There was a particular deodorant I used when I was a teenager going to junior high school in Katy, Texas—TEEN Spirit Stick in a floral scent. Orchard Blossom to be exact. Today when I smell the Lady Speed Stick version of the same scent (the TEEN Spirit Stick has since been discontinued), I’m transported back to the gym changing room at school.
I remember my terror of being the new kid at school, of being foreign, of being the outsider, and of being the girl who didn’t want straight hair for her school photo but managed to trip over a cord running to another girl’s straightening iron. The memory is fresh like a first disappointment. The other girls in the big bathroom twisting their little necks, scowling down at me and my thick, thick, brown hair. I remember hanging onto a basketball with a steel grip, wrestling for the ball, pulling it away from another girl who fought just as hard. I held on with a hold that spelled out fear and determination, that said: “Let me be. I’m just a girl wanting to belong. Let me in.”
After that, from the pleased looks on the faces of the adult coaches and the other students, I could tell that I’d gained some ground. It sickened me to know that I had to fight and claw my way to be accepted. That I had be challenged first, like I was guilty until proven innocent.
Most of the time, I felt like a nobody at school. A walking hollow of a kid. Not American, but not quite British. An imposter. A hybrid person. An anomaly that didn’t fit into the American dream’s puzzle of being a young American schoolgirl. I remember coming home one day and writing on the white board stuck to the fridge, “I’m losing my soul.” My mother frowned at me later, asking me to clarify what I meant. I couldn’t explain it till much later when I was in my twenties.
Sometimes I ate my packed lunch sitting on a closed toilet seat in the bathroom holding a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I was a shy, introverted kid who dreamed in video games, daydreams of being an artist, and fantasy novels where girls were strong and flew majestic flying ships. These things took me far, far away.
The smell of orchard blossom is a lesson in the meanness of strangers, in the value of solitude, and in the early crafting of an identity.
It’s March 2010 and I walk through the campus in the aftermath of the huge hailstorm. I smell a strong, pungent, and earthy smell. It takes me a moment to identify the source, but once I see the tall, eucalyptus trees shivering before me, I know it’s coming from them. The fact that there was that much fragrance—that much love—coming from destruction was surprising and enlightening. It was a relief to know that sometimes a little shaking could release something new. It was the first time I looked at the trees with a sense of wonder. I hadn’t realized their full beauty—their potential—until now.
Hello, I said.
I thanked the heavens for the joyous, freakishly strange occasion, the sky still gray and broken overhead. I stepped over broken bits of tree like I was stepping over a dead body: slowly and respectfully, trying not to stare too much, whispering words of mourning, words celebrating the life that was, the life that could still be felt. While standing on the white carpet blanketing the grassy oval in late summer, a strange, sudden chill shook my body and I knew that a memory had been born.
Before bed, I take a sniff of the eucalyptus oil I keep on my bedside table and shudder with the memory of the hailstorm. My body relaxes and I lay myself down like tree branches stretching in the air.
I heard the tiger at the door at the age of five. It sounds early but that’s how it happened. I was small, smaller than I can ever understand, and my mother who now stands nearly a full head shorter looked down at me. I had a high fever and she gripped my hand hard as she watched the sweat drip off my face. Her eyes darted from my face to my bedroom and back again. I didn’t have to say a word. She knew that I saw them in my bedroom. I would not take a step forward. They were there.
When you’re young, you’re taught that seeing is believing and my eyes saw them. The first tiger padded its way around the end of my bed, turning around at the corner and walking out of view behind a wall. The second and third followed. Their eyes glowed red like the bits of coal that I saw in the barbecue when Dad grilled sausages or skewered meats on the weekends. Red to me meant the devil. I guess I had learned that at Sunday school but I wasn’t entirely sure if they meant any harm. They certainly were intimidating but I knew that they were majestic and beautiful creatures as well, especially in the way they moved, their shoulder blades flexing up and down, undulating with every step. About a year or so later, I would discover the full extent of my double-jointedness and re-enact the stalks of prey I saw on Discovery Channel documentaries. Cheetahs, lions, tigers, all with those pointy bones jutting out of their lean bodies built for the kill.
