schirin oeding

under a peregrine star


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Are You Twenty-Something?

Is it the Yellow Brick Road?

Are you walking the Yellow Brick Road?

I came across psychologist Meg Jay’s TED Talk  (Why 30 is not the new 20) a while back and didn’t watch it. Instead, I started reading the comments viewers had posted after watching the talk. I was intrigued. Mostly because, being a twenty-something myself, I am always curious to see how other members of my generation view themselves, their roles in society, what they do or do not take responsibility for, what they dream about, who they want to be, how they see the world. Responses ranged from absolute enthusiasm for Jay’s message, to complete disappointment at her apparent oversimplification of life’s struggles and challenges and her status-quo attitude. I went ahead and watched the talk, and found myself agreeing with a lot of what Jay had to say—at least on some level. I suggest watching the video, but I’ll give you a short recap here: Jay urges twenty-somethings to “reclaim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.” She goes through the list of post-secondary education, work, relationships/marriage/kids, geographic location, social life, and so forth. She suggests that my generation stop waiting around for some decisive push toward getting a life, and instead, start living it now. And anyway, it seems that, from her perspective, that decisive push (to commit to a career one doesn’t even want, or stay with someone one isn’t even sure about, or settle somewhere one doesn’t even want to be) is often a misconstrued fear of “hitting thirty” and having “nothing” to show for it.

Yes: she oversimplifies. But something about her oversimplifications is refreshing; she is frank and practical, and speaks from personal experiences and encounters. And still, she omits and ignores some big topics. Her twenty-something life plan leaves out the myriad alternative paths many of us are taking. Of course, I don’t expect her to give an overview of options that run the gamut from (insert fabulous dream job here) to (insert another one here). Right? But still, it’s important for us to remember that these paths exist, and that they are just as valid as a so-called traditional path. Because any of us, no matter what age, could end up doing one of those  bracketed things, or, most likely, even a few. And many of us will do so successfully. We shouldn’t have to measure ourselves purely against the success of that imaginary traditional life that many of us can’t or don’t want to live.

The debate about twenty-somethings has been a ongoing one. It hits home with many of us who, at the age in question, are equally elated and energized by the options we seek for ourselves, and frightened by all the possibilities we get to choose from. Are we lucky to have so many options? Or is much of the inherent twenty-something energy being burned off in an aimless search for meaning? Do we have so much time to find our purpose that we somehow actually get more lost along the way? Or does the unhurried development of our dreams and plans actually fuel them toward manifestation? I don’t know. What I do know is that it is a huge privilege to be able to stop and ask those questions at all. And, in a sense, knowing this is enough of an answer for me.

I get an immense sense of satisfaction from the successes of my twenty-something friends. Sometimes I feel like gloating a little bit, because they are so brilliant and talented. Sometimes I feel like waving the 2012 Time Magazine cover (which yes, refers specifically to the millenial generation) in someone’s face and telling them about all the great and selfless things twenty-somethings have done. (And why they’ll save us…!)

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But of course, a lot of people my age are wasting their time and those resources they are lucky to have. I don’t want to make apologies for them. I know a few myself; most of them have never made any big decision in their lives. Most of them grew up with people who made decisions for them. I guess I could say, “Who’s to blame here?”, but I don’t want to go down that road. Part of growing up (yup, it’s unavoidable) is learning to take responsibility. And learning it is, I know that for sure. As for choosing what to do with ones life, I like what Aristotle apparently said on the subject:

Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.

PS— Quite a few people have written very eloquent, thoughtful responses to Meg Jay’s TED Talk. They explore all the angles I haven’t touched on above, and there are many, and they are all worth taking a look at. Here are a few that stood out:


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On Looking Ahead

Looking inside.

Looking inside.

One of the childhood memories that comes back to me most frequently is the memory of declaring, to my mother, that what I wanted above all in my life was to be good. This replaced a previous need to be famous, which I thought was essential to changing the world. “Define world,” I might say to my younger self now, “Define change.” But it doesn’t matter, anyway. What I realised, somehow, provoked by an insight I can’t remember, was that what I really wanted was to be a happy person, with enough happiness to go around to anyone and everyone. Yup, it’s a vague goal (but noble, right?!).

I’ve been thinking a lot about plans, lately. A small handful of my friends are excellent planners. They seem to be blessed with an intensely clear vision of what their lives should look like, and, most importantly, what they must do for it all to fall into place. I always thought I wasn’t like them. What I thought about myself was this: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know! And when I occasionally felt that I did know (know what to do, what I wanted, where I wanted to be, etc.), I frequently found myself in a situation where the universe/fate/circumstance seemed to have something else in mind. I have never really suffered the existential boredom that lots of people I know swim into at some point in their lives—which leads them to make unexpected decisions and journeys. Even as a kid, I don’t recall being bored much (I’ll have to ask my mother to confirm this). I wasn’t like the writer Joseph Epstein, whose mother replies to a complaint of boredom that a person ought to, “[…] knock your head against the wall. It’ll take your mind off your boredom.” (An apt metaphorical epithet for what some people might characterise as the problem of my generation…) Ok, so knocking your head against a wall won’t get you anywhere—though it might shake loose some more productive ideas a few seconds before a self-inflicted concussion is suffered.

