On “The Journey,” Triumphantly

It’s timely, because here we are again, exploring another rape, another assault, another gray area – this story about a CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, who read the majority of the letter from victim of sexual assault during the sentencing of her attacker, filled me with hope – not because of the rape, of course, but because of the content of the letter itself.

This woman, this victim, this beautifully articulate human being, writes so purely and so beautifully – it was exactly the feeling that I felt, and exactly the feeling that I feel, continuously, onwardly, to this very day. This woman’s brave statement, and the willingness of the anchor who read that statement out loud to the public – and the network, which isn’t always known for their dedication to true journalism, is a testament to the ongoing negative effects of sexual assault, a testament to the fact that lives are changed, to the fact that sleep is lost, to the fact that everything is upsetting, to the fact that life is never the same. It is a testament to the fact that forgiveness does not come easily, to the fact that the hurt cuts deep, to the fact that the actions of another can shape your future in ways that you never imagined.

I never got the chance to write that letter, and yet, I am so grateful to this woman for writing the letter that she wrote. For me, it is much of what I never got to say, and it is a beautiful rendering of pain, reflection, and request for justice, which she will not get. But….I hope so much that people hear her words and are moved. This is beautiful. This hurts, but in the best way. It feels like solidarity. It feels like understanding. It feels like progress, even if it’s only progress because she was heard.

***

We are what we are; we are what we have experienced. We are what we choose to be. Lately, I’ve been floating on a cloud of bliss brought on by the beautiful lightness of letting go. I am choosing to be free.

A few weeks ago, boyfriend and I went to a meditative healing seminar called, “The Journey.” When he first told me about it, I was skeptical, as one is. I agreed to go, not because I thought I’d find healing, but because I was curious, or at least because certain circumstances had led me to believe that there might be something there. I had thought of situations that I knew of that were similar to the one described by the author of the book, “The Journey,” and the ever-skeptical part of me, or perhaps the ever-hopeful part, was swayed. It wasn’t until I ended up in the ER with the ovarian cyst that I thought, ah, maybe, and consented to the weekend seminar.

Even as we approached it, I thought to myself, this is ridiculous; what am I getting myself into? And I knew, because I had read the book, that there was healing and self-introspection involved, and so I had created fake issues that might need to be discovered, just on the off chance that I found myself needing to have resolved some issues, because I didn’t want to be put on the spot, panicked and nervous because I didn’t have the right answer.

Alas, it was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. It was the best thing ever.

Despite some early resistance – which occurred even in spite of my somewhat resigned determination to be open-minded – I ended up being open-minded and enjoying the hell out of myself. I felt the feelings fully, I met new people, I even made friends. So it wasn’t so bad.

The first morning, I was nervous, shaking hands with people I didn’t know and putting on the name tag and feeling silly for having begged boyfriend to bring me paper so that I could take notes, if necessary.

We jumped into it, and I felt awkward and alone. And yet, the curious part of me who loves to learn was intrigued, and so I allowed myself to open up into it, and found myself feeling layers of feelings. I had thought about New York (my past sexual assault and work situation), but had brushed it aside thinking it wasn’t the time or place…and yet…here I was, 10:30 on the first morning of a three-day seminar, feeling layers of feelings about it.

I was ready, almost.

I felt the hurt, the anguish, the shame, and then I dropped below that and I felt a rage I didn’t know was there. I felt it deeply in my core, my lower abdomen burning with anger. I hadn’t realized that under everything, I was angry. I knew that I had accepted what had happened; I knew that I had allowed myself to feel all of the general hurt and upset, but prior to that Saturday morning, I hadn’t realized how much rage was below. And so I felt the rage. I felt it through me. I felt it rising up inside of me and throughout me, and I let it be. I accepted it. And then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we did our first Journey process, and by that point, I had nothing. I could not, for the life of me, feel what I had felt earlier. I wanted to feel that rage, to address it, but I couldn’t. I was out, empty. I limped along, not able to conjure up the feelings that I had felt earlier, feeling like a total fraud. I guided another woman through her own process, watching tears of realization come to her face, feeling jealous that I couldn’t feel that.

I went home that night, slightly annoyed, but now more curious than ever. Not that I had been expecting an outcome, but because I had honestly felt truly deep feelings that I hadn’t been able to explore. I was determined, as I get, and the next day dawned beautifully with boyfriend and I teaching acrobatic yoga to a couple that we’d met at the seminar the day before (and whom we’d absolutely loved).

And so we did more Journey work, and in that, I went through a process known as the Physical Journey – I opened myself, and let my mind wander and my body tell me what it knew. I went to my fingertips. There, I felt them hot and swollen, dirty. I remembered the first time I had felt that way, in middle school, when I started picking at my skin, my scalp, searching for imperfections and nervously grounding myself with contact. They felt that way when I didn’t have time to wash them after recess and returned to class. I felt that time, snapshots of childhood coming up and playing out. I went back there, and my process was amazing. I felt my younger self, I loved her, I communicated with her. I forgave her for not being perfect. It was a last-minute revisiting, and in that, I found a wisdom I’d never felt, something I’d never even seen. I forgave my younger self for not being perfect; for not keeping everything together (despite her best efforts); for falling apart with no one watching closely and for not crying out for help.

