Dear Last Tuesday Me

Dear past me,

You’re sitting there right now freaking out about what is to come later today. It’s  a frightening and ookey prospect and your fear totally makes sense. But I am going to talk to you about what it means to be on the other side of that. About how remarkable it is that you have the option for this in your life and what it will mean to you after you go through the gross part. You’re going to be amazed.

So sit back and listen.

A few hours from now, you will get in the car to go to the eye clinic. You will be nervous, anxious, excited and unsure of what to expect. That’s totally normal. When you arrive, there will be forms to fill out, ones that talk about lots of horrible things that can go catastrophically wrong. You’ll take a deep breath and sign them. You’ll have quick eye exams to sit through and a brief visit with your doctor who will answer all your last questions, see that nervous glimmer in your eye and tell you it’ll be okay. You’ll only sort of believe him.

You’ll be whisked to a sterile waiting room – booties placed on your feet, hair nets slid over your locks – and sat in a large, soft recliner in a small glass cubicle. You’ll wonder if they would notice if you stole this chair. It’s a really comfy chair.  Your nearly bare feet will touch the cold tile floor and it will calm you.

The nurse will put drops in your eyes, numb them for the operation, and then wash them in a complicated way that will leave you perplexed but which she clearly does every day a million times. You’ll decide to trust her.  She’ll rinse your eyes with a stream of slightly cool water. You won’t feel the water on your your eyeballs, only on the thin lines of your eyelids and down your face where it flows cool and wet. You’ll look up into the stream of water, right up the middle of it – the drops bubbling over and around each other, the stream sparkling in a steady flow down onto your eye – and think you’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

You’ll be wrong.

Tomorrow you’ll see.

You’ll be escorted into the operating room and situated on a table where the nurse will adjust your head in such small movements that you’ll worry a slight shift will be the ruin of you and your eyeballs. It won’t. Your doctor will walk you through all the steps, letting you know where to look, letting you know what you’ll see, talking through numbers you don’t understand with his assistants all the while.

He’ll do a lot of different things and you’ll feel a little weird about the fact he is touching your eyeballs, touching them a lot, and your eyes don’t seem to care. You’ll start to care about them not caring, start to care immensely, and you’ll worry that you should care and then instantly worry that you shouldn’t care and in the end you’ll decide to breathe deeply and let it be.

It’ll last longer than you expect and be done faster than you expect. Time is weird.

You’ll be accompanied once more to the small glass cubicle with the big soft chair and the nurse will wash your eyes one last time. She’ll give you a pair of ridiculous but kind of awesome new goggles that’ll make your now delicate eyes feel a whole lot safer.

When you walk out of the sterile room, you’ll see Chris and, realising you are safe and it’s all over, all the adrenaline you kept at bay during the surgery will come back in a wave of general ookey-ness. You’ll feel shaky, a little weak and not opposed to the idea of vomiting. It’s okay. You’ll be home soon.

You’ll sit at home for a few hours in a dark room, listening to some podcasts. Chris’ idea. Genius. It’ll take your mind off the surgery. Your eyes won’t hurt, but you’ll be aware of them, all the while trying not to be. When a few hours have passed, you’ll try to test out your new eyes, see if they are fixed, but realise it is too soon to expect any results.

At some point, you’ll turn your head and look down the hall where the only light is coming from and see photos on the wall. They’re photos you see every day, photos you took, photos that look exactly like they always do. You’ll do a double take. They’ll look exactly like they always do….with your glasses on. But you’re in your bed with funky goggles on. You’ll start to feel a weird feeling of excitement mixed with confusion mixed with a little remaining nausea. Why can you see those??

Chris will call you for dinner – fajitas – and you’ll eat by candle light. You’ll start looking around and see that you can actually see things, but you’ll wonder if you are just seeing what you always do and filling in the gaps, making up the details because you know them so well. You’ll tell yourself you are exaggerating, that you can’t possibly notice results when your eyes are still fresh out of surgery.

Then you’ll see the package of tortillas across the table and realise you can read some of it. Chris will put it up to the candle, a low, soft, yellow light and you’ll tease out the white text from the red background, reading it clearly from across the table. You’ll freak out a little both inside and out. How is this possible?? How can that be?

