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In Which Animals Appear in My Dreams

polar bear with cub

I’m in the mood lately to make lists. Not simple bullet-point lists, but a compendium of thoughts, memories, images. Lately my head’s overstuffed with consciousness, and putting and organizing thoughts down somewhere makes it feel better.

I call it a librarian’s impulse, or an archivist’s urge — maybe it’s because I’m older and I want to sort through the stuff of life so far as I head into my “next act”? I don’t know, but that’s what I’m doing here — making my own little #MemoriesDreamsReflections. First up: dreams!

I love dreams. I’m not talking about the aspirational “things I would like to achieve” ones, but the movies in your head that play at night.

Dreams are important to me. The people I feel closest to in the world, I tell them my dreams and they tell me theirs. We sit around and actually try to analyze our dreams together. (“You know, maybe making out with yourself is really about self-love?”) It’s a intimate, tender way to talk about deep desires and long-buried feelings in a symbolic language that is unique and personal. I mean, how amazing is it that your subconscious has its own secret code for you, completely customized to your experience?

I judge my mental health primarily though my relationship to dreaming. If I can’t remember my dreams at all, I know life is too busy, stressful and overstuffed. If my dreams are particularly vivid and emotionally sharp, I know I’m in the midst of some serious emotional WWF. If they’re sort of just silly and odd in the way dreams can be, life is just sailing along and my mind is doing some mental and emotional tidying and decluttering.

I know something special is happening, though, when animals pop up in my dreams. Animals are considered by serious Jungian types to be archetypal, representing iconic energies, life passages and emotions. Some believe they’re special totems or spirit animals. I think of them in a kind of Philip Pullman “daemon” way — companions or messengers of the soul. I’ve had quite a few animal dreams over my lifetime that presaged major changes in self and life; these are the ones I’ll confess to in public.
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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on September 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

A Slow, Steady September

The humidity’s been insane lately. The air feels like a damp blanket, or a giant sauna. I usually hate limp, boneless days like this — and the bugs and b.o. that seems to thrive in the moistness — but the barista at my local downtown cafe told me she thinks of it like a giant embrace from the world, so I’m trying that on. A sweaty, stinky embrace, but a loving one nevertheless.

I’m impatient for fall. Fall is my spiritual new year, full of endeavor and purpose. My nerdy self always loved the annual rituals of school supplies and clothes shopping –picking out new folders, notebooks, pens, and later in college, choosing classes and perusing class reading lists. The start of a new fall was a mental starting line for a race tpropelling me to the end of the year gliding on various projects, goals and accomplishments.

This year, though, I’m trying to scale back expectations. As a new parent of a energetic, curious, sometimes irascible baby whose routines and habits border on occasional anarchy, I simply can’t do as much as I used to. At least, the things I used to do before, which were often creative and solitary in nature: reading, writing, watching movies, designing, wandering. I am busy, but it’s the mundane, mind-numbing yet sometimes cozy stuff of parenting: nursing, changing diapers, reading baby books, taking walks and lately preparing food. Baby is now “mam-mam”-ing “big people food” and honestly and surprisingly, I really enjoy this part of parenting. It’s fun to introduce him to new tastes and flavors. But it’s a lot of work. All of it is.

I struggled often at the beginning with the shift in balance between baby tasks and me-time. I knew it would be tough, but I underestimated just how much me-time made me feel like me until I had so little of it. 

And I suffered: I felt acutely that loss of identity, and experienced it as constricting and even suffocating on my worst post-partum depression days. I’d find myself breaking down, feeling a sharp, desperate pressure in my chest wanting to rip itself out into the world, hot and steaming and soaked in tears. 

It took me awhile to name this feeling — grief — and realized how much I missed my old, unencumbered self, even if I loved my baby more and more every day. One feeling doesn’t negate the other; they both sit uneasily side by side, sometimes arm-wrestling to figure out who gets to dominate in any given moment.
Lately, though, I’ve kind of just surrendered. Parenting is basically one of the biggest ego-deaths you can experience: it can take away all the surface-level “things” and “activities” that you thought were “you,” leaving you wondering just who the hell “you” are anymore. 

And it’s natural to miss this “you,” this ego-self. Ego-self is fun, cool, stylish, confident. Ego-self is personality, the part of you that loves to hang out — the part of you that lets you take up space in the world and fill it with color. 

The truth is that we need a sturdy ego — not a big one, mind you — to succeed in the world, to feel “entitled” to be heard, seen and understood. The problem, though, is that often we’re encouraged to focus on these ego-strengths at the expense of deeper, finer things.
A big part of my ego-self was caught up in getting shit done, accomplishing things, being creative and finishing ambitious projects. I staked a lot of my feeling of me-ness on this for a very long time; what’s more, I was rewarded by many people and institutions for these ego superpowers. 

But now — ha, I’m lucky if I get to shower at the end of the day. I’m lucky to finish rewriting a chapter of a long-neglected manuscript or draft. All my ego-playthings have fallen to the wayside. And who I felt myself to be fell aside as well, which can be hard in a culture where doing is much more valued than being. 

