Dirty Thirty(-three)

Today is my birthday, a day that we imbue with more power than it has perhaps earned. It’s just another day, but it also provides an opportunity to reflect on progress, shed bad habits, or be grateful to have seen another one.

This birthday, I got to FaceTime with my mom while opening a present she sent to me. My siblings and step-dad sent sweet cards and messages. I got to talk with my grandmother – a woman who just celebrated her own 94th birthday a few days ago. Church bells sounded faintly in the distance as I stepped outside for lunch, and I knew my angel relatives were with me.

The last year, like every other year, has had its share of deep sadness and thrilling hope; remembering forgotten passions and discovering new desires. Instead of going out this evening, I knew I wanted an night of solo reflection. I went to a nearby yoga studio (a place I’d never been) for a Yoga Nidra session (a practice I’d never tried). There were only two of us students in the room. The ceiling was decorated with strings of flags, and plants stretched themselves towards the sun from their windowsill perch. A deep purple geode claimed a corner, and intricate statues of goddesses seemed to bless us where we sat.

Once we were each laying comfortably on our mat, tucked under a blanket and a lavender-scented eye pillow, the teacher helped us settle into our bodies and relax. She asked us to focus on the center of our chests and greet our heart like an old friend.

“Ask your heart what it needs,” she told us. This “waiting to hear your inner voice” concept usually scares me. I hear about people following their intuition or meditating and praying to receive an answer, and it makes my palms sweaty. I’m afraid that if I stop and listen, I’ll only hear silence.

But tonight, I asked my heart what it needed from me. The first couple of answers clearly came from my A-student brain, which wanted to make sure there was a voice to fill the silence, but the words didn’t feel right. I let them drift away and kept listening. After a few minutes, I heard a voice that sounded like me, just a little calmer and wiser.

“Trust,” the voice said. “I need your trust.”

By the end of the guided meditation, my body was merely a focal point of warm, vibrating energy. I felt peaceful and grateful and out of my head, which is rare. We woke up slowly and sat up gently, blinking as we looked at each other – the only three people in the building.

I’m not sure what blessings and challenges the year ahead will hold, but I will try to remember my intention from class: I invite trust. I trust my heart to be strong enough and to speak to me with honesty and clarity. I trust myself to learn to listen.

Friday Miracle.

Hi friends!  It’s been a wonderful weekend of good friends and good wine, and looking at mummies and dinosaur fossils.  I hope yours was equally magical!

dino-skulls

This week, I was given a tiny miracle.  Years ago, my mom gave me the Elsa Peretti “J” necklace from Tiffany & Co. for Christmas.  It was special and beautiful and helped me feel like I fit in at college, and I wore it every day, including on my first trip to Africa.  We arrived in Botswana during a summer heatwave, and shortly after, the pendant tarnished.  Not understanding you could polish it, I was angry with myself for being so irresponsible.  I mentioned it to one of the professors leading the trip (an incredible woman filled with curiosity and kindness), and she said, “but isn’t that the point of silver?  It tarnishes, and then it un-tarnishes.”

This necklace has traveled with me to Scotland and Europe, Costa Rica, East Africa, southern Africa, India, New York, and Denver.  In moments of stress, or when I need to feel grounded in familiarity, I touch it like a talisman that hangs against my chest.  Then, several months ago, I lost it.

When you gradually become a stranger to yourself, your soul begins to send up smoke signals.  I had been ignoring some underlying unhappiness for so long that I began to forget things – unusual for me and frightening.  I would remember having something in my hand and then have to wander the house in search of it.  Most times I left the grocery store, I’d stop at the blacktop edge of the parking lot, searching for my car while feeling like a lost child at a theme park.

So when I took the necklace off, I was careful to note that I was zipping it into a pocket in my ski coat. I waited a couple of days to search for it, and when I did, it was gone. I spread the coat out on the floor, where I sat and searched each pocket twice, once again feeling the sting of failing to take care of something so important to me.  This was a consequence, I thought, of allowing myself to become such a mess.

Over the past couple weeks, with help, I’ve been working towards a fresh start.  Hoping to live in gratitude and connection; be a brighter light and find ways to help others; embrace change and possibility.

