I'm so glad this was the first image that came up. Today's topic is "animal" but I'm not an animal person. Then the topic prompt was, tell your animal story. Oh, an animal story I have.
When I was 10, I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica with my father. For a week, our church group helped build a new church in a small, secluded Costa Rican town. After our week in the jungle, our last day was spent at a Costa Rican resort to wind down and enjoy ourselves before going home. We were all hanging out by the pool enjoying ourselves when I decided I needed to go back to my room to get something. I went back and changed, got my beach towel or did whatever else I did, then turned to head back. I opened the door and there sat a monster like this. But bigger.
At 10, I weighed 80 pounds soaking wet in a snowsuit. The iguana in front of me had a body three feet long with a tail stretching the same distance leaving him six feet and a hundred pounds of terror. I screamed and slammed the door and ran back into the bathroom. I forced myself to breathe slowly. There were no windows on that side of the hotel room so I couldn't look out to see if he had moved. But he was a lizard monster and cold blooded so he probably hadn't. I strategized and rationalized. He was an iguana. I was not his food source. I could open the door, jump over him, and run as fast as I could. Iguanas could be fast, but not as fast as me at a run. Right?
Apparently I waited long enough deciding what to do, Dad came to get me. He walked through the door and said, "Elise! You've got to come see this. There's a huge iguana on the path I saw on the way here."
"Oh," I said. "I know.
Last year, only slightly before this time, I was looking to buy a house. When perusing my morning "For Sale" email either something about the house wouldn't be quite right or I'd fall in love to find it was sold two hours later (Chattanooga is a rough market). I wanted to go see a certain 3 and 2, but with only 5 pictures online, I didn't have much hope.
Nothing special from the outside. Entering was frightening. Strong smell of cat, aqua walls for the foyer, yellow for the kitchen and burnt orange for the living room. A disaster for sure, but wait, what's this behind the hideous orange? A sliding door -to what?
To my beautiful enclosed patio, that's what. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Check the age of the AC and Heat and the roof, but this is my house.
I love to be outside. I love to see trees and greenery. I love outside even when it's not greenery like you see here. I just like to be in it. Last April I turned it into my oasis with the daybed and mood lighting, and since then I'm there every free moment. With my poor peace lily, a spider plant and a variety of succulents and air-plants, it's nowhere near the jungle I want it to be. I want it to be lush and baking year round. I joke I'll rip out the floors and install a bed of moss instead instead to make it even more irresistibly comfy.
Picture this, you wake up on a brilliant Saturday morning. You've nothing to do for the entire day. You brew a pot of coffee and take a cup outside onto the daybed with you. Maybe it's still a little chilly so you bring a blanket to curl up with. One cup, two cups as you wade through your stack of monthly magazines trying to catch up while your brain awakens. You wander in for an egg and toast, maybe to put on some actual clothing. Then back to the porch. Pick up your journal, get the words flowing. Then the notebook, write an article, work on the book. Let the afternoon grow late and read a book while you sip a glass of riesling.
I've spent whole days in my patio, and I'll certainly spend more there too. More vines, more lights, forever building my dreamworld.
"Oh, so where are you from?"
An innocuous start which twinges an existential conundrum. Who am I? Where do I come from? Can I even know who I am if I don't know where I'm from?
I have no hometown, which is to say I have no town I consider "home". Home was where my parents were, though now that they're halfway across the world, home is my house. Per Dictionary.com, a home is the place and residence of a family or "where one's domestic affections are centered".
Where are my domestic affections centered as a town? Certainly not in Ohio where I was born, nor in Michigan where I lived 6 years. Nor in Eastern Tennessee where I've now lived for 8 years despite my trips there every single year to visit Grandparents. That identification is split with North Carolina.
Hometown may be Athens, Alabama where we lived for almost 10 years (me 8). It's where I lived when I created my fondest memories with friends. It's where I go back and some people still know me. Some, not many. Birmingham could be home too. I grew a lot there. I became the person I am today. But it's not quite "homey".
No, I think, as always, I make whatever town I'm in my home. I dive deep, wrap myself up into it.
But let's be honest -home is where my books live.
