Fireflies in Osaka, Japan. Credit: Asahi Shimbun Getty Images
I want to escape my thoughts
They burn slowly through my mind
Ember and spark
Ember and spark
In the winds of doubt and fear
Grasping for answers
Disappearing like fireflies
Only to reappear in another part of the sky
It's path unknown
It's journey mysterious
Soon a whole field is illuminated
A mine field
A MIND field
A field to dream
Sometimes there is too much space
Tonight I listen to the frogs outside
Their rhythmic croaking is a comfort
That nature stands unaffected by my thoughts
Nature will be alright
I will be alright
© Shelley Hickox 2019
Painting credit:Iain Vellacott
An old record playing "Le Vie en Rose" crackled while I sipped my dirty martini on a luxurious red velvet couch. It had only been a day since I had gotten off the plane, but this place was already feeling familiar. Maybe because it reminded me of him.
Everywhere I looked I saw him. He would have loved this place. So rich in culture, a slower pace of life, new smells, new languages, a bouquet for the senses.
I took another sip. I saw children outside playing with their dog on the street and imagined what might have been.
I never knew what it was like to have my heart live on the outside of my body until I had Serena. There is no way to prepare for the feeling of soul-crushing love. It’s a depth and breadth I never knew existed.
I didn’t cry when she was born. I figured I would weep uncontrollably, but I think the chaos of the birth experience kept me in a detached surreal state of mind. Like I was looking at this scene of me and my baby and my husband from above. All around us is quiet and still while the nurses hustle around us, performing their tasks like worker bees.
There never was that ah-ha moment, like wow, we’re parents. It’s a daily awakening. A daily revelation that this daughter is a part of us.
I thought when I had a child, I would feel more of a sense of ownership over her every trait, but what I’ve found instead is I’m standing back in awe of her—that every part of her was created by an Almighty Creator and I am merely serving as her guide.
Sometimes I look back on the pregnancy and birth and feel almost like it wasn’t me. Like how could I have done something so life altering? How could she have been ushered into this world and into eternity from Keith’s and my choosing? It’s outside of our realm of knowing; outside of our realm of understanding. It’s really outside of our capabilities that this precious soul lives and breathes and is starting to understand her residency on this earth.
Becoming a mother has been by far the hardest and most painstaking thing I’ve ever done. I want to cry most days (and I'm not a crier). My life feels so fragile, yet my husband says I’ve never been stronger. Sometimes I long for the days before her. When I could just be me; when my heart only beat in my own chest; when my every decision didn’t have such massive consequences. The weight was a little less. Now it impales my chest every day. She crushes me with every smile. She crushes me with her coos and with new discoveries. She crushes me when she looks at me and really knows who I am. That is the soul crushing work of becoming a mother. To know this is to understand another grand part of the human experience. It’s another piece of the puzzle of being an eternal creature: creating an eternal being.
"That is the soul crushing work of becoming a mother."
How crazy that we get this honor and privilege? That God entrusts us with it? That parenthood is appointed and ordained within us? How amazing is it that we get to walk out the journey of molding and raising a small human and that Keith and I are her biggest influencers in life. It’s terrifying. And humbling. And equally empowering. Some days I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. My house is a mess (and I’m type A!), my thoughts are scattered, I don’t have food on the table and I put my shirt on inside out (all the time!) But then I look at Serena’s face and she smiles and giggles and I think we must be doing something really right too. She trusts us with all of her. She depends on us for everything. We are her lifeline. I cannot wait to hear her first small words. For her to look into my eyes and tell me that she loves me.
I could probably die happy in that moment.
And then I will look back on all the pain and suffering. All the extreme exhaustion beyond my body’s limits, the mental strain, the emotional highs and lows, the spiritual fatigue and think that it was all worth it.
Something this hard has to be worth it, right? That’s how this world works. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward. The greater the understanding, the greater the human experience.
My love for my daughter grows and grows. Like a live oak, my love stretches its branches and digs its roots deep into rich soil. I will give her everything I can. I will stand firm for her. I will give her shade in the heat of the day. I will let her rest her head on my trunk and feel safe to grow.
How much more do I want to fight for what’s right! How much more do I want to help create a world that is more worthy for her to live in! I know I can’t protect her from everything, but I do want to equip her. Equip her to be a fighter. To be bold in a world that is shackled in fear. To chase out darkness, and bring light to every empty corner.
