Monday, December 04, 2017

Trash Day

Upswings are strange for me right now because they feel a bit like mania. They probably feel that way because my wintertime baseline has fallen so far below what my normal baseline should be such that feeling well, feeling motivated, feeling all feels like mania and I am skeptical of it. But lately, it's been one of those times during which my reflections are more in the spirit of awe for my own survival than anything else.

At least, I can pretend that they are. I have so far to grow yet, but I am pretty okay for now.

It's the events circling the non-events that get me; the implications and the results and what it is to be twenty seven and dealing with those results. It's the things that put my hair on end. The things that gut me and make me dizzy. Those things.

I's dark here. Cut me a little slack.

So anyway, here's me standing in my truth, or whatever colloquialism you prefer to assign to the following.

A Letter to a Piece of Trash

You are the standard against which all garbage is measured. You ruined my favorite store; how dare you. And since nothing is real unless it's compared to 1990's grunge, you are Alanis Morissette's proverbial black fly in my Chardonnay...except the fly is a scab and the Chardonnay is obviously a vintage Montepulciano because I'm worth at least that.

For some reason, you had better advocates than me but that one's probably on me picked your behavioral counselors and the advocate I picked ended up going to jail for child porn a decade later so...yeah.

I miss my favorite store but I don't miss the flight response that kicked in when I realized that you work there now..? I don't miss the hiding in the nail polish aisle and the not being able to see straight. I do not miss the cruel irony of having to go to that store to pick up my meds for which you are, in part, responsible. I do not miss the terror I associate with seeing your dumb fucking face. Get out of my head.

I came to Iceland to make something of myself, but I'll admit that I came here, a tiny bit, to put an ocean between us so that I can finally go grocery shopping in peace.

Fuck you. 

Never yours,

PS: Obviously, I forgive you. But still, stay away from me and probably everyone else.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Travelogue: Autumn Hiking in Slovakia

I've been here and there over the past few weeks, but I haven't really had the chance to sit down and tell you much about it. I had the opportunity to visit a few really interesting places, but I thought I'd share a little bit about a region with which I especially fell in love. 

First of all, I have this nasty habit of booking trips six months in advance with absolutely no clue what my schedule or financial situation will be when the departure date comes around, because when the deals are good, I pounce. So of course, I found myself overlapping with a conference and rapidly running out of cash (typical) but I couldn't feel too bad because 1) I had enough Delta miles to get to the conference on nobody's dime, and 2) it is legitimately cheaper to fly to central Europe and eat really well for a week than it is to just simply exist in Iceland. 

So, anyway. I'll have my roast half-duck and eat it too, thanks.

I went to Prague which was wonderful, but I want to talk instead a bit about my little side trip over to Poprad. In order to up my efficiency, I decided to combine two nights of accommodations with travel time and took the night train both ways. I knew that I wanted to use the six hours to sleep, so I splurged and got myself a sleeper cabin.

Even with the splurge, though, this cost me under €40 total: €14 for a cabin I shared with three other young adults on the way into Slovakia, and €25 for a cabin I shared with two women on the way back to Prague. For two nights accommodations and basically a guarantee that I'd be able to sleep through the trip, I wasn't complaining!

When I booked my cabin, I wasn't exactly taking it for granted that the train company was actually legit. Their website has a good user interface, but the booking and payment process was kind of confusing because you can, apparently, book seats on credit and I wasn't sure how to navigate that. But my friends (from Galway) Dana and Francesca were with me at the train station in Prague to see me off, and everything turned out great. In fact, I can't recommend RegioJet enough. 

Since Prague was the first stop of the route, I boarded and found my linens ready for me to make my bed. I set an alarm for well before the scheduled time to reach Poprad and followed along with our location on Google Maps, then took a snooze. I woke up with plenty of time to collect myself, but I didn't realize that the train attendants would be there to wake us up with a warm croissant in time for our stop! On the way back out of Poprad, my stop was not the first one since this line was the Prague-Košice line, so I boarded to find that my bed had already been made and I had orange juice, mints, and pastries for the morning. That was rad.

What was slightly less rad was that upon my arrival into Poprad, I couldn't check into my hostel until the afternoon and there were still a couple of hours until sunrise. But I decided that I'd take advantage of the good weather and head up to the mountains as soon as the sun rose, because the mountain trains run every half hour and I had read loads of advice from this guy's blog. So, I stashed my bag in the luggage lockers and decided to go up to Tatranská Lomnica at 7:30, right after sunrise. And oh, what a gorgeous sunrise it was!

It was sunny and chilly by the time I got up to the quaint ski town of Tatranská Lomnica, and the autumn view of Lomnický peak was stunning as I made my way to the ski lift and cable cars. I even met a very friendly dog in the parking lot! Turns out, it is possible to hike to the subalpine directly from town...but the trail through the riparian is really just a boulder-logged wash where they had cleared everything out for skiing and I wasn't wanting to waste any time trudging through that. In my opinion, the cable cars are worth it because the trail gets much nicer up at altitude. I was one of just a few people when I got up to Skalnaté pleso, a glacial lake in the valley of Lomnický peak. 

I opted to explore a rim trail that connected Skalnaté pleso with the lower cable car stop, but I only did that for a little while because I realized that I was seeing too much bear scat to feel comfortable by myself. I made my way back and took the small educational trail around the lake, then went up towards the Skalnaté pleso Observatory, which I learned was connected to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Continuing onward, I reached one of the main trails through the High Tatras, which I followed for an hour or so. I noticed that the trail side-kicked to the summit of a small peak, so I figured I'd go up there and then go back because I could see some weather coming in. Between alpine glaciation and granite boulders and rolling piedmont, this trail was an absolute dream...and the view from the summit, even more so.

