Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

I knew, as the daughter of a Helen Reddy-roaring, 1970s hippie, not to go chasing love in the arms of another.

It comes from you first, Mum would say. You can stand in the mirror and say it, if you want.

I didn’t want. I would run my fingers over the spines of the Louise L Hay and Stephen R Covey books on Mum’s shelf and wonder if a middle initial was a prerequisite to confidence. It seemed like a stupid idea, then, to just love yourself. How was anyone supposed to get better with that kind of attitude? I had a lot of shit to fix before I could get on with that sort of thing. And actually, once I had six-pack abs, that would probably come naturally.

So I left the mantras on Mum’s shelf, somewhere next to her broken reading lamp. I did like the idea, though, of not building a life on a foundation that can be snatched away. It comes from you first. That made sense in a way that talking to a mirror didn’t, and so I set about trying to earn my own respect.

Where I got my idea of what an accomplished life looks like, I’m not quite sure — it was probably a mix of songs and Tamora Pierce novels and National Geographic snapshots. Either way, it ended up being a very odd grab bag of goals. Could I build a life somewhere entirely new? Now do it again. Write enough to hold up the apartment walls around me, keep the lights on? Earn a degree, too — something sciencey enough to prove you’re sciencey enough, you artsy shit. A half marathon. Veganism. Show enough vulnerability to fall in love, but be willing to break your own heart in order to prove you can get back up again.

In a way, it sort of worked. There is a resiliency, a fearlessness, that comes from launching yourself headfirst into the things that scare you, and then doing them again and again in order to stop fearing them so much. A move might never scare me again, and that brings new freedoms with it. Once you stop fearing loneliness, a calm joy comes from solitude. There’s no heartbreak we aren’t flexible enough to absorb, and there are walls that come down once you know that.

It could take years and years to learn those things, accidentally, as life slowly deposits them at your doorstep like a cat with dead mouse — or you could just bludgeon your way through these life lessons like a self-destructive bat of out of hell. In a way, surprisingly, 12-year-old Kenza almost got it right.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

The thing is, however, that these self-imposed life lessons still didn’t bring me that self-respect I’d set out to gain in the first place. Not truly, not deeply. Certainly not permanently. And because that was something I saw as earned, there was always some final barrier in the way to the life I wanted. If I could just. Then maybe.

I was biking home on a crisp Sunday night one summer, though, having pulled an Irish goodbye on friends at the beach, and it was one of those glorious times when the night sky has swept everyone off the streets and into their beds at home. Everything was peaceful: the bike lane stretching along the waterfront, the glow of traffic lights on an empty street, the hushed whisper of tires on pavement. I had music in one ear, familiar songs from familiar pasts carrying me home.

The whole city was mine. And maybe that’s why — as my mind turned and turned itself and settled, in its familiar way, onto the things I felt I still needed to change — those last five pounds, anxiety, a better job — it felt like something cracked. There came a resounding NO, and the word was so unfamiliar that it startled me into listening.

Love isn’t earned. Not from yourself and not from anyone else. It’s not contingent on any one thing, and it certainly doesn’t fail you.

You’re part of a living, breathing ecosystem of things. You’re from the same wilderness that brings us wildflowers and the sound of crickets, the night sky, music and your favourite humans. Love might not come from the mantras of gurus with middle initials — but neither do you ever earn it, like a transaction, from a degree or a race medal or a byline. It’s not a prize at the end of the road. It’s the road itself, and if you can listen to it, it’ll carry you home.

The stars don’t perform any tricks. The sun carries on with its routine explosions. Gnarled trees are simply finding their way to the light, and so are we. Once you accept your place in the family of things, you can stop trying to earn it — and realize it’s belonged to you all along.

I’m not sure if you can rush that realization, like I tried to do with life lessons. Maybe Louise L Hay and Stephen R Covey really did have some shortcuts within the pages of those uncracked books, but I still haven’t read them. I still don’t talk to the mirror.