Friday, I wore my ski coat to work.  In the middle of a meeting, I stood up and started searching the pockets.  “I keep thinking I’m going to have a Carrie Bradshaw moment,” I said, “even though I’ve searched so many times.”  I pointed to a pocket with a button hole.  “I’m afraid I put it into this pocket, since it has a hole.”  I reached a fingertip into the bottom corner of the pocket, just like I’d done ten times before, and felt the cold links of a fine silver chain.

I was gleeful as I untangled a knot in the chain so I could return the necklace to its rightful place.  As I worked, the pendant, which bears the first letter of my name, seemed to whisper, “you’re on the right track.  You’re on your way.”

Isn’t that the point of this life?  Sometimes we tarnish, but with hope, love, and a brave heart, we can become new again.

New Year/New Tune.

Happy New Year, friends!  During this first week of this new year, I’m adjusting my typical New Year routine.  Most years, I sit down with a pad of paper and a fresh pen to write my New Year goals.  (In our family, we like to have goals to which we aspire as opposed to resolutions we break.)

These goals are generally variations on a theme:

  • Work out three times a week, minimum.
  • Eat (and cook) healthy foods.
  • Volunteer.
  • Publish a writing piece.
  • Etc.

As for everyone, these lists boil down to, “THIS YEAR, I’m gonna do it.  I’m gonna be perfect.”  Then, naturally, I decide I’ll cut back on wine after I finish this one bottle (it’s  open, after all), pack a gym bag that ends up on the floor of my closet, donate $50 to help kids in Africa and call it a day.

The next January 1, I rummage around for a notebook, and the previous year’s goals rear up like last night’s garlic.  My failure is both pungent and stale.

Thankfully, this year, I was saved: pulled off the demented merry-go-round by my Christmas and New Year’s visitors!  My mom and step-dad arrived December 23 and stayed with me until January 1, and it was a special and meaningful visit.  We attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service at the church around the block, cooked filet mignon for Christmas dinner, and watched the whole first season of The Crown.  We took Bella girl on walks around the neighborhood and a hike near Red Rocks.  They led the charge as we worked together to transform my house into a home: a place I’m proud to live.

window-frames

We turned these old basement windows into cool frames for photos from my travels!

Most importantly, we talked for hours over home-cooked meals and re-heated tea about our histories, our fears, and our dreams.

One transformational tidbit they shared was that before they write their New Year’s goals, they write a reflection of the previous year.  This might sound self-explanatory.  Perhaps everyone does this and I missed the memo!  But this year, after writing for over an hour about all the things that wounded or cheered me, all the personal triumphs and dark, lonely moments, and the many memories created with family and friends, my New Year’s goals are different.

Here are a few of my goals/thoughts/mantras for 2017:

  • Think outside the box!
  • I forgive myself; I forgive others; others forgive me.
  • Spend time being creative, in whatever form it takes.
  • More tea.
  • Better wine.
  • Give myself the gift of taking Bella to the groomer for a real bath more often.
  • Remember I can always move things to another shelf.
  • Daydream.
  • Deep breaths.
  • Sit with my own feelings.
  • Practice feeling my truth and trusting it – so I can speak it.
  • Focus on moments of peace, beauty, happiness, and joy.
  • I love myself; I love others; others love me.
  • Find ways to be a bright spot and have a positive impact.
  • Gratitude.
  • More deep breaths.

I’ll still donate money, and I’ll probably pack the occasional forgotten gym bag, but this time around I intend to do it with a grateful heart.  I am healthy, relatively wealthy, and very loved.  I’m starting this race with the medal already around my neck.  Now I just get to run.

Happy New Year.  Happy new tune.

Blessings to you all.

Stronger Together.

Friends: I’m heartbroken.  Not just because my candidate lost, but because this has awakened me to some truths I didn’t want to see.  The reasons I refused to vote for Donald Trump are legion, and I assumed that not only would Hillary Clinton win the White House, perhaps the Dems could capture the Senate as well, sending a message that love truly Trumps hate.

Yesterday, I wore my “Jackie O.” sweater – a classic red-and-blue number I rarely wear because it seems too fancy for everyday wear, and paired it with my blue-and-white shoes.  I proudly wore my country’s colors, confident that we would make history by repudiating what this man stands for.  By electing a woman to the office of President, a long-overdue development.

