This Old House: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 5

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 26, 2018.

One exciting part of my internship at Canterbury Shaker Village has been the chance to live and work in a historic building. When I first walked into the Trustees’ Office – once upon a time the building where Shakers conducted business with the outside world, sold products they created, and hosted guests to stay – I was in awe of its massive antique cabinets, shiny vintage radiators, and elegantly curved wood banisters.

Canterbury Shaker Village Trustees' Office

Old homes certainly have their quirks though, and I could barely sleep the first night because of all the bizarre whistling and banging noises I later learned were to blame on those vintage radiators. Now that I’m used to it, however, I revel in the chance to occupy a space that has known so much history over the past two centuries.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

After I interned with a historic preservation organization, I became very passionate about the idea of reusing historic spaces – I think it’s important to give them new life in order to allow them to keep telling their story and fulfilling the purpose for which they were made.


Now, as I read a book of memoirs, Simple Gifts, written by Shaker scholar June Spriggs about her time as a 19 year-old working as a tour guide at the Village and living with the last Shaker sisters here, I delight in her stories of eating dinner in the Trustees’ Office with the last Canterbury sisters, I feel even more impacted by how I am part of a constellation of lives that have intersected in this building.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Parts of our stories are similar – I relate so much to Sprigg’s tales of being young and unsure of myself – while other parts are different – obviously I’m not an elderly Shaker sister! But living under the same roof as these other women who I will never know makes me appreciate and commemorate their lives in a way I couldn’t before.

Canterbury Shaker Village

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4


Why it’s worth studying history

As much as I love history, every job has its ups and downs. Today was a particularly exhausting day of work and by the time 5pm rolled around, I felt like I needed to get out of the house. I drove 20 minutes to the outlets for a little “retail therapy” and cheese fries. It was pitch black by the time I got on the road again.

Canterbury Shaker Village at Sunset

As I headed home, pine trees rising up on either side of me, my high beams lighting up an occasional moose figurine-topped mailbox along the road, I put on a CD I grew up with: “Who Am I” by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean. As a track rolled around to a song about Scottish people emigrating to America because of a famine, I started to get emotional. It hit me that I myself was driving through the land that my ancestors who came from Scotland settled.


I was driving through the land of the people who came before me, making it possible for me to have the life I do, while listening to music passed on to me by my parents, who learned it from my grandfather. I was struck by how, no matter where we wander, we carry with us so much of not just our own past but also that of those who came before us.

Country road in winter

With that, it’s worth taking time to get in touch with what came before us, so we can remember what sacrifices have been made as well as what mistakes. Even though working in history can have its frustrations, tonight reminded me that it also is a responsibility to tell people’s stories, to commemorate, and to give the people of today context for their lives and where they came from.  When you realize you’re part of a long line of folks, it’s humbling and empowering, which is why it’s important to tell more people’s stories when we teach history.

Historic buildings at sunset

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 11, 2018.

This week I had the pleasure of going through a scrapbook in the museum collections that was created by a friend of the last Shaker sisters who lived in the Shaker community in Canterbury, NH until the last woman passed in 1992. This woman grew up visiting the sisters with her mother and created a scrapbook of greeting cards the sisters sent her, guidebooks from the village’s early days as a new museum, and newspaper clippings of any and every article published about the Shakers.


From the collections of Canterbury Shakers Village (2018.2.1)

I love scrapbooks — they’re such a personal documentation of memory, untainted by outside editing, giving voice to anyone with paste and scissors. They tell a person’s story using the very material they collected from their daily life, broadening our understanding of history beyond just those who had enough social clout to publish books. This particular scrapbook reveals how much affection the creator had for the Shaker sisters, demonstrated by the amount of care and attention that went into collecting, saving, and assembling the objects within. The fact that someone would save everything the Sisters sent to her and seek out clippings elsewhere that related to them speaks loudly to the legacy they left, the imprint they had.


A spread of the scrapbook, feature newspaper articles about two of the sisters’ funerals and freeting cards from another sister. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.4.1)

Turning the pages of the scrapbook, the legacy of Canterbury became very real to me; when I came to a page documenting one of the last sisters’ passing, I started to tear up. I was struck by the sacrifice, hard work, and love that these last sisters put into continuing the legacy of their faith and community by forming a museum here. It’s easy for the individual personalities of the Shaker community to get lost in obsessions over the craftsmanship of their furniture or arguments over whose scholarship of them is the best.


