Tuesday, 30 July 2019

194 days of solitude*

*(sort of)
When I'm going to sit in my rocking chair 30 or 40 years from now and look back on the story of my life, the last year will be a special chapter. It will be a chapter of extremes: the most introverted time of my life. The most sleep I ever got. The least physical year I've ever had (I've never spent more time lying down than during the 194 days I will have been away from home by the end of August). It was the year of packing my suitcase and saying goodbye to my husband 27 times. A year of introspection. A year of stillness. 
It's also the most internal growing I've done in a long time, maybe ever. It was the year where I put the pieces of myself back together. 
Life is not steady. It has ups and downs, triumphs and defeats, times of great excitement and others where nothing much is happening.
Before I accepted the job last year that would take me away from home 51% of the time (I counted) I had 2 years of changes, new adventures and lots of excitement.

In 2016 we put our house on the market, went on an intense search for a new place, bought it and moved our large menagerie in the middle of winter, across an icy mountain that is infamous for being dangerous to drive in the winter - all in the span of 6 months.
I also quit my job without having a new one lined up.
2016 was a roller coaster of emotions.

In 2017 I started a new job, we did lots of building around our new place, made new friends, and had lots of overnight visitors. I also finished writing my first book, found a publisher, and then my husband got very sick. The 2017/2018 winter was the worst one of our lives. 

2018 started more hopeful, but was still dominated by my husband's illness. It was a cold and snowy winter, I had a lot of work to do around the farm, and the more strength my husband regained the more I seemed to lose. But I didn't have time to rest, because not only did we start building my dream She Shed, I also had a book to promote and sell! On top of that we had again a steady stream of overnight guests, several friends and family coming to stay a couple of weeks, and some conflict in the neighborhood. I was getting increasingly burnt out, but didn't know what to do about it. 
And then I found a job posting for a part-time job in a small town an hour's drive away from us, and on a whim I applied for it. It was a good move career-wise: it offered benefits, paid vacation, more seniority and a serious increase in pay. But the thing I craved most at that moment was something else entirely - to get away for a while. So on August 9, 2018 I packed my suitcase for the first time and started my year of solitude.
Princeton is a small town nestled in the Similkameen valley, named after its people who first lived here. Two rivers meet here, the Similkameen and the Tulameen; the rivers, many beaches and beautiful nature are part of what makes Princeton so charming.
The first week of work I lived in a hotel that was paid for by my employers, to give me some time to look for a place to live. After a false start in a place that I left after a week (it wasn't the right fit for me) I moved into the house I've been living in for the past year: right across the river, with a yard and a room mate I get along with great, and best of all: Lily, my corgi. Having her with me was invaluable and made the time here so much better than it would have been without her.
At first, I was enchanted. Princeton has deer everywhere: in the middle of town, around the hospital, in people's yards and all along (and sometimes on) the roads and the highways. It still hasn't gotten old for me a year later - I just love seeing the mothers with their fawns come out now and graze nonchalantly 10 feet away from people.
It also has a cute downtown with quirky stores, coffee shops and restaurants, and fairy lights wrapped around the trees that give the area a festive glow at night. In the summer there are flower baskets hanging from the street lamps, and in the winter Christmas decorations. It feels like having taken a step back in time when you are in Princeton. 
I love the hospital and the people I work with. Small rural hospitals are my jam, filled with interesting characters and crazy stories, and I learnt a lot this last year.

After work I am mostly by myself. Once in a while my roomie and I have a heart-to-heart, but mostly it's me and Lily. I read, write, watch Netflix or YouTube videos and go for slow, leisurely walks. Everything is slower when I'm here; I walk slower, do less, sleep more. Most of the time it's an introvert's dream; but it does get lonely sometimes. The weekends can be long. If I don't get called into the hospital and my roomie is away, Lily and Rich are the only living beings I talk to. I'm an overthinker with a tendency to worry a lot, so too much alone-time isn't always a good thing. I get stuck in a worry-loop that can spiral out of control if I don't manage to snap out of it. 
But the positive far outweighs the negative. I've found an inner peace over the last year that I didn't realize I was missing. Spending a lot of time alone will help you discover truths about yourself that are usually lost in the noise and business of daily life. If you dig deep enough you will find gifts buried inside you that you didn't know are there. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her marvelous book Big Magic:

"One of the oldest and most generous tricks that the universe plays on human beings is to bury strange jewels within us all, and then stand back to see if we can ever find them."    

I did find a few hidden treasures that I didn't know where there, and I will always be grateful for that. 
In the beginning, even missing my husband was romantic. If you live together you don't get a chance to miss the other person, so it was a novelty to experience that again. Our relationship started out with us being apart, and it felt like a flashback to that time. He would visit me every week, freshly showered and dressed in his best cowboy hat, and we had dinner dates. Coming home was always cause for celebration, and for a while it felt like we were the characters of a romantic movie. 
But once the novelty wore off, it started to get harder. The goodbyes are difficult. The day before I have to leave I'm often moody, picking fights over nothing, because I don't want to go. We talk on the phone several times every day, but it's no substitute for seeing the other person. Besides, when you're apart your moods frequently don't match. I may be down and in need of a pep talk, but he's with friends and having a great time. Other times he is the one who needs some extra loving, while I'm zen and feeling great. 
I've also been missing out on a lot at home. I've missed the birth of calves and kittens, visits with friends, hiking dates and parties. The time at home always seems to fly by while the time away moves much slower.  
But it's been a privilege to be able to spend so much time alone. At an age that's the busiest for most women where they are stretched thin in too many directions, I have been able to focus fully on me. It's a gift that I don't take for granted.    
My year in Princeton has been amazing. It restored my strength, I met and worked with wonderful people, and I found a stillness and patience I didn't know I had in me.

But now I can't wait to return home and live the rest of my life where I belong: on our sweet little ranch amongst all the animals, by my husband's side. 
Thanks for the lessons, Princeton. It's been a slice. 

xoxo Miriam 



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8 comments

  1. Princeton sounds amazing!! What an amazing experience.

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    1. It's been an interesting year to say the least 😊

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  2. Princeton sounds like Star's Hollow from the tv show Gilmore Girls. I would love to visit :-)

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    1. Yes! That's exactly what it feels like! It definitely has its set of very unique and special characters :-)

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  3. Hi Miriam, thanks for sharing your insights on the blog. I’m just reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben and thought of you. You’re so right, it’s a real gift to have the time to reflect on where one is in life. Most people never get the gift of time and solitude required. I’m enjoying some total downtime....cruising in the incredibly beautiful Gulf Islands with my husband. We’ve enjoyed time alone and also sometimes with friends and family. Feeling very fortunate! Enjoy your last days in Princeton.

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    1. What a great adventure you and your husband are on, it sounds fantastic! Those are the memories we'll cherish forever. Have a blast, and thank you!

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  4. So after all this enjoyment and reflection ...we got a reality check in the form of a broken marine toilet! After 4 hours of an exhausting disassembly and reassembly by husband, it is fixed and we are grateful it wasn’t anything worse. Back to R&R today. That’s life!

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    1. Yikes, it sure is! I'm glad he could fix it!

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