Friday, October 14, 2016

september goal recap and exploration goals 2017

I need to keep up with posting about how I'm doing on goals. I realize I haven't even wrapped up with September, even though at the beginning of the month I explicitly posted my goals. I didn't do that well, but I still feel as if September was a really productive month! Here's how I did:

Practice violin every day: Failed! But I did practice a lot. I tried to make sure I did at least 15 minutes per day, and I racked up over 5 hours of practice. Nowhere near every day but I did improve drastically just trying to discipline myself. Overall I don't feel too bad about this one since violin isn't a primary goal in my life, just a little side project.

Read at least 2 books (one in print): Definitely surpassed this one! I read 7 books total in the month of September.

Finish 3 pieces of digital art: Nope again! I did 2.

Finish 1 vintage dress: Almost! I actually was on track to finish this but I screwed up the bodice of a 1940s dress pattern and I need to buy another few yards of the fabric to fix it, which I just didn't want to spend the money on at the moment when I have so many projects to do. Sigh!!!

Keep knitting and crocheting: Check!

So...2/5. Whoops. Nevertheless I had a great month! I was really productive with projects and Joe and I were very active, going on bike rides and enjoying the slightly cooler (like, 80s instead of 90s...mostly) weather. I really can't fault myself for not hitting precise tallies!

It seems like whenever I set concrete goals like this I fail, but they do help me focus my priorities and think "I have to work on this, I have a goal set for myself!" so, I'll probably keep reaching for them.

I have a new type of goal in mind for coming months, though, and that and exploration goals!

Joe and I have lived in Texas for nine whole months. Sometimes I feel like we've barely scratched the surface exploring our new home state. Oh, wait, that's because we haven't. We're homebodies who hate going out in the heat, and have used most of our spare weekends to go home and visit Indiana or host people who want to visit us; we've barely been outside of DFW!

Now that it's cooling off, I desperately want to remedy that. We're living in an entirely different region of the country, after all! There's a lot to explore. Ellie and I are planning a road trip out west, hopefully to Rocky Mountain and red rock country, so that's its own adventure that we're lining up for 2017. But what about the more immediate region?

I've been writing up a bucket list of places in Texas and the nearby southern states that I really want to visit. It's a modest goal, but I want to get 20 of them knocked out by the end of 2017. Many are in the same city / area of DFW, so they can be done in a single day. I'll try to blog about all of my experiences along the way. And if anyone has any recommendations for places I just *must* see in any of these states or cities, please leave a comment!!

DFW Area

Uptown/North Dallas
Katy Trail (by bike!)
Coffee House Cafe
Ascension Coffee
Urban Taco

Serj Books (coffeehouse/bookstore)
Sixth Floor Museum
Holocaust Museum
Nasher Sculpture Center
Dallas County Courthouse

Dallas - Other Regions
Women's Museum
Frontiers of Flight Museum
Meadows Museum
Cavanagh Flight Museum

Generator Coffee House & Bakery

Museum of the American Railroad

Fort Worth
Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame
Kimbell Art Museum (repeat visit, to see the Monet exhibit)
Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Houston Space Center

Gulf Coast Beachfront(s)
Seawolf Park
Lone Star Flight Museum

State Capitol
Ladybird Johnson Trail
South Congress

San Antonio
The Alamo

National WWII Museum

USS Alabama
Gulf Coast

OK City - any recommendations?
Tulsa - I definitely want to see some of the art deco architecture!


Kira xoxo

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

book review || this cold heaven, by gretel erlich

Up front: none of these images are mine; they're all from a public-domain image volunteer site called Pixabay. I've never been to Greenland, only flown over it ;)


I recently finished This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Erlich. As I've mentioned, I've been taken with reading and consuming media from Scandinavian countries, but the northern latitudes in general have also captured my fancy after visiting Iceland. This book popped up on my Goodreads as a recommendation, so I nabbed it from the Dallas Public Library system.

Gretel Erlich is an American in love with Greenland, specifically, northern Greenlandic Inuit culture. This Cold Heaven is a memoir of her travels, but also a dialogue between her love of the frozen north and records from historical expeditions by famous northern explorers, namely Knut Rasmussen. While she's a visiting American, not a native Greenlander, she has a deep respect for Inuit life, mythology, and the odd, strained cultural exchanges that play out in the frigid darkness and unending daylight.

