“It’s the little differences.”

The first morning I woke up in Paris, I was up before everyone. (I was generally up before everyone always, although Nic would end up giving me a run for the money.) I sort of laid there where I was, in the upstairs bedroom in JM’s chateau in the suburbs, Clamart to be precise, and thought to myself : I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM IN PARIS.

Okay, fair play, I was just outside of Paris, but for all intents and purposes I was IN PARIS.

And it was sunny.

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This first day was supposed to be a “planning day” for Frenchie and me so we could work out our desires and priorities before meeting up with Nic and her sister the next day, but first I was going to go meet a friend who was coincidentally laid over in Paris en route to Dominica from the UAE. [Having friends for which sentences like that are apt is so awesome.] I wanted to see Rachel because she and I are friends entirely due to Stuart, and for reasons I am not interested in articulating here, we share a certain understanding of the bloke.

To see Rachel I would head out to Orly Airport so as to keep things as simple as possible for someone moving to the other side of the world with their young child. JM offered to take me there, so I would only need to self-navigate one way, which was kind. Frenchie and I arranged to meet at a fountain near the Notre Dame. How hard could that be? I mean, a fountain in Paris, right?

Yeah.

I had gleaned from the previous evening that JM enjoyed the excitement of vehicular delights, and so when he pointed to his motorcycle and I looked down at my black mini dress, I determined that all bets were off on wise choices. He handed me a helmet and I sighed with relief to know that my cranium would be safe and probably only 90% of my flesh would go missing should a mishap occur on what google maps said would be a forty minute ride.

He grinned reminding me entirely too much of Peter Fonda’s Captain America as I hopped on the bike. It would be fine, I reasoned. I mean, he has made it to 40 – and has a family. He doesn’t want to die.

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The ride to Orly was pretty easy surface streets and highways and under beautiful sunny skies. I focused a lot on the sky. It turns out JM does not like to be behind other vehicles on the road, and he sure as shit is not going to be passed by a motorcycle. A couple of times he looked back to ask if everything was okay. I hope in my efforts to be completely cool about all potential outcomes, I hadn’t inadvertently Heimlich’d him. To be fair it actually was a fun ride. I mean, I like roller coasters a lot.

When we arrived at the airport (in approximately twenty minutes) I stepped off the bike and took my hair out of the helmet while adjusting my LBD. No lie, I felt pretty glamorous. Like, here I was coming in hot (in every way) and hopping off a bike driven by a super cute guy, with no luggage and heading into the airport, as if I might be heading off on some crazy spontaneous get away. That could be an great scene in a bad romcom.

And the best thing about black is your sweat doesn’t show, which is awesome.

Although, it does show where one’s thighs were gripping the sides of a black leather seat on a motorcycle. And the strap of the helmet got a little caught up in my windswept hair, so my reverie ended rather quickly as JM sped away.

Entering the airport, I logged into the wifi – which is free everywhere in Europe, as it bloody well should be in America – to check where I would meet up with Rachel. We settled on Laudurée. Tres French. Plus, macrons; like cookies, but a little different.

The catch up was short and sweet and a wonderfully playful bit of punctuation on the Stuart Saga. we laughed a lot, and Rachel remarked how she just knew he would try to take credit for everything were he there because, yes, he was such a cheeky bastard.

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And like that we said adieu and headed on our separate ways. Another perfect rendezvous accomplished.

So now, to get back to Paris and a fountain.

I found someone who graciously directed me to the Orly bus, which would get me to the RER, which in turn would get me to central Paris. Stepping out I saw there was a bus there – fantastique! I would get on that bus and be on my way. I proceeded to the ticket machine; like those I had seen before, but a little different.

And then, I missed the bus.

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The machine now seems simple, but like so many things, it’s the little differences in Paris, and this weird quasi touch screen with a roller mechanism… just really did not present itself as an obvious option at the time. To be fair the three guys behind me were French and had no freaking clue how to make the machine work either. By the time I eventually got a ticket I would be waiting more than twenty minutes for another bus.

Merde.

But, the bus ride was easy, and I kept telling myself that Frenchie would wait for me, I mean, to my knowledge she has not been on time to anything since I have known her, and this includes her own events. I was not getting a sim card because I had my American iPhone, which of course is locked, because: America. This meant old school meet ups like we did in the 80s: make a plan and stick to it. It was refreshing.

Until you were 45 minutes late.

On arriving to Sainte Michel with ease I came out of the metro station and promptly turned the wrong way. I include the map below as a weak explanation. Emerging from the RER in the foreground left, I walked towards the intersection and made a right towards the Notre Dame because that is what everyone was doing. I surmised there would be a fountain there. And yes, there was. A multitude. But alas, no Frenchie – or not the Frenchie I was looking for.

I walked in literal circles – well trapezoids if we are really being literal – for nearly a half an hour. Paris urban planning is a little different.

And nothing.

