Thor, For A Day

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I’m flexible.

People LOVE hearing this. — When you’re making a hair appointment. Scheduling a business meeting. Booking a trip. Meeting up for drinks. Planning a date. Nailing down an interview. Mastering a yoga pose. — Everyone just loves to know that they’re working with a little (or a LOT) of wiggle room.

Man, what is it about all that wiggle room?

I was having a moment last week. One of those “Happiness Doesn’t Exist and Love Is Dead” moments. Yes, I’ve had quite a few of those this year. It was Wednesday night, and after driving away, as fast as humanly possible, from a “flexible” second date with the World’s Most Boring Man, I found myself walking down the shoe isle at a strip-mall Marshall’s around 9:00PM, for emergency-nocturnal-retail-therapy. My hair was a mess and my eye make-up was all smeary from tearing up in the car while listening to The National and feeling sorry for myself. And, as I stared at myself in the Marshall’s full length mirror, wearing a pair of brown, clearance ankle-boots with three inch heels, I felt the Earth beneath the white, linoleum floor of the strip mall, shift. I’m not sure if it was my anger or my peace that sent the high-wattage volts of badass-ery flowing up through my curvy thighs, but, I decided then and there: I’m done making concessions for myself this year.

With just two months left in my Year of Happiness, I often find myself wondering how “Happy” I’ll really be when it’s all over. When I turn thirty-three, will I have learned enough? Changed enough? Seen enough? — And, the truth is, I don’t know. Probably not. But, I do know this — for a lifetime, I’ve let flexibility be an excuse more often than I’ve let it open me up to possibility. Time and again,  I’ve said, “Hey, I’ll hang on to this crappy, little relationship/job/hometown/apartment, because, it’s OK, for now. I’m flexible. I can always make changes later.” But, here’s the thing. — I don’t make changes later. — I think about making changes later and never do.

So, looking in the mirror, legs parted in a Thor-like stance, wearing my new clearance boots, with tags still dangling from the zippers, I decided that Happiness isn’t about getting what you want — it’s about asking for it — and not being flexible. I strutted over to the triangular, mirrored bench, unzipping my boots at the anklets, realizing, it’s high time I threw down my own hammer.

After a slew of awful dates, and some not-so-awful dates with guys who couldn’t give a shit about me or my happiness, would you believe that I’ve only met one person in Albany that I’ve had any genuine interest in? And he wasn’t on an app. I met him like real humans meet. At a Friendsgiving dinner way back in November. We didn’t even talk to each other. You know, the way most, awkward, normal, non-bots act when they meet each other. And, later, I asked my roommates about him when we got home. — I heard later that he’d inquired about me as well.

After some mixed, non-communication between our mutual friends, it fizzled. I decided to leave it up in the air, because — Fuck it. — I’m flexible.

But, last Wednesday, in Marshall’s shoe isle, months, and many bad dates later, me and my Thor boots were having none-of-it. When had I become such a chicken shit?

So, under Marshall’s florescent lights, in my socks, I looked up Friendsgiving guy’s Facebook profile and friended him. And, in a not-so-twisty twist of fate, he accepted my request. And, I sent him a message asked him out to coffee. — Under totally dubious, and transparent pretenses, of course. — But, it felt really good. And, in a matter of minutes, after months of being disappointingly “flexible about everything,” all it took was three minutes of being brave to feel somewhat hopeful. And, now, it’s ceased to matter how it all turns out. For now, it only matters that I asked. — Everything else, is just icing on the cake.

And that’s the the thing about Happiness. The greatest lesson from this year, the one I hope I’ll always remember is: Happiness is about what you actually give yourself when you stop being so flexible. Sure, give an inch, but — fight for the mile.

It doesn’t matter if, in the end, everything goes to shit. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. It only matters that you show up — and go for it. — Stop making concessions in the name of flexibility. If there’s anything that you should be inflexible about it’s your own Happiness.

So, I walked out of Marshall’s at 9:30PM with a pair of cheap boots and a new lease on my own Happiness. By 10:30PM, I had made a coffee date with someone I’m fairly confident isn’t insane (or boring). Some things are better when you’re flexible, like, diving for the best-you-can-get-boots at the bottom of a clearance bin. But, some things are worth more. — More time. More effort. And, yes, more risk. Which, sometimes, will involve forcing yourself to move around in a room with a little less flexibility than you’re used to.

