A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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Walk the Talk

Tuesday morning. Time to do some body exercise.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep to a gymnastics schedule. People who know me in real life would be surprised, they will most likely think of me as a disciplined person as I manage to achieve quite a lot throughout the day, month, years. But I’m not exactly disciplined. Even Qi Gong – which I have discovered a few years ago – I do every now and then, when my organs inside hurt. Running for running sake makes no sense, I don’t need to lose calories. So I walk.

You wanna get out of depression, do some mild work out too along with thinking better of your self. I started walking last fall as a means to begin the day on a positive tone. I decided that after I see my little one to the school bus, I could go around a few streets in my neighbourhood before I have breakfast. My walk takes about 25 minutes, it’s always the same route, and I do it as often as I can (talk about strict discipline! but hey, I’m trying, see?) I love my neighbourhood, it reminds me of the one I grew up in, not in the architectural style of the houses but in the friendly atmosphere it exudes.

We live on top of a hill whose streets are lined with postwar small houses built in the mid-sixties. They may not look spectacular to some, but I like the ownership pride they show. They are so well taken care of, it gives you confidence in the solid little details which make a good life.

Some are detached bungalows or two-storeys.

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Other are split houses (the ones which have the living/dining/kitchen combo half-way between two floors making the bedroom-garage wing).

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There are also the undefined ones which look like two storey, when in fact they have an elevated main floor (a sort of Italian piano nobile – no wonder, there are many Italians in the area!) over a lower floor with bedrooms and the garage.

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As I’ve been walking by these houses almost daily, their presence has faded in the background and gave way to the seasonal details of their gardens. And so one split came alive with the flame of its yellow maple tree…

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… another one with an “ever-green” which turned golden too…

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… then you’d have pure fire coming right at you…

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…or burning your feet…

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…or just splashes of colour…

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…and weird reminders that as some die, others are born…

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And so it went, from fall into spring – admittedly, we had a lousy winter this one so I didn’t take many pictures as I wasn’t out much (yep, laziness – no, let’s call it by its nicer name “coziness” made a mess of my discipline). But hey, one Tuesday morning, as I was saying, I got back on the road and here’s what I saw:

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Some people even got their beauties out…

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… and the magnolias were simply irresistible!

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SO… what I want you to do is this: get out of the house. Just do it. If you’re somewhere in the northern hemisphere, right now chances are the weather is cooperating. (I hear it’s nice in the southern hemisphere, never been there – you figure it out and let me know.) It may be sunny or not. Get an umbrella or a jacket if it rains. Or walk out and sing in the rain as you are. Rain boots maybe? They are great ’cause you can jump into puddles – and why wouldn’t you? Be a kid. Have you noticed how happy water makes kids? It’s a miracle. You wouldn’t live three days without water, appreciate it, love it. Go out and enjoy every step, even for 5 minutes. And if it’s sunny, you really don’t have any excuse. Step out, walk, close your eyes and let the rays warm your face and soul.

Then come back inside and make yourself a tea or a coffee. You deserve it.

Happy Tuesday!

My expertise at your service

There was this phrase I came across:

The world is in desperate need of that something only you can offer.

Sure it is, I thought. I have expertise in so many things and I can’t help anyone, least of all myself. Do I know the answer to the question “what do you specialize in?” I specialize in managing a household, making conversation, drawing, teaching… skills which were a woman’s some decades if not centuries ago. Worthy women have careers nowadays. That’s how success is measured. The little hidden bits don’t seem to count. What big deal to put dinner (plus two or three other meals or snacks) in your family bellies every day? And the more, the merrier, right? What big deal to spend – quite literally a third of – your time putting things back where they belong? Or all those activities and planning for every single bloody week, regardless of school- or holiday -time?

How many times have you heard someone praising mothers and homemakers lately? It’s not fashionable any more. It’s not egalitarian. It’s too boring, too right wing in a global society leaning dangerously low toward leftism.

I tried to have a career and everything. Of course I neglected my children for it (although for the longest time I genuinely tried to – and believed to – balance family, house, jobs… I still believe I can do it). Then another pregnancy happened out of the blue and shattered everything. I couldn’t get tenure in the academia at 41 with two teenagers and a baby in the household, being completely burnt out too as a bonus of battling immigration, money and property loss, extended family crises, my husband’s own insecurities… so I dropped everything before I’d kill myself. I watched all my efforts going down the drain to have that third child, and my husband – who wants tens of kids if possible – wasn’t even grateful for it. I guess not killing myself proved a rather good decision in the longer run, though how hard everything was at the time only God and I know fully (and maybe one or two dear people who continued to love me and pray for me in spite of me kicking them… tough).

I was so angry! I grew angry by the day when I was battling the depression which ensued. They fueled one another, depression and anger. I got depresed because of too much suppressed anger in the past, and I was angry because I had let myself getting to the depression phase. I did address both, you know. But then I discovered an even bitterer problem: my husband, the guy who was supposed to be my support in all this, refused to accompany me to therapy, or to the priest. I said I understood that he is a man and that he deals with this by wearing a mask and that people should not find out why I am upset or that we have problems – So I asked him to at least read some books. Nope was the reply. Maybe go away for a holiday, the two of us? No. Just two days? It would mean so much to me. No. Put yourself together, get some sleep, it’s nothing. I bit my lips and I tried resolve my issues. I cried, I screamed, I started to treat myself nicer, I allowed myself to feel all the feelings, I stopped bullying people, I asked for forgiveness, even from my children and my husband. It was very hard and not exactly noticeable. No praise, no encouragement. None whatsoever! Still the only time my actions get a reaction is when I get so fed up that I raise my voice. I am immediately told to calm down. I asked my husband why doesn’t he notice any of my progress, or the fact that I managed to get out of depression without exposing our “secrets” to counsellors, never mind compliment me or thank me in any way. He said: “What depression? You had no depression. You didn’t take any pills. You were not diagnosed.” Surprised that I felt like splitting his head open? Yet, I didn’t. And I didn’t get a divorce either. Why, that’s a story to tell some other time, maybe.

