The Beauty In All Things

My mother apologizes for the untidiness of her supremely tidy dining room every time I come home to visit.

For as long as I can remember, tidiness has been a priority for my mother. And, when things do not appear as she sees them fit to appear, she is apologetic. In the same way, and with almost the same vigor, my father is unapologetic for the state of disarray in his “den.” Which is (or, I should say, was) a room that has all but one square foot of workable, moving space left in it. The rest of the floor, lays hidden beneath piles and piles and piles of books. These trembling towers of tomes are near collapse (as is the ceiling under them, right above my mother’s very tidy living room), all covered with three quarters of an inch of dust, and, most of them — unread.

Truth be told, I care little about the tidiness or untidiness of either of my parents respective spaces. I do, however, care about the stories these spaces tell. I care deeply about the character each room plays — the set in our little family’s Brooklyn house. I love how the acute nuances of our spaces (or lack thereof) can reflect our core traits and indicate how we’ve moved and continue to move through the world.

But, this story is not about my parents or the rooms in their house. — This story is about beauty.

As a child, beauty confused me. An awkward and lonely kid, I never felt beautiful. Beauty, as I understood it, was simple: Molly Ringwald. I wanted to be her. Red haired and moving through the world with her easy angst. She was a misfit, unconcerned with what anyone else thought of her. I watched all of her movies over and over again. I wanted to look like her, to pine after jocks like her, to dress like her, to love like her, and to be loved like her. I’d sit in the living room, curled up on my mother’s reupholstered chair with a big blanket, warm in the blue glow of our tiny 22″ TV set with a built-in VCR. And there, I let all that beauty wash over me like warm water.

But, the thing was, I didn’t look like Molly Ringwald. I never fell for a single jock. Not one. It was always the geek. — Every. Single. Time. Instead of her cool, bohemian clothes, I was clad in matching skirt and sweater sets from The GAP. And, love? Forget it. — Dorks of my caliber were lucky if we had someone willing to sit with us at lunch.

So, I wrote. — In little notebooks. For my English class. On my computer. In the back of my loose-leaf binder during science class. — I wrote everything.

And, in choosing all my words, so very carefully — I learned to be beautiful in a different way.

Sometimes, to be the storyteller, you must live on the periphery of your own story. If you want to tell it like it is, it helps if you don’t get too close. And, I think that’s why I’ve always loved writing. It’s kept me one step away from really getting into the tough stuff. Writing can be safe, in the dirtiest kind of way. You get to see everything, but, you can avoid feeling anything. You can always step back when things get too hot.

Storytellers aren’t judges. We are observers. — So, we let our mothers apologize for the untidiness of a perfectly tidy room because, we see. We see that, in the apology, there’s a story. How, in that apology she has told us: She values this place where we come together and sit. How, in this room, she gathers her child, her husband, her family, her friends and, here, they have a place at her table. A table that, sometimes, will be bare, with only a decorative basin at its center, and, others, will be set with fine china and cloth napkins. The apology is not for me, but rather, a note to herself. How she’d rather not have the little things clutter this, her sacred space.

We let our father’s “den,” now in such a state, that an entire episode of Hoarders could be devoted to cleaning it out, be. Because, this is the space where he stows his books. Tomes that he is saving, because, for him, there is value in words — spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, read and unread. And, these near-tumbling towers of paper and dust are monuments to all the words he has and has not said. He needs them there. Why? I don’t know. — I don’t need to.

We, the storytellers, experience the world by allowing others to show us the beauty in all things.

My cousin Jeremy, with his love for Breen suits. My friend Joseph, with tattoos on his chest like mile markers from his ten-year journey across the country. My friend Lizzie, with her affinity for off-color, ill-timed jokes. My dead grandfather, with his turkey-laugh and his ability to be endlessly entertained by cats. My favorite bartender and dear friend, Tony, and his undying love for Elvis Presley and nights at the opera. My ex, Joe, and his habitual practice of reading true crime books in a claw foot bath tub until the water turned cold. — These people. Their idiosyncratic ways. They have colored my life. They have written my pages so beautifully that, I am sure, there is nothing better than to have been witness to them all.

But, as I write these final posts here on this blog, I see more clearly than ever, that to write my own story — to find my own Happiness — requires more. It requires stepping away from the page and into the fray. Happiness is living in all the beauty that surrounds me — not just observing it.

Happiness is the room. However it’s kept. — Mess or none. — If we choose to really be there.

 

 

 

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All The Women We’re Not

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The women who hold the most sacred places in my life, all love old things.

Antique tables, lacquered armoires, oak inlay, varnished sterling silver spoons, and sets of fine china passed down from their mothers and their grandmothers before that.

Me — I prefer IKEA.

Clean lines. Black. White. Wood. Unfinished. Disposable. Too rudimentary to overthink. Bare walls and sharp edges. I have always hesitated when it’s come time to decorate. In Portland, I lived in my last apartment for almost three years and never hung one thing on the walls. That kind of commitment was too much for me. — Monuments to the past always left holes in my walls.

