Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reflections: Year of the Trees

My friend and fellow blogger, the fantastic Reticula who, unlike me, is a real blogger who posts and everything, posted this to mark the beginning of the year.  Or maybe, to mark the end of the old year.  You'd have to ask her which way she sees it.  Either way, as she often does, she served as inspiration for me to write my own post.  She said I could write my own, should even, and I'm giving her credit, so I'm not in fact stealing her idea because I'm short on my own (even though I happen to be just that).  It also just happens to be an awesome post, so you should go and read it and all of the fantasticness she writes.
I did not make "resolutions" last year because, in all honesty, I didn't really want to mark the beginning of a new year.  Hence the reason that last year is the only year I didn't write a letter.  (Admittedly, I haven't written that damn letter yet this year either.  But I will.  I will, I tell you!)
When I read Reticula's list, my first thought after "WOW, what a year!" was "I don't think I did anything this year."  I thought about it for a little bit and confirmed my original thought.  Nope.  Nothing interesting.  Nothing worth writing about.  2011 was, admittedly, not the best year ever.  Not the worst, but definitely not the best.  And that's okay.  I still made it to 2012 and, best of all, we are a whole 2 days in and the Mayan prophecy has not yet been fulfilled.  The end of the world would definitely put a damper on the year, wouldn't it?
Anyway, I'm stalling.  You don't REALLY want to hear about my year, right?  You do?  I set all this up and now you're curious, huh?  Damn.  This might be a long post.  You don't have to read the whole thing.  I know I've said this before, but I am just reminded as I sit to write this that, while I am only hitting the big events of the year -- and there have been a few, in spite of my initial impressions -- it is sometimes the small things we don't write about that mean more.  Sometimes, when we look back on our lives or our year or our day, we see the forest and we think "wow, that was a really dense forest" and we are proud of having made it through that time.  We can remember the one time we ran into the coyote and had to run for our lives, or the time we tripped over that root in the particularly rough patch and broke an ankle, or the time we thought we were about to be trampled by the herd of deer, and it turned out they weren't running in our direction at all.  We can also remember the meadow clearings we found, the cool streams, the fellow travelers, and the way the sun felt on your forehead as it blessed you in the early morning hours. 
As I think back on my year, though, I'm not yet able to see the forest.  I still see every fucking tree I passed, every root I tripped over, and every thorn that caught my skin.  I was not trampled by deer, I was not eaten by a coyote, and no ankles were broken.  There were rainbows, and there was sun.  There were cool streams and fellow travelers.  There was dew on the grass in the morning.  In telling the stories that make up the story of my year, it does not seem extraordinary.  From a distance as an outsider, I am sure it is a forest that looks like any other forest.  I am certain it is just as dense and wild and beautiful and frightening as yours.  One day, I am sure it will look like a forest I have exited, even as I am about to enter another.  Right now, I am still in the thicket, and I still remember each of those damn trees. 

Does this metaphor even make sense? 

What I mean to say is this: I cannot really give you a tour of my forest.  I can tell you about the sunlight, and about the nose and tail and ears of the certain animals I saw.  I can paint you pictures of the rain and the meadow and the summer flowers, but I can't bring you in and have you feel what it's like to walk amongst all those damn trees, and that is what makes up the journey.  One day, maybe I'll look back and remember the highlights: the sunlight, the thunderstorms, the snakes, and the flowers.  Or maybe I will always look back on these past 2 years as the year of the trees.  If that is the case, then I am also sure that, one day, I will also be okay with that.

So anyway, here are some of the patches of sunlight, the rainbows, and the flowers from my year.  I may throw in a thunderstorm or two, and maybe even a snake, but probably not.  There is no reason for me to remember those storms and dangers.  They are in the past.  (This is in random order, not chronological, and not in order of importance.  There is no good way to organize this list). 

