Tag: Change

21Mar

‘Cause There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

[Photo of the first sunset of spring over the walls of Assisi]

In nearly thirteen years of marriage, Dan and I have moved five times and have lived out of suitcases three different summers. Each time we gear up for a new transition, I read a book about decluttering to try to offset my frugal “But we might need that someday!” impulse with the pure glee of tossing items I will no longer need to dust, iron, or trip over in the storage closet. This time, I picked Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up because I like being approximately a year late to online parties and also because I wanted to start using the phrase “This does not spark joy” every time my alarm goes off in the morning.

Yes, we’re headed for change once again. In an attempt to out-epic all previous summers, we will be living from suitcases for a few months while we catch up with loved ones and eat our weight in fresh salsa in the States, and then we’ll be moving from our little Umbrian city to the sprawling metropolis of Milan.

More of our heartstrings are caught up in this move than in others before it. Perugia has been our home for the last nine years. It’s the city we know best in the world, and it’s almost impossible to imagine no longer getting coffee at the bar up the street or going for runs at the park down the hill. When Natalie and I attended junior high orientation last month, I hovered Mission Impossible-style above the surface of grief, trying to modulate my emotions so I wouldn’t make a scene in front of all the friends and neighbors we are about to leave. The girls are taking it even harder.

We have a host of compelling reasons for the move though, and our sadness at leaving our current home is woven inextricably with happiness about our new one. Work and church and family await us in Milan, and the fact that we’ll be able to see the Alps on a clear day doesn’t hurt either. We know with certainty that it’s time for us to move on.

This brings me back to decluttering. I’m going through our clothes and books and knickknacks trying to determine what will bring value and joy to our life in Milan and what would only be a weight. I’m no natural at this, mind you. I fretted earnestly this morning over throwing out threadbare socks that I haven’t worn in years. (We won’t discuss the shoe situation at all, thank you kindly.) The biggest item I’ve had to evaluate, however, took only a quarter hour of soul-searching before I admitted that it has been dousing me in self-reproach rather than sparking my joy like it used to do. As Marie Kondo would say, this blog has served its purpose for me and deserves to be let go with respect.

I can’t tell you how reluctant I am to put an official stop to this writing that I’ve kept up off and on since 2002. Blogging has given me a voice when I’ve felt most alone and has connected me to priceless communities of people. This is where I’ve chronicled the early years of parenthood and the complicated shifts in my faith. So much of who I am is poured into this online space where so many of you have invested as well.

Our self-employment contracts have increased dramatically over the last year though, and my busyness is only going to ramp up over the coming months. I’ve caught myself many times wanting to spend a precious free hour working on a writing project with deep significance to me and then remembering that I haven’t blogged in ages, reasoning that I should get this up to date before tackling any other project, and ultimately giving up on the idea of writing at all that day. It’s become a lead-plated cycle of dispassion and guilt, a far cry from the creative outlet that blogging used to be.

I want to say goodbye to Perugia well, and I want to start our new life in Milan well. Holding onto this blog for old times’ sake will help me do neither. Therefore, with an almost exact blend of the excitement and heartache I feel about our upcoming move, I’m publishing this as my final post here.

Thank you all for the time you’ve invested in my blog. I can’t thank you enough for your friendship, and I’d love it if you continued to keep in touch on Instagram (@bethany_bassett) where I will be documenting every funny misadventure of the coming months. Here’s to spring and to hard-good changes and to bestseller buzz phrases that nevertheless lead to joy.

With much love,
Bethany

4Feb

Adulting Is Hard

(Portrait of two self-employed parents with a shortage of house elves.)

I always feel like I need a machete coming back to this space after a break. The jungle of online content is so relentless in its growth, so gleefully fecund, that I have the sense of being swallowed up if I don’t constantly maintain my little clearing. Three months of silence, and I need GPS and a sharp-bladed resolve to find my way back.

Hi, by the way!

2015 ended before I really got my bearings in it, which has left me blundering around 2016 like a first-day intern whose supervisor has called in sick. I’ve been working alongside Dan for the past several months—I do the bookkeeping, the list-making, and the English-languaging while he does the other 3,017 things that keep a startup afloat—and I generally love it. We make a good team (when we’re not on each other’s nerves for the very differences that make us a good team). Being a grownup is not easy, however, when you have a household to run and business contracts to puzzle through and no real idea of where the previous year went. It’s been easier to avoid the blogosphere and social media than to risk bumping into myself here.

