What Is Left

My mom asks which tie I like best as we stand over the open drawer. She asks me variations of the question all day: when do you think we should have the service? What verse should we use for the prayer cards? Which casket do you prefer, the bronze or the silver stainless steel? I’m afraid to offer my opinion, lest someone use it to make a decision.

My aunt found my grandfather this morning, on his back in bed, still warm, robe on, hands clasped over his waist, almost like a prayer, almost like a gesture of ok, take me now. I was sitting at my mom’s table, drinking tea, when her sister called to tell us. We had gone to see him for dinner the night before.

My eyes pass over the maroon paisley, the navy stripes and land on a red tie whose pattern is made by texture, small raised and depressed squares. It’s familiar. Did I give him this tie? Did I give it to my dad or stepfather and it got passed along to him when they were done with it, much like the cotton sweaters and old Polo shirts did?

I wanted to write a eulogy for the service. I had, in moments of morbid prescience, taken notes for one after some of our weekly phone calls, the calls we’d had regularly since I moved to California. The calls I would make on my way to work, as I sat in traffic on the 10, or on a Sunday, as I drove up the PCH for lunch in Malibu. The conversations where I got to know my grandfather as a person and not just my Grandpa.

The signs were there at his last dinner, if I had looked at them. He had difficulty eating, taking slow, disinterested bites of mashed potatoes, of his single slice of turkey garnished with cranberry sauce that came from a rectangular package like the jelly containers you see in a diner. He didn’t want dessert. He kissed me goodbye, told me he loved me, and patted my arm when I said I would see him next month, a placating gesture offered to an oblivious child.
I would have picked the red tie, but my aunts choose the more traditional maroon print. They put it together with the suit found hanging in his closet, which he’d had tailored recently to fit his shrunken body, skin hanging loosely from his bones. It’s a funeral suit. He has left numerous copies of his death directives in various places throughout the house. There are so many logistics of dying.

In our last phone conversation, his voice was more upbeat than it had been for months, maybe since before my sister died nearly a year earlier. I heard the smile as he told me that hospice would be starting soon, that Meals On Wheels was already delivering lunch and dinner every weekday. I put him on speakerphone as he described what he’d eaten that day and texted a friend who is a grief counselor to ask if there was another kind of hospice that didn’t mean the end. She wrote back while he was still talking about pot roast: no. 

I burst into shaking sobs as we stand around his bedroom discussing his burial outfit, much like I did in that phone conversation when he told me he was ready, that he’d had a good life, that he had accepted it. Five hours after he is gone, surrounded by what is left behind from his good life, I still have not.

 

***

 

The next door neighbor’s cat, who had left white hair all over my grandfather’s lap the night before, paces on the front stoop, insistently meowing when no one will let her in. She looks ragged, fur matted and clumped in uneven patches, as though she has been in some suburban street fight. We are late for the funeral home, holding the maroon tie and tailored suit, and leave the cat sitting on the top step, staring at the closed door.

I remember so few details from those phone calls. Just: the softening of his tone over the years, impatience giving way to tolerance. Also: the encouragement and support when I quit my job, telling me I would be successful no matter what I did. And: the mmm that eventually changed to I love you too, that finally became I love you, initiated by him, at the end of every phone conversation.

The day after we visit the funeral home, planning visitation in New Jersey and a burial in Pennsylvania for the following week, after I have written my third obituary in a year, I drive by myself to Connecticut for the writing workshop that has brought me back to the East Coast. Much like I went to one in Italy a few weeks after my dad died, and like I traveled to Australia a few weeks after my sister died. I worry that there is something inherently wrong with me that I can keep moving after they no longer can.

