The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

Every day, after returning home from middle school, I sat at our kitchen table. Hours before my parents would arrive back home from work. I’d eat my afternoon snack and I’d wonder what it would feel like to be an adult. Long hours I spent there, in that square, wood, and wicker chair — wishing I was someone else.

Most days, I still feel like that little girl. Unsure of where I belong or how I’ll get there. I still wonder if all the things I waited on, after all these years, will really, truly, bring me the Happiness I dreamed they would. Yet, as ever, I look forward. There are things I know I will always have: An unfaltering curiosity. A deep, unprecedented faith in love. And, a strange belief that — somehow, despite the odds — everything will be OK.

As I write this, it is my thirty-third birthday. And, I’m not sure how to explain this past year. Everything changed. — My heart, the people who surround it, the dreams it dreams, and the place it resides have all spun forward into new realms of Happiness — places that, I am quite sure, I will never understand. And, I think, these gifts, and many more, are the real fruit of seeking out my own joy. — The little girl at the kitchen table could never have foreseen this.

After more than three years of weekly Wednesday posts, never having missed a-one, this will be my final blog post here at Saucy Sobriety. These past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how to leave things with you. What to impart that could possibly communicate or encapsulate everything I’ve come to understand from taking part in this process. — The thing that will comfort those of you who still sit, waiting and wishing, at the kitchen table. — But, to no end. Because, blog posts or none, there will be no end to this endeavor. Happiness and the discovery of self are pursuits I could never abandon, even if I tried. And, I remain steadfast in my advice, that — you, too, should continue to seek these things in life.

If this past year, heck, these past three years, have taught me one thing it’s this: Happiness is not something you’ll stumble upon. It is something you build. — Do not sit in wait. — No one is coming for you.

Brick by brick. Story by story. Friend by friend. Mistake by mistake. Place by place. Lesson by lesson. — We find our own Happiness. We find our own sobriety. We find our own love. — Within.

Inside each of you, is an incredible light. Something magical and intangible, that I cannot explain. I cannot explain my own light, either. But, as our time together comes to a close, I know that this blog has been one step of many in my unending journey to do just that — to find the hidden magic and bright light that reside inside each of us. My quest, is one that will forever seek out joy and understanding in this life that, otherwise, can be pitiless and cruel.

The day-to-day can be ruthless. Heartless. Thankless. Yet, I strive on. And, maybe, like the little girl in the kitchen, you too will recognize the small voice inside. — The one that tells you the next moment may carry with it everything that you’ve been seeking. And, sometimes, to your surprise, it does. And, it’s in those moments that we find reward, despite all the heaviness.

Happiness and sobriety are the same thing. They are gratitude — for everything — as it is. The present moment is the only tangible thing we’ll ever have. We can hold on to the past, so much so, it halts us, hurts us, and makes us ill. We can hang our hats in the future, but, to be certain, the future we’ve envisioned is NEVER the one where we’ll actually arrive. So, in the here and now, we must take what we’ve been given and find some way to treasure it.

In this moment, my phone bings and chimes. Friends and family send me birthday wishes. I open cards from my parents, my bosses, my grandparents, and in the background, I listen to music that makes me feel joyful. And, though I feel as old and out to sea as I ever have — I know I am a little boat who has learned to break the big waves. — I am surrounded on all sides. With love.

Today, more than anything else, I want to thank you.

If you were a regular reader, or just one of the few who click through these posts every now and then, it means so much to me that you’ve taken any time at all to take part in my story. To know someone has listened to me and heard me, is perhaps the greatest gift I could ever ask to be given. Your time, attention, compassion, support, and empathy have been the glue that’s held me (and this blog) together over the years.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being witness. Thank you for passing through.

I’ve said it before — I’m crap at goodbyes. So, I’ll leave you here:

Happiness is the reward for seeking. In its pursuit, you will discover who you are and where you’re meant to go.

Listen to the voice inside that never shuts up. — She is telling you something worthwhile.

