I’m about to turn forty. An occasion worthy of being marked. And because I’m a person prone to reflection, story telling, and tradition, I have distinct memories of who I was at 25, 30, and 35. If I could sit in a room with these three radically different women, I can imagine the conversation. Each version of myself trying to convince the others to return to what I so strongly knew to be true in their time.

As I enter a new decade—one that places me squarely in middle age—I realize I hold less tightly to ideas of truth. My current self would be the one in the room sitting back and listening. And maybe unsurprisingly, my 25-year old self would be the one with a bit of anger in her voice—very sure that we had gotten off track. But these days, these years really, I better understand the nature and reality of change.

I’ve been reflecting on the stories I carry. On the stories I tell myself. And I’m starting to realize the power that strong emotions and dramatic events have to wash away most of what actually happens in our lives.

Happiness – depression – contentment – loneliness. Fulfillment – isolation – satisfaction – fear. Productivity – lazy boredom – inspiration – paralysis.

Life seems to be a series of emotional boomerangs. The thoughts swirl. The feelings ebb. The memory of that moment, or that year, or life at that address, can sometimes feel particularly strong. By which I mean, I tell myself stories about the specific emotions related to a certain stretch of time, or—because I’ve moved so many times—a certain place I’ve lived. I was happy there. Those years I fought depression. That time was filled with stress. In that place I had so many friends. But, of course, there is no place or era in life filled with a singular emotion. I doubt even that we experience many minutes with a singular emotion. It’s always different. Always new. Every second a fresh experience of being.

Between 30 and 40 I learned to watch the swirl. To watch the ebb. I’ve learned to stand back and watch the tide as it washes through and over. In this moment I’m laughing. In this one I observe feelings of depression that scare me. In this moment I’m overwhelmed with excitement for what’s to come. And in this one I’m fearful that nothing will actually ever happen. In this moment I’m sitting, content, and staring at the forest behind my cabin. And in this one I’m deluged with worry about all that needs to be done around this property. I watch. I notice. I allow the feelings to come. And I notice when they leave. Or actually, at some point, I notice that they’ve changed.

This is life. A series of ever changing experiences and reactions. A series of thoughts and emotions. A series of sensation, of memory, of imagination. I can’t stop the tide. And at this point in my life I realize I wouldn’t want to. I’m aware that I only understand the difference between pleasure and pain because of the range of experiences available to me through the reality of change.

The road between my early 30’s and 40 have been amazing and difficult. Both. I left a deeply fulfilling life and moved back to my home state. Over the past four years I’ve struggled with isolation and depression. But I’ve recently noticed that my story of this transition and the feelings surrounding it are overshadowing all the other aspects of these times in my life. Yes, my previous work was fulfilling, but it was also hard. And often mundane. And over the past four years I’ve struggled, but I’ve also been able to rebuild and deepen my connections with family and close friends. I’ve completed a very difficult certificate program. I purchased a home—my first potentially long term address. As I look back on the past I realize that multiple things are true at once. The struggle and the happiness. The pleasure and the pain. But often, only one side is remembered.

Annie Dillard said: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” As a person prone to reflection, story telling, and tradition I love this quote. And as I mark the occasion of my 40th birthday I wonder: Can we spend our days, and therefore our lives, unentangled from one sided stories that keep us locked in one way of understanding ourselves? Stories that keep us trapped in habitual patterns of behavior? Stories that have us gripping tightly to our understanding of truth?

Life is hard. And life is good. Both. At the same time. As I step into a new decade, I pray that I can better hold all aspects of my experience, feeling, and thought in my memory. Or, said more succinctly, I pray that the stories I carry with me reflect the fullness of being. Positive, negative, and neutral. All present. Everyday.

{This post is part of a new intention to share my thoughts and art work more regularly. I’m trying to write and share quick hit ideas whenever I’m inspired as I study, read, and make art rather than waiting for the time to craft perfect essays and finished paintings. It is my hope that these free flowing thoughts and images will offer inspiration for your own study and thinking.}