Monday, September 3, 2012

Challenge Versus Ease

I'm a little homesick--for Annie and Tigger; and for dry, clear air; and for the wide fields and the hills off in the distance; and the fruit trees everywhere. I walked into a Whole Foods the other night and was greeted by a small basket of figs for sale--figs from California, of course; figs just like the ones that are probably currently ripening on the tree just behind the abundant garden I worked so hard to plant and left behind; figs that are ripening just in front of the two pomegranate trees that will still have a month or two to go before the arils burst the skins of the fruit.

But yesterday I walked past an apple tree someone had planted in front of their house. I don't remember seeing fruit trees anywhere in the city as a child. My grandfather's house in western Pennsylvania had apples, and the farm in upstate New York, where I lived right after college, had an incredible old apple tree with some of the most delicious apples I've ever eaten. Those seemed like the height of luxury--food! Growing right outside the door! California, with its abundance of edible landscaping--figs, pomegranates, plums, rosemary, cherries, apricots, pluots, blackberries...all just hanging out in city parks--seemed unreal and magical. Easy.

I have a hard relationship to easy. I'm never sure where the balance is for me: When is easy a good thing? When does it alleviate unnecessary difficulty, suffering even, and when does it begin to cross the line into facile and soul deadening?

This city is a hard place for me to be, in many ways. There are ghosts, emotional baggage. The weather here is terrible for me this time of year--not in an "I'm a delicate flower" way, but really, really hard. Atypical seasonal affective disorder hard. By the time I left for work one day last week, I was crying in my car, so rattled I couldn't even drive. My body was so physically miserable I could barely function, let alone maintain emotional balance. All I wanted was to be in the Central Valley, where it's dry as a bone and the mornings are cool, even in the height of summer.

The thing is, there are plenty of things I don't love back there. It took me years to stop being upset by the soulless architecture of most of Davis. The strip malls everywhere. The perfectly landscaped lack of wildness. The brutal sun in the middle of a summer day. The lack of public transit (I took a train to Center City Philadelphia yesterday, and it was blissful). 

No place is perfect. If there's a town that is ideally tailored to me, I've yet to meet it. I seem to keep making choices that end up challenging me one way or another, and that certainly sounds like a good thing on paper. But I'm not sure how to keep challenging choices from tipping from healthy and nourishing into extreme discomfort. But then I also wonder if maybe I'm just a challenged sort of person, always--maybe as a category of feeling it's related to the longing Lis wrote about. Maybe extreme discomfort is just part of the package, and maybe there's some cosmic lesson I'm meant to learn from that occasionally ease-less package.

In any event, despite my uneasy relationship with the kind of discomfort I'm feeling right now, my relationship with ease is, perhaps, even less easy. In some ways, certain choices have felt just as much about rejecting ease as accepting challenge. Is that just an adolescent distrust, a need to prove something to myself? Or is it actually a kind of self preservation? 

I want a life that's rich and nuanced and faceted. Ultimately, I guess what I really want is beauty and soulfulness and deep search and discovery. To the extent that those things are compatible with ease (and lack of humidity and heat--is that really too much to ask?), I'll take some ease, but apparently I'm unwilling (unable, even) to take ease if it means a lack of the other things. 

Meanwhile, this view out my office window is some solace in the middle of the discomfort of homesickness and sticky warm wetness. Rain glistening on slate and Wissahickon schist.


  1. Replies
    1. Not even close to the most breathtaking view around here. Pretty building, but barely counts as a view. It's quite astonishing, and when I get a little time, I'll take some real photos around campus and post them.

  2. And thanks for the view in the other direction. I miss you, and wish I were one of those droplets, peeking in on your shining self. "Soulless architecture," indeed! From one extreme to the other you go. It won't always feel so rattle-y. And I'm just a phone call away.

    1. Love you, and TOTALLY miss you. :-( I *will* call, as soon as things settle a bit. (Not. Settled.)

  3. Oh, that ever present 'need' to challenge oneself. Something I feel all the time --- and often in a "you know Jessica, you just picked a really, really hard way to go about doing this!" which is both amusement at myself, but also acknowledging that, uh, I guess this is who I am and how I roll.

    I imagine to be someone whose life is "rich and nuanced and faceted. Ultimately, I guess what I really want is beauty and soulfulness and deep search and discovery" does require a fair amount of tension between ease and challenge, because in that tension lies a good deal of nuance and richness and deep search and discovery, plus unexpected beauty and soulfulness (or beauty and soulfulness that is all the richer and deeper because of the perspective brought about by these challenges).

    Easier to say than to go through, of course! But the challenges will also eventually create 'ease' in certain parts of our lives ...

  4. I was at the Co-op where I saw two mutual friends/acquaintances and the whole thing made me kinda sad....way more sad than when you left for BMC twenty five years ago. Then I saw this picture and I was happy again (at least for you)because you are so excited for the change and to be someplace you really love. So, I'm a little confused myself but, "break a leg Baby"....while staying whole and healthy of course. LYM. 8)
    A's M.

  5. Hi Amy, I have a little card for you, any chance you can send me your address? snowmanscraps // gmail.