Puis nous sommes allés au Sud de la France [google translate, do me right…]

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The only things I knew about the South of France before I arrived I figure I must have picked up from questionable romantic comedies. Or Inglourious Basterds, I feel like there was some provincial Provence somewhere in that film. Maybe? [RIP Shosanna Dreyfus.] As was the theme thus far in France, I was unclear on what I was supposed to want to do in the South of France, but I know I certainly enjoyed saying, out loud, that I was summering in the South of France. What else did I really need to know?

I had heard a lot of things about Provence. Mostly to do with food, lavender, wine, and sunflowers. I think I also had some illusions about dreamy, mysterious, older gentlemen who might wander out of quaint cafés or mysterious corners bearing flowers or wine or something, while romantic music emanates from some equally mysterious location.

Some of these preconceived notions were spot on.

We left Paris by train headed to Nimês, where we would rent a car to drive to Uzès, a small town near Avignon where Frenchie’s dad lives when he is in France. It was hot, and stunningly beautiful as we moved through the countryside to our first destination. There is something viscerally exciting when, before your eyes, preconceived notions become realities. It is a strangely satisfying combination of surprise, validation and joy.

Arriving in Nimês, we found the car agency and took a bit of time to work out exactly what was going on. Initially I had not been entirely on board with a couple of the decisions – like renting a car – did we really need one? [Yes.] Or did we want to see a concert at the Arena de Nimês even if it was not going to be Lionel Richie? [Hello, yes, although initially no-yes-no-yes.] In keeping with the trend, Frenchie knew best and I was finally learning to keep my mouth shut about it. We would get a car, drop our stuff in it, and head out to see the village of Nimês for crème glacés, tickets, shopping, walking.

And so we did.

Nimês was lovely, and hot. I remember being really impressed initially, but looking back on it after seeing Uzès, it was a little less special, perspective being what it is. It was a lovely intro, at the very least, and the Arena… well, we will get to that.

On returning to the car we were grateful for the shade of the subterranean garage. So grateful apparently that the powers that be allowed us to be there for far longer than we anticipated. In our (occasional) fiscal and (regular) regional pragmatism we opted to have only one driver on the car: Frenchie. And I was excited to see how this would go. But it appeared that we were not going. To be fair, I have not had a car since I sold mine – or rather #4 did, for far less than he should have – when I moved to Asia, and cars have become far more… automated. It is amusing to me how in simplifying things, car makers have made the vehicles so much more mysterious. Add to this that Frenchie is a committed luddite and an indefatigable anachronist, and we were nearly in a Mr. Bean sketch. There was an informative (though French) LED display that kept saying to engage the clutch. I am not sure how I suddenly understood French when I could barely recall how to say you’re welcome after several weeks dans le pays, but suddenly I could. So I kept saying “Put the clutch in.” And Frenchie kept saying, “What is this clutch?” And I would tell her and she would look at me like I was crazy. This went on for quite some time. At one point we were even considering going back upstairs to tell them we had a defective car.

And the shade of the garage was no longer keeping these four ladies cool.

I asked could I just try once, so we switched seats.

And the car started.

I believe we are now  all clear on how to say, and effectively demonstrate, clutch multilingually.

More to the point we now had air con and were en route to what lay ahead: Uzès.

The drive was beautiful and the approach to the village stunning. But we were completely unprepared for what was really in store. I now understand so much more clearly Frenchie’s love for all that is old and gone – I have always been curious, almost perplexed, by her love for the past. She has described it as a love for the lost innocence of people and places. I have felt more that it was a strange resistance to see the world – for better or for worse – as it is. In some cases I even felt like, and tried unsuccessfully to communicate, that her love for days gone by in places is at best limiting to these places as she insists they not progress in any way for the benefit of maintaining an image of something she wants to hold, rather than a reality she should be able to see. At worst it feels repressive and imperialistic. I know that this is not at all how she feels it or means it and that she would tell me I am up to my tricks of over thinking. This may be true. Either way she is my own Adriana, the one who will always long for some illusive Golden Age.

