Saturday, September 26, 2020

Texas Notes: Socked feet over shag rugs


     EGD Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey weighs in with her weekly update.

     Eight-point-one miles into a recent walk I started to hear a voice in my head. 
      “What is the meaning of your life? Why are you here?” 
      I am not sure why my mind went there on this particular day. How many of us have asked ourselves that question? If we have not, perhaps we are on the right path and have always been. Perhaps our calling came at a young age and we had the good fortune and drive to follow it. There have been times in my life I have been sure about my direction and did not question it, but these days I am full of questions. I want to be sure I am living my best life based on my true gifts and desires, and not based on what I think I should be doing, or what I feel falsely limited by.
     As a child, I figured my purpose was to have lots of fun: ride bikes, climb trees, and explore the underground sewers with flashlights during construction projects. I knew I was supposed to pitch in at home and bask in the love and attention of my family, extended family, and friends. I was supposed to show up at school on time and participate in learning, then have lots of fun and get into mischief during recess, lunch and after school, (and sometimes during school in the form of copious note passing). I was told I was smart, but I was not a disciplined student unless I loved the teacher and the topic interested me. While in class I often dreamed of swinging from the weeping willow branches outside, or skating on the iced over field outside of school at Rogers Park— where, sadly, many trees have been uprooted by a recent tornado in Armageddon 2020.
     In my daydreams I wondered whose house we were going to go to for lunch, or how much money I’d dig out of my pockets for a visit to Eastern Style Pizza on Touhy, the buttery crust dripping with grease calling my name like the pied piper. I kind of paid attention too, and was granted a space in the coveted philosophy class in 5th grade where we sat in a circle and contemplated our usefulness in the world. 
     Perhaps this planted the seed for me to realize that there is a purpose for me, and this may have been around the same time I started making a conscious effort to include everyone as much as possible. (Mom, Dad, is this true?) I’d sit next to the shunned kids in class, knowing it was the right thing to do. My heart always went out to the disenfranchised among us, and I felt it was my duty to help them feel welcomed.
     I’ve always had a problem with cliques that exclude others. I have to admit I was in one or two over the years, I suppose when I let my guard down and aimed for my own inclusion above all else. Honestly, I was happier hanging out with the smart, quieter kids and had a lot more fun with them. Being with the popular girls was stressful. They were more competitive and less present. They could not spend hours dragging socked feet over shag rugs and shocking each other, falling to the floor in hysterics. They were more concerned about hair and makeup and boys. I’d try to fit in but often felt like an outsider when doing so. There were some good memories, but my core group of two other girls and me playing with Barbies until we were “too old,” and sleeping three to a twin bed was more than fine with me. I wish I’d lived in that state of innocence for a lot longer than I did…
     Today it seems my purpose is simple; keep getting my chops up as a therapist via hours of Zoom classes and FaceTimes with mentors each month, staying as balanced as I can in order to show up for work and cope with pandemic stress, and get more clear about who I am and what I want. A quote attributed to Helen Mirren has been circulating around social media lately— her only regret at the age of 70 is not having told more people to fuck off. I’ve been finding ways to do this without those harsh words, by simply speaking my truth and setting clear and firm boundaries when necessary. It’s fun.
     After some COVID slumps and periods of intense anxiety, I’ve been in a good mood lately. I attribute it to radical self-care, nightly meditation to clear my thoughts and re-set, long walks and bike rides. A surprisingly lovely pandemic birthday a few days back— albeit far away from family and lifelong friends— also helped. For the third time in this blog I now have to mention my new favorite icon (among my old stand-bys: Jane Addams, Frances “Sissy” Farhenthold, Emma Goldman, and Snezana Zabic): Elisabet Ney. Two friends and I were granted a very special guided tour of her castle museum house on my birthday. We learned that the marble cherub boys signify how the combination of knowledge and an open heart (or for the religious, a connection to their god) leads to personal elevation and a sense of moving upwards on the journey of life. This resonates with me. Life feels so short now and something is telling me to keep things simple and as light as possible. It’s impossible to tune out the noise and haste of the world, and the dire nature of our country right now. If I can keep my head to the sky perhaps I will survive and help others do the same.


  1. "Keep your head to the sky," Caren. Regardless of whether it helps anyone else, it certainly benefits you. The first step to world peace starts with making peace with oneself. Me? I'm still in negotiations.



  3. I shared that link riffing off the Earth Wind & Fire theme here, to see if it might bring even a little bit of joy.

  4. You had it figured out as a kid in Rogers Park, and you are doing it now in ATX. Always pleased to share walks with you, Caren! Thanks!

  5. Keep your eyes on the sky
    Put a dollar in the kitty
    Don't the moon look pretty
    --Steely Dan

    1. Exactly. Bonus: two full moons in October, the 1st & the 31st.

  6. Searching for meaning is as pointless as looking for explanations. You won’t find it.
    Accept where we are. Enjoy what life has to offer. Be nice to others. Optimism is better than pessimism.
    Easier said than done.

  7. Points taken, Les and thank you for the food for thought. On the journey that I am on, I feel a deep longing for meaning and no apologies for feeling this way.

    I take from the teachings of Victor Frankl whose theory of Logotherapy posits that 1) human life has meaning 2) human beings long to experience their own sense of life meaning, and 3) humans have the potential to experience meaning under any and every circumstance. (

    I feed myself with as much as I can— nutritious food, exercise, fresh air, art, nature, connection, solitude, repose, etc— to keep myself as well as possible. When my mood needs help I reach for tools or people to help, or I practice visitng with my uncomfortable feelings a la Carl Jung and some of my pragmatic role models who have helped me see that I don't have to always feel good, say I'm ok, or pretty things up.

    I forgive myself as quickly as possible for misspoken words and deeds that harm myself and others. I say I am sorry when I need to. I like the words "I am me, you are you," and say them in my head when I need to tighten my boundaries and feel a strong unfaltering inner power and protect myself from aggressive or bullying others.

    I have learned to trust myself and to trust others too, which is easiest with an inner circle of tried and true, reliable friends and family. I also strive to flow with my passions and talents. I take from theories that remind me to keep a sense of joy, pleasure and wonder in my world wherever I can.

    Easier said than done but I will keep searching, learning, and growing for as long as I am able.

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful response. I too subscribe to many of the approaches you shared. I would imagine quite a few of the others who follow this column do as well.
      Where we differ, and it’s not about who’s right or wrong because there is neither, is about meaning and that’s okay.
      I think the main reason I gave up looking for meaning is I don’t want to be on my death bed and feel disappointed for not finding the meaning of life. I have too many things, as do we all, for which to be grateful. I’d rather be having those thoughts when my times come.

  8. I like that idea of turning the volume down on the big questions- I spend a lot of time doing that too.


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