The glories of summer are fading into the delicious settledness of fall. School is starting. The harvest season is upon us. A regular routine is taking the place of those seemingly long unstructured hours of summer (though granted, my summer hours were still fairly structured since I happily taught for most of it). Yet I still feel pretty adventurous and ready to ease into a full course load while continuing to carve out time for fun, play, and the little things that make life, well, lively!
Why? I'll let you in on a little secret: this summer was my summer of new literacies. Spring was the season of epiphanies, as it so often is. An extra-full workload made me realize that there is such a thing as loving your routine too much. I know! This coming from the woman who champions her routines as rituals, but hear me out.
I had a short break from springs semester before diving into summer and in that space, I realized something: all the adventures I wanted to have and all the things I wanted to try ended up getting shoved aside in an attempt to get stuff done. And when I did have down time, I devoted it to the introverted hobbies that nourished me--not a bad thing in and of itself, mind you, it's just that my comfort zone became...too, well, comfortable to the point of feeling suffocating. I needed to dust off the stagnant energy and remember what it was like to play.
And so I played. I was inspired by Shonda Rhimes's Year of Yes which tracks the year she said yes to everything that scared her. I, too, took the summer to say yes to things outside my comfort zone, with one caveat: they had to bring me joy, pleasure, excitement--all the things we think of when we think of summer. Now that didn't mean I wasn't afraid or nervous when I tried new things; it just meant that my interest in them outweighed my skittishness. I also allowed myself to say no to things that did not inspire me. I'm a woman who loves the power of her no as much as her yes. Saying no to one thing allows you the space to say yes to another, often something you are far more excited about. And if something didn't end up being as fun as I'd hoped, that was okay too. What was important was that I tried something new and allowed myself to experience life outside of my work.
I'd come to think of this experiment as developing new literacies. I was fluent in books and stories, family life and introvert life. But what other languages might I learn? What other ways to communicate? It was hard at first. So. So. Hard. Like trying to rebuild shoulder strength after an injury when you can barely remember you have shoulder muscles (this was part of my summer plan too: heal thy shoulder, heal thyself). Or like when I studied French and could never quite wrap my mouth around nasaly consonants and reedy vowels, let alone remember how to spell the words that didn't always pronounce certain letters. But even in the midst of the struggle, I also found myself looking forward to saying yes and yes and yes to more and more things.
The results: I found myself dreaming more and acting on those dreams. I took different dance classes and tried new workouts, I went on weekly adventures and challenged myself to shake up my routine. I took better care of myself and found that in making time for fun things, I felt happier, healthier, and surprisingly more productive when I wasn't just teaching and writing all the time. An important revelation during my year of radical self-care.
I also had to become more aware of how I think of myself. Let's face it: words are my safe space. I'm a writer and a teacher and an introvert, confident in those identities. But who was I beyond that? A dancer, as it turns out. And a lover of cucumber beer after yoga with friends and a farmers' market lush who has to have her shot of freshly pressed wheatgrass before she can even think about filling her bag with produce. I'd found I was someone who liked TRX (although, let's be real, is still very much learning how to do it!). And I was someone who looked forward to dancing to the gods and goddesses in her Afro-Cuban Folkloric class and spending Sunday night at a baseball game.
I even dusted off my bike--in storage for over ten years--and started riding it again. It was like remembering an old part of myself, reviving that dormant piece, fearless in her joy, with a little bit of light and air and relaxation--and a super sore body after that first trip out! I painted and drank wine. I took mini road trips so that I could remember what it was like to cruise across open land. I allowed myself to take in theater performances and nourish the relationships that make my life richer. I let myself relearn the pleasure of not being an expert, not know what I'm doing, letting go of the need to always be productive.
I even found grace and enjoyment from the uncertainty and inevitable social anxiety that comes from exposing yourself to new things. It meant I was outside my comfort zone and that was a very, very good thing. Most of all, I found how important it is for me to cultivate the daily adventures that shake up my routine and relish the company of other wild and wonderful dreamers, livers, and adventurers. Now that the summer is almost over, I find I have developed a new literacy: bravery. I am no longer afraid to taste new things, to learn new languages, to experience the world one yes at a time. And the cucumber beer? Trust me. It's a thing. And it's delicious.
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