Monday, January 22, 2018

The birds who have flocked around my heart


I’ve had some troubling experiences in my life. Particularly with the avian community.
 
Sometime near the age of 12, a blue heron-looking bird with beady red eyes chased me in circles around an indoor rainforest exhibit. I hustle-walked round and round, losing my mind with fear of being pecked to death, until my brothers finally figured out how to chase it, at which point I ran for the exit to recover from what is still a traumatic memory.
 
During early childhood, a peacock scared the pee out of me in simply being its ostentatious, sexually forward self. To this day, I don’t understand why they let those things roam free. Anything whose body can suddenly burst open should be kept at a considerable distance from nervous blondes. Preferably behind plate glass. And hidden behind a curtain. 
 
There were also some disagreeable geese outside a library in Colorado that used their necks as lunging devices and no I did not find this charming and no I’m not over it.
 
So me and birds, I wouldn’t exactly say we’re of a feather.
 
But our relationship has taken some flight in recent years, and I’m proud of us for the connection we’ve been able to foster. (Mostly I’ve done the difficult emotional work in this area, but I try not to hold that against them, as they probably can’t afford insurance for their own therapy).
 
Maybe they are working on their treatment of me, because this past summer I saw some peacocks and they seemed to reserve their shows of mating for the peahens instead of me. Also I frequently see some crows or wrens gathering on a wire that overlooks the Pollo Loco (where I presume they hold vigil for their chicken cousins who have gone before), so there is a chance that between bits of gossip they have decided to ease up on my jumpy self.
 
Because, if I’m being honest, birds have actually served me in incredible ways.
 
There was Martin and Katerina, the pair of mallards who wandered the Lutheran seminary where my family lived during my high school years. They decided to nest their family of eggs outside our front door, where Dad set out water for Katie and affectionately greeted her with his standard “Duckduckduckduckduck” speak. He’s a very intelligent man; he just, like me, melts into a state of incoherency when adorable, vulnerable creatures are present.
 
Those birds’ selection of lodging made me feel special, like I came from a hospitable tribe worth choosing.
 
There were the chickens at the Noah’s Ark petting zoo station at Vacation Bible School. They were placed in my palms and I held them close to my belly, where they sat calmly, like contented cats. Those fluffy babies kept their talons tucked and restored confidence in me after encountering some less-sociable animals that morning.
 
And there were the flamingos at the Manhattan(, Kansas) zoo this past summer, who truly lifted me out of a depressed funk within moments of crossing my vision. I hoisted my nephew on my back for a better look, and after he scrambled down toward the playground, I lingered and marveled at the ability of these pink balancers to restore balance to my day.
 
***
 
Last night I was rustled in my dark bedroom by the honking of passing geese. I immediately fell to worry, thinking their cacophony was arriving at an unorthodox hour. I wondered if they were OK or if they were sending the humans some warning message about something being off in nature.
 
“There’s fog, and we’re lost! You’re lost! We’re all lost!” I imagined them shouting.
 
My paranoia was soon overtaken by fatigue, and I joined Max in his state of slumber, him atop the mountain of blankets that covered me, his feline body a paperweight for mine.
 
Perhaps the geese were just complaining about the recent chill that snuck up on Los Angeles, inviting other geese to join on their red eye flight to Peru.
 
Maybe their call laced around the cat's dreams, the fowl kind being, I assume, his favorite type.
 
Maybe they were just saying Hello.
 
Anne Lamott says something along the lines of if there were one thing to convince her of the existence of God, birds would be enough.
 
I’ve never fully understood this thought, but I am beginning to better, I think.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My 2017 in review

 
Happy New Year, you fine people!
 
Some weeks back my friend Courtney sent me Susannah Conway's "Unravel your Year" print-out-journal-workbook thingy. So far I've filled out some of it (fair warning: it is lengthy, so I would work on it in multiple sittings), and I've found it very valuable. It helped me recognize my blessings of last year, realize how much I've learned and how I've grown stronger, and gave me a chance to sit with some tough emotions, hopefully moving me somewhat forward away from them.
 