Just like her namesake, she will bring peace and tranquility wherever she goes. How much the world needs this! She will be victorious in every battle. Love will be her battle cry and we will show her the source of true love.
These lives are not our own. My heart is not my own. It beats in her chest. With every beat, it’s a beautiful harmony. To know my daughter is the closest to heaven and hell that I’ve ever experienced. But for that slice of heaven…
It takes my breath away.
Photo credit: Katrina Marie Photography
His eyes gleamed in the low-lit room. Even amidst the smoke, he exuded an energy I couldn't deny. Years of sun had weathered his skin and a collage of ink covered his left arm. His strong jawline and slightly crooked smile sent my heart soaring. Why an old rocker with a delectably raspy voice and tight pants would have this affect on me, I wasn't certain. But I had to keep my composure.
"Would you like another drink?" he curved his lips seductively.
"Sure, what's one more?" I answered in a surprisingly flirtatious tone.
"Hey Joe! Give this lady a strong one will ya? This watered-down shit is beneath her," he laughed.
"Shall we get started?" I asked.
"Ah yes, that subject again." He forcibly set his drink on the counter and stared straight ahead.
"You know what I hate about reporters?"
"Excuse me?" I interjected.
"Every single one of ya is the same. You're all cut from the same cloth. You're cocky, you walk around with a 10-foot-pole shoved up your ass and you're obsessed with ruining my life."
"Oh I'm sure you're nice. Probably just got out of journalism school and thought you'd write a nobel-worthy piece on this washed-up has-been. I was a legacy, an inspiration to youth, a pioneer in my field...blah, blah."
The stars in my eyes were quickly fading with every assaulting word.
"But you never get to know me," he continued. "The real me—the real Tyler Shadows.
The bartender handed me a drink.
"So do you intend to get me drunk so I completely bomb the interview?" I asked.
"I intend to do nothing. Zilch. Nada. Off the record. All of it."
What a jerk. I thought. What a beautiful jerk with that crooked Johnny Depp smile.
Keep it together!
"What if I said I could give a damn about a nobel-worthy story?" I countered. "That I chose you as a subject on purpose because I admired you? I'm sorry to say now that I was gravely wrong. I refuse to be verbally assaulted at this bar. Good day Mr. Shadows." I spoke through my teeth. I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks. I promptly got up and began to walk away. Tyler continued swirling his bourbon, not willing to acknowledge my statement or my exit. I reached the door and heard him say,
"Wait miss reporter."
A smile crept up my face before I turned around.
"I can see now that you're not like the others," His voice was quaking with fake humility. "You're a feisty thing and I like it. Maybe we could start this thing over."
I gave him my most flirtatious grin.
"I'm sorry Mr. Shadows but I have a long list and a short window. I'm sure someone else would be ecstatic to be contacted by Rock Magazine. I must be going. Ciao." I waved sarcastically. Then I turned and walked out without looking back.
It was like a hobbit home with furniture a bit too small for me as I sat on a couch that sank down, and drank out of a miniature teacup. The coffee table was like a glassy lake at the first frost of winter.
The pale bluish light streamed through the windowpanes and filled pockets of the room with a dusty cloud of rays. A soft wind hugged the house as it creaked and swayed.
The door creaked with the same three notes I’ve heard my whole life. Two worn couches hunched like old men in the living room and a collection of precious moments figurines lined the stone mantel.
The pungent scent of Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond perfume intermingled with dust and mold, assaulted my nostrils. My bare legs stuck awkwardly to the plastic couch cover as I reached over to grab a morsel of my favorite caramel candy from a glass tray shaped like a rose. One taste and I was five years old again, helping my grandmother with Christmas dinner.
My mother was desperately scrubbing a dish in the kitchen until her trembling hands became raw. My father carefully set the urn on the mantel, adjusting and readjusting until it was just right.
It was Wednesday, the day of the week she loathed. Alice glanced into the rearview mirror and dabbed her lipstick. She reluctantly got out of the car and slammed the door before she locked it. Ugh, AA meetings. If it wasn't for a court order, she wouldn't be here. It was all a big misunderstanding really. She wasn't anything like these people. They were pathetic. Some were unemployed, some suffering loss, some she believed were certifiably bonkers. And then there she was, just an average executive who lived in the Upper East Side, who came from wealth and perhaps made a few wrong turns on her path to success. Some may call it impulsiveness, others a lust for power, but really it was Alice who had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
She opened the heavy oak door and was greeted by the same 10 dumb faces and the intolerable Dr. Torres. He was one of those pretentious psychology PHD's who will only answer if "doctor" is said before his name.