Also, allergy season has begun, which means I’m 90% drugged-out zombie, 10% flea-bitten spastic, and 0% productive member of society. My blog archives are already well stocked with descriptions of my seasonal allergies, so I’ll say no more about it and simply leave you with this dazzling self-portrait from 2012:

Self-portrait with allergies

(Just imagine a pixie haircut and slightly more bloodshot eyes.) 

We have a lot of decisions on our plate these days, not the least of which is where to sign Natalie up for junior high (!!). There are other Where? questions too, lingering in front of our eyes like tinted lenses. I don’t want to be responsible for the organization of our “one wild and precious life.” I don’t want to have to weigh the hard decisions in my own hands. Can’t I just take a sabbatical from adulting? When do the substitute grownups arrive?

When our girls were very small, they adored the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and would chant the refrain on every other page along with me:

“We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!”

That’s basically where I find myself these days, wandering straight into decisions that can’t be outmaneuvered no matter how earnestly I protest that I’m just the intern and surely someone else is better equipped for them. I can still hear Sophie’s toddler voice singing, “We’ve got to go FREW it!” and blast it all, she’s right. The big decisions and the allergy seasons and the machete-chopping back to this space… My inevitable route is straight down the middle.

Still, it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be mature about it.

Catching snowflakes

(Snowflakes for lunch during a short January getaway to Lake Bled. Trips like this help us remember why in absolute tarnation we hopped on the insanitycoaster of self-employment.)

How are you all? Is the new year being good to you? I do believe we’re overdue on catching up.

23Sep

Pumpkin Spice Laxity

The weather got the memo that today is the first day of fall, and I responded by indulging in one of my precious Pumpkin Spice Latte packets. If your refined coffee sensibilities are recoiling in horror right now, you might need to step back from your screen for a breather while I admit that my granulated Starbucks experience was just what I needed on this gray-clad morning. (Expats gonna expat…)

The girls have been back in school for one week now, and we’re slowly figuring out our dance of schedules for the fall. The fact that Dan and I both work from home makes coordinating much easier, but it also means that we’re not always home when we’re home, and figuring out who’s taking care of what, when, takes some trial and error. Having my right hand out of commission for three months also adds to the fun. I keep looking down at my grace note tattoo in an attempt to remind myself that it’s okay our home life is in its eighty-fourth consecutive transition phase. We’re cultivating flexibility and dodging boredom, and neither is a habit I’d actually want to see go.

Other habits remain frustratingly elusive. Getting up even one minute earlier than responsible parenting requires me to hasn’t happened yet this month. In the fantasy realm of good intentions, I’m the type to rise before dawn and harness the creative magic of those pre-breakfast hours. In practice, however, I’m deeply committed to my pillow between 11:30 at night and 7:30 in the morning. So far this year, there has been neither idea compelling enough nor caffeinated beverage strong enough to tempt me to join the 5am club, but my good intentions will not go down without a fight. You’re welcome to pray for our collective sanity once I summon the courage to change my alarm.

I may not be getting up at a respectable time, but I am writing again on a daily basis—with frequent appeals to my grace tattoo—and I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of what I’m working on soon. Writing is such a delicate subject for me. Just mentioning that I have projects in the works threatens to tip the day’s balance toward fear again, and I’m often one sharp exhale away from succumbing to the shame-mongering voices that plague all of us who create. I have goals for this fall that feel like home to me though, and so this is where you can find me each morning, duking it out with myself in a desk chair.

There are a lot of areas of life relegated to the back burner right now… or, more truthfully, off the menu altogether. Housecleaning is a dusty memory. (See what I did there?) We haven’t been keeping up well either with friends and neighbors since coming home from our trip, and our tackle-eventually list has literally piled up around the margins of our house. As usual, I’m frustrated that I can’t do it all. The superhero myth is a difficult one to set down.

At the same time, there’s relief to be found in transition times. Nothing about our life right now says status quo, so we’re free to hold our loose ends loosely. It’s not hard to imagine that next month I will start waking with the birds, and the month after that my writing day will require only the briefest of stare-downs with fear, and the month after that the windows will get washed. It’s the first day of fall, and anything is possible. Even the notion that we’re already okay.

What is life looking like for you all these days? Are you ready for fall yet?

27Aug

Wherever You Go

I didn’t mean to fall off the face of the earth… though geographically speaking, we came fairly close this summer. Exactly five weeks ago, I was steaming my waterlogged feet at a campfire in the same Highland glen where Hagrid’s hut, James Bond’s Skyfall estate, and Monty Python’s Bridge of Death were staged. Wind-worn mountains surrounded our tent, their crags still faintly green at midnight. If not for the peaks, we might have been able to spot the Northern Lights. I felt like I was living in a medieval fable, complete with the short, shivering nights and the venison roasted on sticks.