The sun beats down on us at the cemetery in Pennsylvania, feeling almost as hot as it did in July, when we brought my sister’s ashes up to my grandfather’s family mausoleum. The caretakers swept the dirt and spiders from the marble room before we arrived. The smooth box holding Kelly’s remains sits on the windowsill beneath stained glass, exactly where we left it. I drape purple and pink flowers from today’s arrangements on top of her, careful not to cover the plaque that bears her name. I slip one of the prayer cards from my grandfather’s service through the seam of the box without opening the lid. My mom adjusts the ceramic purple butterfly I brought back from Guatemala that is hanging from a framed picture of her on that sill. It slides through her fingers and shatters against the marble floor.

All of the notes I emailed to myself, the makings of his eulogy, have disappeared. I search my entire computer by key words: Grandpa grandfather Joe 94 95 96, all of the ages I might have referred to him as in these emails. There is no record of anything ever having been written after our phone calls. There is no record of the stories he has told me. There is no record of anything.

 

***

 

I wonder how you prepare yourself to die. What kind of fortitude it requires. How long it takes to accept it, whether you ever really do. I wonder if you can simply lie down with your hands clasped over your waist and think, I’m ready now, and that’s it. I wonder what it feels like when you know you are leaving people behind, people you know are not ready to be left.

On one of those calls last year while I drove up the PCH, he asked me what I assumed was the beginning of a silly riddle. If you take all of the things I have done in my life, and subtract the things I can no longer do, what is left? I waited for the punchline, another of the ridiculous jokes he told that I would roll my eyes at. When I didn’t guess, he repeated himself, so I humored him. I don’t know, what?

Just me.

I think about all of the labels my grandfather could have used to describe himself that no longer applied when he posed that question to me on the phone: son, brother, husband, musician, president, carpenter, fixer of everything. I think about all he had lost. I think about the labels that remained until the end: father, grandfather, great-grandfather. I think about how he told me they were the most important labels. I think about how they still weren’t enough to save him, how nothing was enough to save him, nor my dad, nor my sister and I wonder how we can all just go on, knowing that we can never save anyone, knowing that we, that I, eventually have to accept their loss, and keep moving. Just me.

 

***

 

IMG_3365

Joseph Francis Pancheri 5.24.19-10.30.15

***

 

 

These Are The Things I Have Forgotten

These Are The Things I Have Forgotten:

The way my Grandmother smelled

I remember the way my sister smelled, of menthol cigarettes and cheap, overpowering body spray that lingered in a room long after she left, and permeated the DNA of her green Camry.

I remember the way the cat smelled, like spilled tears and comfort and my mother’s house. I pick up the new cat who is not so new anymore, and bury my face in his soft fur. I want to force that smell on him, but he won’t cooperate; he barely tolerates me. He accepted Kelly’s scent when she held him—of course, he was her cat—but he won’t accept Hobbes’ no matter how much I wish it.

If I can remember how the cat smelled, shouldn’t I remember Grandma’s smell?

The taste of mustard

Or mayonnaise. Or pickles. Or all of the other things that I’m sure I hate, so much that I cringe or shudder when they are mentioned. 

What my recorded voice sounded like

The video of my senior recital was taped over, or lost, years ago. There is no footage from my college performances. The cassette tapes from high school concerts are useless—who has anything that plays a cassette tape? I kept a Walkman for years, just in case I wanted to listen to one of those archaic tapes, but eventually, it too went the way of the rest of our obsolete 80s electronics.

Kelly’s recordings were done on CDs, so we could easily transfer them to our laptops and phones, and play them at her memorial service or in our cars. It’s her voice that I hear now when I remember songs we both sang.

The books I have read

Including those I studied and referenced on my AP English test, the ones catalogued on the “Best 100 Books of All Time” lists (did I actually read 1984, or do I just think I did?) and almost every book I read on my iPad.

The first time I saw a sun set over the ocean

Maybe it was on our first family trip to California when I was fifteen. Did I notice it there, when Kelly and I walked by ourselves down to a wharf theatre to see You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in a rare moment of camaraderie due to the freedom of being without our parents for the evening in an unfamiliar city?

