Archive for September, 2018


September 26, 2018

The earth tilts us into Fall; the full moon over the equinox and then cool, cool mornings and a shift in the slant of the light over the city. Yesterday afternoon I walked under rows of sunlit linden trees, the green going gold over my head and I felt… blessed. I love this city, but if I try to articulate the reasons, I can apply the itemized list to dozens of other places I have lived or visited, without the same affection having blossomed. It’s kind of like terroir I guess.

A young woman I follow on Twitter, Hannah Paasch, tweeted this earlier this month (screenshot because I couldn’t figure out how to embed the link):

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 08.25.19 am

It’s my new mantra. I thought of it this morning related to information that we got earlier this week about Illyria – we have learned some medical information that explains so much about certain things she struggles with, things I thought she did poorly because she wasn’t trying, or wasn’t paying attention, or I don’t know why, are all explained with this one thing – and it feels like a new room has opened in my mind, a place to look at, explore, and understand all these things about my beloved daughter that have been perplexing or frustrating. I’m not worried or fearful because over time I’ve only seen her get better at these things. It helps me to know that these things ARE harder for her than for other kids her age; she’s not JUST being lazy or stubborn (although she is capable of both those moods, to be sure). We’ve shared the information with her teacher, who has responded so supportively.

Over the weekend Illyria made an amazing model for her science class about the effects of DDT, using pipe cleaners to fashion a pair of cardinals on a nest – the male bringing a worm in his beak – and then of course the dead bird, broken egg. The project was about Rachel Carson and the birth of environmental science. I see a future for her in this – she is passionate about tree planting, clean air, environmental protection. It’s so cool seeing her express this, and to get a better idea of how to direct her interests going forward.

Today is the first day this week I’ve had for solitude and writing time at home by myself. It is a golden day.


September 20, 2018

I remember the early morning stillness, before the jungle heat set in to bake the roads and rooftops, and my family were all still asleep. I would sit in the living room – or kneel on the rug – to read my Bible, journal, and pray. Every day. Then I would make breakfast for everyone: toast, scrambled eggs, hot chocolate or coffee. Yep, I was a super pious teen. Even though I cringe a bit now at how sanctimonious I must have been (I wrote a paper for a school speech contest on how The Simpsons was ruining society by promoting disrespect towards authority – good grief, I must have been insufferable!) I can also feel a fond compassion for that earnest girl, who for several weeks one year met the challenge of praying for two hours every day – believing so hard that this act would change the world. Who knows, maybe it did.

And there was plenty of public affirmation and reward for this piety; in my high school girls’ Sunday School class (yes, we were separated into sex-segregated groups starting in 9th grade) we earned points for doing our daily devotions (aka “quiet time,” or “quiet time with the Lord”) as well as memorizing Bible verses and I don’t know what else. I won a blue fluffy bunny! I was also named “Student of the Year” at my Christian school, 10th grade and 12th grade.

Now I get zero brownie points, no trophies or stuffed toys. So I’m relying on the intrinsic benefits of daily meditation and putting the phone away so I can get better sleep. It’s helping. Yesterday I was working myself into a tizzy over something I said to someone in an e-mail, imagining their reactions and raking myself over the coals for not being as forthright as I feel like I should have been, imagining this person’s conversations with other people who know us both, about me, of course, and all my errors and omissions – Slightly ridiculous, yes? I got into a weird spiral where I couldn’t tell if it was really my honest intuition pinging me a needed warning, or that self-loathing part of my brain that just lies to me all the time about how worthless I am.

But I was able to yank myself out of it with a breathing meditation (I’m using the Smiling Minds app because it was free), and it gave me the needed perspective. Yes, I should have been more forthright, but probably nobody is talking about me. It was a small thing and will probably remain a small thing. If it bothers the other person, then they’ll get back to me and we can move on from there.

Overall, I feel calmer, happier. Nothing like the dark well of angst of this past summer. And I’ve been making myself daily affirmation slides, combining affirmations with photos I’ve taken. Here are a few to start your day.

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And this quote from Songs of Kabir:

Listen carefully,

Neither the Vedas Nor the Qur’an

Will teach you this:

Put the bit in its mouth,

The saddle on its back,

Your foot in the stirrup

And ride your wild runaway mind

All the way to heaven.

Random thoughts on wellbeing

September 11, 2018

I just finished eating a truly delicious breakfast: avocado omelette, watermelon-ginger-blackberry-peach smoothie, blackberry bran muffin, coffee. I made it all myself! And I feel a good 40% happier than before I ate it.

Tuesdays seem to be easier to handle than Mondays.

Sleep is so key to wellbeing.

I worry a lot about Illyria. My meditation app says that since I started this program I’ve meditated for 18 hours and 28 minutes (although some of that was my husband using it for the sleep meditation). I think it has a net positive effect on my overall baseline happiness level – or, to put it another way, the world feels a little lighter, a little more richly hued, softer, better. I wish I could get my kids to meditate with me more often.