Greeting cards sent from one sister to the creator of the scrapbook alongside clippings of pictures of Shakers-made furniture from an antiques auction catalog. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Seeing that they sent Hallmark cards on birthdays is a reminder that they weren’t a bunch of dour members of an odd religious order — they were human, loving and caring as they believed God called them to. And hurting as well. It’s interesting how many of the Shakers – particularly the women – were handed off to the community by new stepmothers who didn’t want them or other similarly traumatic stories.


A photograph of one sister, Gertrude Soule, from one of the newspaper clippings in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Working here at the museum commemorating the Shakers who lived in Canterbury, NH, hearing stories and seeing objects like this scrapbook has made it clear to me that these women made a profound impact on everyone whose paths crossed with theirs. I feel honored to be a part of helping to continue their legacy as I work here, and inspired seeing from their example that living a life faithful to your convictions and conscious of the needs of others can make a tremendous impact, even if the acts seem small.


A greeting card in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

When Valentine’s Day Hurts

Valentine’s Day can be as painful for some people as it is beautiful for others. It’s easy to resort to masking that pain with flippancy or humor, but the hurt of being rejected or losing a person who was precious to you can sit for a long time after it happens. I’m consistently finding that letting go of people is more like unwinding a ball of string than a single moment of cutting them out of your heart. I keep returning to the people who it didn’t work out with in the past, wondering why I wasn’t good enough or what I did wrong.


But ultimately I’m learning what matters more than being validated by other people, whether through social media likes or a relationship status, is working on myself. I’m stuck with her and I’m the one person who can always appreciate and stick up for her.


So although I find myself without a partner after pouring myself and getting my hopes up with different people year after year, what matters most is this: 3 years ago, just before Valentine’s Day I had a nervous breakdown because I was so depressed. I had to take a week off of school to go home — all I could do was lie in the fetal position in bed for most of every day. I had no energy and life was a burden. I was self-injuring because I felt like none of the people around me wanted me in their lives.


Today, I have finished a degree, I am pursuing my career and living in a completely different place, designing a museum exhibition. I have turned my pain into music, art, writing, and, most importantly, empathy for others. I am thinking more positively about myself and seeing the world in new ways through therapy work. I am still healing but I am better than I have ever been.


We are all broken, but taking time to heal and to work on yourself is so crucial to improving not only yourself but also your family, children, significant other, friends, and the world. We can do so much more good and so much less damage when we are being honest, vulnerable, and operating from strength and self-confidence rather than unhealed wounds that cause us to react badly, lash out, not live up to our potential, self-medicate in toxic ways, try to exert control over others, or not give people the full commitment and respect they deserve.


So while people may make it seem weak to seek guidance, it is a sign of strength, wisdom, and self-awareness as well as concern for being your best to help your loved ones.


Whether you are or aren’t getting the validation from others you crave thia Valentine’s Day, take time to celebrate how far you’ve come and consider how you’d like to be better and what steps you need to take to get there. Celebrate your growth today and consider what steps you can take to grow more, even if they’re small. You matter.


Other posts you might be interested in:

How to Take Power Back in Relationships that Hurt You

Life on Thin Ice: Seeking Peace in the Midst of Anxiety & Heartache

Can We “Choose Happy”?


The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook page on February 3, 2018, this is a short report on my experience as a Collections Intern at the Village:

Getting to know the Village the past two weeks, I’ve been intrigued by the number of built-in storage units I’ve encountered in the museum buildings, including in my own room in the Trustees’ Building. Being a bit of a clotheshorse, I can never find enough places to store my clothing at home. I was delighted when I moved in to see that not only was there a huge built-in cabinet and drawer set, but also pegs lining three of my walls, very convenient for hanging clothes.


The Trustees’ Office, Canterbury Shaker Village (photo by Rebecca Gale)

One of the most impressive things I’ve come across thus far in the Village is the giant hallway of built-in storage in the Dwelling House. Being the modern materialist that I am, I wouldn’t mind having a walk-in closet that big for myself, but the Shakers valued simplicity, efficiency, and community, and this storage is a testament to that: enough storage in one place to provide for the entire village.


The style and functionality of these built-ins speaks to the Shakers’ taste for simplicity, order, and cleanliness. Pegs could be used to hang chairs, brooms, or whatever was needed, opening up spaces for community gatherings. And today I feel linked to the past as I use these handcrafted features for my own belongings, a demonstration of the Shakers’ enduring legacy through their handiwork.