I came out of that Journey feeling a quiet in my hands that I haven’t felt in ages. I felt this quiet all through my core. My body was calm. My body is never calm. Boyfriend noticed immediately. “What did you do?” he asked me. “You feel different.”

I did feel different. I felt light. I felt solid. I felt still. Still. To feel still is such a fantastic feeling. My fingers didn’t find my skin to pinch at it for the rest of the day, or for several days after that. (Actually, they haven’t been as curious as they usually are since then….my face has improved immensely, as has the rest of me. I am not tearing at myself with the same fervor as before, and I am thrilled, grateful, and peaceful.)

The next day, I called in sick to work to stay for the intensive part of the course. I’m so glad that I did.

We did several more processes, and I found myself connecting as a giver – I was able to feel and read people to whom I was “giving” the process, and in doing so, I felt so rewarded. One man exclaimed, “Holy shit you’re good!” in a very crowded, very quiet room. I was secretly thrilled.

So of course, when the afternoon came, and we were to try all of our new skills, I thought to myself, let’s do this! Let’s give up New York! And so I tried.

Oh man, did I try. I brought my old boss to this campfire of forgiveness, where you examine and converse and ultimately, forgive. And I was blocked. I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I tried, and I made it so that there was forgiveness, but it wasn’t right. I told boyfriend after (because he knew what I was up to, he’d seen the gleam in my eye), that I’d let my old boss off on a technicality. He knew I was unsettled; he was right.

On the way home, I shut down. I curled up into a tight ball and became unresponsive. Boyfriend was kind and gentle, but he knew I wasn’t all right; I knew it, too. We got home, and I took his house key and ran into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed and screamed into the pillows as though that might abate the pain that was swirling inside of me.

Boyfriend offered to do another Journey with me. Actually, he said that he knew I wasn’t done, and we both knew (“knew,” but on a deeper level of knowing) that I was ready and not done and ready — I wanted it so bad; I wanted to let go. I didn’t want to carry New York with me anymore.

And so we did. We leapt – our Journey process was nothing like the script they’d given us – it was three hours long (although for me, there was no time. It felt like a half an hour, maybe). Boyfriend held me while he guided me through a meditation that I led – he later told me that it’s a good thing he lives in a separate house and not a condo, because of my screaming and wailing, the police absolutely would have been called.

I let out my pain. I screamed; I shut down; I brought the emotion back; I held onto it. I imagined, and I re-lived, and I did the most amazing things. I cloned myself; I brought someone I had not expected to my campfire – my body knew, the wiser parts of me knew exactly what it was that I was holding onto – I ranted, raved, hated, threatened, felt, understood, cloned, felt, acknowledged, and finally, I let go, just a little bit. I burned everything. I cleansed myself in a healing firefall (which is exactly what it sounds like, a waterfall of fire – it was the water/firefall from the dream I had in February, and when I blissed through the peaceful layers to my hammock of water, it was that same water, but all water this time and no fire).

I ate a sandwich, in the middle of it, in the middle of my meditation I visited the cafe in my old office building and the woman there and her son made me a BLT (not a real sandwich, perhaps this one was just some soul food). My village – everyone who loves me, plus the cat – was there to hold me and be with me and help guide me.

Boyfriend held me through the whole thing. That, my friends, is love. That shit was not fun, nor was it easy. Might I remind you that I’m a hideous crier, so this wasn’t even slightly adorable. It was like Macbeth and Hamlet slammed together with an audio book of the Boondocks Saints – a lot of crazy shit happened, and a lot of rage. My body shook, my eyes welled and overflowed a hundred times; I screamed, I cried, I whispered, I whimpered; I begged, I conversed, I understood. And ultimately, I forgave, just a little bit. A teensy, tiny bit. 1%. Per day. For 100 days. Stupid, but doable, because I am a stubborn woman and I was not budging on the forgiveness part of it. But then I remembered I’m not a horrible person, and that I have a beautiful life, and as I let the gratitude parts of me overwhelm the desire to keep harboring the hate, the kindness won.

In the end, I was calm. In the end, I was secure. In the end, I felt peace. A thousand times peace. Safety. Warmth. Comfort. Security. Rocked gently in my dream water, my safe green space, warm and buoyant. Reassured. Cared for. Understood. Loved. Held.

I woke up the next day, and that feeling was still there. Grounded and still. I had realized what I had been holding on to, which wasn’t actually who I thought it was, and I let it go, a little bit.

I cannot explain to you the lightness that I felt, that I continue to feel. I can’t tell you how hard it was, or how wonderful, or the immense gratitude that swirls through me now. I want to, and I want to bring this gift to everyone who needs it. I want people to have the moments that I had, so that they can feel the letting go and the healing. I want people to fall asleep full, rather than full of rage. I want to share in that relief, that ecstasy, that peace. There is nothing that I want for the world than to feel that swell of hope and joy. I want to be able to give that to others, because I finally feel free of that horrible burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and I am at peace.

It feels fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Now I can direct my energy elsewhere, and I am finally, finally, gratefully, powerfully, blissfully free.