You never start out batting 400. Trust me, I know better than anyone, you won’t hit every ball that gets tossed your way. Not even close.

But, your best bet is to swing. Take a strong, inflexible stance. And, bring your hammer down.

 

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Emotional Bypasses & Literary Kidney Stones

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If you start running in woo-woo circles, you’re going to choke on the word “Acceptance” so many times, it’s likely you’ll vomit.

It’s one of those things that, since I got sober, I hear all the time. And, don’t get me wrong. “Acceptance” is great and all. It’s a foundation for a lot of stuff.

So, it has that going for it.

But, the thing about “Acceptance” is, it can only get you so far.

It’s one of those passive actions. It’s very, um, “Think-ey.” And, right now, I’m feelin’ pretty “Do-ey.”

This week marks the start of the 8th month in my Year of Happiness. And, I’m not sure why, but, this month feels like the big leagues. And the reason I’m getting “Do-ey” over here is because, well, it feels like it’s time. Time to get out of my head.

If you are, or were, a 12-Stepper, you know that the 12-Steps of Recovery start off in a kinda “Think-ey” way. But, it’s a trap! That’s how they getcha. They ease you into it and then — BOOM. They hit you with Step 4, hard, like a cast iron skillet to the head.

Working Step 4 (a rigorously honest moral inventory), things get pretty action oriented. And, before you know what’s happening, the gates to hell are opened, and all the recovery newbies are thrown into the fire that the devil lit himself. — Because, if you are really going to recover, then you’re going to get burnt. Like, really, really burnt.

It’s become very apparent to me over the last 8 months, that Happiness, like sobriety, requires quite a bit of action. And, the thing is, when you devote yourself to your own Happiness for an entire year, the things that make you Unhappy become very relevant, and very obvious — very quickly. That awareness, that painful, slow-drip of Unhappiness, has been the Catch 22 of this entire project. The elephant in the room. Because, if there wasn’t some part of me that needed the Happiness in the first place, this entire project would be for naught.

So, I’ve had to ask myself, as I roll into the final 1/3 of my Year of Happiness: How am I going to face these Unhappy things for the sake of my Happiness?  And, honestly, even as I type this, it makes me wince a bit.

Having a blog and being honest (and pretty public) about your life can be unnerving sometimes. Especially when you know that a project, one that you, yourself, have designed, is going to bring you (and your audience) face to face with things that are uncomfortable for you. Owning up is hard. But, owning up publicly is harder.

For me, this project is about more than making myself visible or making you, my reader, a voyeur. It’s about storytelling and shared experiences. It’s about feeling less alone in a pretty lonely world. And, it’s about being unapologetic about your apologies. Whether you live in sobriety or not, we’re not that different. Because, you know — HUMANITY.

I’ve devoted this month to Owning Up. And, no, you’re not going to get a Danielle Steel novel, or the police report from my arrest, or some wild’n’crazy confession. However, you are going to get stories. Stories that hurt. Stories I haven’t written yet, but have been sitting in my veins waiting to bleed out for awhile. And, these stories are going to be truly difficult to write. These are the stories that have been stopping up my Happiness-arteries for years and years. And, I’m choosing to use my Year of Happiness as a kind of literary, emotional-bypass surgery.

There are always stories that are difficult to pass. Emotional kidney stones, if you will. And, this month, I’m doing a very “Do-ey” thing. — I’m going to Own Up to the things that still haunt my Happiness.

So, maybe you’re wondering, why the grand overture?

Well. Owning Up is a bitch. And, frankly, I have to build myself up. I’m sure that being vulnerable and visible in new ways is an artist’s work. And, I don’t know that I’m calling myself an artist here, but, I do know that I enjoy thinking about things in new ways. I enjoy seeing (and writing) people in the places they once were and in new light, where I sometimes find them. Being sober has illuminated so much of my own darkness. But, sobriety cannot do the work of telling the stories that brought me to it in the first place.

All that light, that’s just acceptance. And, acceptance lives in the “Think-ey” side of my brain. It’s time for doing. Action creates change. And, change is what this year has been about. My Year of Happiness isn’t some hook to get you to read this blog. — My Year of Happiness is an experiment. A thermometer. A gauge. A way to see if we really can get from Point A to Point B in one year if we set the intention to do so.

November’s posts are going to get away from the self-help narrative that is often my jam. This month’s posts are going to read like narratives. And, it’s all in the name of Owning Up. In the name of wading through shit in order to get out of the basement. In the name of “Acceptance.”

