Be Seen

Today is a wonderful day: International Women’s Day. Women all over the world are speaking up, speaking out about where work still needs to be done to foster equal representation and to encourage courage in the face of those who wish to make us small.

The idea that to change the world we must change ourselves rings very true to me. How can we bring peace into the world if we ourselves are not peaceful? How can we encourage loving relations in the world if we are not loving toward ourselves? Initially, this idea of changing ourselves can seem more manageable than changing the world. Physically, of course, the world is enormous, and it is indescribably complex. Yet, as we are with ourselves continuously, there is always an opportunity to change ourselves, any moment. However, women’s inner worlds are also complex. If you are like me, it can be difficult to look inside. It can feel overwhelming to unearth all the emotions, fears, preconceived notions, and anger. I believe that’s why we can spend quite a bit of energy trying to change other people, other situations, other modes of thought. Yet if we have hatred, how can we expect others to release their hatred? If we judge and discriminate against some others, how can we demand others to not judge and discriminate against some other others? It takes courage to change the world, but it might take more courage to change ourselves.

This year’s IWD theme: Be Bold for Change. Be bold for change in the world, be bold for change in yourself.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time this semester feeling small, not wanting to be noticed. I believe this is because I am in a new relationship, and I’m being noticed, and there is an excellent chance this person will notice aspects of my personality or habit patterns that I am not proud of, or that are holding me back, or that are contradictory, or maybe even harmful to myself or others. This is ironic, because I spent a good deal of time last semester desiring that someone would notice me, that someone would see me. What I realize now is that I wanted someone to see my good, but not my not-so-good. So I’ve been slowly shrinking myself in hopes that I just won’t be noticed.

But what an opportunity. There is someone who sees me, who is seeing me more and more deeply. I can show someone who I am, I can share with someone how I think, I can tell someone my fears, I can mess up and be afraid and trip over myself and that person can be a witness to all of that living. Someone seeing me so closely is really, really scary for me. But what can I do but to keep showing up, keep refusing to get small, keep encouraging the courage in myself? It hurts to be seen, it hurts not to be seen. Which do you choose?

Happy International Women’s Day. Remember not to focus only on how far we have yet to go, but also on how far we’ve come. Remember the freedoms that you experience every day in addition to where your freedom is restricted. Remember that you are not alone, and women all over the world experience heartache, jealousy, self-criticism, rage, and fear. Remember that we all want to be seen, we all want to be loved, we all want to feel safe, we all want to feel justified.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

Emily

The heart wants what it wants –

Or else it does not care –

– Emily Dickinson, 1862

Such a simple quote from a letter to a friend, yet it rings true, doesn’t it? A deep, heavy ring. The heart can be so passionate and fervent in its wanting, but to everything else it is silent. These are the words I feel as I go into my sit today. I’m certain my mind will be buzzing throughout the next ten days with ideas I want to share here. Until then! May all beings be happy.

Love,

Sara

Obsolete

I was driving northeast in the beginnings of a blizzard to my brother’s wedding. It was 3:30 pm, so the outside was darkening already, and I was alone in the car, save for June Bug. And save for Regina Spektor, and her new album, Remember Us to Life. Everything felt significant, that night, that weekend.

The ninth song on the album is called Obsolete. It’s slow, sad, soft:

This is how I feel right now
Obsolete manuscript
No one reads and no one needs
Pages lost, incomplete
No one knows what it means

I listened to this song over and over, swirls of snow obscuring my vision, Junie curled up to my right, a warm cabin beckoning with two of my favorite people cozied up by the wood stove, hidden from the world in a dark spruce forest, burnt up several summers ago, now blanketed in thick, thick snow.

This song became the constant mind hum of my weekend. Its melody and velvety, pulsing piano rode the waves of my mind as I soaked in the hot springs with my girlfriends, as I witnessed the marriage of my brother and Lilly, as I slept outside in the blowing snow, as I skiied in the empty burnt snowy forest, as I ate Alaskan blueberry pie over a card game right before midnight on New Years Eve.