Eventually, I made it back to Poprad where I stayed on the outskirts of downtown at the Aqualand hostel near Aqua City, Slovakia's enormous and extensive waterpark. I opted not to visit the waterpark this time, because it was not cheap even with my discount from the hostel and I'd really rather experience an intense Slovak spa session with a group of friends! Instead, I lounged around Poprad for the evening and the next day before my night train back to Prague.

I took a long walk through the city and discovered that Poprad is quite a bit bigger than I thought it would be! I mistakenly thought I could walk to the foothills of the High Tatras, but it ended up being a little bit too chilly and too far. Instead, I spent some time in the gallery Tatranská Galéria

For just €3, I was able to see some Russian originals as well as Czech and Slovak pieces, from sculpture to painting to glasswork and even old pieces of Charles Bridge from Prague. As a nice surprise, I discovered for myself an artist I didn't know anything about before: Ivan Ivanovič Šiškin. His command of light and shadows make his landscapes mesmerizing; looking at one of them is kind of like looking at a photo. You can see some of his work in this video:

There are a lot of things I would still like to do in Poprad and the surrounding mountain towns. More hiking, certainly, but also more exploration of the little cafes and local cuisine. Of course, I get self-conscious about speaking English in a non-English-speaking country (and for some reason automatically default to Icelandic, because that makes sense) but am usually privileged to be able to get by in larger cities. In Poprad, though, English is known but uncommon. As a solo traveler, I didn't want to burden the Slovaks in Poprad with my lack of language skills, which oddly came up a lot because people randomly came up to talk to me on several occasions. I don't know what they wanted or were trying to say, but I couldn't respond, either way!

The vibe in Poprad pleased me in a surprising way. I felt comfortable in the dark, post-Communism air, and noticed the relics of Communism only because Dana had pointed out the square-box buildings to me in Prague and that was fresh in my mind. But Poprad is a quirky place; it's colorful and artistic and friendly but has an almost sinister undertone, unsettling at times. It's industrial and dreary and vibrant and beautiful all at the same time. My charming Slovak host at the hostel sugar-coated absolutely nothing except the delicious Polish caramels she gave me with my coffee. She was easy going and gracious but not overtly so; she dictated her life and her schedule and was sad that the gallery wasn't a night club anymore. I liked her a lot. 

And, I liked those mountains. There are a lot more footsteps for me to take in those peaks, but I am grateful that I was able to get a taste and slip in before the winter snow. Up there, it was warm and Earth-toned and bright; the air more fresh than I've breathed in a while (i.e. sulphur-free) and the peaks taller than any I've summited in some time. I'll be back.

Until then, Slovakia. 🇸🇰

Friday, September 29, 2017

Thursday Came

I wanted to drop a quick(ish) line to thank you all for the support and love you've shown me over the past couple of weeks. I'm on an upswing and feeling loads better; I knew it would happen, but I just didn't know when.

When is now.

Since I am me and proudly a little bit of a cliché, I've been listening to some Coffee & Revolution by Glennon Doyle, and obviously it's been pretty validating. Validation lately for me, though, has been somewhat of an enemy; just in the sense that, for example, I didn't go back to therapy to get validated.

This is probably one of the reasons I haven't been back, besides the fact that life happened and I don't feel like walking out to the 105 and this therapist is at the beginning but I'm not at the beginning anymore...all that to say, I didn't go back to therapy to get validated. I went back to therapy to get shattered.

Shattered to reassemble, shattered to refocus, shattered to repurpose. 

But Glennon's validation is less of a mechanism of self acceptance (it is that, too) and rather more of a charged inspiration for me...mostly because, frankly, she reminds me of myself. 

For now, though, she's making me indescribably grateful. Obviously, though, I'm going to try and describe it anyway.

I'm grateful, and a bit less grumpy, to be in the season that I'm in. Grateful because she's out there doing all of this important inspiring work and I don't have to do it.

Not now, I mean. It may have been obvious to some of you that I've largely backed out of advocacy for the time being, at what seems to be literally the worst time in recent history to do so, but I've done it anyway. I have not done it unapologetically, but I am working on actively unapologizing. 

Because at the moment, I am in a season of peace, of mandatory rest. I often mention off-handedly that my life has never been easier, and this is relatively true. My life has never been easier because right now it isn't really real life, nor is it self-sustaining...but it isn't permanent. And since it isn't permanent, I am free to enjoy the vacation and I'd rather enjoy it than mess it up for myself by lamenting my lack of sustainability.

Despite my insecurities, I have successfully convinced myself that I'm somewhere in the right direction...mostly because of what is feeding and sustaining my heart.

Namely, appropriate things with respect to what I came to Iceland to do. My field, my studies, my project, my professional growth.

It may seem trite and insignificant, but the thing of which I am most proud over the past couple of weeks is the fact that I completed my computational physics project, and I did it correctly, and I did it during a time when I wasn't feeling well. More specifically, it was my solace; even more specifically, the fact that I could still do quantum mechanics was my solace. 

Because when I don't feel well, I can't always do all of the things that my brain has been able to do before. I had a sneaking suspicion that my brain has been long-term healing lately, because a few days before I returned to Iceland most recently, I could play piano again pretty well. I couldn't play a couple of years ago, not really. I couldn't play and I couldn't see and I certainly couldn't do quantum.