This depressed me for awhile, but now I realize other parts of me are coming to the fore: tenderness, devotion, loving-kindness, generosity, patience. (Patience is the hardest!) I’m also realizing you don’t need to be everything all at once; there will be a future season for creative powerhousing, and accomplishing, and making work and making beauty and communicating ideas and insights. I’m still doing little things — revising old writing, outlining new projects — and I hope these tiny things add up.
What I am learning, now, is that fine art of prioritizing that everyone talks about. And yes, I’m learning patience and a slow, steady tenacity. And how sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself and even be surprised by yourself. (When I was little I never imagined that being a grown-up would involve so much change and surprise and growth still!)

And so this will be a slow, steady September, a quiet fall, where I hope to introduce my little one to the autumn winds, the changing colors of the leaves, and the pleasures of lying on a blanket and staring up at the clouds in the shade of a oak tree. To the taste of apples and cinnamon, the delicious pleasure of wearing flannel and sweaters, the quiet of library afternoons, and of course the fun of Halloween. And soon the humidity will drift away to a brisk snap of chill in the air, and though it seems sometimes life doesn’t move at all, onward it goes….

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life on September 7th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Chilled-Out August Time

Sometimes you want to write something with deep personal insight and wisdom. But sometimes you just want to record life with its sensations, memories, sounds, scents and sights. This post is really more like the latter, a kind of scrapbook entry: life, things I’m doing, a little of what I’m thinking. Perfect laidback August vibes, mellow and chill…

So the big news in life (besides being my baby’s mama) is that I got a bike! My sweetheart got me one for my birthday, and it’s a beauty. I love it so much. 

I ride it downtown to the coffee shop where I do my writing thing at — I love the sense of freedom and adventure that come with riding a bike, though traffic eternally freaks me out. (I just don’t trust drivers!) And we’ve been going on little excursions, like a local bike tour/pub crawl. It’s so nice to have new experiences and challenges (outside the challenge of raising a wee one.) My soul has been craving them lately, ones that feel expansive and energetic and physically bolder than what I’m used to. Maybe that’s why I’m also craving things like carnival rides and rollercoasters and trail rides — I want experiences that transport me out of myself and give me a feeling of accomplishment, especially since I’m still struggling a bit with postpartum depression and it’s so hard at times to shake this grey fog of hopelessness and sadness that sometimes descends upon me.

Nothing beats a mental abyss of existential despair and ennui like escapist comedies, at least temporarily — which is why I enjoy the ridiculousness that is the new season of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp:

But mostly these days I watch a lot of documentaries. They’re easy to stop and start, especially when Baby is a-calling, and I feel my brain is doing something. I watched all the Antarctica docs I could find on Netflix, but my most recent faves are the “Chef’s Table” series, which highlight a particular genius chef’s philosophy, process and creativity in each installment. I highly recommend if you’re looking for something inspiring, and hello: mouth-watering cinematography.

(And yep, as these selections make clear, I watch a lot of Netflix nowadays!)

Oh, and this is my summer jam:

I have no brain left for new music except for what’s easy (which means whatever other people around me are listening to or what’s on the radio). But I am legit excited for the Weeknd’s new record. I hope he still remains on his dark and skeevy thing, though this record is getting a lot of pre-release hype, so I imagine it’s a lot poppier. I like this other single more, though it’s less of a “jam” and more of a “dirge”:

What interests me more than my own musical consumption is the development of Baby’s own tastes and reactions. I love the look of wonder and innocent joy when he listens to something he likes — he gets very still and his eyes widen and then suddenly he breaks out into his wide, gummy smile. Right now we play a lot of Rockabye Baby, which are lullaby versions of artists like Kanye West, Metallica, the Beatles, Radiohead and the like. His favorites are all of Elton John’s songs as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”:

Speaking of Baby:

This is his first official picture on my blog!

The thing about babies is that their adventures sort of become your own, if only because it’s like experiencing something you’ve taken for granted for the first time again. Recently we took Baby to my gym’s pool for the first time. He was not amused but was a good sport as he got used to the noise and crowds:


(Style note: yes, I am using a very old Vanessa Bruno dress as a swim coverup. #stillgotsomefashiongame #trying)

Most summers I read like a fiend, but the sad thing about being a new parent is just how much less time I get to read dense, challenging things. Instead, I re-read a lot, or I read magazines. (I do read The Economist, which is both cleanly written and yet intellectually stimulating, though I’m always arguing with them in my brain about free markets.) I did read Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings before I gave birth, and I’m very pleased to hear it was nominated for the Man Booker prize. But I need something new to read, something very smart yet page-turning. Any recommendations out there?

And finally…tending cats! Yes, I’ve become a little obsessed with this iOS game Neko Atsume. It’s very simple to the point of dumbness: you basically have a porch, you set out toys and food and cats come to eat and play. When they’re done, the critters leave you fish that you can use to buy more toys and food. And that’s it! But what’s kind of brilliant about it is just how simple and low-pressure it is. I find this game oddly relaxing because it’s so silly and easy. And it is SO CUTE. 