But walking through the gate (yes, gate) on the narrow, cobbled streets, we were transported.

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I knew I was going to enjoy my time here, in a quaint experiential way. But when I turned to look at Nic I saw something different: she was home. I had never seen someone look so perfectly in situ. She belongs in the South of France… if not now, or forever, definitely right then, Nickie was home.

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After dropping off our things and appreciating the wonderfully familiar home of a person who you’ve never met but in knowing his familiars you know him anyhow, we went out. We wandered around a few of the streets to the place du village. We chose a small taverna and sat down for appetizers and rosé. And there we were: a group of people, sometimes friends, sometimes foes, sometimes family, sometimes allies, sometimes travelers, always simpatico: especially in the moments when we were not so sure.

Over wine and bread and wine and olives and wine we considered if people always have choices or sometimes they don’t. We talked about men in Australia and America and Hong Kong. We talked about the recurring narrative that we could not really believe that we were here in this place, at this time.

There were perfect dark corners and music emanating from them… no mystery men… but it was early.

For the next few days we explored various aspects of this part of Provence. We got a wonderful tip on a restaurant from two women who had been sitting next to us at the taverna, La Table 2 Julien, for which we booked a table later in the week, there were villages of ceramics, open air markets, an arts festival in Avignon, the aqueduct, the Tower of Uzès… the list had the potential to go on and on. And not to be forgotten was the lovely home we had at our disposal.

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I think the myriad options gave rise to the more obvious differences in our various objectives. It would be the first time – to my knowledge (save for the regular disparagement for being American) – that these differences began to be a little prickly and sting as it were. (As I have said before, group work can be a struggle in the best of times.) The result of this was a bit more alone time, or tandem time, which was good for all of us, and required that we make our needs clear, which is another good practice.

I was not giving up the Pont du Gard, nor the ancient garden and tower of Uzès. And food, I wanted all the food, though truth be told I didn’t really want to figure it out in terms of restaurants and meals, I just wanted to eat it. As for road tripping and shopping, I felt like there was enough in our vicinity, but was reminded that I didn’t really know what was in our vicinity, which was an undeniable truth. Still, I was not really excited for hours in the car to spend moments in towns I was not sure I could actually see. But for the potential of greatness (positive spin on F.O.M.O.) we went.

Our day to Avignon was important because my young real estate magnate (aka Frenchie) is looking there for her next purchase, but also because of the Festival d’Avignon, self-proclaimed as “one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world.” I think it was impressive, I mean I know it was, it was just all in French. So we eventually went to a dance production. I was far more interested in the history of Avignon, it was the home to the Popes for years and there was a big old Palais des Papes, which I wanted to climb.

I did not get to climb this palace. We did however witness a mad conflict between a bunch of French officials who were trying to oversee a memorial for Jewish soldiers who had died in WWII at the same time that a visiting troupe of Korean drummers and dancers was kicking off in the plaza directly adjacent to and below the memorial. There was a lot of unscripted whistle blowing. It reminded me quite a bit of this for some reason.

Avignon is a walled city along the Rhône River with an interesting and complicated history. While it maintains much of this feel, during the festival it is like one giant billboard.

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Following the show we had a walk and lunch and then I took the liberty to scramble across town in search of a particular show poster that I had been unable to pull from the walls (there were so many posters but the one I wanted of course cost €5.) But this run gave me the chance to see the ramparts and the walls – as you know I do love a walled city.

The city was gorgeous and another one of those places that really takes you back, with winding streets and narrow buildings with the colored window shutters on muted terra-cotta colored buildings. I tried to picture myself living there as we considered different areas where Frenchie might find herself. Every time, as with Uzès, I thought it was lovely and sweet, and positively unlivable. I am just not cut out for the provincial, I guess.

