all posts, community, mental health, miscellaneous, nature/the environment

the night school (part 1)

cold dark eerie environment
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I like finding free things to do online (21 days of yoga, weekly journal prompts, etc). I don’t always carry through with many of them, but I enjoy the challenge and the game of setting up something to do, and usually am drawn towards things that involved a lot of self reflection.

This particular project is called The Night School by Maia Toll. I am doing the “part-time” option, which means I will be focusing on the weekly writing prompts (because I don’t have the time or attention span to watch the discussion and ritual videos… I’m still not super into watching videos that require intense focus). But even so, just doing the weekly prompts includes readings from her book (see below) and some general context and discussion points. I look forward to seeing what comes of doing it for the “semester”.

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This week’s assignment was: What in the world feels alive to you and what feels lifeless? Why? Examine your preconceptions.

What feels alive to me? I think I define aliveness too literally, but the email also goes into detail about the energies of things which I find easier to relate to. When I was growing up in Maryland we lived near a small woods. The woods were cool because you couldn’t really get lost in them (it was fairly easy to run out into some neighborhood), but if you knew your way, you could walk through the woods to get all the way to the C&O canal without having to pass really anyone’s homes. I often went into these woods when I was annoyed or upset, or just when I wanted to bike/run through, and if it was getting later in the day and darkness started creeping in (as it always did in the woods before the neighbors since there were so many trees) I remember at some point I started talking to the woods asking for safe passage. I specifically would say the same phrase every time, in French, because I thought the language was older and thus more likely that the trees would know it. Now it’s also interesting because I never had the feeling that the woods were hostile or required me to ask for safe passage, but I always felt it deserved the respect of the question anyway, and that more likely the woods would protect me from something else. In other way, I never had anything bad or shady happen to me in the woods and I continue to visit it when I visit my parents.

Now living in the city where I do I have become much more anxious than I used to be. Part of it was working through my own neuroses of being a stay-at-home mom in a culture where that is very unusual (I am also a young mom in this particular city culture). But even as I work through that hurdle, I realize the city itself makes me anxious. It has such haphazard energy all the time. It is alway noisy during the day (July and September seem to be when all the road construction happens), but it’s also a tiny city that has narrow streets and crazy road patterns, and yet the same 1/4 mile strip of street will be shared with 3 separate road construction projects, 50+ cyclists who have to weave into car traffic to pass one another or to turn, pedestrians that no one can see due to parked cars, standing aside cross walks that have varying degrees of visibility (from electronically lit up to make shift single cones denoting the spot on the sidewalk where they should start to cross). The energy is impatient. People are constantly walking around, no smiles to spare (I often try to say hello to humans on principle and get a range of results). Though the speed isn’t always fast, the tempo varies abruptly as though the very act of having to engage with one another is a burden. And the chug of cars is never-ending. We have driven at all times and find that 3am to 8am is a pleasant time to drive on a weekend in the city. On a weekday, it’s more like 3am to 7am. The weather can be obnoxious, from sun beating down at all angles (it’s literally always directly in our faces when we drive in any direction in the morning) and the winds pick up strong enough to blow away our baby on account of the various wind tunnels created by lots of buildings and few trees. It feels chaotic and it often makes me agitated to encounter it. It took me a long time to realize that this pulse of energy existed and how it impacted me but over time it has become more clear.

Now that is not to say there aren’t pockets that are more peaceful. I keep finding some but the problem is they are hard to get too or fleeting in nature. For example, I jogged through the tree-part of the city to get to an open house for a toddler music class, and minus the fear of being late, the whole adventure was quite relaxing. It had the iconic early fall feel and the class was very cute. That kind of energy emitted a peace that I crave often, and as such, I’ll definitely be taking Fi back, but always by foot if possible.

Examining my preconceptions… well in a nutshell it would seem to follow the standard assumption of city = bad energy, and woods = good energy. But it could be argued that the reason I enjoyed my parents’ woods was because it was near enough to civilization that I never had to feel lost or in real danger. And it could be argued that there are cities that can exude a good time of peaceful energy, particularly ones that are not so jammed with traffic, have more explicit community, and dedicate more time to their green spaces equally across their land. And I know I personally wouldn’t enjoy living in a large woods all alone. I like people- or well, I like community. I think both extremes: alone in a large wood and emotionally alone in a dense city have the same energy to me, fearful. There is something I find primally terrifying about being alone. And not in a “I’ll have to do things for myself kind of way” but in a “no one will have your back if something goes wrong” kind of way. So resonant energies that feel good to me have to leak some kind of energy that feels communal. A crowded Boston T train doesn’t feel communal because everyone is looking out for themselves, usually annoyed to be on the train, and avoiding eye contact with one another, pretending they are alone while sandwiched like sardines. The idyllic memoirs of people traveling in European trains not so long ago had more of the communal feel, with older adults looking out for young children traveling alone, with space on trains to sit and eat, with an impetus to reach out and connect to your neighbor if for no other reason that to pass the time (and that was not unique to Europe, I just happened to have read a French memoir more recently).