But now, I can. And arguably, I can do it better than I could before. I did the work from home during my productive hours, and I can't tell you how happy it made me and how relieved I was that my brain came back, that I came back. This season has been necessary for me to continue what I have always wanted to do; this quiet has helped my brain remember and rebuild and restore. 

I have never in my life been so grateful that my current call is not revolution, but rest. Don't be fooled, though; my rest won't stop the revolution.

It'll help sustain it later. 

My favorite thing. And yeah, they came on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tomorrow, Maybe Thursday

Sometimes, as some of you have told me, I am the person through whom you vicariously live. Today, though, I am the person who was in bed, sobbing at 2PM on a work day.

This is working from home.

Today, I finished an article about Prague (which, incidentally, is helping encourage me to plan for my trip to Prague next month) and sent exactly one glacier model run to the supercomputer. 

I haven't really made it any farther than that; I probably won't.

Today is one of those days during which I take every moment as molasses. Everything is intentional. I am coming out of an enhanced-hormone week and into a body-memorized trauma season. I know that this is the problem. I know this. I know.

I eat when I realize I need protein, or when I awaken to the fact that I'm really quite hungry. I do the dishes only because it would bother me if I didn't. I need to go to the store; I won't go to the store. We're on our last roll of toilet paper, but I won't go to the store. The store closes in an hour. I won't make it to the store. Somehow, having no toilet paper bothers me less than having piles of dirty dishes. One is an inconvenience, but the other is a metaphor.

I have a brain that is terrified of itself and feels this intensely, every so often, when it forgets that it's medicated. And this is torture. I know that this feeling will go away, but until then, it's thrice distilled torture. 

And it's irrational. It's not unfounded, but it is irrational. Specifically, I catch myself in my own contradictions, thanks to whatever amount of grace made it possible for me to have a decent memory. For example:

Actual Person From My Life: You are stewarding your life so well.
Me Right Now: I am a terrible steward of my resources.

APFML: You're so brave.
MRN: I am afraid of everything right now.

APFML: You are glowing.
MRN: I am melting.

In fact, the only thing upon which APFML and MRN would probably agree is the fact that my life is unstable and unsustainable. I'm pretty sure that all of us are aware of that; luckily for me, the life I'm currently living is very temporary. Maybe this instability is why people tell me that I'm brave, which is just another way of saying that they wouldn't be so ridiculous as to choose the life I've chosen. You can call it brave if you want to, but I am keenly aware that my so-called "bravery" requires familiarity with poverty and a strong tendency towards masochism. I get it.


Problem is that, maybe, I've healed down to the core. What remains is what has always remained. What's making me cry is what has always made me cry. What hurts is what has always hurt, and with every passing year during which no discernible improvement is made, it hurts again, and again, and again. 

And I don't know what to do. I have tried everything, within the boundaries that hold my safety in any regard. And I don't know what to pray. I have prayed...everything? Perhaps not, but I don't know what else to pray. 

It's an infinite loop without and endgame. 

But tomorrow, maybe Thursday, something will have changed in my neurochemistry and all of this will seem silly. I will be tougher on myself; I'll wonder why I've been acting so angry and irritated or have felt so devastated. I'll forget that it was torture in the moment and roll my eyes at the memory. And tomorrow, maybe Thursday, I'll be a bit more clear-headed and perhaps, hopefully, more productive. We'll see.

Tomorrow, maybe Thursday.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Most Powerful Neurotoxin

Thinking back on conversations I've had in the recent past, during which the generation above me spoke with shaken voices about the troubles to come, I remember being just about as dismissive as you might expect. I remember feeling strongly that we would be warriors, we would be survivors, we would be fearless. After all, haven't we survived worse things? Haven't we faced our fears before? Surely if we press forward in the spirit of defeat, we can't expect a victory.

I've since changed my tune, ever so slightly, to include a few cautious atonal harmonics.

To not be afraid, or to live in spite of it, requires some threshold of masochism. And I am no stranger to masochism; it's basically a requirement for being a student. To continually waltz into situations that are unstable at best, where funding can be as elusive as catching a dandelion seed in the wind, during which I retrospectively find myself counting the minutes between my beginning and my finding out that I have been listening to bold-faced lies the entire time...this is only remotely pleasurable underneath the umbrella of masochism.

Otherwise, it's miserable nonsense.

Maybe I'm extra jaded for my age, but I doubt it; I'm no more cynical than the next twenty-something who is realizing just exactly what we've inherited, and navigating the way through. More likely, I'm overstimulated. I tend to shy away from using the word "paranoid" to describe my biases because my doubts are well founded; however, my insisting that I'm operating between the folds of a completely fraudulent system is probably just about as true as it isn't. Neither, and nor. Truth is what exists, but it's also a limbo; a free suspension of perspective in a medium that isn't quite physical to me.

People who claim to hold concrete, absolute, universal truths make me intolerably suspicious. 

As a scientist, it is my job to observe and report. Observe what is, report what it means. We can pretend that science is a reckless pursuit of absolute truth, but it isn't; science is instead a constant clawing at understanding. And because of who I am as a person, I could quite literally not be anything else.

Certainly, not all of my colleagues are like me, nor would they agree with me on this point. But within my own pursuit of understanding myself and my life, I spill my frantic searching into my work. This is a good thing, I think; a driving force that is necessary to hold my attention since I am, otherwise, pretty flighty. But mistakes occur when I try to make connections that do not exist, or follow lines that branch off in ways such that I later find that I've spun my own web of directionless disaster, having forgotten to look up just for a second.