How to Take Power Back in Relationships that Hurt You

Do you have that one person in your life who keeps disappointing you, wounding you deeply with their thoughtless actions, but you keep forgiving them and letting them back into your life? You know they care about you, and you love them deeply, so you make excuses time after time, but you keep getting hurt because you keep letting them back in. If you were on the outside looking in, you would tell yourself to move on and ditch the person, but maybe you have a bond with them or a love for them that you can’t shake. So you stay in the cycle of loving, getting hurt, forgiving, loving, and getting hurt all over again.

Grass with ice

Tonight is one of those nights where, even though I swore up and down I was over my person-I-care-deeply-about-but-who-consistently-lets-me-down, I find myself swearing about him, scribbling angry song lyrics, imagining how I would chew him out if I saw him face to face, and yet again wondering how do I (and how can I) mend my broken heart once again. It’s such a hurricane of emotions that it’s hard to deal with. It’s the type of thing that used to make me turn on myself because I didn’t know how else to handle it.

It’s tempting to do the same thing. When someone disappoints you, there’s a frustration not just over the action itself, but an overwhelming sense of grief as you realize that it might be time to cut that person out of your life (or at least your heart.) It’s a shock to the system. Nobody wants to give up something they love. It’s like ripping out a piece of your heart.

Ultimately, as I processed my situation tonight, I realized that I was tired of giving this person power over me. This person has hurt me deeply before, to the point where I spiraled into an extremely deep depression. I have overcome too much in my life, worked too hard to overcome my fears and sorrows to let this person derail me from what has been so far a good period in my life. I have grown so much in the past couple months, to the point where I feel much more content and confident in my life and my self. I hate the thought of giving that all up for the sake of a person who, while they may care about me on a certain level, they obviously don’t give enough of a shit about me to ask how I am or reach out.

I’ve heard it said that relationships can be looked at in terms of power. And I’ve noticed that oftentimes I surrender my power to other people because I’m so eager to be loved and find happiness. What I mean is that I let people control whether I’m happy or sad, content or discontent with who I am and what my life is, based on their actions and how they treat me. If they don’t write me, I feel hurt and lonely. If they don’t seem to care much about our relationship, I question what’s wrong with me that they don’t want me. But I’m tired of letting other people affect my ‘happiness so much. I deserve better.

So while the shock of heartbreak still stings a little, I’m keeping myself from spiraling tonight by grounding myself with the realization that while others have disappointed me with their actions, overall in my life, I have not disappointed myself. I can’t control what people do, but I can work on my own life. I have done that, I am doing that, and I am proud of those years of hard work in therapy, doing writing to process my feelings, turning my story into art, sharing my experience to comfort others.

I’m proud of how I have striven to love others and support them during tough times. I’m proud of my writing and my music and my photography. I’m proud of my resume and my academic achievements. I’m proud of how I’ve stayed true to myself and my inner moral and spiritual compass and convictions. I’m proud of how I’ve overcome fear to move to different places and pursue my career. At the end of the day, those are the things that matter — staying true to yourself, being kind to others, and trying to become a better person so 1) you can be happier and 2) your shit doesn’t hurt other people’s lives.


Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

I’m far from perfect, but I can say I’m, in general, not disappointed in myself. I’m pretty proud of myself. So even if this person has made yet another poor choice that is disappointing to me, instead of letting them ruin my happiness, I will focus on the important truth that have not let myself down. In fact, I’m extremely proud that I’ve been able to re-frame this situation the way I have because I know that comes from years of work in therapy and struggling outside of therapy.


If you’re struggling with a similar hurtful relationship — take heart. Know you deserve good things. Stand up for yourself. Take back your power over your life. You deserve it.


I’ve come a long way since my last boot photo


You might also like to read:

Life on Thin Ice: Seeking Peace in the Midst of Anxiety & Heartache

Why do we hold onto what hurts us?: Letting go of toxic relationships

Can We “Choose Happy”?

Chapter One

Life on Thin Ice: Seeking Peace in the Midst of Anxiety & Heartache

One benefit of living in rural New Hampshire is that you can walk out your door and down the street and arrive at a pond in under ten minutes. Here at my temporary home at Canterbury Shaker Village, there are two ponds on the museum grounds, currently covered with a very picturesque sheet of ice.



