On Flying

“I would never move to Denver because then I’d have to fly in and out of this airport every time,” declared Thomas last week as we taxied on the runway at Denver airport. He’s convinced that wind patterns over the mountains near Denver make every flight in or out of that airport extremely turbulent, and this flight had added an affirming data point.

Thomas hates flying in a way that I didn’t understand until some time into our marriage. We had already done a lot of air travel together by that time but he’s never been one to let others on to his emotions, much less anxieties. Over time, though, the subtle comments he’d make – an occasional “I hope this flight isn’t turbulent,” or “This one shouldn’t be too bad” – made me realize, Oh, he really doesn’t like flying. He even goes so far as to factor in the plane size (he knows every common plane model by heart) when booking flights because larger planes are less likely to be turbulent.

During this specific trip to Denver I happened to be in the middle of reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection “These Precious Days.”

In one of the essays she writes about her husband’s love of flying planes and how she’s had to reconcile her desire to support his hobby with her fear for his safety: “I understood he wasn’t interested in baking bread, that there would be no Scrabble or yoga in our future as a couple, but couldn’t there be a hobby in which death was not a likely outcome?”

She shares how her relationship to these emotions evolved: “Over time I learned to offer no resistance. “Pretty,” I would say when he showed me the picture [of a plane]. I didn’t want to be the reason he didn’t have a plane, the reason he was gripped by fits of misery specific to a man who wants to be in the sky and is stuck on the ground.”

But my favorite part of the story came towards the end when she talks about flying in the plane with Karl. “When I am in the plane with Karl [as the pilot],” she writes, “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep, my head against the window.”

Which, to me, was another way of her saying, “I don’t get scared or nervous when he flies if I’m in the plane next to him…because whatever happens, happens to us together.”

Back on the runway at Denver airport, as we impatiently waited for the captain to turn off the seatbelt sign, I said to Thomas, “I feel like I finally understand how much you hate flying.”

“Well, yeah,” he said, as if I’d said something incredibly obvious, “why do you think I always want to take flights with you if I can?”

Now – Thomas is not an emotional person. (He would also be extremely annoyed to know I was writing this, and I told him if I was sharing anything that made him uncomfortable I’d stop. But he prefers to live in a state of blissful ignorance, aka one of not reading my blog, and so this is what he risks as a result.) And, as far as love languages go, he’s never been one for verbal expressions of love. So when he said, seemingly offhandedly, to me that he didn’t like taking separate flights (which sometimes happens for logistical reasons, or if he’s taking a trip I’m not going on), I heard, “You make me feel safe.”

I smiled to myself and made a mental note to write what he’d said down because love is not always shown with flowers (especially not if you’re T, who is tragically allergic to almost everything alive) or explicit “I love you”s. And while there are times I get frustrated that he doesn’t always share his love for me in the most conventional ways, I can never justifiably doubt its existence.

Even though I am not as fearful of planes as Thomas, or as afraid of my husband having flying as a hobby like Ann Patchett, I felt she captured how I feel when Thomas is around: “I read, I look out the window, I sleep an untroubled sleep.”

Without Expectation

The morning air is cold and dry. Beneath the trees, on the trails covered with cracked and faded-brown leaves, it smells like winter. There is no one else around and I imagine myself on a mountain.

I am trying on this Monday morning to approach the week “without expectation.” I say these words to myself on the empty trail; they seem truer when I speak them aloud.

Maybe it’s because I am now “officially” a year older – my birthday was last week – that my thoughts about where I should be at this point in my life, or what I should have accomplished, are worse than usual. My tendency to compare myself to others has been strong and inevitably I’ve been feeling bad about myself. (“Why aren’t you this?” “Why haven’t you done that?” “If you weren’t so lazy you could have [xyz].”

Maybe, too, my anxiety is running especially high in anticipation of next week’s election – I know I’m not alone in feeling scared. I oscillate between doing the small things I can (donating, voting, writing postcards) and being paralyzed by fear and helplessness.

Usually when things are uncertain and I feel bad about myself I return to unhelpful coping mechanisms to maintain a semblance of control. I make plans for things I “need” to do or accomplish that week; I’ll sign up for too much; I’ll put pressure on myself to accomplish something grand. My expectations of myself are unrealistic and founded on fear and shame rather than pride and self-esteem. They are harmful rather than helpful as I always end up feeling worse when I (inevitably) cannot meet the exceedingly high expectations I have set for myself. In addition, I am unable to celebrate whatever things I may have accomplished because anything less than my original expectation is automatic failure. It’s all-or-nothing in my mind: perfection or disaster, there is no in between.

So there is no list of “things I need to do in order to be good enough/not fail” this Monday morning. I sit with the part of me that wants to give in to this compulsion to plan, to act, to expect of myself, but I don’t give in to it. Instead I close my weekly planner and go for a walk. (To be more explicit: a walk, rather than some intense exercise or a workout with a goal in mind. This is me slowing down. Without expectation.)