The next day, you’ll wake up and see the world differently.

After a quick trip to your doctor you’ll take the long way home and find yourself by the sea. A new sea. A different sea. A sea full of so much detail you don’t know how to process it. You’ll sit on a rock overlooking the waves and find yourself completely humbled, totally in awe of the change that has just taken place. You will see the bubbles on the waves. You will see the feathers on the birds. You will see the perfect reflection of a sandpiper walking along the surf. And you’ll cry and cry at the thought of it. The beauty of it. The magic of it. How is this possible? How can you not see one day and see so perfectly the next? How can humans be capable of such incredible precision? How can we do something so miraculous?

You will want to thank the person who made this possible, the people who gave you this gift. Thank them from the bottom of your heart, from the most grateful part of your soul. But who are they and how would you do that? Who would you even thank?

You’ll start thinking of all the people who are involved in something like this. You’ll realise that at your clinic alone you met people from Venezuela, Columbia, India, Oman and more – that even your small part of this story links in with so many other places and people. Then you’ll start thinking about the scientists, the doctors, the lawyers (because they’re always somewhere in these things), the tinkerers, the engineers, the manufacturers, the transporters, the testers, the repairmen, all the people who are involved in this one piece of machinery and you’ll feel like a whole town dedicated itself to this pursuit so that you could sit by the sea and appreciate tiny bubbles popping on the sand.

You’ll cry more. And you’ll worry that all the tears will do something horrible to your new eyes (oh the irony!), but you can’t stop crying because the joy is welling up and out of you and it always finds its way out through your eyeballs. Those new eyeballs that can now see it all so clearly.

Many Topics, One Blog

My blog often feels all over the map. I’m a traveller, an expat, half of a diving duo (hoping to open a place of our own), a doodler, a curiosity seeker and many others. Trying to fit that into a blog that makes sense, that has a sense of cohesion has been tricky for me and often the result is that I don’t write as much as I want to because it feels like there is no focus. I am reblogging this post because a) it is incredibly helpful, giving ideas for how to organise a blog like mine b) is a great reminder that it’s okay for your personality to be the focus, not a topic and c) because I don’t want to lose track of it in the future when I need reminding again. It’s a great help if you are like me and think that pretty much everything in the world is wonderfully fascinating and worth writing about!

The Daily Post

We all deal with blogger’s block sometimes. But what about the opposite, when you have dozens of things you want to blog about? Are you going to turn your audience off by blogging on a range of topics? How can you have a focused brand if your posts are all over the map?

You had your focus all along!

Some blogs take a narrow look at a particular subject, because of the blogger’s interests and goals. Others are wide-ranging reflections of their authors’ interests. If that’s you, it doesn’t mean your blog has no focus — it means the focus is, essentially, your point of view.

(Does that sound self-centered? I think about it like this: I blog not because I think the world needs Michelle’s Precious Opinions*, but because telling my stories connects me to other people in a way that makes both our lives richer.)

*They are pretty great opinions, though.

We’re drawn to blogs…

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Today’s the Day

When I was eight or nine years old, I went to a children’s museum in Utah where they had one exhibit that was neither colorful nor noisy and therefore all but abandoned by most of the kids. Being a curious person, though, I had to check it out.

In the middle of a big room stood a small house. It had all the rooms – a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room – all squeezed down to kid-sized proportions. I can’t tell you what any of it looked like, though, because inside the house it was pitch black. Really, truly, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness.

This was my first encounter with the world of the blind.

I knew blind people existed, of course, and I had, in my childish attempt to understand their lives, walked around my house with my eyes closed and my arms out zombie-style. It didn’t seem so bad. Stairs were annoying, but I could always cheat slightly by looking down for just the briefest second. I could totally handle being blind, I thought. This is not such a big deal.

That’s what I thought until the day at the museum, that is.

When I tried to navigate through this house, I couldn’t cheat. I couldn’t peek for just a second. I had my eyes wide open, hoping for some kind of light to penetrate the room, but it never did. The only way to get through it was to use the rest of my senses.

It was slow. It was awkward. It was clumsy. And I never thought about blind people and their experience of the world the same way again.