So I’m going to start practicing – if you’re curious, or you’d like to help me practice doing these Journey processes, send me an email, a text, a call, a fb message, carrier pigeon, whatever. I’d so love to share my excitement and see if I can help with this peace-bringing business. It’s totally not as insane as mine was – you can do 30 minutes and forgive that guy for cutting you off in traffic yesterday or understand why you’re so jealous of Becky with the good hair, or whatever. I just like to go big or go home, and in this case, I managed to do both.

 

 

 

On this week, penultimately

It’s Thursday. I thought yesterday was Thursday, and as a result, having to do this day all over again is miserable. I keep feeling like it should be Friday. It’s been a long week; one of those weeks that’s immense and intense and dragging on even as it’s speeding by.

The week has brought conversations I did not imagine I’d have; it has brought both clarity of situation and intention; it has brought unexpected complications. The theme of the week has been entirely human – emotions and choice. It’s been hard for everyone, us humans, merely bones and muscle and blood, love and pain and all the promise.

What is it to have the experiences that make us human? We have been given the greatest gift of emotions, the spectrum between suffering and unbridled joy, and the great swath that falls between. This week has been a gentle reminder of the fact that joy for one can bring grief for another.

I have stared into my past this week, as the present is swirling up around me, threatening to overwhelm. I have stared back, down into the dark things. I have found, unexpectedly, a bit of clarity of intention I didn’t imagine would be coming. I have cemented connections. I have thought mindfully and rationally; I have been physically shaken out of fear, and cried because the pain of watching someone else hurt is hard to bear; I have laughed, and been filled with admiration and gratitude. Now I sit watching the storm recede, and I am calm. I am filled with the radiant feeling of peace, a feeling of confident repose.

It is never easy to live. No actually, that’s incorrect. It’s never easy to be truly alive. There cannot be joy and happiness without the suffering and despair. In all of that, every single moment, we are given only choice – what will I do with the moment at hand?

I read an article today talking about life, not as a game of chess, but as a game of Tetris. The premise of the article was that there is no end game with life; we do not have the perfect move, the better move, the opponent. In life, our biggest opponent is ourselves, and in life, the pieces never stop falling. It is up to us to place them where we will and to continue, as the onslaught comes ever faster. There is not winning of life, not really.

Of course life is not a game, but in letting go of the approach of winning, I think we’re able to find the peace we so desperately seek. In the appreciation of the smaller moments, the shaking off of the heavy things, and the acceptance that we are all flawed in our own individual ways, we are given the opportunities to shape our own destiny, whatever is it that may be. We get the chance to choose happiness every day, to work on our relationships, our ways of communicating, our means of support, because we can. Otherwise, we are left to languish in the unknown, having decided that there is no bright future.

I’ve been there. The darkness almost swallowed me whole.

Now that I’m away, it seems so silly. Why can’t you just see that there’s light and joy in the world? When you’re in the darkness, you can’t see that there is even light, not within you, not anywhere. You are nothing. You are alone. You are forgotten, unforgiven, unrepentant, a sniveling excuse for a human, and you truly feel all of that to your core. It’s a hard experience to have. I almost lost myself to it. I withdrew from the world, apathy cloaking my spirit. I plodded onward, daily, misery incarnate. I couldn’t fathom the fact that I’d once been happy; couldn’t draw on those moments as a source of strength. Those, too, were no longer mine. People said it’d get better, but I didn’t believe them. How could I? To me, they possessed something I no longer had. I hated it. I hated that it wouldn’t end. I hated myself and everything around me, because everyone else was happier and better off, aware of some secret from which I had been singled out and excluded.

And then, it lifted.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that my hatred for being unhappy finally overwhelmed the unhappiness, that my sheer will not to let the bad thing be my only thing, or if some small moments of joy trickled in through the cracks and thawed my frostbitten soul, coaxing it back to life.

It’s not that I didn’t work at it. I did. I finally wrote about it. I finally opened it up and let it go, releasing my pain to the world. I talked about it. I fought about it. I cried about it. I scratched at the darkness until my fingers bled, and out of my frustration and desperation, I found the exit. Climbing out of hell is harder than you think. There’s no map, no how, nowhere to begin. That’s the trap.

Coming back into the sunshine is the greatest feeling in the world. The day that I was fully free, I was with my five year old in a park. The sky was immense and clear-blue, and the earth was around us. Just the two of us, we walked and ran and played. I felt unbearably light. I think I wrote about it that day. It was amazing.

This week, I was reminded what the dark places feel like. I saw the outburst of a friend struggling with the weight of being human – purpose, love, grief, sadness, anger – and I hurt because of that. The ripple effects of our own sadness carry far beyond ourselves, and in not being able to help those who are struggling, we each hurt in our own way. My part in his upset hurts too.

I am firm believer that love is the greatest gift we are given. Love is my highest goal. Love brings joy. Love is my motivation. Love moves me. I believe that we are each motivated by a single emotion – the thing that we seek, that drives us to keep seeking, that sates us when we’ve sought – and for me, that’s love. I am the happiest when I feel love, whether it’s friend love or romantic love or any of the other multitudes of love, those moments are my favorite.

