"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wild Cycles

Yeah, that whole famous quote about it being darkest before dawn, and all that.

Dear readers,
This blog is about wildness - being wild and living wildly in every sense of the word.  I created it to write about being a wild woman, which is a status I say that most of us once held, and somewhere in the past several generations, have lost.  I don't claim to have fully come into this identity yet, but I am writing about the process in the hopes of inspiring others to find that wild place inside of themselves and let it see the light of day.

Sometimes being a wild woman means going on adventures - thus my posts about backpacking, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, rock-climbing, and snowboarding.  Sometimes being a wild woman means living in wild relationships - thus my posts about friendships, about not wanting to fall in love, and those about falling in love anyway.  I know how much my readers enjoy reading my posts about the "mountaintop" moments in my life, literally and figuratively, and I am glad to provide them for you.

But living a wild life in a society that does not readily encourage wildness, especially from women, can at times be a rather difficult experience.  While the majority of the time, I am grateful to be alive and spreading positivity and rainbows everywhere I go, sometimes I'm, well - I'm not.  Sometimes I'm too confused.  Sometimes I'm too overwhelmed.  Sometimes I'm just plain exhausted and not feeling wild at all.

As you have seen, I think it is important to blog about those times, too.  Because if the point of this blog is to open my "journey to wildness" up to the greater world, I want to present a complete picture.  And while those sadder posts may be more difficult or uncomfortable for some people to read, they are an honest portrayal of my journey at that time.  I know life as a constant cycle of rising and falling; of yin and yang.  I am me and I am wild in all parts of this cycle, not just the ones full of happiness and rainbows.

While I feel strongly that it matters to write about these darker times, I also want to write about how I pull myself out of them.  Because just like the darkness in the sky that rocks us to sleep each night, these dark times do not last.  They, like the happy times - like all kinds of times - are temporary.

So what was it this time?  What pulled me out of this particular journey to "the dark side?"

Well first, I slept.  I stopped running around and filling every moment of my schedule.  I started going to bed earlier (like, ridiculously early), and started sleeping a bit later in the morning, even going in to work late a few days to make this possible.

Second, I stopped trying to please everyone.  I allowed myself to not make that phone call to an old friend that I'd been meaning to make, and to not go to that family wedding I'd promised to attend.  I admitted that no matter what I do at work, I will always leave with unfinished tasks, and someone will usually choose to be disappointed in that.  I reminded myself that if I am doing the best I can, their disappointment does not have to be my disappointment.  I am not always the perfect employee, the perfect friend, the perfect daughter, or the perfect girlfriend.  And that has to be ok.

Third, I talked with trusted women in my life who could empathize with me, and at the same time, slap me in the face and tell me to snap out of my self-indulgent pity party.  (Notice I did not say that I talked with Oldman about it.  There are some things in life that only women can do for each other.  I've learned that the hard way.  Many times.  I simply told Oldman that I'm battling something fierce right now and asked him to be patient with me while I work it out.  I assured him that I'd be "back" soon, and that my love for him holds firm through all of it.  And because he's amazing, he understood, and gave me space.)

This brings me to my fourth strategy: I spent time alone.  On Friday night, I returned home to a note on the door from Oldman saying that he had gone for a 30 mile night bike ride down the C&O canal, and wouldn't be home until late.  Rather than feel sorry for myself or try to fill the time with some loud distraction, I decided to go to spa world, by myself, for the whole evening.  I spent four hours there, soaking in the saunas and jacuzzis, reading, journaling, and getting massaged (a.k.a. beaten to a pulp by an old Korean woman).  When I returned home at 2am, Oldman was home from his bike ride, and I don't think we've ever been happier to see each other.  A few hours spent apart, doing what was healthy for each of us, was the best way to be closer.