What can I say? Perfect summer wind down game!

Anyway, this is a bit of a scribble-scrabble entry, but it’s that kind of a season right now, I suppose. I’m looking forward to fall but trying to enjoy this final turn of late summer — I hope the rest of the golden months go beautifully for you all!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life on August 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

Fireworks in the Distance, Blues on the Brain

Usually I like the Fourth of July. I’m particularly fond of fireworks, mostly because I liked to pretend as a kid that they were the world’s secret present to myself. 

That sounds pretty self-centered, but let me explain: as a kid with a late June birthday, I never really got to celebrate my birthday with my friends. Most of them would be gone, either on vacation with their families or just kind of forgotten in the way that little kid friendships can be “out of sight, out of mind.”This always made me sad, of course. But luckily my birthday is in close proximity to Independence Day, so I would pretend the exploding “sky flowers” were for me. I would make a wish on every firework in that way that kids read omens and signs into everything. (Or maybe that was just me.) It made me feel a little more festive, and a little less sad. That’s why every year since I was a child, I’ve always looked forward to a fireworks celebration. I’m not patriotic or nationalistic by inclination; they just made me feel a little more happier and a little less lonelier in the world.

This year, though, I didn’t go. I didn’t want to bring my four-month-old baby since I wasn’t sure how he’d like the loud noises, and it would also be way past his usual sleep time. And I could’ve lined up someone to watch him but it was a logistical clusterfuck, honestly — the idea of unraveling it made me exhausted. And exhausted is honestly how I feel a lot of the time now, being a new mama and all.

But it made me sad to miss the fireworks this year. I could hear them not too far from where I live near downtown. I watched them a bit on TV, too. My town actually puts on a good show — it’s actually better than nearby Chicago or Madison, which didn’t even have fireworks this year. So it bummed me out to hear and sense them nearby and not be there. 

I actually feel really bummed out a lot lately. Beyond bummed out — a touch of the post-partum depression, maybe. (I’m not quite sure, though…it doesn’t feel chronic enough to keep me from functioning, but it sure does feel blue when it happens.) I think maybe four months of chronic severe sleep deprivation have finally caught up with me, not to mention the loss of my old identity and life, the often physically grueling changes I’ve been through, and social isolation. Sitting there missing the fireworks underscored how isolated I felt and how cloistered my life has become, and it only made me sadder — but I felt sadder than I think is normal to feel. (Or maybe this is normal? Oh, man, that would be sad.)

I’ve been trying to “fight it off” and take care of myself really well, but it’s not like a cold: it’s not something that goes away by “thinking positive” and it’s not something I can “snap out of.” I exercise, get fresh air, I see loved ones on the regular, I do all the self-care stuff they say for you to do, I try to make time for myself. 

But this isn’t just the normal difficulties of new parenthood. It’s being so overwhelmed by even the simplest things at time. It’s intense, irrational rage or sadness at things you know are small and yet somehow you’re still so fucking angry or distraught. It’s when everything — a grumpy look from your partner, a spate of fussiness with the baby — feels like the end of the world. It’s sometimes feeling so horribly sad that you feel like you will never feel joy again. 

And on top of it all, there’s tremendous guilt and fear that you’re a bad mama because you’re going to ruin your child with your inability to get over yourself and regulate emotions. Which is why no one talks about it, admits to it and why so many unhappy, harried mothers inevitably smile though their pain and say they’re perfectly “fine.” 

And well, sometimes I’m not “fine.” Some days, I really worry about myself. Some days I just don’t feel like me, and I don’t recognize the person who frets about these small things or gets irritated so easily.

Luckily, I still have a lot of good days, which save me, and I try to store up the feelings and memories to draw upon when I feel shitty. I’m lucky to have a wonderful partner, and truth be told, a happy, even-tempered baby. 

But my bad days are super, super bad sometimes. And it’s hard to wade out of the “grey mist,” as I think of it.

I’m actually wavering on publishing this because the past few weeks have been pretty good — I’ve been better at asking for what I need, especially in terms of alone time and being creative — and I’m wondering or perhaps trying to convince myself it’s not post-partum depression. 

But even if the grey mist doesn’t descend again — or it isn’t as dark or heavy as it has been — I still think these “baby blues” are important to talk about. If there’s a new mother out there reading this — and feeling like the joy has been sucked out of the world and guilty that somehow you just can’t enjoy your beautiful new baby you’re supposed to enjoy and overwhelmed and resentful at the huge transitions you’re going through — just know that you’re not alone, you’re not “crazy,” and it’s haaaaaaard being a new parent to a new human. Get help, get rest, get time for yourself, get enough peace to be able to hear what your inner self says you need. Reach out, though it feels like the last thing you want to do. It helps, it really does. 

And maybe I’m just taking to myself here — but I know that one day I’ll be able to go to the fireworks again. I’ll be able to look up in the sky, see all the lights and be able to celebrate life with a bright festive spirit again.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life, Soul + Wisdom on July 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

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