I love my eyes. I love them a lot. Knowing they are possibly temporary and seeing for myself what that would look like made me seriously respect my other senses and diligently hone them from that day forward. Just in case. But I would really love to hang on to my vision as long as I possibly can. It’s for this reason, this respect for my eyes and how much value they add to my life that I have put off today’s events for as long as I have.

This afternoon I am having lasik surgery. I am told that by this time tomorrow I will be able to look out my window and see individual leaves on trees. I can, of course, do this just fine right now with my glasses on, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But yes, the idea of not looking for dropped contacts on blue tile floors does appeal. As does no longer having face grease impede my vision as it slowly creeps across my glasses during the day.

There are are a lot of great things to look forward to from this surgery, but the surgery itself is not one of them. It is the leaves and blue tile floors and face grease I will try to keep in mind as I allow someone to slice my cornea open with a laser and burn little bits off of it (just typing that made my stomach flip – apologies to any sensitive folk out there). I’m very much not looking forward to those ten minutes of fun. It doesn’t seem like the most respectful way to treat eyes that have worked hard for me for nearly 33 years, but them’s the shakes.

The benefits of seeing the world without the aid of contacts or glasses (or tiny diamonds made between my forefingers and thumbs) sounds pretty spectacular  though – as does diving without fear of losing a lens, not carrying a whole bag of solution and cases and lenses and glasses with me on camping trips (or any trips!), not choosing a new pair of frames at the eye clinic (though I’ll miss my red ones!), and not taking off my contacts only to realise I don’t know where my glasses are. Those all sound pretty great. So great that I will face my fear of losing my sight in the hopes of gaining even better vision.

Today’s the day. It’s going to happen whether I’m ready for it or not. Here we go!

I’ll see you on the other side!

It’s That Time Again

New Year’s Resolutions

They come from a good place. They arise from our desire to make our lives something more, to grow as people, to do more for the world, for ourselves, for others. But they almost immediately become a trap. They chain us to something that may not remain relevant to us for an entire year. We look back on them and get angry with ourselves for not staying true to them, for not fulfilling our promise. It’s not healthy. We create a cage and then punish ourselves for not wanting to be in it.

This year, I have been working hard to cut away ties from the past. I’ve thrown out old ideas for blog posts I’ve collected. I’ve trashed notes one creative projects. I’ve cleared out old emails, old documents, old photos that I was holding onto only because they were attached to some future plan.

It’s not been easy for me. I tend to hold onto ideas (and to physical items) that link me with feelings I had about how my future would be. In other words, my present is holding onto past ideas of my future.

The problem with that is that it makes my present about everything but the present. When I am not sure what I want to work on, I go to those lists for “inspiration”. But those ideas came from a place I am no longer in, so they are not relevant to my current situation. I’ve written about this before, when I first started this process: outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful.

Still, getting rid of past ideas has been a really hard thing. I have seriously struggled to do it. I’ve worked on it all year and still have things I hold on to “just in case.” When it comes down to it though, I’m using those ideas to hold myself back.  Having those lists is the best distraction in the world because it allows me to look for ideas there instead of digging into myself and acknowledging what I really need to be working on now, in this moment.

I am working hard to really look at the moment I am in, what I am interested in now, what makes me curious now, what makes me excited now and do that thing. New Year’s resolutions don’t fit the mold for that. They are the cart before the horse. On December 31st, we decide all the things we need to do for the next year, despite the fact that we have no idea what will come into our lives, what will inspire us, what will move us, what will light us up with creative energy. They tell us what we have to do without allowing room for change, for growth, for diversion.

This year, instead of making a list of creative projects (and this is seriously the hardest thing for me!), I am going to create a space where I document the things I end up doing over the course of the year.

I like this approach for two reasons.

It feels so open and full of potential! The future is suddenly allowed to become whatever it wants to. My creative energy isn’t forced into something I may not be interested in after a few weeks.

It also means that at the end of the year I will have a list of things I did that I never planned to do – things that I accomplished purely because I found them interesting, because they sparked my curiosity, because they were exactly what I needed at that moment.

I love the surprise that brings. Instead of knowing what I will be doing (or not doing and feeling guilty about), I will watch a list of things grow over the year and be able to look back on these things that made me happy, made me excited, made my life sparkle just a little bit more.

