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This small but stout bridge on a nondescript ‘river’ in central Iowa is our halfway point whether we begin our ride at the southern trailhead in Martensdale or from the other direction at the parking lot juncture just outside the Cumming Tap – a popular stopping point for bikers especially on Tacopocalypse Tuesday nights.

I like it here because of the quiet, the isolation and, especially late in the day, how the trees are reflected in the water below. We don’t stay too long – we’re riding for the exercise, after all! — but just enough to drink from our water bottles, maybe snap a few photos and to compare notes on the ride. And then we mount our bikes, push off and – exhilaration! – we’re flying again.

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An old, derelict school bus, sandwiched between what appear to be two abandoned, ramshackle mobile homes, runs parallel to our favorite stretch of the Great Western Trail, a popular rails to trails bike path. Come summer, these tumbledown, forsaken structures will be almost entirely hidden from view by all the trees in full bloom, vines, shrubs and other unrestrained vegetation. For now though, stepping carefully (and somewhat daintily!), I was able to snap a few pics of these old relics while I still have a relatively clear path to do so.

Cee’s B&W Photo Challenge: Abandoned or Alone

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Here I go again – another photo from one of my favorite, fun places to visit and take pictures: the City Museum in St. Louis. This is my son on his way down this winding, intricately designed, several stories high, circular slide. I’m not sure how far up the slide begins – five or six floors, maybe more? All I know is that it’s a BLAST!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate

Love this!!

The Belle Jar

Dear Friends Who Take Selfies,

I want you to know that I love it when you post pictures of yourself. I know selfies get a lot of bad press, but I think they’re rad. They give me a little window into your life, and you’d be amazed at how much I can get out of one little photo.

I love your pictures because I love seeing what you’re wearing – the outfits you build give me ideas about how to mix it up with my own wardrobe, and seeing you work your shit gives me courage to try clothing that I otherwise might have thought was too outlandish or revealing.

I love seeing how you do your hair and makeup. You look like a hot babe and I wish you would make YouTube tutorials explaining how you get your eyeliner just so. I want you to post pictures every time you change your…

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I sat at my kitchen table, the midday sun streaming through the window over the sink, on a hot and humid 4th of July. My son was playing with the neighbor girl next door and I convinced myself that I had important work from the office that needed to be done. But that was merely the excuse, the rationale for why I sat there, alone, with no offers from friends (I had none, really) to lay on the beach or to enjoy patriotic festivities that afternoon or the fireworks to come that evening.

I can picture those rays of light and the dust motes suspended in the stifling heated air while I puffed myself up into a weakly pathetic semblance of self-importance – reports from work and other papers spread out before me – but my heart, my spirit was broken, or nearly so as images of my sisters and their significant others and people that I knew from work, laughing and smiling and surrounded by friends and family – with carefree abandon and that elusive quality of fitting in and feeling oh, so comfortable and at ease – indiscriminately thrust relentless daggers into both my heart and my psyche.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so incredibly alone as I did in that moment. Alone and lonely, lost, defeated, unsure of where I wanted to go with my life or how to get there. Wondering, in moments of gut-wrenching pain, just what it was that was wrong with me, trying to figure it out: why did no one want me? I was simply struggling to find hope and love and purpose, companionship and intimacy of the noblest kind – and acceptance.

My twenties were difficult. Married at eighteen, then divorced at twenty with a small child in tow, I was just too young, so naïve and incredibly clueless. But wanting, always wanting. It was the most difficult and disheartening time of my life, sometimes punctuated with fun and laughter, a few good times – some forced, some naturally occurring and far, far too many misguided. I was truly my own worst enemy. Mistakes? I cringe to recall the many stupid, humiliating and self-destructive moments from those years, the failures on so many levels. My son, especially, deserved so much more.

Somehow, I did make it through those rough years. Life improved for me once I started making better choices, exercising more sound judgment which in turn fed my rock-bottom self-esteem. That’s not to say I didn’t still go down the wrong path from time to time. I continued – don’t we all? – to make mistakes (and do still). Perhaps I was just a slower learner than most people, though, when I was younger, a very slow learner. In any case, spending time in a solitary fashion was something I eventually began to enjoy unlike that bleak yet sunny Independence Day. Lunch or movies or a walk in the park – by myself – was time alone to unwind after work or to think through my problems or simply to savor the moment, often in the embrace of the woods that I so enjoyed. Over the years, I developed a taste for this ‘me’ time.

Some people that I love, that I care about are faced with their own realities of being alone and feeling lonely. I can’t speak to what they want for their lives but like most of us they probably just want someone to love, to spend time with, someone to love and accept them for who they are. However, no one can do for them what only they themselves can do to fill the void.

While it’s tempting to burrow oneself into the false comfort of cynicism, negativity and self-pity, a positive outlook and cheery disposition will always win the day. As difficult as it may be to do otherwise, isolating yourself and feeding your wounded soul with junk food, alcohol or drugs and not being physically active does nothing, really, to further your cause. Eat healthy, get proper rest, drink lots of water, incorporate exercise into your daily routine and, perhaps most importantly, find or nurture something to feel passionate about!

Listening to others, too, is so important – really listening, actively listening – and not just sitting there nodding while contemplating what you wish to say next or thinking about your own concerns or troubles or what you plan to wear to work the next day or what color to paint the living room. Truly listen to others. Make (and maintain) eye contact. Show a sincere and genuine interest in what the other person is saying. When you exhibit kindness and show others that you care, not only do you elevate yourself in their eyes, but you will do so as well in your own.

That said, I do recognize that there is the flip side to this where people will take advantage of such thoughtfulness and consideration, people who have no concept of returning the favor, of reciprocity. They will monopolize conversations and never, not once, stop to extend to you the same courtesy you’ve shown them. These are Takers, my friends, and I seek to avoid them when and where I can. Difficult, however, when you work with said Takers or, worse still, when you’re related to them!

Despite all your good efforts to do right by yourself, to be a good and kind person, to put yourself out there, LIFE still happens. We have to learn how to roll with the punches. My favorite prose is the Desiderata. It contains so many nuggets of goodness and wisdom. One that comes to mind, now, is this:

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue or loneliness.

And yet, in the quiet and never-ending stillness that comes with day after day of a forced solitude, it can be soul-wrenching to be, always, so alone. In those moments, like the countless ones I endured in my most fragile of days, I held on to a mantra – two of them actually – that continues to guide me these many years later. One: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Forward momentum. Don’t give up. And two: Things change. It’s impossible to know where life will take you. There were times, far too many I’m afraid, where – were it not for my son – I may have contemplated my own Final Solution. Thank goodness I did not! My life today, it’s good. I’m happy. I’m content. I’m at peace. And even when I’m alone, I rarely feel lonely. A cherished solitude, that which helps to nourish and feed and provide a quiet comfort, allows me moments of gratitude and contemplation. I welcome it, I seek it. For it was not always so.