Whirly Wheel

Do you know what a whirly wheel is?

I love whirly wheels, but I had no idea what they were actually called until about 30 seconds ago. I’m still not convinced ‘whirly wheel’ is the right name.

Before the appendix and the gall bladder it was the kidneys and the bladder. When I was in elementary school, during some routine hospital visit, I was introduced to the hypnotizing magic of the waiting room whirly wheel.

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I think my parents bought me one for home some Christmas soon after.

Here’s the reason I bring this up:

I’m trying to determine why it is I haven’t kept up with this blog. I really do love writing. Perhaps even more than writing, I love pretending that other people enjoy reading what I write. 😉

So where have I been?

The only image I can come up with is this silly whirly wheel. Watch one. See how it buzzes, back and forth, looping up and down, hitting the end only to launch yet again?

Like a whirly wheel, I get close to the end of my to-dos, and I look for a way to spin back. At the time, it seems like productivity. By the end, it seems like pure stupidity. What was I thinking?

Case and point: At the top of the year, I directed two shows at the same time. I promised I would never do this again. Then came the fall.

Oops.

 

I’m tired in a way that sleep won’t easily fix. I’ve learned that this type of tired is quite common. Are you feeling a little like a whirly wheel, too?

I write to you now from Seattle (!). I’m thankful to be here on multiple fronts: First, because it’s Seattle (!). Second, because this last week in the PNW has slowed my whirly-wheel routine. Physical space creates mental space. I believe in this.

Though I can’t credit miles alone. I heard Dr. Samantha Nutt talk at MEDA’s convention, the impetus for my PNW adventure. I absolutely recommend her and her work and her book and pretty much anything she’s ever touched or walked upon.

It was so humbling to be reminded of the bigness of our old world, a world that creeks and moans under our fat, smelly feet. The stories she told–ah, be still my heart.

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All of a sudden my little whirly wheel felt like what a whirly wheel is: A toy. A small, nameless child’s toy used for a time, in a waiting room, perhaps, and then forgotten.

How can I live a life outside my own habits? How can my wheel spin outside the confines of my self-made to-do list, my too-many commitments, my stress and worries?

Give me some time on all those questions. 😉 Sounds like I may need a few years in the PNW to get them all answered.

But, for starters, I think I need to keep traveling. I know I need to keep reading. I need to keep listening to people smarter and wiser. And writing. I need to keep writing, not for the accolades, for the perspective.

You do it. Try summarizing your life with a toy metaphor. Try explaining your problems to the brokenhearted world.

Perspective has power. I find mine in the space between words.

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The World Didn’t End Yesterday

“I go to the gym to watch TV and not feel guilty.”

Aubrey is delightfully honest like this.

She is also a mathematician who just finished her first year towards her Phd in theatre directing.

She says she’s studying theatre because she loves the way the art connects people, but I prefer to believe it’s because of her relentless, heroic quest for honesty.

I pretend Aubrey believes that there is a right answer to characters, to people, just like there are right answers in math. I pretend the ever-courageous Aubrey is ready to strip away at a show and its characters until it’s exposed and honest and alive and conquered.

We did summer stock together in Middle-of-Nowhere Indiana and then lived together in the best gay neighborhood in Chicago. Last weekend, she visited me in Little Lancaster for the first time.

As we sat at a coffee shop together on a disappointingly drip-droppy day, and I asked her, “So, what do you think?,” certain she would tell me she was as disappointed in me giving up my big city endeavors as she was in the rainy spring weather.

Of course, a good story requires a twist, so here’s my first: She didn’t tell me that. She said, “You have a lot of things going for you,” as if I should know that, “I can see why you’ve stayed,” she said.

I still don’t see myself as someone who “stays,” so this is the first oddity, but not the greatest.

My therapist, who is the only person I have yet to meet whom I can’t talk circles around, tells me, “Today the world is not going to end.” She says, “You have a complex trauma history. When you’re triggered, you jump outside the window. We’re trying to get you back inside.”

I don’t know where the window is she is referencing, let alone how to go inside it (is there no door?), but I go with it. I’m more comfortable here, in this imagery, than I am in Aubrey’s world of right-and-wrong numbers. I’ll find that stupid window soon.

I jump on my bike and pedal to work and repeat to myself, The World is Not Ending Today, just like the crazy person that makes me out to be.

It is a beautiful day.

There is sunshine and there are birds. Everything is green. Lancaster smells like spring flowers, plus one layer of sausage. I don’t know where that’s coming from, but they picked the right cook.