The other day, I trekked down to the twin ponds in my daily attempt to connect with nature, and I was struck once again by the peacefulness of the landscape. I catch glimpses of it everywhere I go: if I look up from trying not to wipe out on the ice while I’m walking, I’m greeted with the site of undulating grassy hills rolling out to meet pine tree-topped mountains in the distance. If I look up during my walk home at dusk, I can see the moon covered by a quilt of clouds, steadily moving with the wind.


As much as I try to pause and appreciate the beauty, it still hasn’t sunk in yet. Something inside of me pushes me to keep going, keep moving, keep thinking, keep working. I feel like I always have to do something — take a picture to preserve the memory, go inside to finish a project, walk to see somewhere else before it gets too dark. I long for inner peace, but it’s hard to let yourself stop when you’re used to driving your life at breakneck speed.


As beautiful as the ponds were the other day, I found it hard to fully enjoy them. In the back of the mind was constantly the distraction of my dull mood, my heavy heart. As I snapped some photos of footprints across the ice, I was struck by the sound of a babbling brook (as clumsily cliche as it feels to use those words), like something out of the nature relaxation sound videos I sometimes play when I can’t sleep. I turned around to find that the two ponds were connected by a small stream, less than a foot wide, but rushing surprisingly fast over the rocks underneath.


I crouched by the water, hoping to stop and take a mental breath of fresh air, but I couldn’t seem to clear the clutter from my mind. I caught sight of some mollusk shells sticking out of the mud in the bank and wondered what a bivalve would be doing so far inland. I took some more photographs, wishing I could catch the purple shimmer of the interior.

mollusk shell in ice

Finally, I tested my courage and climbed over the icy snow to stand on a rather precarious-looking board bridging the brook. I stood inches above the water’s flow and gazed down at the practical boots that have become a regular fixture of my New England life. In that moment, I wished I could drop my heart down into the water below and watch it flow away into the icy depths beyond. I was tired of the hurt, the heartache, the anxiety. Tired of disappointment and regret. Of being let down and stood up. I almost didn’t want to feel any more.


As much as I can be optimistic for the future, inside me lurks a deep-seated streak of pessimism, rooted in fear of the unknown. I’m not sure what’s ahead, and sometimes I can’t imagine if I will find myself, find peace, find friendship, find love, find fulfilling work…It’s a scary thought. And as hopeful as I’ve always been about finding someone who loves me unconditionally, passionately, and faithfully, I’ve had many moments where I’ve doubted that was possible. The older I get, the more I see, the more I find myself disappointed by not just potential love interests, but even friends, the more I question whether I can ever find that.


I hate playing games, trying to read minds, wondering if I am doing something wrong or if there’s something wrong with me that people don’t like…I’m sick of complaining about how so-and-so won’t write me, debating whether or not I should just stick my neck out and write them, all of it in hopes that maybe this person will be the one who appreciates me. As much as I am working on being confident about who I am and valuing myself, there’s always that part of me deep down that looks at my past history with not having my feelings reciprocated in relationships or having to do all the work and believes that nobody would ever care enough to pursue me because nobody ever has.


While I’m trying to let go of the people who demonstrate that they don’t care about me with their lack of attention, I often still mourn their friendship and crave their attention. I’m tired of carrying the burden of disappointment and confusion over relationships that plateaued or dead-ended around in my heart. I wish I could just drop in the water, the same way I wish I could let my inner anxiety just float away with the clouds. But sometimes it’s good to remember how to feel a little so you don’t become insensitive and forget how to feel yourself, just as it can be good to have some anxiety to keep you doing your work.

Shaker staircase

But ultimately the process of letting go is a gradual one. It takes baby steps. It may take me many more hikes by the pond before I can learn to sit and let my hurt take a back seat for a while as I am reminded that the universe is so much bigger than myself and my pain; there is so much going on around me in the ecosystem, everything working itself out in time. There is even an ecosystem within me, all working overtime to keep me living and breathing. These moments of trying to be still, even if they feel unsuccessful, are reminders to keep hoping, keep growing, and keep journeying, even if things haven’t worked out the way you planned.



Other posts you might enjoy:

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

When friendships fade

Chapter One

Life Lessons from Ice Skating

The Scenic Route: Taking the Pressure off of Decision-Making

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

I was drawn to the opportunity to intern at Canterbury Shaker Village because I wanted the chance to work with historic objects. In the study of history, it’s so easy to get lost in the facts and dates and figures that you lose sight of the people who lived the events you’re studying. The excitement of working with historic objects is that sometimes they allow you to bridge that gap and remember the people who walked among the now-empty halls of museum buildings.