Which is really to say: Happiness and Unhappiness are inextricably linked. Without one another, we couldn’t appreciate anything in our lives. And, I’m of the belief, this is by cosmic design. I’m also of the belief that we can get more Happiness by dealing with our Unhappiness than we can by just “Accepting” it.

I’ve learned that stories we don’t allow to come out, will continue to come up.

So, here’s to the “Do-ey” nature of regurgitation.

May it be the medicine that I (and, maybe even you) have long awaited.

Artwork: https://www.etsy.com/listing/86717763/vintage-book-art-print-anatomical-heart

Meatloaf at The Ritz

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Here at home, Jolly-old-England is known best for their afternoon tea service, antiquated monarchy, and, the occasional wonky tooth.

I mull over these stereotypes, and others, as I walk the streets of London.

I quickly become aware of the fact that, here,  I am the undignified American. When I stop into a drug store, I fumble through my change purse trying to make correct change for the cashier. He rolls his eyes when I make a self-deprecating joke about being a dumb American. He’s heard this one before, and, he’s not amused.

Brash, outspoken, unapologetically irreverent, unintentionally funny, and unavoidably emotional. — These are things that are said about Americans abroad. And, perhaps these were traits assigned to me by some of my UK counterparts, but, when I catch myself laughing a little too loudly with my friend at a hotel bar, I realize, they happen to be true.

I met up with my client (and friend) at several fancy venues over the course of the weekend. And, despite wearing the nice dress I purchased just days before flying out, I still felt kind of scummy. And, I started to wonder why that was — I wondered, what about my American-ness was so worrisome? Even a nice dress couldn’t cover the bits of me that felt too revealing here.

At first, I was sure that it was politics. Given the wretched state back home, I was worried, at least in part, about how I might be perceived. Would they think I liked Donald Trump? I was worried about being seen not just as an American person, but, as a product of America. I feared my own ignorance. What did this place and these people know about me that I didn’t? — London is old and has dignity. — I am young and have none.

When, I realized, that’s just it. None of us has dignity, really. We remain so, so small in a world where we fight so incredibly hard to be enormous. But, Humility has the power to level us. Humility goes beyond the feelings inside us — it places us in the Universe.

We all have questions about how we look from the outside. We wonder who we’re supposed to be, and how we can assimilate with others — and within ourselves. But, it’s when we let that curiosity become fear — we lose our Humility.

And, as I close this month of reflections on Humility — what it is, where we find it, and what it means in our day-to-day lives, I’m led back to what has become the reoccurring theme, in this, my Year of Happiness: Fear never amounts to anything good.

All the worry and fear around my American-ness reached fever pitch on Saturday before I entered my client’s event. The one I’d been so excited to attend. The one that meant something big for me and my business. The one that had brought 40 women together to celebrate their incredible drive and success. The one that asked me to face the reality of where I stood — in that moment. And, facing reality is daunting for all of us.

When we step out of our Humility, we step out of our same-ness. And, when we other ourselves, that is where our fear thrives. Instead of reminding ourselves of our similarities, our crazy-brains race to find ways that we are different. I tell myself: Maybe I am too brash, too outspoken, too irreverent, too  funny, and too emotional. — How will others read this? I’m doomed. — The sad American.

But, the women from the event started to trickle in, greeting me in their warm British accents. The air in the room began to shift. We recognized each other from Facebook. We embraced. We kissed each other’s cheeks. We made happy little shrieks and squeals. We shook hands. We laughed. We exchanged our business cards and stories about our struggle. We took notes about our dreams and determination. We celebrated our diversity. — And, we found solace in our same-ness.

No one at the event was worried about Her Majesty, The Queen or Donald Trump. We were there for each other, listening to the words in the room, not the voices in our heads telling us to fear all the things we didn’t know.

There was enough space in the room for whatever emotion I felt I wanted to bring into it. And, it felt good. Simple.

Humility isn’t a complicated thing. It is, perhaps, the simplest. Humility and fear are just mirrors for one another. And, to remain humble, you must remain small. You must find joy in what makes you, fundamentally, the same. And, you must find laughter in what makes you different.

And, after all my worrying over politics, it wasn’t Donald Trump that confused and baffled those I met over the course of the afternoon. It was our food that troubled my new friends from across the pond most.

