Road Trip Underground

The last Tuesday in May was ideal for a road trip.  The semester break gave me the day off both school and work, and my boyfriend requested the evening off.  The weather was sunny and warm.  We had the freedom to go where we pleased.

When my boyfriend asked me where I wanted to go, I replied, “Ohio Caverns.”  I had never been there, but the website and a brochure I’d been eyeing looked enticing.  The temperature stays 54 degrees according to their site, which features a video. http://www.ohiocaverns.com

The drive was short, about an hour from our home base of Westerville, Ohio.  As we pulled into the parking lot we noticed the sheltered picnic area was teeming with students, and their bus was from central Ohio.  In my head, I said a quick prayer that they would not be in our group touring the caves.  Luckily, they had a separate reservation, and I deduced this field trip must be going on the “Historic Tour,” which was a different cave section than the tour we went on, the “Natural Wonder Tour.”

After browsing at the gift shop, it was time for our tour to begin.  A lovely college-age lady was our tour guide.  The group was six strong, only three couples.  When we entered the cave the tour guide said, “Your eyes will adjust to the dark.”  There were some small sconces added to the cave to allow electric light.

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Rust Formations

The tour guide turned the lights on as we entered each area, and she turned them off behind us.  We were in for a real shock as she said she was about to turn all the lights off.  For about two seconds, we stood in pitch dark.  “This is how dark a cave really is.”

The cave was devoid of animal life, but the rocks were alive.  The crystals forming above us dripped icy water on our heads.  Moss was growing in a few spots, looking like wiry green hairs all in parallel.  Once we had seen a few stalagmites, stalactites, the guide pointed out some “columns” which are crystals formed all the way from the top to the bottom.

I never experienced darkness that was so illuminating.

Unpacking Baggage

As recently as my trip to Greece, I was reminded that I carry too much baggage with me.022

As we departed Greece and sat in the airport in Munich, I was the one who was lugging a thirty-pound backpack carry-on.  The other few members of the group also with me in Germany were smarter travelers.  They had small totes and daypack excursion backpacks that I would guess only weighed a maximum of ten or fifteen pounds.  Why couldn’t I be that carefree?

At the end of the evening’s dancing the waiter at the restaurant Archodissa in the island of Thasos picked up my backpack and handed it to me.  You absolutely must visit if you get to travel to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea!  He asked me, with the usual Greek charm, “Is this full of rocks?”  No, I wasn’t packing my bag full of rocks and pebbles from the marble quarry.  It was mostly full of things that I brought from home.  First, I packed my antiquated laptop that ended up only lasting two hours without battery power, so I was tethered to a power outlet most of the trip if I was ready to type up new works or edit poems.  After the laptop, I carried a notebook for scribbling on the go, two books I was reading for class, and a water bottle.   The rest was filled with who knows what.  It doesn’t sound heavy, but trust me, I felt like I was carrying a military issued backpack.  At the airport it hindered me the most.  I felt my back straining.

Fast forward to moving day into a new apartment the final week of October.  I packed all my books, keepsakes, and papers in boxes.  Putting solely my clothes in the master bedroom allowed me to realize that I have too much stuff.  Yet, the moving process was swift, and I only did a quick sort as I packed.  My boyfriend and I got rid of three large bags of clothes before the move.  Then, as moving day arrived suddenly, he simply packed all the remaining shoes and clothes into plastic totes and I packed my shoes and clothes into suitcases.

Once arriving at our new place, the first place that is ours together, we both realized we each had a lot of baggage.  The pile of suitcases taunted me for weeks.  I realized that I was getting along fine without even opening most of the suitcases.  I was not ready to handle my baggage.  To do so I would have to put some summer clothes into the back of the master bedroom closet that has a large storage area of three-foot tall steps.

Cue the closet’s florescent light to flicker and finally burn out.  A dark closet was a good excuse not to handle my baggage.  Tuesday my apartment’s maintenance man came over and replaced the light.  Excuses gone, I have to make progress.  It still is a process, because who wants to try on tank tops in the winter?  However, I am aware that the accumulation of clothes that I don’t wear taking up space doesn’t contribute to the flow of creativity.