Retracing my steps I headed back towards the RER where the Fountaine Sainte Michel practically screamed at me with its obviousness. Huh. Perhaps that fountain then? I walked toward the fountain and headed left (towards the M in the rear right of the diagram) where I saw a cafe and heard “Amanda?” in English, but a little different.

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It was Nickie, seated with her sister, and Frenchie (whose head had been down as she was trying to figure out the wifi to contact me – the figuring out of the wifi would also be a theme of this trip). I was shocked, relieved, delighted, amazed, happy, hot, and thirsty. It was a lot to take in, but I really could not believe we were all sitting here, like the three of us had so many times before, but a little different.

Frenchie and I were supposed to meet Nic the next day as she and her sister would be staying the night in Paris to rest after the flight from Oz. But Frenchie had been nearly as late as I had (!!) and so she had been worried about me as I am generally painfully punctual and she had been walking around the now so obvious to me (like the roller thing) fountain when she had randomly bumped into our Aussie companions. Incroyable!

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This happy circumstance totally shifted the day – a planning session would not happen, but phones and strolling the streets of Paris and rosé and catching up would. In what seemed like another lifetime, three women in Hong Kong had made a promise to meet in Paris five years on, and here we were. Same same, but, a little bit different.

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We finished our day a top the Tour Montparnasse as a small reminder of where we were. In case anyone had forgotten.

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Planes, Trains, and Cremains.

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I went to Europe this summer. This trip was both totally spontaneous and not. The nutshell version of the trip is that five years ago I left Hong Kong and a community I wasn’t even totally aware I had become a part of and on my way out I made a plan/promise/wish to meet Frenchie and Nickie in Paris in five years.

Now, as luck would have it I saw Frenchie a few times throughout the ensuing time period – once in San Francisco and twice in Hong Kong – and each time we sort of talked about it but not really. And so last winter as a very tumultuous painful are-you-fucking-kidding-me kind of year wrapped up I decided I would buy tickets to fly to Europe. I had saved no money for this ad/venture and had only a vague idea of appropriate dates, but on New Year’s Eve I, along with two other people who had had equally challenging 2014s, made a promise to get busy living. So I threw down and bought the tickets.

As luck would have it the dates worked out.

Kind of.

My arrival time in Paris was a little too early for Frenchie and so she wondered if I could change it – no, the ticket was to cheap for that, but I had an idea. I had considered flying into Heathrow and spending a bit of time in London before Paris originally, but airfare to Heathrow is about a third more than it is to De Gaulle for reasons a lot of pilots tried to explain to me and still sound shady. But now, I would be arriving in Paris too early to meet my French friend and something told me Paris was not where I would want to regain my vagabond legs alone (and I was right about that btw) so I decided to book passage on the Eurostar and go to London after all. I would only be there for three days which is clearly not enough time, but it is some time, and frankly sounded nicer than making my way around Paris aimlessly on my own for a few days.

***
I landed at Charles De Gaulle International Airport around 7:00 am on July 7. I was immediately aware of how much shorter a ten-hour flight feels in comparison to the thirteen hour-long haul I had become accustomed to. Even on American Airlines, which is not a really awesome flying experience. It is weird that those three hours can make such a difference. Anyhow, there I was: groggy, Euro-free, new passport in hand (I had fortunately realized when booking tickets to Mexico for earlier in the summer that my passport had gone and expired. I likely would have never noticed this until far after the fact otherwise. But its emptiness ended up being an issue.)

I was in and out of immigration and the airport (no checked luggage – for a month – make a note) in a shockingly short time. The immigration control in Paris was, it would turn out, quite Parisian: he never even looked at me. As I handed him my passport he was clearly vested in a conversation with his coworker and was not going to pause for me. Not that he made me wait or anything, he just slid my passport through the machine, handed it to me and kept on conversing. He never even looked up at my face. Interesting.

From here I walked on, getting notably hungrier and tired-er, both conditions which have negative influences on my ability to make decisions and discern various shades of reality. I found an ATM! Huzzah. I got some money and walked over to a cafe. I looked at the menu and I just couldn’t even (also an omen as it turns out the French have a shocking misunderstanding of coffee.) Walking a little further on, I found an information office to ask how to make my way to Gare du Nord where I would catch my train to London St. Pancras. The second most handsome man I had seen so far (the first was a handler for the airlines who really should have been naked in a Calvin Klein advertisement on a billboard somewhere preferably where I might see it all the time) was sitting behind the desk. After I choked out some shitty version of nahn parlay Frahn-say, he smiled and said, “No problem, how can I help you?” in the best English I had heard since I left San Francisco – and I had had a lay over in the States. Well, Texas, but basically. From this point I knew where and how to get to the train station. In fact, the information was so perfect that I would end up being stupidly early for my train leading to painful amounts of tired-in-a-public-place, which I have long outgrown along with my backpacker days.

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Once at Gare du Nord I was facing a two-hour wait and heaving fatigue. I tried coffee. I tried a baguette with brie and ham (it was quite tasty, but really not helpful). I tried water. I tried more coffee. Nope, nope, nope, and nope. So tired.

