My boyfriend, the Universe?

There was never a concrete moment when I knew my brain worked differently.  I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Oh, now I see.  My sensory involvement in the world is heightened and therefore leads me to a cognition with far reaching tentacles (don’t worry, I don’t really talk like that).”  There were however many subtle shades of dawning.

In the summer before fifth grade I found Shakespeare and Jack London.  I sat in the public library while my mom was at work, nestled into the bean bag chair with a stack of books at my feet, and tried to physically climb into the words.  I put the books over my face after particularly jarring passages and willed them to melt into my brain.  Looking back now, there is no way I could have understood even half of what I was reading, but I knew somehow the sentences were different and special.  Even now, my eyes will widen and I will gasp with a luscious turn of phrase as if I have been struck.

As a church laden young adult, we had a few magical years where we joined an all black congregation.  Our first hardcore Pentecostal church was a buffet for the senses.  People danced in the aisles on Sunday, a choir of at least a hundred sang and stomped, the Pastor spoke in a rolling call and response, and there was color in the dance flags, the outfits, and every shade of black skin that were all so different than mine.

A few years ago I started talking to trees.  This of course was after they completed round after round of rigorous flirting with me from all sides of my peripheral vision.  I felt I had never seen so many greens before.  The bark begged to be touched.  I could smell them, both distinctly and as one, wherever I was.

Through all this, people thought I was cute or amusing when I dared to share.  I very rarely mean to be adorable or quirky just so everyone knows (I’m too tall for adorable and I don’t consistently have the wardrobe to pull off quirky).  I just wanted other people to be tempted into this world of wow, to sense that we are being flirted with by whatever we name our deity, that there are surprise trap doors that open into whole new worlds…and they are hiding right in plain view!!!  In my world, every day is a fairly romantic tryst when I’m paying attention.  In other words, living is sexy as fuck.

I found myself in this same dazzle space last night as I watched the dancers on the Mountain View Open Floor drop in to unrushed lusciousness.  Did they know how freakin’ gorgeous they were?!?!  I bubbled up in laughter with a thought that is not new to me: there is no human significant other that can beat this level of romance.  But instead of hearing my usual response to that statement, something new opened:

“Why do they have to?”

Though I never realized it before, it seems RIDICULOUSLY unfair to ask any human being to bring love superior to all of nature and human goodness.  And although I never did it on purpose,  I do believe I have done it.  I have missed having a significant other at many times in my life, and especially lately as a round of coupling sweeps through my friend group, but I am glad I get to see and start to absorb this truth first before asking yet another person to do what cannot be done.  What if I and the universe remained “the best” at loving me?  What if next time, a significant other doesn’t even compete at all, merely supports and is curious about this tremendous, sensual love affair?  What if my romances were no longer so patriarchal, hierarchical?  What if dating the universe was not a pathetic coping mechanism for loneliness as I have sometimes feared?  What if dating the universe was an invitation to others instead of a ‘sorry, she’s taken’ sort of proposition?  This new arrival in the truth department opens up a whole yummy stream of ‘what ifs’.

At the end of the day, I am not willing to give up the lusty eye of the universe on me, the unexpected joy surges that criss cross the usual, sending electrified bubbles into space.  But guess what??  I don’t think anybody is asking me to.  No one is saying I can’t have a cornucopia of loves, except me.  And I’m going to start unsaying it…now.

 

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Surprise! You are Burnt Out!

Burnout.

It’s not a word I’ve actively avoided or feared, it’s just something I didn’t think applied to me.  Well-meaning friend leans in with the conspiratorial whisper: “So, is it burnout, is that why you’re leaving??”  “No, it’s not that, it’s…”

But last weekend I sat with a friend in her backyard, which looks very close to what I imagine the Garden of Eden would, and had a lovely meandering chat, basking in her refracted Burning Man glow.  We found our way to the subject of public education, as two teachers-at-heart are prone to do, when she said something that I recognized as truth for myself: “When I left teaching, there was a lot of shame around being burnt out.”

Exhale.  Yes, this.  God damn it!  Gentle truth can be so sneaky!!  I haven’t wanted to see what is clearly in front of me.  Even now I sit here thinking about how I could minimize it: explain that it’s not that bad so no one worries, focus on the positives of my current life change to the exclusion of stating it simply, remind people that it’s not the only reason I left, go through a pointless recap of why it happens.  But the unaltered truth is that I am burnt out.