Leaving Avignon we were en route to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This town rates incredibly low on my Fabulous French Review. I would like to say this is because with limited time the parts we saw were totally uncharming… so strange for the part of the world that seems to have a lock on charm… and it was unbearably hot. And we were going the opposite way from Uzès so I was confused. The saving grace was that after a quick stop we drove on to Gordes, a place I would have loved to check out further but it was not to be.

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Someday I will go back to Gordes with one of those mythical mystery men – out the shadows or not.

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Our remaining time in and around Uzès accommodated almost all of our needs in different ways. We went to the Pont du Gard, and it was as fantastic as I could have imagined as we were able to walk through the actual aqueduct. Well, some of us were… somehow one of our tickets had been misplaced and in a strangely non-provincial way, the woman who had sold the ticket suddenly claimed she had no recollection of such and event and she would not let Frenchie through. Nic and I were unaware of this until we had gone through the entire aqueduct and sat wondering how we had lost our friend in a one way tunnel. I was a disappointment, though I am not sure if Frenchie was more disappointed in not going through the aqueduct or in the behavior she declared decidedly UN-French from the guide. The day itself was so stunning, it made up (almost) for this mishap.

The Pont du Gard is: an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in the south of France. Located near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard, the bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometer system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes) Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bridge across the gorge of the Gardon River. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts, and, along with the Aqueduct of Segovia, one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance. (wiki FTW)

And basically I just wanted to walk around saying: What have the Romans ever done for us? [“The aqueduct?”]

It was one of the coolest things I have seen. Along with the mural of world heritage sites that listed French gastronomy as one of them. Oh France.

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In our last full day I was able to explore the medieval garden of Uzès which is between the ancient King’s Tower and Bishop’s Tower – formerly used as a prison among other things. This tower I got to climb.

After spending a little bit of time by myself in the medieval garden and exploring the King’s prison and the Bishop’s tower I headed back to our flat. For our last night all together in the south of France we would be driving to Nimes to see Sting perform at the ancient Arenes de Nimes. The drive was easy and the parking was fortuitous. If only choosing an outfit would have been so easy.

We stopped for a light dinner beforehand, although by this time I had waited too long and was crabby from hunger and nitpicking. This is the thing about being in a group: sometimes little things go unnoticed and sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just build up. It is usually in these situations I find that the inconsequential breaks the levee and emotions are misdirected and further misinterpreted. For public consumption, I’ll just say, the one person who I snapped at was not the one I meant to… And I needed a time out.

Or champagne. Champagne is generally a good alternative.

There is no mood that the Arenes de Nimês could not conquer, which for the setting seems completely appropriate.

Built in the year 70 (C.E.) for gladiator combats, animal slayings and executions it was fortified and held by the Visigoths after the fall of the Roman Empire. By the 700s it enclosed a fortified palace and eventually a small neighborhood was established within the amphitheater; home to around 700 people. In 1863 it was remodelled to serve as a bullring and today it is still used for this (gross) practice as well as lots of other public events. It is 130 m. by 100 m. and can seat 16,300. And it has sections still called the vomitoires. Which is obviously awesome. [These are the seats adjacent to the lower level tunnels that facilitate the exits.]

When we arrived the setting was simply breathtaking and this was before we even saw Sting (although, the hipster beard he is now sporting is less breathtaking… but he’s still totally hot. It’s the yoga, I know it.) The show was great, the crowd was entertaining, the weather was perfect. It was a lovely last night in Provence.

The next morning we woke up knowing that we would be heading out our separate ways. Nic and her sister were off to Bruges, Frenchie and I to Spain by way of Marseille. I got up early to walk around the village one last time and bid adieu to Uzès.

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On my return we were readying to go and people were packed, the house reassembled, and we were off.

Except the keys to the house were missing.

Like, totally gone.

Although there were some mild time constraints – more for us than for Nic and Sam who would be spending the night in Nimês – we basically had time. And how hard could it be to find a set of keys?

Suddenly we were looking everywhere. In packed luggage. In garbage. Under furniture. In the toilet.

No keys.