But I do know that when you let yourself exist as freely as all the things you love, it breaks away some unseen boundary: life stops being about proving or earning and becomes, instead, about experiencing and exploring. And while that realization might lead you down the same path, your steps are different: they no longer feel like permanent proof you can point to; instead, they’re lighthearted, curious, playful. No matter how you show up, you belong to the world.

And that, you’ll find, really does change everything.

 

 

Find the rest of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, here.

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The Case for Creeping Changes

I was on the phone. It was a winter afternoon, already too dark too early, with wind whistling at the sliding glass doors and the heater refusing to warm the corners of my apartment. I was standing in the kitchen in pyjamas, leaning against the counter as I relayed my latest fuck-ups and annoyances to a friend. Somehow I’d spent the morning reading and dicking around online and drinking coffee in bed, dirty laundry shoved off to the side. The laundry wasn’t just on the bed, either. It had spread like a parasitic growth, creeping across the floor and onto the dining room chair, taking over the bathroom rug. Dishes were stacked up. I needed a shower.

Breaking Vigil

C’mon skinny love, just last the year

There’s a night in the back seat of a long, bloated car, your feet tangled in the skinny end of a sleeping bag, when you can’t move him from your mind. Cicadas chirp outside your cocoon, muted by the cold-pearled windows. Your logic sits in your throat, whispers up to your brain, Stop. He cared more about his reflection in other people’s eyes than your trust in his hands. But your mind is too cloudy with the late-night fog of memories, and all you can think of is him seated at the end of a torn couch, caring, caring. The two of you on the dewy front lawn, cigarette smoke floating above the taste of burnt coffee, a father chasing his renegade children down the sidewalk in front of you, and him turning to tell you, “I was one of those leash kids. I’d just take off running.” And you laugh until you are doubled over, because of course he was. He might be running his whole life.

How to Stay

Before, when you took off and walked down new, foreign streets, it was in defiance. Not that you knew it then, of course, but it was how you were going to prove your worth to yourself. Not anybody else, just you, which is somehow worse. Nerves crackling as you walked jagged sidewalks — I can learn this city, you would challenge yourself, I can crack its codes. This would signify a permanence you could take with you, despite the changing tides of your life, despite the uncertainties. It would carry you through.

Missing Pieces

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Why do you want to run on your own? Let’s run together.

We first meet in early fall, hands in baggy hoodie pockets, sun glinting off free sunglasses advertising some real estate company. I like your laugh, your kindness humming in the background, your battery bunny energy. Your honesty as we sit at the top of a half-hill, half-mountain. My day has taken a turn, and the sunshine warms my bones.

Pacing

The first time I ran a 10k, I was 16 and had recently completed the Couch-to-5K program. My mum and I had managed to run about 8k without stopping, so we made a last-minute decision to sign up for a 10k that weekend. I was excited — to wear a racing bib, to reach a new goal, to cross the finish line. Mum gave me a little side-eye and said, “Kenza, remember to pace yourself.”

We’d been running together for a while at that point, but the problem was, we never actually ran together. I had this horse-like instinct to remain in front of our two-person pack as we looped around Santo Domingo’s botanical gardens, so I ran slightly ahead of Mum, which kept my competitiveness in check for the most part. If someone came up from behind and passed me, it was fine — as long as they were fast enough that they quickly zipped out of eyesight. But if they were within reach, I couldn’t help it — breath ragged, I’d speed up with a singular goal of needing to pass them. It usually fucked up my run, scared strangers, and I’d end up walking the last kilometer or two.

Being a Girl in 2015

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When I first considered writing this blog post, I hesitated. The second and third time I considered it, I still hesitated. It’s not a funny post and it doesn’t really give you warm fuzzies. Actually, it’s a topic that tends to piss people off or make them feel like you’re including them in blanket statements. That’s not my intention. I’m talking about what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen in the world. That’s it.

Here’s the thing: when talking to guys, I’ve realized a lot of them have no idea what it means, in practical terms, to be a girl in a still-somewhat-sexist world in 2015. Since they don’t experience the other end of it, they don’t know how a lot of seemingly harmless actions come across. So I thought I’d share my own experience in a couple of areas.