Or maybe it was when we went to Bermuda the following year. There is a picture of us on a golf course at our resort, the two of us, with windblown hair and terrible 90s clothing. The sunset is behind us. Did we ever turn around to see it?

Maybe it was even later still, on our last trip together as a family, to Captiva Island. I have the fewest memories of this trip, beyond the sand whipping around on the beach in a weeklong windstorm, and the long, solitary drive across Alligator Alley from Miami. It feels that much more tragic since we would have no subsequent trips. I would travel again with my mom, with Kelly, with my dad, but never again as that original foursome.

When I had my first kiss

I think I used to lie about it, and now I can’t remember what is the lie and what is the truth. The same with when I lost my virginity, a night whose details I remember down to the perfume I wore (Estee Lauder Pleasures, which I hated but he gifted me) and the CD in my stereo (Toni Braxton, Secrets) but whose date I cannot confirm with any certainty. The lies I told other people became the lies I told myself.

What it felt like to hug my Nana

I was ten the last time I saw her, in a wheelchair at my uncle’s wedding. There must have been a fragile maneuvering around the medical equipment, gestures involving patting and kind words. We saw her less than we saw our other grandmother, whose embrace and fragile body and soft skin I can remember like she squeezed me just this morning, rather than over a dozen years ago. My dad’s mother was tall, and sturdy, before the cancer. I wonder if I would have grown taller than she was, had she lived longer. I wonder if I would have wrapped my own strong arms around her, if I would have been the sturdier one. I wonder if I will someday be the formerly tall, formerly sturdy woman in a wheelchair at my son’s wedding, who dies later that night having seen all of her children wed?

How to play the flute

How to play the piano (mostly). How to sing a harmonic minor scale. How to transcribe a melody. And likely every single thing I learned in my 4th semester of music theory.

What my grandfather’s poached eggs taste like

I know that they were the best we ever tasted. I know Kelly still wanted him to make one for her when she visited him last year. I know that I hate to order them in restaurants, certain they will never be as good as his (the way I know linguini with clam sauce cooked by anyone else will never match my mother’s). But I cannot conjure up the taste, only the recollection of the perfect amount of runniness in the yolk, the perfect firmness of the whites. I know that I will never again ask my grandfather to make one for me, because that was her thing.

My natural hair color

 

Why I hated the first day of school videos

My mom took them every year until we moved to Basking Ridge when I was in fifth grade. We started on our front stoop—Kelly, me, Michelle and Aimee from next door, sometimes some of the other neighbors—and walked down the long, rocky driveway and across the street to the bus stop. I was the only one who refused to play along when my mom asked us what we had in our lunchboxes that day, or if we were excited about the first day of school. I was the only one with the scowl, or walking too fast for the camera to follow. Kelly was just happy to be included, even though most years she would be left behind with my mom, at home, after the big kids got on that bus.

Where I left my first pair of earrings

The gold hearts with the diamond sparkle. The ones I’d been hanging onto since I got my ears pierced nearly thirty years ago. The ones I thought my future daughter might one day wear.

My last words to my sister

I know my last words via email: “Have a good Thanksgiving with Dad.”

I know my last words via voicemail, before she left for Arizona that August: “I love you, bye.” I’m not even sure I meant them at the time. I was angry, and only left the voicemail because my mom asked me to call her. I mean them now, but I don’t know if that matters.

I don’t remember the end of our last phone conversation. I don’t remember our last in- person conversation. I’m not even sure I remember the last time I saw her, some time in early 2013. Can that really be possible? Can I really not remember the last time I saw my sister?

Everything else I couldn’t bother to remember; everything else that I have forgotten.

My beloved Grandma (and Grandpa) on the 13th anniversary of her passing.

My beloved Grandma (and Grandpa); yesterday was the 13th anniversary of her passing.

Our last Christmas; my last clear memory of us together.

Our last Christmas at home in 2012; my last clear memory of us together.