Of course, it was hard not to look to Frenchie who, without intentionally casting aspersions, I might suggest has had some struggles around losing misplacing items. Everybody was verklempt.

Still, no keys.

Until… there they were. On the kitchen table. Albeit, under the tablecloth, but they were there. It was relief incomparable to much I could think of save for having to pee so bad you think you might die and then finding a bathroom. And not dying.

So we were off. Back to Nimês to share a tearful goodbye with our friends and then to the train for Marseille. There was much to unpack – emotionally and experimentally. We had seen so much of Provence and seen how differently people see the same things. There were moments that were challenging and others delicious and still others that were transformative, and some that simply eliminated the need for words.

I suspect those are precisely the sentiments that define travel.

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Les Classiques.

For the days following Bastille Day we were largely on our own in Paris, every woman for herself. This was to accommodate our different tastes and objectives for Paris and was a good thing, if for no other reason than to travel en masse necessarily brings with it the complications of group work, but I also noted that there were moments throughout my days when I considered how the trials and tribulations of a group dynamic can easily be offset by the joy of having someone to share amazing moments with. I do not think that Paris lost anything for me as I traversed the city wide-eyed with my own version of disbelief about being there, but I must say, I can recall with pristine clarity the moments I looked around for a compadre for no other reason than to exclaim: Can you believe this? Truth be told, by the middle of the first day, I was just borrowing other people and their groups with which to share my awe, I mean after all, we were all there together, crowded, sweaty, agape, amazed, dusty, sprinkled upon, craning our necks, making space… whatever. Travelers are a unique tribe, and everyone I met was completely willing to reply – I know, right? AHmazing. 

Having never been to Paris (unlike all three of my fellow travelers) I was committed to seeing some of the things they all could do without. And I understand, I mean the Louvre can be overwhelming at best, and positively maddening at worst, but I was not going to miss it. And I know that I will return every time I go back to Paris, because: AHmazing. 

The only things I did not see that I know I will on my return include the Luxembourg Gardens and the Bastille.

High points from these couple of days included the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and le Musée d’Orsay. Although, the Louvre and strolling the Champs-Élysées and floating along the Seine and sidewalk cafes and riverside picnics and the Centre Pompidou did not suck.

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And at the end of each day we reconvened in Clamart to share our stories, each of us infinitely pleased with our days and thrilled to hear about the others’ from parfumeries to cafes and cocktails to crowds and beau artes to vistas and gardens, from missteps to rendezvous, we had it all.

And with our own Frenchie to thank for our bon chance.

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We would depart by train for Nimês on 18 July and take ourselves to Provence for some time in the country. But first one last evening in Clamart.

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In search of मन्त्र.

The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”

It would seem that the search for mantra begins early in life. Or, at least it did for me. The ubiquitous words to live by, maxims offered in children’s books, sayings… words of wisdom were always right there at the ready, waiting for me to try them out. I let the roll around my mouth, coming tumbling out in various ways and contexts. I thought about them and considered their gravitas. I endeavored to create my own.

People are people no matter how wierd they are. (Spelling, words, and attached art – not pictured – are mine, circa 1976)

I don’t remember when I started collecting quotations, song lyrics, expressions, lines from movies… and the collection has comprised all sorts of representations; collages, repetitive script, artwork, photos, memorization. I definitely was looking for instruments of thought.

It makes sense at a young age to rely on the words of others. People who have more experience in life, or art, or the world, or something, can serve as guides, or teachers. The words can provide validation or support whether or not you even know the person. And it’s nice to feel like someone has been there before – someone really *gets it*. I think that was my first motivation in the search for mantra.

A silly beginner, basic apprentice aggression
In the absence of a master, trying to make up my own lesson – Astronautalis, Oceanwalk

Eventually, my search for mantra had a different purpose. Rather than validation it was more a search for kindred spirits: one’s tribe. Again, this is not for a lack of a tribe of my own, but more of an effort to somehow identify the reach and significance of the tribe. Here came the words of the masters; great poets, singers, novelists….

