36: Protect the fragile and unruly

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds
33: Completion is freedom
34: One thing at a time
35: Bigger follow-through
36: Protect the fragile and unruly

Where do I even begin this year? There’s the work life, where I FINALLY have a new role on a tiny team, supporting my old team’s department (so, that team plus a few others). Some massive years-long weight has lifted off my shoulders; in the scheme of things, I’m actually pretty excited about what I’m doing.

There’s the home life, where we have a two-year-old who is indeed about twice as old as she was last year. A lot happens in a year, but especially at this age. She’s got a bunch of language now and everything. Her observations regularly have me doing double-takes. She’ll eat every single visible salmonberry if you take her on a hike (the “eating one berry while picking the next one” thing is apparently a dominant trait on my mom’s side). She does everything in her own time; she is cautious and adventurous at once. We work at home a whole lot more, and she’s been around a lot more lately, and everything’s seemed kind of chaotic, you know?

I mean, there’s that whole pandemic we got going on. And then the part where a lot more people are taking a lot more action to declare that Black lives matter, and we have got to stop killing them. That’s a zillion posts in itself, but I’m some well-intentioned white lady, and I see my role right now as (in part) volunteering my money and time, and making space (e.g. shutting up & working to be a better accomplice) for Black leadership to do the work they want and need to do.

And then there’s this ritual. This is the first year I haven’t written this post on my actual birthday. I’ve had an almost superstitious fervor about that in the past, but this year, I took my birthday off of work and went for a gorgeous solo hike in the woods (my second solo hike ever?), and it was precisely perfect…until it went off course. I went to the forest, and I marveled over rhododendrons at the tops of massive nurse logs, at winter wrens perched on top of tiny stags, at the bounty of salmonberries, at the phenomenal power of a good giant waterfall (thank you, Silver Falls), at how generally excellent my fellow hikers were at keeping a responsible distance, at the lushness of the cleavers. It was just right, and then I returned to the car with a tiny headache. No problem! I’ll drink water and take it easy, I thought. I put on some Simon & Garfunkel, then some Wilco, and drove home. I had a very meaningful birthday call with family where I stared at the screen and people said nice things about me, and the headache got worse. I decided it was not actually part of my dogma this year, writing this post before midnight, and went to bed early.

And then the headache stayed until the morning, and I threw everything I could think of at it. Water. Salt. Caffeine. Ibuprofen. Acetaminophen (paracetamol for my non-US friends). Chocolate? Bath? Sleep?? Sleep was the only thing that even touched it. And then I woke up the next day, and it was STILL there. And long story short, almost 48 hours in, I talked to a very kind nurse on the advice line (who ALSO had a horrible time at the hospital where Astrid was born! shocking), and had a very nice visit to urgent care (just in case!), where the NP was sympathetic and unconcerned, and they gave me some drugs, and I went home and still felt awful.

And I woke up the NEXT morning and…felt like I had narrowly avoided a hangover. Not stellar, but headache-free. And then the weekend was almost done, as if turning a four-day weekend into an almost-two-day one was adequate at all.

There is probably a lesson or a greater message in all this. I spent my hike thinking about themes for the year (and talking to trees), feeling truly inebriated on nature and life, and now all I can see is “the body is fragile and unruly, and we just have to do what we can, and help to protect other people’s fragile unruly bodies, too.” I tried to do a meditation of sorts on the way the forest works, the way all kinds of terrible things happen to individuals (like trees) and how they recover, and it’s in recovering that a whole bunch of new possibilities have opened up.

Life has felt like that, little by little, more and more, in the last year. I have been learning new skills, I have been exploring things with more gentle curiosity. The shape of my rage has changed. Did you know that at least 10% of new mothers have PTSD? I mentioned this to my therapist last year, who laughed grimly and said she was certain it’s higher (she’s of the general opinion that PTSD is overdiagnosed anyway, so for her to say this made a hell of an impression). I have only known that I’m one of them for about a year now, and the more I talk about it, the more I find how many of these stories are lurking right around me. I know I will need, or someone will need, what I am building up as a result, but the details aren’t clear yet.

The thing I keep getting stuck on is my utter loathing for moderation. I have two settings, F YES and F NO, and I have spent years wishing that were a dial. Looking at my previous yearly themes, it almost screams this to me.

But I’m kind of stuck on my irritated summation earlier. The more I sit with it, the more I love it. I’m calling it.