Monday evening: I lie in bed with Thomas, we watch an episode of “The Great British Bake Show.” In a shocking turn of events, I have not saved the world today. I have not single-handedly influenced the results of next week’s election; I have not founded my dream nonprofit; I have not run a world-record-breaking time on the trail nearby. And if I had started my day by expecting these things of myself…well, let’s be honest, none of them were going to happen anyway. My expectations would have done nothing but set me up for feeling like a failure at the end of the day. My belief that these expectations “motivate me” is unfounded. In retrospect, not once has setting too-high expectations meant I’ve achieved more. If anything I am more motivated when I begin from a place of acceptance and self-esteem: that I am OK as I am, that whatever I do or don’t do that day has no bearing on my worth as a person.

Am I overthinking my birthday? Probably. But it feels good to write this out, to acknowledge and give voice to parts of myself I’m ashamed of. Also – and maybe this will be the more optimistic part 2 of my “birthday reflection” series – Thomas took me to Sonoma for some amazing wine-tasting and so, as we lie in bed watching adorable British people bake biscuits, my anxieties are equally matched by my gratitude in this first day of my next year of life.

Pots & Pans & Parts of Me

I woke up this morning, brushed my teeth, and did the dishes. All I do is the dishes. I need more hobbies. And less dishes. And better strategies for coping with my anxiety and need for control.

Thomas made toaster waffles for breakfast instead of his usual oatmeal so that was exciting. He still ate the waffles though, as he does the oatmeal, with mini frozen blueberries that stain our plates and his teeth bright purple.

I had an 8am work meeting that got cancelled at 7:59am, which was frustrating because I’d intentionally changed out of my pajamas and into presentable Zoom attire three hours ahead of schedule. Now I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go virtually dial into.

In my newly-free hour I did a bit of work and then a bit of sketching (see: alternative methods of coping with anxiety).

You will notice in the background the playlist that has been my soundtrack for the past few months; I haven’t updated the title since I created it in July, but you could really substitute in any month at this point. It should now read: “October’s a messsssss.”

In the spirit of messiness, my mantra for this week is something I wrote down in my notebook a few days ago: “I am making room for all the parts of myself.”

I am making room for the “dumb” parts, the “boring” parts, the “unworthy” parts of myself. The parts that – in my attempts to always appear smart and funny and thoughtful, and in my great fear of coming across as stupid or boring or worthless – I suppress.

I am afraid of the “unimpressive” parts of myself, the ones that aren’t worthy of praise or recognition. But those are parts of me nonetheless, and the more I deny their existence the more I reinforce my belief that I’m only worthwhile because of the impressive parts.

Maybe sharing these posts is a way for me to conquer that fear; to express all the parts of myself – even the dumb, unpolished ones that just write about coffee and binge watch “Selling Sunset” – more authentically. To say, in other words, “This is me, take it or leave it!”

I am making room for all the parts of myself. Let’s see which Maddy shows up today…

TV & Poetry

I like to think of me and Thomas’ brain cell count as a zero sum game: if he’s gaining brain cells, I have to be losing them at the same rate. For example: it’s 8pm on a Saturday evening and he is doing readings for his policy classes. Therefore, in order to balance out his brain cell gains, I must lose the same amount by binge-watching “Love Island.” I don’t make the rules.

(Look: it’s not my favorite show, but I’ve already rewatched “New Girl” twice during the pandemic and I read an entire book today so I’m not sure what else to do with my time.)

I’m feeling lighter-hearted now because it’s 6am and I’m always more optimistic in the morning, but a lot has been weighing on me the past few days. My excuse for watching “Love Island,” therefore, is the same one most would give: it’s escapist. If I can’t be outside or with friends due to a pandemic and wildfire smoke, I might as well live vicariously through the dramas of 20-something-year-olds in Las Vegas.

Most of the weight I’m experiencing is feelings of helplessness; I see my friends (not to mention the world) struggling and I feel powerless to help them. Maybe it’s the pandemic or maybe it’s just life (probably the latter) but so many of my friends are going through tough times and I want nothing more than to make their pain and anxiety and hurt go away. Maybe I feel more helpless than usual because it’s hard to physically be there for others and therefore I’m relegated to sending texts, cards, and small gifts to let them know I’m thinking of them. I sit on my couch and read (or watch “Love Island”) but no matter how hard I try to concentrate on some alternate reality my thoughts inevitably return to my friends and family.

I don’t know what to do with this pent-up energy, this frustration that I can’t flip a switch and make the problems of those I care about go away. It’s not like I had that power before – though I can probably attribute a lot of my anxiety to the fact I can’t accept that as truth – but something about being physically still and confined aggravates it. That’s probably why my most effective form of escapism (or coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it) is being outdoors and exercising. (Jury’s still out on the fine line between helpful and harmful there.)

The sun is finally rising (I think? It’s impossible to tell through the smoke) and I want to end this post with a poem I read yesterday:

I, like most others in California right now, have been dreaming of rain…

My intention for today is to keep the spirit of the rain within me: “to fall, to be fellow, to feel to the root, to sink in…”