Currently, my role in the family is responsible adult (available in America).
Previously, my role in the family was "eldest child" coming with all of the stereotypical "eldest child" roles. I'm the mini-adult, bossy britches, overachieving leader of the pack. As told by my siblings now, I was an intimidating older sibling. I moved away at 16 to attend prestigious boarding school, leaving my siblings of 14, 12, and 10 behind. While there, I racked up some "Best Student of" and "Hall of Fame" awards which continued through college. My siblings' intimidation, however, was unwarranted because they are extremely intelligent and far more illustrious than I. Since we were separated for so long, I don't think we have the protector or initiator or instigator or peacemaker differentiation the way you may expect- much of that hits in adolescence which I missed. Though of the three, instigator, I may be.
Especially now that we're older and separated, we children are independent nations who keep good relations and sometimes convene as schedules allow. Does that sound cold? It shouldn't. It's because we're all so similar. So busy and active in our own lives and so much more enjoying of face-to-face communication than any of the artificial types, regular communication doesn't take up much of our day. A text here, a message there, we're good. It's the unspoken bond of not needing to talk, but everything easing perfectly into place when you do.
And now my Dad decided to quit his job and take up a new one working in the UAE. Ah yes, there it is, nine time zones away. My mother isn't there yet, but she will be soon. With them on the other side of the world, I am to resume the role of mini-adult and play the leader of the Ottenfeld household stateside. Aside from sorting out the situation to make me the legal equivalent of my parents, I'm not sure what will come of that role. As I said, my siblings and I are already independent. One in New Mexico, three in Tennessee, but none in the same city. It's not as if we get together often. Already for Christmas everyone has decided to disperse. Should I have pulled something together? Was that my responsibility to initiate? I don't know. We'll have to find out. Until then, I get everyone's mail and make sure the bills are paid and the insurance cards issued, ever the responsible older sibling shall I be.
How to Be Healthy: As Told by Elise
Eat mostly vegetables,
fiber, fiber fiber.
unless it's as part of fruit.
Or you've gone without it for so long
you just can't bear it anymore.
Eat things so tasty it tickles your toes.
Move your body.
Stretch your muscles,
work out the kinks.
Make it sweat
make it hurt.
Make it feel better later.
Above all things,
always be moving.
Explore your mind.
Read, write. Listen to music.
Listen to pop, listen to Liszt.
Listen to it all.
Read it all.
Build towers and towers of books you have
or may someday, read.
"Without new experiences,
something inside us sleeps."
Never sleep, always experience.
Experience the beach, the sea, the mountains,
the plains, the cities, the country.
All countries, as many as you can.
Be outside often.
Experience peoples, places, things.
Do it all and you'll always be
happy, healthy, and independent.
In 8th grade, I discovered the "Fearless" book series. The protagonist was a tall, blonde genius martial arts wizard who couldn't feel fear and ate tacos and donuts all the time Everything I wanted to be. Oh and something about the biological condition which makes her incapable of fear also gives her super strength. Because of course it does.
Being incapable of feeling fear and having superpowers seemed great, but I mostly loved Gaia, the main character, because of her lack of fear in social situations. Unfortunately for her, it was cause by a lifetime of traumatic experiences, but it was what I appreciated in 8th grade. Gaia gave zero fucks. Zero. None whatsoever. Dress nice to get people to like you? Nah. Worry about eating too many donuts because you don't want to gain weight? Don't care. Worry about boys liking you? Only if they play chess.
Gaia was just what I wanted and just what I needed. If you think this has been a lame treatise on fear, so do I. I don't have anything else to say about it though. I'm not a worrier, I'm a determinist The things that will happen, will happen. Some are more likely to happen than others. Worrying about any of them is pointless. You're going to be worrying about it when it happens, so why worry beforehand and be forced to experience even more worry. Primal fear is a standalone. Seeing a shadow, hearing something which spooks you, the fear flashes and then it's gone. These are my experience of fear. Le fin.
What Would I Tell 9 Year Old Me?
