Being thirty.

I almost never have problems falling asleep initially. The tricky part is if I wake up in the middle of the night. My brain’s usual defenses fall away and I can get easily overwhelmed with anxieties, worries, and illogical patterns of thought, trying to solve the challenges of yesterday.

I now have a routine when this happens. I leave our room. I go downstairs, take a relaxing herbal tincture, and snuggle into my own bed, breathing deeply and preparing myself to ride it out for an hour or so. Although the intense anxiety can last for some time, it inevitably ebbs away and I can drift into a more-or-less restful sleep.

I awoke this morning to Jason coming into my room with Happy Birthday wishes. We had already planned a slow morning, with lots of coffee, carrot cake from the night before, and quiche; a complete luxury on a Tuesday before work. The midnight mind state was gone. Yes, the challenges still awaited me at school, but they seemed completely manageable and unalarming. A literal night-and-day experience of how I move through my work anxieties.

I started graduate school almost two years ago with almost two years left in my twenties. I don’t really remember turning twenty. While the birthday itself was unmemorable, I don’t think I’ll ever forget many of the experiences of the past decade.

Growing pains. There is a not a better phrase that could describe my twenties. Lots of growth, and lots of pain. Lots of joy as well, but unfortunately, when looking back, painful memories surface before the happy.

The end of my college chapter was the beginning of my wandering chapter. I floated to Juneau, then to California, then to Oregon. I experienced two very affecting and challenging relationships. I joined a bakery and a band. I was deeply struck by body shame. Fortunately, there were many bright stars that came into my life during this period: Geri, Elizabeth, Dani, Ian, Eowyn, Eric, Dan, Jacqui, and so many other people from Mount Shasta, Ashland, and our band family around the country…too innumerable to name here. They were my little stepping stones through the unknown, and I cherish the memories we made together. I am grateful for all of the times I was vulnerable with all of these people and was caught and listened to. Who I am today is a direct representation of the intimate connections I created in and maintained throughout my twenties.

And yet, alongside the incredible gift of sharing music across the country and creating my nest in southern Oregon, I felt almost continuous emotional pain. I now see that this pain was derived from leaving Alaska and from going through a very normal period of twenty-something self-discovery.

I have now been in graduate school for a year and a half. Through this period, I have settled back into Alaska, adopted a dog, lived by myself, and met my partner. This time has also certainly been full of challenges, most of which can be traced back to anxieties concerning failure in my thesis work. However, it is different than the pain I experienced in California and Oregon. That amorphous, ambiguous pain naturally alleviated once I arrived home. My body relaxed. I just fit here, in my weird and wonderful Fairbanks community.

Additionally, there exists a simple recognition that I’m just older now. I’ve had more experiences that I’ve survived. I’ve been through many, many episodes that have left me feeling wounded, but they’re all simple scars now. The essential ingredients to a meaningful life, including trusting, intimate relationships; spending time outside in beautiful places; cooking and eating lots of good food; drinking delicious beer; and playing music with my community have become all the more precious to me. There are many more nights now where I fall asleep completely convinced that I have everything I could ever want and more.

So, what does turning thirty mean for my poor nights of sleep? Is there anything that can be said about the mental switch that accompanies the rather arbitrary ceremony of turning one year older and launching into the next decade?

To put it in the most poetic way I can, I believe one can choose thirty as a means to just not give a shit. Rest assured I will give lots of shits for the aforementioned essential ingredients to a meaningful life. But for the experiences that threaten to make me feel small, for the experiences that fill my heart with doubt, and for the experiences that disrupt a night of sleep here and there but in the end come down to a piece of paper and a line on a resumé, I choose not to give a shit. The fear will come, the fear will pass. But the snow is beautiful on the spruce, and a big downy woodpecker came to our house today, and there are pooch trails to be walked this afternoon.

I am overjoyed to be thirty and truly delighted to be growing older. I don’t know how life could get any better than it is now, but I’m also certain that it will.

Side note: neat French website here about turning 30 around the world. Also where I found the featured photograph.

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Two-thirty am; or, after much wine

My friend Sara Rose took me (Sara May) out for a birthday dinner on Monday eve. I’ve always been a lightweight (One-Shot Wonder, they (my little brother) call(s) me), so when Sara suggested we split a bottle of wine, I knew she didn’t know what I knew: that that was a lot for me.

I came home four hours later full of life and smiles, fries and cab sauv. SR and I had been getting deep into philosophy as we swirled the dregs in our glasses. She ended the dinner conversation with something like, “Sara, we just have to tap into the heartbeat of the universe and live there fiercely.” And the way she said it, I was just, yes!

