Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Slowing down and deriving growth from solitude

Yesterday at work, my colleague Gina remarked, "You don't update your blog much, do you?"

Oh no. Have I become one of those bloggers? But it's true; the frequency of my postings have been on a steady decline since I started 'Proximity to Water' in 2009 - an average of 8 or 9 postings a month that year, down to 5 or 6 in 2010, on down to 3 a month in 2011, 2 a month in 2012 and ...

Well, I'm not doing so well in 2013.

In some ways, it's counter-intuitive. I've been enjoying unprecedented swaths of free time this year, and could easily churn out a blog entry a day if I really wanted to--but I haven't been.

It begs the question, why not? Here are several theories:
1. After many years of juggling part-time gigs, freelance work and temp jobs, this month marks my first full year of steadily working behind a computer for 40-hour, Monday-Friday work weeks. Sometimes the last thing I want to do at the end of my work day is stare at another screen.
2. Perhaps I'm just following up on the goals I set for myself this year, hazily defined as they were. One of my 2013 New Year's "Projects" was to spend less time online. I also wrote in February about unplugging from daily internet usage (outside of work), and no longer wanting to contribute to this phenomenon of everyone else's lives appearing, from the outside, so much better than our own. Sometimes I worry that, in the past, my blog has painted too idyllic a picture of my daily life--and it's this kind of internet-ing, in particular, that I want to shy away from. I want people to come away from my blog feeling inspired and connected, not jealous and alienated. Above all, I want to be authentic, open, honest--and yet, not at the expense of the privacy of people I'm close with. It's a fine line, and perhaps the more nervous I am of overstepping it, the less I share on my blog.
3. Or ... could it be that living in a city simply provides more fodder for blog-oriented content?

Okay, I say this a little tongue-in-cheek. I don't intend this to devolve into a debate over whether urban living or small-town living is better; honestly, I'm grateful to to have experienced both environments at this point in my life. I do find the differences compelling to explore, though.

Yesterday evening, I called my good friend Cam(bajamba) in Seattle, who picked up his phone and happened to be out to dinner at my all-time favorite restaurant in Seattle, Annapurna, with a boisterous group of mutual friends of ours. After their feast of authentic Himalayan food, they planned to hit up a new bar on Capitol Hill, my old neighborhood and stomping grounds. The good old pass-the-phone game was played. Birthday girl Angelina screamed my name into the phone in excitement over and over again, then yelled to the group: "Hey everyone, Yitka's coming back for July 4th this year!"

Hut Trip with Seattle friends, 2012
In that moment, I missed Seattle and my friends there more than I can possibly put into words. The ambient noise in the background of the restaurant, the voices, the clinking of glasses and dinner plates, the laughter ... all of it was in such stark contrast to my quiet living room here--made quieter by the fact that Steve's out in the mountains for several days this week--nothing but a gentle wind in the aspens and the sounds of the river in the distance.

My life here is about as far away as can be from my life in Seattle.

For the most part, I think I've adjusted well. I enjoy my job greatly, and I feel extraordinarily content with the life Steve and I have built together out here. I love our home, our routines, the food we make together, the trails out of our backyard, our fledgling garden ... Several nights ago, we grilled out on our back deck as the sun went down, watched as the deer came out in the twilight and the first stars appeared in the darkening sky. Yesterday evening, I baked muffins and brought them to a town potluck/picnic down the street, on the banks of the Crystal River, and got to know some more of our neighbors. Moments like these make me wonder how I ever lived in a city, no yard to speak of, bedroom windows pressed up to those of neighbors I'd never spoken to.

Baby bok choy just beginning to sprout on our sunny back deck
Here, I can do long runs in the mountains from my doorstep, or from any of a series of trailheads within ten minutes by car. In Seattle, I drove half an hour to get to the mountains, and had to time it so as not to hit rush hour on my way in or out and tack on an extra 30 minutes to my trail-commute. I don't worry out here about my car getting broken into at trailheads here, nor about not finding a spot in Wal-Mart-sized parking lots at popular trailheads, because most days out here I don't encounter a single other soul on the trails.

Backyard playground. No other humans anywhere.
Solitude can be beautiful--and often, immensely productive--but I think the experiences that arise in its midst can be more difficult to put into words than the external experiences I had in Seattle and found so easy to churn out blog entries about--the restaurants I ate at, coffeeshops frequented, events attended, urban routes explored, people met.

My evenings and weekends here are pretty consistent and predictable--make food, eat food, do NY Times crossword, go for a run or hike, watch Chloe hunt moths in our apartment, sleep. At the risk of this devolving into a cooking blog, a crossword blog or simply a gratuitous photo blog (not that there's anything wrong with those, but just seems like those niches have already been covered ... ), sometimes I wonder what is left to blog about from among my day-to-day experiences.

