A City On His Map

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“What would leave you satisfied? Not happy. Satisfied. Happiness is asking too much.”

Joseph sat beside me at the bar, looking directly into my eyes, in his way — which is, and always has been, disarming. His beard was longer and waxier than the last time I’d seen him, but his soft, blue eyes remained the same — forgiving. He understands me.

Since I moved to Albany, I’ve missed him. Sometimes, I am sure he is the only person in the world with whom I can be completely honest. I sip my club soda and take a long moment to process his question. I’ve devoted the last nine months to seeking out my own happiness, and so, to dismiss that, disregard it, and consider only what’s sufficient — not ideal — is a murky state of contemplation.

We sit together, two authors, in the glow of the bar’s TV screens and twinkling Christmas lights, while groups of co-workers from the surrounding office buildings file in, slipping eagerly into the empty bar seats beside us and order each other shots of tequila to kick off the long, holiday weekend. Though this is a popular time of year for reflection, with Joseph I need no special season, he has always allowed me ample space to unpack myself beside him. We are non-traditional in every way, and this, is perhaps the thing I love most about us. But, it is that balance of convention and its polar opposite that keeps us level, only sporadically, on our cosmic see-saw.

This year, as I’ve transitioned from place to place and job to job, I have felt little pieces of myself slip in and out of my own orbit. I am a messy Universe. And, I haven’t made out the big picture just yet. Gravity hasn’t yet locked my planets into place. And, I think, that is the kind of story that Joseph loves most. But, it’s never been my entire story. As I searched for his answer, dipping my straw in and out of  my soda’s rising bubbles, my honesty felt somehow difficult to locate, even to lay it before him, someone who has never judged me. We have sat together at many a bar. Walked together across the better part of Brooklyn. Stared out from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at the New York City lights. Stood, faces pressed against each other, in a heavy, Summer rain. And, spent hours telling each other stories — in words spoken, on paper, in texts, in jokes, through music, and in epic GIF storyboards. He can make me laugh and cry in the same sentence. And, in the short time I have known him, he has never failed to answer me truthfully. So, I knew, I owed him the most honest answer I could find inside myself, and, I also knew he would wait for it, whatever it was, patiently.

“I think I’d be satisfied with being really loved. Taken care of, in a place that feels like home. — If I can ever find that place.” Even honesty can sound incredibly sad and cliché when you open your mouth to speak it. I looked to Joseph’s face for his reaction. A reaction to a complicated story, distilled down to something almost too simple. His features remained, as ever, soft and kind. He knows me, and my story, in a way that I’m not sure even I understand. And, as a storyteller himself, he sees the trap in mine, the same one I have been writing over and over again for years, where I am the heroine that never needs to be cared for — because her super power is that she’ll always take care of herself.

But, sitting beside Joseph, a person who has been a strange and beautiful mirror for my heart, I feel a kind of dishonesty in the story I’ve been telling. Because, when I break it down, my story is not a collection of observations, but rather, another means of self-preservation. I’ve taken care of myself, not because it’s what I wanted, but, because I’ve been living in such a way that it has become dangerous to be anything other than independent. When you’ve been burned so many times, it will teach you to stand back from the flames. But, there will always be a part of me that seeks out the heat.

“It isn’t wrong to want that, it’s completely natural.” He said deftly, tipping back his whiskey and water, as if he’d known my answer all along. Maybe because he too has avoided the heat. But, he manages that problem by skipping town. For him, staying in the same place too long is its own kind of pyre. Love, is built into the cities where he resides and the people who move with him, beside him, in all of them. It has always appeared to me, that, for him, love is a place he will always be seeking — an eternal and romantic quest — though, he would never label it as such. I frequently find myself in envy of his journey and, more than that, his ability to easily let go of the things which I have so desperately struggled to hold fast.

Sitting beside a person who understands you completely and cares for you profoundly, it can feel indecent admitting that you want someone to see you, to care — to love you. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like asking too much. Needy and impossible. And, after walking through the entirety of this year, I see how my pursuit of happiness has often confused itself with my own never-ending quest to be self-sufficient. Admitting that I want, and have always wanted, someone else to seal up the leaky holes in my little boat, is one of the hardest things I will ever do. It feels like asking for Divine intervention. Something that Joseph will elegantly argue — does not exist.