Fifth and finally, I simply chose to be done in the darkness.  I had logically examined many possibilities for leaving Maryland early, and in the end, none of them came with consequences that I am willing to live with right now.  I am living here, right now, and that is all that really exists.  I reminded myself to stop living in a hypothetical future which may or may not ever come.  I put on my big girl pants and told myself to stop it already.  So I did.

I wrote this post partially for you, my readers, so you could rest assured that I am "happy" once again.  But mostly, I wrote it for me - so next time I take a trip to the dark side, when I am ready to come out and I may have forgotten how, I can read this post and remember a few ways that have worked in the past.

But for now, since I am approaching the upswing portion of the cycle, stay tuned for more posts about mountaintop experiences, crazy adventures, and of course, unicorns and rainbows.

Yours truly,

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wild Tiger

There is a wild animal inside of me.

He is a tiger, and he is currently in a cage.  He does not want to be domesticated.  He does not want to be cute and cuddly.  He has been pacing. And pacing.  And pacing.  And planning his escape.

Sometimes I feel him bump up against the inside of my ribs, or my gut, or my brain.  He is pushing on all surfaces, trying everything to escape back into the wild.  He flares his lips and roars a deep, vibrating roar.  He shows his fangs and does not apologize.

He is not angry.  He is not vengeful.  Do not anthropomorphize him with unnecessary emotion.  He is simply wild, and very, very out of place.

I don't really know how he got there.  Perhaps I was born with him inside.  Perhaps as I've grown, so has he.  I've felt his paws nudge me at moments throughout my life.  When I was stuck in something that wasn't right for me - a relationship, a town, a job, a mindset - he began pacing.  And pawing.  And sending low grumbles of a roar through my body.  Warnings.


I've been feeling him lately.  Pacing, pawing, grumbling, roaring.  I hear him as I sit in traffic on the beltway.  I feel him in in the tears that have become a regular part of my morning commute.  I see him in my dreams at night.  I wake up flailing in bed, moaning from an endless string of nightmares.


I try to talk to friends and family about this tiger.  I can't call him a tiger, of course.  No one would actually believe that I have a wild animal living inside of me.  But I tell them about how I know it is time for me to go.  Not soon.  Not in the summer.  NOW.

And they tell me all the things that humans say, of course.  "There are lessons to be learned in finishing things well.  Just hang in there."  GROWL.  "Be grateful for this opportunity to grow."  GROWL.  "Find enjoyable things to do while you're still here in Maryland."  GROWL.

I know they mean well.  I would say the same things to me if I were them.  They just don't know about the tiger.  They can't understand that he is not patient.  He does not care about the polite, responsible thing to do.  He doesn't even know what that means.  All he knows is that he is wild, which makes me wild, and that the both of us, together, are in the wrong place.

I don't know what will happen to me if I don't give him what he wants, and soon.  I fear that he will claw right through my center and tear me to shreds in his caged-up fury.  But although I live with a tiger, I'm not a tiger.  I do care about the right thing to do.  I don't want to disappoint people or fail to live up to my word.  How can I explain that to him?  He is not a good listener.

I think those close to me are starting to notice that something is off.  This tiger is making me act strangely. I'm not my best self.  People wonder if I'm depressed.  They can't be around me for too long.  They don't know that I'm just trying to hold this tiger at bay for a few more months.  I wish they knew how hard it is to control a wild tiger - especially one that is currently pacing in between your ribs, poking the soft, fleshy places with his claws.

So I have been sleeping a lot lately.  It is quite exhausting trying to be a mediator between the tiger inside and the rest of the world outside.  While I understand both of them, they don't seem to understand each other.  Do they need to?

I have spent much more time trying to appease the world outside, because that is what everyone else sees.  But my tiger doesn't like that.  He doesn't like that at all.  So lately, I've been giving in to the tiger, in little places here and there.  Doing what I want and not doing what I don't want, regardless of whether the outside world understands.