Food: Always an adventure here!
More food! Typical weekend brunch at our house.
And yet, perhaps this is just what the doctor ordered. After a few exciting years of hustle and bustle in the big city and a lot of focus on, indeed, my external experiences, I feel like small-town Colorado is helping me turn inward and work on myself in really meaningful ways. Though it's still early June, an almost-mid-year reflection on my progress toward my New Year's projects shows that this place is helping me grow in all the ways I hoped to this year:
  • The Simplicity Project: I ditched a lot of possessions when I moved out here, I sleep in on weekends now, I've succeeded in no longer "glorifying busy-ness", and I don't feel perpetually "behind" on keeping in touch with far-away friends
  • The Wellness Project: I'm sleeping more, spending more time outside, and eating 10 times better than ever before--mostly plant-based, unprocessed foods, nearly everything from scratch (well, + a healthy dose of coffee and beer)
  • The Courage Project: Boom. I've been confronted with more criticism (mostly constructive) in the past few months than ever before, and feel like I'm learning to handle it better each time
Sometimes a little solitude is what we need most to flourish. For what it's worth, here is the best essay I've ever read on the subject: If you do nothing else with your day today, read this essay. It changed my life when I first encountered it several years ago, and in some ways, can be attributed for the place in my life at which I now find myself--slowed down, more relaxed, and content with being a little less surrounded by people.


  1. Well, see, now you've just gone and painted the most idyllic picture of your daily life ever. That sounds absolutely wonderful to me, and I would love to read about your daily doings - good and bad. I love having access to the Powerline Trail in Redmond two minutes from my house, but being able to do actual mountain runs without driving anywhere, now that would be amazing.

    1. Ha! That's probably because my editor's out in the mountains this week :) When Steve's around, he often reads my blog posts before I publish them and points out when I have made things look rosier than they are ... after all, he's the one who has to deal with unfiltered me when I'm up at night whining about not having friends in Colorado. :P

      Two minutes from the Powerline Trail isn't too shabby!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

  2. This is the first time I've read your blog Yitka and I am certainly impressed :) All the things you wrote gave me a glimpse into my own life and how I might change, probably the most insightful thing I've read in some time. Thank you. ps we miss you.

    1. Thank you, Billy! This comment made my night :) I hope things are well with you, and all the folks at Solavei ... I miss you, too, a lot.

      P.S. How are all your window plants doing? I confess this is the first time I've ever tried to grow anything from seed, and I get ridiculously excited when new leaves magically pop up from the dirt. Growing stuff is rad.

    2. I'm glad it made your night, it made mine too! :) My plants are doing great, I had a few that died off, but plenty more where that came from! I'm uploading some pics to fb so you can see. Bye! :)

  3. Oh Yitka... That is why we miss you and love you so much. You know how to live and love life. Thanks for helping me see the beauty in simplicity.

    1. Thank you, Deby ... I miss you so much, too. Always thinking of you and imagining your company with me on my long runs out here!

  4. I second Deby. I completely love this post, Yitka, and miss bumping into you around town! I found myself reading this post and nodding "Yes...yes..." at almost every line. I'm in a similar place... my first full time desk job in some time, where the mornings are too tired and rushed to sit down with my journal, and in the evenings, the last thing I want to do is sit down in front of the computer. So instead of writing, I'm reading (kind of voraciously) and focused on other things.

    I also find that I write much less when I live with a partner ... partly, because just because *I* live my life with the compulsion to tell true stories from my life, that doesn't mean that the people close to me sign up to have stories told about or involving them. So in times like this, when I feel less like sharing stories with others, I still put pen to journal whenever possible. And then I remind myself that it wasn't until very recently that writers published daily (or weekly or whatever) on blogs... and while writing less frequently may no longer qualify us as "bloggers," it may, somehow, help us in our craft of writing.

    I'm getting long-winded. Much love, and I'm so happy to see your bok choy! I'm growing from seed this year too and it's a mix of beauty and heartbreak as one seasonal pest after another preys on my little green babies; our soil health isn't what it should be since we dug up a lawn to make our vegetable beds, so only the strongest little seedlings survive. But rather than wait seasons to rehab the soil to ensure a higher plant survival rate, we're just mourning each loss as it comes, celebrating each handful harvested, and trying again when something fails.

    (Good lord, I love gardening as a metaphor.)


    1. Hi Sara,

      Wow, what a wonderful, thoughtful message. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to so many of the points I addressed in this entry--and for sharing this piece in social media land :) It's funny, I originally wrote a few paragraphs about personal journaling in this entry as well - because, indeed, my personal (handwritten) journaling hasn't suffered much at all in recent years - but as with most blog entries I write, I get to the end and feel like half of what I've written is superfluous, so I edit myself heavily, and all I'd written about personal journaling in relation to blogging got chopped from this entry before I published :P But yes, like you, I really enjoy putting "pen to journal whenever possible." Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones' is a great reminder of the value and power of this, if you haven't read it.

      I have more to say, but will say the rest in an email/private message to you. Miss you very much!

      With love,

  5. I feel like I could really use some solitude right now, after all the stress and emotional turmoil of the past (6)year(s.. But that's not going to happen for another while.. I can only wish to one day end up in a place as beautiful as where you are now! Oh and I'm still waiting for a snail mail letter :P

    1. Hi Lise,

      I hear you! Congrats with your graduation ... what's next for you, for this summer and beyond?

      Thanks for the reminder on writing you a letter! I'll try to sit down and write you this weekend :) Is your address still good to reach you for at least a few more weeks?

      Happy birthday, too, this month!