Hear her. Write her. Sing her. Dance her. Read her. Cook her. Sell her. Sew her. Walk her. Run her. Drive her. Bathe her. Climb her. Swim her. Fuck her. Comfort her. Cradle her. Raise her. Plant her. Judge her. Dress her. Dream her. Hide her. Hate her. Find her. Feed her. Open her. Punish her. Shut her. Forget her. Forgive her. Starve her. Break her. Save her. Reward her. Release her. Kiss her.  Kill her. Cut her. Mend her. Bend her. Resurrect her. Love her. — But, never, never leave her.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, wherever she is — day in, day out — stick with her.

When you are bereft, she is your Happiness. When you are lost, she is your Home.

 

 

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The Beauty In All Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

The Muddied In-between

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July 15th, 2014, I walked down SE 37th Avenue toward Reed College campus.

The canvas of my black Vans, a pair far beyond their prime, ripped at the seams of the heels. That morning, I’d cut up a pair of Levi’s jeans that I’d bought on 14th Street in NYC back in 2008, and pulled them over my sticky legs. I never wear shorts, but, that day in Portland, it was too wicked to wear anything else. It was too hot to stay inside. And, I shoved my book, an old, red sheet, and a bottle of water into my canvas, “Catch 22” bag from Barnes & Noble and stepped out of my apartment, waiting to find some space to breathe. But, the air was too thick.

Like that day in July, my life had stagnated. Love and joy had left me. And, I walked down the sidewalk, shoes disintegrating, toward the only place I had left that, I felt, could still hold the entirety of me: The green lawn beside Reed’s gravel track, in the the shade of a tree whose trunk looked as weathered as I felt.

I cast my sheet out, hoping for the assistance of a breeze that never came. The leaves above me moved in slow, gentle waves. The sun glinted through the green canopy, and I lay on my stomach, my head turned to one side, watching the brave few walking their panting dogs toward the nature trail that ran along side the brook on the other side of the red, brick dormitory.

Happiness, in that strange summer, always found me beneath that tree. The sun, sparkling, between cracks in the branches, reflecting off my Ray-Bans. Beneath me, was an Earth that felt damp and alive. Above me, was a cloudless, unmoving sky. — When we are sure we are forsaken, there is always a place we can go to find ourselves again.

***          ***          ***

This month of March, is the final month in my Year of Happiness. And, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right that a whole year has past since I first decided that, if I was determined, I could uncover anything — only by deciding to seek it. I continue to search for moments in my memory where I have been as sure, as aware, as I am now. Moments when I knew where to go to get what I needed. There are so few, but, in seeking them, I am able to measure how truly profound those few moments in my life have been.

I’m still not sure how to sum this year up. It has been unlike any other. And, I tell myself that this can be said of any year, but, I know that, somehow, this year has been different. I have sought myself, and others, in a different way. I have allowed myself, and those around me, room to move. And, as a result, I have discovered such truth and hurt and joy and Happiness that, now, as I try to describe it, words fail me. In making these discoveries, I find that, everything I’d been seeking was with me, inside me, all along. And, when I close my eyes and try to pinpoint the exact feeling that has connected me to this new freedom, I always find myself beneath my weathered tree.

***          ***          ***

I unlaced my Vans and pulled my feet out from inside them. I placed my heels on the grass, and let my toes press into the dirt. I let my head rest on the corner of my red sheet and I spread my arms wide. I let my chest, beaded with sweat, press into the ground, hard and uneven beneath me. And, even though I found myself more alone on that afternoon than I’d ever been — in that quiet, solitary moment, I felt that I was a part of everything. A perfect sky hung above me. A cool Earth surged beneath me. And, the umbrella of my tree’s leaves, floated somewhere in-between the the two.

I wrote a song about Oregon. And, in it, I sing, “The mountains hold your heart, but, they don’t own you. Tree tops touch the sky, but, they’re still rooted deep below you.” And, for me, this is what Happiness has become. The muddied in-between. The balance of what we can truly touch and what we can only see in the mind’s eye. There is no time, person, or place that can define us. What will define us, is the time that we allow ourselves to sit still and truly become part of everything.