I have no idea what I will get up to over the next year in my creative life, but I know I am looking forward to seeing that list at the end of the year and smiling at how life takes us to unexpected places when we let it.

See you next time,

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Our Big Dream

There’s something I’ve wanted to share with you for a long time, a story I want you to be a part of,  involved in, helping to direct. But I’ve been really freaked out that it is not that interesting for you, that it is me just talking about my life and that’s not a very exciting or meaningful thing when you’ve got all kinds of other things going on in yours.

I don’t know why I’ve cared so much, but I have.

Maybe it’s because I really want to include you in the story, make you a part of it, get your ideas and your insights, learn from you, share with you and interact with you along the way. The idea that you might not find it remotely interesting, that you will be bored to tears by it is just too much for me to handle.

I’ve finally decided to tell you anyway.

What I want to share with you is our dream. Chris and I have a dream that we have talked about for years. It’s something that lights us both up in a way that nothing else ever has. When we start talking about it, the vision is so clear, the purpose of it so strong that it feels like it is anchored in my chemical makeup. It feels like the thing I am meant to do with my life. It feels like what I was put here for. But, it is not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some dedication, and it’s going to take a lot of pushing when we might feel like we’re out of gas.

What we want is to create a place that makes a positive difference to a community (two communities, actually) and the surrounding environment. We want to create a home away from home for travellers – a place where they can feel completely at ease and where they can reconnect with nature. We also want to create a place that adds value to the surrounding area –  a place that builds up the people who are associated with it and puts that value back into the community and environment.

Our dream is to open a small guest house (maybe 10 rooms or so) and accompanying dive centre somewhere in east Asia (probably). We don’t know where yet, that will depend on timing and funds. We don’t know how yet – we are both totally freaked out but crazy excited at the same time to see how it unfolds.

We do know a few things though. We know we want it to embody some fundamental concepts:

  • It will support the local economy. We will hire locals and use local vendors. We will decorate with local artists. We will support local businesses by teaming up with them. We will tap into the knowledge of the people who have been there forever and give them fair compensation for their time and effort.
  • It will be as eco-friendly, sustainable, etc as possible. We have a lot of ideas about this and we have a lot to learn to make them happen, but we want to eliminate plastic at our hotel, organise clean up dives for the reefs,  and educate locals and visitors alike in the value of respecting nature.
  • We want it to be about people. We will create a welcoming environment that helps people unwind and relax but also helps them meet new people, learn about new places and cultures, and feel at home no matter how far they have come to get there. We will treat our staff well, pay them fairly, give them holidays and sick leave, ask only for reasonable working hours and give them an education that they can build on in the future.

That’s it. That’s our dream. That’s where we’re headed and where we hope to end up. We mostly don’t know what we’re doing, but we know we want to do this. We also know that we’ll need a lot of ideas and support from other people to make it happen.

My big dream in sharing this with you is that you will journey along with us and help us make it the place we envision – help us choose our location, cast your votes for the hotel design, share your ideas for eco-friendly systems we can use to make it even more green, maybe even come and visit us when it’s all said and done.

Who knows. Maybe it’s possible to do it without you, but it would be a whole lot more fun to have you along for the ride.

See you next week,

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You Are Here

http://dornob.com/you-are-here-3-real-life-works-of-digital-map-inspired-art/

Apparently some really nerdy (aka awesome) artists do projects based on digital map graphics. Check out more here.

You are here.

For the last few months this has been a kind of mantra for me, something I go back to when I am feeling lost or overwhelmed. It centers me and reminds me of my place in the world, the space I take up in it. It gives me perspective. It gives me freedom. It makes me appreciate what is around me and it makes me feel like I’m part of something that matters. Plus, it’s map nerd-ery – always a bonus in my eyes.

You are here reminds me that I take up space in the world – actual, physical space. That I am part of the world – glued to it by gravity, breathing it in, pooping it out. No matter how much time I spend in my head, the reality is that I am here, physically present in the world, taking part in it and sharing it with everyone else –  even on the days I wish I wasn’t.