Grandma emails. She asks when I will blog again. I sigh. Not because I’m unhappy she wrote–my heart doubles in size hearing from her–but because the thought is overwhelming.

How do I write about what I’m doing and where I’m going when, mostly, I’m surprised that being is staying. Mostly, I’m trying to surviving biking scrunched one-way streets without bike lanes. Mostly, I’m happy the world didn’t end today.

Hipster bemoans having to attend birthday party for one-year-old with no shared hobbies.

I’m proud to share I grew up some more this summer.

My favorite growing up moment happened about a month ago on a very ordinary August weekend in my current home of sunny Dutch Country, Pennsylvania.

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A couple friend of mine threw a birthday bash for their one-year old, and my boyfriend Hans and I were invited.

Before we left for the park, the BF joked lightheartedly about his lack of relationship with the birthday boy.

“We don’t even know each other that well,” Hans sighed dramatically, hiding a silly smirk. “We have no mutual interests or hobbies. And we’ve hardly talked,” he said.

It sounded like something found in an Onion article: “Hipster bemoans having to attend birthday party for one-year old with ‘no shared hobbies.'”

Upon arrival, the aforementioned one-year old, still mastering the technique of walking, tottered right past Hans with remarkable ease–and without the slightest acknowledgment. I couldn’t have directed the scene better if I’d tried.

In his defense, the little guy was no doubt on a mission to the more exciting bubble machine. Hans and I exchanged glances.

Perfection.

Despite this obviously blatant putdown, Hans and I did our best to keep our composure. The BF and I escorted ourselves to a picnic bench and struck up conversation with a (married) couple.

We joined the conversation readily, adding our wildly engaging two cents about small dogs as though we knew a thing about them. As we chitchatted, there were bubbles and babies all about, a cute birthday banner fluttering in the wind, blue cupcakes, presents, I-phones glimmering…

 

Here I was, an adult. Doing adult things.

About then, a giant bubble popped in my eye.

I guess these are the natural risks of having biggish eyes.

This fierce burst of pain took over my left eye ball. Without delay, watering and wincing began. I knew pretty quickly there was no way I was keeping this a secret.

“I’m sorry,” I said, interrupting in a panic, “But a bubble just popped in my eye.”

Someone at the table quickly fetched a plastic water bottle. “Dump water in your eye,” the BF instructed knowledgeably.

Most of the water landed on my clothes. The rest of the water didn’t really make a difference. So I decided then to try taking out my left contact. Maybe it was locking that bubble soap in there somehow, right? I threw the daily lens on the grass with defiance.

But that didn’t help either.

My eye was still watering profusely, still stinging, and now I couldn’t see clearly.

I spent the rest of the evening under the shaded park shelter with my sunglasses on. Concealed by my plastic pink frames, I squeezed the left eye shut in a permanent and very un-sexy sort of wink.

I carried on in conversation. I sang “Happy Birthday,” and I clapped as the little guy opened his third alphabet letter set. (I knew I should’ve gotten that baby bike helmet.)

When it was time to go home, I felt as though I’d cried all evening.

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Being an adult is an emotional affair, I decided.

As soon as you think, ‘aha, I’ve got it!’ something ridiculous happens.

And I reckon, it usually is ridiculous, rather than tragic.

I know that “hard” and “challenging” happens as you grow up. But ridiculous? When you’re a kid, who tells you, “Hey, growing up is downright ridiculous. It’s hilarious, really. Get ready!”

 

Yes, there were more “important” things that happened this summer than an bubble popping in my eye.

My sister second-to-youngest visited for 6 weeks to help with the opening of the Menno Tea Café–which yes, opened! I saw friends. I saw family. I travelled a bit. I worked a lot.

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I did a lot of self-journeying. I dug in deep with a counselor and read books and spent time reflecting.

And you know, in all the seriousness of learning to live with oneself, no lesson brought it home quite like the bubble incident.

Because nothing humbles you like the unexpected. Nothing reminds you more clearly of your humanity, of your childishness, of the importance of laughing and carrying eye drops with you at all times, than situations like that one little moment in the park.

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Before we got in the car, the BF and I stopped at the dog park. Dog-less, we felt like we were breaking the rules welcoming ourselves inside the gate and finding a questionably sticky bench to share.

(Were we?)

Still squinting, unable to see out of one eye, I spent the next hour trying to convince strangers’ large dogs to come say hi to me while wiping away impressively relentless tears.