  • All who wander are not lost!
  • Carpe diem!
  • And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make!
  • Do not go gentle into that good night!
  • Rage rage against the dying of the light!
  • Oh! The places you will go!
  • The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return!
  • Emancipate yourself from mental slavery!
  • Live! Laugh! Love!
  • Dance like no one is watching!
  • Shoot for the moon, you might land in the stars!

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं

This led into my efforts to really study mantra – in the traditional sense. I began to think much more seriously about the power of words and the power of manifestation – like how words can so often become reality, for better or for worse, and how words can provide a path to deeper more effective thinking, concentration, or better yet, a truly quiet mind. Considering that mantra is also defined as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation” this too makes sense in my continuing coexistence with, and search for, mantra.

Om mani padme hum has been a staple for me. This mantra has far too much depth to be covered here, but as the lotus mantra, and the lotus is that which can emerge with beauty and grace from the mud may indicate a bit of its direction. I love studying the yoga sutras and the mantras of the Bhagavad Gita because the relevance of these ancient texts underscores so much of the interconnectedness of life that my age has been beginning to show me.

And as I continued to embrace mantra I started to see how everyone else I saw around me was too – sometimes consciously, other times less so; looking for the perfect tattoo, identifying the perfect quotation for the college essay, or with which to begin each chapter of the new novel, or to get through the next overwhelmingly sad/challenging/devastating/heartbreaking circumstance that will surely come up.

Mantra is also believed to be a spell or weapon of supernatural power…

I think maybe the reminder of mantra can also be protective and maybe that is what drives a lot of people to search for mantra. It certainly drove me last year to a point where I felt compelled to put mantra on my body – out of my mind, my mouth, and on to my skin. This was new for me, and definitely reactive. At a time in my life when I was feeling overwhelmed by all that was happening around me, and needing a reminder that not only could, but that I would, stay the course.

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In hindsight, I am not sure I would have actually gone through with this commitment to mantra had I not been reeling emotionally on so many levels… which is not to say I regret the decision, I do not. But I have found myself feeling shy about it in a way I never anticipated, which makes me wonder.

I chose to get two mantras tattooed on my back in the last year. One, the lotus mantra was less surprising, and somehow, people seem not to ask about it because: I do yoga. I guess that excuses the cultural co-optation. I also chose to represent the mantra in a form that is not generally scripted because I wanted to include a traditional ॐ. I suppose this could be construed as an error – but it is just intentionally archaic. Somehow, that feels apropos for me.

The second piece of mantra I chose to put on my body was a refrain from a song that I listened to on repeat for nearly three months after the sudden loss of three friends near the end of last year. Because the words are in English, people are much more likely to ask about them. And it feels really silly to explain that I have put a song lyric on my grown up body. This is a shyness I am not familiar with. But that bit of mantra – like everything – is so much more than the tattoo. I am not sure if I will add to the tattoo, or change it, or grow into it, but I am so glad for the reminder that in spite of terribly sad times, I do maintain my belief in the good things coming… that nothing is irreparable, or lost forever.

Mantra brings comfort, and is powerful. We have seen this always, prayers, chants, superstitions, cheers, spells. I think even for people who would say they don’t believe in mantra, they would find, upon closer examination, that they actually do. From positive self talk and affirmations, to songs of empowerment and resistance, to calls to action, mantra is there.

And we could do far worse than to seek out interments of thought.

I am no master, I know nothing…
I am a servant and I know something…
I am a witness….

Slow. And mostly steady.