I spent, and sometimes still spend, much of my time wondering how to pay homage to these women and thier antique sensibility when I have no desire to inherit or admire their aged tables, hang my clothes in their finely-crafted dressers, or eat off their chipped, precious plates.

In a recent, somewhat morbid, conversation with my mother, I told her that when the time comes, there was only one piece from her carefully curated furniture collection that I want to keep — the rest, I intend sell to the highest bidder.

She sat across from me, smiling, in her reupholstered, cream-colored, living-room chair, with her feet elevated on a mismatched hassock that belonged to the couch that I sat on across the room. I could tell, a part of her was sad to hear this news, but, there was a flicker of something else in her eyes, too. — As I’ve aged, I have become so incredibly different than her, and, for the first time, I saw that my deviance has managed to bring her some kind of joy.

As women, we so often find ourselves attempting to recreate the lives our mothers have led. We are chameleons that so desperately want to re-live the lives that have given us our own. Secretly hoping that, somehow, it will help us to better understand ourselves. In a curious way, it is a sort of thanks. And, sometimes, we rebel against it. We try to become anything other than what our mothers have been or would have us be. We ford new, wide rivers, just to say we did. But, in time, we learn that the nature of every river is the same.

As I walk through the last few months in my Year of Happiness, I look for themes. At the onset of this project, I was so sure that by its end, I would know the woman I am. But, in a strange twist of fate, I’ve been surprised to discover that, more than anything else, I’m discovering all the women I’m not.

My cousin, roommate, and best friend has furniture pieces from her parent’s log cabin, her childhood summer home, placed throughout her house (which, it bears mentioning, was built in 1885). Many of them are in disrepair and, these pieces, are some of her most treasured. Weathered, and laced with meaning I’ll never quite understand, her collection is a map of who she was and who she has become. She scoffs at my need for stark, assemble-it-yourself, Swedish simplicity. — “Cheap shit.” She says.

The older I get, the more I’ve felt myself retaliate against the need for things. The need for people. Forfeiting all that space can be dangerous.

But still, I collect all these women I’m not, in my own, quiet menagerie. The woman I’ve become in this past year is not nearly as significant as the women I’ve let go or the women I’ve chosen to keep in my company.

In the last year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be my mother. — An impressive career-driven woman with a laundry list of professional accolades that she’ll never share with you unless she’s pressed. The silent fortitude of a Japanese soldier. Caretaker to a feral cat colony in Brooklyn. Collector of snow globes. A woman who believes that the wrong rug can completely devastate a room. And, a beautiful mother who has, without knowing it, in her unique way, raised a daughter to mirror herself in the most unexpected ways.

In my quest to uncover myself, I’ve found it most useful to cast parts of myself aside. To become the like the old, weathered pieces my mother has carefully placed in every room of her house. For me, this process is different from my mother’s. — I had birds tattooed on my heel for my deceased grandparents, and, to me, this is far better than scraping my fork across their old china plates at Thanksgiving. And, while news of this development disappoints my mother, I know that the more often I let pieces of her go, the more like her I become. — Plates we’ve broken can be just as, if not more, beautiful when we glue what’s left of them back together.

When I move out on my own again, in the Spring, I look forward to sitting in my new space. My mother will help me move my cat up from Brooklyn and, then, she will likely spend the day cleaning my bathroom and kitchen voraciously, even though I’ll insist that there’s no need. — That is her way, and, I expect nothing less of her. She will begrudgingly agree to help me shop at IKEA for a MALM dresser (a piece that I have now assembled several times with expert skill) and she’ll weigh in on the various $20 area rugs, no doubt. And then, I will sit alone in my room, a beautiful canvas of barren walls, on a mattress with no box spring, beside my cat, who will stare up at me, as if to ask me — what comes next? A question for which I will have no answer.

But, in this mild Winter, I remain, sitting happily at the counter in my cousin’s kitchen, laughing along with her and her husband. Murray, their dog, has destroyed four chairs, and counting, from their hand-me-down dining room set. These foam-less, gnawed trophies now sit at the sills of the dining room windows, where Betsy, Murray’s Chihuahua/Shiba Inu-mix sister, sits gazing out into the Albany yonder, barking viciously at any and all invisible intruders who threaten us. And, I think, this is a fitting end for these chairs, these family heirlooms. Unsightly, perhaps, but, fixtures of the house in their own right. — Old things, destroyed by those of us who can never, truly appreciate their past. — Yet, there the pups sit, upon thier shredded thrones and, suddenly, the chair’s purpose and past matter little.

We are all here, now, together, in this old house.

ARTWORK: Daniel Blagg, “Ms. Wright’s Chair” (2013), Watercolor on paper.

 

 

The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

Notes In Her Kitchen

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When I arrive, she is standing slumped over a clipboard in her kitchen.