Finally, it was time to move through customs to board the train for London. I handed my passport to the Englishman at the customs gate. He looked like a jolly old chap. Fat, grey haired, wearing a cartoonish kind of conductor’s hat like he belonged in some old movie. Then he looked at me. He looked like Brick Top. This was not good.

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He looked at the passport. He began flipping through the pages. He looked at me. He continued flipping.

“Where are you coming from?”
“The US.”
“How long you going to be in the UK?”
“Oh, just a couple of days, uh, until Friday.”
“Why such a short visit?”
“Um, it is all I had time for…?”
“Who are you staying with?”
“Some friends?”
“What is their nationality?”
“I, um, I am not really sure, I…”
“What passports do they hold?”
“Uh, I really don’t know, British I guess?”
“How do you know them?”
“Umm, we met in Hong Kong?”
“What were you doing in Hong Kong?”
“Working?”
“Did you work with these people?”
“No…”
“Then how did you meet them?”
“I am not sure? Other friends I guess?”
“What will you be doing while you are in Britain?”
“I, I am not really sure, seeing some people, going to some museums maybe?”
“What is your address while in the UK?”
“I, um… oh! Bow! I am staying in Bow!”

I was so chuffed to finally have a real freaking answer for this man because I am sure he had begun to notice my sweat, for which I suddenly feared his interpretation.

“Do you know the address?”
“No.”

Flip. Flip. Flip. Flip.

STAMP.

“Move on to the left.”

I couldn’t be sure if this was the universe offering balance for the ridiculously uninterested French passport control, but I was literally a hot, sweaty, flustered mess when Brick Top was done with me. No wonder people with nothing to hide get tripped up by authority figures all the time. Horrifying.

And you know, he had to stamp my passport on some random page in the middle of the damn thing. Because: WHO DOES THAT? Brick Top, that is who.

By the time I found my seat on the (pretty awesome) Eurostar I was getting that loopy feeling you get when you are exhausted, hungry, dehydrated, and afraid you might be deported. As a result, I managed to: break my plug adapter for the UK, lose my favorite scarf, and miss most of a ride I wanted to see.

But I was heading to London, where I graciously had a place to sleep, places to go, and some people to see for my three days in and around the city. Plus, the train ride gave me enough conscious time to reconnect with that feeling of pure excitement for upcoming adventures brought on by travel – and the reality that this was only the first of myriad steps I would take on this trip that would never have been possible without the kindness and generosity of friends I have made in all kinds of crazy ways all around the world. Those were nice thoughts to doze off to.

And then, there I was.

With only sporadic wifi I was trying to make contact with my hostess for the next couple of days and basically just giving it up to the powers that be that it would work out. I easily made my way to the correct train – and I will say this about the London Underground, y’all have your shit sorted (except when you do not – more on that in a mo) but seriously? You need to price check yourself… And soon enough I was in East London. And as I came up out of the station a super cute, kind of familiar, young guy came up to me with Stevie, a Staffordshire Terrier who I definitely recognized. Just like that, it all worked out. Josh asked where my luggage was as we walked back to the flat, and I basically felt like I had won the lottery: “Nowhere, this is all I have.” I took glee in being momentarily totally impressive (or insane, I don’t really know Josh, but I’m going to go with impressive.) He had been visiting Awon and Mark too, and he was familiar to me because, you guessed it: Lamma.

It was a full house, as Awon’s mom – another friend of mine from Lamma was also visiting, but the kindness of my friends seems infinite. When Awon returned from her studio – oh, did I not mention that this friend of mine decided a few years back to take a course in millinery and she is now sort of a big deal? Yeah, check her for sure – we went down the pub because, London.

I knew I wasn’t really “doing” London up in a big touristy way, I had a couple important items on my personal agenda, but otherwise I really was just there to sort of take in the air. And how fortunate seeing as the Underground decided to strike while I was there. That was epic. And by epic I of course mean: WTF London. But most importantly, staying with Awon and Mark made this all possible and I look forward to giving over my place to them when they decide they are ready to take in San Francisco.

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First on my agenda was to meet up with Stu’s sister. This was something that I just knew I had to do, and although I went back and forth between being super nervous and super excited and in the end, I just sort of let go and realized that it would be as it should be (that’s so Stu). The thing is, in a lot of ways the reason I was even in London staying with the people I was had to do with Stu… my return to Lamma, his extended network of friends and acquaintances becoming mine, which is not to say I wouldn’t have met these people otherwise, it is just that I actually did meet them because of him. And to a further point, it was his untimely, tragic, and incongruously surprising death that brought everything back into focus for me and set the tone for the shift that got me moving again – it is so easy to fall into stasis – towards a place where I would up and buy tickets for an unplanned trip to Europe in the first place. That might sound all new-agey and trite, and it may be. But sometimes we need a kick in the head, and it is hard to predict where that might come from. And when Stu died, a lot of really amazing people emerged in my life, and this summer that turns out to have made quite a difference. My kick was less about Stu, or Stu and me, and much more about a not so gentle reminder (again, that’s so Stu) to live the life you want to live and not the one you convince yourself you need to live.

