleague to grab fast food.  I am dialing into my next conference call by the time we leave the restaurant.

I return to the office while on my call and realize I haven’t had a minute to use the restroom since arriving this morning.  I’m scheduled with back-to-back calls the rest of the day.  My calendar is triple-booked in some cases.  I sit in my windowless office in an uncomfortable position with no monitor or keyboard separate from my laptop or fancy office chair with a head rest and I wonder if coming into the office is worth it.

After my next call ends two minutes early, I decide to take the opportunity to run to the restroom.  I manage to get a hello in to a couple of people on my way and then return to the office for my next call.  I wonder if I should have sat in a cube so I’d get to see more people.  But, it’s hard to take conference calls all day in a cube.

At the end of the day, Pat picks me up, forcing me to wrap up on time.  We have social commitments every evening, so working late will mean working after going out to dinner if I have things I have to do in the evening.  Fortunately, I managed to get a lot done during a couple of my calls today–the kind where there are 80 people on the phone and only about 2 minutes of a 90 minute call pertains to me.

We have to stop to pick up a package at the house we rented for a year between selling our house and moving to Chattanooga.  I didn’t realize I hadn’t updated my shipping address until the package was en route and it was easier to make arrangements with the new tenant to pick it up there than to try to get it resent to Chattanooga.

It’s the first time we’ve been by the rental in months.  It looks the same minus the wreath on the front door.  I knock and a woman answers.  The living room is full of children behind her.  A small toddler wanders over to the door and smiles at me.  I smile back at him, get my package, thank the woman and am on my way again.

I pause for a moment, realizing that I have no desire to go inside the house and see what it looks like even though I know it’s been freshly painted since we moved out; it’s now the home of a stranger.

But our route home takes us by our old street, Walhalla, and Pat asks if I want to drive by our old house.  I say no.  I have no regrets about selling the house.  While not having a house makes it difficult to entertain, limits the comforts we can offer overnight guests, and subjects us to more noise from neighbors, I like the trade off.  When we sold our house, we eliminated a huge sense of commitment.

The freedom I feel now is such a sense of relief that I can’t imagine why I thought home ownership was a good idea.  At the same time, I loved our last house dearly.  It was an heirloom built by my father and a remembrance of my mother.  I needed that house when we bought it and changing it from my parents’ house to our house was an essential process to mourning the physical loss of my mother and the virtual loss of my father when he moved hundreds of miles away after my mother’s death.

But having gone through that process, I do not feel the need to cling to it forever.  The final farewell for me was said the day I walked among the blank walls and empty rooms and remembered.

I remembered the moments I had with my mother in that house.  The time that I spent with my father helping to build it when I was in college.  The day my parents and I moved in.  The day I moved out into my first apartment.  Returning to do laundry.  Much later, staying for a few days when I broke my face playing softball, content to allow my mom to mother me again for the first time in many years.

I remembered the Christmases we had there.  And my wedding reception the first time I got married and the potluck the second.  I wished that my mother could have been at my second celebration, but that was the only regret I felt as I walked through those rooms.

I remembered the times that Pat and I shared as a couple in that house.  And our amazing canine kids whose lives were lived out amongst those same walls, now devoid of all the marks they left from dried drool.  I cherished every memory for that moment, but then I walked away with only a few tears in my eyes, refusing to fall.

My thoughts turned to self-pity when I reached the foyer:  “I am the only member of my family left in Columbus.  My mother is dead.  My aunt is dead.  My father moved away.  My brother moved away ages ago.”

I stood at the threshold of the open door for a moment longer feeling sorry for myself–orphaned in Columbus.  But then I turned away from the inside of the house and looked out the door.  Out there, there are people I love and who love me.  Some of them are far away, but the world gets smaller every day.  I closed the door behind me and concluded a chapter of my life.  Today, I have no need to reopen that door.

We arrive back at our hosts’ house with still-hot pizza and I shift my attention from musings on the past to enjoyment of the present.  This house is full of life and love; it would be a shame to miss it.

Throwing In

It’s Monday again.  I get up early, still hurting from Saturday’s adventure on the hang gliding hills.  As I unkink my body getting out of bed, I feel grateful that it’s not a workout day.  I vow that I will take a walk, however, in the hope of loosening up my sore muscles.

Since I also discover that there is no food in the house, I talk Pat into taking a short walk through the park and then a detour to the grocery store.  As we walk through the aisles trying to decide what we need, we realize that we are leaving tomorrow.  We limit ourselves to just enough food for breakfast, hoping the last of the milk will go far enough for two bowls of cereal.