Anyway, I’ll stop there for now. My brain has travelled off on to other things.

all posts, community, mortality

let’s talk about death

burial cemetery countryside cross
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I seem to be drawn to fields of study that general society deems taboo. From talking about vaginas and all things women’s health, to my desire to talk about death, I really seem to have no boundaries. And so, with that, let’s talk about death.

I recently came across the profession of death doulas, and if I have a calling, I think it’s to become a death doula one day. More on that in a bit.

A doula I believe traditionally is defined as a woman who serves, and is used to denote women who work with other women, specifically in a birth and postpartum context. Both birth and postpartum doulas work as support people for pregnant women/moms, helping them to navigate various systems and life changes. Historically, communities were stronger and so the need for doulas was not so defined (women generally were supported by other women of varying ages, from friends to skilled midwives, and this support could start during the pregnancy and continue through childrearing years). But as we’ve become more individualized and modernized, this communal support has seen rapid decline, and so the doula profession developed to help remedy the lapse of the support.

So then, death doulas? Well, another consequence of the rapid modernization and aggressive individualism has been a shift away from dealing with death. We don’t tend to our deceased personally, we often have family members in homes that we don’t visit, we see more and more people dying in hospitals alone, or dying after enduring unending painful medical attempts to save/prolong their lives. More and more people are starting to feel that the way we treat the dying, and the lack of support around the times of dying are wrong, and it was from this belief that the profession of a death doula was formed.

The first formalized death doula I believe was Henry Fersko-Weiss. Inspired by the birth doula model, and disappointed by his own experience with his father’s and many of his patients’ deaths, Ferkso-Weiss wanted to create a profession that would allow for people to die better.

I know this is a weird and uncomfortable thing to get around. How on earth does one die better? Dying is miserable! It’s the end of life, etc. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around it, but that doesn’t make it any less important. A consequence of our culture’s death aversion has been increased fear. I distinctly remember my own personal existential crisis around age 7 or so when I confessed to my best friend that I was terrified about dying and becoming nothing. She replied back that this is why many people turn to religion, because it gives us something to believe in (very wise words for a 7-year old). This led me to years of trying to decide whether I believed in something or not (jury’s still out) and if not, how did I make sure I had a meaningful life until my time was over. The culmination of years following show a web of confused choices as I tried (and continue to try) to figure out what is important to me. As a result, I personally come across as erratic and fickle because I seem to change my mind instantaneously when in actuality I am constantly weighing my choices via long term projections, and thus constantly tweaking my day to day behaviors.

Now many people think that thinking and talking about death will get you depressed and worried. I believe the results of the death doula profession are seeing the opposite. Many people find that understanding that we are mortal and working towards accepting that allow them to appreciate life more. And people draw to being death doulas seem to be extreme lovers of life. My personal role model is Alua Arthur. She has an amazing video called I Plan People’s Death For A Living, which so distinctly highlights why she does what she does, and how it’s not as morbid as you think.

To fill the time between now and when I start actively studying to become a death doula (so after the baby (babies?) is (are?) in high school most likely), I have begun the process of reading all there is to read on dying, death, and how we as humans think about it, and how we process and deal with our/our loved ones’ mortality. It’s a fascinating field. And yes, it definitely can provoke the waterworks, but that’s just part of being human.

It’s also interesting because having the skin condition/autoimmune issues I do has made me much more aware of my mortality. If everyone is going on about how your 20s are your magic years, your skin is still great and you are super healthy, yatta yatta, than I already identify as someone who is past her prime. And I don’t feel negatively about this, but I do believe it influences the way I see the world and makes me think about the future in a more concrete fashion than many of my peers. Like when I said I wanted kids before 30, I realized I was 26, that it takes 10 months (ish) to create a baby, and so if I want to be done having kids by 30, it was time to start (and luckily my partner felt the same way).

I’ll end there for now, but this will probably be a running series of posts because it helps me get things out of my head if I write them down.