So now here I was and there was an impending tube strike and that was to be avoided. Fortunately the overground trains would not be affected and so to Hockley I went. I had some trepidation – Hockley has a reputation… somewhere along the lines of New Jersey. Or maybe more like Fresno. Or Reno. Except the thing about South End-on-Sea is that it is actually really pretty and it has all the elements of a small town I grew up familiar with, both good and bad. In short, I had a fabulous time.

I arrived and she was waiting for me and in spite of never having met in person there we were. When I think back on it I am still not sure why it was that I felt like I really wanted to meet her, but I am definitely glad I followed through. I think initially there had been talk about the fact that Stu would have really wanted his ashes to be in Lamma – and so maybe we could make that happen. But time passed and urgency subsided and so I was not sure that was it. Then there was the fact that she had been so open and kind to all of us who clamored to her virtual door on learning about Stu, something she did not need to do, and her generosity of spirit was incredible. There was another part of wanting to meet her, like a bit of a missing puzzle piece, because Stu had been so cagey about his family and had crafted the necessary stories that one would, given his proclivities. I kind of felt like somehow I might understand everything better if I met his people.

We went to the local cooperative funeral home – it happens to be where she works as the director. Her son, Stu’s nephew also works there. The full circle-ness is not lost on me and actually has many more layers than I will retell here. But I will say that to meet Stu’s nephew was… powerful. There is something very Stu about him: he is a seeker. I was impressed. We went to the crematorium where the service had been and where Stu’s ashes were buried.

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Now, I have had more experience with cremains than I would like to have had in the past year. In fact, one could almost say that at a certain point the death rituals become macabre to a point of inevitable humor. You may never think you will have a Lebowski moment, but I can assure you – it is possible that you may find yourself sorting through a friend’s ashes with a plastic fork looking for some sort token that might have been placed in them to prevent illegal disposal while sitting in the lovely back garden of a pub (there was no token), or you may find yourself on the other side of the world traipsing around under a tree where, here or there, your ex’s cremains may be buried, but eh, that’s really just a formality isn’t it? And the whole thing just becomes sort of absurd in this really touching way: yes, these are ashes, cremains… but this is not your people. It is just some strange reminder that they were here. However the far better evidence of their having been here with us for a time are the relationships and friendships that have been carved out of the wake of their departure. And I like to think that my people would appreciate our collective touches of irreverence in the end.

What is death, if not absurd, when you really get down to it.

We left flowers for Stu and got to talk about all the things that you can’t really talk about in email or Facebook messenger. I’d say we had a moment.

And then we went to the pub.

We had lunch at the Bull and then headed to the local: Spa Hockley. It was a top afternoon, honestly, I could not have imagined it better.

When it came time to leave, there was one more thing for me to grab. So, there we were in  the parking lot of the pub, passing ashes… and not for the first time this year did I find myself in such a scenario. I was shown how the container (sealed) could be used as sort of a, um, shaker… like a salt shaker, to spread the ashes (ostensibly to avoid a Lebowski). Oh, and I had a note in case there were any issues with customs because apparently smuggling contraband in ashes is now a thing. That being a concern and these being Stu’s ashes seemed to have a perfect sort of cosmic symmetry in effect.

And then I was saying goodbye, and back on a train to East London. Full disclosure, I got a little emotional on the ride home. But the good kind, you know, more like gratitude than sorrow, but still, the sadness gets in there too.

On further consideration as the train rolled into Stratford, when I thought about the reality that Stu was going to get yet another all expenses paid vacation on me as I was now destined to carry him across Europe and back to the States, I really couldn’t help but laugh. I mean really, that fucker, god love him.

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The two days I had left in London were not totally as I had planned because, well, I had not planned. And then the tube went on strike. I wasn’t sure how big of a deal it might be. Let’s just say this: it was big. I persevered and took a bus – or rather I got on a bus, but it couldn’t actually drive anywhere, so I disembarked and walked and talked with people and saw some of the city under shockingly blue skies.

I saw the Thames, the EYE, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circle, Leicester Square, Soho, Westminster Abbey… you know, a lot of stuff really. Needless to say, I was well tired on my return and ready for a nice cold pint.

The day of my departure I would be meeting one of my friends from Prashanti Kutiram. Although we had lived together for a month in what I will only describe here as rather rudimentary confines, we had not seen each other in five years, but like so many have also discovered, the relationships you forge when you are far afield seem to have a special sort of staying power.