Then yesterday I came across a shorter version of a similar concept, a little questionnaire thingy that I found via Jolie's blog who found it via another blog. Last night I filled out all of my answers longhand in my journal, and it had a similar cleansing, positive effect on me as Susannah's workbook.
 
Anyway. Below are my answers to the questions from the shorter year-in-review thingy. May your year be filled with grace and love and light and snuggly pets and pasta and some more grace.
 
Xox,
Bailey and Max

1. What did you do in 2017 that you'd never done before?
  • Boarded 16 airplanes in one year
  • Took a vacation with Alex and traveled both to and from our destination together
  • Read poetry at an open mic
  • Saw a 90s boy band (Hanson) in concert
  • Participated as a worship leader for an entire year
  • Was honored as a godmother at a baptism and a best mate in a wedding
  • Threw a bachelor party
  • Lived in a house with four cats
  • Got my eyebrows threaded
  • Had an MRI
  • Cried in front of a medical professional (hadn't done that since childhood, when I assume I cried during vaccinations)
2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for this year?

I'm not sure I made any resolutions for 2017, to be honest. I hoped to lose weight, and I did. Last year was not one for grand goals, however. And looking back, I don't think goals would have really fit in to the year, considering the way it rolled out.

For this upcoming year, I'm not going to use the words "every day" or "quit altogether," but I would like to aim for more and less of certain things:

More:
  • Dancing
  • Finger and toenail painting
  • Making my bed
  • Reading
  • Working on my book
  • Spending time with local friends
  • Fizzy water
  • Lemon in my water
  • Forgiving, hopefully
  • Walking, running, weight lifting, and yoga. So...exercise...
  • Vegetables
  • Indian food
  • Cooking at home
  • Free clothing
  • Time with Alex
  • Flossing
  • Open mics
Less:
  • Irritability
  • Spending
  • Diet Coke
  • Looking at social media profiles of people who make me feel upset or jealous
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, ma'am! I believe three ladies I know brought some new people into this world last year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Someone close to someone I'm close to died, and it was terrible.

5. What countries did you visit?

Canada, for approximately four hours. We rode bikes in Victoria, which is a gem of a place.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
  • More time with LA friends
  • More concentration for reading
  • Less fear surrounding the writing of my book
  • Visits from/with specific friends who live far away
  • More confidence/less hesitation
7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
  • February 27th -- I had a cavity filled that day and then discovered Jens Lekman that night
  • March 29th -- I got a phone call that changed my life
  • April 14 -- Someone in my life died. It was Good Friday.
  • July 31 -- I turned in my key for a house I loved living in
  • October 29 -- Nick's beautiful, emotional wedding
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I learned to stand solidly on my feet in a way that I've never done before.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I feel like I wasn't the stellar friend I know myself to be, and I hate that.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Depression, a gnarly cold, and an ear infection. Oh! And my pupils were different sizes! That was an alarming doctor's visit...

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My watermelon suitcase from a thrift store. OK fine, my parents bought it for me. Yes, I'm spoiled. Also a Shutterfly book for Nick and another book I found at the Getty.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I'm so grateful to say this is a long list:

Alex, Debbie, Sam, Chelsea, Ryan, Caleb, Jill, Mom, Dad, Esther, Courtney, Nathan, Carrie, Steph, Nick, Garrett, (another) Sam, Kaiya, Carter, Austin, Andre, and many more.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Prefer not to answer.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Panera, McDonald's, 7 Eleven, our favorite happy hour nook, and rent

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I hate to say it, but I didn't get "really really really" excited about much of anything. I was unexpectedly delighted by Jens Lekman's concert.

16. What songs will always remind you of 2017?
17. Did you make any new friendships?

Mostly I just got closer with people I already knew.

18. Did you go on vacation?

Oh boy yes. Alaska, Kansas City, Scottsdale, and New Orleans.

19. What do you wish you had done more and less of?

I wish I had done more:
  • Reading
  • Socializing
  • Exercising
  • Cleaning
I wish I had done less:
  • Crying
  • Phone scrolling
  • Hibernating
  • Fast food eating
20. How did you spend the holidays?

