Wednesday, February 25, 2015

82 Hours

Journaling in the Bayangobi, July 2014
If you've never encountered Susan Cain's book Quiet, or at least heard her TED Talk about "The Power of Introverts," then I highly recommend you do one or the other immediately. Two years ago Quiet was our faculty's summer read here at Fountain Valley School of Colorado. I'd always identified myself as an extrovert and think most people that know me would do the same. However, upon taking the brief quiz at the start of the book I discovered that I'm what has been coined an ambivert. The dictionary gives it a very basic definition which lacks the real unique qualities in this personality identifier. 

You see, I crave social interaction just as much as I need quiet, alone time. I spend my days and weeks toggling between the two sides of this swinging pendulum. After a couple of nights with social engagements or commitments, then I need a night off where I can be alone with my thoughts. 

This past weekend we had a snowstorm blow through Colorado. On Friday night I attended our school musical (The Man of La Mancha) to see the great work of two of my advisees, and then promptly drove home and parked my car which wouldn't move for 82 hours. While my weekend had originally been slated to include coffee with a girlfriend, a gathering of prior work colleagues for a potluck party, and then a Sunday brunch with another dear friend, one by one each event was canceled because of weather. And so I spent 82 hours alone in my apartment. An apartment that until three weeks ago had a nine pound cat prowling around, and until two weeks ago had a man that slept late, ate oranges in the wee hours of the night, and watched movies in Russian. I confess to missing them both very much. 

But with Mona adapting to her new family and Zorig back home in UB, it was just me rattling around the rooms of my nearly 1K square foot apartment. At first I was thrilled to consider that I could sleep until I wanted to get up, drink an entire pot of coffee while I journaled and listened to Bon Iver on repeat, and then read or watch movies or clean and sort. Or whatever my little heart desired. And Saturday was blissful....watching the snow fall and being warm and cozy inside. I began the hard work of sorting the stuff of my life and wrote not one, but two blog posts. I felt inspired and motivated. There was stuff to throw out, stuff to pass on to family or friends, stuff to sell (I even created a "I'm Moving to Mongolia" Sales Catalog!), stuff to take to Goodwill, and then the stuff to carefully pack for shipment to my next home. 

On Sunday, I trekked outside to take a couple of boxes to the dumpster. It was cold and not at all conducive to a walk which surely would have helped me avoid feelings that began to quietly descend as a strange and shifting fog. I watched some of the Oscars while I continued to sort through old letters and mementos. While I've never been a pack rat, I was surprised at how much random stuff I've kept over the years.  From concert ticket stubs (Chris Ledoux, Juice Newton, Chicago) to military challenge coins to old journals. From elementary school writings (about unicorns and wizards, of course!) to middle school awards (America & Me Essay contest--Second Place) to a marathon finisher medal. And then the stacks and piles of cards, and letters, and even notes that had been passed in the halls of Gaylord Middle School. 

For the most part, I chose to enjoy the memory and opted to then discard the said item. Because really, what's the point? While I can appreciate a trip down memory lane, I'm also conscious of the fact that if I am lost in memories, then I am not fully living in the current moment. And if we are not present in the NOW, then we are missing out on something or someone, aren't we? We've heard a lot in recent years about mindfulness. Until recently, I confess to seeing it as a bunch of new-age hogwash. But as someone who has completely revised her life over the past six months, I have a new appreciation for mindfulness and being completely in the NOW. 

If I hadn't embraced the NOW of my father and I's epic trip to Mongolia, then my life would not be what it has become (And I am happier than perhaps I have EVER been, and I am experiencing a second round of that feeling we had--just as we finished high school or college--when the sheer number of roads ahead of us was intoxicating and made our hearts race with joy and excitement). 

But as my Sunday stretched into Monday, a day which I self-declared a snow day because the roads were so dreadful, I began to suffer from a strange feeling of isolation and loneliness. Oh, I was still happy to sleep late, eat whenever, and drink loads of coffee, but something else began to take hold of me. By not interacting with people for so long, I began to suffer melancholy. This is not a real sadness or depression, but rather a feeling of unease and uncertainty. I'd had far too much time walking the halls of my own mind. And sorting my life had brought up a not too distant feeling of fear. I don't know why I thought that I was done being scared about the upcoming changes to my life. What a silly assumption. I see now that the coming weeks and months will continue to throw fears at me (can I really do this? how hard is it REALLY going to be? have I bit off more than a person can reasonably chew? How much change is too much? Is there a thing as too much?). 

When I came to work on Tuesday there was an incredible feeling of relief to once again be amongst people. To hear the sound of my voice outside my head and in my ears. To think about other people, events, and things. While I think one or two days of utter solitude can do my soul some good, I know that 82 hours is more than I require. Next time, I'm walking to King Soopers to buy something from the deli, if for no other reason than to hear the sound of others voices. 

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