Perspectives on The Age of Innocence

I love to read classic books, especially ones written by female authors. I just recently finished reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. This book was, not surprisingly, absolutely heart-wrenching like many other classic novels. It seems like none of the great works of literature ever seem to have a happy ending. Yet somehow that makes them all the more poignant and real. It allows you to empathize and relate to the characters in a powerful, emotional way. When you read a good book, it almost feels like you’re making new friends. Which makes it all the more painful when things don’t turn out as you had hoped for them.

This particular book struck me in a way that a book hasn’t in a long time. I was so moved by this great work of literature that I just had to write about my thoughts. So here is your official spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read it. While I found this book simply heart-breaking, I understand that not everyone may see it the same way. I found myself swaying back and forth between a couple different perspectives.

To me, this book was a tragedy. I desperately hoped that somehow, against all odds, Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska would be together in the end. At the same time, I found myself feeling sorry for Archer’s wife, May. She was not the wicked woman some books may have written her as. She was a perfectly lovely, respectable woman that certainly didn’t deserve to be abandoned by Archer as I, nevertheless, hoped would happen. And in the end she isn’t. Although it could be argued that his love alone for another woman was a betrayal. Still, he remains faithful to her and their family until the end of May’s life.

Some may think this book did have a happy ending. Instead of cheating or leaving his wife, Archer did the “right” thing. He stayed. He did what society expected of him. He honored his commitments. But at what cost? He really had no good options. Either he abandoned his family and his wife to pursue passionate love, or he sacrificed that love for the sake of others and to live his life as a sham. In the end he chose the latter, and honestly, I’m not sure if that was the right decision or not. I can’t say what I would have chosen, myself. Perhaps his love for Ellen was only so passionate because it was forbidden and out of reach. Maybe if he had thrown everything away for her he would have found only disappointment and resentment rather than true love.

The most upsetting part of the story for me was that I saw my own life within it. It sounds wretched and narcissistic to say it out loud, but I saw myself as Ellen and my ex boyfriend as Archer. (Perhaps in a desperate attempt to console myself for not being the one he chose in the end.) My ex chose to stay with his new girlfriend, as I see it, primarily because they had an accidental child together. Even though he had expressed to me just how much less compatible they are than he and I were. Luckily for me, I’ve found someone else to love and be with. I’m not sure if Ellen ever did. However, my heart broke for Archer as it does now and then for my ex. What a wasted life. What a sad, phony existence, to have sacrificed such a love. I foresee him as an old man some day, filled with regrets and “what ifs.” Then again, who am I to say. Perhaps we are both better off this way.

The Age of Innocence | Book by Edith Wharton, Colm Toibin | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Flames

enough has never been enough
the empty space inside me
cannot be filled
with food or drugs or dollars

perhaps its not simply space
but an open furnace
with an ever hungrier flame
growing brighter each day

ignorant of this element
I feed it more and more
hoping that eventually
it will be enough

but feeding that fire
makes the heat more intense
hot tongues licking bone 
burning me up inside

without constant kindling
will these flames finally flicker out
or will I be the next thing
to burn 

Photo by Oleg_bf Oleg Borisov on Pexels.com

Technology & Creativity

I often wonder who I would be without technology. Would I have less anxiety? Would I be closer to the people in my life? Would I be more present? Would it be easier to focus? Sometimes I can look back at my childhood for a clue to the answer to those questions. Although it’s hard to compare because childhood is so different from adulthood in general. I can’t tell precisely what role technology may have had in those differences. One thing that seems clearer to me than others is the effect technology has on creativity.

Before the advent of computers, television was the biggest hurdle to my creativity. I get that blaming technology or television is ultimately a copout. Nothing is making me use these things as much as I do. However, I would argue that boredom itself leads to creativity. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I was actually bored. I’m certainly anxious, but not bored. I remember when I was younger, trailing behind my mother as she went about the house doing chores whining about how bored I was. It was that very boredom that became the catalyst for so much creativity. You’ve simply got to get creative if you want to find ways to entertain yourself. I was required to look within myself for stimulation rather than depend on the world around me.