To watch someone hurt so badly from the loss of love, or the unexpected unrequitedness of it all, is viscerally painful. To watch the pain that people keep welled up inside them erupt and spew out is difficult, because no one can make those things better. No one can change how you feel; it’s up to you.

My last big loss of love came after a brief entanglement in college. I fell hard and fast. I understand it all now – and appreciate the opportunity for connection, no matter how brief – but for a long while after, I was a mess. It destroyed me, until I was able to finally accept it, wrap my head around it, and move forward into the future. And then the peace came. We had our moment of closure, and in his quiet way, he acknowledged that it had meant a lot to him. Something in the knowing that it was important for him too, in a way that wasn’t mine but was his own, helped to finally close the wound that had begun to heal a long time before.

I remember the nights that I laid awake, desperate, panicked, unsure. I remember the feeling in the core of my palms when everything was falling away. I remember the tears, the dreams. Love is horrible, too.

Giving yourself, or parts of yourself, to someone else, only to be not wholly accepted, is the most terrifying thing you can do. To be rejected after that offering is a cold, steely slap to the soul. Sometimes, it’s not rejection of the person, but rather a difference in opinions, lifestyles, views, desire. Sometimes it is the rejection of that person, for qualities, characteristics, behavior patterns.

No matter what it is, the end of a relationship or the realization that things aren’t going your way hurts. The choice to pick up, reflect, dust off, recharge, and move forward is your own. The hardest part about living in the darkness is that there’s no roadmap out. There is only you. Only you and your ability to get yourself out of the whole darkness, because the darkness is also you. The darkness is your own. You helped create it, the world helped create it, and there’s nothing that can save you from yourself, except yourself. (I’m thinking Harold and the Purple Crayon here, and I’m into that aesthetic of the darkness and your choice. My crayon isn’t purple. It’d be mint green.)

I had to make hard choices this week. I also learned a few hard lessons, which require me to reflect back on my own actions, inactions, thoughts, intentions, and communications. I can learn from this. I can see how the things that I did led me to the place where I am. I can see how the things that I thought were incongruent with the things that someone else thought. I can see how my past shaped the way I reacted to a person in my life. I can see how I should have been better about instituting and maintaining boundaries. I will learn how to let the guilt go, and to stop internalizing things I shouldn’t. I have been learning that. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t put them up when I should have. I see a bigger picture now. I see someone else’s picture, too. I see how my picture and their picture and the rest of the picture were in no way the same. I will grow from the things that this week brought. I will adapt. I will ruminate. I will be confident in my choices.

I am confident in my choices, because I am confident in my status as a tiny lion person (my inner strength is a tiny lion, think the cat but with a mane). My inner strength is my own. I’m on that weird human journey, hurtling through space like everyone else, even though my perception of this space is entirely my own. I am bones and blood and muscle, and I am a complex system of hopes and dreams and joy. And dammit, I’m Katie Barry.

This week hurt. – This week brought new challenges.  – This week brought answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. – This week raised questions I hadn’t thought of. – This week was tough. – This week, I picked a lot. – This week I bought tickets to the skin picking conference.  – This week I sought answers. – This week I asked for help. – This week was joyful.  – This week was peaceful. – This week brought friendship. – This week I made fried rice terribly. – This week, I connected. – This week I lost a friend. – This week I felt empathy. – This week I felt frustrated. – This week I felt heard. – This week I felt threatened. – This week I felt stressed. – This week I took a miserable lukewarm bath. – This week I was strong. – This week I put up boundaries. – This week I realized I had been a part of the problem. – This week I tried to help. – This week made me smile. – This week I am tired. – This week I am excited for what’s to come.

That’s all we can really hope for, is to seek joy in the moment and to eagerly anticipate the rest of the things life will throw at us. And currently, I am. I’m really jazzed to be alive.

 

 

On Grit, Honestly

The following is a very brief (not really) email I sent to a friend today. We’ve been discussing all the things lately, and I felt compelled to word vomit my thoughts on things. Regardless of the response, I was actually very pleased with the content, as I had been mulling turning those thoughts into a blog post, and thus, when it came into being, I thought I’d share.

The meat of the whole communication stemmed from my rumination on grit as an essential human characteristic. I’ve written about it before, usually in expressing gratitude towards my mother for raising us to be resilient, but in all honesty, I think it has far broader applications…

Some of it stems from my job, the not being satisfied or appreciated or compensated properly, and part of it stems from the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Part of me is okay with that, and other parts of me are not. I remember my old boss saying, so many times, “We are not what we do,” which is true, but so often forgotten. When people ask me what it is that I do, I regurgitate an oft-repeated attempt at summarizing my job duties, only to realize that I’ve failed miserably at describing myself as a human.

And then people ask me what it is that I’d like to do, and again and again, I come up short. What I would like to do is write, do law things, invoke passion (both my own and others), and create lasting impressions on the people with whom I work. This is clearly not any sort of tangible job description, and yet, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing this all wrong.