But as I finished this morning’s meditation I felt a physical sensation on my chest, like a heavy flat piece of stone resting on my sternum. In my mind were two pictures of Illyria when she was about a year old, taken by her nanny at the time – “a rare smile!” the nanny had captioned it. Another picture, another day, showed her looking forlornly through the screen door, all melancholy. I think this was closer to her baseline state when she was away from me. Knowing what I know now about attachment, about my daughter’s own particularities, I wonder if I would have done the same thing trying to continue my graduate work after she was born? She still wants me to sleep next to her, she wants me to hold her hand or put my hand on her back as she drifts off to sleep. She wants to see me there when she wakes up in the night.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, but I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

I once asked a friend in undergrad if he was glad he’d majored in philosophy, since he seemed, I don’t know, pained by it in some way (I later learned more about his personal life that makes me think this pain probably came from our evangelical college’s stances on what we euphemistically called “lifestyle” issues at the time). But he thought for a moment and then said, “I feel glad in the way that you would be glad you had had heart surgery. It’s not something you enjoy, but without it you might die. You need it.”

That notion has stayed with me for a long time. How hard and painful things can be necessary for life, for thriving.

What heart surgery do I need to do today?

Baby Val

imposter syndrome (and other various things in my life right now)

September 4, 2018

[Bottom line up front – if you haven’t checked out the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, it’s amazing. Give it a listen – you won’t be sorry! Thanks Tara for the recommendation!]

We all get imposter syndrome sometimes, right? Now that I’m finally alone with myself for an extended stretch of time, those howling inner voices are really screaming – telling me my doctorate was not legitimate (my committee just passed me to get rid of me); I’m a fraud as an evaluator (I can’t do quantitative analysis worth beans); I know nothing deep about the country I’m living in; I exist on a superficial plane, all surface, no substance.

My goal for this season in my life is to get my name in print. I have a list as long as my arm of projects and ideas, all under development in different stages – a children’s fantasy, an edited volume in my doctoral field, a combination oral history/memoir, a post-apocalyptic world, several articles for journals and/or conferences coming up in the next two years.

I’m so jealous of what I see as “real writers,” anyone and everyone who is promoting their work on twitter – why can’t I be you?

Why can’t I?

It is unbelievable the amount of freedom and support I have to do this, though. My husband is working three jobs to cover our cost of living, private school for the kids, and plenty left over for travel and extras. He likes it, and he’s at the stage in his career where he’s in high demand – he has to turn down at least 4-5 projects a year because he just doesn’t have time to do it all and still be present with the family. Financially, I don’t need to work, although I’d still like to be teaching, like, one university level class.

Since moving back to Albania, I’ve embraced the stay/work-at-home mom thing in ways that have astonished both me and Gimli – especially with the cooking. In Colombia, he did basically all the cooking (to the point to where I felt like he was controlling everything I ate). Now he just cooks on weekends, and I do all the meal planning (like, a weekly menu! It’s so much fun!), and nearly all the housework. I know part of it is living in the home of an Albanian family, who are solidly traditional in terms of gender roles – and Albanian women are extremely house-proud, so this has forced me to step up my game. Even scrubbing the front steps! There is something strangely satisfying about it.

I suppose after all those years working for peace in Colombia,* it is super satisfying to do work where you see immediate, tangible results – where you can directly see the results of your labor as dirt and crud gets washed away, as a peaceful and tidy home emerges from the elbow grease.

A few months ago the kids found a video on the iPad that they had recorded in Colombia, a tour of our apartment, and I was HORRIFIED at how chaotic, messy, cluttered, and dirty it was. MORTIFIED. Just… piles of STUFF on every surface, all the pets (we had a guinea pig, two hamsters, and four birds – all in the living room), beds unmade, toys all over the floor… It reflected my inner life, to be sure.

So I’m working in being more self-disciplined now too. I stopped playing Candy Crush, stopped surfing Twitter before bed, am working on establishing a steady meditation/yoga practice in the mornings. I have a pretty good rhythm going with the housework (and, full disclosure, I have help twice a week for dusting and floors), and we’ve started the kids on a real, actual chores schedule. So, the discipline and order of their school schedule really helps give real structure to my life as well.

I’ve been listening to a podcast recommended by a dear friend, called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text; in one of the episodes Vanessa Zoltan says something about “a karmic gift you give your future self” – I can’t remember what she was referring to exactly, but it was along the lines of applying self-discipline in not-fun ways that pay off in the future. Anyway, I think about it with sleep. My sleep habits while in the US were ABYSMAL. I couldn’t stand the company of my miserable thoughts, so I would web surf til 2 or 3 a.m. (which, omg, SO DEPRESSING) and then force myself awake before 8 to get the kids breakfast. I can’t live on that. So by sequestering myself from my phone at night, and avoiding alcohol, I have actually been able to live my days with energy and alertness instead of dragging through on coffee and miserable willpower.

So, somehow I’ve managed to write myself out of the funk I was in when I sat down here at my desk this morning. Let’s keep this pivot going then – here are three things I feel good about myself for today:

~  Yesterday through two phone conversations in Albanian, and one in English, I organized a new school pick-up system for the greater good of all involved.

~  Yesterday I made banana bran muffins for snacks and meatballs for the school lunches that both turned out YUM.

~ Today I will meditate and that will make me happier.

~  I remind myself that I am a good person, worthy to be loved, capable of doing good work.

Peace out.



*If you don’t follow the news on Colombia, the peace deal that was brokered between the government and the leading guerrilla group after 60 years of conflict, well, it has not lived up to its promise for a lot of complicated reasons that mostly boil down to greed and the extreme lucrativeness of the cocaine industry, and basically nothing in recent politics points to anything hopeful. So, that sucks.