In an hour, the restaurant will be buzzing. Cooks, bartenders, servers. But, for now, it’s just the two of us, and, she hasn’t seen me yet. I’m standing, trying not to breathe, pressing my spine into the doorway, worried that she’ll smell the liquor on my breath.

Though, I know, even when she does, she won’t say anything. She keeps my secrets as well as I do.

 

I watch her for a minute. Scratching out her lists. Her notes. Counting heads. Imagining her plates. I know I have to tell her. But, something about the way she is standing begs me to wait until tomorrow. Something sad and tired in her movements, makes me hurt for her. We are both so tired. — Different things  have left us exhausted.

I decide to wait. It has to be the last thing she hears from me. Not the first. I can’t tell her. Not yet.

Her husband walks up behind me and startles me. He’s got a big plastic tub full of ice. “Hey you! Are you ready for today?!” He shouts, rocking his head back and forth like he’s at a metal show.

“Hell yeah!” I shout back, pumping my fist, as he walks past me into the main dining room. But, I’m not ready. And, before I can face them, I run back to the office and take a long swig out of the bottle of cheap vodka in my handbag.

It’s the hottest day of our Portland summer. We are all sweating, even in the air conditioning. And, when we walk out to the street to set up the restaurant’s booth for the street fair, it feels like walking into a stick of butter. Thick and oily. Even my cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a net. And, as we walk toward the shade of the tent, I have to talk myself out of dying. Not just for my own sake, but for hers.

***           ***           ***

As a drunk, there are moments that you know, without a doubt, that you have let yourself down. But, until that particular day, during that particular summer, I had never truly felt the weight of letting someone else down.

It wasn’t because of something I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t because of an unpaid invoice or because of the liquor that poured from the restaurant’s shelf into my glass. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hack the job, or the people, or the place. — It was because I couldn’t handle myself any longer. I couldn’t be available for all the things that I said I could be. But, how do I explain that to her? How do I explain that I’ve become unhinged? Every time I see her face, it kicks me in the gut. I couldn’t have known giving up on her would hurt like this — giving up on her dream would hurt like this.

She struggled with the blue awning at the left corner of the tent where we sat in the shade. It gave us little relief from the heat. She handed me her stainless steel coffee thermos. “Sare Bear — It’s time. Get me a vodka-soda.” We both laugh. But, my laugh is more an exclamation of my relief than my amusement. I’ve been drunk since this morning. But, now, I have her permission. Permission to forget the heat. — Permission to forget everything.

Under the tent, I sit next to her in a canvas folding chair and we drink our vodka-sodas from thermoses. The crowds haven’t arrived yet. But, the prep cooks keep delivering hotel pans of fried chicken and noodles for us to serve to people that aren’t there. “Fuck this shit! This is total bullshit. We’re not doing this next year,” she says surveying the near empty street. But, I know she’ll do it again next year — because she does what she has to do for her dream, even when she hates it. Even when the process pains her, she is the most utterly committed person I have ever met. I take a sip from my straw and watch her for my cues. I wait for a sign that I can read, because I have learned to read them all.

That’s the thing that kills me about it. I know her. I know when she says one thing and means another. I know when she’s playing it tough, but is headed for a breakdown in the office. I know when she’s going to smile kindly in someone’s face and tear them to shreds the second they walk out the door. I know that she is in love with her kitchen clipboard more than any of us humans. I know how this place tears her apart and lights her up in every minute she stands at her post in expo, looking out over the dining room like it’s the Serengeti, with a line of servers migrating across an empty floor. I know her. And, I know her kingdom is beautiful and tragic. And, there is so much of me that wants to stay.

But, I can’t. I can’t pull it off. Not in the way she deserves. I keep coming back to that promise I made. — I told her I could. — And. I. Can’t.

We press through the day, hot, tired, and drunk. My mind wanders. Floating in front of me like the little clouds of cigarette smoke. Her dreams. Her faith in this place. Her reckless abandon. Her laughter booming through the dining room. Her frustration, held back only by the sliding black door of the the tiny office. Her silhouette, forever bent over a clipboard full of lists. And me, with only one:

Drink. Drink with abandon. No matter who or what you abandon. Drink.

The sun sinks  and my heart with it. I sit alone in the office waiting for her to come back and meet me. My hidden-purse-bottle is empty now, and I bury it deep in the bottom of my bag. I’m still tired and hot and broken. And, I fold myself over my secondhand IKEA desk and weep into my folded elbows. She walks into the office and slides the door closed behind her, because — she knows.

And, she begins to cry too — before I’ve said anything at all.

***          ***          ***

We both sit at the bar with tear stained faces. “Connie, make us both something good,” she says to Conrad, the bartender who watches us lean into each other at the end of the bar. “I love you Sare Bear. And, I’m gonna miss your drunk ass,” she says looking at me and my puffy eyes. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out and  my eyes well up again. “Oh, get over it, Bitch!” she shouts at me as she pushes my shoulder playfully. Connie places two cocktail glasses in front of us. “Shooter boots too?” he asks, placing little, boot-shaped shot glasses in front of us and pouring out shots of whiskey before we can answer. She smiles at me in her wild way.