Time spent working in the last three months vs. time I would’ve spent at school teachering–using a conservative estimate, about three hundred hours less, and it still feels like too much.  For the first few months of the summer, passing time in the camp office in between owies, I would scan job alerts every morning.  Here’s what the conversation sounded like in my head: “I could do that, nah…I could do that one too, nah…and that one….”  When someone throws too many directions at me at once, like my new fast talking flower shop boss, I almost instantly glaze over.  On days when I’m able, I happily nap 3-4 hours a day, and then wander around at night like a happy little monkey.  I find myself wondering why so much of the music is so annoying, when I used to almost always have my headphones in.  If I have to face conflict or go even remotely fast on any given day, I feel it like a hangover the next day.  In one conversation in particular, after a parent at camp was mildly upset with me, I got off the phone sweating, heart racing, hands shaking.  It was a response that was wildly disproportionate to the conversation I just had.

So why not recognize it and say it earlier?  I can’t really articulate what feels like a full and satisfying answer to that question.  For starters?  It feels really inconvenient to recognize myself as someone who both deserves and needs care that I may or may not fully be able to give.  How do you “heal” burnout?  I can’t just not work.  I feel the most satisfaction right now in things that I can’t really get wrong, in things that are physical, in things that are play, in things where there is not a constant escalation of expectations.  Looking at books on Amazon (my other usual go-to) doesn’t help either.  Listen to these fucking titles, my personal favorites out of the first thirty or so:

Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness (no thanks, didn’t work the first time), High Octane Women: How Superachievers can Avoid Burnout (the fetching woman on the cover in the pantsuit really speaks to me), Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome (great, so now it has a fancy medical name and we are all collectively fucked up by it), The Secret of Vigor (lots of people jumping up and down on this one–not great for those of us who have to deal with boob jiggle), Burnout: What is Burnout & How to Bounce Back! (this book features a man with his face buried in his hands, and the author–no joke–is Wilson Worst), Do No Work (okay, that one does sound a little appealing), and my personal favorite, Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education (I want to send Pollyanna to personally beat the crap out of you Debbie Thompson Silver).

I think the “answer” is going to be what it always is–listen and follow my intuition.  I will reknit the frayed places when they reknit, there is no making it sooner than it is going to be.  Until then, I take this arriving knowledge as an invitation to continue to actively participate in my life and to rewrite the rules.  For example, today at work was supremely slow.  It was one of those days where you make up stuff for yourself to do that may or may not actually need doing.  After three hours or so I had the following conversation with myself: “This is a waste of time.  You should go home.”  “I can’t go home, I’m supposed to be here for two more hours.”  “But you’re standing at the register, staring out the window, eating Doritos, and no orders have come in for over an hour.”  “Fine, I’ll go home, but you’re a trouble maker!!”

So I asked/let Reina know I was going to leave rather than keep standing around and wasting my time and Judy’s money.  She said okay with that look you give to rulebreakers, and I walked out the door.  On the way home I was aware of feeling like a “bad” person.  Reina had told me shop history today while we worked, and even things about her sister who works there some days.  What if everyone in America all of a sudden decided to order flowers five minutes after walking out the door and I had left her stranded?

Then it hit me: my hunger for belonging is so great, that I’ve been willing to do things that don’t make sense, or don’t make sense anymore, including things that might hurt me physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  This has always been the case.  I sat outside my second real boyfriend’s house, many years ago, for three days in a row, crying my eyes out, intending to go in and break up with him, but never doing it.  But as I walked home today I realized that I don’t have to pay those kinds of prices for belonging anymore.  I can just find my belonging elsewhere.

The price for belonging in public education was very high for me, despite every gorgeous piece of magic I witnessed and created in thirteen years.  I don’t have to be embarrassed that the payments bankrupted me.  I still am, but I don’t have to be.

 

 

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Notes from the Field: 100 Days

It was a full moon, the first week everyone else was back to school, and I was lying in a hammock in a friend’s backyard…waiting to bury pants.

Whaat?!?

An astrological analysis of the upcoming full moon swam by in my Facebook feed a few days before.  I halfheartedly skimmed it on my lunch break from being summer camp mom extraordinaire.  A phrase grabbed my eyeballs: “time to shed this ill-fitting life.”  Oooo…I stopped and let the words roll around in my brain…ill-fitting life.  Yes, that’s part of what I am trying to do.