Yesterday, my boyfriend hung the mirror above my dresser.  Baby steps.

My baggage won’t define me.  The action I take in this moment defines me.

 

Quitting is no longer a dirty word

The act of quitting was always discouraged as I was growing up.

If you start something, you see it through to fruition. When you start a sport, you continue it for the entire season. I attributed the act of quitting to a character weakness. You didn’t want to be the person who quit their job every six months. You didn’t want to be the one who kept quitting one hobby after another, purchasing the gear for each activity, which became simply wasteful junk in the closet.

I grew up thinking that the word “quit” should not be in my vocabulary. I grew up always viewing my ultimate strength as being genuinely committed and dedicated.  I did not quit. I was committed and dedicated to every sport, choir, theatre production, job and friendship I was a part of.

However, there have been several key moments in my life that were punctuated by quitting.

Once you are ready to make the decision to end something you finally see it is time to give yourself the gift of freedom. To earn your own freedom you have to cut all the puppet-strings.  The time came for me to find my own freedom.   I had to quit my job because I had to go back to my original dream. I have always wanted to be a writer. I am not sure when I talked myself into becoming a teacher.  I suppose halfway through college it crossed my mind.

After graduation I felt such disappointment and failure; after job searching all over central Ohio I discovered that all a four-year bachelor’s degree in English qualified me for was to be a pre-school teacher. Once hired, I even started taking night classes to earn a two-year associates degree focused on Early Childhood Education. It was a slap in the face that I was teaching in the pre-school room. I enjoyed it for a while, but I was putting a false smile on my face when I worked long hours teaching literacy to 3 and 4 year olds.  My life was spinning in such a rush. I adapted to become the one that multi-tasked the educational and emotional needs of my students. Being a college student was nothing compared to the responsibility of shaping young minds.  The majority of my colleagues were mothers, but I didn’t have such hands-on experiences. I quit the job because it overwhelmed me and stressed me out beyond control. Needless to say, several weeks where I worked 10-12 hour workdays covering extra shifts were the nail in the coffin in this decision.

Fast-forward to 2014 and I made a similar decision. Teaching high school English for seven years was so rewarding and I really did feel more comfortable in the role every year. But the beginning of year eight it felt more and more that it was not my true purpose. I taught the fall semester, but I knew that I would not be able to finish the year out. Deep contemplation in December 2014 helped me realize that I had to leave the school district. I needed to quit my job as a teacher in order to return to my original life dream. As a very young girl, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I always dreamed of following in the footsteps of the writers whose books I enjoyed.

So, I have quit teaching.

But maybe someday I will teach again, in a different way.

It is always a possibility that I would choose to teach.

I have quit, but it is only follow my true purpose. I am a writer: unpaid, fledgling, emerging writer. Someday very soon I will be more.  For now I can sleep at night because I have found part-time meaningful employment 25 hours a week.  As a teacher I consistently worked well beyond 50 hour weeks.  I may have quit the salary, benefits, and pension that would cause many people to stay in the teaching profession until they retire. But I don’t care about fancy things, so I can adapt to living on a fraction of my previous salary.

If it gives me more free time to write, then it is God’s will.

Leaving teaching helped me earn freedom that I have only known the summer before my senior year at college when I chose to not have a summer job so that I could write. Other than the summers of 2001 and 2015, I have always been some combination of student and worker bee.

The realization had to come through teaching.  I can only explain it in that while I was teaching the students to follow their dreams I realized I had to take my own advice. Teaching reminded me to follow my true purpose:  writing my story.

Gratitude

I am constantly reminded of my blessings as I move into my new apartment.  I have a lot of things I was given as a gift for a special occasion, and I have a lot of things that came to me as a surprise and I loved just the same.  As I unpack I remember not only the time that I acquired the possession, but who gave it to me.  And unfortunately, some of the people who have passed on are the one who have passed on their belongings to me.