Our sentimental moment has passed, and now, like I’ve seen her do a million times before, without complaint, she will regroup and rebuild, as I crumble beside her.

***          ***          ***

When I picture her face, even now, I feel my heart drop into my stomach like a piece of lead. There isn’t a sufficient apology for walking out on her dream, even under the guise of making myself well again. It never seems enough. I read about her in the paper, online, and in magazines. I get a link about her on Facebook. She likes one of my Instagram photos. I send her a viral video of a pug I know she’ll love. But, my unspoken betrayal lurks. It stagnates, like a moat between us. What we shared, is gone.

To make myself feel better, I imagine going  back to the restaurant, early in the morning, before she or anyone else arrives. I creep into her kitchen, still clean, untouched from the night before. And, I slide a note onto her clipboard at her station before slipping out the door forever.

I imagine, when she finds my note, she whispers “Whatta bitch!” And then, she tapes it to the wall above her mise en place, next to all her other love notes and drawings. And, she even smiles a little before returning to her clipboard, where she begins today’s list with: “Cilantro.”

 

 

 

Lots and Lots and Lots Of Light

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A year is nothing. A year is everything.

I look at my calendar, and the West Coast is an entire year away from me now. I still feel like I could turn around and touch it. Though, my calendar won’t show you the same things that my mirror will. Glass reflects me back to myself. I look and feel older, in ways that are both good and bad. In these short, twelve months, I have seen, grown, and lost more of myself than I have in my whole lifetime.

No matter how (un)enlightened I become, I will always be playing this game of cat and mouse with myself. And, I’ve grown accustomed to it. — I think. Visibility will keep me honest. But, I still try to hide. — And so, I begin this second year, here on the East Coast, chasing myself off, yet again, to somewhere new.

After months of dancing in and out of step with NYC’s incredible beat, I’m being tugged back, toward something slower. Trees and highway. Farmland and family.

Living at home is humbling. You see yourself in the place where you were once a child, and in some ways, it makes you feel that you still are one. It’s not just the house, or my parents, or the neighbor girl who was a baby when you left and now, sneaks cigarettes on the stoop — it’s the city. Streets that seem old and new. There are the old memories that I’ve tried desperately to replace with new ones. And, in in the end, I have had to make peace with the fact that memories are memories. There is no erasing or recreating or forgetting. There is only learning, and finding, and adding new faces to a sea of old ones.

But, most of the time, Visibility isn’t about the number of eyes that see you, it’s about the way you see yourself.

As I prepare to move upstate, toggling my time between city and country life until I find a spot to settle, I can feel it — something more permanent on the horizon. The more I see of myself, the more I know where I want to belong. And, knowing what you want, makes it easier to look. I nestle into the nooks and crannies of myself and I see what feels best. But, for the first time in my life, I’ve promised myself that I won’t pretend to know what’s going on. — I’m just going to go with my heart.

As I wrap up this month of Visibility, I realize that the truth about the truth — remains to be seen. It’ll be there, when I get there. And — I’m not there yet.

So, I make plans to move in with my sister-cousin. I imagine us sitting at the island in the center of her kitchen, laughing and crying, because — that’s what we do when we’re together. We see each other. We make each other visible in ways we couldn’t if we were alone.

Her husband makes her eggs for dinner. Her dog licks my feet. Her flood-light invites moths from across the county to hover above her kitchen door. And, we are there, visible to each other — visible to no one.

She sips a glass of white wine and shows me how to use her Soda Stream. My room, up the stairs off the kitchen, is big. It lets in the light. Lots of light. The closet doors are mirrored and I face myself in three, long panels. — Even living out of my travel bag, I look happier here.

So, I decide I’ll take a few, odd writing jobs. I tell my sister-cousin and her husband that I’ll walk their dogs in the afternoon if they want. I’ll run the dishwasher. Fall is coming, and, I’ll rake leaves. And, now, I won’t have to watch Gilmore Girls alone. — After all, we, my sister-cousin and I, are actually Gilmore Girls, though my Grandmother married that name away — it still runs in our blood.

On the couch, one of the dogs looks up at me inquisitively and I inform her that I am, in fact, a cat person. — But, of course, I am open to new relationships. — She jumps up on my sister-cousin’s lap instead. Dogs know instinctively, in a way humans do not, who will love them best. But, I’m not insulted.

I don’t have it all figured out. I hardly know what the next step will be. I don’t even know if I’ll stay in this town. — I don’t know anything. — Maybe I never will. But, if you want to be seen, by yourself — or by anyone — you have to follow the light. And, in the middle of the hardwood floor, facing the center panel of three, long mirrors, I am surrounded by lots of it.

Lots and lots and lots of light.

 

Own Your Shit

Photo Jun 17, 5 06 26 PM

We’re all a little bit shitty. Right? Right?