Lavender Roses

I never noticed them before;

I see them everywhere now.

Four times already in Sydney,

Halfway across the world, and they are here.

You are here.

 

How can that be?

How can you be both everywhere,

And nowhere?

 

One of your songs plays on the radio,

On a taxi ride to Drummoyne.

I barely hear it at first,

But then it becomes the only sound.

You are here, too.

 

What does it mean?

(Does it mean anything?)

Is it really you that I am hearing?

 

Now it is my voice instead,

Speaking your name,

Over and over.

 

Kelly loved lavender roses.

Kelly loved Josh Groban.

Kelly loved.

 

Your name pours from my lips,

Like an upended glass of water;

Unstoppable spillage.

 

Your flowers,

Your song,

Your name.

 

You are everywhere.

You are nowhere.

You are here.

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Confession: Why I Chose To Freeze My Eggs

*This post originally appeared on Role Reboot.

 

Last month, Facebook and Apple announced that they would begin covering the costs of egg freezing for their employees, setting off a firestorm of controversy across the country. Articles praising the benefits of this offering were quickly answered with articles that declared these measures just another way to get women to work harder and longer, or shaming these companies for their implied input into women’s reproductive decisions.

The story that I missed reading in this discussion was that of someone who wanted to freeze her eggs no matter what the cost or who was paying for it. The story of someone like me.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a mother. I wanted it more than fame (a recurrent childhood dream), more than getting married, and more than a successful career (not that I believe any of these are mutually exclusive). The desire for children has been a constant in my life that has never wavered. It was always the dream I reserved for “someday.”

“Someday” when I finally find the right partner. “Someday” after I’ve traveled and am ready to settle in one place. “Someday” when my career slows down and I have more time.

And then I turned 36, and suddenly it seemed like “someday” should have been here by now. I hadn’t been in a relationship in quite some time, and had never been in one that was pointed toward happily ever after, in any semblance. I had always bristled over questions about why I was still single, and deflected suggestions of egg freezing with the same response I reserved for recommendations about joining match.com: “It’s not for me.”

But approaching 36 felt different, like I was finally becoming a real adult. Many of my friends were on their second or third child, happily nesting, and for the first time, when I visited them and their adorable babies, only one thought remained after the visit: I want that, too.

I could no longer pretend that I didn’t hear my biological clock ticking. All of a sudden, there seemed to be articles everywhere about the challenges of getting pregnant after 35—or maybe I was just now reading them after years of careful abstention. When three separate people mentioned egg freezing to me within a week of each other this summer, I stopped my blanket “It’s not for me” sentiments and actually looked into the procedure and what it might offer me.

Click here to read the rest of the article on Role Reboot! I am so happy to be on their site for the first time today, and would love to read any feedback you care to share!

 

xx,

Katie

A Letter of Closure: Part Two

(One Year Later)

It’s the same here, in that way that can make a place feel oddly frozen in time, despite a year having passed. The people I am with are different, but they’re somehow the same, with the same hearts.The roosters still crow us awake before dawn every morning, and the cacophony of the donkeys braying and the birds singing is as simultaneously melodious and discordant as I remember it. The dogs, the big sweet one and one who is aloof except during mealtime, where he might coax a small morsel of food from someone, still smell—of farm, of dirt, of manure and of some other intangible dog odor. The sweetness from my first donut peach this summer immediately sends me into a fit of bliss and nostalgia. The geraniums in their window boxes continue to bloom their same vibrant shades of red, and the sun still sinks behind a nearby mountain ridge every evening, beyond a lone cypress tree, enveloped in a hazy, orange veil.

The passage of time is marked only by the horses, grown from awkward foals to sleeker, more adult versions of themselves, and the children, who have done the same.  At Ebbio for the second time, in what has become my Tuscan home, I’m reminded of the magic I found here last summer, its energy humming all around me as loudly as the buzzing insects. I had worried it might not be the same.