When I saw the tigers in my room, I was incredibly afraid that they would deviate from their path but they never did. They always went around the bed and away towards the wall. My fear made me want to bury my face into my mother’s thighs and grab her clothes for comfort, but I could never look away. My eyes stayed open and watched every movement. It was like when I watched a horror or action movie and my parents would tell me to cover my eyes near the climax of the story when death was imminent and I’d watch through a slit in my fingers not wanting to miss a thing. I was in awe of the possibility of what a human could do, or what an animal could do. I wanted to find out how unreal reality could be, how painful, how beautiful. That’s how I felt when I saw the stripes, the fur, the big paws, and the eyes. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I was captivated. Their hypnotic movements and their graceful power entranced me. It wasn’t until years later when I’d wonder, why were there three tigers? Why did they visit me? Did they mean me harm? And the most interesting question of all, where did they come from?
Now at the age of twenty five, I have come across a review of a recently published memoir in a magazine. The author uses the phrase, “hear the tiger at the door”, and she uses it to signify the moment when a child realizes that one day their childhood will end, that it’s already ending, that all’s not completely right with the world. After reading that phrase, my thoughts jolted back to the several occasions I saw the tigers. Suddenly I am my five-year-old self again clutching my mother’s hand and staring ahead at the red eyes. How strange it would be if ‘hearing the tiger at the door’ for me is literally when I saw tigers at my door. The connection is uncanny. I can’t help but think that when I saw them I realized there were mystery and grief in the world, pain and loss, and that this was only the beginning of my understanding.
Ever since, I have been weirdly fascinated by tigers and I can’t help but attribute this instinctive desire to stick posters of tigers on my walls, tiger magnets on the fridge and buy tiger themed calendars, to those several nights in which I saw the big cats walking on the carpet I played on, walked on and laid on as a child. Perhaps, the very fabric of my reality, the threads of understanding that weave their way in and out through the years started being sown then. The bud of consciousness that came with witnessing these grand events was planted then and the realization that my five-year-old self did not know everything. I guess that’s what we call wisdom.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said famously, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean anything extreme like diving off a cliff or climbing a mountain – she just meant step outside your comfort zone a little bit. (Of course, you’re welcome to do those things if you’re up for it!)
It is difficult to challenge yourself sometimes, though. Especially when you are stuck in a routine of waking up, going to work, and coming home after work. Somedays you may venture to the grocery store on the way home but that’s about it activity-wise. It is hard enough to fit in work and life (that stuff you happen to be doing) let alone find time to do something that ‘scares you’. Fancy a bit of sailing after work? Sure. But dude, there’s no time (or money).
So my one thing that scares me might be talking to a coworker I don’t normally speak with.
So I suppose one must start off small. For me, it normally has to do with opening up to people. I can be a little closed off at times, detaching myself from a group and working away on my own. So my one thing that scares me might be talking to a coworker I don’t normally speak with. I’m a little embarrassed to name this as the thing that scares me, but it does. Going out of my way to ask a coworker I don’t normally talk to about how their day is going and really engaging with them and smiling is not something everyone does! Perhaps you could give them a compliment and brighten up their day. What a lovely necklace you’re wearing, or, this coffee is so damn good. Sure, it may seem a little superficial on the surface but I promise that if you’re genuine it will show and they will give you a smile.
GO. Learn something new.
Another thing you could do is go to a talk or workshop of some sort. You might have a secret interest in astrophysics and some person from NASA is going to be giving a talk in your city. Or you’re dying to go to a writing workshop but you think you’re absolutely terrible. Or you think you’re too fat and ugly (you’re not) to go to Soulcycle. GO. Learn something new. It might intimidate you but I can guarantee that many of the others won’t know much about the subject or they may think they are also shit (a lot of writers, and people in general, have the shit voice talking to them in their head too!).