Minds grow dark, so suddenly
I was lost on your street
Hey I’m talking to myself
I can hear you listening in
To my thoughts, to my dreams
What I want, can’t compete
Obsolete

It’s difficult to say why this song felt so important this weekend, why I was so struck by it. I’ve been turning the lyrics over and over in my mind, searching for connections with what I was experiencing at the cabin.

Take me to the water’s edge
Let me stand in the sand
Let me hear the waves crash-land

Useless part
This useless heart
Useless art
What am I? why am I
Incomplete?
Obsolete

Although I’m still searching for the meaning, I’d like to share my best guess with you. We go through each year with a myriad of yearnings, fears, celebrations, tiny challenges, significant accomplishments, adventures, disappointments. We strive so ardently for happiness and fulfillment. We connect with some and lose touch with others. Endless experience. Yet, in the end, the year ends. The entirety of what we’re left with over the first breath of the new year is exactly where we are at that moment. The old year, in effect, is obsolete.

Standing by the bonfire at midnight, I felt a budding desire to examination myself anew, to look at this idea of “What am I? Why am I incomplete?”, questions that so many of us ponder. This dichotomy of feeling a genuine self-significance while at the same time knowing that our lives are due to end, our time in this body and mind is finite, and that one day, far in the future, we will be completely obsolete.

This is how it feels right now
Obsolete manuscript
No one reads, no one needs
Useless part
This useless heart
Useless art
What am I? why am I
Incomplete?
Obsolete
All I want
Can’t compete
All I want
Is a sleep
All I want
Incomplete
All I want
Obsolete

It may have been the dark and stormy night that I was hurtling through, it may have been the wedding of my baby brother, it may have been the stark beautiful loneliness of that burnt up spruce forest, but I believe all the deep emotions I felt while listening were inspired directly from Regina’s magic. Happy New Year.

Thoughts on dogs and grad students

I am a grad student. And I have a dog.

When you are a grad student you work very, very hard. The general public knows this already. I actually have seen people cringe when I share with them that I’m on the road to a Master’s in Biology. Something that non-sciencegradstudents might not know is that becoming a grad student is the beginning of a new brain, a new identity, a new person.

Being a grad student is like having a cloud of something amorphous yet significant surrounding you at all times. You simply cannot just be Sara anymore. You are Sara-as-a-grad-student. I imagine it is similar to becoming a parent. You are no longer Dani Aubert anymore, you are Dani Aubert-with-an-Eowyn (disclaimer: I realize the amorphous yet significant cloud of having a child is, simultaneously, less amorphous and more significant than a new grad student identity). Graduate studies are remarkably different than undergraduate studies. Allow me to grossly generalize: as an undergraduate, you are concerned with learning a lot of facts, listening to a lot of lecturing, and taking tests. It is about grades. As a graduate, it is about training, or grooming. I’m grooming myself with a giant, all-encompassing comb to be a scientist. I am not learning how to get A’s, I am learning how to be a contributive, meaningful, successful, and provocative scientific person.

This expected outcome of walking the graduate path is intimidating. Science is collaborative, yet science is also competitive. I went to a talk today for 10 minutes on how to apply for a National Science Foundation graduate grant with a 12% award rate. It provides you with $138,000 over three years to do research and to eat. Listening to the presentation made me feel stressed and nauseous, so I left to blurt this all out to the world.

I’m scared to become a scientist. Yet, curious scientific discovery is incredibly fulfilling to me. Being a scientist is desirable and absolute feels like the right orientation for my life. Lately, old worries have been surfacing: I won’t be good enough, I won’t be smart enough, I’m not doing enough, I haven’t read enough papers, my ideas aren’t impressive or interesting enough. Only incredibly intelligent and creative and hard-working folks become successful scientists, my mind says sadly, kicking the dirt, head lowered. I’m worried I’ll never make enough money. I’m worried there are job opportunities but none of them will be in Fairbanks. Allow me a gross exaggeration: if there is one thing I know for certain, I know I can’t live anywhere besides Fairbanks.

There are a lot of “not enoughs” in that preceding paragraph.

