Last Monday, my friend Gillian Kessler played a cover of John Mayer singing Free Fallin’ during her evening dance class. She dedicated it to me. Naturally, I started crying.
I bet you would have, too, especially if Gillian had just led you through an hour of movement-based soul-searching centered around the theme “rebel.” For me, I feel most free when I’m a little–or a lot–rebellious. As John Mayer caressed several octaves, I cried because I realized that I’d lost my inner rebel. You know the one: the little voice that tells you to take risks, laugh louder, dance bigger, show the world you don’t give a shit. The one that tells you the occasional free-fall is as vital as breath. The one that tells you to live your truth.
My inner rebel disappeared when we returned from our adventures overseas. I want her back. This week, I got to work figuring out how to be a rebel again.
STEP 1: Remember when I felt most free.
That’s easy: when I first moved to Missoula. I was cartwheeling in happy mental circles, giggly with glee at the world. I was 22. I belonged to only me. I could free-fall wherever and whenever I wanted to. Where’d the giggles go? They got slowly buried in layers of responsibility and connection as adulthood progressed. We start to promise pieces of ourselves to lovers, friends, siblings, parents, children. I now belong to so many others that I no longer belong to myself.
STEP 2: Go camp alone for 24 hours.
Alone time is the panacea that soothes my soul. But I haven’t had 24 hours alone in 14 months, which is likely why my inner rebel is buried. To uncover her, I spent a night camping on the Blackfoot River. The golden leaves and flowing water lulled me into a long sleep–13 hours!–that illustrated why it’s tough to be rebellious when you’re massively sleep deprived. The next morning, I started to find the path back to freedom by making a new, improved vision board for my life.
STEP 3: Just say no to ‘spirit suck.’
It’s time to take back some of those pieces of me I’ve parsed out lately, namely to commitments that don’t feed my inner rebel. I rarely say no. It’s because I suffer from FOMO–the clinical term for the ‘fear of missing out’. But I’ve started to cut out anything that doesn’t make me smile (even if it’s just a little, bitty smile down deep). This is hardest to do with work-related commitments, as the temptation of more money can be the ultimate spirit suck.
STEP 4: Say yes to what gives me energy.
Dancing. Yoga. Staring into Talon’s eyes and kissing his toes. Walking alone on trails. Cooking dinner with Rob. Those are the easy ones to pinpoint. As for work, I’ve realized that my passion is telling stories. It’s easy to figure out from there which contracts will allow me to write compelling stories and which won’t.
STEP 5: Give myself permission to take time–and risks.
Here’s the crux of what my inner rebel wants: a book. I want to write my own book, full of my own stories. And that’s a huge risk, both emotionally–can I actually just dothat?–and financially, since writing a book may never provide money for me or my family. But I’ve given myself permission to try. Steps 1-4 will hopefully give me the time and motivation to take the risk. Meanwhile, I’m pretty excited to practice free-falling again–even if it’s a short, sweet fall into my own bed or into my baby’s eyes.
It’s a lifelong journey to cultivate my inner rebel. I got off-trail there for a bit, but luckily Gillian and John Mayer came to the rescue and helped get me back on course toward finding my truest self.
My sister recently landed on a glacier in a helicopter. Some of our friends see her pictures from adventures in the beautiful New Zealand wilderness and tell me: “She’s so lucky.” I smile and reply: “And damn determined, too.”
Cassidy didn’t just stumble upon a helicopter with an empty seat. She envisioned that remote glacier, that magical flight, that life-changing moment. And then she took the deliberate steps to make the vision a reality: quitting a secure job, leaving her comfort zone, traveling solo to a foreign country, seeking out ways to trade her expertise to make a living.
I’m proud of her. It takes guts to leap from a picture on her vision board to the actual moment in unfamiliar territory. And it’s a leap many people never risk. You know why? Because you don’t know how hard you’ll land when your sooo-much-fun, mid-air, arms-outstretched, anything-is-possible leap is over.
Rob and I made a similar leap. We hit lifetime highs while hovering effortlessly in the nether-world of traveling. It took quite a while to dust off the dirt from our clumsy plop back to reality last year. But now that we have…it’s time to start a new vision board! (Or at least a metaphoric board, since I barely have time to shower these days, much less clip magazine articles to make a real one).
Here’s the secret: manifesting your dreams takes work. It’s worth it, though, because life is more fun when you have grand plans, even if those plans don’t make it off the board. We’re ready to start the work again. During our recent road trip to river raft and explore the coast in Oregon, Rob and I put forward some pictures that embody a few dreams for the future:
A sailboat: starting to feel a bit suffocated without any wind in our nonexistent sails.