I got home from work, played fetch with my sweet dog Bella girl, and then turned on NBC.  I was exchanging texts with my mom and my best friends from New York.  Both threads began hopeful yet guarded.  Lots of encouragement and photos of a friend’s new puppy.

img_6311

And then.  And then.  Slowly (yet somehow so quickly), we watched as millions of my fellow Americans voted for a man who wants to kick the chair out from under some of our most vulnerable citizens.  A man who wants to change libel laws to stifle free speech.  A man who openly admires authoritarian leaders.

Each state that was called for Trump felt like a physical blow.  Another sharp elbow to women, putting us back in our place.  Each vote a glowing red middle finger thrown up in fear and desperation, hatred and ignorance.

Many friends and family members voted for Donald Trump, and I love those people.  I loved them yesterday and love them equally today.  I know they are good people.  Not all who voted for him are evil.  But I cannot reconcile myself to this, not today.

Today, I have allowed myself to cry at a stoplight, hearing the excited voices of Trump supporters on NPR.  I have wept with a coworker as we heard Hillary Clinton encourage little girls to see their own value and follow their dreams.  I have begun to process this on multiple phone calls with my mom and step-dad – intelligent, kind, brave people I’m grateful to be able to lean on.

I’ve also been inspired by friends and folks on Twitter who are channeling their grief into so much positive action.  I’ve donated money to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and NPR.  I’ve realized there’s so much we can do to protect each other.  I’ve relied on a safety net that wasn’t there, but now I truly understand: we are weaving our own safety net with every word we speak, every action we take, and every dollar we spend.

Tonight, I’m going to have a big glass of wine and snuggle my dog.  Moving forward, I hope to turn this incredible grief into action.  Let’s listen to each other.  Let’s help each other.

Let’s be better.

Civic Duty.

Friends: today, I did something uncomfortable, inspiring, reaffirming, and important.  I volunteered to get people registered to vote.

When you live in New York, you perfect the art of ignoring or turning down strangers who approach you with their agenda.  “Excuse me!” they shout as you hustle back from lunch. “Do you care about pandas/polar bears/babies?”  After a friendly response resulted in year of donating to Greenpeace, I learned to wear giant headphones, never make eye contact, and respond with a curt and forceful “no” if pressed.

I get it.  I get that people just want to be able to buy some groceries and a pumpkin spice latte without being harassed.  I understand being afraid that the person with the clipboard is going to prey on your friendliness and leverage it for their own cause.  But this year, this election feels too important to be sidelined by awkwardness, fear of rejection, or trying to preserve your “cool.”    So I put on my USA t-shirt, got my clip-board, and camped out by the Safeway entrance.

Voter registration volunteer

Doing democracy!

And you know what?  It was incredible!  Most people, when they heard I was registering voters and not trying to weasel them out of their money, were so incredibly kind.  Many thanked me.  Some wished me good luck.  One lady gave me a homemade pecan tart, and another man offered me one of his donuts!  Even a couple of Trump supporters (assuming I was stumping for Hillary…which…is fair) approached me jovially and politely.

If you base your opinions solely on what you see on the news, it would be easy to assume that Americans are filled with hatred and fear or have disengaged, but what I saw was a small army of folks with their hands full of grocery bags, holding their babies and dog leashes, stopping for a moment of shared humanity.  Even if they didn’t agree with me.

By the end of two hours, I had registered two women to vote.  One is a die-hard Hillary supporter and so excited to vote; the other is a roofer who’s still deciding her path.  It was my honor and pleasure chatting with these ladies and helping them prepare to participate in our democracy.  Two may not sound like a lot, but to me, it felt like a Sunday morning miracle.

Deep-fried Twinkies and Other Thoughts.

Much like Hillary Clinton herself, I assume, I’ve been struggling to understand why many people believe that she is an equally bad a presidential option as Donald Trump.

I’ll admit – I was not what you’d call “jazzed” about her being the nominee at first, but then two women I respect shared their opinions of her, which began to change mine.  The first I know personally – she’s intelligent, thoughtful, and holds many people’s wellbeing in her hands.  The second was Gloria Steinem, whose memoir My Life on the Road I listened to while driving to Moab.

Gloria Steinem My Life on the Road

I recommend.