You are here reminds me that the space I take up is a space that no one else can. I am the only collection of these molecules and these experiences in all of time and space (Maybe. I guess statistically and astrophysically speaking there might be another one of me. I’d really like to meet her). At moments that perspective makes me feel entitled, but more often it makes me feel like part of a much bigger picture. It makes me feel a responsibility to respect the fact that I am here, that I do exist, that I have a presence and that it’s my job to make the most of it. It makes me very grateful.

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You are here reminds me that I have choice. I imagine myself on one of the walks I did in London and remember the excitement and overwhelming sense of curiosity I felt when I came to an intersection full of streets I’d never seen before. You are here means I have the choice. At any given time, in any given part of my life, I am always standing at the intersection of choice. I can dive into whichever option looks the most appealing or exciting to me at that exact moment. That’s insanely liberating.

You are here reminds me not to push myself too hard. I want to be really good at everything and I very regularly compare myself to people who are way ahead of me in the game (based on my completely arbitrary calculation) – much to my emotional detriment. You are here reminds me that everything is a process, that I am where I am at, no more, no less. Sometimes I can settle into that, be comfortable being where I am. Other times it causes ridiculous frustration. But you are here is a fact. It’s a reality check. It doesn’t judge or enable. It just is. You just are. You can’t argue with it, which I find huge relief in.

You are here reminds me that there is no competition in life, there is no final destination to which we are all running, trying to beat each other along the way. There really isn’t. There are billions of us, all with our own goals, prospects and concepts of success and achievement. There is no race, there is no competition, therefore there is no need for comparison. I am where I am at. You are where you are at. We are. We can help each other out or share our story, but we are not going the same places. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing, maybe the most important thing, because you are here reminds me that I am not alone. I am one pin on the map. One person moving around, living my life, trying to improve myself and the lives of the people around me. I take up the space I take up, I am a unique individual with my own set of choices and challenges. But so is everyone else. We are all doing the same thing. We are all finding our way, making our mark on the map. When I zoom out and see it all, when I let myself be one tiny dot in the confetti of beautiful people living perfectly ordinary lives, I get a true sense of what it actually means to be.

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Curiouser and Curiouser

I’m a curious person. I love things that make me go, “Hmmmm, that’s interesting…” And I love how digging into them often opens up all new avenues for me to pursue. I love the playfulness, the possibility that curiosity brings. Yet I often find myself writing off my curiosity as a fun but, ultimately, useless thing. I push aside my curiosity in the pursuit of something I am told is far more meaningful: passion.

For a long time, I’ve felt an overwhelming pressure (both internally and externally) to “follow my passion” in life. Far from being the rewarding and exciting adventure it is often billed as, however, it feels more like an impossible and thankless task, one that I would even describe emotionally crippling.

The time and energy I have spent looking for my passion, reading about it, filling out worksheets to try to capture it has left me feeling exhausted and desperate. It always feels just out of reach, something I could grasp if only I kept at it, approaching it from different angles, like a buttery kernel of popcorn that has slipped between the cushions.

Enter: Elizabeth Gilbert

A couple of days ago, a friend shared a video with me that freed my mind from the pursuit of passion. In the video, Elizabeth Gilbert, a human who I admire more all the time, describes it like this:

You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice, it’s heart-warming advice, it’s great advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.

Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was.’

If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion.

Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.

As I processed this idea (in the shower, where all the good thinking happens), I felt an analogy that made the whole thing really click for me and helped me let go of this desperation I have to find my passion.

Prince Charming.

Disney princesses are told that there is a prince who will come, sweep them off their feet and make their life worth living. He could appear anywhere at any time, but when they see him, no matter the circumstance, they will just know. Their eyes will lock, their hearts will sync and they will be one and the same being from that moment on, living happily ever after in bubble of uncontrollable happiness.

When people talk about following your passion, they use imagery like this too.

Just as the Prince Charming myth leads us to ignore every other person along the way who isn’t “The One,” the passion myth makes us ignore our curiosity. Instead of being happy playing the field – having flings, sleeping around, dating the bad boy, snogging a stranger in a shitty pub – we sit in a corner waiting for this knight in shining armor to come and find us. Or even worse, we go desperately looking for him in everyone we see (that’ll be the option I went for).