Next year, Joseph is moving to Spain. And, part of me wants to disappear with him. To cross continents. To get lost with him, walking through musty museums, our footsteps lost in the hum of foreign tongues. To wander through old, unpaved, and narrow streets together. To experience freedom over contentment — freedom from contentment. To stand beside him, taking pictures of a Universe that is so, incredibly far away from my own. To discover the world outside me, before committing to dive into the immeasurable depths within me. But, part of me knows how dishonest that would be — to myself.

He didn’t try to comfort me in a conventional way as he watched the tears well in my eyes, but, in his indescribable way, his manner alone, quiet and steady, he became my comfort. Reliable and steadfast, I know I can always sit beside Joseph in silence while he speaks volumes. For someone who has spent his last decade traveling, in constant motion, there is no one else I know who can sit so, perfectly still and look at you as if you were the only city on his map.

On the corner of Joralemon and Court Streets, I held Joseph close to me, a force of gravity, even if only in that moment. A planet that, though unruly, will always remain a gem in my galaxy. “Come visit me in Albany soon.” — “‘Kay,” he says. “I will.”  — And, I believed him.

Love is strange and, often, appears in unexpected places. But, sometimes, it can, and will, appear in the one place where you expect it to be. And so, we must go there. In the New Year, and in every year — we must go to that place. For me — Within. For Joseph — Spain. And, as time spirals on, we’ll continue sealing up our leaky boats, alone, until someone shows up to help us with the work, and perhaps, one day, to stay. Someone who will see us, care for us, really love us, before sailing away to some new Universe. — A place that feels like home. — If we can ever find that place.

 

 

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Pack Like A Fucking Boss

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I was a compartmentalizer.

I mean, I really, really, fucking loved to compartmentalize, you guys.

And, while I was living my past life, as a raging drunk, I found out that compartmentalization can be both a blessing and a curse.

As a functioning alcoholic, it’s a skill you need to survive. As a functioning, emotional human, it’s a sure-fire way to lose yourself completely.

While keeping my many personalities in in their designated places helped me to keep my job, maintain (most) of my professional and platonic relationships, and to pay all my bills on time — it had its dark side. The flip side of the coin was, when I was in real trouble — no one had any idea that I was up Shit’s Creek. Because, the part of me that was drowning was, well, compartmentalized.

When you’re able to separate the good and the bad elements of your personal life into neat, little packages, ultimately, it ends up holding you back. Compartmentalizing keeps you from being Open. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, per se, when you keep different parts of your life siphoned off from each other, it’s a way of lying to yourself and to the people around you. You can never show up and be all-In. You have to assemble yourself everywhere you go. You have to decide which part of you is going to show up. And, depending on your audience, you have to keep all of your different costumes straight.

When you get home after a long day of changing in and out of different personas, it’s hard to remember who you really are. And, when you don’t know who you are, it’s hard to know if you really want to get sober. — One part of you is desperate for change, but, the other nine parts will happily drag you out to the bar and sit with you until last call.

At some point, you have to start dressing up as the real you.

***          ***          ***

I moved this past weekend. And, when you head into new, uncharted territory, it’s easy to convince yourself that compartmentalizing will ease your unstable feelings and make it easier to transition into a new stage of your life. But, I learned preparing for this move, that, the only thing I really needed pack up — were my clothes.

As I settle into my new room, hang out with my new roommates, and explore my new town — I’m suddenly hit with the relief of knowing — All of me is here. — I’m all-in. I don’t have to check-in with ten, different personalities to decide if I’m OK. I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to screw everything up by merely being myself — because, for the first time, I feel unified.

Before I got sober, I used to be terrified that someone might see me in a down moment. I was scared that my fragility was a sign of weakness or incompetence. But, today, I know that it doesn’t matter what state you’re in (or appear to be in). — What matters is how you show up for yourself and the people around you.

Being one with yourself doesn’t mean that you have to ditch your schizophrenic emotions. You’re still allowed to feel great one day and like shit the next, but, the difference is, when you are united within — you can own it. And, owning where you are in your life is something that I’m still learning to do, but, the longer I practice, the more comfortable I become.