I did yoga, went to church, and watched holiday movies.

21. What new food did you discover?

I discovered that I absolutely love macaroni and cheese with black pepper on top. I also learned that the White Harte Pub has excellent chicken curry, and I ate the best refried beans of my life after meeting Rachael Yamagata.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Crazy Ex Girlfriend, One Day at a Time, Riverdale, and Girl Meets World

23. What was one of your favorite experiences of the year?
  • Singing along to Martyrs & Thieves at the Jennifer Knapp concert
  • Soaking in a hot tub as the stars appeared above us, somewhere off the Alaskan coast
  • Sitting in a lounge by myself on the cruise, cracking up! at this hilarious singer/entertainer
  • Reading my poem at the open mic
  • Talking on the beach with Jill and then eating nachos together
  • Walking through the Konza Prairie with my family
  • Planning and attending Nick's bachelor party, and seeing him so happy on his wedding day
24. What was the best book you read?

 
Honorable mentions: Stargirl, Orbiting Jupiter, and The Postman

25. What was your greatest musical or artistic discovery?
  • Jens Lekman!
  • Gabrielle Aplin
  • Nathan Pyle
  • Ernie Barnes
26. What did you want and get?
 
Good company and conversation on New Year's Eve

27. What did you want and not get?

To see various friends who I love

28. What was your favorite film of last year?

Almost Adults, Lighthouse of the Orcas, Night Owls, Little Sister

Also, fun fact!: I didn't set foot in a single movie theater during all of 2017.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and what age did you become?

Sigh. It was not one of my best birthdays. I turned 32.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I know I'm incredibly privileged and blessed, but I would have loved more opportunities to do whatever I wanted last year.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Ha! If you know me then you know why this makes me laugh. Let's see...

I wore very little jewelry, applied the most makeup I ever have in one year, got new glasses, dressed up a lot for various social gatherings that weren't really that fancy. Hair was pulled back most of the time. I sported sweatpants at home and a lot of secondhand clothes overall. And as always, I mixed all the colors.

32. What kept you sane?

Headspace, CBT thought records, my amazing friends, Alex, Max, sushi dates, and Bethel.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I didn't realize I was supposed to move on from Denzel...

I also fangirled over Garrison Starr, Sherri Shepherd, and, duh, Rachael Yamagata.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Relations with Korea and the Vegas shooting

35. Who did you miss?

Several people. My family and friends are so scattered I don't know that I'm ever not missing someone.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

There were various people I met on airplanes during a very difficult period of the year who were extremely kind. One man gave me drink coupons and graciously looked at pictures of my cat. One woman encouraged me in the early morning light to "hold the space" for a grieving family I was visiting. And another watched Big with me, my computer battery holding out long enough for us to make it to the end of the film, to watch Josh's suit overtake his teenage body and feel overtaken ourselves by the power of art to heal and lift.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

No emotion is forever. And reaching out to strangers can offer amazing paybacks.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your 2017.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

118 words for 2018

 
Dear 2018,
 
I want to take care of me, in all the ways.
 
I want to cheer for myself and others.
 
I want to use my literal voice, reading out loud.
 
I want to have time for large decisions.
 
I want to stop investing emotional energy in people who don’t invest in me.
 
I want to live in tidy environments.
 
I don’t want to feel as if I act, look, or feel wrong.
 
I want to meditate.
 
I want to bond with friends and strangers.
 
I want to dig in spongy dirt, find my sleeping roots, and whisper them awake: “You have blessed me, and you will support a new bloom.”
 
Look forward to meeting you.
 
Love,
Bailey

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Things I want to say no to

 
I hope that in answering the question below I don't lose (too) many friends...This is a continuation of a project I started a while back and have put on hold because this question is scary to answer publicly!!! That taken into consideration, I'm not writing down everything that applies, but I did come up with a pretty decent list that I'm comfortable sharing.
 