Girl, you got this. You so got this. It's insane how much you got this. You have a combination of personality traits and natural abilities that others would kill to get. Life is going to remain just as easy for you as it always has been. Sure, there are bad things down the line I wish you wouldn't have to deal with. But it's a catch-22, if I tell you not to do them, you'll be hell bent on them or finding something even worse. That's just who you are. It will take you a very long time and some pretty significant jolts of reality to make you start listening to anyone else, and I know better than to rush it or redirect it. Which is probably why your parents didn't try to do anything about it either. C'est la vie.
"Oh yeah, I think it's cute when girls 'use tools' and act tough and stuff," the guy standing behind me boasts.
He's heard me talking to a former Girls, Inc. employee about my job as a nuclear chemist. How it requires much more manual labor than I expected, how empowering it is to learn how to use tools with confidence, how much I wish I could share that with younger girls.
Ah yes, cocky, how I know you well. I turn around, quickly flipping through the photos on my phone, finding the picture I want.
"Yeah, I know. I had to move these around all day," flashing a snapshot of the ginormous Carbon Dioxide gas cylinders I'd played with earlier. They're half a foot taller than me and outweigh me, clearly, by at least a hundred pounds. "So fun," I say with enthusiastic sarcasm, "And what do you do?"
He is speechless. For a full moment, silence then, "Um.. I'm a-attorney."
"Oh cool." I turn and continue talking to the girls.
The next morning one of the girls messages me on Facebook and we start talking. At some point. "OMG, I have never seen him at a loss for words before. You've got to come hang out with us."
And so I do. Who wold think that randomly being assigned an extra player from the other team because your shambles "Free Agent" kickball team is too sparse to play could lead to so many great things?
No one tells you how hard it is to make friends as an adult. The crucible of being in your hometown or at school or at work simply forces you to come together with cohorts out of shared boredom. None of these people, even ones I've met through friends of friends, strike me as "random". Through one of these venues, I knew a person who knew a person who introduced me to a person who I wound up being friends with, and that's where my friends come from. A network with degrees of separation eventually combined does not an instance of fate make.
But Biz and Brianne, I met them truly randomly. At a sports league mixer where I subtly insulted one of their friends? Yeah, I'd call that random. I met them when I hadn't made any friends yet. Not people I liked, not people I wanted to spend time around. Specifically, not people I could talk to and meet up with nearly every week. Without them, I don't think I would have been quite so happy in Chattanooga. I don't know if I would have stayed so long. What would I have done without our Ladies' Nights where we could get together and gossip? What would life be without going to silly parties and playing Hide and Go Seek? Who else to brunch with on Sunday when you're setting yourself right? What if my introduction to them hadn't emboldened me to go keep exploring and find all my other Chattanooga good people?
Aside from the tremendous fun, they gave me hope one could make adult friends. It takes persistence and luck, continually throwing yourself into situations where you could meet new people, even though most of the time you won't. Sometimes you get lucky though. Sometimes you get the people that you can fall in-step with so easily. Sometimes it's worth all the hassle.
Not to mention, with Brianne came Marsh and from Marsh came Gardner, and every so often I like to tell him, "Gee, and I would have never even met you, my wondrous boyfriend, if I hadn't dissed some guy at a bar."
That's how I most like to think of death.
When you die, you degrade. Whatever strange assimilation of atoms which momentarily arranged themselves as you disassemble to become their original selves. Perhaps they become new molecules in a new person. Perhaps they become a tree, perhaps a rock. Perhaps they float into the atmosphere and you do go off to be Stardust.
In the span of eternity, no one will remember who you were, no one will remember what you did. But you will have participated in the dance, and isn't that enough?
I don't know much of birth.
I had one, I suppose.
Never done one.
Never much thought about it.
Simone says, "One is not born,
But rather, becomes a woman."
Oh how I know that.
One must learn grace and wisdom.
One must learn experience.
One must learn temperament.
One must learn giving.
One must learn sacrifice.
One must learn patience.
One must learn loving.
One must learn to be all the things I didn't want.
All the things I had no interest in.
All the things I thought were boring.
All the things that, in fact, make the world go round.
What is a woman?
I read her whole 1000 pages on it.
But I still don't know.
Have I been born yet?