The author describes in detail her captivation with native life in the Arctic extreme. Readers accompany her and several hunters on long trips by dogsled, living with the tension of subsistence hunting in dangerous environments for elusive animals. Erlich spends nights on the ice, and visits families living in remote towns and bases only accessible by aircraft. Her descriptions of Greenland's extreme environment, and the resilience of human survival responses to it, made me feel as if I was missing out on some fundamental experience by not being there with her.

Erlich's descriptions of the psychological effects of being in the icescape elicit an impressive empathetic response despite the sometimes overly-poetic and disorganized prose -- the one complaint I have about this book is sometimes her descriptions of the icescapes are repetitive; but it really does reinforce to a detached reader how profoundly extreme landscapes can affect our psyches. Overall I really enjoyed this book, and now I want to visit Greenland!


Kira xoxo

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

uh-oh, kira's in grad school

I'm back in school, which has gotten my writing gears going. I'm changing up my usual to write a really specific rant today. Come for the life updates, stay for the sociolinguistic diatribes!

Whenever this kind of thing comes pouring out of my brain into a blog draft, I hesitate for months as to whether to ever publish it. In the case of my OCD and Anxiety post, I waited two years. I edit and edit and edit. I was beginning to doubt that I'd ever post this, either. But then I dropped in on Off the Beaten Shelf, a blog by an MLIS student / librarian that I've followed for a few years, and her most recent entry seemed to immediately scream you have to post it! So here goes.

Suffice it to say, for the sake of this and any future entries I write about language, information, and access, I'm a liberal, multilingual-idealist. I'm the type of person who bristles when I hear "You're in America, speak English."

This week for my LIS class the reading concerns accessibility and services in libraries. Libraries are a testament to the fact that at some level, we've collectively agreed that community and information access go together. Language is inextricably tied to these concepts, and information -- the primary "service" that libraries offer -- comes in a lot of languages.

In undergrad, I learned about the underlying mechanics of language. I don't claim to be an expert (it's a BA in linguistics, after all, not a PhD) but the major thing I took away from my education was this: language does its own thing, no matter how people politically -- or violently -- manipulate it.

Contrary to popular portrayal, the way you speak isn't a measure of your intelligence or value. So, imagine my disgust upon reading "English Spoken Here," by Julia Stephens, part of a point-counterpoint editorial in American Libraries 38(10), containing such tidbits as:

"Libraries help maintain our American identity and unity as a nation when they stock books in our common language: Standard English*. America's strength as a world power lies in this common language, which ties us together as a country and allies us with Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and India. Our representatives in Congress agree: In May 2006, the Senate approved making English the official language of our nation..." (p. 42)

"Multicultural groups who seek to divide the country into a bilingual society do not uphold America's ideals." (p. 43)

"When librarians build collections by community population ratios, they give in to ethnocentric demands for diversity equality with Spanish books and websites. The English-language culture that unites us disintegrates into an array of immigrant cultures." (p. 44)

First of all, I need to smooth my ruffled feathers: Labeling any mainstream grammar or dialect with "standard" is often ignorant, and wielding the term the way Stephens does is ignorant and classist. While most major languages have agreed-upon grammars for written international format -- and congressional action might support Stephens' view -- "Standard English" is not in and of itself a language, it's prescriptive style agreed upon by the privileged. That doesn't make standardized grammar an illegitimate concept, it's just really incorrect of Stephens to write as if we all share "Standard English" as a mother tongue that cements global domination. At best, it's a lingua franca.

Her implication that English resources in libraries are in "Standard English" is very tenuously justified, only because most of them will share an intelligible formal style, but Stephens loses credibility in suggesting it's what should unite libraries and thereby citizens. What of regionalist works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Or the multitudes of stylistic experimentation in poetry? Or famous works in Early Modern English? None of that is Standard English! Are these, too, threatening our global stability?