“Is it true that, in America, you eat something called ‘Meatloaf’? It sounds disgusting.” I nod at her, “Yes. It’s a pretty popular home-cooking standard.”

“Oh God.” She says in her delightfully British accent. “And, it’s really made of meat?”

Eat shit.

photo-oct-01-5-27-26-pmThe dog ate a pile of goose shit while we were out on a walk yesterday.

If that isn’t humble, I don’t know what is.

As I screamed out, “Murray! Drop it!” He looked back at me, still chomping away, his pink tongue sloshing over and around his loose, flapping lips, and he smiled his puppy smile. A true, shit-eating grin. — And, in that moment, my sheer disgust melted into laughter.

A dog’s life is 100% pure presence. And, in his moment of sheer delight, Murray lifted me out of my anxious, humanly concern and placed me in a state of acceptance and joy. With his own Humility, he humbles me too.

I sat in bed, overthinking my self-assigned task this past week, reexamining Humility. I tried to make sense of the role it has (or hasn’t) been playing in my life, when I realized: I take myself too seriously.

We get a lot of conflicting messages these days. As our culture moves its focus to self-awareness and growth, it feels like there aren’t many seeds of Humility sprouting up around us. Self-interest has always, to some extent, reigned supreme. And, even when we’re aware enough to think that, perhaps, we should be a bit more humble, we end up finding out that manufactured Humility isn’t half as potent as the real deal.

Humility isn’t so much an action as it is a state of being. So, how do we get there?

Murray stops to sniff and lick a particular patch of sidewalk, he looks up at me and his eyes ask, “This is good, why aren’t you getting in on this?” And, for a minute, I wonder why licking a spot on the sidewalk where a child likely dropped an ice cream cone three days ago isn’t the highlight of my day? — “What can I tell you Murray? We play by different rules.” I say before urging him on, gently tugging his leash.

But, Murray makes me think. While I have no desire to lick the sidewalk, I start to ask myself what I might be telling myself is off limits? My Year of Happiness has shown me that, we don’t have to play by all the rules we thought we did. In fact, rules are pretty much garbage. They limit us in ways that can take us away from the moments for which we should be 100% present. We don’t lose everything by going off the cuff. I don’t know where that rumor started. Risk opens us up to humbling experiences, so, why are we cutting ourselves off from Humility by limiting our lives to predictable and safe experiences?

It’s difficult writing about being humble. Especially when I’m trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about while aiming to both sound, and remain, humble. Even as a quasi-academic effort it’s exhausting and requires patience that feels wasted. It’s much simpler than we’re making it. Humility, as a concept, is easy: In the grand scheme of things — We’re small. — But, that’s a pretty big concept for a self-obsessed culture to wrap its head around.

In a 12-Step meeting, someone once told me: When your world is big, your problems are small. When your world is small, your problems are big. — That statement, is pretty profound. And, for me, it’s more or less the definition of Humility.

Living with Humility doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk. However, it does mean that if you’re going to enjoy your time here on Earth, you’ve got to show up and be willing to experience things moment by moment. Like Murray. If we could allow ourselves to comprehend our own insignificance, I think we’d eat a lot more shit.

We let our brains get the best of us. We forget the moment that’s right in front of us. And, that’s when having a dog’s undiscerning palate, the kind that can lick the sidewalk outside of a CVS and look back up at you with his eyes expressing each new, exciting flavor of dirt like a four-legged sommelier, comes in handy. Animals are truly humble. Their innocent nonchalance is the closest I’ve come to understanding my own Humility. Their worlds are enormous. For Murray, one city block is an unending adventure where he is in a constant state of discovery. New smells, secret hiding places, and life’s simple pleasures — a child’s grubby hand reaching out from a stroller to pet his snout.

Beyond survival, animals exist purely in the moment. — Naps. Snacks. Pets on the head. The intense urge to rip apart a chair, couch, or chew toy. It’s all a visceral love of the moment. The moment is never lost on animals, because they are always right there in it.

And so, it comes full circle as I laugh my ass off in a patch of grass when I realize that Murray has, in one simple action, taught me the same lesson that Baba Ram Dass has taught me over a span of years, in multiple books, and through meditation practices.

Humility, my friends, is about eating shit. It’s about living without fear. Fear is too a small a problem for such an infinite world. Humility is the endless possibility that surrounds us if we choose to get out of our own way. And, when we allow ourselves to be open to everything, the world gives us that magical feeling that reminds us we are limitless.