Perspective is the most powerful neurotoxin.

And when I'm feeling vulnerable or uncertain, much less threatened, my place of retreat is a place in the land of blanket distrust and overarching skepticism. It's a place where I've fastened a shelter of protective canvas around me, and no, I will not come out until I'm good and ready. 

My Instagram Fearlessness has already convinced most of you that I am aware of the beautiful things that exist just outside, and that I live to explore them. This is true, or rather, it is a truth. Another truth is the fact that sometimes my meds mix with my hormones mix with my disease mix with my observations mix up my reality, and I get scared and I need a minute inside.

I think that this is okay, as long as it isn't permanent.

In fact, I've been challenged, with blunt force, to come out of my shelter so that I can breathe the mountain air. And I can, I do, I will.

Just...not until I know that the wolves are far away. Or, more accurately, until I convince myself that I am well equipped to fight them, face them, survive them.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Disregarding Purity to Chase Intimacy, or My Weird (lack of a) Sex Life

My most intimate moment with a man happened to me on top of an active volcano.

That sounds amazing, but trust me, this is actually a pretty embarrassing story. On a scale of zero to cringe, this was about...a million. And I know that many of you out there are rooting for me, but don't get too excited; there was no sex.

Because 1AM summertime twilight over a slimy steam room in a hut attached to a pit toilet on top of a glacier that covers a volcano is neither the time nor the place for sex. For me, anyway, and no judgment if this sounds like your perfect romantic evening. It just...wasn't doing it for me. Not then, anyway. 

Over the past several months, I have had many Icelandic culture lessons. And now, I just kind of feel like those several months were essentially preparing me for this moment, a moment of close-quarters showering and steam bathing and standing, not once but twice, bare-ass naked in the snow with some guy. Naked as the days we were born, which were approximately twenty years apart, so. Perhaps another reason this wasn't working for me, but not necessarily so. Sorry, mom. 

But anyway, there we were, because I had agreed to accompany him to the sauna thinking, apparently stupidly, that we were, like, just going to go to the sauna and not have some weird forced existential experience. I don't blame the guy. He wanted me to feel it, really feel the cold and the sunlight and the tranquility on the mountain. The sunset layers were dreamy, and this was one of our first clear nights up there so we could see all the way up to the north. He wanted to show me that this was the place from whence my data came, and this is what was necessary for me to understand. 

If you have known me for five seconds, then you probably know that I am intensely spiritual. Standing naked on a glacier, with icy air washing over my bare skin, basking in the golds and pinks of the remaining light and the deep lavenders of the shadows, is exactly the sort of thing I am super into. I can praise the good Lord for that. I can hold space for myself there. I can reflect and rejoice in such a circumstance. 

But, like...not then. Not when I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or what he was talking about half the time, or what drunken sagely wisdom he was attempting to pass down to me in a surprisingly fatherly way. I wasn't open to actively participating in the conversation because I wasn't particularly comfortable. Not uncomfortable, mostly curious as to where this was going, but not comfortable either. Not familiar with this uncharted territory. I don't love being dragged outside, naked, without explanation. I don't like showering with somebody in a cramped cubicle when it seems rather extremely unnecessary. I don't have deep conversations with tipsy people if I am not equally as tipsy. And as public nudity is still an incredibly new thing for me, I wasn't sure what the game was. Were we, or were we not..? 

Nudity is not sexual here. It isn't. I would score zero points with an Icelander for trying to sexualize a trip to the sauna. So I just pretty much figured that any weird sexual tension was probably coming from me, since I hail from the Land of the Shamed and Home of the Constantly Sexualized, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure. So, I later consulted another Nordic person, and when she was just about as unclear as I was, I figured that my insecurities were probably well-founded. I mean, of course they are, but I do find it interesting to live in a culture that actively frowns upon sexualizing non-sexual experiences. I was curious, and not unsafe; I was fine. Very confused, but fine. Although, I guess Icelanders usually do respect your space while you're showering after the sauna, but all's well that ends.

I am as God made me, but I am also a product of my environment. I come from a culture where assumed virginity is packaged neatly with singleness, and presented as some sort of virtue wrapped up within the glimmer of purity culture; a gift to be shared under a legally binding contract between a man and a woman. But as myself and my peers grow irritated with gender roles dividing everything from toys to acceptable behavior to children's clothing, I've begun to dig deeper. I've started to notice holes in purity culture, and have pretty much decided that purity culture, at its root, is exactly the same thing as rape culture.

Allow me to explain.

Nope, it's too much. Allow me to summarize.

Purity culture assigns your self worth to your ability to control your body. Rape culture makes it okay for somebody else to control your body.

Purity culture reminds you that you are inherently dirty. Rape culture delights in telling you that you are inherently dirty. 

Purity culture reminds you that you are damaged and worthless without this virtue. Rape culture reminds you that you deserve to be damaged because you are worthless. 

Purity culture pretends to hold men and women equally responsible for their behavior, but demands submission from women at the end of the day. Rape culture unabashedly blames survivors; most of whom are women. 

Purity culture ignores any power of decision. Rape culture takes the decision away.

Purity culture holds sex as the highest achievement. Rape culture uses sex as the ultimate power.

Purity culture raises victims and protects perpetrators. Rape culture shames victims and praises perpetrators.

Purity culture values silence over justice. Rape culture depends on valuing silence over justice.

Purity culture leads to rape culture. 