Consistent style unifies those who understand it, but Americans employ and enjoy a variety of mutually-intelligible dialects. Unsurprisingly, Stephens' specialty is in English, not linguistics, so I'm not surprised she's arrogantly prescriptivist. I'm sure she wouldn't dream of banning her public library's copy of The Canterbury Tales and other oeuvres not written in her golden-child Standard.

Her essential point is that by being taxpayer-funded, libraries are obligated not to serve the demographic that is the taxpayers, but rather a nationalistic agenda to maintain America's grip as a world power: to be a vehicle of compulsory English.

Stephens appropriately addresses collection-building in public libraries as primarily a tension between English and Spanish. However, she does so in such a way as to suggest -- in an eerily nationalistic, Anglosupremacist way -- that by including information resources in the USA's second language, we're compromising our integrity to waves of malevolent immigrants and standard-bearers of multiculturalism. God forbid.

Yes, public libraries are taxpayer-funded. But I think Stephens not only misses the mark by suggesting that multiculturalism and multilingualism are antithetical to "America's ideals," she's actively revisionist and racist. History quickly demonstrates that people attempt to stamp out the presence of a language in order to suppress or eliminate its speakers. (See: The Parsley Massacre, American Indian boarding schools, the near-extermination of the Irish people and language during the Famine, etc.) Stephens portrays American Hispanophones as a blight. This is downright racist, and in complete disregard of this country's history and cultural fabric.

A native language is not an indicator of it's speakers' intrinsic worth. Language is rich and nuanced, but ultimately morally sterile; phonemes are just sounds, words are just the products of subconscious evolutions. We all speak some language better than others, but that shouldn't be a value judgment on personhood. Unfortunately, to some people, it absolutely is.

Access to information is a right. Not one always granted in every context, but ideally. Open access, especially in multiple languages, allows us to create integrated, critical knowledge. Public libraries shouldn't exist to serve our arrogance as "a world power." I don't care what language my fellow library patrons speak, we're all humans, all global citizens, and we all deserve information and the chance to nurture knowledge. Julia Stephens seeks to paint these very essential values as corrupt for American library administrators.

If anything, the United States needs more polyglots and citizens who value multiculturalism. We need to face the intellectual challenges that come with acknowledging our troubled history; English isn't native to this continent, and its dominance is to this day perpetuated by racial violence. We can absolutely do better for our future by defending multilingualism, thereby defending the legitimacy of every American's story and culture.

Cross-cultural contact is hard, but with open minds, education, and community havens -- the things libraries nurture -- it doesn't have to be. Language contact and change is natural; libraries can help us engage with it and ride the waves, rather than homogenizing by exclusion. Much of the world thrives multilingually. I think it's worth what we learn from one another when we choose to celebrate diversity over forcible sociolinguistic unification.

Public libraries have limited budgets. I understand. In my opinion, their collections should be tempered to best anticipate and accommodate information seeking behaviors of their demographics. If the demographic primarily seeks English materials, English collection curation should be financially prioritized. But I don't think it's unreasonable to build library collections based on distribution of demand for multiple languages, or even just to nudge patrons toward linguistic exploration.

My own public library has an amazing foreign language section for an American library. Its patrons can find all the major Romance languages, Mandarin, Swedish, Thai, Vietnamese, Arabic...I love it! I can tell that the sizes of these collections are based on patron needs; there are substantially more resources in southeast Asian languages than some European languages, for instance, because that's what reflects the linguistic demographics of my town. Largely, these collections are there to serve their native speakers. But if I want to pick up a bit of Hindi, a language thriving on the opposite side of the freaking globe, I can trot down to the library to find authentic Hindi media here in my Texan town. That blows my mind!

If you speak English natively, count yourself fortunate that much of the rest of the world goes out of its way to learn and incorporate it. Anglocentrism rolls out the red carpet to us English speakers, not only in travel, but in written record. I can access literature and academic works from almost anywhere on Earth because the world is so deferential to my native language, but such is simply good luck. I'm not superior, or any more American, than people who don't share my L1.

Libraries can be the viewfinders showing us the scope of the human experience, in all languages. We shouldn't attempt to blinder their patrons.