Today is full of meetings.   Meetings where I have to pay attention the whole time, if not actually run the call.  I work late trying to get the things done I couldn’t get done during the day.  As it gets later, I get more stressed, realizing that I have personal work to do to get ready to leave tomorrow, too.

For one, I need to get the photos I will use in my blog ready before I go on the road.  I ran into issues with my photos exceeding my hard drive space on my (in tech years) ancient macbook pro.  After repeatedly spending hours cleaning out extra photos trying to make more space, I finally got tired of it and bought a mac mini server with a total of 1TB of drive space.  I thought I would move everything except my pictures and still have my photos on my laptop.

That didn’t work out.  I still kept running my 120GB drive out of space.  Funny out big 120GB sounded when I bought my macbook pro.

When I downloaded Aperture, Apple’s photo editing software, it turned out to be the final domino.  Not only did Aperture motivate me to start shooting in RAW again, which increased the file size of my photos by a factor of 3, but it also had all kinds of performance problems with my laptop’s 2GB of memory.

Not wanting my mac mini to go to waste, I moved my photo library and Aperture to it and started using it for photo processing.  This, however is not the best set up for a nomad into digital photography and blogging.  It means my pictures are all on a box sitting at home.  Although the server is small enough that I have taken it with me on a couple of road trips, packing a monitor is not practical and trying to use Aperture using “share screens” from my macbook pro is just painfully slow.

I would love to hear if there are other digital-photographer-want-to-be nomads out there who struggle with their IT setup and how they cope.

Today, my tactic is to plan ahead so that the photos I want to use during my trip are already uploaded to my blog site.  It’s been dark a while and the clock is telling me I’m running out of time.  I wrap up the critical things I need to do for work as quickly as I can and then get to work on my pictures.

I cut corners on my photo processing–I make faster decisions about which pictures to use, I don’t give them meaningful titles, and I don’t do much in the way of adjusting. Then I go through the process of exporting them all to small JPEG files and uploading them to wordpress.  Viola!  All pictures for the next 6 days ready to roll.

But, having packed for my blog, I now have to pack for me.  As someone whose job used to be described as a “road warrior” job, I have taken pride in my ability to pack light and quickly.  Part of the joy of traveling for me has come from my ability to minimize the difficulty of packing and hauling crap from one place to another.  Unfortunately, this nomad thing seems to complicate my traveling requirements significantly.

First, there is the fact that we drive most places.  Having a mini-van (or even just a small car) invites me to consider everything I might possibly want to have with me vs looking at what I can fit into one small carry-on and a small backpack.  Second, I feel compelled to take my camera bag at least.  Since I have yet to shoot while on a trip back to Columbus, I talk myself into leaving my heaviest lens and tripod at home as a compromise.  Third, I plan to workout with the group in Columbus, which means I need a workout bag so I can take the stuff I need to get ready for work at the gym.  Fourth, my IT needs have to be met for both home and work, meaning two laptops, an iPad, iPhone, Verizon MiFi, and all the associated power supplies.

I look at my laptop bag, laptop backpack, camera bag, and workout bag piled on the floor and shake my head.  It looks like I’m moving.  Then, I realize I haven’t actually packed any clothes yet.

I am stumped.  What clothes do I need for this trip?  The office clothes are easy enough.  But I have to check the weather forecast to decide what else to bring.  Now I’m in a panic because it’s 11PM, I’m still packing and we’re planning to get an early start in the morning.

I start the behavior that always results in poor packing; I call it “throwing in.”  This is when you stop thinking about what you’re going to wear each day and start just throwing in whatever you see on the basis of “Oh, I might wear this.”  This is how I end up places with 5 shirts that don’t go with a single pair of pants I’ve packed or with 15 pairs of socks and no underwear.

I try to stop myself.  I pull out half of what I’ve thrown in, making sure what’s left will work together, and counting underwear.  Somehow I still end up with a bag so full I have to unzip the expansion zipper to accommodate the bulk.  I set my bag aside and start getting ready for bed.

As I get ready for bed, I keep thinking of things I’ve forgotten to pack–a headband, deodorant, lotion, a brush–basically a myriad of toiletries that I wish I didn’t think I needed, but that I really miss when I go without.  I gather up what I won’t need in the morning and stuff it into my suitcase.  Oh!  My travel makeup kit–I’d forgotten about putting on makeup.