Most of us, deep down, somewhere in our gut, feels that there’s something wrong with us. It’s a human thing. It’s unavoidable. And, frankly, our secret stash of flaws can keep us feeling pretty uncomfortable. Because, that hidden cache of crap, when we pick it apart, piece by piece, is bound to reveal — we’re not perfect. A shocker — I know.

In becoming visible, we allow ourselves the freedom to just be. But, the other side of that coin involves the rest of humanity. Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but, when you make yourself visible — other people see you too. So, be careful where you leave your crap.

You may find your Visibility liberating. Frightening. Exhilarating. Freeing. But, whatever you feel about being seen, however you relate to your own display of imperfection — you have to know that other people are involved. And, your liberation, fear, exhilaration, and freedom might look very different through someone else’s eyes.

From the perspective of an addict/alcoholic, that Visibility — the kind that puts you on display — is the stuff of nightmares. For people who view themselves as fundamentally flawed, it’s one thing to accept yourself — it’s an entirely different feeling to to have others see your imperfections. Most of us have spent years carefully covering our shit so expertly, no one had to be nervous when walking around us. In fact, half the time we didn’t even know what we’d hidden, or where. As we grow and change in sobriety, we tend to uncover these little, hidden imperfections. And then, we work hard to embrace ourselves, despite them. But, the idea of asking another person to accept us, is completely unfathomable. They might not see our shit — but, secretly, we know that they should be watching their step.

This month, I’ve given Visibility a great deal of thought. I’ve enjoyed making room within myself for all the things I am — the good, the bad, and the shitty. I’ve ditched a ton of my baggage, even some of the crap that’s left me feeling uneasy for a lifetime. Giving myself room to be flawed has made me happier. — And, really, that’s the important thing — getting comfortable with yourself, no matter how your insides feel. But, I’m finding that it’s the outward display, the public Visibility, where I’m continually running into trouble.

When you feel good inside, despite your inherent flaws, you want others to feel good about you too. And, when you find some peace in becoming yourself, you naturally want others to accept this person that you’ve worked so hard to flesh out. But, when becoming visible, you have to be ready to accept that no one is going to see you that way that you see yourself. And, sometimes people are going to step in your shit.

As a self-aware person, I have a pretty good idea about who digs me and who doesn’t. And, usually the people who don’t get my vibe, aren’t people I’m drawn to anyway. But, it’s the people who know you, love you, care about you — those people can be your toughest audience. They’ve seen you at your worst (and likely, your best) and they can be pretty uncomfortable around the new, visible you. We all get used to the people in our lives and how they appear. We assign them roles. And, when one person deviates — it’s unsettling.

Here’s the thing: We have to deviate anyway. People adjust to the person you put out there. They will learn to step around your shit. And, more often than not, the people who know you best are going to be the last ones to get on board with the updates you’re making. It doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you flawed. Visibility is about big change. Even when we’re just starting to uncover the things we used to kick to the curb, we’re making those parts of ourselves known — we’re changing. And, change makes everyone uncomfortable.

Keep in mind, that while you were trying to convince yourself that you were something other than you are, you were also trying to get everyone else on board with you, and they probably bought into your shit as much as you did! So, as you make yourself visible, you’re also rewriting the story that you’ve been working hard to sell others. Be patient with their transition, but, don’t allow their discomfort to take you off your track. In this kind of learning curve, forever and for always, honesty is the best policy. — Own your shit.

The other thing is — you have to be willing to stand your ground. You’re visible now. So, walk tall. Don’t be derailed by someone else’s outdated version of you. If you’ve done the hard work of becoming visible to yourself, you owe it to yourself to be confident in your convictions — even when others might try to take you down a peg.

I’ve changed my mind about so many things, so many times — I’m sure I seem aloof and crazy to most of the people that have been solid structures in my life. And, I’m sure that it’s frustrating to some of them, but, what I have to remind myself of every day is — no one is more frustrated with my own growing pains than I am. In becoming visible, I am finding it easier and easier to own that frustration. It’s your story, not anyone else’s. And, when you write your own story, the lessons that are born from your mistakes are far more poignant — the successes, far more worthy of celebration.

Allow yourself to be seen — to change — and don’t worry so much about how it looks (or smells) out there.

Not a-one of us is without flaws. We’ve all got our shit. The key that unlocks the kingdom is letting everyone see your shit, yourself included. — If you’re committing to being visible, you simply can’t avoid your own shit. And, here’s a newsflash — no one else can avoid theirs, either.

Rule of thumb: Clean up your messes as best you can. And, when walking with others — remind them to watch their step.

 

 

 

I am looking, looking everywhere.

Photo Aug 13, 12 32 58 PM

The day of the family reunion — the heatwave hits.