And then we get to ask everyone, “This is good, why aren’t you getting in on this?”

Eating Humble Pie

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Ten years ago, I became obsessed with baking pie.

This obsession came years before I got sober or became a vegan. At twenty-two years old, the fire-water-fuel for my pie-baking frenzy was almost exclusively pint glasses filled with vodka-cranberry. And, all my pans were slathered with rich, Irish butter.

My pie-making phase was the result of, what can only be described as a difficult time in my life. I had just graduated college and I had no idea what I was doing. Thrust into the world with a BA in Creative Writing and Irish Studies, I was well equipped for absolutely nothing. And so, I sat in the living room of my apartment and read every pie crust recipe I could get my hands on.

Even with absolutely no direction, I did know one thing: I was going to make the best damn pie ever baked. And so, it began. I spent the first few months perfecting my crust. First, one made with butter. Only butter. Then, shortening. Only shortening. Then, a combo of the two. Then, back to butter alone.

There was a time, I made a pie almost every day, but at the very least — three times a week. My boyfriend and I had friends over for dinner several times a week just to avoid the sheer surplus of pie. Banana Cream. Raspberry Chiffon. Chocolate Mousse. All-American Apple. Blueberry, with a lattice top. Pumpkin-Pecan. Cranberry-Pear. Sour Cherry. Lemon Meringue. — I could go on.

I didn’t know it then, but, looking back, I see how my great pie obsession filled some great need within me. The need to excel. The need to perfect. Pie gave me something to strive for, something to be great at, and when I felt helplessly alone — something to snack on.

As I’ve grown and changed in sobriety, my perfectionism, my drive to achieve, and my need to create things seamlessly has changed quite a bit too. I’ve learned about the unhealthy patterns we create in our desperate attempt to save ourselves from the thing we fear, usually — the unknown.

During my great pie period, pie was more than just a relaxing evening in the kitchen. It was tangible evidence that I hadn’t failed. My truth was baked in, and, you could taste it in every flaky, buttery slice. If nothing else: I was a fucking baker of pies. And, even when I did fail — yes, some of my pies were completely inedible — I had a new goal. I was going to make that pie again, and, this time, it was going to be so good it would make Martha Stewart weep.

Almost exactly a decade later, I’m starting to realize that if you want to learn, grow, and truly change there’s only one kind of pie we should strive to bake perfectly: Humble Pie.

I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling to do things on my own. Because, I always thought that asking for help was a weakness. I thought that admitting that you couldn’t be perfect on the first try was a sure-fire way to get overlooked. But, sobriety has taught me that if we are going to strive to be perfect at anything, we have to be open to letting others tell us what they see (and taste). We have to be open to criticism. We have to fork over a piece of our pie and be comfortable with being told that the filling is way too jammy and the crust is far too soggy.

Humility is a confusing word. It’s often accompanied by negative connotations. And, that’s why I’m devoting the seventh month in my Year of Happiness to Humility and its nuances. Humility isn’t negative when it is practiced in it’s truest form. Being humble is being able to step back and appreciate that something supersedes you — it’s accepting that fact that you’re not always the absolute authority. Humility is possessing the ability to learn, with grace.

So often, we lump Humility in with martyrdom. We step back for show. We let someone else take the stage because we think it will look good for us — but, false Humility stinks of insecurity. And, insecurity is one of the main reasons that we find it so difficult to admit that — THE PIE JUST ISN’T ON POINT.

In the dictionary, Humility is synonymous with “meekness,” “modesty,” and “unassertiveness.” But, I don’t think that’s always true. I think that being able to step back from one’s self and see where there is room to grow — is straight up ballsy. I think it’s inwardly assertive. I think it requires a strong backbone, grace, and confidence to be truly humble. Learning isn’t easy. If it were, we’d all be experts and scholars. Change requires facing the unknown, and, being willing to fuck up.

These days, I don’t bake as much as I used to, but, I still love it. And, even though I perfected my crust ten years ago, a few years back, I had to start from scratch when I went vegan. I’ll be the first to admit, margarine isn’t the same. But, I’m learning. And, I can still make a vegan lattice top pie that would make Julia Child proud.

The truth is — I don’t need pie anymore. I find comfort in knowing, I don’t have to be the best and neither does my pie. And, if people don’t like my aquafaba meringue, fuck ’em. More snacks for me. But, I know I still have to bake, and eat, a Humble Pie on occasion. Because, unlike ten years ago, today, I am open to suggestion and I’m ready to fail.

