A few days ago two things happened.
I finished reading “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson, and I posted my first attempt to make some sense of her beyond-the-sensible and amazing journey.
While the book caused me more than a few sleepless nights, I now feel it was a good kind of sleeplessness – the kind that occurs only with the most profound and unstoppable of wake up calls.
Unlike so very many in our culture today (and even me for a time earlier in my life), Davidson did not wish to be famous. She wasn’t interested in being anyone’s inspiration or role model or icon or heroine.
She was searching for something – something private and personal.
She was searching for some kind of continuity within herself, her path, her past, her future – and at that point in her life, the search seemed to require a dog, camels, and a trek across 1,700 miles of desert.
So be it.
In the Postscript to “Tracks” (written in 2012), Davidson states she can hardly relate to the girl in the book she herself wrote, much less the character in the movie by the same name.
I totally understand.
Looking back now, I hardly recognize the girl who flew alone to India, and then to Israel, in search of ….. something. I admire her sometimes – her courage, her innocence, her hope – but I don’t really know her as “me.”
So why did she do it? Why did Davidson spend nearly two years learning to train camels, raising cash, assembling gear, even giving part of herself away to National Geographic in exchange for a cash sponsorship to buy what she lacked?
I can’t remember how I heard about Robyn Davidson or her extraordinary journey.
I just remember, the moment I heard about it, I was online hunting down her book.
Titled simply “Tracks: a Woman’s Solo Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback,” the story she has to tell is simply mind-bending.
Davidson embarked upon her solo adventure in her mid-20’s.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I, too, was embarking upon a solo adventure. Mine was to India and Israel, hers through the Australian desert.
But I will confess it took me many more years since then to unpack even a portion of the wisdom she unearthed within herself during her 1,700 mile journey.
For the record, it also seems pertinent here to mention I have never once in my life had even the merest inkling of desire to walk across any large, hot, dangerous body of sand accompanied only by camels and a dog.
Clearly, my life is the poorer for it.
During the early stages of her journey, Davidson frequently gave in to bouts of panic, which, to hear her tell it, were largely initiated by intense inner battles between the order/regime/structure she had previously relied on and the freedom to live in the moment that desert life demanded.
As the desert’s ever-changing environment did its work on her and she slowly learned the wisdom of opting for the latter, her panic eased and inner wisdom arose in its place.
That inner wisdom was – is – as timeless and profound as the desert itself (click here for amazing vintage photos from her journey).
Davidson on her love of animals:
I am quite sure Diggity [her canine companion through the desert] was more than dog, or rather other than dog….She combined all the best qualities of dog and human and was a great listener…..The trip, of necessity, had brought me much closer to all the animals, but my relationship with Diggity was something special. There are very few humans with whom I could associate the word …
This was the title of a recent Time magazine article – more of an infographic, really.
The infographic spans the gamut from whether we use all our vacation days each year to how much time we spend checking email at home each night.
There are statistics for whether men or women watch more television daily (men), how much student debt the average graduate carries (far too much, IMO), whether we rent or own, and what we do with each 24-hour allotment.
There is also a preceding four-part infographic that attempts to summarize how SAT scores, education level, age of death, smoking, sex life, and drug use correlate with income earning potential.
Reading through this, I discovered I may have multiple personalities.
By which I mean, according to my SAT scores and level of higher education, among other aspects, I should be in a different class of folks than where I am income-wise.
Interesting. I guess.
By far the most actually interesting part of these infographics is the section labeled “time use.”
Here (in order of time spent) is how we – regardless of SAT scores, income level, drugs/cigarettes/sex/etc. – use our time each day:
While I’m not sure which category this falls into (other? household activities? leisure activities?), we only spent one-quarter hour per day making phone calls, checking (non-work, I assume) email, and sorting through our mail.
We spend three-quarters of an hour daily on the computer, which includes playing video games.
We watch just under three hours of television each day (guilty as charged).
And we leave an average of four vacation days unused annually (totaling 577,212,000 unused vacation days nationwide).
Finally – despite our so-called “workaholic” culture, average daily reported work hours hover between just 7.73 and 8.34 hours per day, which hardly gives us a nationwide case of burning the midnight oil.
I’ve revisited these statistics a few times now over a period of a few weeks.
What strikes me again and again is how much less extreme the numbers actually are than what much of the media likes to report.
Our “real” friendships and relationships are not …
A colleague recently sent me a YouTube video called “An Epidemic of Beauty Sickness.”
To be honest, my first thought was, “Ugh. Another useless rant about our cultural addiction to thinness.”
But, given that this is the year I decided to embark on a full-scale about-face in how I accept (or don’t) my own body shape and size, I kept her email to watch….later.
“Later” came today.
For the record, I am so glad I saved the link – so glad my colleague thought to send it my way – so grateful to the researcher (Renee Engeln) who braved the disdain of her own colleagues to pursue her research in this area.
I have discovered in Renee a kindred spirit – a no talk, all action, balls-to-the-wall, let’s call it like we see it kinda gal.