I walk up the hill, out of my grandparents’ driveway. The sun bakes my shoulders and I can feel the sweat beading off the nape of my neck and gliding down my spine, where it eventually meets my bra-line. My black tank top feels heavy and damp. It’s only 11AM but, already, the day feels long. I’m walking across the street, to my parent’s house, to get my bathing suit. I’m surrounded by countryside that I thought might make me feel something that, so far — it hasn’t. Here, I can only feel the passage of time. I see it move under a canopy of green trees, their leaves fanning the air in the slow, Summer breeze. I see it flanked by stones that have been sinking into the ground since my childhood. I see it in the faces of my cousins who, now, wrangle their own children — it was not so long ago it was us who needed wrangling.

Seeing everything as it is, without pretense — that’s Visibility. Young, old. Broken, fixed. Happy, sad. We can exist in this space without judgement. Here, there isn’t any way to avoid being seen — family has an uncanny ability to find you. So, I prepare myself for the viewing. For the first time in a long time, I think that being seen might be easy. — If I can just allow myself to be comfortable in my own, constant state of flux as I weave between the rusted folding chairs and lean in to receive kisses on my cheeks.

Between handfuls of fancy nut mix, a host of relatives asked me, “What are you up to these days?” A question that still stabs me like a sharp, little knife, because, the answer remains — “I have no idea.” — My unending quest for purpose used to bring me shame. But, today, it doesn’t. 32 years in, and I am still at it. — I am looking, looking everywhere.

I kept repeating to my cousin, as we lay out in the blistering sun, “I feel so old this year.” And, I wondered why that was. What had aged me so much in this past year?

Later that night, as I lay alone in my bed, under the hum of the white, ceiling fan, I realized that I’ve finally conceded. — To myself. — I will always be figuring it out. I will always be looking.

In our youth, we are so sure that, at some point, things will become concrete. But, today, I know, at least for me, that will never be the case. — I am not done. Not now. Not ever.

I began in sobriety, struggling to be seen by others. And, now, in my Year of Happiness, I take the steps to begin seeing myself. — A joyful and heartbreaking endeavor. — One that has brought me immense relief.

In reunions past, I have struggled to Wow! my relatives, spouting off my non-accomplishments. Impressing upon them that I had achieved some state of completeness. But, truth be told, my joy is in the Seeking, never the completing.

There are many of us, Seekers, wandering about. We search for truth in the Universe — in ourselves. We read self-help books. We believe in miracles. We watch for signs. We press the people in our lives to help us create meaning. And, often, we are told there is none. — But, we never believe that to be true. Not even for a second.

As I age, I find myself less apologetic. I no longer resent those who ask me for some kind of explanation. Because, in becoming visible to myself, I find that I no longer require anyone else’s approval. Visibility allows me the confidence to stand in front of those that would have me explain myself, and be able to say, outright, that — I cannot.

From my grandparents’ dock, I stare out over the lake. The water is still, except for where my cousins and their children swim. Laughter echoes in the swaying trees, just as mine once did, so many years ago. I stand there alone, beside strewn sandals and striped towels, and my cousins beckon. “Come in! Come swimming!” They shout. “I forgot my suit is across the street!” I yell back. “Then, go get it! We’ll wait for you!”

And so, I do.

Through the years, I have often sought out one kind of love only to receive another. But, I am older now. Older than I’ve ever been. Old enough to know that love is love is love.

And, when love tells you it will wait for you — make haste — jump in the fucking water.

 

Burn, Baby. Burn.

joanadoration

Martyrs are crazy, man.

I remember reading about Joan of Arc for the first time when I was a kid and thinking: This chic is fucking nuts.

Yet, I turned each page, unable to tear my eyes away from her gruesome end. Her expression, stoic, as her face disappeared into a haze of smoke and flames. I couldn’t fathom a world where someone would burn for her Beliefs. But, the older I get, the more I learn — people do this everyday. And, usually, it’s not for God’s sake.

The truth is, like it or not, we’re all a little bit martyr-y. I’ve been picking this theory apart, because — it bugs me. I don’t like the idea of people killing themselves, literally or figuratively, in the name of something else — especially expecting praise.

Since my Year of Happiness began, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering how my Happiness has been thwarted by my own martyr-like Beliefs and actions.

I’m gonna lay some Belief smack-down on y’all: We’re all selfish, narcissistic, idealistic, and self-serving. — Some of the time. — It’s called Being Human. And, I’m here to tell you that you’re supposed to fuck up and, occasionally, be an asshole. If you’ve been conditioned by your parents, family, coworkers, significant others, children, or friends to believe otherwise, you’ve got some serious martyr-issues to deal with yourself.

People who tell you that they do everything from a selfless place — are liars. Even the most selfless people get pleasure and happiness from the good acts they perform. Martyrdom, by definition, is self-serving. That is to say, to a martyr, to serve God is to serve one’s self. And, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Serving other people is THE BEST thing we can do. But, the thing about martyrdom is — to do it right — you can’t expect anything in return. That’s the rub. And, the part where most people fuck up. Unless, of course, you’re Joan of Arc.