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This particular friend has just had a baby and so logistics remained flexible – how nice that I had not gotten around to planning. We would meet near St. Pancras where I would be jumping back on the Eurostar to return to Paris. This “plan” allowed me to wander around the East End of London a bit and then move towards Whitechapel where I wandered around the Whitechapel Gallery and then spent some time strolling up Brick Lane towards Shoreditch. In the same way I had to check out Williamsburg and Bushwick because everyone says they are the equivalent neighborhoods to my own in San Francisco… I had to view the London version of the scene. I could feel it for sure.

To the station I went after gathering my things at the gallery where they were totally cool to let me leave my bag for several hours. London’s East End is really quite ideal. For the little I know, I gather it is the area I would land in were I there. But I will never be there because London is doing their best to make SF seem affordable, and let’s just talk about what a load of shite that is.

I boarded the train at St. Pancras with nary a nod to my passport heading back to France. In less than three hours I would be meeting Frenchie to commence the next segment of my trip. I thought on my brief three days in London and realized I was leaving without a photo of Stu’s family or my fab hosts in Bow. I guess we had been to busy in the moment to capture it and relegate it to a status update for others. Maybe next time.

I suppose it is true what Andy Dufresne said, “You gotta get busy living, or get busy dying.”

That’s goddamn right.

The Stand Up….

I do not get stood up often. In fact, with one notable exception (very fucking notable) I can honestly say that until the last couple of months I had never been stood up, except by Comcast, (because they are total fuckers and do not care one single iota for the happiness, satisfaction, or sanity of their “customers.” I get so pissed when they answer calls saying “Thank you for choosing Comcast!” like I had some sort of choice in this, you monopolistic jerk-offs? But I digress… as per usual. [Ironically, as I sit here writing this I am in fact waiting for the Comcast guy to show up in his guaranteed time window. It has never happened, but a girl can dream. As, Comcast has now made their “guarantee” window two hours rather than one, I guess the odds are better.])

The real truth of the matter is that I don’t generally get stood up for a two logical reasons:

  • I don’t really put myself in situations where this is any sort of possibility because I trust the people I choose to meet when I go out.
  • Everyone has a phone – so really, in this day and age… is there any possible reason to straight stand someone up? No. No, there is not.

I would like to think that I don’t get stood up because I am a pretty cool human, and what sort of fucknut does that sort of thing to any kind of human… but hey, who knows.

So, of the three times I have been stood up (excluding Comcast) how did they fall outside of those aforementioned logical reasons? Oh, yeah. They did not.

In order of impact – so I guess the severity of the standing up, or the logistics therein – they went like this:

1) “Yeah Yeah Yeah I Can’t Wait To See You!”

We will just say, I should have been suspicious based on the frequency of exclamation points and emoji, but I trusted in this one because this was someone I had met before. In fact, when we met, we really met, if you get my meaning. And we are (were?) in touch pretty regularly. Granted it ebbs and flows, but it is generally not like some weird shout in the dark when we talk to each other.

What made this stand up particularly curious, is that there was confirmation of the meet up happening a mere four hours prior to the stand up. We were in the same town. Plans had been rearranged to accommodate the meet up. Connections had been established. And then, at T minus nothing, we had total radio silence.

Now, that is just rude.

Fortunately for me, I did not have a lot vested in this situation, but seriously, to just ignore the arrangement and go totally dark? Lame. I was also easily able to make new plans and parlay the situation into something awesome, but seriously? Not even an “I’m a chicken shit” text message? Puh-leeze.

Before you think I am just cruel and like, maybe he got in a horrible traffic accident, no. He did not. He just chose to do something else, which is totally legit. But homeboy, MAKE A CALL.

The only explanation for not being grown up enough to cancel (save for some sort of catastrophe) is that you actually enjoy this feeling of making someone super uncomfortable (I mean really, after three texts that don’t get answered, it feels pretty ridiculous.) Maybe it is an ego thing. Maybe you are just busy hanging in mom’s basement. I don’t really know. But standing me up like that was pathetic.

Go sit down.

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2) “We Are Going To Be The Most Amazing Couple Ever.”

To be fair, this is a sort of abstract stand up – but stand up it was. I say abstract because this person stood me up in an unrealized way. I also knew this person. We had hung out together and then decided we wanted to do that again. And we did – in a totally cute, spontaneous, and sneaky way.

And then he started laying out all the plans for the future. Travel, Cohabitation. Dates, Meeting family. Blah blah fucking blah. Suffice it to say I was a very good listener in all of this, and truth be told, he wove fine tales.

But when he was first given the chance to pull the trigger (I found out way after the fact) he balked. When given a second chance he came through. When directly asked about the third chance, he back pedaled (none to gracefully), lied (never very graceful), and cowered a way like a very small, small person.

Again, he had every opportunity to just come out and say, “Yeah, this is not going to work for me.” But no. Apparently his phone(s) and computers no longer work. They sure did for a while there though. (Have you ever looked at the sushi emoji and the eggplant emoji juxtaposed with each other? I am not sure that is acceptable adult communication in hindsight.) After all that, I was not even worth a “thanks for the conversations” communiqué? Really? What a lame stand up.

Oh. go sit down.