Sign up to take classes in an activity you’ve always wanted to try out but never had the guts or dedication to. Hip hop. Adult ballet. Pottery. French. Boxing. Rock climbing. You name it. There’s probably a class for it. Hot air balloon riding! Now, that’s scary. Go for a trial class first if you don’t want to commit upfront. Most places give a free trial class so take advantage of it. And then watch yourself blossom. Yes, dear, you can do that. You’re AMAZING.
Or it could be something that doesn’t really scare you but that you never do simply because you don’t make the time or effort. Go sit in that park on your lunch break. And you know what? Be a real rebel. Lie on the grass. But there are worms and ants and crawly things, you say? Oh please, just lie back and look at the sky. 🙂
You’re scared but do it anyway. Go ahead, it won’t kill you. Unless of course it’s parasailing or scuba diving with sharks and then my friend, you’re on your own…
I think you can interpret this quote, do one thing every day that scares you, in whatever way you want. It could be doing something scary every week or every month. It doesn’t have to be every day, although if you focus on little things I’m sure you could do something every day. I guess Roosevelt was proposing an outlook and attitude with which you can approach life. You’re scared but do it anyway. Go ahead, it won’t kill you. Unless of course, it’s parasailing or scuba diving with sharks and then my friend, you’re on your own… No, no, just be careful. But really, it’s saying that there’s no point living life in fear. You only get one life so why not try out as many things as you want? Random question: Why not give a big smile to that guy/girl at the gym that you have been eyeing for months?
We stop ourselves from doing things due to fear. We worry about failing. Failure is a natural occurrence. Without failure, there is no success. I can guarantee you that all the people you love and admire did something that scared them first before succeeding, whether it was starting a new business, being a professional athlete or even having a family – those are all daunting and challenging things.
So godspeed, my friends. Enjoy yourselves. I’m off to dreamland.
Right now I’m resisting nature. I’m resisting my desires, my inclinations, and my dreams. And for what reason? And at what cost? Too much. The only valid reason I can see why someone would forgo their dreams temporarily is to earn money and save so that doing the dream is easier, but I’m living paycheck to paycheck for something I don’t want, so what am I doing it for? Experience? Experience for what? More of the same thing? I might as well live paycheck to paycheck for something that I love.
(What do you think?)
I think I’m finally understanding what life is all about. I think I know what I need to do.
Go with the flow.
Just go with it. Or better yet, be the flow. Or even better, go with your flow.
Ok, there’s a lot going on here. What I’m saying is take the opportunities that you see and watch where you go. Listen to your gut. That’s flow for me. But there’s not just one way to do things. Everyone’s flow is different. Go to the beat of your drum. Why pretend to be someone you’re not? I feel that when I stop flowing, I get grumpy sooner or later. Out of sync. But if I listen to my beat and really feel out my thoughts, I am a lot happier.
Follow and be numb forever.
Breathe, I say to myself, look up at the sky. For me, this is flow. Concrete may surround me (since I’m in New York City) but the sky is always there, and a tree, a leaf, or a cup of soil is not too far away. This is why I walk to Union Square this Friday evening. To see the tall trees. The greenness. To smell the peppery French lavender at the stall in the market. To touch the snap peas on offer. To bite into an apple. All these things put a sense of peace inside of me that not many other things can do. I feel like grabbing soil, getting dirt under my fingers, and seeing roots weaving through the earth. I want to feel grass under my feet and hold onto a tree for support as I climb up, up a hill to a lookout where I can survey the land. Hmm, maybe I should go hiking. Or volunteer somewhere like this.
(Do you like hiking? Gardening?)
This feeling comes from a desire to be the animal that I am. Sweat, grunt and exert my body. That’s why I like the gym. I awaken and feel the burn in my muscles. After running, I am light and mindful. I also want to love and make love. One day, I’ll even reproduce. How cool is that? We are all animals.
I keep singing.
I want to feel and not stay passive or mute. Follow and be quiet forever. Eventually, you’ll be screaming inside. Nearly every morning before work as I take the elevator to the 7th floor I start to sing. Sometimes I shriek. I tell myself that I’m warming up my voice for human interaction but I know it’s more than that. I’m releasing something. I am bringing myself into my body and feeling my breath. I always think someone will catch me one day belting out a song when the doors open but it hasn’t happened yet. I keep singing.