But, I’m not here to talk-up theologian mumbo-jumbo. I’m here to tell you that your Belief and commitment to your own Happiness, doesn’t come with a list of prerequisite actions. You’re not selfish or idealistic to a fault if your priority in life is Happiness — Your Happiness.

I think that was the crux of my problem. I always felt that I owed someone — that there was a price to pay for feeling happy. — I had to have a certain job, look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. And, because I never lived up to my own impossible standards, I unknowingly held a fundamental Belief that I didn’t deserve better. And, that Belief was all-encompassing.

This week, I tackled a lot of the Beliefs I grew up with. Some from home, some from school, some that I’d created, myself, in adulthood. None were very positive. But, more importantly — none of them were true.

As we grow into adults, our little-kid Beliefs grow too. We never revisit the flawed system into which we’ve built ourselves. And, we forget that we wrote all these Beliefs during a time in our lives when we didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the doctrine to which we pledged our faith.

We’re never taught as kids that — Belief is flexible. — It is.

So often, we find ourselves feeling inadequate, powerless, and alone. But, if we leverage our Beliefs, we’ll find that this is never the case. We are, in every moment we live — Worthy, capable, and supported, each of us, integral parts of this incredible celestial ensemble. If your life is a testament to the things you value, shouldn’t the first thing on your list be Yourself? Your Happiness?

This is your gift to the world. — You. — Your unique being and all the gifts you already posses.

Happiness, I’m discovering, grows from a very small place within us. It has an uncanny ability to permeate into all areas of our being — if we let it. But, first, we must hold a Belief, even if it is just a small one, that we are worthy of the Happiness we desire.

I was a dumpy kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and, the ones I did have were dumpy too. We supported each other. But, we never believed that we belonged — not at the cool table, or at the pretty-girl-clique parties, or to get picked for school sports teams. And, maybe, that was true back then. But, I think, it’s more likely that we let a little bit of chub and big crew of mean girls get us down.

We were always good enough. But, we never believed it. And, for me, finding Happiness now, is about revisiting those things I internalized long ago. Eradicating ridiculous, outdated Beliefs that were never true. Finding my Happiness, largely, has been slowly silencing the voices that have been lying to me for as long as I can remember.

My advice? If you really want to be happy, don’t be a martyr for the sake of the self-deprecating voice you created to explain the unfairness of your youth. That voice is ridiculous and has no bearing on the person you’ve become. That voice only silences the one you’ve been given by the Universe. The one that serves you and everyone around you.

Martyring yourself for accolades doesn’t make anyone happy, especially you. More importantly, it doesn’t change the past. Real change takes place when our Beliefs reflect the people we have become, today.

Belief is flexible.

And, with few tweaks, I think you’ll be surprised how fast Happiness will light you up.

No inferno necessary.

 

“Slow the Fuck Down.”: And Other Advice from Dad

Photo Apr 12, 12 07 38 PM

My birthday gift to myself? — I took an impromptu road trip. I headed down south with pure wanderlust pumping through my veins. My radio was turned up, my windows were rolled down —  and no one was going to stop me.*

*Until I got pulled over for speeding.

Not only did I get pulled over, I received a summons. Not your regular-old speeding ticket. Apparently, I was driving “recklessly.” Well, that’s what they call it in Virginia. In New York, it’s called driving. But, in any case, I have to send a lawyer to represent me at a Virginia courthouse in June. I’m told that I’ll just have to pay a fine. Which, I guess I had coming. This is America after all. Penalties — I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting, was having a revelatory moment. After the initial panic of being pulled over subsided I, of course, Googled my charges. And then, promptly, I texted my father — an attorney — freaking out. Positive that I was going to have to serve a year in prison, just one day after turning 32, I was wigging out. How was I going to spin this, my “Year of Happiness,” into my “Year of Incarceration”? This was definitely among the worst news I could have received. But, in proper Dad-like-fashion, he escorted me off my ledge in crazy-town, and convinced me everything would be just fine. He told me to enjoy my trip. And, I sat in my hot car, staring at my iPhone, wondering — How?

After splashing some cold water on my face and sucking down an iced soy latte at a rest-stop Starbucks in Virginia Beach, I realized that I had to let myself surrender to the experience. If I was going to enjoy my trip — which had only begun 4 hours earlier — I had to let my panic and frustration go.

It’s easy to say “I surrender.” I think we all imagine that surrendering, once we decide to do so, is an easy action. We pull over to the side of the road, we say “Yes, officer. No, officer.” We get the ticket. And we accept what’s going on, because — we have to. But that’s just part of the surrender. It’s in the aftermath of surrender where we really have to do the dirty work.

Surrender isn’t in the action of giving in. Surrender is living with yourself after you’ve taken action. You give in. You give yourself up. But — then what? What’s the action that follows your surrender? Because, until you figure that out, there’s no way to know where your work lies.