I am slow to let people in. Anyone who knows me at all will attest to this truism. I am, as of yet, unconvinced as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – or if that really matters, maybe it is just a thing. I do know it has caused drama in my life on occasion. For example, Ms. Cort always loves to tell the story of the school picture in 8th grade: she asked me for my photo, I responded by asking why she would want my picture when she didn’t even know me. This did not go down incredibly well, but more than 30 years later we are still friends so I suppose it served its own purpose. (And really, I was a total social misfit and had no idea that school photos – and the number of them – was a status symbol at good old PJHS.) Other times it has caused me more serious drama: the shortest man to ever be my boss did not renew my contract at Albany High School my first year back in the States (instigating a wild week of insane self-doubt about everything in my life: coming back to the US, my career, my personhood) because he said, “You’re not friendly enough.” Of course in the end, it was – as all experiences inevitably become – a universal godsend, but damn son, you basically just told me I need to smile more. (For what it’s worth – his career was in many ways as short as his stature.)

It is not that I am categorically unfriendly. Maybe guarded would be a better word (although that doesn’t sound healthy either). My mom has said, on more than one occasion, that I will talk about anything. Unless it really matters. Maybe. I do know that the few times I have abandoned my habit of being slow to let people in it has almost always been with men, and always a disaster. Fools do rush in, it seems to me.

I was thinking about this today before my yoga class began. Okay, I was still thinking about it as class began and I was trying to clear my mind of the chatter… but hey, baby steps. The reason it came to mind as I walked in to class today was that I saw a friend of mine in the room and we waved at each other as I walked to an available spot. This may seem like a ridiculously small thing. It may actually be a ridiculously small thing. But it stood out to me. I have a friend. From yoga. In fact, I may have more than one. It is weird. I have been going to this yoga studio almost daily for nearly five years. So, why would it be odd that I have friends there? I don’t really have an answer for that question except that for me, it is odd.

Over the past few months, maybe even the past year, I have been noticing a shift, I guess it is a shift in myself, but whatever, something is changing because I seem to have somehow developed a bit of a community at this yoga studio. It is small, and it seems somehow a little fragile – like maybe I shouldn’t eve talk about it out loud, but it is there.

This little group includes a few yoga students I have met simply because we sit – for hours – with each other in often humbling positions. It includes a few yoga teachers, people I am probably more inclined to let into my circle, but nonetheless, slow to do so. The circle also now includes some of the people who work (and practice) at the studio. And there are a few people who I knew otherwise and have come into my yoga experience. It is interesting to sit and think that slowly this has become sort of a group. To which I belong.

Belonging is a strange sensation when you feel used to being on your own, or an observer.

I remember my guruji in Hong Kong telling me he wanted me to be more open and friendly with the people I practiced with there and I explained to him – as I have often done here – that I come to yoga for the quiet and the solitude, that with a job and a life like mine I need that. And Veer simply said, “No.” He said that the quiet I needed did not come from solitude in a group. It would be found in my head through practice and that it was important to be in the group -as an active and willing participant – in order to ever really find the quiet I was looking for. And with that one word that was a clear direction from my teacher, this small, tight-knit group of Chinese women became one of my circles. My friends. They are still people who check in on me (and me them) from afar, and strangely, language and culture aside, we are friends.

So it is not a new phenomenon that I am reluctant to expand my circles. But this very familiar turn of events got me thinking today. Who do I let in? Who do I keep out? Why? Is it some sort of test? Is it a trust issue? Do I like being part of these communities or no? Then my teacher said this:

Who would you be if you weren’t so sure of who you are? Release your gripping and your stories just a little…

And I was like… WOAHHHHHH.

I thought about how much time we spend thinking about who we are, and what makes us “us.” And I thought about how easy it is to use that information to justify our habits and patterns and excuse the things in us that maybe we might need to adjust or change…

Who am I?

  • daughter
  • teacher
  • friend
  • laugher
  • niece
  • cat lady
  • student
  • music lover
  • athlete
  • singleton (tragic spinster?)
  • cousin
  • gluten consumer
  • traveler
  • “writer”
  • talker
  • yoga practitioner
  • sports fan
  • DeadHead
  • shoe lover
  • tattoo wearer
  • control freak
  • ENTJ –> INTJ
  • body dysmorphic
  • fan girl
  • observer
  • neat freak
  • animal lover
  • beer drinker

And what would I be without all that? Just me I guess. Sitting with these people who have their own long lists of who they are, and who have, lists aside, become my friends.