While I’m no expert in the art of moving, I’ve had some good practice in the last year. I’m getting really comfortable with letting go. I realize that moving is just another exercise in being and becoming Open. When you land in a new place, even if you have a home-base and people to show you the ropes, you still have to step into your own and be fearless.

There’s a lot of scary stuff about new places. There’s basic logistics — Figuring out how to drive around. Finding the best grocery store. Learning the shady areas in town to avoid. And then, there’s the emotional turmoil — Meeting new people who are already comfortable in their lives and routines. Wondering if I chose wisely. And, of course, there’s the inevitable feeling of: Fuck, I’m starting over, again.

But, as I embrace being Open — to myself, to my sobriety, and to the point I’m at in my life — I’m realizing that starting over is kinda my specialty. So, I’m not sure why I dread it so much. Since getting sober, I’ve been diving into new situations, relationships, jobs, and places all the time. And, I just keep getting better at it.

When I was a compartmentalizer, I had a bunch of little, safe havens that I fled to when I needed to hide. Those places kept me safe. And, in retrospect, I can see why I made those choices. Back then, it was smart. But, in sobriety, we grow. And growth, for me, has been the gradual building of just one safe haven — Myself.

When you like yourself, you can go anywhere. You can meet new people. You can discover new places and things. And, you can make mistakes.

Before getting sober, I couldn’t be Open with anyone else, because I couldn’t face myself. I left places, people, and jobs thinking I could outrun unhappiness — but, compartmentalizing was just a way of sweeping my pain under the rug so that I didn’t have to face it every day.

This weekend I learned that my compartmentalization skills can still come in handy. — I packed for this move like a pro. — I may not be able to pack up my emotional baggage like I used to, but, man oh man, can I pack up three, giant duffel bags, six Rubbermaid bins, and a banjo like a fucking boss.

As I lay here, sprawled out in my new bed, watching the morning sun spill down from the skylight onto the wall, I finally understand that I can be anyone I want to be in this new place. I’m grateful for my own willingness to be Open to and excited for my new adventures. Clean slates are unnerving, but, they are also incredibly exhilarating.

No more sifting through costumes. This time, I’m only picking one outfit.

And, as it turns out, the one I like wearing best of all — is little, old me.

 

 

Own Your Shit

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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.

 

 

 

Lies, Lies, Lies (And Other Shitty Side Dishes)

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Liar, liar, pants on fucking fire. — Yeah. I’m on to you.

The truth? — We’re all pretty big liars. It’s one of those things that no one likes to admit, but, we can’t really deny.

But, you’re not that bad. Right? You’ve only told your friend she looked ah-maaaa-zing when she showed up at your place wearing a hideous, monstrosity-of-a-dress, ready to “slay,” just a few times. You’ve embellished an otherwise mundane story to make yourself look like a hero. And, you’ve flashed a painful, pea-filled smile as you wolfed down your Aunt Edna’s barf casserole because, she’s fucking old, and you just couldn’t live with yourself if you hurt her feelings. — It’s okay. We’ve all done these things.

The lie I’m interested in is the lie where you tell someone that you’re great, perfect, fine and dandy — when, inwardly, you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That lie, is the lie where you end up burying yourself and your Happiness for the sake of polite conversation — and it’s unacceptable.

July, or, month four in my Year of Happiness, is about getting honest. And, sure, Honesty can be relative — I get that. I’m not in Camp “You’ll Burn In Hell” if you bend the truth here and there, especially for the sake of sparing your friend’s feelings, giving yourself a little confidence boost, or contributing to the maintenance of Aunt Edna’s long-surviving-casserole-pride.

I’m most concerned with the lies that we tell ourselves. Lies that present our Happiness, or lack thereof, as something other than it actually is. Lies that make excuses and apologies for our humanity and humility.

If you’re committed to your own Happiness, then you’ve started to change the things that you don’t like about your life — surrendering old patterns, believing in your power to recreate yourself, and becoming willing to journey into new, uncharted territory. — These are all things you can’t fake. In the beginning, your bark will be bigger than your bite, but, eventually, if you really want Happiness to show up for you, one has to catch up to the other. — Happiness requires walking the walk.

I hearken back to 12-Step here, because, the 4th Step, is an important one. In traditional 12-Step, the 4th Step is where you assemble a complete moral inventory. AKA — You make a list of all the shit that you’ve done, and, all the shit that you think has been done to you, and then, you spew your guts into a journal, for weeks, penning a unwieldy manifesto of reasons that you’re still mad at yourself and the rest of humanity.

The process is cathartic and disheartening and revelatory and painful and freeing. And, it’s the step that often turns people off of 12-Step recovery, because — it’s difficult. But, the thing is, getting honest is, without a doubt, the biggest part of buliding lasting sobriety — and Happiness.

Tread lightly. Sometimes the 12-Step version of getting honest can feel like you’re stuck singing an endless chorus of mea culpas. It’s all very self-flagellating. And, something I’ve learned out in the world, on my own, away from my 12-Step program, is that the biggest part of Honesty, is being able to acknowledge all the things you’ve done — and then let them go. We can’t keep revisiting the disasters we’ve left in our wake. — We have to learn our lessons well and then make a run for it.

The more honest we get, the less we have to carry around with us. It’s the baggage we sling over our shoulders and carry on our backs — resentment, bitterness, hatred, anger — that will never serve us. And, if you’re toting a ton of luggage around with you, chances are there’s some kind of truth you’re avoiding. — It will always catch up with you.

Honesty is more than facing the past. Honesty is finding a way to feel OK being yourself, in any state, without apology. Knowing that you can change, drastically, from day to day, and never feel the need to explain your position to anyone else. You’re allowed to be insecure in one way and confident in another — you don’t have explain the nuances of your inner being to people around you.

In many ways Honesty is on par with independence. Lies are just ways that we tie ourselves into a bigger narrative, making the people around us feel comfortable. We all want to fit in. We want to be a part of an important story arc. And, when we feel that we’re not, we’ll stretch ourselves thin to help us feel that we belong. But, Happiness is attached to the kind of Honesty where we become genuine. Sometimes, it requires flying solo. Sometimes the truth will hurt someone else, but, it still serves everyone in your life best, to just tell it like it is.

Come clean, to yourself. Be your own judge and jury. Acknowledge the little lies you tell yourself and others. Notice where you undermine your own joy for the sake of someone else. And then — quit it, Goddammit!

Honestly, honesty isn’t always as delicious as it sounds. But, like Aunt Edna’s casserole, life will be easier for you, and for everyone around you, when you just choke it down. And, who knows? Eventually — You may even acquire a taste for it.

 

 

Clichés (And Some Other Things You Fear Becoming.)

Photo May 24, 5 20 18 PMBeing a cliché takes more balls than you think.

As a writer, and a person with great reverence for words, I understand the discipline required to do this work. The constant nagging in the soul that screams out — Be Original. Say something new. Don’t get stuck where other people left off. — Avoid cliché at all costs. And, I know that the desire to create something unique manifests differently in all of us. If you aren’t a writer, than it’s something else. Even without competition — you want this thing to be yours alone. Its creation is your prize. — Your passion. And, when it comes to creating this thing, you have no choice. You move forward with impunity. There is nothing other than this — you absolutely must, for better or worse — Believe In Yourself. In doing what we love, we embody the ultimate cliché.

Before my Year of Happiness began, I never thought to explore the seemingly innocuous Belief structures that held me back. I accepted them as a part of myself, the building blocks that made me up, for better or for worse. Reconstructing myself seemed too time consuming. Acceptance was the answer, I told myself. There is no change without a kind of demolition, I thought. But, I was wrong. — There can be change without surrendering to total disrepair.

There is a cliché that follows us around like a lonely shadow from a very young age. — Believe In Yourself. — We heard it first in the classroom, and then, saw it posted on the bulletin board in guidance counselor’s office. Maybe your mom wrote it on a Post-It note and put it in your lunch box before a big math test. But, it was relentless, we could not escape it. And though we did our best to get ahead of it, the cliché kept at a close distance, it changed with us as we failed and grew. It followed us into adulthood where, this time, our boyfriend spelled it out in lipstick on the bathroom mirror before we left for a big job interview. — BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Why is this the thing we ignore? Why is this cliché the nuisance we simply cannot stomach? Why are we so afraid to stare at our own face in the mirror, the one smeared with red lipstick, and accept that we are the Big Thing that should not be avoided?

The past few weeks, I’ve skirted around this Belief. The one that requires only me. My person. Nothing else. No self-help books, or therapists, or drugs, or alcohol. I don’t need anything. Not even a mirror. Only a keen awareness that whatever it is that drives me and my Happiness — is a worthy cause — one worth pursuing to the ends of the earth. The Belief, in myself.

As Month 2 in my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I realize something that probably should have been obvious to me from the beginning. And, that is, Belief can be simple. It is showing up for the person you are and shoring up your own foundation, simply by being there for yourself. Believing. And, if things crumble, knowing, that you can pack the dirt with your own two hands.

Believe In Yourself. — If you find it uncomfortable to hear, if it sounds like something that you’re too good for, or like it was someone else’s idea, if you think you know better — you have work to do. Begin by remembering what and who it is you show up for — those precious pieces that you alone have put together and made into something beautiful — something joyful and vibrant. Something original to you. The foundation you’ve dirtied your hands building can always be reinforced.

Allow yourself this one cliché. And, when all else fails, you’ll walk on. Your Belief in shadow, just a few steps behind you.

 

The Year of Happiness Round-Up (If you’re late to the party.):

Month 1: Surrender, Weeks 1-4

Month 2: Belief

Week 1: Beliefs are powerful. And, they can keep you from your best life if you are still working with a Belief system you established in your childhood. Take action by discovering, owning, and rewriting your own beliefs. Give up people-pleasing and tap into your gut instincts. — They rarely lead you astray.

Week 2: Martyrs are crazy — don’t be one. When you’re re-examining your Belief system, make sure that the sacrifices you’re making aren’t in vain. Value your Happiness, and don’t lose yourself in other people’s expectations of you. No matter where you’ve been, there is room to create the Beliefs and Happiness that reflect the person you are today. Do not settle for an older version of yourself.

Week 3: Happiness is either on route to you or with you already — somewhere. Timing is everything. But, the catch is — you can’t control the timing of your life. Be patient with yourself and go with the flow. When you believe in the timing of your life, you release yourself from worry and angst. Be forgiving, to yourself and others. And remember — each misstep is an important lesson.

Week 4: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Yes, it’s a cliché. But, if you can really tap in to the fact that you and your life’s work — the thing you are truly compelled to do — is going to show up for you and provide you with the foundation your life requires, brick by brick, you’ve already got a monopoly on your own happiness. Keep going.

 

 

“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.

 

The Party’s Over

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It feels like I’ve been tripping on some terrific hallucinogens y’all.

Honestly. I have no idea what’s changed — why I’m reeling, but, I’ve jumped off and hit the deep end of my depression. And, let me tell you, someone strange has bounced back.

Birthdays have been known to do funky things to me. And, with my birthday arriving at the end of the week, I wonder if maybe that’s it. A sort of 30-something reckoning. But, whatever tipped the scales, I’m feeling it. And, it’s tugging at me like a million invisible strings, all pulling me toward something big.

Happiness. — I used to believe that it was a place and that we’d magically find ourselves.

It’s been an elusive destination. And, for a time, I was sure, feeling good was something we arrived at by chance. Our lives, like some fantastic cocktail party, when in struts Happiness making a grand entrance. She’s everything you’d want her to be, waving a tumbler of aged whiskey high above her head, rocking her skin-tight black dress, sporting ungodly-high-heels, flipping you off with her fire-engine-red nail polish. She was the perfect party girl — who lived only to disappear into the crowd, lost again, to the dance floor.

The truth is — that was me at my 25th birthday party. And, the party’s over.

Joy and happiness have never been the result of some effort on my part. It always found me. Unplanned and unreliable. Like a dog, three states away, finding it’s owner by some untold mystery of the universe. But, kids, I’m getting older. And, every time that dog gets away, it takes him longer and longer to find his way back to me again.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it isn’t. But, something’s flipped like a railroad switch. And, this time, I’m not leaving my happiness in the hands of chance.

    *           *           *

This blog has served me in a host of ways. It’s forced me to sit down and take stock of myself — every week. To write — regardless of who or where I am. It’s been an outlet for whatever I’ve bottled up to explode. It’s been a conduit for consistency over days, weeks, and years. And, it’s provided a vehicle for me to reach others in ways I never could have predicted.

I’ve connected with close friends, strangers, and mere acquaintances. I’ve heard countless stories and received unending love and support. I get emails that touch my soul, bring me to tears, and help me to hope and dream in a way I didn’t know I could. For these past 2 years, this window where I type 350-1000 words every week, without fail, has allowed me to reconnect with myself. And, this whole time, I think I was secretly waiting for the day when I would be moved to write this very post.

This blog is about to change, big-time, to reflect a new me. — Going forward, we’re letting a lot go.

I used to think if I let go of all the things, places, people, incidents, pain, and progress that I’ve lived through and with, in and before sobriety, I’d lose everything. — I’d be blank. But, in truth, no matter what place I write from, I’ll never have everything that I started with. I’m called to create something new, and in this place, I find myself with a different kind of power.

A proprietor of my own happiness, I have decided to put creation before chance. My goal in the coming year is to go beyond hoping. I have decided to facilitate the life that surrounds me. To change how I feel, because we, as humans, have that power. I aim to build a life where growth is no longer the side effect, but instead, the intention.

This year will be a year of happiness. And, for the next 365 days, that will be my only focus. This blog will, of course, continue to document my time. As readers, you can expect a change in tone. And, while I may lose a few of you, I know that in order for Saucy Sobriety to move forward, it must move with me — even if that means experimenting with something new. We’re moving away from the things that kept us stuck.

Signing off this week feels bittersweet. I’m leaving this comfortable space I’ve created, knowing that when I return next week, things will be different. But I am moved to change. I hope that you’ll change with me. — Sign on for it. Be a part of this — A year of happiness. 365 days. 52 weeks. Be inspired to ignite something new and different within yourself, too.

But, in whatever capacity, wherever I may find myself headed in hot pursuit of joy — I hope you will join me.

 

 

Photo: My 25th Birthday, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

The Promise of Color

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Spring draws us out.

Cynical, tired, hopeless, and angry as I find myself — there’s something that soothes every state of unrest in the way the sun rises this time of year. It’s a different shade of yellow. Creamy and light, never sallow. Spring has a grace the other seasons lack. The promise of color. Time moves us forward and we are given permission to let our dead things feed a new Earth.

The tree in my parent’s back yard litters the ground with little, red buds. The pointed tips of green leaves push their way up through thawing dirt, packed tight by feral cat’s paws. And the local squirrels make plans to execute their annual vendetta against my mother’s stoop-garden bulbs.

This time last year everything was soooooo nice. Nice city. Nice boyfriend. Nice apartment. Nice new job. Nice. Nice. Nice. — Oh, and stagnant. Stagnant and boring. I’d always imagined “Nice” as a place I’d want to stay. I thought I’d enjoy stability. But, forever restless, “Nice” needed moving forward. Growth. I began to feel the momentum of Spring pulling me toward the ring. Though, I hadn’t agreed to fight yet. I first spent a few months trying to make “Nice” work.

In Brooklyn, things move, begrudgingly. Uncomfortable and awkward. But, movement is movement. Time passes. And while I keep pushing up against locked doors, part of me feels assured a key is bound to show up. So, I dig in and wait.

When you abandon “Nice,” life picks up speed. The seasons bleed into one another and little things morph into bigger ones. A seemingly harmless unrest can turn into a move across the country. The arc of change is never what we anticipate. And I think, maybe, I did fuck up. Royally at that. It wouldn’t be the first time I made a huge life decision in haste.

I allow room for the possibility. And I’m finding the more I revel in my missteps, the more I like myself. I become increasingly amused by my uncanny ability to be me. I used to be so scared of making mistakes. I was a fearful kid. A fearful young woman. But, the worst of my wounds have scabbed over, I am no longer scared. I know now, with certainty — it absolutely will get worse. And, I know that even after shit hits the fan, it’s possible to get back to “Nice” and still find yourself unsatisfied. I devoted all that time to the pursuit of perfection, and wouldn’t you know — I ended up becoming the fuck-up girl anyway.

