A year and a half ago I started writing a book.
I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time, but then a day’s writing became a year of writing every day, and a year of writing every day turned into typing those entries up very slowly with lots of pauses.
The start of my writing coincided with taking my first unplugged vacation in almost five years of working with sexual assault survivors.
I had been given the advice to track on what day during that time away I stopped thinking about work.
In 17 days that day didn’t come.
Sitting in that reflective state was the beginning of leaving my job and a season of transition.
Officially that transition started almost two months ago, and I find myself similarly trying to track the day that I wake up and don’t think about work first.
I tried to explain to my colleagues and friends that I was trying to offer myself a detox period, though neither I nor them really knew what that meant to me.
What I think it means now is returning to that reflective state, trying to look closely at what my nervous system has become oriented to.
What I know it means now is confronting how much more time such a goal requires of me.
I feel moved to share an excerpt from that vacation’s reflection, offering a few questions as I reread my words and make them public.
1) In times of transition, how do you decide which thoughts and feelings feel most trustworthy?
2) In times of transition, how do you open yourself to seeing your choices differently, maybe even negatively?
3) What measurements do you use to track how you’re being affected by stressful environments?
4) What do you do with your self-reflection after you’ve put words to it?
5) What, for you, determines when you allow something to end or start?
6) In your life, where does being alone, moving slowly, or being unplugged send you?
As you read my words, consider my reflection that listening to myself was time consuming, and my answers to these questions I’m asking myself again are still emerging.
I submit to you that asking questions we can’t yet answer is how we know we’re open to reflection.
I submit to you that taking time and space for detox happens voluntarily and involuntarily for different reasons.
I submit to you that learning how to handle overwhelming stress in our world requires our reflection.
- An excerpt from July 2017*
This segment alone came out of twelve hours of writing.
I’m sitting on the beach looking into the fog where the clouds reach down to touch the water, and the light shimmers and disperses into glimmering particles that catch my eye. Like a twinkle, the small wave imitators coyly cover my feet and make them sparkle also. Sparkle like they’ve caught the light and are becoming a conduit for the rays to spread further toward the trees surrounding me. I see the rocks that I mistake for cliffs in the corner of my eye, and I remember the grip of slightly wet rocks between my fingers as I climb higher toward the fog and the scent of salt water loose in the wind. I feel the taste of salt as I fall surprisingly, not while climbing but near the shoreline where I’d retreated to. My crablike roots expose themselves when the shell I travel with makes its presence known to me.
I peer out for want of adventure, but in small enough doses that I am never out of reach from my traveling home. I’m a homemaker in my core, carting picture frames and closets full of clothes to fill new places with nurturing remainders from my past and present residences.
I begin to bury my feet in sand, to slowly glide my toes over the sparkling grains that hold the sun’s light, and I absorb their warmth. I bend my toes and feel my muscles up through my legs and stop before I reach my hips and pelvis. Slow down more. Go slowly. You have time. You don’t have to rush. I close my eyes and hold my breath a second longer. I hear her whisper in my ear, “blow it out Amanda.” I blow slowly through my mouth as though I’m humming, and pause with my mouth still slightly open, my lips parting to swallow some of the wind.
Wind. The wind is not lingering long today. The sun is hovering close by as I’d been complaining it wasn’t. It heard me I guess, or at least changed its pattern. The sun hits my sunscreen covered skin and reveals the sand sticking to me. Like a constellation the grains haphazardly still look intentionally embedded. They remind me where I am. On a beach. In the summer. Under the sun. In a body. I look at my month old nail polish and see it starting to loosen its hold on my nails, to peel off undecidedly. It stays on like loose fingers barely clasping a kickboard and I feel amused, resisting the urge to help it along. I feel tingles in my left leg beginning to go numb, but never quite fully enough to blend in beyond my consciousness. Instead it’s drawing my full attention, causing me to look at it closely. To notice its coloring, its cuts from its climbs, the clusters of sand sticking to it, my painted toes and arched foot angled out to the side. The gold on my toes is emphasized by the sand lacing my feet, making it stand out and capture more sun. My veins stand out too, appearing even bluer today.
I forget that I’ve left myself breadcrumbs that I could rediscover when I was ready again. I forgot that I might feel ready again. I forgot that I was traveling with purpose. With goals. With expectations. With questions in search of answers and answers ready to be tested and revealed as less certain. I no longer feel certain about much these days, but I feel awake to old and new truths stored like a whimsied scavenger hunt throughout my conscious and unconscious records.
I see the shoreline receding the water as it comes a lot closer, and I know the ocean isn’t controlled by the sun. I know the light we can see does not inform the speed or the height of the waves or the tide. And still I don’t move back. I don’t resist the inevitable showering that is announcing its current pursuit. The blue is more visible, the water still clear enough to look through. What am I looking at, I say to no one but the sand. What’s down here? Will my feet still feel warm below the sand once the water encompasses us? The water stuns at first, but I’m not shivering or curling my toes to anchor myself. I’m readying myself to be knocked backwards, to sit down and have to gaze from a new view. I embrace the sand’s accompanying sensations and I try to be more here than there. I try to only taste the salt and look out.
I called to mind the picture of my dad sitting on the roof of a beach house when I was climbing on the cliffs of Cape Elizabeth yesterday. The exposed muscles in both of our legs reminded me of each other, and I thought about my dad’s nickname as the slow one. I am rarely characterized as oriented to doing things slowly, but that’s how I’ve most felt on this vacation. Slower. Slowed down. Slowly moving. Slow to boil. Slow to warm. Slow to warm once I’ve boiled. Boiling over until the water is removed from the flames.