I’m reading New Slow City by William Powers right now and I don’t think there’s a better time for me to be reading this book. The author talks about moving from a big house in Queens to a micro-apartment in Manhattan with his wife and their struggle to keep living slowly in the fast environment that is New York, NY.
I often find myself walking really fast on the sidewalk urging the people in front to get out the way or walk faster. This kind of thinking makes me feel guilty of rushing, of always being on the go. I believe that being in a rush all the time is bad for your health and well-being. It’s probably been proven scientifically too (but I don’t have the references – I challenge you to find some!).
Powers proposes that society in NYC, or basically all cities or urban centers, view time as a commodity, something that can be lengthened, bought, traded or sacrificed. But time is time. That sounds funny but it’s true – we all get 24 hours in one day. It’s a renewable resource that we are gifted with if we continue to exist. Some of us just have to work more while some get to have more free time. In response to this concept of time, Powers introduces Natural Time, which is where we lose track of time and it just sort of flows. It’s when “intuition and instinct guide action, not a schedule”. We’ve all felt it before. Whether we meditated and entered a zone of thoughtlessness or swam in the sea and felt one with the water or when we indulged in one of our hobbies or passions and we lost track of time.
Personally, it’s for those moments that I live and the reason why I am so dissatisfied with my job. The time is ever so slow. I wait for the clock to show 5 pm and it shouldn’t be that way. Instead, I live to write, to hit the pavements, to wander the city, to discover new things and to connect with people. You could say that I do these things to live and not the other way round.
Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear.
Powers shares a great little insight into Inuit language; apparently, the Inuit have one word to mean both the “past” and the “future”, uvatiarru. How cool is that? I’m not an expert in Inuit language but I interpret this as meaning that the present is what matters. It also means that how you conduct yourself or think about the past will mold your future. Time is smoothed out – sort of cyclical- and life becomes something that isn’t about getting from point A to point B. Life isn’t linear. Just think about memories. They pop up unannounced and resurface years later weaving their way in and out of our lives. People do the same. We meet someone in our childhood and meet them again in later life. Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear. I think because work is supposed to be such a big part of our lives and our jobs fuel the economy and its growth, there is a pressure for our lives to progress in the same linear fashion. (The economy doesn’t even progress in a linear way either but that’s another topic!) But that’s not how humans are. Or at least that’s not how I want to live. Living to get from point A to point B is boring, and it’s a potential adventure wasted.
During the week, when I leave my apartment in Brooklyn at 8:05 am (or 8:15 am if I’m moving slowly) I am commencing my commute. Commute. That word describing getting from point A to point B. Do we use this word to describe a road trip? No. Do we use this word to describe a flight? No. This word is used almost always in regards to when someone is on the way to or from work. It is distinguished from other journeys because it’s sole purpose is to get you from point A to point B. No frills. Well, to hell with that. I am trying to change this one hour that it takes me to get to and from work. I want to change it from time to Natural Time, the concept I described above. Instead of sulking all the way to work (which is extremely easy to do when there are hundreds of people squeezed into a space that seems inhumanly possible to contain so many) I usually read. You can read a surprising amount of pages in a hour-long commute. I can race through a book in a week easily. I’ve recently been getting back into podcasts so I listen to them too. It’s a chance to learn something new, to educate yourself and to inspire yourself. If I listen to someone who has done something great it is a great motivator to follow my dreams. It gets me fired up. It gives me enough energy to get through the work day. Another thing I do when I’m not in the mood for reading or listening to podcasts or simply watching people. Of course many people do this. I bet you did it today when you were out and about! The subway is a great place to people-watch. But when was the last time you actually looked? Listened? Sometimes I realize I’m not really looking, that I’m self-absorbed and lost in my thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’m a complete dreamer – but sometimes I have to remind myself to not glaze over, or detach myself too much. I guess there’s a fine line between zoning out and remaining calm and relaxed. Life is tough, huh?