Convinced that I have more than enough stuff to make it through the days in Columbus, I call it a night, setting the alarm for 5:00AM.  But I lay awake in bed for a while, wondering how I could simplify this process and un-clutter my life.  After all, isn’t that one of our biggest goals?  I ponder the “throwing in” response and why the thought of not having one little convenience creates panic.  It’s a little hard to simplify without giving up something.  My last thoughts as I drift off to sleep are about throwing out.

Crazy Kinks

I wake up early, aching with pain.  It’s the pain that awakens me.  I lay in bed in protest.  If I ignore it, perhaps I will be able to go back to sleep.  But I ache worse that I’ve ached in a really long time.  Each hand has three completely numb fingers.  Pain shoots down my shoulders and into my arms when I turn my head just a fraction of an inch.  I try to re-position my head by pushing with my legs and sharp stabbing pains in my legs remind me of the muscles I pulled yesterday.  My neck is so stiff that I cannot turn my head to the left.  I lay there for a moment contemplating whether there is anything in reach that I could just smash over my head in the hope that it would make the rest of my body hurt less.

Instead, I accept that I really must heed the call of nature and push myself to upright using my hands.  As I move into a vertical position, the pain in my neck now shoots up into the back of my skull as well as down into my shoulder and lower back.  I wish I had a detachable head like a barbie–I could set it aside until my neck healed and then put it back on.

I shuffle my way to the bathroom, moving my shoulder slowly in circles as a I make slow progress across the room.  I am suddenly grateful that our apartment is so small that it’s not far to walk to get to the bathroom.  I am not, for the fist time in my life, grateful that I don’t have the equipment to stand when I get there because sitting is no fun and getting up again is even worse.

I make it back to the kitchen and start up the coffee.  While it’s brewing, I gather together my yoga props.  There is no question in my mind that restorative yoga is going to be the first order of business today.  I use my neck pillow under my neck in each of my poses, hoping to relax some of the spasming muscles that are making me so miserable.  I do a thread-the-needle pose in the hope of stretching my neck.  Child’s pose ends up being the pose that does the most to alleviate the pain.  With my arms extended as far as I can reach away from my body, my forehead resting on the floor (that took a while), and my shoulders shrugged up to my ears, I finally feel the sharp pain in my neck starting to ease just a little.

Having stretched my neck as well as all my other sore muscles as much as I can for now, I decided to relax on the couch.  My neck starts to spasm more painfully almost immediately.  I move to the desk chair instead.

I sit in the desk chair with my head propped on its neck rest and feel the stretch up the back of my neck.  This does a lot to help with the pain, but I’m still uncomfortable enough that I lean back in the chair and sit there without trying to do something.  Pat comes out and turns on the TV.  I sit and watch whatever he turns on.  This is going to be a good day to just rest.

However, eventually, we get hungry.  Deciding that we really do need to get up and move if we hope to heal, we agree to walk across the river to eat lunch.  We walk over to the Walnut St bridge and down to Market St, looking for a place we thought we’d seen before and wanted to try without really remembering what it is.  We find ourselves outside the Hair of the Dog Pub, which has a Sunday brunch menu.

We walk inside and find one of the few pubs in the area that allows smoking in doors.  Fortunately, there is no one smoking this morning.  Unfortunately, many decades of smokers make it smell like someone is smoking anyway.  We decide we can tolerate it and take a table.  We both order the Hashish breakfast.  While the name is fun, we pick it because the description sounds tasty.

While we wait on our food, we each sip a beer (it is, after all, now afternoon).  I’ve decided to try Beck’s Oktoberfest while Pat goes with something I’ve never heard of.  Oktoberfest is still going on in this pub, with special German beers available through the end of November in celebration.  A couple comes in the front door, looks around, and then walks over to us and asks us if we want a coupon, sets a sheet of paper on the table and leaves.  It turns out it’s a two-for-one coupon on entrees.

The food arrives and it’s an enormous plate of hashbrowns covered in cheese and eggs and bratwurst.  I like it a lot.  Pat likes it except for the bratwurst.  I end up eating most of his brat and still nearly cleaning my plate.  Not sure, but I’m not thinking this is going to help the way my jeans have been fitting lately.