I cannot say this enough. Purity culture leads, directly leads, to rape culture. The way we have raised our children (we being a collective) makes them submissive, vulnerable; the ways by which we refuse to take responsibility for this baffles me. Every time we make an excuse for somebody's inexcusable behavior, we show our kids that their safety is not a priority. Every time we say that "boys will be boys," we hold our boys to sickeningly low expectations. Every time we cover abuse with the blood of Christ, we wash our hands with the blood of our kids. Every. Time. 

I can't be a part of this. This ship has pretty much sailed, but I guess I'll just say for the record that I am officially done with purity culture. I have not lost my moral compass; this is my moral compass. Purity culture is a twisted and perverse version of rape culture, and it is a dangerous thing to teach. Now, I am certainly not saying that choosing to wait until marriage is a bad choice; arguably it likely saves a lot of heartbreak and loss, it demonstrates a command of priorities, and it is ultimately selfless. It's a beautiful thing to share with one person. But the way we frame sex absolutely makes those who have made a different decision, or those who have had that decision taken from them, feel subhuman. I'm done with it, completely done.

The undercurrents of shame and trauma in my life have essentially set the stage for a lack of sexual intimacy in my life, but I am not here in the spirit of pointing fingers. It's just how I turned out; more or less sexually independent. I'm not satisfied with it, but I'm not...well. I guess I'm a little heartbroken about it, but I am looking forward to growing and becoming better at being two rather than just being one all the time. 

But, being here is the healthiest thing I've ever done. My Icelandic therapist gets upset with me when I tell her that I'm afraid of being behind, that I haven't grown enough...because there is no behind, there is no enough. I feel these insecurities because I have the preposterous idea that everybody else has figured it out, and I haven't. In reality, everybody is fumbling through this. And in Iceland where it is okay to make mistakes and figure things out your own way, it is okay to be sexual, it is okay to not be sexual, and it is okay to find yourself completely nude, standing on a glacier with your mentor, without any boundaries being crossed.

Things get less shameful when we stop making them so shameful. 

Huh. Who would've thought?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

That Kind of Growth

I missed an appointment with my therapist because I found out that I was able to go up on a field excursion to Vatnajökull last week, so I let the ice and the Icelanders be my substitute therapist for the time being. It was rad, because we all noticed how everything from down the glacier melted away (literally and figuratively) and the only things that mattered just then were situated on top of Grímsfjall with us. But now, we're back in the land of signals and deadlines, and I have some things to think about.

Specifically, how to balance the dichotomous void between living the healthiest life I've ever lived, and keeping my empathy for the people in my life who remain in the trenches through no fault of their own, of course. I don't know how to do this; rather, I'm anxious about vicarious anxiety. Because of all the things that contribute to my traumatic stress, a considerable amount of it is vicarious and that is kryptonite for a self-sacrificial empath.

One of the things that has kept me unhealthy in the past, or rather has prevented me from taking advantage of all of my potential, is the fact that I absolutely refuse to deny myself my roots. Because denying my roots is denying my story, which is fundamentally a betrayal of self and an ignorant sway away from acknowledging the things that had to be accomplished, destroyed, upwelled, replaced in order to grow. 

But then, there's some sagely bit about not being able to move onto the next chapter of my life if I insist upon re-reading the previous ones, and I re-read my chapters like clockwork every night before bed. 

I always will, because I don't want to forget. If I forget, I forget myself and I'm tempted to smooth my rough edges and sweeten the bitter words I've spoken, the sour tantrums I've thrown, the dry throated threats I've made. Sweet things are nice to remember, but they really require a balance of salt. They aren't the whole truth.

The whole truth is the healing truth, and once we stop romanticizing everybody's healing processes and understand that the process is instead a difficult thing to which we need to square up, I've found grace for that.

Grace and growth, I guess. Growth in the sense that not everything is such a huge deal all the time. Not every day. Growth as a calm, collected, calculated widening of my horizons. Growth that will yield its own seeds someday. Growth that changes and evolves and adapts. Growth that moves me upward and upheaves the structures I have fastened around myself that aren't necessary anymore. Growth that points my eyes forward instead of rolling them backward. Growth that does more than sustain me, but strengthens me.

That kind of growth.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Heart and the Hips

What do you do when your heart is full but also cracked? You know, like when your chest caves in at the empty spaces but still fills itself with lava sometimes, and you're not sure whether it's a growing pain or a searing burn or, somehow, both?

I don't know. I just kind of feel like I have a lot of love to give, ya know? More importantly, a lot of love to share. The bubbly kind, the kind that makes me shy.

My hips feel tight. And then I get stuck wondering why they feel tight; they're smaller than I ever think they are until I notice, but maybe it's something else. It could be from kicking around on a rock wall the other day, strung up by a rope in a canyon with snow-capped mountains surrounding me, 300 degrees, the remaining 60 degrees taken up by an Arctic fjord. Or, maybe I hold some of my trauma in my hips; something I hadn't considered until basically today. 

I've been trying to pry myself open lately. And now I want these hips open.

Open these hips, open this heart.

A month ago, I was told that I've been stubborn (duh) but that I'm deeply loved despite that; except, please don't love me despite me. Love me to love me, or maybe just don't at all. But I was also told that the key to these open hips, open heart, open air panoramic secrets is a better, deeper, more intimate prayer life. Like, the brave kinds of prayers that you pray in the dark when you're too scared to open your eyes but still feel like surviving anyway.