I still have fond memories of the ridiculous games my sister and I would come up with like smacking a ball back and forth at each other down a long hallway in our house. Once we made our own Pokemon figures out of clay because my mother couldn’t afford to buy all the ones we wanted. When I was really little I even tried to make unique toys for myself out of construction paper and cotton balls. We were very creative and innovative children. Who knows if any of those moments would have even come to pass if we had our own tablets or smartphones like the children of today.

Now I can hardly come up with an idea for my daily drawings on my own. I can’t help but search for “inspiration” on Pinterest first. Lately I’ve even been searching through endless prompts for what to write about rather than taking the time to search my own heart and mind for what I’d like to say. It’s much harder to convince yourself to take the time to look within when there is just SO MUCH available outside of yourself to consume. Not to mention its much easier to scroll through Pinterest than it is to sit staring at that daunting blank page. In addition to that, it almost feels like my own ideas couldn’t possibly even compare to the creative content that already exists at my fingertips.

We’ve all come to realize the damage that constant comparison can cause to our self-image and self-esteem. I think it also has a huge negative effect on our creativity. Who knows what my mind would be able to creative if it wasn’t always preoccupied with what already exists. With the way we are all so dependent on technology, it feels nearly impossible to expect anyone to spend time cultivating their own creativity. Because that’s just it, creativity is something we have to practice. The problem with practice is that we must accept we aren’t likely to be very good in the beginning. It’s hard to settle for your own (initially mediocre) ideas when you know there are better ones behind a screen, a simple click away.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is, or if there is even a practical way to address it at all. The silence we all had to face in the past was the blank canvas that allowed us to find our own inner greatness. That silence is still there, waiting patiently for each of us. Yet in the past we were forced to sit with this silence, now we must choose to. I fear that as time goes on less and less people will realize the value in doing so. Years of constant external stimulation will also make it harder and harder to make that choice even if we want to. Soon our own inner worlds may be lost to us completely.

Harnessing Your Creativity - Little Black Belt: a Martial Arts Blog

Don’t Look Away

Master of aversion
I practice impressive techniques
of avoidance
a concentrated gaze
that blurs my vision's edges
don't look, don't look, don't look

It's too painful to see the full picture
selective sight suits me just fine
but there is always something 
looming just out of view
a premonition
that prickles the skin

Downcast eyes can't
keep me save forever
harsh light touches everything
eventually
when the time comes to surrender
don't look away, don't look away, don't look away
Dry Eyes Treatement | Eye Doctor in Billings | Wardell Vision Center

Why I Write

I feel like I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to write about for quite a long time now. When I first started writing every day, it was something I looked forward to. Now it’s nearly become something to dread. I can’t think of anything that I want to say. Even looking up writing prompts hasn’t been much help. Today I’ve finally decided to just write about the reason I write in the first place.

I let myself get too caught up in the details. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to write about. It’s the process itself that I enjoy. Sure often a certain topic I’m passionate about in the moment makes it easier to get into that flow state, but it isn’t necessary. More than anything, I just like spending some quiet time alone with my thoughts. Writing gives my brain something specific to focus on. It’s a chance to let the rest of the world fade away for an hour or so.

I love the way it feels rapidly hitting the keys on my laptop. I love the sound they make. I love watching the words magically appear on my screen. It doesn’t matter what those words are or whether anyone will read them. There doesn’t always need to be a lofty purpose for everything that I do. Sometimes it’s nice just to do something anything, with focused attention. This is the real reason that I write. It doesn’t make a difference if I have nothing to say.

Living with anxiety for so long has taught me that most of the time those anxious feelings come from trying to live in the future. Anything that can consume your attention and ground you in the here and now is wonderfully calming. The hard part is getting yourself to sit down and focus when you’re worrying about something. I’ll often find myself desperately trying not to worry about something in the future. What would be more helpful is finding something in the present to give my full attention. I don’t spend time trying to find the most productive or important thing to focus on. I just have to pick something.