In that moment, I think I found it, at last.

I was an adult.

 

Sign me up for your webinar.

I’m living in Lancaster, PA, now. It’s no secret that I have a moving disorder that requires I pack my things and transport them someplace else every 6 months. So please don’t feel bad if you’re behind. Just come visit me.

I work at a theatre where I share a cozy office with the director of my department. The view from our window is brick door brick, brick window brick. More brick. I can go all day without seeing a tree–except that I can’t–so I leave my office for dinner.

Usually, I walk home. I live in the smack dab center of this little, not-so-little Pennsylvania city. There’s always something happening, something to hear–construction around the block, traffic, people yelling. Twice, an excellent brass band. On Sunday afternoons, the apartment below blasts loud music with heavy bass for approximately two hours. It rattles my things, I try to ignore it, I get annoyed, it stops.

Having gone to school with a number of folks from Lancaster County, I feel less like I’m somewhere new and more like I’m just late on the scene.

I have discovered, though, that if you want to throw yourself into a new environment, working in community engagement is a pretty sure option. “I’m just here to engage in the community” has become my no. 1 line at all networking functions and whenever I’m in awkward conversation with strangers, which is often.

I attended an event for a community business during my first week at work. I went with a couple of coworkers. It should be noted that they used that same pick-up line to convince me to come. “You’re in community engagement, you need to engage with…

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More brick. It’s a beautiful city, I promise.

When we arrived, we did the proper thing to do and avoided all people to stake out the food. While waiting in line for what we think was Doritos with hummus, we casually bumped into someone. My coworkers started chatting with her.

From my tag-along vantage point, I could easily watch as the casual chatter slowly died out, crept in my direction, and then, perfectly on cue, “Oh yes, you should meet Vanessa, she’s new in community engagement.”

“Ah,” the woman said, smiling, “we’ll likely be working with one another from time to time.”

“Really?” I asked, trying to seem sweet and also like a kick-ass business woman who stands up for herself and is older than 24. “That’s super,” I said. “And, sorry, you work at?”

Then there was this really long pause. Like something written in a play–but no, really. She cocked her head slightly to the side, lifted an eyebrow, and said through a plastic smile, “This,” she gestured to the band, the bar, the people, the sparkly hipster-shabby-chic hanging lights, “is mine.”

I apologized. I sort of half-laughed. She didn’t. I complimented her on a really super nice party. And that was the end of that awesome conversation.

So ‘engaging in the community’ has its road bumps and will clearly require a little more time until mastery.

Though there are aspects of Lancaster life that I’ve found take very little time at all. I’ve discovered access to new knowledge and a corresponding thirst for learning that, honestly, I haven’t felt since burning out a bit in undergrad.

There is so much to learn about education and Arts education and the way we learn and why we learn how we learn–and then just nonprofits in general, the business–and then just regional theatre–and oh, my brain is on a continuous buzz. I’m reading new books and constantly signing up for blogs that use hooks like ‘young professional’ and ‘cutting edge’ and ‘Arts education matters’ and I am attending live webinars, and all of this is such a delightful, delightful thing.

With everything happening in Lancaster–a growing Arts scene, a growing yuppie scene, etc.,–I feel like the city is just rooting me on. Check out this! Learn about this! Come to our event!

And along the way, I’m feel I’m (slowly) picking up the little stuff that makes living here living here. I can now tell you which stands at Central Market are worth your dollar (and which accept credit card) and how to pass an Amish buggy on the road. I can tell you a thing or two about tea, incidentally, and give you a great tour of an excellent (haunted?) theatre.

You’re invited to visit, or heck, just move here already. Test my knowledge (or please, please don’t). If you’re already here, we should say hi to each other. Why not? Let’s engage in this community! Just don’t interrupt my webinar.

A brush full of paint

I walked into Menard’s today and I wanted to die. Have you been there recently? These places are huge. With all that space they should at least grow something. Raise some livestock. Start an indoor herb garden. But just to sell things when farmland is at such a premium? What sort of strategic planning is that.

Clearly my brain is still in Farm World. I’ve left home, but heart and mind appear to be traveling a little slower. They are likely putzing down I-80 right now, distracted by a corn field somewhere between here and God-forsaken Iowa City.

My time at home was a time of family. It was a time of realizing that I’m growing up, and that means everyone else is, too. It was a time of sunny day after sunny day after sunny day and paint. I painted a shed for my dad, and hence, I also painted my hair, my arms, somehow my stomach. Paint everywhere.