I specialize in anger management, I think. But I don’t have a degree – and degrees are everything these days. So many shrinks, right? Admittedly, lots of these shrinks read books instead of living through crises so they will listen to you and charge you without giving you any advice. Been there, done that. Not worth the money.

So you want counseling for free? Go ahead, say what your problem is, here. The rules of the game are such:

You give your issues a think – deep one, if you can.

Then you summarize stuff in a comment to this post. I edit the comments so if you don’t want it to appear, just say so and I won’t publish it but I’ll email you at the address you provide.

I read your comment and will reply with my thoughts on the matter. Disclaimer: sometimes I’m harsh, though I do my very best not to offend (this being said, please keep in mind that we are only offended by things we haven’t come to terms with – It’s something I’ve discovered in the healing process). So I won’t just listen like a typical shrink, I’ll think of solutions you could try to improve your situation. I believe in improvement and getting out of shit. All you gotta do is want it badly enough.

What do you think? Moms, failed academics, former career women, architects of little fame, disillusioned teachers, exasperated wives… can I lend you a shoulder?

Start Close In

….Start right now

take a small step

you can call your own

don’t follow

someone else’s

heroics, be humble

and focused, 

start close in,

don’t mistake

that other

for your own.

Start close in,

don’t take

the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

 (David Whyte – River Flow: New and Selected Poems)

Healing

I come from a deeply affected country. Started off as a healthy happy easygoing child. Grew up surrounded by love and doubt, in the same measure. My mother was the living image of the Theotokos, not only her name was Maria. The kind of person who would go to bed crying and wake up with a smile on her face. My father was a talented man who had been deeply wounded at four years old when his mother abandoned him and by the constant belief that he was not good enough at anything he did. He made me feel I was never good enough, tough legacy to pass on to a dear strong child. She made me feel like I could conquer the world just by having faith. Little wonder they fought often, my mom and dad. They could not reconcile the pain inside. Like everybody around, they did not fully get why they had to lie and pretend life is good when there wasn’t any food, any freedom, any understanding. They were not stupid, of course. Just that the rules didn’t make sense. Because there is nothing to understand in the mindful destruction of the spirit.

There was massive schizophrenia in my country, still is. The Party said one thing and you had to follow its lines everywhere. By conservation instinct, people had chosen to tell themselves and their children differently inside their homes. To keep sane, apparently. Little did they know that “sanity” was also crooked. Truth was twisted, lie was queen. Doubt was in every corner, just like danger. You’d always have to pretend, or have your shield up – that wasn’t much different from all history of defense against attackers coming from all directions, literally. No big deal – just that it makes a people tired.

And tired they grew, by the days, by the years. Battles, struggles, tiredness got embedded in bones, can’t shake them off. Personal success was not celebrated outside the Party’s victory. The Church was suffering along. There were few people who’d heard about God. I remember I’d always wanted to see a Bible – it would have been a bonus to actually read it. After communism fell, I got one from an evangelic Christian in England. She genuinely thought she was bringing “the good news”. She didn’t get the people had stood by mere grace of God, that they had been Christian to the core, before apostles walked on Saxon fields. God has amazing ways, indeed.

It is hard to write about this. I have been battling the shadows in my life for too long. My optimism still erupts through the cracks now and then, and people wonder at my beautifully carved mask. Many don’t know it is a mask. Sometimes, I even think it is not a mask. I forget. I don’t know any more. The pain is eating me inside, literally. It made its bed and I do not know how to kick it out. I do not trust. I’m married to a beautiful man from the same country, tough luck. No matter how much I try to heal, he won’t. So firm is his mask, it has become his face. He does not understand where the problem is. “There is no problem.” When the problem is evident, he detaches himself from it, he leaves the room. How does one heal when the Party tells you there’s no need, you are already in heaven? How does one heal when you change countries to find the same lie blossoming all around, and your dear one, the one you’ve trusted, tells you this is it, you must comply and be joyful, what more do you want? How do you live with fear, with doubt, with failure and WHERE in God’s name can you find comfort?

How can I make the tears stop?

They talk about balance in books and self-help shows and blogs. Balance yourself. Better yet: balance yourself while being kicked.

BUT. I. DON’T. WANT. TO. BE. KICKED. ANY. MORE.

Then stop kicking. Empty your mind of your thoughts and let God in. Not as easy to do as it sounds. Then focus. You can’t. OK. Look here: YOU CAN. Discipline.

Repeat after me: I CAN. Walk on fire. Not because you want to, but because you have to.

I. DON’T. WANT. TO. WALK. ON. FIRE.

Walk with Me a little more, He says. One day the pain will cease.

That is His promise. There is no doubt in this. Whatever the damned party told you.

Change the pattern. Break it. Take pleasure in distorting it. Love your laugh! Get your paints out and draw long lines and curves and flowers and bees and streets and houses and smiling people with big, huge mouths. Paint the rain and the snow and cry a little more. BREAK. PATTERN. Yes, it’s schizophrenic. Yes, the pattern is there. Yes, the breakthrough is there too. Yes, you’re mad but you’re not mad. Yes, you won’t see God in flesh. Yes, He’s there. Yes, here’s a smile and a kiss and a long loving unconditional hug from your little one. Yes, it’s possible. Yes, your heart beats and belly doesn’t hurt as much today. Yes, you can’t breathe. Yes, you can!

Yes, you are free.

FREE. FREE. FREEEEEEEEEEE……….

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