I guess the main thing to pull out of the jumble above is this: I wasn’t bored, because there was always something to do. But I didn’t think I was a planner, because I rarely sat myself down and considered what I really wanted to do with my life.  (On an explanatory side note I’d add this: one of my regular dreams is to have a house with a large garden to call my own, and large amounts of time to spend turning that garden into something magical, and then spending the next years, decades, watching it grow. It hasn’t happened, yet, and maybe the reason why this wish is so strong is that I want to feel settled, and stop feeling as though time is always at my heels.)

And still, all the while, plans and ideas and visions and dreams have been fermenting away somewhere inside of me. I clearly wasn’t letting life just “happen” to me.

I’m an extremely, frequently irritatingly, impatient person. I am impatient with others, with the pace of change, with the change of the seasons, and above all, with myself. I often find myself falling into the trap of believing that something I want to do won’t ever happen if it doesn’t happen right now. That’s why running has been such an achievement in my eyes: I always wanted to run, but the initial pain and discomfort always dissuaded me. I wanted to feel good! Now! But now I realise that good things are often slow to materialise. Especially those good things that are made to last, or those that bring changes that leave lasting impressions. Sometimes, I remind myself now, I just need to wait and wait some more.

Making plans for my life (even though, as they say, “Humans plan and god laughs”) and working toward them, and enjoying the journey, is a stronghold against impatience and frustration. Both of those are inevitable in my life, I know this for sure—but maybe the strength of the journey will help overcome the fear of not knowing.

One more thought on impatience and boredom (again via Joseph Epstein’s essay on the subject): ‘”I have discovered that all evil comes from this,” wrote Pascal, “man’s being unable to sit still in a room.”‘ Not sit still forever, I might add, but just for a moment, just while the dust settles. xo

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Looking back.


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Breaking Up | Breaking Open

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I’ve always enjoyed the small details of life. My favorite place is the forest floor in springtime: spring beauties, hepatica, ramps, fiddleheads, trillium, wild ginger in flower, dappled sunlight on emerging green. Those are the things that make my heart sing. I like vast views, too, but I’m always more apt to drop down, smell the rotting leaves that hug the earth, dig my hand into the organic matter, see the bugs and worms at work there, the mushrooms that enchant the soil. In life, though, sometimes, this causes confusion. The “big picture” gets lost somewhere up above, details begin to dominate, and the little things start to become disconnected from the landscape that houses them. I recently broke up with a person I was head over heels in love with, and entangled with. The breaking up, the deconstruction of our relationship, was a landscape opening up around me, and, in a sense, swallowing me. Looking up was, is, scary. It means placing myself; recognizing where I am, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I searched for minute details, saving graces, the little things that grow along the wayside and make the journey beautiful—trying to avoid seeing the vastness ahead of me. I found those little things, of course I did, but the more I looked down at them (or rather back at them) the more this vastness beckoned to me.

In the introduction to his book Portrait of My Body, Philip Lopate asks the questions that for a long time stopped me from starting this blog, “What gives me the right to assume my life is worth taking so seriously? Is it arrogance? Self-centeredness? Yes… but not entirely. We must remember that most writers have only their own story to tell. In my case, I can also report better through my eyes what the world looks like than by pretending omniscience. I want to record how the world comes at me […].” In my search for the courage to really be where I am, to put aside escapism and to rewrite my grand dreams, I am daring myself to share some of the stories that seem, to me, to be the least public of them all. Please take what you like from them. I think of this as an exercise in spontaneous storytelling, not a foray into autobiographical perfection.

In this new beginning, there are still a million questions that keep me turning my head back. There are a million answers, or maybe (probably) more, none of which are as satisfying as taking a deep breath and looking forward. There are still plenty of things that go bump in the night—but there are also stars, and the moon, to light the way. Rob Brezsny, whose Free Will Astrology I enjoy weekly, planted an idea in my mind many years ago. “The universe,” he writes, “is conspiring to shower you with blessings.” What an audacious thing to say! And is it true? There are certainly enough instances when it doesn’t seem so, enough times when things seem to be heading so stubbornly in the opposite direction that it is easy, almost obligatory, to laugh at his pronouncement. And yet. I believe he is right. Counting my blessings, even when I rely on someone else to sit me down and do it for me, has a way of putting me in my place (the place where I happily look out, up, and all around me to see that I am, in fact, in a good and beautiful place). Looking up, lately, I have been shocked by the many blessings that I have received. What I have received has reminded me to plan and dream and simultaneously plant myself firmly in the earth of this place.

Here are some things that have pleased me to no end lately. Things that have tickled me pink, and made my heart pitter-pattern. Things that have caused me to jump with glee and awe.