Each mistake gives me a new kind of freedom. And, I’ve started letting myself off the hook for losing track of the woman I thought I was supposed to be. Because now, I’m so far off course, it hardly matters.

“Nice” is a temporary thing. It’s better that way.

Eventually, a yellow sun rises and the dark season yields to new color.

 

 

Millennials: Big Hearts In The Big Void

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There’s nothing like a good corporate questionnaire to highlight all the things you’re not.

I sit at my MacBook Pro, just one double-click away from zombie status, filling in field after field of yet another online job application. This is just one of the many questionnaires that I’ve completed in the past few weeks. A repetitive, mind-numbing process that reminds me I don’t quite fit the mold into which I am constantly attempting to pour myself.

I keep reading all these articles about Millennials. Fucking Millennials. — The problems we face. The problems we create. We’re asked to face the destitute world that the Baby Boomers have so lovingly left for us to burn down, meanwhile — we’re moving back in with them, staring out longingly from the windows of our childhood. Our lazy, privileged existence, devoid of any work ethic or gumption. — The whole conversation makes me angry. Infuriated. Why are we the generation that no one can figure out?

I hate the sweeping designation that’s been bestowed upon our flailing age group. Not all of us are representatives of the Lena-Dunham-GIRLS culture. — At least we’re not trying to be. I find myself wondering, how should I designate myself? How do we set ourselves apart, step up, and place ourselves on solid ground without compromising our values and abandoning our dreams? And, please, don’t tell me we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

In searching for the keys that unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, I’ve answered my own question. We Millennials, are the seeking generation. And, for us, today’s commerce lies in the search. So much is available to us. And yet, we choke. There are too many places to begin. It’s no longer the pool of pensions and 401Ks that our parents waded into years ago — security is a thing of the past. Now — this river is wild. And, if we’re going to survive, it’s about finding our true calling. Our purpose. — Heart-based business, baby.

A Baby Boomer once told me: “No matter how good you have it — work is work. You’re never going to wake up everyday and find yourself satisfied and excited to show up at the office. That’s just life, kid.” Um. That’s some bullshit and I’m not buying it. — An antiquated excuse born of another era.

To the dreams Baby Boomers lost in Vietnam we hold up our own. — The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan — this banner of unending war, which has served as the backdrop of our lives, now more than ever, a sobering reminder. — Our work is worth fighting for.

Privilege, if nothing else, has afforded us Millennials hope. Work is not just work to us. It has to be our heart’s work. Work that feeds us. So, it’s worth waiting for — worth seeking out in this generational void. We, at the cost of returning home, regressing to our 17-year-old-selves, will wait for something that fulfills an unmet need in us — in our world. Oh, and I guess it should pay the bills too? — Therein lies the real gap. The economy is only just now starting to catch up to our wide-open hearts. And, we’re still left wanting.

This questionnaire asks me if I “Strongly Agree” with this? Do I “Strongly Disagree” with that? And, I keep finding myself in this position of being lukewarm. I am trying to remember what it feels like to get riled up about something. To run hot. Where is the heart I so easily find in my writing or in the faces of the smiling regulars I’ve greeted at my plethora of service industry jobs? Why can’t our joy also meet our dividends? I didn’t get sober to lead a thankless life, redeemed only by my employer’s willingness to offer decent health benefits and to match my Roth IRA contributions.

During this process, filling out this heartless questionnaire, my purpose is jolted. Awakened — it remembers. I make the shift from disheartened to inspired. This piece-of-shit questionnaire, now revelatory. A reminder of all these things I’m not, it begs me to put forward all the things I am.

Would you say you are: Stubborn as fuck? Mildly manic? Conscientious? Coyly critical? Empathetic to a fault? Occasionally work-inappropriate? Passionate for people? A wide-open heart? A rabble-rouser? A dinner-table-debater? Tired and poor and yearning to breathe free? Ready to Burn. This. Shit. Down.?

Yeah.

Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. — In fact, put me down for “Strongly Agree.”

 

 

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/