It sounds like a gimmick I guess, but I get it and I believe it and I think that she was right, the person who told me these things, gave me these words. Because she holds water and loads of things heavier than that, and I know exactly from whom she takes her directions.

She's a good steward. I want to be a good steward, too. Of me, of my body, of my love.

I generally have an incredibly difficult time connecting with my body, but I've been getting stronger so I can feel things that I couldn't feel before, and that lends itself to a mandatory connection. I've been listening, and that's where it starts. Tell me what you need, dear body, because I'm listening now. I can hear you, now, when you ask for something and I am getting you ready to receive what you need. 

I am.

I always feel like my healing process will be (is) this incredibly dramatic, theatrical show just because of who I am as a person. I make it into this big thing, resolving to try this and that, talking my way through every step, sharing every moment and giving myself every potential situational outcome in my own head. Surrounding myself with my community, calling in reinforcements, covering myself in lavender oil and trying not to panic. Taking my meds, going to my therapist, managing the side effects of my meds and wondering whether or not I can ever go off of them or if I'd still die without them. Wondering if I'll ever be completely freed from the fog inside of my head, wondering where that fog comes from in the first place. The disease, or the treatment? Who am I; the disease, or the treatment? 

On my dip days, I'm a hot disaster in a new-moon phase. I do not really try to hide it, but I wonder if it has caused me to collapse inside of myself a bit such that I can only see my attempts to understand what I need, instead of the needs of people who wish to partner with me during this. Because I've been aware, hyper-aware, of my needs as they fluctuate and have been doing my best to meet those needs and grow as a result. It's working, it is, but it won't be enough. It isn't enough.

Like I said, I have a lot of love to share.

And loving me, all of me being loved all the way, will be the bravest adventure I'll ever have.

Photo Cred: Brendan Benson & the drone. Climbing a 5-7 top rope somewhere along Þverá, south of Akureyri, ÍS

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Naked in Public, and Other Thoughts

There have been a great many things to consider, lately. Heading soon into my eighth month living in Iceland, this has kind of become my life now and my home now and there is this huge, massive chasm between being on holiday here and having a kennitala and a legal address in 101 RVK. And the fact that I have over a year left leaves a sweet taste in my mouth as I wonder what kind of person I'll be if, when I'm ready to move on. 

So until then, here's my seven month summary of life in everybody's favorite (sub)arctic island.

...thinking very important expatriate thoughts in my natural habitat

1. I can't eat "American" food anymore.

Like, I know that we have prime access to perfectly healthy foods in the US (outside of food deserts) so calm down. This is not about that.

Andi came to Iceland and brought me a gigantic bag of M&Ms (which I will never not be able to eat) but she also brought 5 delicious boxes of Kraft Mac n' Cheese. Swoon. 

I know that this is only "food" by the loosest of standards, but everybody loves a good box of mac every so often. As down-home delightful as those cheesy noodles were, though, they just like...sat in my tummy like a rock. And didn't really go away. And I've been eating plastic carbs all week and now I'm bloaty and sore. 

Not surprised, but it means that my body has changed.

For the better, obviously.

Like, my tolerance for fillers and pseudofood and other such junk has drastically declined, and I'm not mad about it, but I am kind of surprised. I don't eat less chocolate or ice cream or hot dogs (arguably way more hot dogs, I mean, come on) or snacks than usual, but they must be...different somehow.

I am, though, sad about the dwindling likelihood that I can once again dominate the world when I'm back in the States this August and inevitably end up at Asian Buffet with my dad. I'll have to train for weeks. 

Oh well. I guess I'm not that upset. 

2. I am still not used to living in a peaceful country and everyone is over it.

Every time I bring this up with an American, they get it. Every time I bring this up with a Nordic person, they do not. Why must I always expect tragedy such that when tragedy befalls, I think I'm ready? For what do I think I'm preparing? Why don't I just calm down? Nobody needs my frantic alertness or my surplus of compassion. Well, nobody besides myself. But I'd rather give it to somebody else. And everybody else is pretty much fine, and pretty much over my more-bloody-than-rosy worldview.

Especially my friends whom I am constantly watching, like, text me when you get home.

Text me when you get home.

Text. Me. When. You. Get. Home.

Hey, instead of not texting me when you get home, you could try texting me when you get home.

Otherwise I will assume that you're dead, and will prepare myself to search for your body in the swamp. And the thing is, I really don't think that it's all that paranoid to think so.

Well, maybe in Reykjavík. But it only takes one second of becoming complacent, dropping your guard, putting weak faith in the presumed security of a given location for that security to go away. You will never, ever, ever convince me otherwise. 

So, yeah. I know you can walk home by your own damn self like a grown-ass adult, but you are also grown enough to text me when you get home.

3. I have been naked in public a lot, and I kind of love it.

Not in the ~feminist utopia~ sense that a lot of you probably picture Iceland to be (it isn't.) But because an enormous part of Icelandic culture is deeply rooted in access to geothermal hot pots, visiting public pools is essential. And to have public pools that aren't full of hot grimy wastewater, you have to clean yourself before entering. And to clean yourself well, you can't be wearing anything while you do it.

Simple, really.

Although it's pretty blatantly obvious when you think about it, I hadn't truly internalized the depth to which the United States sexualizes bodies from an incredibly young age. Like, why? Stop doing that, pervy grease-ball United States. Stop it. It's unnecessary. And it leads to all sorts of problems and abuse and shame and then everybody acts all surprised when actually, the root of the problem has been right in front of our noses since the days we were born.

