Now that all the items necessary to support productive habitation have been moved in (although not entirely unpacked), I hereby declare myself moved into The Annex, my home for the next 4.5 months. The photograph below was taken from the kitchen, and the visible portion of the room is nearly half the room; a desk, a computer, and a queen bed basically fill the space, with a small clothes rack and side table squeezed between the side of the bed and the wall.
It was Kyler’s idea to call it The Annex; he felt it needed an elegant name. I had proposed “The Shed,” because this room was clearly a later addition to the original (ancient) structure; the wall by the head of my bed is made of exterior wood siding. The side walls used to have windows which have been boarded up with plywood; the white paint job has seen better days, and nail holes (sometimes with the nails still in them) abound. It’s a house that’s been lived in by generation after generation of college students, and there are 6 of us here: 2 upstairs, 2 (including me) on the ground floor, 2 in the basement. Thick orange electrical cords snake through heating vents routing current from the upstairs outlets to the basement rooms; it’s a house full of kludges. But it’s cheap, it’s near my office, and I’m living with people I like (I know most of them from the dance company) and honestly, it’s all I need.
There’s a certain clarity that comes with a small and simple life, and I’m in a very internal-facing mode right now and likely will be through a reasonable portion of the spring term if not longer, so this cozy little monk cell suits me just fine. An electric heater warms the tiny space up quickly; I’ve already started making The Annex a home, actually unpacking into it instead of thinking “it’s for less than 5 months; I must be ready to go at any minute, nothing that I start here’s going to last.” It’s true; I’ll take all this down in the spring. But I will make things and hang things and settle in and actually enjoy this space, because I’m here now, and I’m learning how to make a home and be in one.
One of the cards I’ve tacked to the wall reminds me (in Rilke’s words) to live the questions now. I’m learning that I don’t need to know all the answers permanently forever. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to math and science as a kid; answers seemed so permanent and fixed, and once I knew something I didn’t need to worry about straining to hear updates on it any more. But it’s not about being right and unchangeable; it’s about being… here.
Another card on the wall says this:
“Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth.” –Souza
Most days, I do all four — literally, physically, actually do all four. I hadn’t been trying to check these actions off a list; I didn’t even remember they were on a list until I unpacked the card today while moving in. A good sign, a good start.
My attention has been scattered many places for many years. It happens when you grow up a workaholic in a distributed career and your family and friends are all non-local. And so I need to learn how to reach out from a place where I am rooted. How to fly, but to have a nest that I go from and come back to. How to be alone and present; I know now how to be one or the other, but I’ve never really done both at the same time. It’s a difficult lesson, and a painful one in its quietness, and the tears flow most days — but that’s a good sign that I’m being present even when it’s hard.
I fight the temptation to fill the quietness with easy fixes, things that I can do without awareness and intent and used to use as drugs of sorts: work, reading, food, movies and TV, finding people to hang out with for the sake of not being by myself — all things that filled my world with data, data, data, information, noise so I wouldn’t need to listen to myself in the quiet. I can work and read and eat and be with people and so forth, but I want to be there with awareness and have that activity be about letting the world in instead of blocking it out.
In Seattle, I was struck by a quote from one of the books in my uncle Don’s shelf:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urge that motivates you. Keep the channel open.” –Martha Graham
That’s what I want for myself and for the people I care about; I think it’s why I love education so much, because it’s about helping people find and open up that channel. Sometimes you meet people who have so much amazingness inside them just waiting to go, waiting to grow, and you see them unleashing that upon the world as best they can, and you know that whatever abilities they have and gain in the future will be guided by a good heart towards making things better. And when you see that… how can you not do anything in your power to help make that happen? How can you not help people become all they can be? I don’t know how to not see that, feel that, act on it — and so I became a catalyst, a teacher. But before helping others, you need to be stable yourself.
The rest of this post is running on to be quite long, so I’ll put it into another.