Slowly.

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Not my words… but…

Relative to a post from last week about the struggle of having given someone a big part of yourself to only be mysteriously disappeared… my friend K.L. posted this yesterday, and I couldn’t not share.

The habit of self-blame and obsessive revisiting to every conversation to try to figure out what happened when things change abruptly in life is one I would love to break. Maybe this reminder will help. Of course I wonder… To have someone say to you “we let ourselves get carried away by our feelings” (isn’t that the point?) after an intentional relationship was built is rough. Also, inaccurate, but I guess I can only speak from my perspective.

For now, this:

Sometimes people walk away from love because it is so beautiful that it terrifies them. Sometimes they leave because the connection shines a bright light on their dark places and they are not ready to work them through. Sometimes they run away because they are not developmentally prepared to merge with another- they have more individuation work to do first. Sometimes they take off because love is not a priority in their lives- they have another path and purpose to walk first. Sometimes they end it because they prefer a relationship that is more practical than conscious, one that does not threaten the ways that they organize reality. Because so many of us carry shame, we have a tendency to personalize love’s leavings, triggered by the rejection and feelings of abandonment. But this is not always true. Sometimes it has nothing to do with us. Sometimes the one who leaves is just not ready to hold it safe. Sometimes they know something we don’t- they know their limits at that moment in time. Real love is no easy path- readiness is everything. May we grieve loss without personalizing it. May we learn to love ourselves in the absence of the lover. ~ Jeff Brown

 

It’s all good.

Back to being funny soon…. I am thinking of starting a series called, “Things men have actually said to me out loud.” Except none of you will believe they are real….

Hello December…

Today is the first of December, which officially marks the end of DEVOLSON. This is a good thing. And frankly, moving towards the end of 2014 seems like it is also a good thing for a lot of people. But for me, I feel like it has not been that bad. I mean, there have definitely been some unexpected challenges, but over all I feel like 2014 has been pretty good to me.

So it was surprising to me to hear someone say they were so sorry my life is so shitty.

Shitty?

I had to think about this.

I am alive. To my knowledge, I do not have cancer. I have a good job. I have a nice place to live. I have good friends. I have enough to eat. I have new shoes. I have fabulous trips to amazing places lined up. I have cats.

None of that sounds so shitty.

I am sad right now. But I am sad right now because that is the kind of person I am and when things happen around me that are sad, like dear friends passing, or getting sick, I get sad. I get sad when I remember people I have lost. I get sad when I think about times I could have been more kind. I get sad when I have high hopes for something and it doesn’t come to fruition, but I am not ever sorry for hoping… in spite of the warnings against expectations. So, I guess I am emotional. I was told that I am too emotional this year. On more than one occasion. But that is just how I am.

For a pragmatist, I am actually much more emotional that I should be. I am a hopeless romantic who continues to take ridiculous chances for whims of the heart. [That is emotion in action, and it is often kicking my ass.] I am passionately supportive of my friends. I am ever defensive of my family, even if they drive me insane (just a little bit once in a while, of course.)

But in the end, I am okay with that, because the alternative is too heartbreaking for words. Imagine never having the chance to be swept away by your feelings… sometimes thrilling, sometimes cathartic, sometimes a maudlin tragedy. I can’t imagine that life.

So, tonight, on the first of December at the official end of DEVOLSON, I can look back at this year and say truthfully that the saddest moments have brought me the most clarity.

And all of it was transformative. Not shitty.

Really, you cannot ask for a whole lot more than that.

dont-cry-because-its-over-smile-because-it-happened-11

Nostalgiasm.

For the past couple of weeks I have been deep, deep, DEEP into the archives of my past lives. Although I realize that sounds weird, going through the accumulated archives (the intentional and the accidental) of my human existence, it really does feel like a series of loosely connected but wildly divergent experiences.  I have found things from my infancy, my burgeoning adolescence, my painfully intentional embarkation into college, my initial departure for far off shores, and all things in between.