Books: to read (ha!) and to write.
One big backpack: I still cringe at the stuff in our house, and long for lightweight living.
Ocean: hoping to boat-sit or house-sit/swap near the sea for a few weeks each winter. Any takers?
A clock: to make the most of many moments.
Rivers: so many more to float and fish.
A vintage motorcycle: because Rob needs a new project and death-defying hobby.
Cash: piles of it, so we can retire early.
Peaks: to physically climb, and to aspire to emotionally, too.
A camera: ready to ramp up the photography skills to augment the writing dreams.
Pillows: because we both need a LOT more sleep post-infant before putting big plans in place.
Smiling faces: including us, family, friends, and strangers, since people are our axis of awesome.
You’ll notice I didn’t add “helicopter” or “glacier” to the metaphoric vision board list. That’s because I’ll leave manifesting snow-related adventures to Cassidy. Sure, I’d land on a glacier … but only if I stumbled on an empty seat.
Did you know that The Little Engine That Could can inspire tears? It did for me this morning, reading it to Talon on the couch. I choked up smack in the middle of “I THINK I can, I THINK I can, I THINK I can.”
Maybe I cried because I feel like that too-small blue engine pulling the toy-laden cars over the mountain—terrified that I will slide backwards at any moment. Or maybe it’s because I feel like the anxious toys at the bottom of the mountain—waiting for just the right engine to haul my ass to the other side of this hump.
It makes sense I feel a little desperate as a new mother, as the owner of a new business, as a tropical sailor landlocked in the northern mountains. That’s a lot of change in a short time. One year ago, Rob and I were in Thailand winding through villages on a small motorcycle with two outfits each, a beat-up guitar, and a lot of time to kill. Two years ago, we were wrapping up the last day of our decade-long careers at conservation non-profits in Missoula, about to embark on a year of exploration at sea.
This weekend, our baby turns seven months-old, and free-time and the sea seem like distant memories. I went from zero to 60 on the stress-meter over the past year. But what’s life without a little adrenaline? (‘Peaceful’ is one answer…)
Back to The Little Engine That Could. With Talon gumming away at the book cover, I had this chugging through my head.
I THINK I can wash all the dishes and vacuum the rug in between loads of diaper laundry.
I THINK I can manage all 7 contracts through my writing and communications business.
I THINK I can find time to write creatively and pitch magazines and brainstorm a novel.
I THINK I can get Talon to sleep longer than his always-only-30-minute naps.
I THINK I can teach a few yoga classes and still squeeze in a dance class.
I THINK I can hug my husband and genuinely listen when he talks to me.
I THINK I can drink a beer without falling asleep in my dinner plate.
I THINK I can shower more than once a week.
I THINK I can not kill the houseplants.
I THINK I can see my friends.
I THINK I can do it all.
But I can’t. That’s why I cried, because I realized my engine ain’t getting over this mountain in front of me. I hate backsliding. I get through each day with a lot of grit, and just enough grace to sometimes smile at passersby. I wake up each night in a sweat, my mind racing through all of the tasks I didn’t complete the day before. I’m rarely present in any given moment.
But if that damn little blue engine can make it over the mountain, so can I. It just means I have to take deeper breaths, and remind myself that I am not a superhero, and that I only need to climb one moment at a time. Some of those moments I’ll smile, and some of them I’ll grit my teeth as I chant: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
You never know when miniature disasters or major catastrophes will change the landscape of your life forever. I’ve been thinking a lot about life landscapes this week, as we got word that a past river adventure buddy passed away unexpectedly and another friend lost his wife.
It’s so cliche to say, isn’t it? Be present. Enjoy every minute. Don’t take this life for granted. We read the axioms on Facebook and greeting cards, say them to each other off-the-cuff and in deadly serious circumstances. But the cliches slip away in the tougher spells. And in the daily grind. And even, sometimes, during the magical, memory-making experiences.
It’s just damned hard to be present. To enjoy every single minute. To not take for granted the body, emotions, friends, food, sunsets, breath that infuse each day. To make the most of this one precious life.
Weeks like this one make me more determined, though. They bring back the urge to stop for a full inhale to appreciate the rare warmth of sun in Montana’s usually frigid February. To exhale completely to celebrate my lungs and my muscles and my blood for supporting me. To close my eyes and savor the sound of my husband reading a bedtime story to his son.