But then again, it doesn’t matter. The parts of me concerned with becoming wealthy long ago gave up those dreams, only because I don’t care to work myself to death accumulating wealth that won’t be anything more than a number printed on a bank statement. Yes, it would be nice to breathe and feel and travel, and yet, I don’t feel compelled to seek my fortune if it means giving up the principles to which I adhere. And that is authenticity, mostly. My genuine spirit cannot be tampered with, and my strict belief in transparency is not malleable. Of course, I could find a better wage without sacrificing those things, to be sure, and that is the task at hand.

How do I become a better (compensated) person while following my true passions?

That was off track, but not in the least. I am lost, wandering, languishing in the mediocre, even though I seem to have the rest of things semi-sorted. I want for things, of course, and I want for change, and yet, I am afraid of the leap.

This whole discussion began with us discussing fear, and change, and self-actualization, things that I can wholeheartedly relate to, and must conquer. And yet, simultaneously, I find myself frustrated with the whole of society, with our processes and petty procedural necessities. The race to succeed as a whole, rather than the enjoyment of the journey.

Here, is my rumination on identity, humanness, and grit, the oft-overlooked characteristic that so many people lack:

 

Grit (to me, of course) is the having seen and lived through things that shape us as humans and our worldview, and then still making the choice to pursue happiness, lightness, joy, success, whatever else. It’s not necessarily tenacious pursuit of a goal out of sheer stubbornness, but rather the continual push for forward progress in spite of obstacles. There’s nothing so distasteful to me as someone who can’t (really, won’t) fend for themselves or take responsibility for the things that need handling, even if that means asking for help. I think that having seen the less-than-wonderful things in the world makes us all more resilient, and I think that people who allow the dark parts to become a part of them rather than carrying them around like a dark cloud and then choose to grow from those experiences are really the most wonderful people. It makes the practice of empathy so much more natural. It’s an excellent source of strength, I think.

I don’t believe that there is ever a “right” choice. For me the definitions of “success” and “right” are all so subjective that there can never be a right choice, although that said, there can certainly be a wrong choice. Or a more wrong choice? A wronger choice? Ah, well. As I emerge into adulthood, I have realized that people make some seriously questionable choices in ways that I would never imagine. And yet, these people are still maybe or maybe not “successful” or present as “happy” by the standard social evaluation, but to what end? They’re drowning in debt, or sinking into stagnant places, or ultimately miserable for any number of reasons, or chasing unattainable things… But dammit, we’re determined to be the Kardashians if it kills us. (Hahahaha, please imagine how amazing I would look with a super fake tan. I’ll let that sink in, because we both know the spray tan won’t.)

Does making the “right” choices lead to happiness? — What is the ultimate goal for making “right” choices? — How do you measure success? – Where does courage come from? (For me, it’s how do I switch in and out of lion mode when I need to? My therapist loves that I’ve finally started being able to turn anger/upset outward into motivation/courage rather than internalizing it against myself. Dear god, that in itself is worth everything.) — What is “good”? —- What is the ultimate meaning of life?

Like all things, progress has complicated everything. In coming out of the space where every decision was life and death, or that survival depended entirely on our ability for self-preservation and procreation and ultimately continuation of our lines through work, we’ve softened. We’ve constructed (more) elaborate social hierarchies and taken the magic luxuries for granted (hot water, clean water, transportation, food, and so on. Did I mention hot water?). In doing so, we’ve complicated our lives by layering an increasingly complicated understanding of meaning onto the whole thing. (Okay, in all fairness, these have been core human functions since the dawn of our existence – music, religion of some sort, celebration and ceremony, social grieving…) But now that we’re not on the edge of survival all day every day, we’ve lost our ability to seek smaller joy in favor of a sweeping greater narrative – much like our inability to live in the moment with our damned smart phones and our need for ever-increasing entertainment stimulation, we’ve let go of the things that drive the core humanness of our existence. We’re chasing something that’s already there.

I think it’s all about the ability to resolve the disparate parts of our identities (nerdy video gamer, wild human, party girl, role model/mentor, family member, friend, caregiver, bookworm, etc.) and to be able to pursue the things that resonate with our own cores. Our meanings are all our own, and part of getting to a place of peace and contentment is acceptance (first and foremost, self-acceptance, but also acceptance of so much else as well). Quieting the outside input allows for greater accuracy in the assessment of our desires, needs, and motivations, ultimately guiding us to the choice that feels the most right. (That’s how I make all big decisions. I listen to my gut. I let it decide. It’s very rarely wrong, and as a result, I have very few regrets.)

I’m a firm believer that as we age, our internal voices become so drowned out by the external and the demands of the real world that we lose a lot of our sense of wonder and purpose. Part of it is self-realization (in a good way, when you’re aware of yourself and actualized as your best being, but in a neutral/potentially negative way when you become aware of yourself in relation to others — think of that moment sometime during adolescence when you started to become painfully aware of yourself and were immediately swimming in perceived inadequacies and comparisons that hadn’t been there before) and part of it is the hectic chaos around us.