But you can return to wonder, I learn, and I have.

(One Month Later)

It took half a year of planning, but it was over within seconds. Resigning from a career was surprisingly anti-climactic.

One minute you have a job, a career, an identity, and the very next minute you do not.  Poof! The person you have been announcing yourself as for the last fifteen years is gone. You’re no longer the character you were so proud of playing, parading around in it like a coat you never removed. You don’t get to use the slightly smug smile that you couldn’t help using when people seemed impressed with you. You leave yourself behind in an instant.

For six years, you answered the phone, “Katie from Allure.” As if you didn’t have a last name. As if you didn’t have anything else. As if nothing else mattered.

Not as much anyway.

This was your life. You thought it was what you wanted, until one day it wasn’t.

You stay. Play the part, dance the dance. Keep up appearances to hide the twisted insides. Focus on all of the things you’ve acquired, and steadfastly ignore the whispers that say, “there must be something more than this car, this bag, this life.” Build up that house of cards and climb so high you can’t see the bottom any longer. So high you can’t remember how you even got up there, or why you thought you might like the view; so high you don’t know how you are ever going to get down, or what the fall might feel like.

Because it will fall down. That’s what card houses do. They’re not built for forevers. And as soon as you start this interrogation of your heart from its apex, it quivers and buckles and threatens to collapse completely, and you’re left with the choice to jump off the top, from where you can no longer see the ground, or come crashing down with it, a jumble of cards and regrets.

So you jump.

And you immediately wonder, will I freeze now, without that well-worn coat? You wonder, should I have stayed? You wonder, am I crazy to have left? You wonder, what comes next?

You wonder, who will I be now?

(One Day Later)

The words echo around in my head, bouncing from one side to the other. I’m hearing them in the voice of the one who first uttered them to me; a prayer:

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves….”

 

The opening to Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and I can hear it now. I hear it here in yoga, at Ebbio, where the voice that first told me I could have more asks me to write another letter of closure, one year later. I watch this girl, this Katie from Allure, as if from a distance, and I think about what she needs to hear.  So I write.

 

Dear Katie From Allure,
Everything is going to be ok.
 
You do not have to always have all of the answers.
You do not need to make money to make a difference.
You do not need to have valuable stuff to feel valued.
You do not need call yourself by a fancy title to feel proud.
You do not need to worry so much about what you won’t be anymore.
You do not need to know what you are meant to do before you start doing something.
You do not need to know where you will end up in order to take the first step.
You only have to take the first step.
 
Take the step.
Then take another.
And remember this: you are the only person who can pursue your happiness. You are the only person who can listen to your own heart. You are the only person who can nurture your soul.
You are the only person who can save your life.
 Do it. Save yourself.
 
Everything is going to be ok.
 
Love,
Katie

 

(One Minute Later)

A bug committed suicide in my bed.

I woke to find him dead, my body covered in bites, his engorged with my blood. I wonder if he knew where he was headed but was simply unable to stop. I wonder if, at some point, he had an inkling of his fate, but thought he could somehow outrun it. I wonder if he would make the same choice again. I wonder if I actually killed him, smothering him as I rolled over and tucked my right arm under my pillow so that only my hand stuck out, floating in the air.

I’m here with my dead bug, thinking about the last minute, the last hour, the last month, the last year, all from a Tuscan farmhouse that feels suspended between a dream and reality, with people who are both strangers and family. I think about how happy I am to be doing it. I am saving my own life. I think about how easy it would have been to not do so, to have stayed, and I’m so relieved that the pain of the jump begins to subside. This is my life now.

I’m not that dead bug, I’m not buried under a collapsed house of cards, I’m not Katie from Allure.

I’m just me, removing coats, taking steps, saving myself.