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3) “I cannot wait to meet you in San Francisco.”

This was the first of the epic stand-ups. And really, I had this shit coming for sure. But still, at the time… it was awful. Like way worse than the other two that make this list because I was less prepared, more fragile, and I had flown 8,000 freaking miles to make it happen.

No lie.

I took a total chance here, and I guess I was in the mood for it. This person had found me via my blog (look at my ego grow just typing that) and was super smart (and super well-versed in internet wooing it turns out) so he always said just the right things. We talked on the phone for hours and messaged each other and wrote blogs laden with private jokes and personal references. It was clearly ridiculous.

Me, being me (as I was in both the above mentioned situations as well) was very much in the shit or get off the pot mode with this person. If we were going to b like this we needed to meet each other. He agreed. Enthusiastically.

We bought airline tickets and counted down days. It was all very romantic and exciting and the stupid shit that fiction is based on, because: FICTION.

The morning I was flying out he texted me – no call – to say, he was afraid he might miss his flight to SFO (he was flying from the southern US) because he had some sort of work emergency. *cough*bullshit*cough* But I was en route to a trans-pacific flight. Was I supposed to cancel? No, he said, he might still make it. What? Not even committing to the stand up? I should have told him to sit the fuck down right then.

So I flew the 12 hours to San Francisco and landed… And he was still telling me maybe he could come. How lucky for me (and him really) that I am from San Francisco and so I had friends to stay with and to visit. As I sat at the airport ready to return to Asia after my whirlwind weekend, he kept telling me how terrible he felt that he was unable to make it and thinking of me “so sad” was so hard for him. Huh. Well, you certainly could have done something about that. At that point I was sad, but I would eventually become enraged. He tried to become invisible, but it was a challenge for him. And I played him one final time in a sort of way that was truly hilarious and fodder for an entire different post. (Play with fire? I got you.)

In the end, I somehow reaped great benefits from this debacle of an adventure… it was when I first started getting upgraded at Cathay and they put me into Marco Polo, we still never worked out why – but really, why ask why? In an ironic twist, this little weasel now lives in the community where I work. And being that the Bay Area is such a small place, I am sure that someday, some way, the unfortunate circumstance of running into each other will unfold. And I will only have one thing to say:

Sit the fuck down.

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For what it’s worth, today the Comcast guy got here ahead of schedule and sorted his shit out clearly, amicably, and effectively.

So maybe there is hope after all.

Dodged a(nother) bullet in spite of myself.

I was recently involuntarily disentangled from a curious situation. The situation became curiouser and curiouser for no real reason save for a total black hole of communication. Things went from 24-7 contact to…. *crickets*. Worse than a clear choice to step away and hold his tongue for a bit was the complete (read: obviously intentional) refusal to reply to a simply (although eventually less simple) inquiry: What is going on? I did not (do not) want to be that kind of girl who is all freaky, and neurotic (at least about this kind of shit). Just because I wanted to be treated like the “friend” I was supposed to be does not make me some freaky fatal attraction type of person:

I am not that kind of girl.

Initially, I told no one about any of this, the original entanglement nor the ensuing crazy-making disentanglement. But after 40 days and 40 nights (approximately) I and to tell someone what had happened. I told my girl E about it. And as I told the story, I realized that I was not the asshole here. That in fact, I had been dealing with someone who pretends to be a really nice guy – and may be a nice guy someway somehow – but is so fucked up and broken that he is, actually, quite an asshole. As I went into the details, E was like, ‘Come on! What a jerk…’ and the like, as your friends are supposed to do. But in saying out loud what I had experienced, it became clear, that I was not crazy, or weird, or inappropriate (well, at least in this case) and that in fact, he was someone far too messed up to engage with on any real level and E said:

You don’t want that in your life, your life is too amazing.

I also had kept R in the loop because, well, R knows everything. He pointedly and with a barely veiled (okay, not veiled at all) sense of “are you serious” identified all the red flags I chose to overlook with Mr. Messy. ‘He said he was selling his house, did he? He said he just wanted someone to be nice to him – to love him, did you consider that that may literally be all he wanted from you? He told you all sorts of annoying things about another woman, who he incidentally lives with, didn’t that seem sort of shitty? He is involved in some kind of fucked up triangle with his ex-wife and his girlfriend who is old enough to be his mom in some states, doesn’t that seem weird to you? He told you all these things he was *going* to do, did he do any of them?’ And I had to return to one of R’s best lines of all time:

A lot of these people have complications in their lives I just do not desire.

When I eventually told me mom, she listed, in a hot minute, all the reasons I was so lucky that this was not going to go forward: kids, exes, wacky life priorities, dishonesty, mommy issues, and said:

You got lucky.