And so after Ian and I said goodnight I went into my little room and read some of my Osho book before falling asleep and, lo and behold, good ol’ Osho is going on about, you guessed it, the heartbeat of the universe. How we have the ability to connect our humble heartbeat to that of the entire UNIVERSE! The night was getting more profound by the minute!

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At two-thirty in the morning I woke up to pee because, naturally, I had drunk more wine that evening than the total amount of wine I had consumed in my entire 27th year. I was in and out of sleep until 7:49 am, experiencing monumental insights. In one of my more lucid moments I turned on my red lamp, found my pen and paper that I always keep right by my bed/head, and wrote:

Growing up is making decisions not based on fear or the possibility of mistake but out of love and wisdom.

The freedom in that is beautiful and can be terrifying.

Think about that!

Good night! May your dreams be beautiful blankets of warm, universal love.

Heart by Taylor Penton.
Universe photo.

A night alone in the snow

I’ve been having lovely dreams about climbing Mount Shasta again, those kind of dreams that are so magical and meaningful that one’s hopes in describing the dream could never be realized. I was beginning to feel a sort of alpine itch. That night, I began solidifying my birthday plans, which would certainly involve camping, and I would certainly be alone. I decided to head up to Mount Ashland on the eve of my birthday and skin out…

…”skinning” is a backcountry ski term. A skin is a giant reusable sticker with a one-way mohair/nylon blend that you stick to the bottom of your telemark or randonee ski, allowing you to walk up steep slopes and giving you access to sick lines without the use of lifts!…

…under the nearly-full moon to find a cozy little snowy den for myself.

I parked at Road 20 around 8:30 pm. I had borrowed a load of warm gear from Frankie: an extra Thermarest, two emergency blankets, a bivy, and an unforgettable pair of down pants. I had never been winter camping in my life, nor had I skied with a heavy pack, and the only people I could consult were Allen & Mike, but I had been raised in a cold, snowy land and grew up camping in remote wilderness. At the very least, Dad felt confident in me.

I packed up everything, strapped my skins on, and set off into the night. It was so bright out I didn’t need my headlamp, reminiscent of my Mount Shasta summit night with David back in 2012. I was so alone. It was so quiet. Shasta was gleaming in the distance. My cares from the day fell away and I felt deep peace and happiness. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, just develop the rhythm of sashaying skis and poles and breathe. I casually tapped the snow to my right every now and then, testing the softness. It was reliably crusty for a while. I eventually came to an opening in the trees that was slightly tracked out, the snow pillowy and glittering, my pole tip disappearing with my last hopeful tap. I took off my large backpack and strapped on my smaller pack for water and for skin storage once I reached my destination.

Skinning up a slope is hard, satisfying, beautiful work. I didn’t quite make my summit goal, as the snow started to get crusty, but I probably climbed for about 30 minutes. I looked over to the moon and noticed how she illuminated the tracks from that day’s skiers. I saw how it was diamond-like and perfect. I felt my labored breathing.

I got a little lost on the way down and found myself in some trees on the way to my pack. I thought for a minute about tree wells but sailed through the forest unscathed. I made it to the road, found my deserted pack, and carried the load another 15 minutes to an open meadow near Grouse Gap Shelter.

Getting a bivy set up to keep one warm in the snow takes some maneuvering. Before taking off my skis I stamped out flat little bed. Into the bivy I stuffed both sleeping mats, threw in my bag, and piled in one of the blankets. Putting on the down pants was a feeling I’ll never forget: a soft warm cloud around my tired, cold legs. I ate a couple of chunks of smoked salmon Aaron had sent me; I had saved the fishy treat for this day. I scooted in to my little thermal cocoon, zipped up, and that was it: I was alone on a mountain in the snow on my birthday, warm and very sleepy.

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The view from my bivy cocoon in the morning

I slept like one would expect. I was an agitated pupa. I had to head out right when I woke up to get the car back to my friends. I skinned out groggy. About 15 minutes later a dog cruised by me, followed by a young backcountry skier lady. We looked at each other happily and became instant friends, skinning out together back to our cars.

Thus began my newfound love for winter camping and a deeper appreciation for backcountry skiing and all the freedom and adventure it provides.

February 20, 2013

Today is my twenty-fifth birthday.

In 1988, my mom was also twenty-five. I wish we were together so we could celebrate her labor day.

Today is a “yes” day.

A “yes” day is a day where you say YES to yourself from the moment you wake up to the second you close your eyes for sleep.

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I’m pretty sure this was also a “yes” day…

Yes to:

Buying gifts for myself.
Relaxing.
My plans first.
Getting back in bed after breakfast.

Do you have enough “yes” days? Why do we wait until our birthdays to allow ourselves to do what we want (if we even allow ourselves the privilege then)? Celebrate your birth every day! You’re alive every day because you were born!

I’m starting with today.