This is why intentions can be so helpful. It’s easy to lose your center as your move through your day. Today my intention is to be present and enjoy myself. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t always have to take life so seriously. It’s okay to just be happy about the little silly things like seeing those baby geese by the pond on my way to work or snuggling with my dog for a few minutes on the couch this morning. Everything is just fine. Life is beautiful and I’m grateful to be here.

You Should Be Writing Every Day. Here's Why (and How to Do It)

The Fear of Mediocrity

I like creating because it fills an emptiness that used to be there. It’s so simple, and so lovely, that humans are like this. That we want to build with our hands. That we want to assemble and construct. That we derive joy from stacking pieces together, and stringing words together, and assembling colors on a page, and moving, and singing, and baking and knitting. Humans love to build little worlds around them.

Unknown

This quote is just a segment of a long post I read on Tumblr this morning about the fear of mediocrity. It was so cathartic to realize that other people struggle with their creativity in the same ways that I do. I identified so much with what this person wrote. I can remember criticizing my own art for as long as I’ve been creating it, even back when I was a child. Nothing I drew or made was ever “good enough” despite the fact that I had always been praised by the adults around me. My sister and I both always performed above the developmental level of other children at our age, especially when it came to drawing and art. But given that my sister is three years older than me, I still compared myself to her and felt that I wasn’t good by comparison.

I allowed this self-criticism to stifle my creative energy for many years of my life. That fear of failure can become crippling. It keeps you from trying new things. It holds you back from the hobbies you love, but aren’t “exceptional” at. I still remember reading something before that was talking about the way other cultures find it odd when people from America for instance say they “can’t sing.” What we mean to say is we don’t sing well enough to be comfortable doing so. But this idea is simply bizarre in other places in the world. Singing is just a natural part of being human. Just as all birds sing, all humans are capable of song as well. So why not allow ourselves to? The same can be said for dancing, writing, drawing, building, etc. All of these creative endeavors are a natural part of human existence. It is terribly sad that the vast majority of us seem to cut ourselves off from our own creative drives out of shame or fear.

If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me that they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. It truly breaks my heart to hear that. Yoga isn’t about doing fancy, impressive poses or having a perfect, flawless body. Yoga is a spiritual act of self-love. Yoga is about presence and healing and showing up for yourself as you are. Yoga is a beautiful journey inward, a dance with your own soul. I’m tearing up right now just imagining how many people have denied themselves the right to practice yoga because of how they look or the real/perceived limitations of their bodies. I was nearly one of those people myself.

I can only imagine that this strange and sad phenomenon has gotten worse with the advent of the internet. It has certainly made me feel worse about my own creations. Before the internet, I may have seen incredible anime or animal drawings in books or something, but even though these images were far out of my league, it never bothered me on a personal level. The people who contributed to these books were much older than me, I could tell myself. They are professionals. It is their job to draw. There is no need to compare myself to them. However, now with Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Pinterest, etc. we are able to see the best of the best from people around the globe that aren’t necessarily older than us, or professional artists. For some reason this is much harder to cope with.

DeviantArt particularly was a place I used to love to visit. At first I was inspired. How incredible it was to see the vast amount of amazing artwork regular people like me were creating and sharing with the world! But soon it became more about how far away my skills were from theirs. I started to feel that I would never be able to create anything as good, so I should just stop all together. It made it hard to find the fun in drawing anymore.

Even though for the past year I’ve been working to incorporate creativity into my everyday life again, I still struggle with this fear of mediocrity. I constantly have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter at all how good my art is compared to other people. It doesn’t even matter if what I drew yesterday is better than what I’ll draw today or tomorrow. It is the act of creation itself that matters. It is the beauty of making something where there was once nothing at all. That alone is something to marvel at, something to be so grateful for being able to do. Everything else is just a distraction, a misdirection, insignificant chatter of the mind.

I don’t write these posts to be the best writer in the world, or even a good writer, to be honest. I do it because I am a writer. I like to write. It brings me joy. And that’s enough. I don’t draw to compete with anyone else, even the person I was the day before. I don’t do it to make money or to prove something to anyone else or myself. I do it because I am human. I do it to manifest my unique, miraculous consciousness into the world. Because we are all here to create, no matter our skill level or medium. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough, especially yourself.