Kira xoxo

Sunday, October 2, 2016

early october

I love autumn. I wonder if there's anyone in the world who doesn't love it, at least the way we experience it in this hemisphere? Brisk air, pumpkin and cinnamon everything, cozy sweaters, I love everything typical of this season's aesthetic. I used to think it was because my birthday is in the month of October, but really, I think autumn is just amazing.

I was beginning to doubt whether Texas would show any hint of autumnal goodness, or if we'd just go from "hot" to "eh" and skip the interim season altogether -- but thank goodness, in the last week of September, we had some storms and a cold front blow in, bringing that crisp feeling with it. It was beautiful. I loved going downtown to work; chilly air and skyscrapers are one of my favorite experiences. Mix that with a hot chai in my hands and I'm a happy camper. One thing I miss from Chicago is Argo Tea, which makes the yummiest mixed tea drinks both hot and cold -- but I'll settle for Starbucks.

Joe and I were recently given my family's old canoe, and we've been waiting for the meltingly hot summer to wear off to take it out. Our maiden voyage was on the West Fork of the Trinity River. We put in at the Fort Worth Nature Reserve. It was a beautiful waterfront! We were treated to a nice, calm stretch of river, with lots of wildlife -- deer, egrets, and gators, even! Since it was our first trip, it was still a little experimental when it came to canoe dynamics. Joe likes to fish, so much of my job was to help the vessel drift in the right way -- a lot of work on my part so that hubby could relax, but I think if we invest in an anchor we could find a spot and both relax, him with his fishing, me with a book. He did provide me with a beach umbrella to keep the sun off, which was not only great sunburn prevention, but fun to play around with as a sail, too.

I'm currently trying to rehab the grass in our backyard, which was destroyed by a weed takeover over the summer -- if I succeed to save it, I might be brave enough to do a few autumnal outfit posts! Or maybe I just need to buck up and learn to be okay taking fashion pictures outside our privacy fence. ^_^

Reading: This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, by Gretel Erlich
Crafting: 1940s pattern dress with a double collar, knitting a lightweight scarf, and crocheting a treble stitch scarf with some DK I ordered on Etsy!
Feeling: Excited to visit Indiana this weekend!


Kira xoxo

Thursday, September 22, 2016

warm fuzzies

Happy autumn! I'm finding myself more sentimental than usual about the aesthetics of the changing seasons. And no wonder, in Texas, there's no change so far. Yesterday it was 95 degrees outside, yuck! I keep myself in denial by wearing sweaters to work at the library. Luckily the air conditioning is low enough to justify it, even if the walk to the DART station requires that I peel off a few layers. I'm planning on buying a kitschy autumnally-scented candle, too, and there has already been a lot of hot cocoa drinking and pie baking in the house.

It will eventually get cold down here, but probably not until late November or December. The one good thing about this is that it gives me a lot of lead time to knit and crochet warm fuzzy garments! I've finished off two this month. One represents my first complete work in crochet:

Classic granny square scarf! It's definitely rough around the edges; I think the gauge of crochet hook suggested for this yarn was a, generous. So the work is kinda loose and floppy and it took me a while to hit my stride in stitch style. Nevertheless, I'm chuffed! It's really soft and the autumnal colors make me happy. I'll probably give it to my sister for her birthday. Sssshh, Emma, you didn't read that.

My other finished product is this multicolored scarf, from a design by Martina Behm of Strickmich. This is a pretty special garment, as I knit it from the wool I bought in Iceland -- Icelandic knitwear is top-shelf as far as souvenirs go, so I only bought a headband from a grocery store while I was there (and even that was about $28) and promised myself I would make something special out of wool instead of draining $150 on a lopapeysa I could never wear in Texas :)

If I ever move up north again, though, I'd love to have a real Icelandic sweater, and my next trip will definitely include that $150 in the budget.

My knitting skills have always been rudimentary -- until this summer I didn't know anything beyond rectangular combinations of knit and purl! This pattern was the *perfect* introduction and confidence-booster into the world of patterns beyond that skill level -- it only used knit stitches, but built them up and alternated colors in a triangular in-the-round shape, which involved simple additional pattern skills like YO, m1, and Sl1. I love how many different ways it can be turned and draped!

What's your favorite part about fall?


Kira xoxo

Monday, September 19, 2016

september so far

Hello! Ok! What is this blog now, anyway? Have I totally given up fashion posts? Where has the sewing been? Why does it seem like everything I've posted all summer long happened back in May?

To be honest, nobody wants to see my everyday life, at least not how I'm currently enacting my Best Self -- sitting at my desk, sipping coffee, reading, waiting for a bra to come in the mail all the way from England (I have to sign for it??) and trying to keep Cricket's tail out of my face. She likes to hop up onto the desk when I'm having my Morning Coffee and Computer Time, which gets hairy real quick.

Anyway, since I set some lofty-ish goals in early September for what I want to get done this month, I've been having a very productive time! Especially with the reading -- for some reason, I thought that I would struggle the most with that goal (read two books, at least one of them must be a hard paper copy) and I've already finished six! Such is when you work at a library circ desk, I guess -- it looks good if you read while idle rather than surfing, staring into the distance, or even knitting. Plus, all of these have been amazing reads:

Okay, okay, two of them are graphic novels. But that counts! Don't ever let anyone tell you graphic novels don't count. I have a crush on Lisa Hanawalt and her work, and My Dirty Dumb Eyes and Hot Dog Taste Test were hilarious and bizarre and difficult to safely read on public transit, which made them amazing. I was able to get Hot Dog Taste Test from my local library, but I was bemoaning not being able to find a library copy of MDDE to my boss, who immediately ordered it and it was in my hands within Amazon Prime shipment time. My job is amazing.

I practically ate Where am I now? For brunch. I picked it up before getting on the train to work, read it on my commutes and during my shift, and dropped it off at the library drop box on my way home from the train station. It was so good. Highly recommend! It was kind of amazing to read her chapter on OCD and anxiety right after I published my last blog entry, too -- her description of having OCD as a preteen was spot-on to my own experience. If you're interested in learning more about what it's like, I would immediately go read Wilson's book, before you Google anything else.

The other three reads, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Lingo, and Bad Feminist were also excellent. Right now what I've got my bookmark in is This Cold Heaven, by Gretel Erlich, about her explorations of culture and life in Greenland. I guess I have not only the Scandinavian bug, but the Arctic ethnography bug, too.

As for my other goals -- I have not made time every day for violin practice, so I've already flunked the shoot-for-the-moon, but I have practiced a LOT. I've made 13/19 days so far, every day for between 15-45 minutes, which has made a drastic change in my playing. I'm still terrible, but practicing really consistently has made a noticeable change from just picking it up when I felt like it. And the better I get, the more I feel like playing, so that's a virtuous cycle!

I've finished two digital art pieces, which you can see on my Instagram, so one to go! I've also cut and begun the bodice of a dress from a vintage pattern, but I don't want to post any photos until I'm completely finished with it! And, as for my "just keep knitting" goal, I definitely have, except it's mostly crochet:

Did y'all set any goals for September? How are they going? We're almost 2/3 done, and it's almost officially fall! I can't believe it! No, really, I can't, it's still 90 degrees daily here.

Also, if anyone wants to connect with me on Goodreads, I'm right here!


Kira xoxo

Thursday, September 15, 2016

on anxiety, OCD, and a crippling fear of flying

I've been trying to write this post since I started this blog. It's a big part of my life and it's an interesting one, and one of the things that helps people with struggles like these is understanding similar experiences in others. The internet is great for group therapy, if you know where to look and can connect with people in a real, trusting way.

A photo I took of Monet's water lilies at L'Orangerie, Paris, 2010
In January of 2014, a murder occurred in broad daylight at my university. I was a senior. So was the victim. It occurred mid-morning in a classroom that my now-husband had just left the period before. I was sitting in a literature class was the first person to inform the professor that we'd gotten an emergency text about a shooting. The murder was perpetrated by a student who had been in my linguistics class. My husband knew both the victim and the perpetrator; they were in his major and our year. It hit closer to home than any violent crime ever has in my life. The university had little to no idea how to handle such an event, but American society rarely seems to have its shit together when it comes to people killing each other in broad daylight anyway.

While that event wasn't my personal tragedy, the fallout wrecked my mental health. I had struggled with anxiety and what I self-assessed as obsessive-compulsive disorder since about the age of ten, but had never sought professional help or medication, because I was always able to function through it. My university's tragedy in 2014 brought it to an unbearable head.

I remember going to my next class in shock, with helicopters over campus as we all nervously shuffled across campus. Purdue finally had the sense to cancel classes for the rest of the day, and I found myself emotionally unwilling to return. Some of my professors personally cancelled classes for the rest of the week, or let students who were too nervous get away with not showing up. Everyone was shaken. When everything was back in session, every professor was obligated to give a fifteen-minute emergency procedure speech at the start of class, as they had all been to a training session on how to deal with such an event should it (god forbid) happen again in the future. I sat through the speech seven times. It frequently derailed class for the rest of the period.

My favorite photo of l'Arc de Triomphe, from my 2010 trip
I was able to keep going to classes and get good grades, but my mental health was the worst it had ever been. I found myself picking seats in every class where I felt I could dodge a shooter if one burst through the door. Sometimes I skipped classes entirely because I just didn't feel safe. Agoraphobia was creeping into my mindset. My self-diagnosed OCD symptoms went through the roof, and I was angry that a random other student's own psychosis could influence my psyche so deeply.

My entirety of 2014 was not particularly awesome -- it's why I started this blog later that fall; as an outlet to enjoy little things when I felt like I was emotionally worthless. I went to therapy sessions, both one-on-one and in a group, and went on Lexapro, an SSRI, to assist with treating my officially-diagnosed OCD and generalized anxiety. Group therapy for OCD helped in a lot of ways, and I have a lot of coping mechanisms to assist me daily now when I'm fighting off compulsive behavior. I'm still literally gun shy in certain situations; I'm sometimes nervous in university environments and I don't like to go to popular movies at peak times.

I mention this whole event because of how it brought my disorders to professional light for the first time in my life. For anyone who's unfamiliar, OCD is not the neat-and-tidy-germophobe disorder, although organizational behavior and fear of contamination can play a role in some people's anxiety idiolect. I've often described my condition to people as "The inability to put worry on the backburner." My brain, at times, has literally been unable to let go of thoughts of disaster or tragedy -- suicide, growing up to become a horrible person, having an aneurysm, losing someone I love in a car accident, etc -- I've gone through periods in my life where each of these is an out-of-proportion, ever-present thought in the forefront of my mind, no matter what I'm doing. Sometimes the only escape is sleeping. It can feel like my brain is just broken -- where most people might find such thoughts disturbing, they can just put them aside and accept them as part of life's risks, whereas I can't stop worrying no matter what else I'm doing, to an degree that is easily recognizable as dysfunctional.

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland, 2016
But that's just the "obsessive" part. The C stands for "compulsive," because frequently what people with obsessive/unwanted thoughts end up doing is creating their own coping mechanisms in the form of tics, habits, and repetitive behaviors. The twisted logic behind it is if the worry is irrational, but it won't go away, maybe I can invest in little behavioral charms that, if I perform them, will superstitiously "prevent" the bad things from coming to pass. It's irrational, but in the mind of someone in the throes of obsessive worry, it makes a sort of sense. If you can't cognitively put away out-of-proportionally terrifying thoughts, you can invent your own superstitions to tell yourself everything will be okay.

It's like an antonym to mindfulness -- instead of letting thoughts pass through your mind and observing them casually, I engage full-force with reality and start doing things like counting, only performing tasks in sets of certain numbers, tapping "good spots" on furniture as I walk by, or re-tracing actions if I do them "wrong." Sometimes if I read something disturbing I'm compelled to un-read it -- that is, I read the passage or phrase backward as if erasing it from my mind.

These things never make sense, so don't try to apply actual logic to it. Appropriately, the rationale for compulsions in OCD people is sometimes referred to as magical thinking, much like any superstitious behavior.

Parliament from the London Eye, 2011
While on the surface it seems quirky, it can be really debilitating for some people, who end up mentally driven to perform their compulsions at the expense of functioning day-to-day. The severity of my compulsions waxes and wanes with my overall stress level -- if I'm generally happy and there aren't any major stressors, I'm less likely to engage with compulsions, but if I'm in a high-stress environment, I allow them to control my movements and choices. I've told my friends and family, if you look closely at my hands even in everyday situations, you can see them constantly moving, tapping, and searching for the "right" spot on which to rest them on any surface I encounter; my coffee cup, tables, the steering wheel of my car. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to compulse with my feet on the pedals when I'm driving, or else my worries about car crashes in DFW traffic might self-fulfill. While for me, OCD is not usually debilitating, it's ever-present.

Girders at Skeiðará Bridge Monument, Iceland, 2016
One of the manifestations of my anxiety disorders is a really severe fear of flying. I haven't ever had any personally traumatic experiences with planes -- quite the opposite, really, I've encountered a lot of really nice pilots and flight staff, gone on some amazing trips, and seen beautiful things from airplane windows. I didn't used to be afraid of flying, just a little nervous during takeoff, like many people.

But for some reason, at one point around age 18, the part of my brain defined by the "O" in "OCD" got the idea that I was definitely going to die on an airplane, and oh-god-there's-nothing-I-can-do-about-it-don't-make-me-go-on-a-plane-ever-again. So I sort of didn't. I started trying to book travel by air, and then backing out due to the incredible stress it caused me. I get quaky, nauseous, irritable, and have panic attacks when I have air travel booked. As my mother learned when we went to Europe in 2016, I get completely paralyzed with panic when faced with imminently boarding an airplane. I freeze up because if I were to move, my compulsions would become so overwhelming they might become obvious to everyone around me, and just not moving seems like the easier option to the possibility of having to count objects, un-read text, and make basic choices like what to drink when the stewardess comes around.

Funny how the possibility of social shame can overcome even the most compelling symptom of mental illness.

Urquhart Castle from Ellie's and my off-seasonally private boat tour of Loch Ness. Our boat captain was a Nessie hunter.
I'm really tired of feeling like a normal situation is a massive, terrifying hurdle to be overcome, rather than just another boring form of public transit. I drive in DFW traffic and ride the very unsecure DART system on a near-daily basis, both of which are definitely bigger risks to my bodily survival than commercial airliners, and yet. Anxiety isn't rational. Phobias don't ask for permission, although I seem to keep giving it.

I don't want my travel pictures to exist in this space without acknowledging the reality that it was really hard for me to even physically get to France and Iceland -- several weeks in advance I told my mom she was literally going to have to drag me through the airports, and that she did. I spent a total of 22 hours completely frozen with fear on planes to accomplish our trip in total. I have a lot of work to do on this fear.

I don't take Lexapro anymore -- it made me really sleepy and was causing dysfunction -- but drugs aren't really what's going to work for a fear of flying, anyway. It needs cognitive behavioral and exposure therapy. One of the problems is that flying is really expensive and a huge commitment -- no matter how boring some people might find it, it's actually a bit of an ordeal to go through it. It's hard to casually hop on an airplane and get low doses of exposure. You commit to a flight or, in my case over and over, you don't.

Ellie sponsored a "therapy flight" for me with our pilot friend from Purdue. It was terrifying but a really great experience. She's an amazing friend, and our friend was an amazing pilot to have put up with my panicking.
I realized that I'm triggered by the experience of flying on a much deeper level than just being afraid once I'm on a plane. The last flight I had booked, I canceled because I was sick with anxiety and waking up panicking in the middle of the night, even though I had been doing okay in the days leading up to my trip. One problematic aspect of a fear of flying is that I have to face the possibility of being stressed out and panicky for the entire duration of a trip, which isn't always worth it.

Purdue's campus from the air, 2014
So, I'm dialing back my expectations and practicing exposure to the stimuli associated with airports and plane rides. I started the other day with a video of a completely normal takeoff from the cockpit view, and it gave shakes and nausea just watching it on YouTube -- but I "toughed it out," so to speak, and didn't allow myself to give into compulsive paralysis. If I don't want to stay limited by ground travel for the rest of my life, I have to go through the experience until it doesn't scare me any longer.

Above: the video I watched today. I didn't get shaky! Despite my incredible aversion, I get a lump in my throat seeing views from airplane windows. When we were landing in Frankfurt this May, I almost cried because I'd never seen Germany before until I saw it out the window of our Lufthansa flight. I'm weird.

