By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
Remember the anticipation of the first day of school when you were a kid? New clothes, new haircut, new shoes—and a new grade level with some new faces and some old friends.
But often there was a common discussion in many classrooms as the new school year started– “What did you do over the summer?”
That simple assignment captures the essence of informal learning and exploration and also sets the stage for a new chapter.
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That’s the same for I Start Wondering. We took the summer off to recharge, review, refresh, and regenerate before returning to content creation.
So, what did that look like? Some of our team’s notable happenings include:
1 new grandbaby
2 home remodeling projects underway
1 new job
2 daytrips to see Shakespeare plays
Multiple trips far and wide, including Utah, Vermont, New York City, and Morocco
And there were moments of reckoning as we all watched the cumulative challenges to our planet’s health and—ultimately—to everyone’s welfare from ongoing climate change. Whether it was watching wildfires divert personal travel plans in Greece, a record heat wave and corresponding drought in Texas that sapped energy and plans, or a tornado on Pikes Peak in Colorado, our ISW team was not immune to the ever-widening opening of this Pandora’s box.
Finding Sanity in Release
As this summer’s twists and turns continued, I personally tried to find peace of mind through embracing release and emptiness. I let go of the long-held belief that travel was a key component of summer. The intense heat combined with owning an older dog made me decide to stay close to home—and that opened a window of time to tackle chores that I had long neglected.
Instead of a road trip, I journeyed down memory lane by going through a number of boxes and bins of accumulated “stuff” that my family and I had collected. Some of what I found was trivial. I’ll never know why, pray tell, my father decided to keep 10 calendars from 2009, but there they were in a box that also included outdated coupons and advertisements for items no longer made.
I also came across research papers and academic journal articles from my graduate school days. I could feel my jaw clench in a ghost memory of the pressure of finishing my degree—and a sense of immense relief as I pitched the stacks of paper into the recycling bin.
But other finds--my father’s baby clothes, my paternal grandfather’s initialed cufflinks, my mother’s autograph book from her elementary school days, my maternal grandparents’ deed for their property (dated 1918), and my great-grandmother’s wool cape (in perfect condition) --were amazing. I pondered the trajectory of the people who owned and treasured these possessions—and how what once was a beloved new item now is a relic that speaks of a life lived long ago.
Speaking of relics, I also found my mother’s collection of VHS tapes on which she had so diligently recorded old movies for our enjoyment during her later years. It made me realize how much she wanted to create a gift that would nourish not only herself, but her family. While I treasure her efforts to create something meaningful, this discovery also gives me pause about my own projects; where do I want to put my energy to make a real difference that (hopefully) will not end up in the landfill someday?
And as summer’s sun unrelentingly blazed on my home, I found myself releasing expectations and instead trying to live in the moment. It would be easy to constantly whine about the heat and lack of rain, but ultimately, that’s not something we can change with a snap of the fingers. And the whining gets old and saps my energy (as well as those around me). That’s not who I want to be.
Instead, I chose to see what gifts showed up—and discovered that I had an “oasis” with some hardy
plants like vitex, sunflowers, flame acanthus and slipper plant (Euphorbia lomelii) that survived and even thrived in the blazing heat. They not only offered cheerful color, but served as an inviting buffet for bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and birds. My favorite happy hour spot during the summer was going to sit outside at dusk when the temperature cooled a bit so I could get a close view of the bees cheerfully visiting the multiple sunflower blooms.
Speaking of birds, a friend urged me to download the Merlin app, which was created by Cornell University. The wonder of this app is that if you record the birdsong, the app will identify the birds for you. I wasn’t surprised to see cardinals, robins, and bluejays since I regularly see them at my fountain—but the app helped me discover that downy woodpeckers, red-shouldered hawks, and blue-gray gnatcatchers live in my area.
The Benefits of Emptying
It turns out that releasing—whether that involves expectations of what a season will look like, neglected possessions, or the idea of what a happy hour has to look like—actually offers a surprising wealth of experiences and even joy.
It’s an approach that I plan to continue to explore, and hope you’ll contemplate what letting go can mean for you. Just think of all of the creative possibilities! You could empty a storage unit and then use that money to revamp your garden with native plants that nurture area wildlife. You could decide to forgo foods that have empty calories and then splurge on a really good piece of chocolate or fruit tart. Or you could release sitting in front of the TV streaming a certain show several nights a week and instead arrange a potluck where you build relationships with your neighbors.
Who knew that emptying and releasing could ultimately be so fulfilling!