But the tiger wants more.  He wants bigger movement.  Bigger change.  He wants the wild.  And his claw is piercing out from my heartspace even as I write this.  His roar is rattling through my chest.  Can't you hear it?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wild Yoga Fire

This morning, I attempted to go to yoga class.  This was my second time at this new studio in Rockville.  The studio has a beautiful jungle theme with fake plants everywhere - vines hanging along all of the walls and draping from the ceilings, shrines of rock, plants, and candles in every corner.

To begin class, the teacher had us sit with our eyes closed and chant a mantra together.  As we were chanting, I began to smell something odd.

"Om nama shivaya. Om nama shivaya."

Man, that is some crappy incense.

"Om nama shivaya, gurave. . ."

I don't think that's incense.  I think something's - 

"FIRE!' someone yelled from the hallway.

A girl from my class threw open the door to the studio, and the room instantly filled with smoke.  I peeked out and saw that the entire hallway was engulfed in flames.

"Blankets!  Bring blankets!" a man yelled.  We all started handing our yoga blankets to him as he and a few others smothered the flames as best as they could.

Then I noticed how filled with smoke the air was, and that I was feeling a little dizzy.  I grabbed my shoes, socks, and coat from along the wall in the smoky hallway, put a yoga blanket over my mouth and nose as I rolled up my mat in the studio, and ran out the back door, encouraging others to do the same.  Soon we were all outside with our rolled up yoga mats, shivering together, watching the fire trucks roll in.

Apparently, someone's jacket had fallen off of a hook in the hallway into a candle, and ignited the whole, plastic jungle.  I realized that there was no way any classes would be able to be held, so I sat in my car for awhile, waiting for the fire trucks to clear the parking lot so I could get out.

Sitting in the quiet shell of my car, parked directly in front of the studio, I watched the action in front of me like a slow-motion, silent movie.  Fire-fighters ran in the building and emerged with piles of blackened, smoking yoga blankets, shoes, jackets, purses, and plastic jungle leaves.  Huddles of women in yoga pants stood in groups around the parking lot, clutching their mats, telling the story to each other, each from their perspective.

And what I noticed was that no one seemed upset, or scared.  People were smiling, helping each other, even laughing.  And I was reminded of the whole cycle of experience; I went from peacefully chanting in a meditative state, to pretty much the most heightened state of movement and action one can have.

I took a moment in gratitude for my capable body that got me out of there in time.  I was also grateful for the smooth, calm way in which the yoga teachers and studio owners put out the fire, ushered people outside, and moved peacefully, yet effecively, through the whole situation.  I was grateful for the fire fighters who were on the scene in under three minutes.  And mostly, of course, I was grateful that the only thing that burned were material possessions.  What a perfect reminder of impermanence.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wild Cold

Oldman and I spent this past weekend up near Lake Placid - truck camping, snowshoeing, and ice climbing.  And guess what?  It was cold.

(I was considering ending the post there, because that pretty much sums it up, but I guess I'll write a bit more.  I'll probably even draw a life-metaphor-parallel to the cold and make the post all spiritually-inspiring and meaningful, like I do.  Lucky you.)

My goal for this winter was to learn how to ice climb.  Some friends from my backpacking group found out about this event called "Mountainfest" up the Adirondacks, where you get to take classes for a decent rate, demo all kinds of snow gear for free, and watch famous ice climbers give slide shows of their wicked crazy climbs.

I had been signed up for this event for months.  When I met Oldman, I invited him to join my friends and me, and he enthusiastically agreed.

Soon, one day of ice-climbing turned into a whole weekend up in the mountains.  And a shared hotel room with everyone soon turned into camping in the back of Oldman's truck with a complicated propane heater system that he rigged up.  This was to be an adventure for sure.

We drove nine hours on Saturday and made it just in time to meet up with our group, and hear a presentation by some ice climbers about their recent trek to the mountains of Pakistan.