Door and shelf with jars at the Syrup House in Canterbury Shaker Village

Syrup House, Canterbury Shaker Village, New Hampshire

This week, on my second day of work in the Village, we were in the thick of writing down the catalog numbers of all the objects that have been on display in the Carriage House, when I gingerly picked up a petite, frail straw bonnet with a pleated cream satin trim tacked along the back to cover the neck from the sun (and perhaps add a hint of decoration.) I experienced an immediate moment of connection with the past, of realization that this bonnet was at one time an integral part of the literal and figurative part of the fabric of that her existence.

Shaker Straw Bonnet at Canterbury Shaker Village

Straw bonnet from the collections of Canterbury Shaker Village

Just as every day here at Canterbury I pull on my winter accessories without a second thought to go out and start work, so this girl would have slipped on the snug, close-fitting hat to go about her business, quite different from mine in many ways, but surely not too far off in others. Our lives may look very different, just as the clothes we wear do, but there are surely threads of similarity in both: frustration, disappointment, discontent, joy, laughter, envy, longing, wonder, tranquility, anxiety, hurt, affection. Hating the weather but loving the view. Getting bored of the conversation but not wanting to be alone. All lives have these commonalities.

Hydrangea in the Snow

Dried hydrangea in this week’s ice, Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

Realizing the humanity behind objects in turn prompts more questions for historical research and story-telling. There’s the human side of the story, the questions that the fellow woman in me asks: Did she love this bonnet? Did she hate it? What was her name? Who was she? What were her interests and passions? What was her past like before she got this bonnet? What was her future like after she outgrew this bonnet?

Schoolhouse door at Canterbury Shaker Village

Schoolhouse door the owner of this bonnet may have seen daily at school (Canterbury Shaker Village, NH)

Then there are the more practical questions: Since the bonnet is so small, we can assume it belonged to a child in the Shaker community. The Shakers required celibacy of their members so anyone with children who joined had to surrender exclusively raising their child. Children who were brought to the Shakers by parents who joined or by local orphanages were taught at the Shakers’ schoolhouse and cared for by sisters in the community.



As a child who was most likely brought here either because she wasn’t wanted by her family or her parent joined the Shaker community, the owner of this bonnet was not living in the Village because of her own choice. The whole situation seems so potentially heartbreaking to me that I have to wonder: Was she happy living in the Village? Depressed? At home? Lonely? How did she arrive there? Did she stay?

Old wooden floorboards at Canterbury Shaker Village

Floorboards in a storage room of the schoolhouse

The number of questions that flood my head are unending, and most of them probably can’t be answered. But it’s all an important reminder to keep in mind that history isn’t just a regurgitation of facts or a wrestling match over whose political, religious, or social perspective gets to be told – it’s about commemorating the people who came before us and ensuring their stories are passed onto future generations.

Light from window in Shaker Schoolhouse at Canterbury Shaker Village

Museums: Shedding light on history, one artifact at a time.

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

Why do we hold onto what hurts us?: Letting go of toxic relationships

In singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher’s autobiography, Never Brokenshe tells about how her mother, a free-spirited artist, would make ice sculpture installations during the winter in their native Alaska. One particular installation was a group of women, sculpted out of ice, but with piles of salt sitting in and subsequently melting their outstretched hands, symbolizing how women tend to cling to the things that hurt them.

I was very struck by this image when I read it, and it keeps returning to my mind as an extremely poignant representation of a phenomenon I see happening in the world around me and — lest I be pointing fingers — in my own life too. I continually see myself and other women holding onto destructive relationships that slowly poison us and rob us of our happiness and the joy we could find in healthier relationships, supportive people, and constructive opportunities that are often at our fingertips just as much as the harmful things.

Sculpture at Fruitlands Museum

Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts

Don’t get me wrong — I know that there are so many reasons why people opt for what hurts them rather than what heals them. We all have unfulfilled longings deep within us that drive us towards often unhealthy things we think will fulfill us. For me, having never had many friends throughout all of my school years and consistently feeling like an outsider has left me with a deep-seated desire to belong somewhere, to feel wanted, and to feel like I’m valuable. I hate rejection in any form. I hate criticism because it makes me afraid that I really am not good enough. And I hate relationships where people don’t seem to be equally invested and I do most of the work…yet I continually cling to those very same relationships.