But the best moments come in the understanding of being a part of something bigger, but also being absolutely your own island. For me, standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, staring out into the endless water, but also firmly on concrete, surrounded by the immensity of a giant metropolis is the very best feeling. I am free, in that moment, just another person on the street, both no one and someone alone in the vast big world. It’s the most surreal feeling and it’s wonderful. That’s where the wonder comes from, and I hope that I never lose that ability to feel things, to really experience little joys and big joys and embrace the whole journey. It’s why I love children so much. They haven’t lost it yet; they’re amazed by everything, their joy is pure and undampened, and their ability to perceive is still insanely on point.

I’ve never been able to meditate, but I do have an app for it (because of course, why wouldn’t I have one?), but I’m working on getting there. One year, my word/phrase for the year was “do less,” (yep, thanks Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) because I’d been sucked into the hectic pace and realized that I’d lost touch with my quiet self. It was a great year. I did less. I allowed for boredom, because in that, I found my creativity and curiosity again. And in that, joy and wonder. Or at the very least, quite a bit of satisfaction.

On Kindness, Very Elderly

“Mustard and onions!” he would shout as soon he’d gotten himself through the door, gingerly shuffling up to the counter. He’s pull out crumpled dollars and some change. It was $1.62, always the same order: hot dog with mustard and onions, shortened to just “mustard and onions.”

Sometimes we’d see him coming and start his hot dog before he’d even gotten through the door (we had time; the man was 94 years old and no spring chicken. It’s interesting, to attempt to race an old man by microwaving a hot dog to have it ready for him before he’s even ordered it). His hands weren’t as nimble as they used to be, so we’d open the mustard packets for him and carry the hot dog out to his seat.

He would regularly give us a $5 tip and tell us not to spend it on the opposite sex. “Don’t spend this on men,” he’d caution, and I’d smile and swear I wouldn’t. And I never did.

He had a tiny white Pomeranian-looking dog thing he’d gotten from the Dumb Friends League. The tiny dog was tethered to the man’s walker by his leash, and the both of them were parked outside the large side window while the man ate his hot dog at the tall table in the corner. We used to bring the dog a little cup of ice cream to eat while the man was inside. One time, he yelled at me not to bite his dog, which made me laugh, mostly because it terrified some tiny children waiting in line. Once, the dog ran into the parking lot, dragging the walker with him. That caused a brief upset, and both the dog and the walker were safely recovered, returned to their post on the sidewalk.

Over time, I learned that the man had been a captain in the Navy during WWII. We talked about that when the captain ran his ship aground while showing off for friends off the coast of Italy. The man shook his head, clearly disappointed by the captain’s idiocy. When I was dating a Marine, he told me that the best part about the service was that when I got bored with the man, I could send him right back to the Marines.

He was the bright spot on many days. When we had new people working, who didn’t understand the “mustard and onions,” shorthand, they’d panic, confused by the gruff shout. He lived nearby, and walked the block and a half to the Dairy Queen regularly, exercise and human connection.

This morning, I read a post on Facebook written by a woman who’d taken her young children to a Target store for a quick necessities run, only to find herself behind an elderly woman in line who was paying for each item individually, in change. The woman wrote about her initial annoyance, but then wrote about how the cashier’s patience and helpfulness with the change counting and the interaction struck her. When the woman was done purchasing her items, she asked if she had enough to purchase a reusable bag, which she did. The cashier repackaged the woman’s purchases with a smile, no hint of aggravation or annoyance. She watched her young daughter watch the interaction, and she felt compelled to find the manager to speak about the cashier’s actions. And then she posted about it, which is of course how it came to me this morning, via a newsfeed so full of cluttered self-important noise.

When I was in high school, first beginning my time as the Dairy Queen (a self-imposed title, to be sure), we used to have an old woman come in and purchase a child-sized twist cone. Then she’d linger by the counter, chatting. At first, I was annoyed. I had things to do – re-stocking candies and cups and spoons. My manager at the time, a fantastic manager who somehow commanded and compromised and inspired with her honest work ethic and beautiful handling of high school employees who knew nothing about the working world, always encouraged us to stay and talk to her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that for this woman, we were human interaction, not just a quick pit stop on the way to other things. It wasn’t until I grew into more adult awareness that I realized the haunting reality of the loneliness that comes with aging.

It tears at me, now, to think of people, not just the elderly, who are alone. I see the posts about how they’ve put a pre-school in a nursing home, and I’m fascinated by the sheer brilliance of the idea. I don’t know why we don’t have those everywhere, because we should.

I shed a few tears this morning, thinking of the hustling, frantic pace of our world, and the isolation that comes with our own self-involved narrow focuses. Much in line with my recent ruminations on the disillusionment of life, I find it disheartening that we feel compelled to share these stories of small kindnesses as some kind of heroic behavior, because in my own idealistic view of the world, these would be commonplace courtesies performed not out of duty but out of sheer goodwill.

I looked forward to seeing that old man every day. I brightened when he came in. I took as much (maybe more) from our interactions as he did. I still think of him, from time to time, and hope he’s okay. He might not be, it might be that he’s passed away or moved to a nursing home, but some small part of me wants to tell him how much he meant to me, and how his presence in my life made me better, happier, more fulfilled.