A dear friend of mine, who lives a bit too far away for my liking, has decided to tie the proverbial knot. I am so absolutely thrilled for the two of them—I can’t even put words to it. And what is more, I am bursting with pride, as they have asked me to officiate at their wedding. Love, love, love! What an honour (and responsibility…).

While the above is surely number ONE, there are a few more things, too. Lucky me! Another blessing is that I live in a city that, as it greens with spring and new life, is full of beautiful surprises. I’ve been reluctant to find steady ground here, having had the idea that I wouldn’t be here for very long, and that planting my feet wasn’t really “worth my while.” That’s something I am committing to changing. No matter how long I stay here, I want to feel close to this place, get a sense of its people and its stories. Yesterday, a bike ride revealed a long, verdant corridor of uncharted pathway, echoing the river. A desire path created not by the city but by people who wanted to walk or bike there. On one side, the river; on the other a forested slope, thick with spring ephemerals (like a flood of white trillium).

I am also, still, beyond excited and filled with happy anticipation for the six weeks I get to spend at the Omega Institute this summer… Being able to go there and take a course for six weeks is an unbelievable, unexpected gift.

There are plenty of other things to say, here. I’ll leave it at this for now, and spend a minute basking in the universe’s conspiratorial bounty. A thought for you, too—something that a friend gave me a number of years ago, written on a card that lives in my wallet.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,

our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant,

gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”

Actually,

who are you not to be?

xo

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I get to go back here this summer…


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Tell Me Something That You’re Afraid Of

Looking down after climbing a mountain in northern Vermont.

Looking down after climbing a mountain in northern Vermont.

In 2011, I took part in an audio-documentary-making workshop at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, VT. I took the course in preparation for putting together a series of recorded interview with Vermont beekeepers as part of my bachelor’s thesis. During the workshop, I did a practice run. Out on the streets, I asked people to share with me something that scares them. Here is a smattering of what they told me.

What are you afraid of? xo


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Running With a Gal From Brooklyn, Potential Sugaring & Stitching It Together

The gal from Brooklyn is, in fact, a sixty-ish ex-marathoner, psychology professor who I almost ploughed into while running this morning. I slowed to a walk beside her and we got to talking. And ended up crossing the river, and walking through the woods, chatting—not running, just walking quickly at this point—before parting ways half an hour later. I love these chance encounters. They lift me right up ever time. Just a few days ago, on my way home from work, I stopped to pet my favourite neighbourhood dog, a lassie names Laddie who lives with a very old woman with a beautiful, big garden. During the early spring, she had tapped an ancient maple tree that flanks her land. Walking by and seeing the sap flowing always left me feeling elated, light, so happy to see that even in a city, people like to live with their hands in the soil and their hearts with the trees. (I should also start keeping count of the number of backyard chicken coops I’ve come across!) So recently, when I was petting her dog, she came around the corner and we said hello. I asked her about her tree, and she shared with me that it has been there since 1915. Since before the telephone lines were strung from the central posts to the adjacent houses. Today, the phone line snakes its way around and through the upper branches of the majestic maple. An afterthought. We talked about maple syrup, sugaring, drinking sap cold, right from the bucket. She offered that I could tap the other maples in her yard, if I am here next winter. One is plenty for her, she told me, but I was welcome to make good use of her tiny, urban sugarbush. Sweetness of maple, kind words.

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I’ve been teaching myself to sew lately. Thankfully, I work with a group of helpful, experienced sewists, who are always willing to advise me. So far, I’ve made three tank tops, a dress, a voile t-shirt, and an enormous linen travel bag that will accompany me on board a few planes this summer. I also snagged some Liberty print quarter meters last weekend, and hemmed them into scarves. Liberty carries a certain intrigue: my grandmother, I’ve been told, used to make the trip from Germany to London, where she would stock up on the classics. I found my first Liberty fabric, in the form of a blouse, during a beautiful trip to San Francisco a few year ago—in a thrift shop. A lucky find! I relish the experience of sewing. I’ve been a knitter for a few years now, having been well-taught by my mother and a fiber-artist friend and former college teacher of mine, Jody Stoddard. Now knitting and sewing have taken on almost the same kind of satisfaction. The ability to make something wearable, usable, something with longevity, beats out lots of other ways to spend my time.  I’ve been sewing mostly for myself these days, getting the hang of things, and wearing my mistakes. Knitting, on the other hand, is something I do for other people, most of the time anyway. When I knit something for someone else, I think about them while I work at it. Hope that whatever I make them will protect them, keep them warm, and give them the feeling of being held. One can never have enough people to knit for. xo

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My next sewing project with be out of this sunny stuff.

PS- Things have suddenly turned to deep spring here. The weather gods have forgotten the subtle transitions they usually tempt us with. Instead, bare feet and short sleeves are on the agenda these days. Magnolias, tulips, daffodils, forsythia, and many other spring flowers are exploding into bloom everywhere I look. People are sunbathing by the river, sitting on their sweaters, shed eagerly as they soak up the sunshine. We need this, beauty all around, warmth, life. I know I do.

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