It’s obvious — to me anyway — that we all want to be Happy. If being Happy were as easy as just wanting it, we’d all be living Happily every after. The thing is, Happiness isn’t just a vague concept. It’s actually quite specific. We are all unique and different beings. What makes me Happy, probably wouldn’t do much for you and vice versa. So, identifying what it is you want, being specific about the things that will bring you joy, is the first and most vital step to actually getting on the road to finding Happiness.

And, as someone who’s all over the map about what she wants, it’s no wonder I’ve been grasping at straws for so long. In the past, I’ve latched on to the wants and desires of the people I’ve loved. I thought, maybe, since they loved those things — I would too. But, that method has only led me down dead end roads.

This week, surrender means slowing down. Literally and figuratively. If I can’t put my finger on what I want — that’s OK. But, it means, at the very least, I have to surrender what I don’t want.

I don’t want another ticket. — So, I stick to the speed limit.

Surrender is identifying where the plan isn’t working, and implementing something that does work. That sounds rudimentary. I know. But, it’s a simple step that we all avoid and, as a result, we continually get stuck circling the situations and feelings we don’t want. We never let ourselves move on.

Truthfully, driving at 55 mph may not change my life, but, it’s doing something differently. It’s better than harping on about the thing that wasn’t working.

We want surrender to be fast. — Like, driving 79 mph in a 55 mph zone. — But, it’s not. It’s slow. Like, School Zone slow. And, it’s deliberate. It takes time.

So, this week — Month 1, Week 2 in my Year of Happiness, this is it: Surrender, at age 32, is taking your Dad’s advice to “Slow the fuck down.” I chose to abandon my panic and, instead, reveled in the fact that dear-old-Dad finally chose to speak in my superior vernacular of profanity. And, I found myself appreciating that, even though it may take time, we all can learn a new language.

Eventually, we can find ourselves speaking the very same language as the things to which we are desperate to connect. — Mainly Happiness. — Which, you should know, I did find on my road trip down south.

A journey that I decided to make — in spite of the speed limit.

 

Outline Outlaws

3630338227_004573113e

The only child of two juris doctors, some will say, I was born to be edited.

And, while my lineage might suggest otherwise — I, certainly, am no juris doctor.

I talk food over politics. In the course of our discourse, I am more likely to contribute a word of the four-letter variety than that of the SAT. I have more use for essential oils than I do for supreme court justices. And, I’ll take a trashy beach novel over legalese any day of the week.

For better or for worse — this is who I am.

But, how this came to be, I’ll never know. I remember spending long nights at my mother’s side, as she relentlessly scoured over my high school papers. Her red pen marked small notes in the margin. Misshapen circles ensconced periods at the ends of my sentences. She never provided answers — the circles were left there for me to ponder. And, it would eventually dawn on me, hours later, that semicolons were her preferred punctuation. I would return my pages to her bedside, having made the necessary changes, and a smile of approval would creep up the sides of her jaw.

My mother touted the merits of a well assembled outline. “If it’s any good, it’s harder to write than the actual paper,” she told me. “You have to decide what you want to say. Tell your reader, point by point, what you are going to do. And, then, you have to go about doing just that — with the proper citation!”

I sat at the dining room table, hovering over my stark canvas — an expository Alcatraz — a blank sheet of loose leaf paper. In those fruitless hours, I hated my mother for every moment that she had committed to my education.

An outline? What a fucking drag.

I was far too distracted for that kind of thing. I was meant to ramble. Free writing journals like W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne. Run on sentences like Hubert Selby, Jr. Did J.D. Salinger make outlines? Kurt Vonnegut? John Updike? No. No, of course not. Writing was too much an act of the heart for such things.

Back then, I thought that being a good writer meant, without exception, you were an outline outlaw. — But, I wrote them anyway. For my mother. — And, as a result, every paper I turned in was a well comprised, point oriented, thoroughly convincing manifesto. To this day, I have never written for an editor that has surpassed her level of bad-assery.

While I set plans into motion, for whatever-the-hell-it-is I’m doing with my life, I keep returning to my mother’s advice. — Assemble a proper outline. — Even now, it seems a heartless chore. But, something urges me on. I still struggle to find some kind of framework.  The thing that tells me, point by point, what I am going to do. Placing me firmly in the reality I so often find myself skirting.

Back here, in this place I thought I’d left, I stand side by side with the thoughtful child I once was — outlaws seeking structure. Back in this writer’s house. My mother’s manila folders stacked on the dining room table, pregnant with white paper. My father’s den, a museum of dusty books stacked from the floor to the ceiling. If ever there were a place to make edits — to begin to write myself again — this is it.

With some effort, pieces slowly come together. Points and arguments. Opinions and footnotes. I learn how to write what’s coming next.

And, when I’m not sure how to punctuate my sentences, I just walk down the hall and run the pages by my live-in editor, clad in her full-length nightgown, red pen at-the-ready.

 

 

 

Drawing: Pete Scully; Materials: “Pens”; http://petescully.com/materials/