In the end, I found out several other very bizarre pieces of information that further complicated the narrative in my mind, but all led to the same conclusion: this person had done wrong by me, and in his self-professed transparency had really been letting me know all along he was doing me wrong, but I was not seeing it. My choice (or inability) to note these red flags has been the chief cause of getting aught up in crazy relationship bullshit for eons. So in this case, when divine intervention stepped in (or a nice older woman – coo coo ka choo) and prevented me from getting hit by the bullet this time, my go-to reaction was to feel like I had I had lost out on some kind of wonderful. But that is bullshit, because although no one can know what I missed out on in the hypothetical, what I missed out on in reality is a-ok.

I recently came across a line from Lena Dunham’s book in which she hopes she might stop someone from “thinking that it was your fault when the person you are dating suddenly backs aways, intimidated by the clarity of your personal mission here on earth,” and I thought, fuck yeah:

I am that kind of girl.

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I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

Now that is funny…

I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Well, I meant it, but I was so stupid that I didn’t mean what I meant… After all, it’s only a… [Facebook message]. Everyone knows… [Facebook messages] are just… full of crap. ~ Bridget Jones

I woke up this morning and I was like, “I want to write something funny.” Because, sometimes I am really funny. I wanted to remind myself of the kinds of things that make me laugh. Like, the posters my students made for me at school that are a collection of my remarks in class, which they titled, “Shit Levin Says,” and I do love a comment absent its context on occasion. And I had some ideas of some funny things to write about: most recently I was considering a catalog of actual things that actual members of the male species have said to me – context or not, definite humor potential. And in spite of things in the world as they are, and in spite of personal blogs basically being the huge pile of self-indulgent crap that they are generally, I thought, yes… back to my self-deprecating roots then, eh?

So, I turned on the devices and… Oh.Fuck.Me. A total Bridget Jones moment transpired.

This is not wholly inappropriate as I actually adore -without defense or justification- (or was that just?) Bridget Jones. And not solely for the predictable holiday rom-com ridiculousness that it perpetuates (or that there is a character called Perpetua!) But I love Bridget for the way she completely embraces her moments of abject humiliation – every single time. When you stand back and look at it, this has got to some kind of really enlightened approach to the world. Although acknowledging the circumstances, and effectively (familiarly) wallowing in them, Bridget has this ability to just be like, “Right. That sucked and am probably laughing stock of entire nation, but really, what can I do about it now?”

My particular Bridget Jones moment occurred when I realized that sent Facebook messages cannot be deleted across the board. Like, I can send them, then delete them before they have been read by someone else… but the someone else still gets them.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

Now, to be fair, I have not been being crazy, or dangerous, or doing anything that could get me fired, jailed, or excommunicated from my family. But let’s just say, I may have let my calm, cool, and collected outward appearance around my feelings about someone’s behavior towards me demonstrate a bit more desperation than I would ever, EVER want to be shared.

And you all know how calm, cool, and collected I always am.

On realizing this, and realizing that said person has very clearly seen said missives (because goddammed Facebook tells you when they were “active”), I had a moment (or 30, 40… maybe 50…) where I scoured the internets to be sure that this was the case… When I delete something, does it not delete elsewhere? What a STUPID system. Come on Facebook, help a girl out.

Rest assured, this is actually the case. And having deleted the messages, I cannot even go back and actually assess the degree to which I should be humiliated.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

But hang on a tick… It turns out that you can recover all of your Facebook data. Ha. Nice try Facebook. But, for real, you go to settings, and download the info and Facebook sends it to you as an HTML file, so technically you can relive ALL the horror. [You are welcome.]

I wouldn’t go there if I were you. [Of course I went there.] I looked. And damn, there was some crazy old shit in there.

Mother, I do not need a blind date. Particularly not with some verbally incontinent spinster who drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and dresses like her mother. ~Mark Darcy

But the messages that were filling me with turkey-curry buffet/tarts & vicars/reindeer jumper levels of angst were not really that bad. I mean, yeah, I wish I would not have sent them because I would like to be cooler at all times than I actually am… But in the end, I had a real, honest to god Bridget Jones moment, in which I looked at them, and thought to myself, “Right. You did that and it was stupid, because this person is clearly not picking up what you are putting down… But actually, all you did was be honest. And true. And so how is that so humiliating?” Oddly, for the first time I felt better about the whole stupid situation that has been plaguing me for weeks, like, it was out there now, and so be it.

I felt all zen.

I’m sure it will last until the next time.

Resolution #1: Uggg – will obviously lose 20 lbs. #2: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important: will find nice sensible boyfriend and stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts. Will especially stop fantasizing about a particular person who embodies all these things. ~ Bridget Jones

I have a wedding dress.

Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? ~ Chimamanda Adichie

I rarely mention the fact that I have a wedding dress, because why would I? I am not about to get married, I have never been married, and (as several people have enjoyed pointing out to me at various times) I have no real idea if anyone has ever truly wanted to marry me. Nonetheless, I have a dress. It is a gorgeous dress. A one-of-a-kind couture design of bias cut ivory silk and silk tulle by a New York design duo, two brothers who go by their family name, Manolo. It is a dress that I could have never afforded, even if I had wanted to, but I have this dress.