In 15 minutes (courtesy of TEDx), Renee outlines the issue, how it harms us, the choices we have, practical steps to make those choices, and the potential (positive) outcome if we do.
Not so long ago, I found myself standing on a warm, sunny, sandy beach in my very favorite place on earth.
My folks and I were passing a pair of binoculars between us.
The focus of our avid interest?
Soft round brown harbor seals.
After struggling through half a mile of soft sand on foot, we burst over the top of the High Head dunes on Cape Cod to discover them by the hundreds, basking on the warm sand and bobbing happily in the surf with just their plump sweet noses upturned towards the sun.
We were riveted.
Suddenly I heard myself exclaim, “I love seals and all their round soft cute rolls of blubbery goodness!”
Did I really just utter the equivalent of “I love blubber?”
Yet there I was, standing on the beach beside them, feeling uncomfortably, well, blubbery, myself.
The older I get, the more perspective I gain about what works for me – and also what doesn’t.
For instance, trying to manage the stressors of life by using eating disordered behaviors doesn’t work.
Drinking caffeine all day to keep my energy level at a consistent “high” doesn’t work.
Ruminating excessively on all possible “worst case scenario” outcomes doesn’t work.
Taking handfuls of over-the-counter mood management supplements doesn’t work.
These are just a few examples.
What works for me is quite simple: medication + meditation.
Specifically in that order.
Meditation without medication offers some benefits, as does medication without meditation.
But together, they have forged an alliance that has given me a quality of life I had no thought possible.
Such goes my favorite line from one of my new favorite movies, “The Sapphires” (2012).
The film is based on the true story of an all-girl singing troupe who entertained the troops during the Vietnam war.
As aborigines living in their native Australia, the girls were marginalized – even hated. They were not even classified as people by their own government, but instead were considered part of the “flora and fauna.”
A chance meeting with a white talent scout puts them on the road to stardom, but even before this occurs, it is so clear they already have what many stars-in-the-making (and people, for that matter) will never have – a solid foundation of self-esteem to live from.
In fact, when the film opens, one of the future girl singers has just been left at the altar. Even while crying it out in the presence of her mom and sisters, she looks at her face in a hand mirror and bravely says to her mother, “Who wouldn’t love this?” (technically, she names her former fiancé here, but one can substitute any name with the same effect).
And throughout the film, in similar fashion, the girls pull no punches with one another, their scout-turned-manager, or themselves.
They may be young….they may be inexperienced in the ways of the world….but they are not letting any of that get under their skin.
Recently, I happened across a post on marine ecologist and author Carl Safina’s website called “How to Be Important After Graduation (Anytime Really).”
I wish I could remember anything – even a single word – our commencement speaker shared the day I graduated.
If any of the words had been these words, I know I would still remember them.
Carl begins his speech by saying “graduation is always a joyful time.”
It wasn’t joyful for me.
It was scary, and strange, and artificial.
I felt lonely and very much unprepared.
I wasn’t ready for any of it, but it wouldn’t wait any longer. I could hear it in the background stamping its increasingly impatient little foot, telling me I’d better hurry up and get ready….”or else.”
I was in my late 20’s, and well into my struggles with anorexia and bulimia, before I began to perceive a tangible difference between “my body” and “me.”
After so many years of casually speaking about “my body,” “my mind,” “my heart,” “my spirit,” I finally started to wonder just who the “my” was who claimed all of these things.
Who owned “my body?”
Who was in charge of “my mind?”
Who sensed the presence of “my heart?”
Who was it who spoke of “my spirit” with such confidence?
Well, it must be …. “me.”
All at once, I became deeply curious about just who this “me” was who rated a body, a mind, a heart, a spirit all her own.
With this post, I return again to that literal tome of life wisdom, “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
I have always learned so much from my animal companions….and continue to do so each and every day.
I also love watching nature documentaries that follow animals during their day-to-day lives so I can learn.
Sometimes while I’m watching these programs I think, “Oh, no, I could never eat termites for lunch!” and that is that.
At other times, the documentary reveals something so profound….a shared sense of deep and timeless, well, humanity – only the species I share it in common with is not technically “human.”
At a particular point in Safina’s book, he is describing the despair researchers have often felt as they have battled against humanity, global warming, inertia (from the general public, interested parties, and other scientists), and the suffering of the sea turtles themselves to maintain the hope for species regeneration.
All the senior professionals…..they all work from hope. They’re not the types to gloss over problems or look through rose-tinted lenses. Quite the opposite; they’ve been the first to sound alarms. They’ve felt despair and fought despite it. I’ve learned this by observing the real professionals who go the distance. You dodge despair by not taking the deluge of problems full-bore. You focus on what can work, what can help, or what you can do, and you seize it, and then – you don’t let go. What they see, and what I’ve come to see, is the possibility of making things better. That’s what hope is: the belief that things can get better. The world belongs to people who don’t give up. (emphasis added)
But wait – it gets even better: