Living It Up in 2019 by Christina Knowles

fullsizeoutput_17a3Where do I start? It’s been a busy year, probably the most eventful year I’ve had in over ten years. Let’s see, I studied Spanish and math, math very extensively and not my best subject. I took the five-hour WEST-B test and got my Washington and Oregon state teaching licenses, even though I really didn’t want to teach anywhere.

Call it a mid-life crisis about ten years late. I was unhappy with teaching but felt trapped, trapped in my job, trapped in my house, trapped in a life that I knew wasn’t my best life. It was a good life, but as old age begins creeping upon us, we start analyzing our lives to see if the way we are living is good enough—good enough that “when it came time to die, I would not discover that I had not truly lived” as Thoreau put it in Walden (Thoreau, Ch. 2, Walden). Yes, I decided, it was time to “live deliberately” (Walden) because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, and I wanted something more.

I needed a change, a big change. It turns out my husband needed a change too, but for different reasons. He, too, was trapped in a job, but not because he didn’t enjoy the work. It was because he couldn’t be who he truly felt he was there, but he felt stuck, thinking he made too much money to quit and start over somewhere else in his fifties. Moving 1,500 miles away with me would be the catalyst he needed to make the change, so we agreed.

We sold our house and lots of our stuff, and we packed up our things, too many of our things, and put the dog and cat in the car and headed to the great Pacific Northwest. I took a teaching job in Oregon, not that I wanted to teach, but we weren’t so brave that we’d move that far without a job waiting. Call it Kismet or the Universe listening to my plea, or just plain luck, but when we got to Oregon, the job completely sucked! I mean, it was the worst job I ever had, and because it was so completely intolerable, it was my catalyst to finally leave teaching and pursue a different life, a life where I worked to live instead of living to work.

fullsizeoutput_17a6Through some connections with some wonderful people, I’ve been able to begin living the life I imagined. I now work at home. I have several different gigs—one for a company that’s very steady and has benefits, another that is regular and part-time but wonderfully creative, and the others are creative and sporadic. I’m a freelance writer and editor, I work at home with my dog and cat next to me, and I decide when and where I work. I never wake up to an alarm anymore. I wake up naturally with the sun. Sometimes I work in my pjs, sometimes I clock out for lunch and take a walk among the beautiful trees in Oregon, and go home refreshed to finish working. I take the same days off my husband does, so we can go to the beach, the mountains, or the falls, or just sit around together, watching movies.

Don’t get me wrong. It was hard, really hard. We left a beautiful house we had spent a lot of time making just how we wanted it. We left our close friends and family. We left security and better wages. We bought a house that needed everything, and we have to work on it way too much. We have to be careful with our money. We have to make friends (We have already met some great people we’ve been hanging out with). I’ve given up a lot, but I know it was the right thing to do.

I know because if it comes time for me to die ten years from now, five years, a year, I’ll know that I’ve been living, really living, the way I want to live. Even if my time comes next week, I know I spent my time doing what I want, being who I am, and my husband is able to live an authentic life, being himself. Nothing feels better than that. It really is a wonderful life, but sometimes you do need to leave to find the life you couldn’t allow yourself to live in that other place. Sometimes you have to just be bold to become bold.fullsizeoutput_17a5

Maybe someday I’ll move back, probably not, but if I do, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be a person who refuses to settle. I’ll be brave. I’ll be free. I won’t ever be trapped again, but the amazing thing is, I think I’ve learned how to be brave and free anywhere. For now, I’m loving the beautiful Pacific Northwest and the dramatic beauty of Oregon, where I learned to truly live “and as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me” (Whitman, Section 49, Song of Myself) whilst I walk among the ancients as my true self. I can’t wait to see what this year brings. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

References:

Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Found in Writing America: Language and Composition in Context, edited by David A. Joliffe and Hephizibah Roskelly. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 132-133. Print.

Excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, c. 1900. Bartleby.com, 1999.

My 2018 Year-End Reflection or Learning to Give No F**ks by Christina Knowles

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So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want to do some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

That was an excerpt from my 2015 year-end blog—a year where I watched loved ones suffer with illness, a year where I struggled to find balance and peace amidst chaotic situations. Yet, I still felt good at the end of that year, having learned the secret of happiness. I had the epiphany that living in the moment, being aware and thankful is where contentment can be found, and realized that happiness is often just a choice. I wish I could say that since then I’ve been totally awake, that my life has achieved that balance I spoke about, but it has not. At least not completely. Shortly after that, some major tragedies struck, and I lost my footing for a while. However, I am progressing from one year to the next. I’ve had some bumps in the road, but now I’m picking up speed.

For example, 2018 brought me a new level of self-awareness that, in and of itself, has been an epiphany of sorts. I may not have perfect balance or peace at all times, but I know who I am, what I want, and what I need to work on in greater clarity than ever before. This past year has been a year when I learned a great many things about myself and about those around me. I faced great sorrow and great joy, which is usually the case every year it seems.

2018 was the year where I learned how to live without my sisters, or maybe, it was when I learned that sisters don’t have to be blood-related, and I was about to lose a third sister. I watched in fear and anxiety as my best friend of the past 13 years packed up and moved across the country, embarking on her new journey. I flew out to see her when she’d been gone barely two months. She’s always been a kind of guru to me, and while there, I sat on a huge rock, staring into the vast Pacific Ocean and learned to feel at one with the universe. We laughed until we cried, and we sat in silent meditation together each day, and I wondered how I’d ever get through life without her physical presence each week, but I also realized how our friendship had shaped me and helped me grow throughout all these years, and really prepared me for this reality.

I leaned more heavily on my book club friends and found them to be warm, generous, kind, and loving. They taught me, and still teach me daily, that there are good people all around me, and no matter where life leads us, there are friends to be made and fun to be had.

There were other struggles in 2018. It was a year when I stood up for myself and found a depth of strength and resilience I never really knew I had. I also found an inner peace that overflows to cover any negative circumstance, and I learned that nothing is good unless I think it so, and thinking it makes it thus.

It was the year when I examined myself and found me wanting, and loved myself unconditionally anyway, and as a result, I committed to my self-improvement without judgement. Looking at yourself honestly and still loving yourself is the most comforting of experiences. It equips me to work on myself with no stress or anxiety. But honestly, it also helps when you’ve learned “the subtle art of not giving a fuck.” I read the book by this title, authored by Mark Manson, and took it to heart. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t care what they think,” and mean it. It doesn’t mean I knowingly annoy people or hurt them; it just means that I do what I think is right according to my own ethical standards, and no one else has to agree with it. I care what I think, and those closest to me. That seems sufficient to me.

2018 was yet another year when my husband, the love of my life, was my rock and gave me strength to face every day amid all the changes coming my way. Together, I think we both became even more open-minded. I thought I was open-minded before, but as many of us do in the face of this radical and vitriolic political climate, I became more and more closed off to the concerns and reasoning of the “other” side. Throughout the year, I read many books that I found particularly helpful in showing me where I might be wrong, and to reconsider the truth of my opinions. I have distanced myself from political parties and have gone back to looking at individual issues, and I’ve tried to see things from the perspective of those who disagree with me. I still retain most of my political views, but I’ve recommitted to seeking truth, instead of confirmation.

On the lighter side, I did some other awesome things this year like taking a psychology/nutrition/health class, a class on dying, and an online Spanish class. I read 77 books, spent more time with my wonderful daughter, built an awesome patio with my husband, and threw a fabulous party with my numerous friends. I’ve spent less and less time at home doing work that should be done at work, and more time pursuing things that make me happy. I’ve made some strong relationships and connections this year, and I’ve tried to give of myself and to be open to helping others without over-stressing myself with busyness.

All in all, considering the major changes I and the country have undergone this year, it was a year of general peace and personal growth, and I look forward to using the tools I’ve gained this past year to make a choice for peace and joy every day of 2019.

Happy New Year!–Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2018

Year End Reflections by Christina Knowles

Once again I sit here reflecting on the year that is coming quickly to a close. As all years do, 2015 brought its share of joys, heartaches, and problems, and with them life-lessons and growth. Looking back on this year, the things that stand out to me most are the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me, and though these stories are not mine to tell, I have learned from them. I’ve learned about the value of love, loyalty, and to prioritize time with loved ones above all else. With that in mind, I’ve had my own issues with which I have dealt.

The biggest personal event in my life this year was probably experiencing a stress heart attack last summer. It was minor, and I have been given a clean bill of health, but nevertheless, it was the catalyst for making several changes that I knew I needed to make for some time, but like most people, I had to come face-to-face with my own limitations before accepting them.

As a result of this event and of the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me this year, I have finally “lightened up.” I no longer work every night at home on schoolwork. I grade almost all my papers at school, I do most of my planning at school, and I simply eliminated anything that was not essential or directly related to my students’ success and learning. I work my butt off at work, and I still work my butt off at home, but it’s different work. It’s my work—creative work that I choose. I spend my time doing what I think is important because my time is not guaranteed to last.

So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

So instead of detailing all the things that happened this past year, I’ll just say that some of it was good and some of it was not, but I learned from it all, and what I learned is that my life is in my control, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to start living it the way I want to.

All in all, I am happy with how this year turned out, happy with what I did with the time allotted, and that’s a good feeling. This year I learned to prioritize my life, find more balance than I ever had before, and do things that give me and those I love the most benefit from the time we have. Time won’t slow down, and I probably won’t either, but I can decide what is worthy of the minutes of my life. And the funny thing is that all of those things that I was waiting on to change, don’t even need to change anymore because I have changed. I love my job again. I love my home-life. I love where my career is going in both teaching and writing. I love my life again. I’m not waiting for anything to get better ever again. I’m making what I have better and enjoying every minute of it. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

It’s That Time of Year by Christina Knowles

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I believe it’s our experiences, good or bad, that make us change and grow. Overcoming conflict, enduring pain, learning to adjust to new circumstances, and coming out the other side stronger and more compassionate are the points to human existence. Whether or not it is our “purpose” bestowed upon us by a divine orchestrator or not is irrelevant. How we handle these struggles gives our lives meaning. Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when we stop and take stock of where our lives have been and where they are going to see if we need to redirect or to set new goals if our old ones no longer represent who we have become since last we did this.

So at the end of every year, I reflect on the major events in my life for the past twelve months and decide on a course correction for the next twelve. As usual, this year was packed full of change, tragedy, joy, and life lessons. This year my son and his wife moved to Florida, taking my two little grandchildren far away, which has been difficult. At school I started teaching AP classes, creating stress and an even greater workload challenge, but it has also refined my teaching skills. But the three major life events this year that have affected me in the most profound ways are, in chronological order, definitely not in order of importance, publishing my first novel in paperback, leaving the Christian faith again, and my mother’s death.

I started 2014 by publishing The Ezekiel Project in paperback. Publishing and marketing a novel has made me grow in ways I never anticipated. It was a huge milestone to accomplish, and it really solidified my need to pursue writing as my life’s ambition. It’s what makes me happy and fulfills my need to express myself. Publishing my novel was an intimidating thing, putting something out there for all the world to see and judge. I remember the day of its release, I had a free digital promotion and 18,000 copies were downloaded. The idea of people out there reading my novel, either loving it or hating it, judging me as a writer, possibly even as a person, was terrifying. I felt more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life.

But after the initial fear waned, I felt more confident and willing to put myself out there without worrying about getting the approval of others. They like it or they don’t, but I need to do it. Acceptance aside, publishing my novel has caused me to focus on my passion and has given me joy. But beyond that, it made me develop as a person. I faced a fear, overcame it, and now I’m less afraid to take risks. I realize how many years I wasted fearing rejection or criticism.

Publishing my novel was not the only goal I had for this year. Having struggled with my faith since 2008, I decided to get serious about my spiritual growth. I took a class on how to study the bible and started attending a small group bible study. However, the more I read the bible, the further away from spirituality I got. I thought I must be doing something wrong, so after reading about strengthening my faith, I committed to ninety days of devotions, which included studying the bible, praying, worshiping, and journaling. It seemed to backfire.

Before too long, I realized that I didn’t believe the bible at all, and if it was true, I wanted nothing to do with the twisted morality I saw in it. This led me to begin questioning the whole basis for my belief in God and the foundations of faith. It turns out I don’t really have any faith and could not continue in my practice of the Christian religion. But I’m okay with that. I don’t need a god to get through life, I don’t need to believe in an afterlife for comfort, and I don’t need religion to be a caring, moral person. I rejoined my secular humanist group, consisting primarily of atheists and am enjoying their thoughts and views on the world, which are much more in line with my conscience anyway. Of course, I do have to deal with upsetting my family, and particularly, my Christian husband. But while it may be disappointing to them, it does not affect our love for each other or the way we get along, and we respect each others’ beliefs.

I guess you could say my lack of faith was tested when my mother passed away in November, causing some people to think I would return to my faith for comfort. Losing my mother was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It has been a roller coaster ride of hospital visits and close calls for the past few years. Each time she would bounce back and recover, so it was a bit of a shock when she finally let go and went to her rest. I had the privilege of saying goodbye, holding her hand as she passed away. I loved my mother with all my heart, and she was very strong in her Christian beliefs, but still, I felt no stirring of faith or belief return.

Instead, I realized that I had the strength within myself to endure this tragedy, to accept the grief, the pain of losing my mother without any divine help. In fact, I resented the implication that somehow non-believers “grieve with no hope” as the bible states. I don’t need the hope of an afterlife to make me feel better. This life is full and beautiful and quite sufficient.

My mother’s death confirmed to me that I am strong enough to endure tragedy and resilient enough to carry on. My mother’s passing was very difficult, and I loved her. There is nothing quite like losing a mother. I will always think of her, miss her, and need her, even though I’ll have to go on without her. She was proud of me, and I was a good daughter, so I am at peace knowing that. She knew I loved her very much, and I was there for her till the end. Losing my mom made me even more determined to live my life in a way that would have made her proud, but I can’t believe what I don’t. However, I can make the most of this life, helping others, being kind and compassionate, and not letting fear block me from chasing my dreams regardless of obstacles. I am determined to not waste time, to love freely, be myself, accept others for who they are, and to “live fully and die full.” My mother lived life according to her beliefs and conscience, and I intend to do the same. They just happen to be different from hers.

So as this year ends, and I look forward to the next, I intend to stretch myself, take risks to follow my dreams and focus on what is important and to cast aside what’s not. I will prioritize life by loving those around me, touching the lives I can, and I will try my best to not worry about what I cannot change. I want to be kind, adventurous, gentle, and to remember that the world can be a beautiful and good place, to notice that good on a daily basis and do my part to make it even better. That will encompass all my New Year’s resolutions for the coming year. So even though there have been hardships and pain this past year, I am grateful for 2014 and all it has taught me. Happy new year!—Christina Knowles

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