Tiny Bahamas

I used to do this relaxation exercise where I’d imagine I was in an elevator that could look however I wanted it to look. I’d usually decorate it like a drawing room in a European palace – lots of luxe fabrics, gold ropes, purple pillows, and plush ottomans. As the elevator went up, I added items that relaxed me: my cat, a scented candle, a framed, signed photograph of Peter Jennings – you know, spa stuff. The elevator would get to the top floor and I’d get out and step into my ultimate place of bliss and calm. I always imagined this place as the sandy beaches of Saugatuck, Michigan. The most underrated state in the union (in my extremely correct opinion), Michigan has clean, tan sand beaches and warm August waves. I’d float there on my back until all of that pesky reality stuff slipped away for a few minutes.

Two weeks ago, I got to really go to that place, not just in my imaginary elevator. It was my first time back in five years, and this time I got to show my boyfriend around. My parents organized a lovely vacation for me, my brothers, our partners, and their pals. After a cleansing week of ciders and roses in Portland, I got to extend my relaxation time in Michigan, where our tiny private beach had flooded, and the waves were lapping against the 94-step staircase down the bluff. I am back to work now, refreshed and renewed, but because my next vacation is in December, I want to take this magic feeling with me as long as I can. Here are some of my ideas for incorporating vacation into my daily life:

  1. I went to bed early and woke up early on vacation, so early that my fellow vacationers, who slept to normal hours, weren’t up until I had long bottomed out my Twitter feed (mainly populated by New Zealanders who were on my schedule). I started reading to pass the time, and wouldn’t you know, I felt fulfilled and less antsy. I’m not saying I’ll be up reading War and Peace on a Monday morning, but it’s something I am going to incorporate into my Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  2. I didn’t feel pressure to do anything at all unless I really wanted to. This meant smiling and saying no to riding someone else’s bike, ducking out of dune buggy rides when the line was too long, and walking on the beach only when I wanted to. This gave me time to really savor and enjoy what I did end up doing, which included a good deal of reading and napping and swimming. I am bad at this at home. I often say yes to things that don’t satisfy me, as a way to fill up my time. In fact, the empty space in my life, unoccupied by obligations, is what makes me happiest.
  3. I wandered a lot, down beaches and streets, more than I ever would in my ordinary life. In Portland and Michigan, I didn’t drive, and this was a huge change of pace. It reminded me that I can walk in Austin too – I can drive to fun neighborhoods, then walk around and check out the street cats. I can walk along the golf course. Heaven help me during this heat, I will enjoy a stroll in the early morning now and again.
  4. I ate lots of seasonal produce, including my favorite fruit in the world, sweet cherries. As I try my darndest to eat healthfully, I found this great guide for what’s in season, which can also double as meal inspiration.

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I feel very cliche and privileged to say that vacation has been a godsend for my mental health, but here we are. I want to reframe everyday events as vacations – my day trip to see Zelda in San Antonio, my bi-weekly work massage, and my time sipping Topo Chico in the sun can all be experienced as tiny vacations. Fellow non-millionaires, we can put on the Banana Boat, eat some pineapple, and feel maybe a fraction of the refreshment of a vacation to the Bahamas, but hey, it’s something!

Myself being myself

When I read The Waves in during my BA in English, it was utter gibberish to me. I had devoured To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary, and her letters, but The Waves eluded me. It was like reading French as a non-French speaker, mon frere. I would listen to my very favorite professor, a tidy British woman with endless quiet enthusiasm, talk about this book and want so badly to understand it.

Years later, I returned to The Waves and found myself transfixed by its poetic rhythms and powerful character-building. I was incredibly surprised that maybe I had gotten smarter, or at least more equipped to understand this complicated text, when I felt like I had mostly been drinking Malort and riding my bike. Sometimes during times of anxiety, I turn to a random passage and get carried by the motion of the waves. Today I returned to this:

How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.

In my last post, I wrote about slowing down enough to make things manageable; to make manageable the things that make me anxious about having fun. I’ve written about my failed attempts at meditation, about the “capacity for delight” in small things, but this passage is a different frame.

Last night, I had a dream that someone in my life rejected me after telling me to be myself, and being turned off the moment I took this advice. To be myself is something I think about a lot – something I struggle with. Parts of myself are cobbled together, the pieces taken from other people and works of art and memories and pop culture. Sometimes I hope to reject these pieces that seem foreign to me: the moments when I fly into a rage like so-and-so; the endless worries like you-know-who; the desire to walk out of a restaurant with that glass of wine like Rihanna.

There are parts of me that feel quintessentially myself: my penchant for listening to Beach House and lighting candles while I drink coffee on Sunday mornings; my kindness; maybe also that Rihanna desire to steal glasses of wine.

On a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia, a guest posited, “You have a vocabulary of the self – a range of people who you become.” This struck a chord with me: it seemed a statement of profound possibility.

As an exercise, I decided to make two lists: one of moments and activities that give me that Virginia Woolf feeling – that myself is as tangible as the coffee cup. Next, I decided to make a list of people I’d like to be, that I could contain within myself. Here’s an excerpt:

Myself being myself

  1. Taking notes from a podcast
  2. Floating in the pool or the lake
  3. Talking to my cat
  4. Doing a gesture of friendship
  5. Getting to the airport 12 days early

Myself being Rihanna with the wine glass

  1. Virgie Tovar: Virgie, in addition to having a dope name, is an activist who writes about accepting and celebrating women’s bodies, particularly fat women, who are so often marginalized for their bodies. I first heard her on Call Your Girlfriend and I was taken by the idea that fat women often dress in dark colors or neutrals as not to call attention to their bodies, and Virgie’s fight against this! As someone who struggles with body acceptance, I love the idea of celebrating myself in bright colors and textures and being unapologetically myself in my body. Virgie is someone I aspire to be more like in my pursuit of loving myself just the way I am, even as I aspire to grow and change.
  2. Lorde: Lorde is my favorite barely-not-a-teen-anymore except Tavi of course. Lorde has an #aesthetic for sure – she’s the good witch of New Zealand. She isn’t afraid to sing about things that feel youthful and frivolous, while still maintaining a strong identity. At the ripe age of 29, I hope to move past the fear of judgment when I write about things that feel silly or less serious than some of my other subjects. I also want to dress more like a Stevie Nicks in sneakers.
  3. Jane Claire Hervey: Speaking of looking up to women who are younger than me, I have to recognize Jane Claire Hervey for transforming my life in Austin. Jane founded #bossbabesATX, an organization that puts on meet-ups, talks, festivals, political events, you name it. #bossbabes gave me the courage to promote this here blog and has given me some of my favorite people. Jane puts it all out there. She dreams it, she does it. I know I have this within me: I’m thinking specifically of former projects like Thanksgiving Advent and Side Dish Literary Mag (RIP). The power of Jane compels me.

I love the idea that I can both be myself and contain multitudes, to have selves I haven’t yet discovered – and to have role models that motivate me to explore these selves.