I did not write a single day of our six weeks on the road from Italy to France to home by way of Scotland. I’d intended to, of course. I’d held onto my hope that this half-business/half-pleasure road trip would loosen the time demands clenched around my ribs until I breathed big gusts of words. It turned out, however, that what I had clenched to me were anxieties, and well… you know the saying. Wherever you go…

We drove all the way to the Scottish Highlands, and there I was too.

This has been a hard year, which you may or may not have guessed from the dearth of blog posts around here. The first quarter of 2015 brought the dissolving of three different communities that were dear to our hearts, one isolation lined up after another. I will write about them one day, but I haven’t entirely figured out how to begin processing them within myself. For lack of any more conclusive results (according to a litany of medical tests, I’m fit as a fiddle), I’ve chalked my confusing health issues up to anxiety. I don’t think I’m wrong.

This is a growth spurt year, the kind that moves in drastic lurches and tangled limbs. It aches down to the bone without any obvious cause or cure, and I know we will look different at the end of it even if I can’t imagine the specifics. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine the specifics of next week at this point. My mind is a murmuration of birds shapeshifting in and out of the wind, directed by instinct rather than destination. You’ve heard the motto “Do the next right thing”? It sounds so simple, yet it also assumes you have a single clear direction. What is the next right thing when you’ve fallen off the map?

Generations of soul-searchers before me would answer, “Hit the road!” and we certainly did do that over the span of June and July: eight countries, six campgrounds, two apartments, two hotels, four friends’ houses, 4,100 miles, and a freakish 67°F temperature range that has left me unable to tell whether I’d prefer a fan or a blanket at night. (I’m currently opting for both.) Dan had two different work conferences across Europe, so we packed our car like Tetris wizards and made it a family affair.

We swam in pools, waded rivers, hiked mountains, and invaded every hands-on museum we could find. We went on treasure hunts, followed in the footsteps of Harry Potter, and foraged for our own s’more sticks. We got caught in not one but two transportation strikes and ended up crossing London in a double-decker bus. Completely unrelated to the strikes, we also managed to get ourselves stranded ten miles from our car after a long day at a French theme park. There were bagpipes and goats and crepes and a new tattoo. We ate either croissants or English breakfast every morning because we could. We gained weight, though I am steadfastly refusing to check how much. We forgot what day it was on a regular basis.

Trying not to fall in the pond

Four Bassetts in line 2

Sketching the Eiffel Tower

At the British Museum

Sister snuggle along the Thames

No one died

Scottish swimming hole

Roasting dinner

You can also check out our #franklyscotch trip posts on Instagram.
(France + Scotland = #franklyscotch)

The girls had a blast, though I’m sure they were ready before the end for us to stop referring to every missed bus and rained-out hike as “an adventure.” (Parents gonna parent.) Dan worked like the Energizer Bunny on caffeine and had his mind lit up with possibilities. I vacillated between weightless happiness and abject frustration as the writing-less days slipped by, each one a reminder that travel doesn’t transmogrify us into more capable versions of ourselves. I played hard with my kids and worried hard about what we’d return home to. I was there, and now I’m back here.

I wish I could say what one does with a growth spurt year after the trip has been traveled and the bags unpacked. It seems unfair somehow to return from a long journey without any revelations. Or perhaps that’s my next right thing—to winnow out the wisdom of this summer and let it draw me back to earth, watch it corral my flock of anxieties slowly toward a roost. Growth is no respecter of schedules, after all, any more than it is of geography. This is my gangly attempt at presence then, my place card in the rib-clenching unknown. Wherever in this process we may be, whoever this year is stretching us to be, whatever will emerge from the distances we’ve traveled, here we are.

28Apr

Let’s Talk About Baltimore

…only, I won’t be the one talking. Instead, I’d like to invite you to listen to these voices with me instead:

From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray…

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

[Continue reading Nonviolence as Compliance]

From Rev. Dr. Michael Waters:

Multitudes have protested peacefully in Baltimore and around the nation. Yet, a question now arises as to what should be done in response to the violent protests presently unfolding on the streets. Both King and Shakur, themselves young Black men who were victims of horrific acts of violence, would caution America to respond responsibly. For only to address the violence of a minority of protesters and not the systemic violence that has set the stage for their responses would be to reveal historical ineptness…

Baltimore is but a sign of a people who can take no more. While we may not agree with the response, we cannot overlook the cause of the response. Just as Lamar listened to frustrations rendered a generation ago, it is time for us all to listen, anew.