After the presentation, we drove around the tiny town of Keene Valley, NY, looking for the perfect place to park the truck and camp for the night.  We found a place called Marcy's Field, which is a wilderness airstrip.  It's basically a huge field that was covered in snow, surrounded by nothing.  This meant no human lights.  This meant AMAZING stars.

We parked the truck and commenced setting up the heating system in the back.  It was 15 degrees below zero.  It was cold.

Soon, the heater was blazing and we were toasty warm under the blankets in the bed of the truck.  Before nodding right off to sleep, we took some time to stargaze.  We popped down just the tailgate of his truck and slid our heads out from the thermal curtain that hangs in the back to keep us warm at night.  With our bodies layered up and tucked snuggly inside the truck bed, our hat-covered heads peeked out into the night and watched shooting stars for 20 minutes.  It was magical.  All was right with the world.

Then, around 6:30am, the propane heater unexpectedly snapped off.  It must have frozen.  We figured, oh well, we were about to get up for the day anyway.  So we leisurely began putting on our layers and packing our daypacks for the day's activities.  We had no idea just how cold it was, or how quickly that cold would seep into our bones once the heat was gone.  Did I mention that it was 15 degrees below zero?

Within five minutes, the tips of our fingers were burning, and we could no longer move our hands.  Seriously.  We were at stage one of frostbite, and having a hard time even using the key to open the door and get into the cab.  It was scary, and very painful.  This was my first of many lessons this weekend in respecting the cold.

That day, we decided to take advantage of Mountainfest and demo some snowshoes on one of the many local trails.  But first, we needed breakfast.

We went to the Noon Mark Diner, whose hand-painted sign boasted all homemade food.  We headed straight for their bathrooms to brush our teeth, wash our faces, and change our clothes.  To my surprise, my Dr. Bronner's soap was frozen, as were my tube of hand cream and my body wipes, and pretty much everything else.  I sat on my hand cream all through breakfast to warm it up enough to use on my chapped hands.

After a hearty breakfast of homemade, whole wheat banana pancakes with locally-harvested maple syrup and sausage, we headed back out into the cold.

Our day snowshoeing was adventurous, to say the least.  We made it to the top of the mountain just in time to see the sun set, which was beautiful, and meant that we were going to have to snowshoe the whole way down in the dark.  Which, when I stopped being scared, was also beautiful.

That night in the truck was pretty similar to the night before - warm, cozy, exciting, and cut short by a frozen propane tank.  But this time, the night was 27 degrees below zero.  The second we heard it click shut at around 5am, we bolted out of bed and snapped into action.  Motivated by the pre-frostbite incident of the prior morning, we knew that we only had moments to get all of our layers on and get into the cab of the truck with the heat blasting.  We made it, but then had nowhere to go!  We drove back to the diner and sat in their parking lot with the heat on until they opened at 6am.

After another hearty breakfast spent sitting on our toiletries to warm them up enough to use, we headed to our ice-climbing class.  It was a lot of fun, and pretty hard work.  The guide told us that we were lucky to have some sun, and it even got as warm as 9 degrees outside!

It was an exhausting, exhilarating weekend.  I learned a lot from the cold.  I was reminded to move slowly- again and again and again.  I couldn't even "run" out to the car to get something I forgot without layering up and putting on hats and two pairs of gloves.  I couldn't scamper up the mountain like I usually do when hiking, because each step with snowshoes must be carefully considered.  And I certainly couldn't stomp my way up the ice with those pick axes and crampons - attention must be paid.

So as I write this post, I am grateful to the winter for these important lessons, grateful to Oldman and my backpacking friends for accompanying me on this adventure, and mostly, grateful for the warm bed where I sleep soundly each night.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wild Snowboarding

That's not me.  But it's what I looked like for most of the night.

I was grateful to be invited to go snowboarding with Oldman and a bunch of his friends on Friday night.  It was a group of six dudes, all of whom have been snowboarding for between three and ten seasons now.  One of his friends owns a small bus (yes, a short bus), in which he drove us and our snowboards.