After listening to these women and looking into my own heart, I realized that my main problem with Secretary Clinton was that she wanted it, and I could tell.  I couldn’t stand her because of her ambition and willingness to play the game.

It was the same impulse that made me dislike a woman who was in the NYU Summer Publishing Institute with me – when we did a class field trip of sorts to Jane magazine, she spoke up every time the editor asked a question, charmed the woman and eventually got a job at the magazine.  I loved Jane and would have stabbed someone with a pencil to work there, but I didn’t want to seem too eager.  I didn’t want to annoy anyone by seeming like I wanted to sit at the head of the popular table.  But DAMMIT if I didn’t want to sit at the head of that table, and I turned my sadness and jealousy into snide derision.

Mean Girls

You can’t sit with us.

That young woman, shunned by so many of us, pursued and achieved her dream.  I found a job on craigslist, far from the industry that I loved.  My feeling superior to her was cold comfort.

Barack Obama, who makes me feel all the feels with his graceful yet powerful speeches, has made some bad-judgment mistakes.  And yet, and yet, I love him.  He’s cool and funny and calm, and I can’t see the gears of his clock.  Hills, as I like to call her, is intelligent, experienced, and far more qualified to lead this nation than many of the people who tossed their hats into the ring, but we can see her gears.  We can hear them when they grind and we know when she gets out the oil can.

She isn’t always smooth and polished, but at least I know that she has the right mechanisms to tell time.  Donald Trump, by contrast, is trying to tell us time doesn’t exist, and that somehow feels preferable to being faced with the truth behind the facade.  He’s the guy making s’mores, and she’s the person telling you that marshmallows are made from cow tendons.

In November, I will proudly cast a vote for Hillary Clinton, because my conscience revolts at the thought of voting for someone who believes that I would rather live in a fantasy world than deal with some hard truths.  Someone who appeals to the darkest, fear-inhabited pieces of our souls, whispering that these shameful feelings of hatred and racism aren’t wounds we need to clean out – they’re righteous truths.  Someone who encourages us to believe we can feel good fast if we are bombastic and blunt enough, instead of listening to each other and embracing nuance.

People I love and respect will vote for Donald Trump, and neither of us will ever fully empathize with the other person’s choice, and I am okay with that.  Thank God we live in a democracy where we can recognize the validity of different ways of living and loving.  Hillary Clinton isn’t pure good and Donald Trump isn’t pure evil, because reality doesn’t work that way, but I am choosing to stand with her.

Though he isn’t Satan incarnate, Donald Trump is the human equivalent of a deep-fried Twinkie.  Deep-fried Twinkies are ridiculous and a novelty, and the first couple of bites taste pretty good.  Their lavishness feels incredibly American.  Eating a deep-fried Twinkie in the summer sun at the state fair seems to send up a one-finger solute to boring, constrictive worries about nutrition and diabetes.  But Twinkies, deep-fried or otherwise, are really bad for you!  They’re harmless every now and again, but imagine if they became a staple of your diet.  If you had to eat deep-fried Twinkies every day, wouldn’t your stomach ache grow worse as you realized that perhaps this didn’t turn out like you thought?

I'm with her

Picking Up the Pieces.

Hi Friends!

It’s been a while.

Sometimes you reach a point in your life when, though it’s nobody’s fault and you had good intentions, you realize you’ve made yourself very small in your own life.  Your heart isn’t in the scaffolding you’ve constructed to prop up a facade you’ve built, choosing and laying every brick yourself and not even recognizing the result.

So.  So.  I am now picking up the pieces.

When you break a wine glass, some of the pieces are large and easy to see.  You can gather them up quickly, and you begin to feel that you’ve cleaned up the mess.  Then you encounter the shards that were too small to see, that you had forgotten were there.  They poke into your bare foot, or maybe into your pinkie as you clean the countertops.  It’s painful for a moment, as those forgotten slivers cry out for notice, but it’s part of cleaning up the kitchen.

I suspect I’ll be finding shards for some time.  Meanwhile, I pulled enough weeds to fill two trash bags, there’s a load of laundry going, and the floor is mopped.  I’m working on cleaning up my kitchen.

Here’s wishing you a week in which you peer into some forgotten corners.  Get out your sketching supplies; re-read that book you used to love.  Wash some dishes.