So, take the pie or leave it. But, if you take it, I recommend the Pumpkin-Pecan.

 

 

Photo: My All-American Apple Pie, Lattice top w/stars.

 

 

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

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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

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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/

 

That Antique Mojo

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I had it. I lost it. I need to find it again.

Mojo.

And, not just any mojo. That antique mojo.

I’ve been feeling as good as dead for months. But, I know from experience — it’s possible to rediscover yourself. To uncover that thing you’ve lost. It’ll be a little rusty. Its hinges will need a little WD-40, for sure. But, rest assured — good mojo, however ancient, can look like new with a little spit’n’polish.

I imagine my insides look something like an apartment on an episode of hoarders. — Dusty, disorganized, used up, dingy, and dinged. And, yes, maybe there are a few dead mice. — That doesn’t mean its not worth fixing up. I’ll admit, I’ve been stock-piling my emotional garbage for awhile now. But, I don’t have to trash it all. Right? I mean. Really. Seriously. — Don’t throw that out.

Has no one seen Antiques Roadshow? Come on people — cut open the back of your proverbial paintings. That’s where you’ll find the treasure map that was hidden years ago — when things were good. A message from another life. Another era. A happier time. I’ll bet money it’s still there. Though, it’s hard to be certain with all the looters that have been in and out of my head of late. But, I’m like a motherfucking squirrel. — I know how to hide a nut.

So, I suit up. I brave the unsteady ladder and ascend into my head space. I stumble around, grasping for the string that’s tied to a light bulb somewhere in this shit-hole of an attic.

Sure, the air’s old and stale up here. But, it’s almost winter. So I put on a old sweater that I don’t mind getting proper-filthy and I throw open the window. Sun streams in and holds a cloud of glistening dust in its golden spotlight. Cold gusts of air upset the dust bunnies that have been collecting like plaque in the arteries of my tired and cynical heart.

I take it in. Assess the mess. And, it’s not as bad as I thought. It just requires starting. Beginning where I am. — Clearing. Out. The. Crap. — Finding the mojo.

Tired of being pissed at myself, I decide to ease up on the criticism and laugh at this mess instead. That’s the biggest part. — Acceptance. Walking right into it. Getting dirty. Because, that’s when it happens. That’s when you stumble upon it.

Under some old newspapers and a boxed up game of Trivial Pursuit from 1973, I find it. — A well stashed nut. — My mojo.

And sure, it’s a little worse for the wear. But, whaddyaknow?It’s salvageable.

Truth be told, with a little heart — most things are.

 

Artwork: “Tales from the Hidden Attic”; By: Michael V. Vinalo; http://www.artgypsytales.com/2014/04/michael-vmanalo-surrealism-fantasy.html

 

 

The Hunker Bunker

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There is nothing worse than being stuck.

I’ve heard it said, the definition of hell is standing in one place while wishing you were standing in another.

Unfortunately for us, it would appear that the human experience itself is an ongoing parade from one plane of our stuck-ness to the next. We stop. We assess. We look for new places to stand. And, me, I know — I’ve been in this spot before. I’ve felt it. — Change is imminent. I’m on the brink, but, I still find myself looking too far down the path ahead. I get caught up in distances that are too mysterious to gauge.

And, when I become overwhelmed by my own sense of place — or lack thereof — I do it. — I hunker.

My best friend can predict my hunkering — episodes of withdrawal and isolation — with laser-like precision. It’s no secret when I am tired of fighting the good fight. I become exhausted searching for the next, best place. So, I resign myself to my bed where I binge-watch television shows on Hulu and Netflix and tell myself that nothing will ever change. Ever. Ever. Ever.

It sounds terrible. But, in truth, it’s pretty fantastic. Not only is hunkering incredibly relaxing, non-invasive, and cheap — it’s the pre-cursor to breakthrough.

I wrote recently about the advantages of identifying patterns. — How labeling my predictable routines has helped me to see where I was wrong, or where I needed to change, or where I kept putting myself in harm’s way. And, yet another advantage of this self-awareness is — you know when things are about to shift.

Hunkering is a sign. And while I’ll admit that it’s a behavior that sends up some red flags, — mainly a house-ridden, quiet, and antisocial alcoholic — it’s not all bad, I assure you. I’ve camped out in the hunker bunker many times before. I know the drill. And, I know that what follows is the sincere desire, drive, and momentum — to evacuate.