I am exceedingly guilty of trying to shoehorn my curiosity into a passion. I find something interesting and I tell myself that this must be the one! The thing I’ve been waiting for! The thing I am supposed to do with my life. Finally!

It usually lasts about a week.

Letting go of passion and the idea that it will make you whole is as exhilarating as that lightbulb moment you have after a breakup when you realise you are free to do whatever you want, with whoever you want, for as long as you want.

There’s freedom in that moment. And that freedom sounds far more interesting than spending the rest of my life looking for something perfect – especially when the imperfect things make for far better stories.

My Life With Fish

My relationship with fish has always been a confusing one.

I grew up in a house with a big pond full of goldfish. I loved them. They were my friends (and my cat’s enemies). I fed them every day in summer and worried about them every day when our pond was frozen over in the winter. I loved them endlessly.

But, for the vast majority of my childhood I had one recurring, anti-fish dream that was really terrifying. It happened in two very consistent forms over the years and the premise for both was the same: I had to complete a task that involved going through water to get from A to B.

At the beginning of the task, the water was like unto a swimming pool. Clean. Clear. Chlorinated. As I progress, it got more natural – muddier, smellier and with more floaties. Panic started to set in as the seaweed appeared, tickling my toes and wrapping around my legs. I ran or swam on (depending on which version of the dream I was having) into the deeper water; the murkier water; the fishier water.

Things carried on getting more and more hairy until I was nearly at the end, almost free of this horrible experience. That’s when the piranhas came, snapping at my ankles – the sparkle of their teeth the only light coming from the now nearly opaque water. I always managed to get out just in the nick of time (with only a few nicks on my toes as evidence of the encounter).

Needless to say, it was terrifying.

Looking back, I think there were a few things that led to this fear of the water.  A) Jaws. Just like the rest of the world. 2) A particularly awful experience on a canoe in Montana. C) my very active imagination. 4) That time my mom told me the log bobbing up and down in the water (water we were sitting on top of in a tiny boat) was a monster. I crawled up to the top of my dad’s head to try and hide under his hat.

While most of those are typical childhood fears, it’s C that really kept the panic afloat well into my adult life. I am now 32 and I am happy to say that things have changed. Slightly. Ponds can still fuck off. But there’s this new and wonderful thing I have discovered about swimming in what used to be my nemesis: the big, endless, deep, unfathomable ocean.

I have finally discovered my super power.

I can see under water.

You may know this by it’s more common term: goggles.

You know those stories you hear as a kid where someone is afraid of something so they are given a magical item (maybe special shoes or a magical hat or fairy gloves or something) and then they go along doing things they could never do before, not realising that the magic wasn’t coming from the thing but from inside of them without them knowing it? It’s was all so terribly heartwarming.

Well, that story happened to me. In fact, it is still happening to me. I haven’t quite gotten to the part where I can get along without goggles, but I am getting better. You see, before I had goggles, I imagined that when I was swimming, all the fish just below the surface were eyeing me up and planning their imminent attack, and  that all the seaweed was wrapping itself in to tight curls around my ankles so in one swift move it could drag me down to the mer-world, never to set foot on land again.

When I wear goggles, though, I can see what’s actually down there. And what’s actually down there is a whole lot of fish who are either completely uninterested in me or very interested in not being anywhere near me. Then my biggest frustration is trying to get close to the damn things so I can see them and all their colorful glory without them running away from me in fear of their lives. Oh the irony.  Now I am the scary thing stalking poor innocent creatures under the water.

After I started diving (that’s where this whole goggle thing came into the picture), I noticed something weird happening with my dreams. Instead of having scary dreams about water and the fish it contains, I started having dreams where I got into the water and actually went down to see what was going on down there. It was still a little scary (and, in typical my-dream fashion it was dark and mysterious and more than bizarrely surreal – think underwater gorillas), but I started to dream about being under the water, purposefully going check stuff out and to follow the fish and observe them going about their business.

It was a weird and wonderful thing.

Like I said, not all water is my friend now, but the ocean is a big enough place to keep me entertained for quite a while to come. Thanks to my new superpower, that is finally a fact that excites me much more than it terrifies me.