On the way home, we stop at the aquarium gift shop to look for baby gifts.  We’ve passed by several other baby stores, but I want something cute and cuddly for our friends’ new daughter and I remember seeing funny stuffed animals at the aquarium.  After selecting an adorable big-eyed, pink sea turtle for the baby and a super stretchy rubber octopus for her older brother, we head on home.  The head of the octopus is a soft, stretchy ball that expands into a clear yellow that allows you to see little white balls inside when you squeeze it.  I end up squeezing that octopus all the way home.

We collapse in our respective chairs when we get home.  Me with ice and a neck pillow and Pat with pillows and blankets.  We settle in to watch a show on Porsche collectors and I manage to nod off for an afternoon nap.

Letting Go: Not Just an Expression

It’s Saturday again.  We decided to return to the training hills this Saturday in the hope of making more progress by going back at the earliest possible time that we can.  However, we also decided to only plan on one day of hang gliding this weekend and to only try to add on Sunday once we see how we feel after Saturday.  We don’t want to be as sore as we were the last few times we went hang gliding.

We get up early–I get up at 5:30AM, to be exact.  Pat sleeps for another hour.  I take some time to write this morning since I am not taking as much stuff today.  I have decided to leave my camera behind since, well, let’s face it, grab shots of hang gliding start really looking pretty much the same after a few times.  Also, since we’ve not scheduled an afternoon tandem flight, there is no need to take a bunch of stuff to do during the time between the training hills and the tandem.

Once I’ve done my writing, had my coffee, and gotten dressed, I begin repeating my new mantra:  “Eyes on Target.  Light Hands.”  I try to visualize this in my mind.  I stand in the kitchen with my hands lightly placed on my imaginary control frame, my eyes locked on the top of the cabinets.  “Eyes on Target.  Light Hands.”  I even practice correcting the glider by pushing myself in my imagination left and right.  I realize that as my body shifts with the image in my mind, I am cross-controlling even in my kitchen.  This surprises me and I try again, this time shifting like I’m swinging on a pendulum as much as possible while standing in the kitchen.  I notice my eyes are on the kitchen floor.  Raising them back to the top of the cabinets, I abandon steering practice and say, “Eyes on Target.  Light Hands.”  Then, Pat is ready to go and I give up on my visualization.

We get to the training hills plenty early.  Mike still beats us there.  He advises us on which hang gliders to assemble and I am back in the smaller Falcon that gave me so many fits the last time.  I talk to Mike about whether it’s a good idea for me to go with that one or not and he assures me that it will pick me up just like a too-big one would.  I flash back to my 10 trips down the hill without feeling any lift, but decide that there is some wind today and that I might as well give it a try since I’m not going to make it off the bunny hill until I can fly in the correct sized glider.

8 people have signed up for the bunny hill.  A crowd like that can make it tough to get a lot of flights in, especially if the wind starts kicking up early and we have to call it a day.  But, we get out to the hills as quickly as possible and start getting flights in.  I am relieved that I manage to launch on the first try, although I went into a dive immediately and realized I’d taken my eyes off target.  When my glider lands, my legs are smacked on the ground and my right quadricep hyper-extends slightly, just enough to give me a slight pull.  When I get to the top of the hill, I stretch before taking my next turn in the hope of preventing injury.  I launch successfully again and am happy with the launch, although I still go into a state of mental confusion and have difficulty correcting in the air.  When I launch the third time, Lauren tells me that my launch is 95% of the way there, but I need to focus on keeping my posture upright so that I leave the hill in an upright position.  As soon as I start thinking about my posture, my eyes drop and my hands tighten and I fail to launch and end up running down the damn hill again.

Now I am starting to limp.  At the top of the hill, I stretch thoroughly again before attempting to launch.  I suspect it will be my last time.  Lauren stands behind me this time and tells me when to let go completely.  She has me just release my hands on the control frame and do jazz-hands so that they’re there, but not grabbing at the frame.  I launch perfectly even though a cross-wind has me going crooked while I’m still running down the hill.  Lauren yells, “Run to your target!” at just the right time and I get my eyes back to where they should be, drag the glider back to straight, and launch into the air.  I even manage to correct in the air and do it correctly, although I don’t do it consciously, I just remember the feeling of swinging like a pendulum after I land.

We do a repeat the next time around, although now I am barely walking and I’m thinking this should be my last flight.  Now I’m having fun again and I’m willing to suffer through the pain of pulled muscles a couple more times.  I launch again even better this time by having Lauren yell at me and doing jazz-hands again.  Lauren tells me that she’s not really yelling at me, she’s yelling at my neurons.  She is right–I don’t have the right neuro-pathways yet.