I just took the obligatory Thanksgiving Day nap.  This year I did have some turkey, so maybe it was the tryptophan, but I had a strange dream.   The very bed frame that I was just snoozing upon used to be at my paternal grandparents’ house.   The artwork I finally mounted to the wall in my new family room was my maternal family’s heirloom art.  It has always been in the front room of every one of my apartments.

In my dream I was in the same room with both of my grandmothers.  They each were sitting, the room was dimly lit, and I was there enjoying their company.  I turned to talk to my maternal grandmother and I said “I wish we had more time.”  True to her character, she smiled and nodded, showing off her infectious smile and the twinkle in her eyes behind thick glasses.  She said “We will.”  I was crying in the dream.  I leaned in to hug her, but it was as if she had already vanished.  Definitely, as I awakened I felt that I experienced a real “Our Town” moment.

I am grateful for all of my relatives, past and present.  There are too many names to list them all.  This year I am especially grateful for every person in my life that has supported me in my quests for love, health, education, and the continual pursuit of my writing goals.  Both of my grandmothers supported me best emotionally.  I am grateful that I did have time with each of them.  Just as my parents do, my grandmothers loved me unconditionally, and they truly understood me.

I am grateful for every memory that I have of my relatives.  The grandparents, aunts and uncles who are no longer here have left a lasting impact on my life.  The best presents I ever received for Christmas didn’t come in wrapping paper.  They all gave freely of their laughter, their hugs, their comedic wit, their stories of Christmases past, and their cooking.  They gave me love through our family gatherings.

I am grateful for the family gathering I attended today at my sister-in-law’s childhood home.

Family means feeling at home.  At my new place, I am feeling at home; I am hanging nails at the wall, and next spring I might even plant flowers in the dirt.

Family means roots that go back generations.  The angels who have left our company keep influencing the family story.

Back to the Future

“Being here I’ve realized what my final chapter is.  It’s this” were the words spoken on tonight’s episode of Chasing Life.  The main character, who is once again battling cancer, has decided to go to Italy and spend time dedicated to writing her book.  Her book is her story, her memoir of all the gritty tough moments that she has struggled with and continues to struggle with.  She watches a sunset and comes to accept her own mortality, saying, “I could die here…literally.”

The writers of Chasing Life have a way of saying all the things that we don’t want to dwell upon.  After all, her mother is a therapist.  The script is an offering of group therapy for all who tune in to watch it.  For some of us, the moments she has to spend in the hospital cut too close to the bone.  While it may be hard to watch, the series is focused on its message.  It tells you to keep fighting for your life.  It tells you to embrace your own story and to share it.

Back to the Future…1995

If I was cast in a new version of the Michael J. Fox classic, I would blast back to an idyllic time:  1995.

I would see victory in the form of electric energy.  I would watch myself from the wings as my younger self performed a monologue holding a snake moments after it hissed at me from its cage.  Under the theatre’s lights, the snake calmed and slinked around my arms and shoulders.  I would see myself shooting a cap gun during the spring musical to make the sound effects for the scene with a fake gun.  I would see myself sing and dance as part of the choir to a packed audience.  I would see fearlessness.

I would watch my defeat when I put myself on the line.  I would watch myself play my longest tennis match ever, fighting over every game, tied and tied again at deuce.  I would see fighting back tears of exhaustion as I lost and shook my opponent’s hand over the net.  I would watch myself run the second leg of the 4 x 100 at an indoor track meet, drop the baton, and step outside the lines to cause my team’s forfeit.  I would work twice as hard the next time I was given the opportunity to be part of a relay to ensure the handoffs were near perfection.

That is what life is in the theatre, the tennis court, the track, and the classroom:  it is glimpses of near perfection.  It is hard work to get to the place you have dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.  High school is where you decide what you will do next to make your dreams come true.  After you graduate, it is up to you to motivate yourself every day to achieve your dreams.

Back to the Future…2015. 

My future chapter is full of blank pages.  What is next?  I really don’t know.  I am okay with the uncertainty.  After all, every day I am traveling along an uncertain path.  All I know is that every day, I write another page of the future chapter.