 

Under The Tuscan Sun

Under The Tuscan Sun

 

photo 2 (33)

Girasole=happiness

Confession: I Had No Idea What A Blog Hop Was

“When I am older, I would like to be successful. I hope to be an author some day. I love writing and have written many stories. Writing is like truth. It exposes the things you don’t want to show. I love reading too. When I read, it’s as if I’ve entered a world of my own. It’s like being in the book. To me, books seem alive. Every time I read, I travel into the story.

I want to write stories in my own books some day.”

 

My fifth grade autobiography

My Life, at eleven

 

When I first began blogging in late 2012, people asked me if I wanted to be a writer, and if I had always wanted to be a writer. No way, I told them. In college, I had majored in music and in business. Afterwards, the only writing in my career was in the form of emails to clients and coworkers. I hadn’t written anything more as far back as I could remember.

I was home in New Jersey recently, going through those bins of junk and memories you find in every parent’s basement, when I came across a folder from fifth grade. As I opened one of the “Katie” containers, I found a blue folder with “5th Grade” written across the front. And I remembered: Mrs. Gospin, the teacher who encouraged me to read, and to feel, and to dream, and to write. In fifth grade, I WAS a writer, and I embraced this, the evidence of which I was now looking at. I wrote thirty page short stories about teenage friendship angst, popularity contests, and falling in love—everything I imagined was part of being an actual teenager. I also apparently wrote a school report entitled, “My Life: An Autobiography”, which is excerpted above. It seems that I did, indeed, always want to be a writer. It just took me twenty-five years to remember.

My writer friend, Cindy Lamothe, invited me to join a “blog hop” a few weeks ago, and I was initially skeptical. I had never heard of the concept, and the other hops I could think about—sock hops, bunny hops, actual hopping—weren’t very appealing. (Except for hip hop, which I didn’t think this involved in any way). When she explained the concept that writers would all answer the same four questions, and would link other bloggers, who would link to even more bloggers, I understood that it was a sort of electronic chain letter. Much easier than hopping. And since I was interested in reading everyone else’s answers, I figured I needed to participate.

For better or worse, the answers from this twenty-five-years-late-to-the-writing-party writer:

 

1)What am I working on/writing?

I have random emails I’ve sent myself with thoughts that pop up at 2am, and Word documents with four sentences on them at any given time on my computer. It’s (barely) organized chaos. However, right now I’m actively working on an essay about body shaming based on re-reading my sixth grade yearbook, and on a follow-up essay to a Huffington Post Live segment I did about the stigmas of being 35 and single. It’s about being 36 and single. (spoiler alert: it’s not much different)

At some point in the near future (likely about three days before it is due), I will begin working on my first twenty pages of fiction since fifth grade for a workshop I’m attending with Dani Shapiro at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in August. My hope is that it will turn into a book; my fear is that I will discover my talent for fiction peaked in fifth grade.

 

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure it does, really. From a stylistic perspective, it’s probably not as poetic, possibly it’s not as bloggy, and it’s definitely not as literary as some others in the personal essay genre. So I think what is most different lies in the content: my story, and my willingness to expose my imperfections in the search for what is true, what is universal and what is beautiful.

Or it could just be that I’m weirder than most people. I like to call it “unique”.

 

3) Why do I write what I do?

I was asked why I write by a published author a few months into being a blogger. She told me she didn’t know what to make of me, because in her experience most people wrote because they enjoyed it (eh, not until it’s done), they had a burning story to tell (I couldn’t think of one), or they just couldn’t NOT write (I could do that very well; I did it for twenty-five years). And once I was stumped trying to answer her, I questioned if I really was, or should be, a writer.

Except there was this: since I have been writing for the past year and a half, I have experienced a clarity about myself that I can’t recall having before I started sharing my stories with other people via my writing. By sharing my thoughts and feelings with others, I was able to recognize myself again.

And this: my relationships with the people in my life deepened because I was showing people who I really am for the first time in decades. No more facades, no more pretending to be someone I’m not. Turns out, there are people who actually feel similarly and share those sentiments with me. It makes every moment of insecurity and vulnerability when I hit “Publish” completely worth it.

