A Built-In Progress Bar

There is a park not too far from where I live, about a dozen blocks from what I consider “the city-city.” Downtown Portland, Oregon is hardly Times Square, but you get the gist. Since I’m on another kick to find things to like about where I am, I’ll add: it’s actually one of three in my immediate area.

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It’s mostly concrete, although a landscaper with a laudable client list has obviously left his mark. It’s the type of park designed to tempt passerby into giving up their backyards and three-car garages and justify the thought of forking over a lot of money for a relatively negligible amount of living space.

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The fountain in the center seems especially hypnotic. Hey honey, don’t those lofts up there look awfully nice? Forget the family home — here there’s a coffee shop, a bakery, a gym, a Whole Foods, a take-out place, a dentist, a doggy day care, a MAX stop, a rooftop garden, a wine bar, a farmer’s market, a food truck. What more could we possibly want or need? Buddy wouldn’t need a bedroom; he’s almost off to school. We’d put your mom up in a hotel when she wanted to visit.

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It’s a good place for people watching. Not so good for reading (it’s a little loud), but that’s okay, because right now I just want to relax and get some sun and recharge. (Hashtag: Introvert.)

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I haven’t watched little kids play in a long time. They’re so funny. Some of them are already lanky and lean, almost coltish. Others are round all over, want-to-hug-and-squeeze.

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Every once in a while one of the younger ones will trip and fall — catch a toe and face plant hard onto the cement. Mothers must have a sixth sense. Before the child has even registered what has happened and has a chance to start hollering, she has him/her scoop-swung up onto one hip. She’s opening hurt hands, examining skinned knees, raining kisses all over. A minute or two later, the kid in question will toddle off again. Cheeks dry, balance restored, injuries forgotten.

I can’t help but think: isn’t that what we all need, sometimes? That kind of immediate care and compassion? I’m almost twenty-six years old, but there are days I would not say no if someone wanted to hold me close and pat my back and say I know, I know.

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I’ve been trying so hard to stay upbeat. To ward off depression, to keep loneliness at bay, to be grateful for small things, to think more about others and less about myself. Happy people attract happy people — I know that.

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That’s one reason why I’ve been sharing less about the occasional (ongoing?) *rough patch* on here. Another is because I think I may have reached the point in my life/career where I’ve realized I can’t write about whatever I want to anymore. Not without really weighing who might stumble across it. I’ve been mourning that loss of privacy a little bit, even though of course privacy-on-the-Internet is somewhat of an oxymoron.

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Last week I asked myself what I would do if I weren’t afraid. Afraid of everything. One would be to go back to writing the way I used to — so openly and honestly, without worrying about what anyone might think. I’ve made some of my closest friends through blogging — by writing one small thing powerful enough to move a reader to reach out and volley up some variation of the message I’ve come to love: hey, I know we don’t know each other very well, but I just wanted to tell you you’re not alone on X, Y, and Z, and I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for both of us. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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What else would I do if I were actually brave? I would keep trying to make meaningful friendships here, in Oregon — instead of just thinking about it, and wishing a group of great girlfriends would suddenly fall from the sky. I would get on this STAT, because a lack of a support system is the number one reason why I would pack up my pretty apartment and leave the best job I’ve ever had and then lose a lot of sleep wondering if I’d made a big mistake.

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This is probably a slight contradiction, but I would also let myself really answer the question: is this just too hard. Without family. Without anyone who loves me within arm’s reach.

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I would put my general well being over any kind of corporate climb. I would find a better balance between working hard and having fun, taking it easy.

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I would admit that there is ALWAYS going to be a reason to restrict, if that’s the mode I’m in. (A stressful time at work, an upcoming visit, an ominously empty weekend, etc.) I would stop restricting. I’m so close to just being done with this thing, dammit.

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What else would I do? I would try to date again. But not with the goal of meeting my future husband in the next two to three years in mind. (Please and thank you.) Just with the idea of getting to know someone again. It would be good to practice. What’s it like to let somebody in in real life? What’s it like to be flawed and imperfect and still growing, and not feel ashamed/undesirable because of it? What would it be like to be naked in every sense of the word? (Hang on, let me answer that one for you: PETRIFYING.)

It would be good to smile back at people when they smile at me, and not think: oh, but this isn’t my actual body so they’re not going to be interested, so I’m just going to go home and clean my apartment/make dinner/read about another person’s happy ending.

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Friday nights are riveting around here, I know. However, I am enthused to report that I no longer feel like something is [really, terribly, horribly] wrong with me. Meaning there isn’t any one thing that explains exactly why I’m not in a relationship and sharing engagement photos on Facebook. I’m single because I haven’t met someone I really connect with and because my past relationships weren’t the right ones. Full stop.

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If I weren’t afraid, I would do a much better job of fleshing out this list. I would go get an ice cream this afternoon. I would let myself be, and I’d think again about this question/answer:

“Perhaps the hardest question for many of us is, how can we cultivate more compassion for ourselves?

It’s hard work. It’s sitting down and breathing and asking, how am I feeling in this moment? And then doing the best we can to sit with it for as long as we can. If we were as awful to other people as we are to ourselves, we wouldn’t have many friends. The things we say to ourselves can be so cruel. It can be hard to recognize the suffering in ourselves. That’s what mindfulness teaches us, to be present in the moment, so we can notice what we’re feeling. I think healing can happen in so many different ways, and that it ultimately comes from insight. We all have the hard stuff, none of us gets through this world without it. But it helps to remember that we all have the opportunity to re-frame our own story. We can tell ourselves a story of healing as much as we can tell a story of devastation, and ultimately, the choice is ours.” -Lara Naughton

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“It’s been a bit of a tender week for me. I keep telling myself that this is the price of admission. This is the price of admission for love, for life, for feeling things deep in your bones. You’ve got to feel the full range of feelings.”-Bryce Longton

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“Finishing big projects takes so much time that we often kind of lose sight of how far we’ve come in the process. And unfortunately there’s no built-in progress bar.” -Jocelyn K Glei

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“I’m still kind of a mess. But I think we all are. No one’s got it all together. I don’t think you ever do get it totally together. Probably if you did manage to do it you’d spontaneously combust.” -Michael Thomas Ford

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“Ask yourself: Can I move in these clothes? Am I myself in these clothes? Can I get shit done in these clothes? If “no” is the answer to any of the above, change your clothes.” -Unknown

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“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.” -Agatha Christie

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“When you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times. [There is no need to rush this.]” -Tim Urban

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“I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.” -Carol Gilligan

“Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves.” -Matt Kahn

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“Do not be a critic, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a f@*$%load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.” -Dave Eggers

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{Big Pink via @justin.watts, Mt. Rainier via @adammckibben, Lavender Valley via @galuhajengs, La Push via @kristiankeenen, sunlit trees via @pnwonderland, Saddle Mountain and foggy path via @andresmedina, Cape Kiwanda wave via @kendalgile, Hurricane Ridge via @starvingphotographer, make mistakes graphic via @mollyorangette, Mt. St. Helens via @skuznyuk, table for two via @christiankoepe, Mt. Hood via @fursty — all on Instagram.}

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