[Continue reading Mortal Men and the City of Baltimore]

From Leah Balter:

I was crushed not because the violence lasted longer than the peace, but because the revolution Baltimore worked hard to create was not televised for what it truly was or is. The revolution was televised as angry citizens burning flags, looting stores and breaking police car windows. This is a skewed portrayal of the protests; it is what the media chose to portray — the media that consumers bewilderingly seem to want.

The real revolution is thousands of people across America standing in solidarity against police brutality. The real revolution is youth activists using their voices and their fearlessness to fight for the future of their generation. The real revolution is people of different races walking through the streets of inner city Baltimore, arms locked, chanting “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.”

[Continue reading Baltimore’s real, untelevised revolution ]

From a news interview with members of various gangs who met with clergy on Sunday in Baltimore and signed a peace treaty to help their city:

“I don’t agree with what’s going on, but I understand what’s going on, you know what I’m saying? I understand why people mad. But we gotta handle things another way.”

“Me, I basically think the same thing. I mean, we’ve been out here all trying to stop, prevent people from breaking the stores. They hit us with a bomb, they burnt my shirt, they ripped it, and we were still standing right there as a whole. They heard it, but we came right back there holding hands together, and we still, we marched together. Down here, we’re still holding strong. We just want them to stop hurting us so we can just live our life and keep going.”

“Outta all the thousands of people that were down there, you mean to tell me you guys are pointing the finger at us ‘cause we have colors on? No. We’re not, we can’t have that. That is not what we stand for, and that’s not what we’re standing for today. Justice for Freddie Gray.”

“Justice.”

“Justice.”

“Justice.”

“Justice.”

“Justice.”

[Watch the whole video (it’s worth it).]

And in case you haven’t seen this quote floating around yet, this—from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

[Continue reading The Other America]

Do you have any links to suggest from other voices who need to be heard right now?

We’re listening.

 

image source

30Jan

When God Brought Me to Italy to Perish

You may have seen the recent announcement that Deeper Story is closing its doors. It’s hard for me to imagine the upcoming year without it, both from a reader’s perspective and as one of its writers. That site has consistently swept my generalizations and misconceptions of Christianity off their feet. It’s answered the question of why we believe what we believe through the medium of story, and I’m going to miss it like I miss Blue Bell ice cream.

Before it closes though, I’m getting to share one last story. I wrote about it here on my blog back when the events were unfolding, but they’ve grown in significance and clarity since then, picking up new dimensions in their expanding context. This is the more complete story of our move to Italy. It’s also a study in modern-day miracles.

Part 1 of 2 is up today (Part 2 will go up in a few weeks before Deeper Story closes):

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

It’s not easy for me to think about the fall of 2007.

Actually, “not easy” is a wild understatement in this case. Opening pickle jars is “not easy.” Putting snow boots on a toddler is “not easy.” Willing my mind to revisit some of the most emotionally intense terrain of my life, on the other hand, is about two degrees this side of impossible. The anxiety is still there. So are the first discordant notes of depression. Upheaval, insecurity, a sense of displacement so strong I could drown in it—they’re all there, preserved museum-quality in the halls of my memory.

But then again, so are the miracles. And that’s why I’m here again, two degrees this side of impossible, willing myself never to forget.

/ / /

My husband Dan, our two-year-old daughter Natalie, and I spent the summer of 2007 in total life limbo. We’d moved out of our home in Delaware at the end of May, fully expecting to ship ourselves and all our possessions out on the next flight to Italy. It was all set. Dan had been offered his dream job in the country we had long hoped to adopt as our own, and our bags were packed. Every step of the process so far had been ridged with God’s fingerprints. But then the paperwork we needed the Italian government to send us for our move was “delayed.” (This, as we later learned, is bureaucracy speak for “never gonna happen.”)

The documents didn’t arrive by our move-out date, and they continued not arriving over the next two months as we camped out in friends’ guest rooms and stretched every dollar left in our checking account as far as it would go. We were surrounded by grace in those two months; our friends’ generosity kept us afloat, and we were led again and again to trust that God had our backs despite the maddening bureaucratic roadblock. My pregnant belly was stretching along with our disposable income though, and we had to make a decision: We could either scrap this new direction for our life, or we could book a flight to Italy without the right paperwork or any guarantees and try to work out the details once we got there.

We chose Option #2.

Looking back, I turn green around the gills thinking about all the risks we took with that decision. So much could have gone wrong, and the fact that we arrived without incident on the doorstep of our very own Italian apartment that August is its own category of grace.