Happiness is not joy. Happiness is everything. Joy is the recognition that you have been a part of any of it — all of it.

It’s all very ambiguous. Very hippied out.  And, that’s what I missed while I was busy being so methodical and regimented. I missed out on the beauty of all my missteps because I was fixated on creating something that I’ll never be able to create. Because, it has already been created for me, for us — not by us. The sky, the tree, the ground — they were already there — just as we are here.

This time last year, as I brainstormed my plan for writing my Year of Happiness, I imagined I’d be wrapping up all this time in some kind of bullet-pointed retrospective. Expository obscurity. A list of lessons and realizations. A set of instructions. Definitive proof that the the pursuit of Happiness can never be fruitless. But, as I stand, looking out over these last, four weeks before me — I know. — I’ll write no such list.

Photo: Selfie, July 15th, 2014

 

 

 

Strangely Stable, Sarah of Troy

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Water pooled in the streets of Albany, streaming out like rapids from beneath giant piles of filthy snow. Under the sidewalk, I could hear it, rushing, beneath my feet.

It’s hard to say if Spring has truly arrived, or if this reprieve is just another one of Winter’s ruses, but, in moments like these, the only thing to do is accept the gift that you’ve been given and let it bring you whatever joy it can offer. So, I took several walks, all in Troy, NY, the city of little bridges — the place I’ll soon be calling home.

With a friend, I wandered downtown, along the old, brownstone-lined streets and then, beside vacant, boarded-up warehouses by the river. My coat fell, hot and heavy, on my shoulders.

I found myself thinking about peace. — How to get it. What it will require of me. Why, so often, I manage to distance myself from it. My creative drive, always finding new ways to avoid it. — I’ve known so little peace that I’m not always sure what it looks like, but, I have learned that you’ll never find it walking alone, without purpose or reason. Growing up in New York City taught me to keep my head down and my pace quick. But, walking along the Hudson, I was reminded that I have no reason to hurry. In the light of a new sun, I allowed myself the rare occasion to feel that, maybe, I am at peace. Maybe, I feel great.

***          ***          ***

In my new landlord’s office, he added a special clause in the lease to allow my cat to live in my new apartment, and, as I initialed the amendment, I thought about her, back in Brooklyn, laid out in the sun on my Mother’s carpet. I had the thought that she was probably happy too, and almost just as warm as I. I knew, even with the three hour drive between us, that sun would still manage to touch us both.

***          ***          ***

I tell my friend how I believe everything is connected. — But, I didn’t always feel that way.

It was one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. — To take special care, because everything is reflected in everything else. — But now I understand. I see it everywhere. How Happiness begets Happiness. How negativity and dread beget more of the same. When I first got sober in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, old men told me, between puffs on their cigarettes: “Seeing the good in everything  is a skill, and some days, it’s one that’s not very easy to exercise. But, young lady, you can save yourself some heartache — by doing it anyway.” And, nearing five years later, I’ve begun to reap the fruit of those seeds, the same ones those old men helped me to sow, all those years ago.

Since my cousin and her husband welcomed me into their home in September, I have worked to adjust my mindset harder than I ever have in my life. I have stepped out of every comfortable place that I’ve found myself standing. And, as a result, I have discovered incredible new rhythms in the beat of my heart. Just six months later, I can feel all that work in my legs and arms. The old men were right. I am tougher than I ever knew I could be, but, I am softer too. And, after a year of solid and sometimes debilitating depression, I have never been more sure that, for now at least, I have come out on the other side of a pain I could never really name or define. I’ve stepped out into something I didn’t plan, facilitate, or imagine.

Instead of hating myself for moving, again, I feel strangely stable. I am about to belong to another, new place. And, as I scratched out the dollar sign on my deposit check , one that still displays an old Oregon address, I felt a strong and sturdy root spring out from the sole of my shoe and crawl deep into the Earth beneath me.

***          ***          ***

Home isn’t a place. It isn’t a city. It isn’t a coordinate you can locate on Google maps. Home, simply, is where we stow our love. Home is the three hour drive south to my parent’s door. Home is my cousin’s dogs yipping and jumping up in windows of the front door as I open it, my hands clinging to bags of groceries. Home is the sun falling on my back, my shoulders damp with possibility. Home is a late-night drive home in a snow storm, feeling more alive than I ever have before. Home is belonging to a place, where old memories fade into the past and new ones hang in the air, like the sparkling, cheap-o, Wal-Mart Christmas ornaments that I placed on the Charlie Brown tree that sat on my cousin’s kitchen counter until the day before New Year’s Eve.

“Things fall apart before they come together,” Old Andy told me once, outside an AA meeting in Portland, a Pall Mall hanging from his old-man lips. He’d been sober longer than I’d been alive, and I trusted that he knew everything. So, I believed him. But, even back then, I couldn’t imagine how my life “coming together” would look. And now, I know that’s because we are always falling apart so that we can come together. — In every moment of every day, we break so that we can reassemble. — The light and the darkness will always dance a little too close together so that we can be sure to see that both are always there, reflecting our home right back into our hearts.

Whether in shadow or in the light, our hearts, if we are lucky, will beat. Drawing us back and moving us ever forward. Always bringing us to the same place.

And so, I sign my name, Sarah of Troy, at the bottom of my lease and wait to receive the keys that will open the locks to a beautiful, new door.

 

Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

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.

 

Carlee, Carlee, Carlee Chameleon

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Carlee, the beauty school director, tells me that she loves my glasses.

“Those are fabulous. I have a pair just like them! I love them!” She squealed. She is thin and wiry and impeccably dressed. A button-less, coral cardigan is draped around her sinewy, sculpted arms. Her white-hot-blonde curls dangle like tight springs at the tops of her shoulders. She was complimenting me, of course, because it is her job. But, I don’t mind. And, she’s right, my glasses are fabulous.

In the true spirit of chameleon-ism, I’m touring an aesthetics institute because, I’m thinking about changing color — again. I’ve been chided, warned, and scoffed at for entertaining this idea, but, I’ve also been patted on the back and encouraged. And, in managing other people’s responses to what I’m thinking about doing, I begin to realize just how much I’ve learned in this past year. And, not just about me.

When you’re a chameleon, color bleeds. You step on one leaf and your leg turns a waxy green, and then, in your next step, your webbed toe turns a bark-y brown. Then, you’re standing on a yellow blossom and your whole torso blooms along with it, igniting like a burst of sunlight. — Our surroundings change us. People. Places. Circumstances. Situations. Everyday, we step onto a new palate of incredible color. And, I can’t help but think, for so many years, all I wanted was to remain in one place. To understand myself in one color. — But, try as I may, it can’t be done.

Carlee holds the grey door open for me as we walk into a stairway of floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is our new space,” she says, “we just moved into this building, only a few months ago.” — I figured as much, because I made it to my interview on time only because I saw the shiny, new building, with it’s giant windows and inviting sign, as I drove by it on route to the old location — the location Google maps still deems accurate. At the top of the stairs, we walked onto a floor filled with classrooms. White, dry-erase boards lined the walls and book bags sat in chairs at empty desks. “The students are taking clients in the clinic today,” Carlee told me, pulling her cardigan tightly around her tiny frame. “And, it’s a good thing! It’s darn chilly up here!”

Carlee is the type of woman you’d expect to say “Darn chilly.” She is peppy, and, her breed of chameleon is chipper and bright. She is wiry, I suspect, because she is designed to pounce on you with unsolicited positivity and cheer at well-timed intervals. Her eyes are an icy blue, and they actually look at you, really look at you, when she is talking. “I hope I’m not going too fast,” she said, “I get kinda excited to show people around the new building. I graduated in 2008. And, I still can’t get over this new space!” Her tiny, one-inch heels click-clacked across the the top of the linoleum stairwell. “Let’s head back down to the clinic. Then, we can chat in my office.” Her eyes sparkled when they met mine, as if to hypnotize me, before she ushered me, with her twiggy arm, toward the stairs.