A cairn my mom and I built on the shore of Jökulsárlón, Iceland, 2016
Will flying ever be enjoyable, or at least, banal and boring to me? Maybe. Will my OCD ever be "cured"? Probably not. But I think anxiety, like many mental conditions, is a spectrum, and certain things are reinforced and amplified through individual experiences. I'm trying to modify mine so the volume of certain anxieties is lower.

Sometimes I feel so estranged from reality by anxiety disorders I want to claim the label of being "neurodivergent," or I feel like I'm psychotic, although neither of those is ultimately accurate. The more I've opened up about my mental life, the more people I've met who lie on an anxious personality spectrum, too. It's not uncommon.

It can be exhausting, but at least my brain is a little bit interesting. How about yours? Have you ever been a nervous flyer, and if so, what helps you?


Kira xoxo

Monday, September 12, 2016

europe 2016 || jökulsárlón and skeiðará

My favorite drive was our first one, in which we drove out on Route 1 "The Ring Road" to Diamond Beach. It's where I got my most beautiful photos, and what I saved for my last retrospective post on our adventure this past May.

Diamond Beach is a beach at the mouth of a lagoon on the southern edge of the island. It's a solid four hours from Reykjavik, so not a drive for the easily exhausted -- props to my mom, who drove the entire way, and the entire week, in fact, because I can't drive stick! The Ring Road drive is where I took some of my best photos of waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, and the sea, although I don't have the photography skills to do its splendor justice.

Along the drive there is a photo opportunity; some girders which were part of a bridge destroyed by flood sit in the middle of lava rock with a gorgeous view in the background.

Diamond Beach is allegedly famous for the glacial icebergs that break off of the major glacier in the Southeast part of Iceland, which are carried out to sea but then wash back to shore and sit on the sand. It was too warm for that particular phenomena, but there were plenty of blue icebergs in the lagoon itself. What a surreal view! I'd never been anywhere near the Arctic before, so it was like something out of a painting.

Mom and I built a cairn down the beach from the main tourist viewpoint. Is it any surprise I've made it my wallpaper?


Kira xoxo

Monday, September 5, 2016

europe 2016 || Þingvellir, geysir, and gullfoss

Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss are all major locations on the Golden Circle drive. Þingvellir, or Thingvellir National Park, was my favorite -- it's the site of the first parliamentary government meeting (Vikings!!!!) but also the Eurasian/North American continental rift. IT'S LITERALLY WHERE THE PLATES OF THE CONTINENTS ARE SMASHING TOGETHER. (Or maybe coming apart? I'm not a geology expert and I can't remember now.) IT'S THE REASON FOR THE VOLCANOES.

Sorry for the caps. But it's seriously cool. The fact that Iceland sits on a continental rift explains the volcanic activity and huge variety of geologic phenomena. It was very cool to look at the huge rock formations jutting aggressively at one another and realize what I was standing on.

The dorky photo of me in front of Þingvellir with my thumbs up? It's because I realized standing there that in high school, I did a report on the Icelandic constitution -- the AlÞing. I had completely forgotten until I was standing where it began!

Plus, the gift shop had coffee, like everywhere in Iceland. I was happy.

Geysir and Gullfoss are pretty touristy. Geysir is the "original geyser," linguistically where we get the word geyser. And while swamped with tourists and sporting a tumorous gift shop nearby, it was neat -- we watched it go off three times. It was spooky to watch it roil and bubble over each cycle, then suddenly lurch skyward in a huge, steaming explosion.

Gullfoss was similarly sublime -- although I don't remember thinking much aside from "Jeez, Iceland, give it a rest with the natural beauty!" We saw Gullfoss after Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, so I was saturated with natural wonders at that point!

On the whole, while I loved the Golden Circle drive and the National Park, I'd recommend our drive along the Ring Road toward Diamond Beach over the prescribed route from landmark to landmark. Maybe I just don't like fellow tourists. ;)


Kira xoxo

p.s. I did get my own video of Geysir erupting, but I'm too lazy to edit and post it, and it's probably not as clear color-wise as this one: