Expat Living, Learnings, Link Love
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on becoming: are you a rock or a leaf?

A few years ago, an old friend (and savior in tough times) and I were sitting at his oversized living room table in Bamako, having a heart-to-heart about our respective states of mind. It was another of so many days that blurred together during a particularly messy period in my adult life: joblessness, heartbreak and its resultant sharp-edged freedoms, mornings drifting listlessly into evenings as I waited for call-backs, requests for interviews, clarity, and watched the shadows shift on the floor as the sun passed over the charming, leafy oasis in the dusty West African city that I temporarily (and proudly!) called home. At the time, we were both spinning on emotional hamster wheels, striving for nebulous goals, but hemmed in by fears of the unknown and of rejection. You know, the usual.

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In his typical, poignant brilliance, Peter declared across the table that there are two types of people in the world: rocks and leaves. Rocks are solid, grounded, decisive, unwavering in the face of wild winds. Leaves, on the other hand, are more sensitive: they flutter in the breeze, they change with the seasons, they dip and twist to accommodate the air swirling around them and–on occasion–they unhinge entirely from their branches. No further explanation required: we both recognized ourselves as leaves of the world. And we marveled at the fortitude of our rock friends: even in the most challenging moments, their certainty shone brightly. Whether their choices turned out for the better was irrelevant; they were confident in those decisions, and that made all the difference to their state of mind.

At times, and especially when others need it from me, I can feign a decent rock. But I am in essence, and unequivocally, a leaf. Last week I wrote an email to my brother, acknowledging my leafiness and offering support if ever needed because I suspect that he, too, is one of us. I could be wrong. But if I’m right, I wanted him to know that he’s one of a multitude, and that there are ways to mitigate the flutter. I wanted him to know I’d ride the ups and downs of the wind along with him.

Lately though, I’ve been responding to life’s knocks and turns with a a stonier veneer: unmoved, unimpressed, essentially not giving a f*ck. I’ve been more solid in my stance, I don’t brace for impact as much, and criticism doesn’t knock the wind out of me in the way it normally would. Maybe years of living abroad, with its constant negotiations and compromises, have taught me to define my boundaries, and now I’m ready to live them. Maybe this is just what life, anywhere, teaches you: stand firm when it counts, or be pushed around. I defiantly throw my boundaries in the face of expectations, without guilt or dismay.

passion fruit hargeisa somaliland balcony

A few months back I wrote a note on disappointing others, and how it’s not as difficult for me as it used to be; the stoniness of late feels like a natural progression. I work through my inbox ready to make choices: Here’s what I can do for you, here’s what I can’t, plain and simple. I move through the day owning my body (as a female, this is an especially poignant challenge): This is the space I occupy, and if you don’t want me in your orbit, you can move. These are my thoughts: If they’re not what you’re looking for, I invite you to look elsewhere.

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I wonder what other forces conspired to bring about this change, and I wonder how long it will last. It’s a nice boost of confidence and feels freeing, though I have some timidity in the face of that freedom, perhaps like the reserve of a bird learning to fly with a sliver of innate confidence in the invisible wind, in its own wings, in the absurd aerodynamics of it all. Somehow empty air at just the right angle keeps you aloft, moving forward. When you allow the bullshit to drop away, the nothingness that suddenly surrounds brings you further into relief, makes you more real, more tangible, more dynamic.

Leaves are attentive to every pulse of energy around them–we’re plugged in to…everything, and it can be brilliant, and it can be exhausting. We are more comfortable living the questions, even as we yearn for answers, because answers feel like a door closing, and once it’s closed, we may never have a chance to open it again. But rocks carry deep familiarity, intimacy even, with their own essence; without arrogance, they simply expect the world to accommodate them, to make space. They own the doors, and they open and close them without fear of either. The latter is what I’ve been feeling lately, and I’m hoping I can continue to cultivate that sensibility. It may never be me, but it’s a great tool to take up when I need it.

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Below are links to a few stories about growth and becoming in adulthood, when you’re supposed to have already figured out life, or so we believe in our youth. I find these tectonic-sized shifts comforting. They’re a reminder that living is incessant learning, and that there is no end point–there’s only today, and what we make of it, whether we embrace the breeze as leaves or as rocks.

A few months ago, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette (and multiple books, and multiple restaurants) shared some pivotal life changes with her readers. The Seattle Met managed to get a gem of an interview as well, linked here.

I always think about [my father] in the midst of Big Life Stuff: marriage, birth, death, divorce – the moments, I guess, when my story feels too big to hold by myself. I never mean to, but there he is. It occurs to me that I am haunted. I wonder what he would say about who I am now, about June, about Brandon, about the woman I love, about Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, about Russia. Can you believe we are still talking about “the Russians,” like we’re stuck in a loop of Dr. Strangelove?

Elizabeth Gilbert, of the Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon, also worked her way recently through monumental shifts and wrote about it, first in this piece on her Facebook page. Because of her fame, and I think in particular because this new, unwritten chapter of Gilbert’s life negates the fairy-tale happy endings that we’ve come to idolize, and that her own book embraced, her choices received a huge amount of public attention and criticism. But beyond sensationalism, I’m much more interested in her process, and in the sources of strength that Gilbert draws upon through that process.

Here is the thing about truth: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. So that truth, once it came to my heart’s attention, could not be ignored. The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.

On a lighter note, here’s an illustration from Mari Andrews (via Cup of Jo) on Finding Your True Self:

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And here’s a date night recipe from Bon Appetit, part of its Rent Week series, with ingredients you can likely access, wherever you are in the world. I used to throw together a version of this as a weeknight staple when I lived in DC. One of the funnier recipes I’ve read!

Lastly, the Instagram food trends that need to die, from Food52 readers. Hilarious, but also, agreed (maybe also guilty?). My favorites:

  • “Pixelated fruit” (fruit that’s been sliced meticulously into many small cubes)
  • “Outrageous desserts that are actually 6 dessert items on top of a fish-shaped cone
  • “Disgusting tomato dishes people try to pass off as shakshuka”
  • Turmeric “bastardized into foods that should never come near it” (I agree!)
  • Chia*
  • Cloud eggs**

*Actually, I was just gifted my first bag of chia and have no idea what to do with it, but I’m excited to see what the multi-year frenzy was about. Help?

**Wait, I hadn’t heard about these. They’re beautiful!! But a little precious for breakfast.

Be ye rock or leaf, may you get closer to your true self every day, and eat your way to bliss. Happy weekend.

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6 Comments

  1. Toda La Pesca says

    Absolutely love this post… developing that confidence is so freeing. That illustration at the end had me laughing out loud, too. Great blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely writing. This line: “At times, and especially when others need it from me, I can feign a decent rock. But I am in essence, and unequivocally, a leaf.:

    I wrote about a similar concept in a piece on my blog: “I saw myself as the elephant God, unfazed, unreliant on the world to transform me, not undone by the passing storm. I saw myself as the flowers and the trees responding to what touches me, losing myself, emerging more radiant but in danger of being swept away.”

    You can read it here: https://tripsntripups.com/2017/03/25/the-first-rain/

    Liked by 1 person

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