I watched the students in the clinic. Some were much younger than me, some, much older. They wore scrub-like uniforms with white, slip-on shoes. It was very clean and quiet. I found the whole scene very calming, custom-made for my OCD-like tendencies, tending toward cleanliness and the minimalist. I thought about one of the instructors from the the beauty school I worked for in Portland — Erica. — I recall her flawless skin and her immaculate attention to detail. For Erica, aesthetics were about so much more than appearances. They were about order. Beauty was her way of commanding the universe. And, there, standing beside Carlee, I felt bad for having thought Erica was an emotionless stickler. I see now, this kind of order, this clean and untouched universe, kept her sane.

Back in Carlee’s office, she sat behind her desk gathering materials to place in a white folder for my consideration. Tuition information. Financial aid applications. Course outlines. Scheduling options. And, should I decide to apply, a form to be completed by the person of my choice, serving as my letter of recommendation. She handed me the folder, closed, and looked at me, I mean, really looked. She was like a beautiful, delicately styled, praying mantis. I was not sure if she was going to hop across the desk and eat me, or gaze upon me with her big, icy eyes until I said something. And, then, I felt my color change right in front of her — I became, suddenly, a deep, peaceful, navy blue — a perfect match to the freshly painted, silky walls of her tiny office.

“Carlee, can I be honest with you about something?” Carlee tilted her head to the right, looking at me as if the answer to my question was obvious. “Of course,” she said.

“I’m thirty-two. And, I’m not sure if I’m going to apply for this program. But, I can tell you, I really like it here. The thing is, I’m a NYU graduate. And, that probably sounds like a snobby thing for me to say. But, when I think about investing in attending this program, I think, maybe, I’m too old or too something — like this is a non-sequitur — I don’t know. I’m not sure what I think I am. But, it would be a huge shift for me. And, I just wonder if you’ve had a student or students here that, maybe, sound like me. Because, I’d like to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about doing this. And, it’d be nice to hear it from someone who isn’t, you know, related to me.”

Carlee paused. She laced her manicured fingers together over a stack of manila folders that sat in front of her on the desk. She leaned in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret, but, instead of talking, her eyes met mine and softened. Now, she appeared more like a lean giraffe than an insect, her neck craning, gracefully toward me. Her swooping curls, tumbled forward from behind her ears and fluttered gracefully at the sides of her cheeks.

“Sarah, I know you probably think I’m here to sell you a seat in this class. And, technically, I am. But, the truth is, whether you apply or not, whether you enroll or not, or whether you walk out this door never to return again — or not — this class will be filled. And, I want you to be here because you want to be here. And, that’s up to you. You’ve got lots of time to think about that. But, here’s my answer to your question. I graduated from this institute in 2008. I was thirty-four. And, when I got here, all I knew was — it sounded good. It sounded like something different. It sounded like something fun. And, it sounded like changing. Changing my life. And, since then, I’ve worked in this amazing industry, and now, I’m the director of this school. I love it here. I enroll girls who are eighteen and I enroll women in their sixties. And, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: You’re never too old to want something new, to do something new, to be someone new. It’s great that you have an undergraduate degree. Really, I think that’s great. But, do you think it’s great? Because, if not, you’re never too old to learn something new. — And, if you want to do that here, we’d love to have you.”

In the parking lot, I sat in the idling car and I drank the cold, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that I’d left in cup-holder to the left of the wheel. The little, plastic, Oregon license-plate-key-chain that reads “SARAH” dangled from the rear-view mirror where I’d hung it the day I drove out of Oregon for the last time. My eyes welled up with tears as I stared down at my shiny, white folder. Filled with clean, white pages, begging for navy blue ink.

The truth is, we can’t know what color we’ll turn next. We can only know that we’re changing. Learning. Painting legs and toes and torsos — with every, beautiful step.

ARTWORK: “Chameleon 2” By Tilen Ti

(www.etsy.com/shop/tilentiart)

All The Women We’re Not

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

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

Me — I prefer IKEA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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