I was totally almost to this point
with my dissertation.  The end was
a little hairy.
1.) I finished my 4th year of grad school.  Hallelujah.  Enough said.
2.) I stressed over my dissertation.  I set a date for my dissertation defense.  I finished my dissertation.  I tweaked my dissertation.  I rewrote half my dissertation.  I sent it to my advisor, who approved it, and to my committee, who also approved it.  I made my presentation for my dissertation.  A week before the dissertation defense, my committee member informed me she couldn't be there.  I had a nervous breakdown  rescheduled my defense.  A month later, I defended my dissertation.  I actually remember very little about the defense.  They asked me questions.  I answered them.  "Reconstructing Autism: A phenomenological study of the relationship between parents and their children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder" is soon to be published in the no-mans land where all happily passed dissertations end their merry little lives.  Hallelujah.
I totally considered doing this for my
defense.  I didn't.  But I considered it.
3.) In late 2010, I applied to 19 internship sites.  Out of all of these sites, I got 1 interview in early January 2011.  I felt sure I wasn't going to get in.  The 1 interview was at the most competitive site I applied to, and at the site my training director told me I wouldn't get in.  It was "out of my league."  I am now 6 months finished with my internship at said site.  Better yet, I'm pretty sure they'll take me for a post-doc if I apply.  Apparently, it just takes one interview.  Nobody tells me I can't do something.  So there.
4.) I moved across the country for the second time in my life.  Actually, this was the 4th time I've moved in 5 years.  This move was a difficult one for me.  I miss my Ohio friends and the amazing community I had there.  I have yet to find that community here.  I will...but I haven't yet.  I don't like where I'm living and haven't gotten up the energy to do anything about that yet, but I'm going to work that out really soon.  Believe me.  I will.

5.)  I've worked for 6 months at a super intense site.  I managed a caseload of over 100 kids.  I heard stories that would break anyone's heart.  I have been frustrated and angry and sad and proud and overjoyed, and at the end of those 6 months, I am exhausted and feel blessed to call this my "work."  It is not easy, and there are days when it makes me question everything I know about humanity, but it is deeply fulfilling, painful, beautiful, difficult work. 
6.) I took a trip to a strange city, including flying on an airplane and navigating public transportation, by myself.  Don't laugh.  For me, this was a big deal.  I've rarely felt so confident and independent.
7.) Winter quarter 2010, I taught my first undergrad class (abnormal psychology) and discovered I really like teaching.  I also discovered the joys of reading student papers and giving grades.  I developed a new appreciation for teachers.  Through the experience of reading student papers, I learned interesting phrases such as "chugg the watt."  As in something like, "individuals with Schizophrenia often experience hallucinations and chugg the watt."  Confused?  Go hug a teacher.  They deserve it.

8.) I read poetry that I had written out loud in front of people--lots of people--and it was amazing.  It's addicting, almost, and I can't wait for the opportunity to do it again.  I read in front of one person, two people, four people...a whole congregation of people.  It's one of the most exhilarating highs I've experienced.

9.) I participated in several events speaking out against sexual violence.  This was, in a word, terrifying.  This is not something I told anyone, other than the people who would be there, that I was doing.  Nobody--except for those who were there--knows that I did it.  But I did, and I firmly believe that I am a better person for it.   It was one of those experiences that is indescribable.  Powerful, terrifying, knock the breath out of you sort of experience.  There are so many people I hold in my heart from these events--for so many reasons.

10.) I was involved with the most amazing group of youth at church in Ohio and had the opportunity to learn with them and from them.  I watched them grow and change and care about one another and their world.  They allowed me to become part of their lives, and they and the rest of the amazing community at church gave me a gift I still don't know how to ever thank them for.  So many people there--kids and adults alike--hold such a big piece of my heart.  They leave me with so much to be grateful for.

11.)  Most importantly, I think this year was a process of opening my heart.  The business of opening your heart--to life, to love, to others, and to yourself--is hard and painful work.  It is healing work.  It is important work.  It is work I imagine I will spend the rest of my life doing.  I can't imagine doing anything else.
 Open your heart to everyone you meet | chris erdman
Peace. <3


  1. That's an amazing year! Full of successes and hard work and who gives a shit if you can see the forest. Sometimes you just keep moving, and you did. I'm so proud of you!!!!!!! <3