As awful as some relationships can make me feel — friendships where you go out of your way to help out when the other person is struggling but it’s radio silence when you reach out for help, romantic interests where you’re always the one to initiate the conversation — it will take me months or even years to accept that it’s not worth the frustration and hurt for the small moments of connection that I get with that person. As often as I say that I’m done with a person who repeatedly ghosts on me or doesn’t bother to ask about my life or doesn’t express empathy for what I’m going through, I will capitulate if they one day decide to get back in touch or if I decide I miss them.


“Justice” at National Park Seminary historic district, Forest Glen, Maryland

I especially get into trouble in the arena of romantic relationships, where I’ll stay friends with a guy who was nice to me at one point and who I embodies qualities I find attractive — maybe he’s interesting, down-to-earth, creative or we share the same sense of humor — even as less desirable qualities come out.

Prime example: In college, I met a guy who my friend raved about as a perfect match for me. We both were singer-songwriters and shared a dry but ridiculous sense of humor. He had that artsy/intellectual writer soul I have a profound weakness for but came across as very humble and caring. Early on in our friendship, he came to a concert I performed at, then we had some great conversations. He seemed very interested in my budding museum career and asked after me a few times when I wasn’t doing well emotionally.

I quickly fell for him and thought it was a perfect match, but he started to grow distant and for as many jokes we shared or times he checked after me, he would throw a comment of mine back in my face, say something not overtly mean but still rather terse and hurtful. He stopped coming to my performances at campus coffeehouses and started dating another woman, drawing away from his other female friends. The sad thing was, I continued to like him, as hurt as I was. And I let my desire for his approval dictate what I said and did in his presence. I tried to like the music he did and felt bad about the things I liked that he scoffed at.

But it took a long time for me to realize he was in the wrong, not me, because I kept hanging on to this idea that he was a great guy and that we had potential. Sometimes I still believe that. But ultimately, I had to accept that he wasn’t treating me as kindly as I was treating him, and being focused on trying to impress him was destroying my sense of self-worth. For my own sake, I needed to stop making excuses for him and let go.

DSC00628 2

Caryatid with a graduation diploma at National Park Seminary historic district, Maryland

I think that’s the saddest part about holding on to people who don’t respect you — the loss of your individuality, self-respect, and self-worth. You start to wonder why you aren’t good enough for that person to like you. You question your own interests that don’t match up with theirs. You try to be more like them and pursue the things that person likes. Then you start to believe that their taste is superior to theirs. But your gift to the world is your own unique individuality, your tastes and talents.

While we should learn from others and be open to other points of view, and it’s certainly not wrong to adopt a new hobby or musical taste that you can enjoy with a significant other, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your interests in the process. A person who loves you appreciates your quirks and loves seeing you happy while enjoying your favorite things. It’s a two-way street: in a healthy relationship, you both should try things the other person likes and you both should keep an open mind.


“Hope” at National Park Seminary historic district, Forest Glen, MD

It’s so sad to see so many women continuing to lose themselves in relationships with guys who don’t respect them. Maybe there are romantic feelings involved, maybe not. But these relationships sap you of your energy and take your focus off of building yourself up. While it’s good to invest in others, it’s not good to lose yourself in another person, especially one who doesn’t invest equally back in you.

It’s easy to make excuses and lower expectations, and sometimes we do have to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if you’re continually doing that, then you need to put distance between yourself and that person. Sometimes that means cutting them off entirely, sometimes it’s just calling less, texting less, investing in other relationships more.

I’ve been in places where I think about a person almost every other waking moment, literally tossing and turning, wondering where we stood in regards to one another. It’s not healthy, to say the least. I ended up not contacting them for over a month (previously I wrote them almost every day) in order to “detox,” if you will, and let go. Eventually, I decided it bothered me to have cut that person out completely, so I reached out again, but since then I’ve been in a process of continuing to let go — not put too much expectation on the relationship, not talk to the person too often, not get my hopes up, not get too attached or fixated.


“Grief of Cyparissus” at National Park Seminary, Forest Glen, Maryland

If you are in a relationship where you know you’re not being treated as well as you deserve — maybe it’s not abusive, but you know that, like the aforementioned ice sculptures, it’s slowly melting your individuality, corroding your happiness, and leaving you powerless — please, take back your dignity. Stop liking their posts. Stop reaching out. Stop visiting their social media at night. Stop dreaming of when they’ll wake up and realize they want you. (I say this as much to myself as to anyone else.)

Look inward instead. What do you need? What have you let go of in the process of pursuing this person? Who are you? What have you accomplished? What should people respect about you? What are your needs in a relationship?