To say it has been a long strange trip would not only be plagiarized, but vastly understated.

Many of the true gems deserving of public display found themselves on my Instagram (because why shouldn’t Facebook, Inc., own my memories?) and there were heaps more beneath the carefully laid bandages I have strategically applied in order to preserve and/or to obfuscate the uncomfortable, precious, healing, and irreparable memories.

As I went through the boxes I was awed by the (embarrassing, silly, hopeful, ruined, strange, unfamiliar, heart-wrenching) notes, photos, accolades, and things… so many things. And as I sat among the things, things I would keep, give away, throw away, I thought aloud:

I miss this girl.

Now to be clear, I was a strange kid; too everything. Too tall. Too bossy. Too critical, Too worried. Too smart. Too too too. But looking back through time at all the things that were me, I suddenly missed my younger self in a way I had never really considered before. At least all those too’s were mine.

I hear all the time about people who miss their youth, but it is usually a ‘glory days’, cougar-y, broken dreams-y longing, which I have never identified with. As I looked back at my life what I missed was being the person in those pictures and notes and things, who was totally free to be herself. She was not operating from underneath the weight of a lifetime of labels assigned to her by other people. The girl I saw in all that stuff was not afraid to smile with crooked teeth, or laugh out loud, or stand up for what was right, or to speak up for herself. She was not afraid to be totally fashion/music/style challenged, she was just going for it. Not that she had a huge number of original ideas in any of those areas, but she tried them all on.

A lifetime of “you are so…” “you know how you are…” ” it is your style, way, personality…”

It dawned on me as I lugged boxes on boxes on boxes of things from here to there to gone, that the heaviest thing I was carrying around was something I haven’t put down since I picked up that first thing someone told me was mine years ago.

It is funny that I am thinking about this now, because right now I am faced with a real, conscious opportunity  to think about where I am, what I want, and to truly remember who I am. And it is hard. It is hard to ignore the constant barrage of people telling you who you are, what you are good at (and not so good at) and how you should be and what you should want, need, care about. When you think about the infinite and incessant input a person gets in this regard it is deafening.

No wonder we just quietly take it on board.

Think for a minute how many times in a day or a week you hear someone say, “You are…” I have become acutely aware of it in my present work situation because it seems to be the primary operating system there to tell people how they are, who they are, even why they are. But it started a long time ago, the first time someone pointed out something about myself to me that I picked up and put on.

They are not all bad things, mind you, (you are so smart, so athletic, so tall -?-) but they become this fabric, this tapestry, that you slowly add to over a lifetime and you wear everyday, adding to it, good parts, bad parts, strengthening parts, sad parts. I remember things people said about me when I was really young, (mostly the good things); when I was discovering adolescence (mostly the bad things); and beyond (mostly the confusing things).

And when do you take it off?

In my case, I didn’t. In all the days of adding to this technicolor dream-coat of a life, I never took it off. Sometimes I held on tighter because I liked what it said about me, other times, because I felt like I’d be lost without someone else’s understanding of where I belong in the world.

Sometimes, I keep it on to hide because it is a whole lot easier to wear all those labels than to try to really show people who you really are.

But sitting in that filthy garage among piles of life sometimes less ordinary and other times so totally ordinary, I caught a glimpse of what that little girl way back then thought of herself. The fact was she didn’t think of herself that much. She thought about the wide world out there and all the cool things to do and see and taste and try (within reason of course – she was a Virgo then as now after all.)

And it was not half bad.

I walked away from that garage and another completed project, noticeably dirtier, a little sadder, and a lot freer than I had felt in a long time.

The next time someone starts a sentence with, “You are so….” I am going to do that thing someone special taught me in Hong Kong years ago: Look just beyond their left shoulder and continue on with whatever I might be doing, politely nodding and agreeing when they are done with their most current assessment of me.

And I am gonna leave that coat right there. I have plenty of my own stuff to wear, thank you very much.