The unexpected catastrophes also make me question the landscape of my life, and to examine it a little more closely. Is this what I want? Am I being true to myself and my loved ones? And the biggest question of all: am I strong enough to change the landscape if the answers are no? Some things are easier to change–turning off the work emails after 6PM, for instance. But others–like setting sail again–feel like moving mountains.
So, how do you move mountains? One rock at a time. Lately, lines from this poem by Mark Twain’s keep popping up in my head. It’s on our blog’s “about” page, but it deserves another place of honor here and now:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
In other words, let this post be a reminder to all of you (as the recent events were for me) to hack away at those lines that keep you tethered to places of unease or distress. Go forth and be present. Let yourself be free to be happy, in safe harbors or in rocky seas. Breathe. Smile. Kiss the ones you love. Live the cliche.
“I’ll always take care of you,” I whispered to my sleeping son. And as I tiptoed out of the room, I thought to myself, I just hope you’ll always let me.
Talon had just finished a massive crying jag after his first big scare. Our glider rocking chair tumbled over accidentally, sending Mr. T on a roller-coaster drop as Grandpop flew forward with him in tow. The baby was safe and uninjured, but let forth a new type of bloodcurdling scream that rang with fear.
I sang and soothed and patted and rocked. As his jerking gasps subsided, I breathed my own sigh of relief. Crisis averted. First of so, so many.
That night, I thought about my own parents. I remembered the times I needed them to take care of me, physically, financially, emotionally. And, with twinges of guilt, the many more times I refused to let them help. Now that I am a parent of my own, I get the need to coddle and pat. To hold and sway. To do anything and everything in your power to make your child happy and whole again — even if your child is bigger than you.
I feel blessed to have parents who will always take care of me as best they can. Not only will I now let them, I’ve realized that I desperately need them to soothe me through the falls that are part and parcel of being human. My screams may be quieter than my son’s, but the drops are no less scary.
Talon Randall Roberts reached into the world with a hand wide open, ready to catch his parents’ hearts. Our little dude arrived on August 14th at 12:44 pm, weighing in at 6.9 lbs and 19.5 inches long after a 12-hour labor at the Missoula Birth Center. Although his passport won’t show it, Talon has already visited Tonga, New Zealand, Thailand, Myanmar and several choice spots in the Pacific Northwest. Check him out:
Day 3: Talon’s first visit to Rattlesnake Creek. Day 1: Being born ain’t no picnic. Day 6: Still a tiny peanut.
Day 4: Just chillin’.Day 7: A week-old birthday party with his new friends, Everett and Dawson. A lot of sleeping to celebrate their first play date.The carseat that swallows Mr. T. Day 2: Daddy is comfy. Day 2: Figuring life out.Day 3: Welcome to Montana, kiddo.
Sometimes you walk through the wildflowers and straight into stinging nettles. I did it this weekend. I never looked down at the path below, focusing instead on the creek ahead. My inner thighs tingled for hours, pinpricks reminding me that beauty has a bite.
Rob tells me that maybe I shouldn’t write about the depressing parts. That no one wants to read woe-is-me shit. I get that, and agreed. But then I didn’t have anything I felt like writing about for the past two weeks. Nothing seemed as relevant, as prescient, as the bite lurking in the flowers. So I reneged. I write for the release and the uncovering. For the process and the parting. No one pays me for this blog, no one dictates deadlines and content — that’s the rest of my writing. This is real. The real me, right now, who wants to write about the nettle pricks.
The road is winding closer to the next stream. Five weeks and a wee person pops out, ready or not. I feel not more than ready. Maybe it’s understandable when you consider that this is the only irrevocable choice I’ve ever made. You can give away plants, sell a house, loan out your pets. You can’t not be a mother once you’ve grown a baby inside of you. That’s terrifying. No outs. No timeouts. No “I changed my mind.”
I am grateful to have more wildflowers than nettles in my life. Truly. What a wimp, I tell myself, to whimper over a bit of sting after a truckload of laughter and light. That’s not me. I don’t whimper.
What I’m really scared of, though, is the big ghost nettle lurking in the wildflowers of upcoming parenthood. How can we hold on to that laughter and light during 3am feedings? When the baby cries uncontrollably and inexplicably? When we’re tired to the bone in the dark and the horizon seems so very far away?
Then I remind myself that all I have to do is just try, with an open mind and a clear heart and legs stinging with the reminder that nettles nestle in the flowers. But they won’t kill me — just help me appreciate the space between the stings more gracefully and more genuinely. Just nudge me into looking at the path I am on instead of all the possibilities ahead. This is the path we chose. It will be beautiful, even when it bites.