Duke Gardens, Durham, North Carolina

Then look outward again. Which friends and family members have always been there for you and do appreciate you? Who can you rekindle a friendship with to support you during this time of grieving and rebuilding? What relationships that were constructive have you let fall to the wayside while focusing on this person who didn’t deserve your energy?

Research tools you can use to rebuild your sense of self: mindfulness exercises, self-love challenges, therapy, hobbies, meditation, ways to express yourself, classes to take on subjects that have interested you, volunteer work to do.

Rebuild yourself, your life.

You are worth the investment.

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“Joan of Arc” at National Park Seminary, Forest Glen, Maryland

On a Similar Note:

Life is a Page-Turner

When friendships fade

Get what you deserve

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

In a week, I will start (yet another) internship at Canterbury Shaker Village, a museum in Canterbury, New Hampshire, working on researching and cataloging the museum’s object collection as well as assisting the curator with revamping the museum’s gallery space. I’ll also be living in one of the historic buildings that was part of the village, the home of a vibrant religious community between 1792 and 1992. I don’t believe in ghosts, but got a little nervous when the woman who interviewed me asked if I was comfortable living in an old house that creaks at night…let’s hope I leave this internship still skeptical of the paranormal.

Shaker Building at Fruitland Museum Massachusetts

A remnant of Shaker life (the sect only has one living member left) — a former office building from one of their communities in Harvard, Mass., now part of Fruitlands Museum

Some people think I’m bonkers for taking this internship; I graduated last May and I should probably get a real job, but I’m excited about this opportunity, not just because of the career preparation it will provide me with, but also because of the potential for personal growth that I see in moving to a different place, learning about a remarkable group of people, and building myself as a person. I will admit though, there are a few reasons to be terrified:

  1. Moving. I’m very close to my family, and in the two months I’ve been home, I’ve quickly settled back into my comfort zone of home life. Any move means transition and facing the unknown, which I often find emotional and anxiety-inducing. Not to mention, starting a new job is just plain intimidating.
  2. Being in a rural place. I have a secret confession: I love big box stores and strip malls. Seeing them makes my heart happy. I didn’t realize that until I lived with no car in a town consisting of a mile-long street with no stores. Living nowhere near a supermarket should be interesting…
  3. NEW ENGLAND WINTER. I am from below the Mason-Dixon line. I hate ugly winter accessories that are meant to keep you warm. I shiver inside of my own home. I really have no business being in New Hampshire during February and March.

Fruitlands Museum, Massachusetts: A shoemaker’s worktable from Harvard Shaker community

But more importantly, reasons to be excited:

  1. Living in a new place. One reason I love doing internships is they give me the chance to live in a completely different place from where I grew up, giving me a taste of the culture, history, and landscape of that location. So far this has taken me to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Western Massachusetts, and, most recently, Central Massachusetts. Being a suburbanite, I’ve enjoyed being in small towns where you’re closer to nature and historic buildings, things we tend to raze in suburbia.
  2. Learning new things. I love coming to a subject I know very little about and becoming intimately familiar with it through historical work. Shakerism embodies two significant portions of American history: the many religious sects that have arisen in our country and the many Utopian, communal societies that were formed in the early 1800s. With this internship, I’ll learn about a movement that represents important parts of American culture: our impulse to practice religion as we see fit, to pursue equality for all people, and to invent, innovate, and work hard.
  3. Gaining personal direction. On one level, I hope this gives me some direction for my career. On another level, as silly as it may sound, some part of me hopes that by having be close to nature, dwell with my own thoughts, and learn about the lives of others will give me some insight into myself. On that note, let me continue.

Harvard, Mass. Shaker community at Fruitlands Museum

I’m a big believer in taking time to wander around forests alone to gain inspiration for art and to get to know yourself better. That’s part of why I wanted to return to New England. I went through some difficult times this past fall as I lived on my own in Massachusetts, but I also found the built and natural landscape surrounding me to be awe-inspiring, peaceful, and empowering. As I processed through making difficult career choices, difficult feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, and processing heartbreak, I found myself drawn back again and again to the banks of ponds, the canopies of forest foliage, the shadows of bracketed historic buildings, the faded carvings of town cemeteries.

As I lost myself in long walks, tours of writers’ homes, snapping photos of gables fading into the sunset, and driving back and forth across the Mass. Turnpike with an “Autumn Leaves” Yankee Candle car deodorizer dangling from my rearview and Mary Chapin Carpenter singing a ballad about a dead man from New Orleans, I slowly emerged from my shell of brokenness, helplessness, and fear. I am adventurous, but I am also anxious. Moves like this force me out of my comfort zone and propel me to pursue independence.