Maybe this would be a good time to cut to my announcing that I adopted a dog from the animal shelter last Friday. I named her Junie. She is a 30-lb Alaskan husky that was found along the highway, emaciated and without a collar. She is pure love. Her main interests are to sniff things, run, and love me. Yes, I wonder what that really means, that a dog can love. But if love is unconditional acceptance, if love is an undying energetic fire of curious, personal interest, then Junie is that.

junie

I feel vulnerable in sharing this because my description of love between person and dog feels so overdone. When I announced that I had adopted Junie, my brother said, “you should get one of those “Who Rescued Who?” bumper stickers!” “Haha,” I said.

I rescued Junie, yes. Did she rescue me? More accurately than “rescue”, what Junie gives me is companionship, an encouragement to go on lots of walks in the most gorgeous dreamland nature I can imagine, and the feeling that I am worthy of love. Something deep in me didn’t realize that before. How much has this compromised my life, a deep belief that I am not worthy? Why can an animal assure me of that within days while all the wonderful people in my love who love me aren’t convincing “enough”? Why can’t I convince myself?

My thoughts on being a human

I wish someone (you) could really see what it is like to be me. I think it may be impossible to describe in words, so I’m going to try. For you, for me.

The last time I was in Onalaska I really realized how human I was, in a new way, when I was thinking about the inevitability of my own death. Why am I alive, why do I know life, if only to die? And why do I know death? And from the darkness of my mind I felt my own heart beating. My brain knows I will die, yet my heart keeps beating in spite of. Something about that innate dichotomy feels very essentially human.

As I grow older and gain more experience and hurt and love and meditate more [side note: often the last thing I want to do in the entire world is sit to meditate, even though it is the purest medicine I can conceive of…perhaps this will make it on my Human list (see below)], I feel my human life becoming more real. Right now, as I sit at the cabin owned by my future sister, with a hot woodstove and yellow down booties and tea that was once to hot to drink, with dog hair on the rug and nascent knitting projects and outside the leaves are dying, my life feels more real than it ever has. It’s as if there is always a dusty, greasy glass pane suspended in my field of vision, and every new experience of pain or joy comes with a rag in its ephemeral hand to wipe away a little more grime. Slowly I see my humanity for what it really is.

Perhaps ironically, my recent scientific endeavors have opened me up spiritually. To say there is nothing spiritual in the communication of neurons and in the tireless workings of our cells’ organelles is blind and sad to me. Magic that we can’t even begin to grasp is occurring furiously, continuously, in our own bodies. Furthermore, the miracle of abstract, novel thought arising in my brain and translating from my central nervous system to my skeletal muscles to write these words is ungraspably grand. Even wilder, the magic of my conceptual mind is conceiving of the magic of my conceptual mind. Please think about that.

In the spirit of list making, here are some examples of what I consider pure Humanness.

  1. A lifetime of the same repeated mistakes, especially in the face of “knowing better”.
  2. Dreading the “sit” until you sit and it’s like pure spring water flowing into your dirty veins until it gets hard and you spend the last fifteen minutes waffling about whether to get up prematurely and make coffee.
  3. The unique and strange satisfaction of popping a pimple when it was really ready.
  4. Feeling so lonely and lost you can’t move. Or you don’t stop moving in an attempt that the lost loneliness can’t find you.
  5. Driving across town to buy a $3.49 bottled sparkling water from Arkansas when you live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Other species don’t do this.
  6. Watching the inner workings of your mind unravel at 3 pm on a Thursday while deciding which shape of pasta to buy and calmly pondering if this is what going insane feels like.
  7. Asking the same boy out again even when it was pretty clear it didn’t work out the first time but maybe there’s a chance now? Also see: hiding uncertainty, fear, and confusion behind respectful, mature, and honest communication with the opposite sex.
  8. Guilt and shame.

I feel like I present myself as capable, hard-working, driven, strong, independent, and successful. To really know me, you need to know that I’m fragile, scared, habitual, and self-serving. Being a human in remarkably messy. I want to see you as a messy human being. I want to love you as one too. Please show me your heart mess and if I’m feeling brave I’ll show you mine.

I’m just trying to continue on with both eyes open.

Klimt, The Friends, 1971