Write. Edit. Repeat.

Back to the Present

Since my summer sojourn to foreign lands, I have adopted a new mantra: “Find joy in the present moment.” Also, I have been ambitious about balancing several goals and taking the actions needed to be successful.  I feel a renewed sense of motivation and aspiration.  I have landed a new job.  I have applied and been accepted into a new apartment residence.  I have opted to turn everything on its head.

Yet, I glance at my writing and see that I am still focused on the past.  All day long, I am living my mantra.  It is a challenge to stay in the moment.  I am finding joy.

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Fall 2006 visit to the “Butler Institute of American Art” in Youngstown, Ohio 

            Today, I set myself in front of a blank screen and I write.  The time I spend lost in writing is my favorite part of the day.  Whether it is a blank page of my journal or a blank document on my computer, I relish sharing my voice onto the page.  I do my best to craft my inner thoughts down in a meaningful way.

Today, I enjoy speaking with parents, grandparents, and children of all ages at my job. I continue to learn new things every day on the job.  I walk a few miles at work during my shift.  My new job has me on my feet all day.  I enjoy the exercise that is easily built into my day.

Today, I make time for a nap.  Today, during my free time I relax.

Today, I make time to eat healthy meals.  My dinner includes salmon and salad.

Today, I speak to my boyfriend by a long-distance phone call.  We have lunch plans for tomorrow.  Soon, we will both live in the new apartment.

Today, I make time to enjoy Tahitian Vanilla Bean gelato and a lemon cookie.  Today, I splurge on some unhealthy desserts that are completely worth it!

Today, I set myself in front of a blank screen and I write.  I aim to meet my weekly Monday deadline to write a blog.  I am a writer.  I may be an unpaid amateur, but I don’t care.  Writing is what I love doing, and what I will continue doing, as long as my fingers can type or hold a pen.

Today, I enjoy the moments of the day.  I understand being free of worries.  My recent actions have helped me to start moving towards my future goals. I am in the process of packing my belongings and in five weeks I will be moving into a new apartment.

I am taking actions to meet my goals.  I am finding joy in every moment.  I am finding myself.

Back to the past: Time Traveling

Packing up my life in boxes is bittersweet.  First, it is a chore, the kind that you procrastinate about starting.  It’s not a simple task.

I am only six weeks away from my moving date.  Knowing that I have a moving date on my calendar is beyond comprehension; it feels real and surreal at the same time.

Looking back at the past I have textbooks from college, children’s books from when I was a pre-school teacher, and young adult books I read as a high school teacher to converse with my students about the latest literary releases.  I have books galore.  All of these are coming with me.

Boxes, Boxes, boxes.  You know the cardboard boxes that are never opened, but shuffled from one apartment to the next, filled with memories, notebooks from classes, and your writings.  You couldn’t bear to look through them, but you also couldn’t imagine getting rid of them.  Each of these boxes is part and parcel of who we are.

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Symphony at Lakeside, Ohio

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Ohio State Buckeyes football fall 2006

Shoeboxes full of relationship mementos.  Your relationship has endured so long that you have filled several boxes and you keep starting new ones.  Each box contains a few years of history.  Each box has mementos, concert tickets, wedding and baby shower invites, movie stubs, and one even contains the corsage from your high school senior prom.  Long distance love letters from college and birthday cards are in their own box.

More recently the box has obituaries, medical bracelets from your visits, and writings that are only partially written.  More recently, work intruded with your time with friends and dates with your boyfriend.  The dark clouds took up residence for too long.  Writing was the moment in the recent past where you triggered happiness back into your life.

Finally you have acquired international mementos from three trips to Europe, including your favorites which you would love to plan a return visit:  Switzerland and Greece.  A new box needs to be established as you move on to new chapters of your life.  God willing, more positivity will fill the next box.

But the childhood and college mementos are who we are.  That is the time in my life I knew who I was the best.  Before jobs and responsibilities divided our lives into scheduled moments I said “yes” to everything I had an interest in.  Freedom allowed that discovery.

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