Anxiety and T.S. Eliot

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
               So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
               And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
               And should I then presume?
               And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
               That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
[T. S. Eliot]

 

Remember reading this in high school? Or maybe dozing off when it was discussed in the obligatory poetry unit? I know, so much doesn’t stick. Hopefully my reading plumbs the depths of its emotion a bit further than your high school self was able to.

Reading this first in middle school, then high school, then again in college, I’m fairly familiar. It’s grown on me with each reading, and now it lurks in the corners of my mind, and lines from it come to me when I need them. Today – “there will be time”.

Sometimes I sit completely still, my mind racing with thoughts of all I want to accomplish in a given day. I’m wasting time by contemplating just how little I have. This gets my heart racing, plants me firmly in my head instead of my body or the present moment, and brings on anxiety.

But there will be time. Life is long, and yes, I want to write a dozen essays and edit 20 pages of my novel and write three emails and meditate and run and do yoga and cook dinner and draw a picture and finish reading War & Peace today, but goodness gracious, TAKE A BREATH. Whatever your list of to-dos looks like, trust. Breathe. Know that there is time and there will be time. And the best way you can use it is to be here. Now. And do one thing, fully, at a time.

What helps you relax? How do you ease your mind on a busy day?

Love and namaste –

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16 The feet of people walking home

First recorded summer 1858. This is ascendant!

 

The feet of people walking home
With gayer sandals go –
The crocus – till she rises –
The vassal of the snow –
The lips at Hallelujah
Long years of practice bored –
Till bye and bye, these Bargemen
Walked – singing – on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings,
Extorted from the sea –
Pinions – the Seraph’s wagon –
Pedestrian once – as we –
Night is the morning’s canvas –
Larceny – legacy –
Death – but our rapt attention
To immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the village lies –
Whose peasants are the angels –
Whose cantons dot the skies –
My Classics vail their faces –
My faith that Dark adores –
Which from it’s solemn abbeys –
Such resurrection pours!

[Emily Dickinson]

Things I looked up:
a crocus –

crocus

vassal – a caretaker of someone else’s land [from the days of feudalism]
pinions – a birds feathers, esp. the wings
larceny – theft
canton – we have many definitions, including a small community, a district of a city, or a certain type of flag. Mix those up, read it in context, and you get what she’s going for here.

Peace & light –

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Anger

Sometimes I get angry. Pissed off. Like I just want to whirl around in a dervish of fury and destroy everything in my path. The first tendency is self-destruction – throw out all my healthy habits, eat an entire cake, drink a whole bottle of wine, relapse into anything that would dull this feeling, make me numb, or hurt myself just to feel something definite, to pin down the anger, to funnel it in one direction.

But there are healthy ways to go about this. First off, it’s okay to be angry. It’s a normal human emotion, and sometimes, you gotta have it. How? How can this emotion that seems so innately destructive be productive?

It has to come out – anger cannot be suppressed. If you ignore it, it will fester and consume you, destroying your soul and potentially hurting anyone you come into contact with – it can make you toxic. Everyone’s different, so, please, experiment – try different methods for getting your anger out, just know that it has to come out.

Here are some ways I like to vent –

  1. Nothing like some good old fashioned pugilism to force your feelings out. Instead of hitting yourself or another person, glove up and murder a punching bag. Lose yourself in the motions, in exhausting your body; let the bag represent your pain, whether it’s a difficult circumstance, a person who hurt you, or some part of yourself. Hit it. Hit it hard. And leave it there. Leave feeling reinvigorated, refocused, emptied out. Whether you go to a gym or you shadow box around your house – I promise this will help.
  2. Listen to angry music. My go-to cliché angry albums are My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade and Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight, Meteora, or Hybrid Theory. Hearing a singer scream in anguish along with raging drums and electric guitar provides solidarity – the sense that you’re not alone in feeling this way and a reminder that, just as the album will end, the feeling with pass.
  3. The last time I got pissed off, I put on The Black Parade and drew a picture, aggressively slashing my pen against the paper and creating an image of my anger – a visual representation of how I felt. I let the pen lead me, and found myself building a fence topped with massive spikes, clearly indicative of my angry instinct to build walls around myself and hurt everything around me.

anger abstract pen and ink drawing

  1. Put on any of your angry tunes and go for a run or get on the elliptical or a bicycle or lift some weights – take out your anger with healthy physical movement, no punching bag necessary. Something about exhausting the body really helps to exhaust the anger, and the endorphins that follow guarantee some relief.

Regardless of your method, I find anger is best handled alone. I’ve been in an intimate relationship with a person who didn’t know how to handle his anger, and, if he was with me for that, the first thing he did was say really awful things, trying to hurt me as a method of catharsis. Protect yourself, the people you love, and your relationships by taking a moment to separate yourself when you’re angry. Step away from the current situation, from whatever is triggering you, and work that shit out.