Since nudity is not a big deal in Iceland, and really it's just about keeping public pools clean enough to use, bodies are not overtly sexualized here. That has been refreshing for me, and very body positive. Sex is actually kind of an interesting topic here; sometimes it's casual and sometimes it's extremely exclusive. Starting a family at a relatively young age is pretty commonplace, and the entire structure of the way this country is run centers on access to childcare and work day/school day flexibility to make sure the kids are picked up on time. Family is important here; everyone is pretty much related anyway, so it's easy to see why that is!

4. Graduate school has been easier than high school and it's really weird.

Last time I was in graduate school, I worked incredibly hard and felt awful about myself. Currently in graduate school, the amount of effort necessary to get by is essentially zero, and I feel like a queen.

I like this, and I don't.

I like it because I'm in virtually no danger of burning out and have a solid support system here, but I don't like it because when things do not meet a certain threshold of challenge, I lose interest and fail to absorb or learn or excel.

Luckily, this is graduate school, not high school. I have the opportunity to take charge of at least half of my degree, the half that involves my research project. In this half, I can truly grow and learn and self-lead. 

See, I like it when I can see growth, and I can. So I'm holding on to that for now, and working on accepting the fact that this is what a non-hostile work environment, more or less, looks like. Note that I am not meaning to confuse a non-hostile work environment with administrative competency, but that, as they say, is a horse of a different color. 

There is enormous room for improvement anywhere, but I think I can figure out how to come out on top here. And that's incredible, for grad school. 

5. The extraordinary has become my new ordinary, and I'm trying not to let it ruin me.

Yes, geothermal rivers in the middle of rolling basaltic hills are an hour's drive away. Yes, I can go glacier hiking if I want to. Yes, my everyday mountainous view from Reykjavík is spectacular. Yes, the northern lights here are tricolor undulations that will knock you straight to your knees.

This place is so full of natural wonders it's incredible that the entire island isn't a federally protected park. 

I mean, besides the fact that we kind of need some of those natural wonders to heat our homes, but ya know. Take the good with the bad; the free heat with the sulphur smell and the impending threat of volcanic eruption and glacial flooding. 

Reykjavík is one of my favorite places ever, but it tends to close in on a person. The darkness does, too, so I'm glad that we're nearing midnight-sun season! It's so important to get out of town as often as the opportunities arise, because once you do, you can find the most amazing things! I hope I never grow out of my sense of wonder, even if I've seen Gullfoss for the millionth time or the continental fissures and moss-covered lava fields for the zillionth. 

I'm just going to let it amaze me every time. Even if there is a perfectly valid explanation for that volcanic crater being right there, or that hot spring. I still think it's the cat's pajamas and I always, always will.

So, come visit me. Visit me so that I can show you these things and experience them all over again. Visit me so that I can tell you about all of the strange things that come with living here; all the strange, wonderful, beautiful things. See it, feel it, taste it with me.

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Western Iceland

First of all, I don't hitchhike. 

Take me with you? Photo: Johanna Matjaz

That is, I didn't until this past weekend.

See, I'm American and we can't do these things. People in the USA think that I'm "crazy" or "reckless" for sleeping at rest stops, in my very own locked car, where there are often security personnel present. As a woman, I mean. Women are vulnerable and weak, am I right? We can't handle ourselves, right? (Note that the previous two sentences are obviously brought to you by my main sponsor Sarcasm™) Traveling by thumb is a death wish; picking up a hitchhiker an act of prime stupidity. In fact, I recently watched a (really bad) film about a killer glacier that makes Day After Tomorrow look like a thoroughly-researched documentary, and the most realistic scene included an armed and dangerous hitchhiker. I had absolutely no trouble believing this, and this was an extremely bad film described by one reviewer as "cinematic trash."

So anyway. I don't hitchhike, and I was nervous. And I one hundred percent expected to have to fight my way out of some kind of situation, but I figured I could rely on my pent-up rage and stress from the previous academic week and out-of-whack hormones to swing a fist or two if necessary.  

But I went anyway. I'm all about grace, and this was a travel-by-grace situation. 

The plan was to split up into pairs and hitchhike up to the Westfjords region of Iceland, beginning around 9AM on Saturday morning and then come back sometime on Sunday. 

I met up with my teammate Johanna and two other teams at the Ártún bus station, and hopped onto the countryside bus to Borgarnes. 

From Borgarnes, Johanna and I walked until we were outside of town then flagged down our first lift of the day! Our driver was a lovely Icelandic woman who was teaching through the university's Lifelong Learning Program in the next town. She told us all about how her teaching methods; how she teaches courses like Research Methodology, Creative Leadership, and Stress Management and how she enjoys learning together with her students. She told us about a nice hike around a volcanic crater, and dropped us off there before her lecture began.

We took the opportunity to enjoy a walk in the sunshine, stashed our packs in the neighboring lava field, and ate our lunch at the shallow summit of the volcano.

View of the Ring Road from the volcanic crater

View towards Borgarnes from the volcanic crater

Neighboring volcanic crater

View into the volcanic crater, plus surrounding formations

Johanna and I enjoy a midday lunch in the sunshine!
From there, we walked all the way to Route 60 where we were to veer north towards the Westfjords. On the way, we enjoyed some sunshine, snow, and Icelandic horses. It was quite a while before we found our second lift, but we were in high spirits because we hadn't seen sun like this in such a long time!