Now the brushstrokes change color and direction. Now the world around me swirls all sorts of new shades, shades that quickly drip and bleed together as I zoom pass unfamiliar hill and mountain, tree and field, house after house after house. As I drive East.

East to a new job, a new apartment, a new part of the country that is somehow so much smaller and yet so much fuller.

East with a new haircut and a new shower mat and a new comforter for my new bed and a new (but not-so-new) pledge that this time, this time I will stay a little longer than last time.

Wherever last time was. Whenever last time was. I guess just take your pick.

I’m not convinced moving ever gets easier, and yet, here I am, halfway between home and a new home, typing this mini post with all the optimism and confidence of a fresh-from-college grad. Even though I don’t really fit that mold anymore.

Here’s to new adventures; at every stage, at every age. Again, and again, and again. Whether you are on the farm in South Dakota or somewhere between there and the Atlantic Ocean. Stay tuned!

That crooked nook

I feel pressured.

Sometimes my brain crawls into this odd crooked nook where paper becomes empty canvas. When I arrive here, I find it feels better, best even, to extract thoughts and opinions from the secret space in my head and to throw them onto the blank board (also known as Word Doc). To pull out useless thinking and twist the thoughts with my fingers like play-dough, to twist them into curves and lines, into words.

When I don’t write for a while, not for myself specifically, the crooked nook becomes trickier to find.

Yes, even with modern technology offering empty canvas with just a tap tap.

A good writer, I think as I stare at the blank word document, ties everything up. They have a theme. 

Good writers are the ones that take an entire twelve months of happenings, birth, death–the big stuff, yes–and somehow, God only knows, squeeze everything into a paragraph-style Christmas letter. A holiday hello complete with hook opening, sexy edited body, and a closing thought that contains not only a summary but a new nugget that you can take home with you.

A nugget-sized idea like a personalized party gift at an over-the-top wedding you didn’t dress quite right for.

The past month has been this hodgepodge of experiences, all of which I feel are worth mentioning, but none that I am easily linking.

Hence, the pressure.

I accomplished things. I suppose that this, at least, is certain.

I finished teaching for the time being–which was weird. Kiddos were saying, “see you next year, Miss Hofer!” and I didn’t have the heart to say, “I will likely never see you again. Never. Ever.”

I didn’t hate being a teacher. Sometimes I loved it. But mostly I knew, and I knew early on, that I needed to commit to the career. I didn’t and still don’t feel right continuing on in a classroom setting on this half-in, half-out basis. It’s too important a role. It’s too exhausting a job.

Accomplishment two, I ran a half-marathon. It probably goes without saying that this was less ‘weird’ and more so just ‘difficult.’ Hans, my boyfriend/running partner/person-to-blame-for-convincing-me-to-sign-up told me on many-an-ocassion that, “it would be easy!”

“By the end of our training, you’ll be cruising!” he said. He’s a very encouraging guy.

But I don’t think I ever cruised, per say.

In fact, by Mile 8 I felt like a sort of hippo who was more or less dragging my thunder thighs from mile marker to mile marker.

I did cross my very first finish line and eat a pancake breakfast by some port-a-potties, and I did feel like a complete boss in my slinky new Chicago Half t-shirt afterwards. So that’s something. That is definitely something.

Accomplishment three, I decided what I want to do next, more or less.

I’m still writing. Actually, I’m writing more. I write for work and I write quite a bit. Most recently, I started writing for Mennonite Health Services. This is my first Mennonite-related gig, and that’s significant to me. It’s one thing to write for real estate in Canada (a fine endeavor, thank you!) and it’s another thing to write for your home church.

For now, I’ll do both and we’ll see how it all comes together when I move to Pennsylvania in August. When I move to start a job at a well-respected theatre in Lancaster County.

I feel the transition. I feel it a lot. I didn’t know you could feel all your things in boxes–yes, this is getting bizarre–but gosh, I can.

Will I have enough qualifications by the time I turn 25 to start a business as a professional mover? I wonder to myself.

My wandering feet feel a little off balance as I visit hilly Pennsylvania this week. I am oddly nervous to go home the week following, I am wondering what will come the week after, I am considering and reconsidering the weeks after that.

Adventure looms.

Go ahead, wrap your story in a cute theme. Put a bow on it. Ship it around the world to friends and family and don’t forget a pic.

In December. Do that in December. Because today, it’s June. And in June, this June, anything goes.

Perfection, unnecessary.

