Present Tense. With Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Today is day four of Present Tense, an exploration of how various wonderful, wise women work to be more present in their daily lives.
Today I bring you the unique perspective of Ivy League Insecurities’ Aidan Donnelley Rowley. Aidan is my first real blogger friend, and I’ve since had the privilege to meet her in person. First we emailed up a storm. The similarities were myriad, the differences interesting, the connection immediate. She wrote me a birthday post that made me cry, I reciprocated with my own much less elegant testimonial on her birthday. We then met in September at the Firestarter with Danielle LaPorte that Aidan hosted at her apartment. The session was immensely moving for me in ways that I am still sifting through.

And after the Firestarter, Aidan and I were lucky enough to share lunch with Danielle. Then, continuing my great afternoon of immersion in People I Met Online, Aidan and I shared some rose and some more conversation. That afternoon, that in-person meeting, was an exact analog of our online relationship. It was like we had known each other forever, and it still feels that way. We never run out of things to say.

Aidan inspires me with her brave and bold example of walking away from a life of conventional achievement to pursue her dream. She took this risk with characteristic aplomb: I’ve had the privilege of reading a few very short passages from Aidan’s upcoming novel, Life After Yes and it’s beautiful. Circle May 18th and get ready to pre-order on Amazon. She makes my dream seem within reach. She makes me brave. That example is beyond price, and I don’t think I can ever thank her enough.

Not irrelevant, also, is the fact that Aidan named this project. I was emailing with her about how I wanted to investigate the various ways, small and big, that people strive to live more engaged lives and she offered, instantly and with the humor and brilliance that I now recognize as her special brand of magic, “Present Tense”! And yes. Here we are.

Aidan, thank you.
1.
When have you felt most present? Are there specific memories that stand out for you?

Is it a bad sign that I see these as very hard questions? That they make this particular present moment a bit tense? Perhaps. But I am glad you are asking me – and others – these questions and the ones that follow. I think the struggle to be present (whatever that means) is endemic to adult life and is underexplored territory. So I applaud you for digging into this fertile, but complicated existential soil. And for encouraging all of us to do so as well.

I think I have felt most present, most acutely absorbed, in life’s littler, deceptively mundane moments. My older daughter rocking my younger daughter’s car seat the day we brought her home from the hospital. My girls splashing each other and me during a particularly giggly bath time. Dancing with my husband and our PJ-clad babes before bed. As you can see, many of my memories of being present are wrapped up in being a mother which either means that parenthood has transformed me into a more conscious being or that it is simply difficult for me to remember a time before kids. Probably a bit of both.

2. Do you have rituals or patterns that you use to remind you to Be Here Now?

I wish I had rituals or patterns to use to remind me to be more present. But, alas, I really don’t. For me, consciously thinking about being present, pondering ways to be more engaged, actually seems to remove me further from life and from the present moment. So, there’s the rub: how to become more present if thinking about becoming more present makes me less present?

3. Do you have specific places or people that you associate with being particularly present? Who? Where? Any idea why?

Childhood. (I think that childhood can count as a place and a grouping of people.) I think one of the reasons I am so reluctant to grow up is that childhood, for me, was a time of unadulterated engagement and enjoyment, a time when I immersed myself in my days and experiences, and didn’t think so much about them. Somewhere along the way, I started evaluating my experiences, analyzing their metaphysical fibers, and asking questions. These days, my brain buzzes incessantly – with words, ideas, theories, questions. I would never change this, but it can be exhausting and can also alienate me from practicalities. As a writer, life is a constant source of material. As a mother, my girls are a constant source of life. But it is almost impossible these days for me to be purely present in any given moment.

Frankly, I am beginning to wonder whether being removed from the moments and worlds in which we live is part and parcel of adulthood and fighting this distance is ultimately futile? I don’t know.

4. Have you ever meditated? How did that go?

I have never meditated. Meditation would probably benefit me though because it seems that I have completely lost the ability to relax. To be honest, I don’t even think I comprehend what meditation is. I do have a hunch that whatever it is (and I am sure it is a somewhat subjective phenomenon?) would help quell all those anxieties and insecurities that pepper my days.

5. Has having children changed how you think about the effort to be present?

Having children has changed everything for me. For one, I am constantly cognizant of the cruel passage of time, of the miraculous and heart-wrenching milestones. I want to experience the little joys and the big victories with my children. When I miss something, however small, because I am physically or mentally absent, it makes me sad. (And we will always miss things and so there will always be a lingering sadness. A fact of motherhood in my estimation.) Moreover, my kids are the best teachers of how to be present. I watch them play and learn, utterly unfettered by that adult breed of anxiety, and I think this reminds me – in intangible, but potent ways – of how to be a kid again. Today was the perfect example. My girls sat under our new Christmas tree, sniffing branches, passing ornaments back and forth. I was reminded in that moment of my own childhood and of how simple and sweet things can be.