The stunning volcanic landscape

A long walk in the sun   Photo: Johanna Matjaz

little floofs 

A subarctic paradise

The lovely rhyolite mountain Baula

dream team    Photo: Johanna Matjaz

Our second lift showed up eventually (after a few missed opportunities due to us running down into the ditch to take pictures of particularly lovely ice crystals) and drove us up to the lovely coastal town of Búðardalur. He was a friendly Icelandic man who has a snow removal company, and he mentioned that he was still tired from dealing with last Sunday's snow storm. He pointed out loads of farms on the way and told us who lived there, and where we could get ice cream (v. important!) When we got to Búðardalur, we stopped for a little break. It was also there that we discovered that Malin and Tim had already made it to the Westfjords, but didn't recommend that we try to get there because there are so few cars up there; if we all showed up, it might be nearly impossible to get everybody back to Reykjavík the next day! 

Thanks to Johanna's map of Icelandic hot pots and the kindness of a woman at the gas station, we decided to head north to a settlement called Laugar, home of Iceland's Laxdæla saga and Guðrún's natural bathing pool. This was about 15 km north of Búðardalur, so we pointed our windburned faces toward the polar front and pressed on for some time. We found our third and final lift of the day; three American girls who were headed north to explore the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. This sounded awesome, but we opted to stay the course so we could set up camp in the remaining daylight! 

A perfect blue fjord just north of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and Búðardalur
We set up camp and set off to find a hot water creek to soak our feet, and that's when Malin and Tim showed up. They told us that Guðrún's bathing pool was just up the hill and that we could sleep in the changing room shelter, a nice viking hut that was insulated with grass and sheep's wool, with a geothermal line running under the stone floor. So, we carried our tent full of supplies up to the hut, stripped down, and soaked in the geothermal pool while the sun disappeared. We relaxed, refueled, and gazed at the starry night sky while the northern lights danced in white, green, and purple curtains above us. Eventually, we fell asleep tucked inside our cozy shelter, saved from the wind and frost just outside. Waking up the next morning was easy and golden, like honey, and it felt like we were still dreaming our sweet dreams!
Soaking our feet in a hot river at the end of a long hitchhike, emphasis on "hike"
Our cozy little hut provided the warmth that we needed on a frigid night     Photo: Tim 

Morning in Laugar     Photo: Johanna Matjaz 

Our little home for the night

Guðrún's Bathing Pool 
Packing up and heading out

Wondering how all four of us would catch a lift home but keeping it bright and sunny anyway, we set off back toward the main road. When we reached the junction, Johanna and I hung back while Malin and Tim went ahead, just to increase our chances of finding a lift. I don't think it was five minutes, though, before Johanna and I flagged down a car driven by a man called Kristjón, who welcomed us into his car and even had room for Malin and Tim, too! He is a 72 year old Icelander who founded an electrical power company back in the 70's which powers the entire island. He spoke broken English and I can speak a few words in Icelandic, so I sat up front and tried to explain to him who we were. He was on his way back from his summer house and was happy to take us back to Reykjavík, but he asked if he could show us a few things first. Of course, we agreed! He took us back to Búðardalur to show us where he used to live, then across the land where his grandfather had a farm to an Arctic ocean fjord. Then, he asked to buy us lunch to refuel; responding to my "Takk fyrir matur" with a "Takk sömuleiðis," it became clear that he was as happy to find us as we were to find him!

The intersection of Route 589 and Route 60

My very first view of the Arctic Ocean       Photo: Tim

What everybody thinks Iceland looks like, probably

After lunch, we really got busy! Kristjón took us around Borgarfjörður along Hvítá (White River) to Barnafoss (Children's Falls) and Hraunfoss (Lava Falls,) to Húsafell near "my" glacier Langjökull, through Reykholt, and over to the Deildartunguhver geothermal spring.  

Driving along Hvítá

Ice formations at Barnafoss

Looking toward Hraunfoss


Gorgeous, red Lava Falls

Icicles at the falls

Just west of Langjökull

Shoutout to Langjökull for being a babe

Huge energy potential in the Deildartunguhver geothermal area

Bubbling geothermal energy at Deildartunguhver

Then, we took the long way down around Hvalfjörður to Þingvellir National Park to finish off our day along the continental rift.

Hvalfjörður reflections

Remains of a US military base

Always moving fjordward

Frozen, dreamy Öxaráfoss

Johanna and Malin moving through the divide

Fissures. Fissures as far as the eye can see.
All of a sudden, it was five in the evening and we were all tired out and ready for home. Kristjón took us all back to Reykjavík and dropped us off, door side service, like we were fancy diplomats or something! Tim and I actually met up with him again today; he took us to Hafnafjörður to tour his electrical power company and then down to Reykjanes to see some hot springs. I have a feeling that this won't be the last we see of him! 

This is probably the part during which I'm supposed to write about how my perspective was rocked and my world view changed, and it was, but I think I learned that this is more about wide open expectations than anything. 

Because even though we didn't make it to the place we thought we'd end up, everything was just fine. Wonderful, perfect even. My expectation, and I think our collective expectation, was to just go. Just go, take a long walk, bask in some long-overdue sunshine, and find something new. Do something new. Meet someone new. Go hitchhiking, you unstable American, and survive it. Expect to grow, but not drastically. Expect to learn, but not so much. Expect to bond, because that's what humans do when they take long walks and choose, actually choose, to exist in a vulnerable space together. Expect to unwind, enough to go back to Reykjavík and be okay with that. Expect to expect nothing, and gain everything that we needed. Nothing much, just enough.

And now we have stories to tell, a little more courage, and a new Icelandic grandpa. And I think that's rad.