This isn’t to say though that the worry and upheaval through which my mind had waded all summer evaporated. If anything, my anxiety grew thicker, muddled by the confusion of a new language and new cultural customs and new everything down to the way we told time. (Dinner at “twenty-one minus a quarter,” anyone?) This newness was a mental barrier as real and high to me as the historic walls of our adopted city. I was petrified by the enormity of what I didn’t know.

Also, I was now squarely (roundly!) in my third trimester of pregnancy. Any mama who has cared for a two-year-old while massively pregnant can tell you that staving off exhaustion in itself can be a full-time job. My body was as weary as my brain, and I felt like I was always skirting the edges of the preterm labor that had complicated my pregnancy with Natalie. I lay trapped awake by worry every night. If I’d had any illusions about being in control of my life before that autumn, they’d certainly hoofed it back to the land of make-believe by now.

Then two things happened simultaneously to kick the intensity notch of my world up to Level Orange. The first was that Dan left on an eight-day trip back to the States to take care of the paperwork we had been unable to file all summer. The second was a familiar tightening across my lower belly that started one evening while I was eating dinner. I was thirty-three weeks along, the exact point I’d been in my first pregnancy when I’d gone into preterm labor. I began to have contractions that were sporadic and harmless, but the timing was enough to send me spiraling imagination-first into worst case scenarios.

I couldn’t shake my fear that our baby was going to be born prematurely while Dan was out of the country. And what if things went horribly wrong for him and he was denied reentry? My terror was so acute that it spliced itself onto my sense of reality. I felt stranded in this place, so far from friends and family, unable to communicate in my own language, responsible for a two-year-old who needed more energy from me than I was able to give. I sympathized with the Israelites in Exodus who wailed that God had brought them into the wilderness to perish.

Hadn’t he just done the same to me?

Abandoned, abandoned, abandoned. The refrain began at the epicenter of my fear and was soon taken up by every cell in my body. I knew I was being dramatic. I knew that basing my understanding of God on my current circumstances was not only poor theology but straight-up idiotic. I had been so uprooted by the past few months though that my better judgment couldn’t find solid footing. As I saw it in those panic-stricken moments, God had lifted us over the stacked odds and deposited us safely in Italy only to pull that sense of safety right back out from under me. This was it then, the punch line of whatever cruel joke he was playing on our dreams.

I felt more alone than I had ever been in my life—relationally, culturally, and spiritually desolate—and I didn’t have the courage for whatever was coming next.

Only, what came next turned out to be as far from what I’d predicted as abandonment was from the truth.

/ / /

[Continue to Part 2.]

image source

 

5Jan

Resolution for the Un-Invincible

In college, I used to stay up all night so often that four a.m. almost lost its filter of delirium. Sometimes I’d put my favorite Ben Folds Five album on repeat while I caught up on work. Other times I stayed up for the pleasure of ambling down lamplit paths with a friend in the deep Texas hush. In retrospect, I can’t figure out if I’m glad that I befriended the night back when my only real responsibility was keeping up my grade point average or if I want to shake some sense into that college girl who didn’t recognize her perpetual exhaustion for what it was.

I still have to remind myself that the skinned-knee tenderness at the front of my emotions in the week following New Year’s Eve is fatigue, not inadequacy. It’s so easy to underestimate my need for rest. I see it clearly in my daughters, the link between sleep-deprival and total personal fragmentation, but my perspective blurs when I look at myself. Even all these years into adulthood, a part of me still insists on believing that grown-ups are superheroes.

If I were to adopt any one resolution this January, it would be this: to approach bedtime with mindfulness and gratitude instead of careless disregard.

This isn’t an easy one (though what resolution ever is?). There’s something prowling and nocturnal in my makeup, and the thinner the hours stretch, the easier it is for me to believe myself invincible. Time loses its price tag. I see the dark and the quiet as valuables that someone has left out on the curb, and I have to fight every thrifty, curious instinct in me to leave them be, to declare the day sufficient unto itself.

Right now, though, I’ve cleared enough of the post-holiday fatigue to remember just how smoothly the gears of life slip into place when I’ve gotten enough rest. This seems too basic and obvious a point to bother writing out until I consider how often I neglect it. Sometimes the simple truths of our biology are the hardest to approach with reverence or even acceptance. Thus the resolution: to end my days with gentle determination, to respect my own need to recharge, and to treasure sleep as if it were my greatest asset in 2015.

Because, in some ways, it is.


How about you? Any self-care strategies you’re focusing on in the new year?

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