Love, calm, & care –

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Dreaming of Spring

I woke up this morning dreaming of spring. Of taking a bike ride through the city, walking along the river, wearing a sundress. So I put on a tank top, and I floated around my apartment, and I wished. I wished for winter to be over. For the flowers to bloom, and the trees to come back to life, alternately thinking of my empty refrigerator and wishing for a hearty breakfast. And I wondered – why do we always want what we don’t have?

dreaming of spring in winter

Why do I want spring when it’s winter, summer when it’s spring, fall when it’s summer, winter when it’s fall? Why am I jonesing for an eggs benedict when I have an omelet right in front of me? Why is it so hard to be content?

girl dreaming of spring in winter

Maybe it’s societal – we’re conditioned to ache for the next big thing, to always look ahead, wanting the next hit or the next song or the next relationship, even when what we have is perfectly good. Maybe it’s innate. Honestly, I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know – being present is a choice. I am the only one responsible for my own happiness. And while this may feel like a burden at times, it’s kind of a relief. Winter, summer, eggs sunny side up or hard-boiled – it’s up to you to enjoy it. Like it or not, your happiness is your problem.

girl dreaming of spring in winter

Yes, you can complain. You can whine. You can moan and groan and get everyone within earshot to feel bad with you, but what does this really accomplish? Do you feel any better? Maybe you have people to commiserate with you now, but I think you all just feel bad together. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather lift people up than drag them down. I’d rather be around joyful people than whiny ones.

Happy does not equal fake. It doesn’t mean pretending everything’s okay and plastering a smile on your face when you feel like crying. True joy comes from internal peace – from accepting that maybe you are broke and tired and hungry and slighted and whatever else – but that won’t stop you from taking a walk through your favorite park and smiling at the way the moonlight hits the trees, or calling your best friend and feeling really grateful that you know him or her, or just looking around you, remembering who you are and what you’ve been through, and finding comfort in the truth that everything will be okay. Maybe it’s winter and you hate it. Maybe you’re going through a breakup and it feels all-consuming. Maybe the waiter got your order wrong. So put on a sweater and make some tea. Have a good cry and go out with your friends. Send that plate back. And smile.

smile

Because contentment comes from within. Not from having the perfect body or the perfect weather or the perfect job – perfection is an illusion. Reality is what’s in front of you. Can you live in it? Can you enjoy it? Exactly as it is, exactly as you are. Take a breath, and look around yourself. You are responsible for your happiness.

you are responsible for your happiness

Love, calm, & care –

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Short Skirts in Siberia

I wrote a summer post about this skirt, so now I can use it as an example of how to winterize your wardrobe! I live in a place where they decorate the streets and parks with actual ice sculptures, so I have to bundle up. Any time I leave my home, I need my down coat, gloves, and loads of layers.

down coat earmuffs bundled up style

So how does one wear a short skirt in -5°C/23°F weather [the warmest it’s been all week]?

solving outfit problems

Start with magic tights – these are lined with velour, and I swear I can stand outside in them waiting for a bus for twenty minutes and barely feel a draft. They sell them all over the place here, and I found these in one of the many shopping malls. In Colorado I would wear fleece tights [found on Amazon] with skirts and it worked fine, but that doesn’t quite cut it here.

warm tights for winter

This is the velour side. Heaven on my skin.

On top, I’ve found that layering a shirt with a sweater is the best bet. I got this heat tech long sleeve from Uniqlo shortly after arriving here for around $15, and it’s already paying for itself. Good thing I also bought a turtleneck version. It’s fitted, so it’s perfect for layering or wearing on its own.

button front skirt and fitted black top

I can’t tell you how handy a length of black ribbon can be. I use it for loads of things from headbands to neckties, and here it works as a belt. Found in my mother’s ribbon bag.

ribbon belt cocked hip short skirt

My dear mother bought me this sweater before I left Colorado. She might feel chagrined to see that I tore off the entire bottom half of it, but what would a piece of clothing in my wardrobe be without some sort of adaptation?

warm white winter sweater outfit

As for the skirt – I love the pockets. Wrist deep. Easily the best feature.

deep skirt pockets tattoo watch girl

An adjustment I made more recently was adding this invisible magnetic snap between the first two buttons. It had a tendency to gape, and I didn’t like the look of that, so I sewed a little magic in and now it’s good as gold.

easy at home fix for gaping skirt

I found this skirt at a thrift store, but I did a bit of digging online and came up with a couple options that are available now. This one costs less, this one is mid-range, and this one costs more. The key with things like this is to find your version of it. I had in mind that I wanted a button front skirt, and this one is exactly my own. Every single person could wear a different one – do you.

I pin curled my hair today because I washed it in the morning and taught classes all day. I came home, threw on a headscarf, and when I take it out tomorrow it’ll be bouncy and glorious.

pin curl hair short hair style

Teaching the children has me on my feet all day, so a quick yoga video upon arriving home is just the thing. My favorite Youtube yoga instructor has one for people who work in the service industry. It’s barely 20 minutes, doesn’t even require a yoga mat, and leaves you feeling unwound in the best way.