When we got to the mountain and were suiting up, one of the guys asked me, "So how long have you been snowboarding, Melanie?"

"I've never been on a snowboard in my life, actually.  Or a pair of skis.  Or to a ski resort." I answered truthfully.

His eyes widened a bit and his eyebrows raised.  "Well you've probably been on a skateboard at some point, right?  It' just like that."

"Nope.  Never been on a skateboard either."


"Oh," he smiled an oh-god-I-didn't-realize-we-were-bringing-a-death-case-on-this-trip smile.  He lied, "I'm sure you'll be great," and walked away.

As expected, most of the night was filled with falling.  And falling.  And more falling.  I put the snowboard on my feet, tried to stand up, and fell.  After several attempts and a new strategy for standing (start from on all fours), I finally stood!  And then fell again.  The next hour was filled with wobbling and swaying and falling down the bunny hill.  Falling on my butt.  Falling on my hands.  Falling on my hip.  Falling on my knees.  Falling on my face.  And luckily, it was filled with a lot of laughter, too.

After about an hour and a half, I was finally ready to stand up for long enough to actually receive some snowboarding instruction from Oldman.  Ignorantly, I had thought that snowboarding was about standing pretty straight up on the board and just letting it carry you flatly down the hill, kind of like a standing sled.  I had no idea there was so much core-maneuvering, knee-bending, and tipping the board involved.

Oldman kept saying, "Bend your knees!"  Then,  "Tip back a bit until you're riding on the back edge of the board, not just flat."

"But it feels like I'm about to fall when I do that!  That's how you told me to fall safely, too!" I shouted back as I attempted his idea, and promptly fell on my butt.

"Exactly," he shouted as he hopped gracefully and patiently over to me on his board.  I was on my knees, with the board strapped to my feet behind me, panting, preparing to hop up and try again.  He was closer to me now and could speak without shouting.  "You're basically constantly falling.  That's what snowboarding is - finding the perfect balance between your body and the mountain.  But yeah, the motion is the same as falling - it's like you're in a freeze frame of falling the whole way down."

I shook my head and laughed at the ground, watching my breath come out in short bursts of steam in front of me.  "There's a metaphor in that," I said.

"Yeah yeah, you can write your blog later.  Get back up there, lady."

So snowboarding had an unexpected lesson in it.  You're basically constantly falling.  Unlike my ignorant imaginings, snowboarding is not a passive sport in which one stands on the board and shouts "Whee!" as they glide easily down the hill.  Even the professional, fancy-pants snowboarders are simply practicing the art of falling gracefully down the hill on the edge of their boards.

My life has felt the same way.  Every time I try to stand straight up, knees locked, looking proudly around and surveying my masterfully-planned existence, I fall.  And the falls hurt more from that far up.  Conversely, if I simply admit defeat and squat too far down, or allow myself to lose what I know is a healthy balance and flail madly around, grasping onto air - I still fall.

I guess the trick is admitting that, really, we're all just constantly falling.  The important part is to do it gracefully, and remember to laugh at yourself when you find your face flat on the snow - again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wildness Delayed

I've hit a bit of a funk.  Or a lot of a funk.

You know how when someone makes the decision to leave their job, they give two weeks notice?  You know how difficult and sometimes awkward those two weeks can be - going to work every day in the place that you and everyone you know knows you're leaving soon?  I think there is a reason that two weeks is the standard time allotted for this business.  Two weeks, and no longer.

Imagine how it might feel for that two weeks notice to be 10 months notice.

As all of you readers know, I went on a transformative road trip out west last summer for a month, living out of my car, my tent, and in the homes of strangers.  I backpacked with grizzlies, bathed in rivers, and gazed at the brilliant night sky as it can only be seen that far from human lights.  At about week three, it became quite clear to me that this needed to be my life, instead of just my vacation.  I knew in my core that I had reached the end of my time in Maryland.  I knew this in the middle of August, 2011.