I manage to get in one final flight, ending strong on 3 really great flights, but now my neck is going into spasms, I’ve pulled my quads, my inner thighs, and my groin.  I am walking like a cowboy once again.  But I hobble away happy, noting that letting go is ultimately what allows me to fly.  Who knew that when people say things like that they’re really referring to hang gliding?

Full Moon Risin’

This is my 100th blog post.  It’s not relevant to the rest of this entry, but feels like a milestone worth mentioning in any case.  100 days of 100 posts.  About 120,000 words.  That’s about 480 pages of blogging.  I wonder how many pages of interesting reading I would end up with if I went back and carefully edited it all?

Having shared that little milestone with you, it seems somehow appropriate to me that my 100th entry should be about the full moon.

I’ve had a busy week–or should I say busier than usual?  But I’ve marked the full moon on my calendar.  It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for.  In August, I went out to the Market St bridge and shot the full moon rising behind the Walnut St bridge but I didn’t have a tripod that could hold my telephoto yet.  I thought I might get at least one or two good shots with my monopod, but the lens was too heavy and the wind was too strong and all my pictures were blurred, although I still found them interesting.

Since then, I’ve acquired a new tripod that’s up to the job.  However, we’ve been traveling a lot and I’ve missed the full moon until now.  In August, I didn’t think it was that big a deal I missed the opportunity to shoot the moon rising behind the bridge.  I forgot everything I learned in Astronomy 101, I guess, and didn’t think about the fact that the moon wouldn’t be rising there for long.  The moon now rises from behind the hills behind our building.  There is no opportunity to catch people walking in front of the moon.

But, I want to shoot the full moon anyway.  I am fascinated by the moon.  Having been shooting the moon for many nights the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with what I’ve learned from some of my photographer friends.  I’ve watched the moon moving across the LCD on my camera as I try to set up for a shot and realized how quickly you really have to move to keep up with it.

I’ve also learned to cut way back on the exposure if you want to see the craters in the moon.  And, that the fuller the moon is, the less interesting it actually looks in photos because the light flattens out all the details.  In spite of this new knowledge, I love capturing the full moon behind objects on the horizon.  Tonight, I take my camera and tripod up to the roof to see what the options are.

I go to the roof and discover gusting winds.  I position my camera on the tripod and experiment with holding the strap so it won’t catch the wind and introduce movement.  I am ready to go, but where is the moon?  It’s well past the official moonrise, but I’ve learned that the moon appears at the horizon later here, probably because of the hills.

I am poised and ready to pounce–the moments the moon will be at the horizon are so short and I have to focus manually before I start shooting.  I look along the horizon for signs of light in the approximate area I expect the moon.  For a moment, I am like a 50’s housewife with dinner on the table, scanning the street for her husband returning home late from work.

Then, I see light.  Through the red leaves of a tree being whipped about by the wind, a tiny bit of glow appears just above the horizon.  I have to wait for enough of it to rise that I can use it to focus and then start shooting.  I adjust the exposure again and again, torn between being able to see the color in the trees and not over-exposing the moon.  I keep shooting as the moon is released from the branches of the tree, making me think, oddly, of an egg bursting from an ovary.

As the moon rises into the sky, I keep shooting, but the photos of just the moon really aren’t interesting to me.  They show a round disk, yellowish in the light from the setting sun, with splotches of brown on it.  Prime time is over and it’s time to shoot something else or go in.  Since the wind is getting only more fierce, I choose to go in.

I slide the legs of the tripod in enough that I can carry the whole thing over my shoulder without running into too many things.  Then, I head back down the stairs and into the apartment.  I pop out the CF card and pop it into the computer to see what I’ve got on the big screen.

My shutter speeds were slow enough that the tree in front of the moon appears in motion.  I decide I like that.  I decide my favorite shot is one that shows the color of the leaves in the tree with the moon flaring through it.  The leaves are in motion, the moon is frozen but overexposed.  I decide that I like that too.

I sit at my computer and stare at my shot for a while.  I consider whether it would have been better at a faster shutter speed so the tree was sharp instead of in motion.  Or if I should try to turn down the exposure on the moon in my editing software.  Or if I should crop it so the moon is less centered in the frame.  I consider copying the photo and trying all of these things.  Then, I decide once more that I just like it and to let go of how anyone else will judge it.  After all, the shot is for me.