From the 52 Lists for Happiness journal, let us move on to item #15:
 
List the things you want to say no to
 
Dogs that bark a lot or don't respect my personal space
 
Dismissiveness when I bring God or my faith into a conversation
 
Competition between women
 
Dessert at restaurants (If I want some, I'll let you know. Please don't force me to try a bite of what you ordered because you wanted it.)
 
Messiness
 
Dentist appointments
 
Junk mail
 
Biting my tongue because I'm too scared to call someone out
 
Incessantly grey skies
 
GAME NIGHTS
 
Self righteousness on social media (from ANY edge of the political sphere)
 
People who are mean or rude. Can this just absolutely stop?
 
Leaving the house after 7 p.m.
 
Taking trash out
 
Detangling knots in thread
 
Dinners out with more than four people
 
Camping with more than...we'll say six people
 
Social engagements where I feel left out or ignored
 
People taking advantage of my generosity or kindness
 
Grocery shopping
 
Sound systems that are too loud
 
Visiting museums
 
Going to the theater (I'm always nervous actors are going to forget their lines)
 
Watching movies as a group activity
 
Impulsively buying books and concert tickets
 
Showers and shaving (if these things could happen automatically, that'd be great)
 
Clothing that doesn't keep me warm
 
People who dominate conversations or interviewees who go off topic
 
Traveling when I'm stressed out
 
Mediating/keeping the peace (I'm sick of gritting my teeth, hoping that no one starts fighting)
 
Discussions about books I will never read, movies I will never see, or industries I will never work in (unless I'm genuinely interested or the chatter only lasts for a bit)
 
***
 
OK, thanks for reading! It was nice knowing all of you!*
 
*I'd also like to say no to my fear that people will dislike me if I speak honestly about things I don't care for.
 
Smooches! Merry almost Christmas!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Brewer? Brewer? Anyone? Anyone?


There were several times this year when I wondered where I had gone.

I certainly kept myself in motion -- boarding 16 airplanes, moving twice, picking up freelance jobs and driving to Phoenix for a bachelor party I had planned in great detail.

But I cried one day, as Alex drove me to departures, telling him I hadn't read in weeks, cross stitched in months. It wasn't simply an issue of I was too busy to do these things that I love, I just wasn't doing them. Looking back, I guess maybe it was active depression (I've never been a sleep-all-day depressed person), but on another level I felt like Bailey Kathleen had just taken a hike somewhere...and become lost along the way. It was like the series finale of Full House when Michelle's memory becomes separate from her body and they each walk around their home trying to reunite.

***

Each December my friend Jill asks me what my word was for the past year. Last year and this, I believe my immediate response was "full." (I've been having some serious tetes-a-tete with myself recently and have decided that the over scheduling has got to stop, for more reasons than one but chiefly for my peace of mind).

As I drove to Panera (where else) this morning, it came to me that maybe my word is something else.

Maybe my word this year is Present.

By my own high standards, I don't think I've been a great friend this year. I haven't really achieved any lofty goals. I lost weight, but that was kind of by accident, not the result of some dedicated gym rat-ness.

But I've been here. I still am here. Through the awful and the calm, I've shown up. Though it feels like I went on a hike, I've really never disappeared. I've discovered that being present doesn't just apply to meditative or euphoric moments -- turns out it might just require that we feel honestly and we honestly feel.

I've also learned that honoring one's emotions needn't mean that we spiral into oblivion -- but that's another discussion for another blog post.

***

This year, I was present in the bong-bong video game sounds of the MRI tube, counting my way up to 10 and back down again, over and over, trying not to move my stockinged feet.

I've been present in the sleepiness that follows lunch breaks spent reading in my warm car, yawning as I scan my badge to come back to work.

I was present in my unstoppable giggles as I almost crashed the moving van and Sam commentated from the passenger seat, "You are making some decisions right now..."

I was present for -- no, literally -- the best refried beans of my life, on Hill Street.

I was present in my stiffening fear, as I went to latimes.com and saw, highlighted in red: Korea launches missile.

I was present in my fury toward the gunman in Vegas, who ripped open a concert with terror and death, who interrupted the inalienable right to get lost, and then found, in music.