I have this dress because once upon a time I was going to get married. I thought I had met my Prince Charming. I mean, he had some pretty serious red flags flying in his wake, but I was the right age to be getting married and for every flaw he had, I could find a compensatory (or better) quality to make up for any deficiency. Or an excuse. His family hated me? No problem, my family was willing to embrace him. He was an alcoholic? NBD, I had lots of practice with this. He was going to prison? Come on, that could be romantic in some contexts. [I mean, look at RDJ. Love him.]

I was aspiring to marriage. Among other things.

So I had to get a dress when he decided I was worth marrying – for my genetic material if nothing else. I got a dress. It was alright. Very late 90’s and princess-y. I think it had some sparkles and maybe some blue. I never took it out of the shop in LA because I would be having the alterations and stuff done there.

Then he went to prison, I cheated on him, and we broke up. I got to take all my stuff – except for anything he had given me – and all the blame. Meanwhile the dress sat in the shop.

A couple of years later I finally got the nerve to call the shop and find out what I should do about the dress. The proprietress, Cocoe Voci, remembered me and was so glad I had called. She had been trying to reach me for a year because she was closing her salon to launch her own line. She had been liquidating all of her inventory and had sold the dress. Unsure what to do, Cocoe made all the decisions for me: come down to LA she said, we will figure something out.

The next week, my mom and I went down and Cocoe showed us all the remaining dresses. She showed me the Manolo. It was stunning. Something out of a movie I have still never seen. We all stared when I put it on. The dress cost a ridiculous amount, particularly for someone who was not even getting married. For reasons I will never understand, Cocoe made the decision to practically give us the dress. We hugged and left with the dress.

So that is why I have a this dress.

I had not thought about the dress in a long time, in spite of the fact that it hangs in my closet in its own protective armor. But the other day, I took it out. I looked at it. It is as beautiful as it ever was. I tried it on. It still makes me feel like I belong in a black and white film, in a ballroom I have never seen. Looking at myself in that dress was weird though. (I mean weird beyond the fact of being a middle-aged, single woman, standing in her living room in a wedding dress on a Saturday afternoon.) It was weird because when I let my brain consider the meaning of the dress, I could not imagine ever wearing it for its intended purpose. There was no amount of stretching that could get my (generally very active) imagination there.

As I took the dress off and carefully returned it to its protective sheath, I looked around at my tiny apartment. At my two cats. At my books. At my wall of artwork from no fewer than seven countries. At the quiet sense of order in the clean space. And at that moment it dawned on me exactly how completely content I am in my life at this exact moment.

Sitting down, I thought about it more. How I wake up in the morning and am free. I can do anything I want to do. At the pace I want to. And I do.

I do not have to listen to people telling me how I should be doing something else. I don’t have anyone judging me for letting a cat sleep on the pillow. Or because I want to listen to reggae music. I don’t have anyone telling me I spend too much time reading. Or too much time writing. Or that the way I portray myself on-line is somehow “wrong”.  I can go to yoga three times a day if I want to. I can sit and read on my sofa all day. Or, if I want to stay up until 1 am working, I can do that too.

Of course, I will never have some things that most people I know have, like children, and the joy they will bring.  Although last week when I was getting on my seniors’ for being lazy about leaving crap on my  floor and said, I don’t have kids – I should not have to pick up after them!  one of my senior boys said, “Naw, you have us – you got thousands of kids,” which I thought was sort of cute. But in a way he is right, these kids are good for me.

And my life is so full. I have wonderful friends who really like me. I am in a City surrounded by cool stuff to do all the time. I have great colleagues at a good job that I am pretty good at. I love going to work and I love to come home to my cats, (without qualification.) Lately I find more and more that I really do need to have my own space and my own time in it. [Maybe I am turning into and introvert… I mean if Facebook quizzes are to be trusted then: ” Others may perceive you as overly emotional, and you may even have a reputation for being a bit sensitive or touchy, but you actually just have an incredibly high emotional intelligence. You can be a bit melancholy at times, and you need time and space to recharge your emotional energies.”]

I am not convinced that all of these observations preclude life changes that could lead to wedding dress wearing types of events, and I do believe in love at first sight, and all the silliness it has always led me to. But I am just not sure that these things always happen to everyone. And that is totally okay.

It could just be me: I’ve been told I’m too loud, I like the wrong sports, I shouldn’t drink beer, I shouldn’t drink tequila, I’m too pushy, I’m too standoffish, my arms are too big, my teeth are too crooked, I like the wrong music, I like the wrong kind of people, I am too sporty, I am too competitive, that I am not the marrying kind, I work too much, I don’t do enough, I plan too much, I am too spontaneous, I am too independent, I am too needy… and on and on and on.

But I don’t think that’s it.

I aspire to something better than all of that. I aspire to just be me.

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Oh, and some sort of party, someday, in an amazing place, where I can wear a breathtaking ivory silk dress.