An experienced hunker-er knows that change is inevitable. There are only so many hours we can stay in the good graces of our beds. There are only so many days we can devote to celebrating our own misery. And — there are only so many episodes of The Mindy Project available on Hulu Plus.

The truth is, if we stand in one place long enough, wishing we were standing somewhere else — we will eventually move toward that other place. We move because it is unbearable if we don’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we’ve taken the step.

To hunker is to catalyze.

So, I tell my best friend, lovingly — I’m going. Don’t call. Don’t write. Don’t text. I’m headed into the bunker. I know the drill. I celebrate my stuck-ness. I know where I’m disappearing to, and I know what’s coming. And, soon — I’ll emerge.

Because, after standing in the same place for far too long there is nothing else to do — but move.

 

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth; Daydream, Tempera on panel.

The Great Squirrel Chase

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This weekend, I evicted a squirrel from my apartment.

I first saw his ratty, grey tail peeking out from under my enormous television set. First, I panicked. Next, I reached for my yoga mat. Which, obviously, I proceeded to wield as an unruly weapon.

Even in my hysteria, it seemed simple enough. — I just had to lock the cat in the back bedroom, open the front door, and then usher my squirrel guest out, with gusto, flopping my yoga mat this way and that.

As it turned out, we were both quite terrified. So, I called my friend Tony who lives across from me in our apartment complex. No answer. Then, I tried my landlord. No answer. Then, I called my father — in New York City. Though separated by five thousand miles, he was the one who did not fail me. And while he did laugh at me like a hyena for five minutes, he also remained on the line for my intense, steady, and, dare-I-say-it — hunter-like — progression of profanity. Which, progressed as follows:

“Holy shit! Oh my God he’s in the closet now! Fuck! He’s making noises! Holy fucking shit, I can’t see him! What if he fucking bites me, Dad? Dad — Stop laughing! That stupid fucker just ran into the kitchen. God, that asshole’s a stupid motherfucker. THE FRONT DOOR IS OPEN YOU ASSHOLE!!! Jesus fucking Christ, he just ran out the front door. He was, like, fuckin’ airborne Dad. He’s out. Holy shit. He’s out! Fuck.”

My heart was beating like rapid fire. — And, there I was, yoga mat in hand. — Alive.

In truth, I’m rarely present. I run over the past in my mind, I plan the future, I design escapes and intrigue. But, I’m not here. It’s tough to get me in the moment.

One evening, my ex, after hearing me spout off about this or that, asked me how it came to be that Ram Dass was my hero — my guru — if I was constantly struggling to “Be Here Now.” — “Why didn’t I try harder to live in the present?” He wondered. I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to explain to someone else how you can love a person that has the one, intangible thing that you want most, but, can never seem to grasp. It’s not coveting. It’s reverence. And, it’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who cannot comprehend any spirit that’s bigger than their own.

It’s funny, because that very same ex got me a framed “Be Here Now” poster as a gift. — A reminder I guess. It’s purple with a white lotus flower in the center. And, even though my ex is gone, the poster remains, situated happily on my mantle. So, after I had called, texted, emailed, and tweeted to everyone I knew — I plopped down on my couch to draw in my breath and stare at my purple-poster. I smiled with my teeth for the first time in months.

Excitement. Joy. Suspense. Hilarity. A SQUIRREL. Here. Now. IN MY APARTMENT.

That squirrel was my gift. Maybe from Baba himself. The moment where I was reminded: I am a real, breathing creature, wielding a yoga mat and taming wild — albeit tiny — beasts. Even when the moment had passed — the tiny creature bounding out over my two-step stoop, the feeling he awakened in me remained. — A feeling that will not escape me so quickly.

Sometimes, we can only love those that are present — without us. We can bask in their light. Their awareness. Their true presence. We can read the words that they have spilled across thousands of pages in countless books, we can watch their YouTube channels, we can sing chants along with Krishna Das. We seek out the presence.

But, sometimes, it will come to you: A squirrel who shits all over your house —while you chase it wildly with a yoga mat — while your father laughs in your ear — while your heart pumps in your chest. At the end of it all, you watch something leap to freedom. — And, it’s you.

I thank the purple poster and, for old time’s sake, I text my ex.

Because, I need to tell someone — I’m here. Now.

“Now is now. Are you going to be here, or not?” — Baba Ram Das