Listening to NPR cover the death of Alan Rickman last night, I heard the voice of one of his friends describe him using all of the words we all aspire to: kind-hearted, funny, and so on, and I started to think about the legacy that I will someday leave behind. The totality of our lives is summed up not on paper, which will eventually be filed away somewhere and left to the dust, but exists in the impressions we leave on those around us.

We get back what we put into this world, unless we don’t, in which case we must take comfort in knowing that we’ve done and been the best we could have been. My Russian co-worker, who became a dear friend, told me that she felt very deeply that the only reason she’d come back from Russia to be here for 9 months was so I could come into her life and we could become friends. She appreciated my sense of humor and my outlook. She’s back in Russia now, and I miss her every day. I miss our discussions of English language, and her laughter and our shared plants, which mingled in my tiny garden and grew together.

She’ll never know how much that compliment meant to me, and how it drives me when I’m in need of motivation. This. This is the reason we need other humans. We need them because the ripple effects of the smallest kindnesses don’t go unnoticed; they carry onward, softening over time, but still changing their environments. The harder we work to bring joy to those around us, the more joy there is to go around. That sounds Pollyannaish, and I don’t care. Taking the time to make small positive impacts is something that can have a very real and valuable return. It’s important, and we don’t seem to do enough of it.

On Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins, Nostalgically

I wrote recently about the disillusionment that comes with adulthood, and last night, I felt all of that, and then none of it.

I have been so excited about seeing Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins at Red Rocks for weeks. I didn’t think I’d be able to find anyone to go with me, but lo and behold my friend Emily was game. (She is my favorite for concerts of moderately ill-repute; we’ve seen Swayze, Mickey Avalon, a local Denver band masquerading as fake Germans called Total Ghost…..all of them equally fantastic in their own ways.)

I saw Marilyn Manson play in Milwaukee in 2009 and I was enthralled. The show was amazing. I was with my college boyfriend, and he loved Marilyn Manson. He’s the one who got me into him. I find Manson’s music to be mediocre when it comes to hardcore cred he’s tried to earn over the years; his act is more of an image-based popularity. But he does touch on themes of love and disillusionment that I so identified with during my teenage and early 20s years.

I’ve never seen The Smashing Pumpkins. The ringtone I had set for my mom for years was “1979,” so whenever I hear that song, I think of her, and then think I might be in trouble. It’s sweet, that way. My friend Dave in college had all of their music on vinyl. I’ve never been that into vinyl, but he had me at “Want to come over and see my records?” I did. They were crammed into his studio apartment, and I respected him immensely for allowing pieces of flat discs crammed into cardboard to consume so much of his living space.

Rolling Stone posted a review which very adequately described the show. Marilyn Manson was present, said the word “Denver” at least seven times, and had a suitably theatric, aesthetically interesting show, but it lacked the energy that The Pumpkins were able to provide.

I personally was crushed because he didn’t play “The Nobodies” or “Love Song,” both off his Holy Wood album (which is my favorite). Or even “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” newer but sweet in its own way. But still, even as he’s progressed into the depth of adulthood, he’s not lost his slightly irreverent charm. Emily and I concurred that it might have been our Catholic school upbringings, but there’s something beautiful in the slight scorn of religion. Then again, I’ve lost the passion for all things anti-Christ (most likely because I don’t have an overly devout teacher calling me “Sister Katherine” in a slightly sarcastic way, spurring the inklings of teenage rebellion), and much of the set fell flat for me because I’m no longer amused by religious appropriation. Much of his set was propelled by props but lacked substance and soul.

But oh my, The Smashing Pumpkins, or what’s left of them (namely Billy Corgan), blew my mind, tore apart my heart, and released such great nostalgia and joy. It’s that cathartic energy that brings you simultaneously back and forward, to the nights when you first fell in love and felt your emotions in time with their songs, and suddenly into the present here, now.

We stopped for a bathroom break and then decided we would wait for a few more songs before we adulted our way out of the amphitheater. I am so glad we did. We were able to find standing room in the 6th row, where we saw them play my favorite songs. “Landslide,” “1979,” everything else. I caught myself smiling that wide, unbidden joyous smile.

I fell in love with The Smashing Pumpkins my freshman year of college, and the resonance has never left. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was my jam forever. Hearing it live was beyond fantastic.

My life is such a fantastic one. I’m so pleased to be able to look forward and look back, and spend time with people who have known me (and will know me) forever. I treasure my adventures; each and every experience; every minute I am able to do what I want, because I know that there is only this one chance. I’m not giving it up without a fight.

I love the intensity of this photo. I love our faces, our lives, our experiences. I am so blessed to have a friend who will go with me to the strangest places and who will fully commit to the adventure of living in the moment. We look like animals. I love it. I love the intensity here. We had an absolute blast. My life is even more complete now.

On New Beginnings, Exuberantly

It always starts with a plan. I had a plan. Then, as per usual, something threw it. It came slowly, not with a bang but with a whimper. It began with the inkling of connection. I watched it grow, nurtured by endless hours of conversation, long hours spent on a porch swing, and adventures.