6. And just because I’m curious, what books and songs do you love?

Currently, there is a lot of Christmas music blaring in our home. I love this time of year. Songs? There are so many I adore. I love U2’s “All I Want Is You” which was the first dance at our wedding. As for books, I wish I read more than I do. But my all time favorite book is Charlotte’s Web, a story which plays a seminal part in another book I kind of love called “Life After Yes” which I hear comes out this May.

********

So, Aidan, no, I don’t think it’s a bad sign that you think these are hard questions. I feel the same way. I do think it might be symptomatic of a particular orientation towards the world, one of engagement and inquiry, of both emotional and intellectual curiosity, that might make one’s relationship to consciousness complicated. And by “one” I mean you, me, and everybody else I’ve written about so far in Present Tense. I think you touch on something really profound with your question: how to become more present if thinking about becoming more present makes me less present?

You and I have talked about this a lot, wrestled with the ways that writing makes us simultaneous more firmly rooted in our lives and more removed from them. This is a very real question. I suspect that a mind that is always processing and a heart that feels so deeply it sometimes needs to shield itself both contribute to a certain degree of remove from our own lives. But maybe this is not such a bad thing? Maybe it is, as you say, inevitable and we ought to just stop fighting it so much?

I totally agree with you about how children change everything – on this score and all others. As their pants grow short and their teeth fall out we have tangible proof of time’s inexorable passage. But, as you say, they also hand us back a glimpse of the wonder of childhood, that wide-open time that you so aptly describe, of experience unfettered by analysis. Clearly in the end the deal is worth it – I doubt any of us would go back. But there’s no question that children open up a seam of sadness in many of us, an awareness of mortality and a fear of missing moments (even as we know the inevitability of that). Your story of your girls under the Christmas tree is lovely, and captures precisely what I mean when I say that children open up a window on our own childhood for us.

Aidan, thank you. I am blessed by your presence in my life, I mean that. And thank you for your help in the genesis of this project and for your thoughtful participation today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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9 Comments

  1. Kristen
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Ahh, what a lovely way to start the day. As always, Lindsey, thank you for these questions. And thank you, Aidan, for your smart and profound responses. When reading Aidan's words I was again struck by the question of "how to become more present if thinking about becoming more present makes me less present?" I struggle with this issue constantly. I think its part and parcel of the challenge of turning off my brain long enough to live in the moment: if I think about everything, am I ever really living? Sometimes I feel like a tourist taking photos instead of experiencing the sights and sounds of my day. Sigh.

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Lindsey,

    Thanks so much for the wonderful questions, for getting me to think as always. And thank you for your lovely words.

    Apologies that my site is down today. What a day to be hacked!

    xo,
    Aidan

  3. Gale
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this continuing series, Lindsey. I'm really finding it interesting how different your subjects' approaches to being present are. It reminds me that, like many things, there are no right answers.

    And Aidan, thanks for your contribution to this series. As always, I appreciate your perspective.

  4. Corinne
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I just adore this series! Another lovely interview. Thanks for introducing your readers to Aidan, I'm so looking forward to diving into her site (and later her book, how exciting!)

  5. Heather of the EO
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Oh I just love you both.

    Aidan, you reminded me that I really am present in the smallest of moments. The love I have for my little family triggers present eyes in those little things they do, down to the upturning corners of their mouths. I was thinking I was most acutely aware in the big emotional moments…but I think it might be both. Just not all the time, of course. Because another thing this series is teaching me is that it would be impossible and exhausting to be present all.the.time.

    Lovely words from a lovely lady. I LOVE THIS.

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  7. Ambrosia
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    I read this when it first posted but ran out of time to comment.

    First off, Aidan is a lovely woman. What a perfect candidate for a fantastic series.

    Secondly, Aidan said something that has struck a vein in my heart.

    "As you can see, many of my memories of being present are wrapped up in being a mother which either means that parenthood has transformed me into a more conscious being or that it is simply difficult for me to remember a time before kids. Probably a bit of both."

    Perhaps the reason that kids remind us of being more present is because we want them to be present. We want the best for them. We want them to enjoy life, while learning important lessons.

    Finally, I love U2. Love, love, love them. I am listening to them right now, as a matter of fact.

  8. Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:00 am | Permalink

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