"Hi Alice." Everyone droned.
"Hi all, sorry I'm late." She tried to sound chipper.
"You know what I always say, the only way to be on time is to be early!" Dr. Torres chirped.
His fake positivity was extra annoying today.
"Shall we commence?" he added showing her to her seat.
Alice glared at the clock. Forty-five minutes of pure hell lied before her. The second hand ticking might as well be a bomb about to detonate inside her. If she couldn't tell her side of the story soon, she felt she might explode.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between isolation and solitude. I think too often we blur the lines between these definitions and therefore treat them equally when in fact, these concepts are very different: one is unhealthy and one is healthy. Just as faith and fear have the same conceptual definition...believing in something you can't see, there are two sides to this coin as well.
Isolation is a very intentional detaching from society. It's being alone for unhealthy reasons. Maybe you've been hurt and are putting up walls to protect yourself from further offenses; maybe you are fearful of revealing your true self because of the possibility of rejection; or maybe you are so angry at the world that you've lost trust in human beings altogether. We've all experienced isolation at one point or another in our lives and to varying degrees. The point is to not stay in this state for very long. Human beings are designed for community with one another. It's what gives us life. No matter how much people may irritate us, we inherently need one another for growth, health and happiness. In my observation, I've never seen someone who isolates themselves actually improve their lives or even plateau. It seems to be a downward trajectory every time.
Solitude, on the other hand is a healthy space away from others for a time of meditation, self discovery and expression. All things in life require balance and if we don't set aside time to reflect and self-educate, then we can easily find ourselves trying to emulate others and lose our sense of identity. I remember when I was younger, I would lock myself in my room and simply create--I would sketch, paint, write or compose music. It was in these treasured times that I was really unlocking the deep parts of me that were desperately trying to emerge. I realized a part of me started dying as I got older when I replaced these times with more responsibilities. I have slowly been returning to scheduling time for creative expression on my own--and loving it!
Solitude can mean practicing a sport, reading a book for pleasure or even discovering a new hobby. It's never too late to learn something new! Once you emerge from this time to yourself, you can actually be a better contributor to conversations and connect with others on a deeper level. It enables you to bring something fresh and innovative to the table instead of just the latest funny cat video on Facebook. (although I will admit I still share them;).
Isolation is to retract. Solitude is to refresh. There's turmoil in isolation, yet peace in solitude. Isolation disconnects from others, solitude allows you to reconnect on a deeper level after your re-emerge. And I think it's that re-emerging that really sets this definition apart.
Think about the friends, family and co-workers you are in community with. Is there someone in your world who is isolating? Someone trying to find solace but in all the wrong places? Maybe you are even in this place right now. I believe the people in our sphere are there for such a season as this. It's amazing how much a simple word of encouragement, text or note can mean to someone in a dark place. We are not meant to do this life alone.
With an ever-growing depressed population, it's time we learned the difference and reached out to our friends in isolation. Sometimes our greatest obstacles can be overcome by the simplest acts of love.
Today we live in the "Information Age"-- an age where every day we are adding more information yet losing common sense. What happens when you have all the knowledge but lack the ability to interpret and implement that knowledge? It's like plugging a machine into an outlet but you can't turn it on.
Technology should always be a supplement for real communication, not a substitute. Once it becomes a substitute, we get the opposite of what we are seeking--disconnected.
Texting for instance, is an amazing tool. You can say something very succinctly without the drawn-out pleasantries. It's also helpful in documenting confrontation or softening the blow of a rejection. But as we all have experienced, when used in place of real, meaningful conversation, we lose inflection, sarcasm, and non-verbal communication. 93% of what is being said, is actually not said at all. So in texting, we are only getting 7% of the story! Is that enough to continue a conversation or connection long-term?
Everything in this world requires balance and management, and technology is no outlier. As our screen time is increasing with every passing month, it becomes more of a priority to balance our lives online and our real lives. Ever experienced that after dinner lull, when you're out with friends, and everyone disengages and pulls out their phones? The food has been eaten, the check is coming, what more is there to talk about right? Wrong. How quickly has technology come between true, organic connection?