We met for drinks one night in May, just before my birthday. It was raining, and I was running late. I had forgotten to leave time to park, got turned around, walked a block out of my way, and then finally saw him, standing under an overhang. We talked for three hours that night, the typical first date interview. We talked about DOTA (for way too long – at one point he asked if we could talk about something else and at that moment, I could have crawled into a nerd hole and cowered forever), about Colorado, about whatever else. Honestly, I don’t remember. I texted my friend after and told her I thought I’d messed it up and that he wasn’t going to call me again.

Our second date was tacos. We drank wine on his porch then lingered in the hip waiting area for a space side-by-side at a communal table. I spent a good fifteen minutes of that dinner trying to figure out what it was that the girl across from me hated so much about the waitress or her drink; I never did figure it out.

By the time we went into our third date, we were both anxious. We’d each received exterior input about the other, and each had our own questions and concerns. When he brought it all up first, I was immediately relieved. We laid everything out on the table (metaphorically, it was a tiny table that could only hold our drinks and dinner plates and definitely could not not have withstood the weight of our conversation) that night. We lingered long after the meal was over; we had somewhere to be but no time constraints. The night was young and so were we. (I’ve just always wanted to say that, so thanks for bearing with me. Cringing is absolutely allowed; I’m doing it right now.)

That night, something changed. That night, it solidified. I took him to the goth bar, my very favorite place in Denver and a wonderful proving ground for prospective mates. He handled it beautifully. We slow danced, surrounded by a thrum of industrial house and adjacent a man who looked like he’d been copied and pasted from the video game that we both play. I remember smiling into his sweater as we danced, the proximity of him making me more aware of everything, including my own inability to dance and my sudden vulnerability. I pride myself on never being vulnerable, and there I was, fully covered but totally exposed. (Note: I just reread that and I completely understand how lame I sound….#noregrets.)

From there, the momentum built. There was a movie night, another dinner, a terrible attempt at playing DOTA together, a walk through the botanic gardens, a wedding reception (minus the ceremony), a baseball game, and my favorite part, long evenings spent blissfully unaware of the world as we swung back and forth like a slow pendulum on his front porch.

This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. He knows everything about me. He still seems to want to know me and be with me. Parts of my brain that have been long-dormant are suddenly awake, thrilled by the prospect of use after such a long time. The curiosity has only increased, not just about him but about everything. Suddenly, my desire to know everything has been rekindled; it’s like my spirit has been prodded back to life.

I’ve been melting into the moment lately. That’s the best part — being fully in the moment. What is that? Why is that something I’m suddenly capable of doing? I can now sit in silence for the better part of three minutes…you’d be surprised; I know I am.

I knew it was a thing but I really knew it was a thing when he invited me over for dinner last week. He’d set a table with two places (and a tablecloth!) in the backyard; wine glasses, dinner plates, the whole nine yards…I guess the whole nine yards just included napkins and silverware, but you know, it was the most wonderful thing I’d seen. I went to put a bottle of wine in his fridge and then I saw it – green Jell-O. He’d remembered that I said I loved Jell-O with fruit in it (because I’m secretly not 27, I’m actually an 80-year old in disguise) and attempted to make it for me.

It never set. I laughed after he told me that he had a surprise for me, but felt bad because he knew I’d already seen it. My heart was doing tiny acrobatic flips inside my body. When we checked on the Jell-O some time later, it hadn’t set. I surmised that it must have been something to do with the pineapples in it, and the enzymes had prevented the gel from setting. I was still completely tickled. We put it in the freezer, and ended up slurpring up slush. It was magical.

I took him camping last weekend. That was going to be a make-it-or-break-it time for us, obviously, the first weekend away. I was nervous, but not overcome. We got stuck in horrendous traffic on the way up. We pitched our tent (poorly…my fault…it looked like a sad teepee….we corrected it on night number 2 and it actually looked like a tent…) and settled in. The whole weekend was blissful. We got to make beautiful campfires and smores (“Some more of what?”); I realized how much I need a treehouse and/or a mountain/nature hammock; we attempted to paddle across Georgetown Lake; and I got to learn a bit about rocks. .

I can’t explain to you what I’m feeling, because it’s all bubbling up inside of me and I’m content and calm and thrilled and hesitant and ecstatic all at once. This isn’t like anything I’ve done before; this is not the kind of dating I’m used to; this is right and easy and beautiful. It’s terrifying. My brain is alive with curiosity and the things I’ve yet to learn and the experiences I’ve yet to have.

I’m so happy to have found someone who’s on the same page with everything. Most things. He doesn’t listen to rap music before 5pm, which is something we’ll have to work on, because hip hop before noon is my jam.

I had a dream that I was too wild for him. My car was filled with those red plastic party cups, and when I opened my door, they spilled out everywhere. I kept denying that they were mine and he kept telling me that since they were in my car, they belonged to me (possession in 9/10s of the law). I woke up shaking. I told him about it and he told me that I am wild and that he likes that about me, and then he quoted Thoreau and said, “All good things are wild and free.” My heart soared.

This is something new and different; something wonderful and exciting. I love my beautiful life and I am so blessed. I don’t know where it will go, but I’m excited to see where it leads. I tried to explain to him that the world gives you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m hoping I’m right.