I was present later that night, with Kansas City Chiefs fans in a bar. I was present in the beer that was poured from a pitcher, by a person I just met. I was present in recognizing my need to be with some Midwestern homies, at the end of a day that was trying for us all.

I was present in the opening notes of a second line that pronounced my best friend married and happy and where he's meant to be, finally. I gulped down could-be-sobs as I reflected on 14 years of friendship, hamming it up for the camera man in my one-shoulder Michelle Obama dress.

I was present in Loren's hugs after church.

I was present on quiet neighborhood streets, where I creeped the Corolla Coaster along, watching 199,999 miles become 200,000.

I was present in the Delta Airlines baggage check line, while my tushy should have been squished in a seat on the plane.

[Whoops.]

I was present in the guilt of overspending, in the gentle reminder that the past is past, in the belief that I can change.

Though few and far between, I was present on the treadmill, finding just a little bit of that runner's high I used to know so well.

I was present in Happy Hour at my favorite haunt, laughing with my roommates and feeling like myself for the first time in who knows how long.

I was present in the hurt and anger of things unforgiven.

I was present in the words of Annie, training my voice not to catch as I read to a sweet man in a coma, watching his blood pressure drop in response to a message of humor and hope.

I was present in my helpless ache, watching the heart I love the most just shatter.

I'm present now in the water crawling out the corners of my eyes. I'm in public and it keeps coming but I don't care because I am present.

I was present in the force of sugar that filled my Pepsi an hour ago, and the steaming salt of my mac and cheese.

I was present in the discomfort of therapy sessions.

I was present in the writing out of my thoughts, challenging them to excavate truth.

I was present in shared, stifled laughter, as my family prayed over Oscar, and his big brother dunked a handkerchief in the baptismal font.

I was present in unfollowing a celebrity on Instagram, whose life I just can't relate to.

I was present in texting Jill, present in asking Courtney for prayer.

I was present in my Panera booth, writing prayers even when I was afraid I had nothing hopeful to put on the page. I was present for my church family, and they were present for me.

I was present holding a friend as she cried.

I was present in silly chatter with Molly on FaceTime.

I was present in a weekend in the snow, chaperoning some pretty great high schoolers and admiring their respectful, fun nature.

I was present with those same youth on a sandy beach, playing football and huddling up.

I was present in Jennifer Knapp's incredible voice, which has so much to say, sung and written.

I was present in a muted world, with ears so congested I called Alex in a panic.

I was present with thousands of strangers, singing "The Hills are Alive," sipping on a spicy cocktail, enjoying the heck out of myself.

I was present in my shame when a relationship was unexpectedly terminated.

I was present in the best, deepest, most healing breaths of the year, every time I finished a Headspace meditation.

I was present in so many conversations with strangers, conversations I ate up and that made me grin.

I was present in the rocking of our cruise ship, afraid in our cabin as Alex held me and assured me we were fine.

I was present in the donation rooms of Goodwills, shedding things I didn't need, driving away with airy ease.

I was present in the absence of my grandmother, our first year without her.

I was present in the fear of unsettling biopsy results.

I was present in the swaying of my hips at a Jens Lekman show, the jollity of steel drums and bizarre lyrics moving me in rhythm, a giant smile cracking across my face.

I was present in repeating to myself something I needed to believe: that any given emotion doesn't last forever. Mercies are always new.

***

Though I always did well in school, I wasn't always the best at paying attention. I hated getting in trouble for talking out of turn, and even in my last week of college a professor responded to my question: "I already answered that, while you were sleeping over there."

So I don't have the best track record for being...all there.

But I pride myself on refusing to multi-task, in giving great focus to detail, in listening closely and remembering facts about people and their lives.

Though this year has not been short on challenges, I am so grateful for the revelations I've had and the people who have believed in me when I wasn't so sure. I'm so glad that I'm here to go into next year, to be kind to myself, to move forward, to set some goals and go after them.

In 2018, when life calls my name, I'll be ready.

"Bailey Brewer?"

PRESENT.