Harvard, Massachusetts’ Shaker community, now part of the Fruitlands Museum

Ann Lee must have known as much when she decided to cross the pond from England to America in 1774, bringing with her a small, no doubt ragtag group of followers of her new faith – disparaged as the “shaking Quakers”, much like “Christians” once upon a time was an insult to a persecuted band of believers. She established a settlement in New York for the group, but also began seeking out converts in her new country.

The Shakers were defined by a commitment to communal living, hard work, celibacy, pacifism, and living as closely to biblical teachings as possible. While much of their life seems completely unrelatable to us today, as I began researching the Shakers in the past week, I realized there were many parallels between the values they sought to embody and the journey I’ve been on personally in recent years and the crossroads I find myself at today:

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Shaker-made baskets at Fruitlands Museum, MA

The Shakers’ commitment to hard work, not to mention the sheer extent of their accomplishment, speaks to my own hunger to do, to work, to find my place where I can make a difference, to use the talents I have been given effectively.

Their practice of meditation prompts me to do the same — taking time to name my thoughts and feelings instead of simply pushing them away, to savor life as it passes.

The Shaker’s commitment to celibacy reminds me of my own pursuit to be content being single and become more grounded in myself before seeking out relationships.

The rural landscape they cohabited with is an opportunity to take a break from the breakneck speed of life and the technology that simultaneously tears me down and lifts me up.

The gender equality they pursued reminds me of my own recent transition from the narrow, traditional view of women’s roles I grew up with to seeking to build a career for myself and a self-concept as a strong, smart, capable woman.

Their unabashed pursuit of practicing their unique, oft-berated religious convictions reflects my own journey to navigate the spiritual landscape, blazing a middle ground between the religious tradition I grew up in and my own experience and convictions, often leaving me feeling isolated as I fit neither in the church I grew up in, nor the world outside of it.

Their emphasis on compassion and showing God’s love to neighbors is a reminder for me to be more self-sacrificing and understanding of others.

Their love of community points me to my own craving to experience true friendship, acceptance, companionship, and support in my relationships, which often feel shallow, conditional, one-sided, and neglectful.


Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts

In closing, I remember how during my junior year of college, my friend and I found out there was an Orthodox convent not far from our college campus. It was on state park land, with a beautiful lake, and the sisters sang in a choir together and made greeting cards to sell in the convent gift shop. I remember wanting to go live there, being young, depressed, lonely, burnt out, fed up with men, and unable to get a boyfriend anyways. Why not go live in a beautiful place where your life had clear vocation and you were a recognized member of a community. I figured old people usually love me and a simple, orderly life where each day was laid out for you sounded kinda nice.

While there are many benefits to having so many choices and freedom these days, sometimes the array of opportunities can become overwhelming. Ultimately, my desire to continue chasing romantic love won out over the attractiveness of making greeting cards with old ladies, but looking back, I can see the draw of such a place. As much as we value freedom, independence, sensuality, and spontaneity, I think many of us also have a part of us that craves the stability, community, and security that communal religious societies offer.

We want peace in the midst of the flurry of emails we need to respond to before we’re viewed as rude, sales to take advantage of before they expire, things to check off our to-do list before another vacation ends.

We want guidance and clarity in a world where even a simple trip to the grocery store can overwhelm you with the options before you.

We want community in a time when people leave texts unanswered and conversations face-to-face often get interrupted by those same devices that are supposed to help us keep in touch.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

I don’t think the Shakers had all the answers. I don’t think their lives were perfect. I don’t think we all need to give up all our technology or join communes. But I’m curious to see how living where they did, walking in their footsteps, and studying their lives can give me perspective in the modern day. Because as foreign as life in the past may seem — and as awful as many aspects of it were — I think it’s always worth keeping an open mind to any culture and its practices to see what we can learn from it and apply to our own little world.

Sometimes you have to step outside your bubble, jump outside your comfort zone, so you can expand it to include things that will enhance it in the long run.

Learn More About Shakers:

PBS: “About the Shakers” (Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary about the group)

National Park Service: Shaker Heritage Sites

Hancock Shaker Village: History of the Shakers

Other posts you might enjoy:

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 3

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Glimpses into life in the past at National Park Seminary historic district

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Blast from the Past (in Concord, Mass.!)