What we don't often acknowledge is that we have full control of this ever-enticing addiction to turn to our phones instead of experiencing our surroundings. According to cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, it takes 21 days to form a new mental habit. That's less than a month to change your daily life! Here are some challenges to try to help you get out of the spiral!
5 Tips to Unplug:
1. Don't look at your phone the second you wake up. Allow yourself to roll out of bed, get ready for the day, look outside, make breakfast, interact with a housemate or family member, before you turn to the phone for all your emails, news, weather and social. Giving your brain a breath in the morning to engage with your surroundings is a great exercise. It will also help you stay centered when the pressures of the day begin to stack up against you.
2. When you go out to eat with friends, family or a significant other, turn off your phone (what?!) for the evening. Try to remember what it's like to truly connect with another human being with no distractions. If someone needs you, you can contact them after dinner is over. You know, like we did in 1999.
3. When going on a road trip, pull out an actual map and mark the course yourself. By doing this, you are engaging your brain and actually learning about your geographical surroundings before the trip. It also keeps you from being totally reliant on Siri, who (gasp!) can sometimes lead you astray.
4. Try to watch an entire movie at home with friends without any of you pulling out a phone or a laptop. This is a very hard one for me I'll admit! When did it become normal to be looking at two other devices while watching a movie? Over time, you lose the ability to focus on one thing for any length of time over two minutes, and well, the implications of that I believe are dire.
5. Get yourself outside in nature for 30 minutes a day. Even as I'm typing this, I'm itching to go outside. It's rejuvenating and your body needs it. Listen to the wind rustling in the trees, exchange smiles with a stranger, breathe in the fresh air. Doing this daily does a lot more for your mind, body and spirit than you think.
I'm challenging myself with these points above as well! Leave me a comment and let me know how week 1 goes!
As I have been out of my 8-5 job for the past few months, I have come to observe my city and the people in it a little differently. As my life rhythm has slowed down, I feel like I'm walking in slow motion and everyone else is on fast-forward! It seems that we are all going nowhere at an extremely accelerated rate. "Rush Hour" may officially be between 4:30 and 6pm, but really it never stops. Why is this? I think our culture has become addicted to being busy--because being busy translates to being successful, right?
Have you ever had a conversation where someone asks you how you've been and you reply, "Oh, I've been SO busy lately!" It's almost satisfying to admit isn't it? Like in that one simple statement you are validating that you're okay, you're successful, you're doing exactly what you should be doing. It doesn't give us much time to really evaluate why we are doing what we're doing; if our exhausting efforts are even contributing to the right places. Are we over-contributing? Do we know how to say no? When was the last time we said it?
In this season of reflection, I've stepped back and looked at my calendar and re-evaluated the things I give my time to. I've cut some things, and I've said no. What I've learned is that a happy life is a simplified life. Cut out the chaos and the clutter! It's just making you insane. Here are some things I've figured out so far:
1. Having fun is NOT a crime.
Even if there is a lot to be responsible for, and work is a huge percentage of your life, don't feel guilty for taking time for some good old fashioned fun! Play time refreshes us, connects us to one another and actually makes us more effective in our work.
2. Don't be the most responsible person you know.
The people you surround yourself with matters. Are you finding yourself always cleaning up their messes? Always being the shoulder to cry on or the ear to listen? Always being DD, or being mindful of finances, bills and the future? If that's the case, it's time to re-evaluate your friends. Find people that inspire you, that you look up to, that will be a weight off your shoulders to hang out with.
3. Time for reflection is critical for growth.
Even if you're the most extraverted person in the world, and love being around people, this is for you too. Take yourself on a date. Get coffee, go for a hike in a beautiful place, put on music in your room and just think. Think about your day: what went right? What went wrong? Why? How did you react to certain situations. Are you happy? Why or why not? What kind of changes do you need to make for tomorrow?
4. If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.
This quote has been my anthem in recent months as I've grappled for some kind of continuity in my life. Every day I'm trying to make a promise to myself to do something I've never done. That doesn't have to be jumping out of an airplane or eating squid, it can be approaching a problem in a different way, driving a different route home, striking up a conversation with the person at the checkout stand. It's amazing the shift you will see happen.
Next time you find yourself on that hamster wheel of busyness, jump off quick! Find your way out of the cage and don't be a follower. You'll be amazed what you will observe from that perspective.
Shelley's Inkwell blog is where non-fiction and fiction collide. It's a place for my life reflections and a place to escape into some really good stories.