I had already signed a contract for the upcoming school year, not only as a teacher, but as Head of the Middle School.  As much as every cell in my body was screaming to be allowed to stay out west and not return to the traffic-filled rat race that is the D.C. Metro area, I just couldn't bring myself to back out of that contract at such late notice.  I love my students.  I respect my boss.  And. . . I needed the money.

I held off giving my official notice until the end of October, because I wanted to be sure that I really, really wanted this before getting everyone going on a job search.  But I knew in my heart from the first day of school, that this would be my last year in Maryland, and my last year in a classroom (at least one with four walls).

In the beginning of the year, I was sentimental and teary about a lot of what we did.  My last first day of school, my last camping trip to Catoctin with the students, my last Halloween parade, etc.  I was grieving in a healthy way; letting go slowly of something that has been an influential part of my life for the past seven years.  Appreciating each aspect, then kissing it and sending it off into the breeze.

Then winter break happened.  Oldman and I took an adventurous, 16-hour road trip down to New Orleans to visit his family.  We slept in his truck.  We hiked.  We explored new places in this country for both of us.  I felt that familiar, crazy freedom of allowing myself to blow with the wind.  I saw the lines of the road disappear underneath me mile by mile, and I wanted to just keep going, and going, and going. . .

And now I'm back at work.  Getting up at 6:30am every day, before even the sun (which no one should ever have to do - if the sun is sleeping, so should you!!).  Working eight to ten hour days.  Handing daily crises.  Discussing curriculum.  Proofreading documents.  And I just don't give a damn.

Please don't misunderstand.  I love the school where I work.  I believe in it.  I think it is filled with curious students and inspiring teachers, all doing work that really matters in the world.  I am nothing short of grateful and honored to have worked there for seven years.  And I'm done now.

  • When I realize that I need a haircut, I usually make an appointment for that same day, because once it is clear that it must happen, it must happen immediately.  
  • When Oldman and I decided that we were leaving Louisiana the next day, within an hour, we had pushed our starting time up to right after dinner that night; deciding to drive through the night instead.  Once we knew our leaving was imminent, we figured - let's get it on.
  • In reading The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family did the same thing.  As soon as they decided they would pack up and leave for California the next day, everyone got antsy and decided to pack the truck and leave immediately, taking shifts driving and sleeping through the night.
  • When our eighth-graders know what high school they're going to, they begin to lose motivation to be at our school - "senioritis," if you will.  It's not that they are bad kids or hate our school, they just realize that they're done, and they can see their next destination in sight.

The night before my first day returning to work after winter break, I slept in an awful fit.  I was so stressed at the thought that I tossed and turned and ground my teeth all night.  This is an old habit that I haven't done since college.  But I ground my teeth all night, and woke up with a swollen jaw muscle so fat that I haven't been able to close my jaw completely or chew since Monday.  I've been gumming and tonguing soft foods and juices for six days now.  I'm hungry and tired all the time, because it takes too much effort to eat.

This jaw injury is a great teacher for me.  It is reminding me to slow down.  It is reminding me what happens to my body when I don't remain balanced; when I allow stress and worry to overtake me.  Every time I forget and accidentally bite down on a piece of food, a sharp lightening rod of pain jolts up my face and into my ear, screaming "Stop!  Slow down!  Be here!"

I'm not sleeping well.  I'm not eating well.  I'm not smiling a whole lot.  And I'm pretty unmotivated to do much of anything.  I guess I'm depressed.

I honestly don't know how I'm going to do the rest of this year.  I was going to wait to write this blog entry until I was at the other end of the tunnel.  That way, I could write "I had been depressed, but then I realized blah blah blah, and now I'm happy and have it all figured out again."  But I'm not there yet.  I'm right in the middle of the stink, not sure where to go next.  I'm sitting at the window, gazing out at the big mountains that I know lie miles and miles beyond 495, not feeling very wild at all.