The world is churning and turning and the future seems ever-more far away from the past.

No links, no ties, no summaries. Just twist the words and let them fly.

4,000 Miles (Almost)

“A year from now we’ll all be gone
all our friends will move away
And they’re goin to better places
But our friends will be gone away…”
—rivers and roads from the head and the heart

When you drive four thousand miles (almost) in less than one month, you assume that, somewhere in one of seven states, you will encounter a great blog post waiting to be written.

But even the longest car ride is too short when in good company.

I guess I was too busy talking to listen—or too busy listening to others talking—that I failed to hear what was happening around me.

It takes a special intentionality, after all, to catch a story.

So I write today not because I have a great story to tell, but because the greater story of my day-to-day is unraveling quickly. If I don’t write, I feel I will most certainly miss out on marking what was, and what continues to be, a spring of four thousand adventures (or more).

I do not know where I will be or what I will be doing three months from today. I wonder aloud how I always end up in this situation while acknowledging in secret that it is my own doing.

“I am continually amazed by the richness of life that just waits to be noticed, to be experienced,” I wrote in my journal last week. “This knowledge is like a rapid heartbeat in my mind, pushing me onto the next, the next, the next…”

I am currently training for a half marathon. Hopefully, come mid-May, there will be a triumphant blog post in which I explain how me, the girl who hates—HATED (past tense, positive thinking only)—to run, completed my first race. And not some fifty-meter dash warm-up. This is go big, or go home, half-marathon style.

But today, I’m just training.

Most days in Indiana, training in the spring means running in mud and getting rained on. One of the perks of traveling then is getting to run in places other than good ol’ I. N.

I spent Easter in Lancaster County, PA. While there, I learned two particularly important lessons, among many:

The first: Just because you are in PA–and eating Amish ice cream and going to farmers’ markets where you eat food from around the world and then eating candy while dyeing Easter eggs–does not mean that you can skip a training day for your upcoming race. It also will not improve your running time.

And just because you have been training for a half marathon since January does not mean that you are capable of running up a hill.

There is absolutely no part of my body that enjoys running up a hill. I don’t care how fun it is to come down.

From what I can deduce, my body is simply baffled by the entire concept.

Stop, it says. Something is wrong. You are trying to go up. Why are you trying to go up? That is impossible. 

I will also note, running up a hill is an entirely different thing than hiking up a hill. Colorado or no Colorado experience, hill or mountain, I don’t care. It’s the wrong direction.

But with Mr. Boyfriend toughing it out beside me (and looking great, dammit), what choice did I have?

So this is the second lesson I learned in Lancaster County, PA: Sometimes you have to run up a hill even if run is just about the least-accurate descriptor of what you are actually doing.

It felt like I was pulling, maybe walking while semi-crouched, perhaps better still, failing. But needless to say, not running.

Making progress is such a matter of perspective, isn’t it though?

I feel like I am relatively apt with words. Sometimes it seems to me that if you only phrase something right you can make anything sound like it is progress. 

(Oh yes, watching this popular TV show is giving me additional common ground so that I can better chitchat, enabling me to network with new people, who will potentially lead me to my dream job.)

After driving four thousand miles (almost) in one month, I tell myself that this is progress.

I made big decisions, I met new people, I shared significant time with significant others.

But as I’m running up this life-hill, some days it feels a little bit more wandering. The muscles are stretching and pulling and people next to me are somehow still beating me, and my entire being is asking, What are you doing?! 

Today, though, I pause.

I pause and breathe and re-ground myself. I pause and choose, intentionally, to look at the miles. You can’t argue with them. At least, I can’t. Four thousand miles (almost) is still (almost) four thousand miles, and the journey I’ve travelled in one month alone is one that I am proud of.

It is progress, because I choose it to be.

I don’t know where I will be in three months.

And really, you don’t know where you will be either.

But I think we share a mutual hope that we’ll both be moving, whatever that might mean, in whatever direction that might be. Maybe we’ll be trying something new, eating something delicious, completing something important, telling a friend how much we care or sharing a feeling we have never shared before. Maybe we will just be letting life unravel as fast as it damn well pleases and enjoying the ride all the while.

Even if the journey down isn’t quite worth the hellish run upward, perhaps the view from the top will help us see something that we could not or did not see before.

The options are endless (almost). And exciting (always).

“Been talkin’ bout the way things change.
And my family lives in a different state
If you don’t know what to make of this
Then we will not relate…
Rivers and roads
Rivers and roads
Rivers til I reach you…”