It was only a small Delaneyan leap from there, to sitting with my size 12 pants (aka my sausage pants) and a Sharpie on the night of the full moon.  I began to write on the pants all the things that didn’t fit anymore.  Some had served a purpose–I doubt I would’ve gotten as good at teaching had I not put myself last for a number of years.  Some admittedly had never worked for me–waking up before I am ready for instance.  Many were related to teaching–giving advice I don’t take for example–and some were not.

Across the front, in large block letters, I scrawled the words: BELIEVING THERE IS NOT ENOUGH (Not enough what?  You name it; time, love, money, energy, etc.).  This idea was not surprising.  I’d identified scarcity as an operational principle of mine a while ago.  At the time, seeing it there was all I was prepared to do.  Seeing the words again I felt  a mixture of anger, anxiety, and the delicious stubbornness that comes from getting ready to go head to head with an equal opponent.

Logically, I know things work themselves out because I have seen it.  As kids, groceries from church members showed up on our door, lights mysteriously didn’t get turned off, and my mom found secret ninja mom ways of doing things like making sure I could go to Germany on my school exchange trip.  Right out of college my car was stolen.  A few months later an old mentor sent me her almost six thousand dollar tax refund to buy a new one.  Why didn’t those things make more of an impression?  I think it was because I attributed them to whomever was the caretaker of the time: God, Mom, the church, school, a current boyfriend, but never the end product of ME working and trusting the unfolding abundance of the universe.  What’s more, I got it in my head that worrying and clamping down boundaries was what these deities needed to activate their protection.  Not worrying was irresponsible.  Not having a plan in place at all times was irresponsible and ungrateful.

Now that I am out from under a ceiling for the first time ever, awestruck at the stars, I find this is one of many things that needs redefining.  What does it mean to live like you believe in abundance?

It’s not going out to eat every night or doing no leg work and expecting provisions to just float to me.  But neither is it living this moment based on what might happen weeks or months in the future.  It’s a fusion of passion and logic that my scarcity based decisions of the past were missing.

I struggled with deciding to go on my recent trip to Niagara Falls.  It took me two years from knowing I needed to go, to settling into my red-eye flight to Buffalo.  There was always an excuse, usually school related.  But even without school to serve my fears, I put it off.  How can you go on this trip when you have no job and none lined up?  I finally sat myself down with care and sternness: look Delaney, you know that this trip is important for you.  You will come back broke but with bills paid for a month (and you will realize the day before you fly back home that there was one more paycheck from school) .  You will have one month to find some work (it will take five days).  You are going.  I exhaled and clicked purchase on plane tickets that felt very expensive.

I was right to trust.  Standing in pure immensity before the Falls.  Slack-jawed and gaping.  Multiple days of sweat, salt, and silt to texture me.  Watching 1/5 of the world’s fresh water speed by, I felt so much unnameable wisdom push its way free.  My tribe of fellow pilgrims felt it too: the woman with her arms wrapped around the tree, the woman with her hand on her heart and smiling as the Maid of the Mist pushed into Horseshoe Falls.  I felt so many definitions stand on their heads, jump off cliffs, and turn finally into the white butterflies that flutter over every inch of the park.

Believing in abundance, for starters, means letting go of the outcome.  It means letting people help you the way they can–not declaring yourself an island as my Dad taught me, not requiring it be my way or the highway like my Mom taught me.  It means being allowed to refuse parts of your inheritance once you realize how heavy they are.  It means taking your time, even if that has no correlation to anyone else’s time.  It means acknowledging all the ways there are to move.

I had decided on my friend’s yard for the pants burial that night when I remembered that her current rental house was going to be sold and torn down in about eighteen months.  In eighteen months this place will be completely different than it is now.  I savored the hope as I watched the moonlight turn into purple butterflies in the latticework of the tree.  The hammock swung gently in the wind and I wondered what you did while you were waiting for a burial.  Start dreaming for what’s next I suppose.  And I started to laugh.  I laughed until my belly shook and my head rolled off the now graffitied pants.  This is what’s next.  YOU ARE ALREADY DOING IT.  You are waiting for a shovel to bury pants in someone’s yard on a school night under the full moon.  This is more Chelsea than you have ever let yourself be. 

And so maybe believing in abundance can also be as simple as allowing abundance that is already there.  Thus, on a day where many are shrouded in some remembrance of grief, I am thinking about what is possible, what I can’t imagine, what I can’t contain or control.  100 days into Delaney Walkabout, this is where I find myself.  There is no more concrete “plan” than there was in November when I started announcing my departure.  I’m starting to think I may be okay with never having one.  It’s unimpressive on the surface, but underneath, I am reshaping the foundation for how I want to live the next chapter of my life.