Love, calm, and care –

Easing Anxiety

Anxiety has become something of a buzzword, a catchall for freaking out. It manifests differently for everyone, and sometimes people blame their wild overreactions on it. I’m not one to say if they’re blowing the situation out of proportion or not – anxiety is real if you’re experiencing it. And it can feel overpowering.

Crowds like this one give me the jitters. Listening to my anxiety, I avoid them or involve myself carefully.

Crowds like this one give me the jitters. Listening to my anxiety, I avoid them or involve myself carefully.

Sometimes I feel fragile, brittle, fractured, like a pane of glass that’s just been shot but hasn’t fallen yet. Cracked in all directions, waiting only for a breeze, a breath, a look to clatter to the ground in a hundred little shards. I can be very sensitive to energies, and often it gets so overwhelming that I have to step away, breathe, just take a moment. This is one way that anxiety manifests for me. That feeling of fragility, accompanied by irrational fears that I’m losing control, spinning out of orbit, about to explode – that I can’t. Whatever it might be, sometimes the situation can overtake my rationale. And that’s a scary place to be.

Here’s how I deal with it –

  1. Take a minute. Step back, pause, breathe. I had my first anxiety attack a couple years ago, at lunch with my mother – for whatever reason we were talking about marriage and all of a sudden my heart started pounding out of my chest and all I could do was shake my head and repeatedly croak, “I don’t want to get married.” Looking back, I think I was scared of the intense vulnerability that comes with such a close bond. At that point in my life, I fought self-loathing on the daily and had barely taken the time to get to know and accept myself, so thinking about someone else loving me seemed impossibly catastrophic. Luckily my mom is no stranger to anxiety, and she coached me through it – feet flat on the floor, sit up straight, hands on the chair, breathe. Calm your body down, then gain enough distance to look at the issue with your wits about you. Because usually – not always, but often – it happens for a reason.
  1. Explore/Analyze. Getting to the root of the issue clears the way for potential solutions. It’s easy to brush it off and say that anxiety just happens for no good reason – sometimes it does. And it’s not always for a good Social anxiety usually comes from insecurity, and who wants to dig into that bed of thorns? It’s difficult, but necessary, like sucking the venom out of a spider bite. I’m mathematically minded, which is part of the reason I was emotionally stunted for most of my adolescence. Emotions seemed a weakness – irrational and ridiculous and overly feminine. I prided myself on being logical, reasonable, pragmatic – practically Vulcan. Upon realizing that my emotions could no longer go suppressed, I found that I could use my logical skills to explore my emotional world. Stepping back in a moment allows my mind to run emotions through the system – what am I feeling? Why? I dissect my feelings. And in doing this, I make sense of them. This leads to greater awareness and healing, especially because – utilizing your reasonable side – you can generally talk yourself down from any feelings that attempt to carry you off into the land of irrationality. Logic can keep you grounded in the real world, while still allowing you to be emotional.
  1. Being emotional is not a bad thing. Learning how to feel has taken more strength than white knuckling it through bad times or turning to substances to feel better or just to feel something. It’s difficult, and I respect people who are in touch with their emotions. I know the work it takes, and I’ve also learned just how worthwhile it is. It’s as if half of my soul was dead, and, in exploring my emotions, I’ve come back to life. Feeling has never come easy to me because each emotion registers at such a high intensity. Often bodily discomfort precedes emotional – I call this emotional constipation. Just as I chew fennel seeds and take coconut oil to keep my digestive system happy, I exercise and write in order to feel. If I didn’t actively work for my emotions, I’d regress to a place of suppression/constipation – I know it’s icky, but so is having a lifetime’s worth of backed up feelings. It helps that I hate being uncomfortable.
  1. Get Comfortable. I get anxious when I’m uncomfortable, and I’m rarely uncomfortable for no reason at all. As a kid I’d freak out if my shirt was itchy, and that hasn’t changed much. Style is important to me because I like to be comfortable in what I wear. This type of anxiety manifests as feeling weak – the fragility returns, and every act of the world around me feels like a bullet in my brittle glass bones. Since I can’t control the world around me, I take special care with all the things I can control. Any level of physical discomfort can be averted, whether it takes changing clothes, going outside, laying down, going for a run. Whatever it might be – I get anxious when I have a stomach ache – investigating why is crucial. If I don’t take special care in times of unavoidable discomfort, I’ll slip further and further down until I’m buried in a pit of depression. But that doesn’t have to happen. It just takes focused awareness – vigilance.

So – next time you get anxious – stop. Breathe. Investigate. Feel. And find a way to get comfortable. Those steps might seem monumental now, but with practice it does become a little easier. Stay mindful – you’ve got this.

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