The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

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The Magic of Making Lists

Basically since I learned how to write, I’ve been making lists. Lists of things I want to do, things I need to get, things that I want to read, research, ideas, etc. This is a habit that has stuck with me all my life. Possibly one I even somewhat inherited from my mother, who is a prolific list maker herself. Even though, at times, the lists I make can seem repetitive they are always helpful for a multitude of reasons, all of which help greatly in reducing my overall stress.

Organize Your Thoughts

Sometimes when I have a lot of things on my plate, it can feel like my mind is a fishbowl that has been stirred up. The tiny rocks of my thoughts are spinning around and around rather than resting gently at the bottom. I begin to feel rushed, panicked. I have this nagging feeling that I am going to forget something important. Sitting down to make a list of everything swirling through my mind is a great way to get the water to settle. I don’t feel the need to keep thinking about all of these things. I can find comfort in the fact that it’s all written down. It gives me confidence that I won’t forget so I can get on with the rest of my day.

Prioritize & Visualize

Another great reason to make lists is to help you prioritize. Sometimes things seem so jumbled and complicated in my mind. It is hard for me to decide where to start. Writing everything down allows me to get a better idea of what I need to do first and what can wait until later. It also helps me to visualize the tasks I’ve set for myself. It gives me a clearer concept of how much I really have on my plate. Before I make a list, it always feels like I have a huge number of things to do. I feel helplessly overwhelmed. However, once I write it out, there are usually only a handful of tasks. I feel much calmer after realizing this. My lists always look manageable and allow me to feel more capable of completing everything I have to do.

Routines

There was a period of time when I started to become frustrated by my lists. It felt like every morning I was writing out the same exact things, and I was getting tired of it. My bullet journal allowed me to solve that problem. Most bullet journal tutorials online will include something called a habit tracker. Every month you can make a chart with a list of all of the things you would like to do everyday along with a designated box for each day of that month. You can come back to that page each evening and color in a box for each habit you completed that day. It is a great way to get into a routine or begin a new habit. It also saves a lot of time. No more writing out the same exact list over and over again.

Satisfaction

One of my favorite things about making lists is the satisfaction of checking things off of them. It’s funny the small seemingly meaningless things that can make us happy. Adding a check to a box, crossing off a line, or coloring in a square, don’t really strike me as pleasurable activities. But somehow the brain gets a dopamine hit for each one. It is such a delight to look at a finished list. Especially when it’s a completely filled in monthly habit tracker!

Ta-Da List

The other day I stumbled upon another great way for lists to help reduce stress. A Ta-Da List is something you can write to help you feel pride in what you’ve accomplished. Instead of all the things you need to do, a ta-da list is a list of everything that you’ve already done. You can even cross them all out as you go for that extra satisfaction. Sometimes at the end of the day, even though I know I have done a heck of a lot, it still feels like I haven’t done anything. This type of list can help you to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done and give yourself credit. It can really ease an anxious mind that is afraid you’ve wasted the day away.

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Writing

I love to write. I love seeing my handwriting slowly consuming a blank page. I love notebooks and pens. I love typing even more perhaps. The sound of rapid clicks on a keyboard, the feeling on my fingertips as I am pressing the keys, is so soothing. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I have diaries from the time I first learned how to form letters on paper. The massive amount of misspelled words stand as a humorous testament to how young I was at the time. There is just something so beautiful and therapeutic about organizing thoughts and feelings in order to release them into the physical world. Even if what is written was never intended to be read, there is still a sense of connection that is inherently part of language.

Even though I love it and I’ve done it nearly all of my life, writing has become more and more challenging as the years go by. I often get the urge to write something, anything. But when I sit down to begin, I am always gripped by panic and fear. Part of me is feeling that right now. It is a fear that makes me feel like running. An urge to escape, to look away. A fear that reminds me of being a little girl, holding the covers over my head at night, feeling that as long as I don’t look at the dark expanse of my bedroom that I will be safe from any monsters that might be lurking there.

It is terrifying to look this fear in the face, to study it long enough to even recognize what it is I am afraid of. When I really force myself, I can see that I am afraid of introspection. In order to create anything, first we must look within. When I’m drawing it is easier. There is no threat among the shapes and lines inside my head. Just images, with no emotions underneath. Writing is different. So much so that I’ve grown to dislike the phrase “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” A thousand words could reflect much more than a picture ever could. Some things can only exist within language.

When that familiar urge to write strikes me, the question that follows is always, “what should I write about?” This is usually where fear slams the door so to speak. In order to answer that question, I’ve got to go within. I’ve got to look inside of myself, to probe around my heart and mind, feeling for something that sparks my interest, my passion, my emotion. I know that I’ll find inspiration somewhere in there. The problem is what I might stumble across in my search.

The older I get, the more I find that I am keeping my mind on a very short leash. There have become more and more tender places where I dare not tread. I’m no longer even sure what exactly it is I am afraid to find. I don’t have any truly traumatic memories. Perhaps I am afraid of the good ones. That I’ll miss those old joys too much to bear. Maybe part of me is afraid I’ll look inside and find there is nothing left. Then again, maybe I am just analyzing this fear too much. After all, I am a perpetually anxious person. The majority of the time there is no cause for the nervous energy I feel vibrating through my body.

It doesn’t really matter why I feel this fear. I am forever being distracted and misguided by that persistent question, “why?” Even when I was little, I was one of those kids that had to ask why after being told anything. It feels like a phase I never grew out of. Somehow I still haven’t learned that that question often doesn’t have an answer. More importantly, that often it doesn’t really matter anyway. If you spend your life fixated on figuring out why we are here, why we are alive, why we exist at all, you will miss out on actually living. Maybe we get to choose what the answer to that question will be. Maybe it’s simply irrelevant. What matters is that we are here. Wouldn’t a better question be “what am I going to do with this life” or “how can I make this life meaningful, enjoyable, etc.?” Maybe it would have actually served me better if my parents hadn’t always been so patient with me and made me stop asking why all of the time.

Why it scares me isn’t what I want to focus on. I love writing. That is what I want to focus on. I even think I’m pretty good at it. It makes me happy. It lets me express myself better than I am able to any other way. It lets me be creative, silly, curious, focused, anything that I want to be. All I have to do is believe in myself enough to start, then I won’t be afraid anymore.

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Blogging as Self-help

You may have noticed that the topics I’ve been writing about lately aren’t exactly in line with my original intention for this blog. Years ago when I created it, my goal was to write about veganism, specifically helpful tips for new vegans or vegans in rural areas like myself. It is self evident that even in the beginning this resulted in few, infrequent posts. I was getting too in my head. Limiting myself and allowing perfectionism to stop me before I even started. I believe I went years without posting anything at all. I was too anxious to even think about it. Something that was supposed to be a fun way to improve my writing skills and share with others became just another source of distress.

Since I’ve started posting regularly on this blog again, I decided to write about absolutely anything I felt like writing about that day. I had been doing daily writing for years, but was starting to feel frustrated with the way my journaling always turned out. It seemed like I was just trying to fill the pages with meaningless words in order to get my daily writing over with. I feel like having an audience helps me to stay focused on a topic and actually express myself in a more productive, beneficial way.

I have been using it to explore my own thoughts and follow them to see if I am able to come to any interesting conclusions. It has felt rather therapeutic to me, writing these entries each day for the last few weeks. I can’t guarantee that I’ll continue this new habit, but for right now it is helping me a lot. I’ve really been enjoying contemplating what to write about and listening to lo-fi hip hop as I wander through my own thoughts. It may even be creating something nice for me to look back on some day.

So I do apologize if this blog seems lacking direction now and if you don’t enjoy or understand my seemingly random ramblings. But at the end of the day, I’ve started writing on here again for myself. After all imperfection is far better than radio silence. And I’m proud of this new habit of mine. Proud of myself for trying to remember how to do things for no other reason than my own pleasure and amusement.