I write what I write because it connects me to something larger, something truer, and makes me feel less alone.

 

4) How does my writing process work?*

The words “process” and “work” might be misleading here. Let me paint the picture for you.

First, I think of everything else that I could possibly do instead of writing. Doing laundry and taking a nap are my go-to alternatives, but sometimes I consider waxing my car, re-wiring the under-cabinet lighting in my kitchen, or steam cleaning the bedroom carpet. Then I remember that I don’t know how to do any of those things, so I sit down on my grey suede couch with my legs stretched out in front of me, flip on the tv for background noise (reality shows are great, because you don’t really want to pay attention), and pick up my laptop. I open a blank Word document (or pull up any one of the documents I have already started and not saved with four typed sentences; I’m up to Document 9 at the moment). I like to flip over to the Internet next, so as not to finish whatever I am working on too quickly. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail all prove to be excellent distractors, as do Buzzfeed quizzes and Grumpy Cat memes. Once I have chastised myself, out loud, for my excessive procrastination, I return to that Word document and write a paragraph. Since it almost seems like I might be on a roll, I stop and edit that paragraph within an inch of its life. Then I’m usually tired, so I call it a day.

Via this “process”, completing one essay can take between one day and one year. I’m working on tightening up that timeline.

*I do not recommend this “process” to any other writers. It’s quite lengthy and massively inefficient.

 

Let me introduce my fabulously eloquent and inspiring friends:

 

Cindy R. Lamothe

Cindy R. Lamothe

CINDY R. LAMOTHE is an expat living in Antigua, Guatemala with her loving husband, David and two small turtles. She has earned her B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. She is a writer, social media strategist, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her work has appeared in online magazines and websites including: The Manifest-Station and Sweatpants and Coffee as well as other publications. Cindy’s quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website crlamothe.com, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.

 

Sara Lieberman

Sara Lieberman

SARA LIEBERMAN is a freelance journalist based in New York City. After years of brainstorming catchy headlines and editing entertainment and pop culture features for publications like the New York PostPage Six Magazine and Seventeen, she decided to pursue her dream of being a writer who travels. (Or, if her passport and check-in statuses are any indication, a traveler who sometimes writes.) Her work appears in in-flight publications like Hemispheres and Rhapsody, The Daily Beast, Cosmo UK and Fodor’s. More personal musings can be found at News Girls About Towns, the blog she originally launched with a fellow journalist to document their job-swap in London and New York. It now features posts about self-discovery while discovering the world. She likes long walks on Fire Island, goat cheese, Vinyasa yoga, Mumford & Sons and macchiatos. Follow her on Twitter and like her photos on Instagram.

 

Meg Ruggieri

Meg Ruggieri

MEG RUGGIERI currently lives in Denver, Colorado. She writes LeftoversFromFriday, which is a lifestyle blog for people who are trying to figure out life while on their way to a happy hour at a place they’ve never been before while stuck in rush hour traffic with their mother in a perma-passenger seat. Some may call this a run-on sentence; she calls it life at 25. You can find her musing about life and dating perils on Facebook or sharing her unfiltered quirkiness via photos on Instagram.

 

Laurie Luh

Laurie Luh

LAURIE LUH is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company’s inception in 2004, and left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of “jumping” and dispenses overall career advice for Mimosa Lotus and greenlightjobs. She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center that’s still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels. Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She’s easy to find over at Mimosa Lotus, or you can follow her on Twitter, where she’s often tweeting photos of favorite SoCal hotspots.

 

Dena Young

Dena Young

DENA YOUNG is a writer and blogger living in the town of big dreams, New York City.  Working in the publishing industry for the past 10 years, her former life in television production solidified her appreciation for the creative spirit.  A hedonist by nature, you’ll sometimes find her catching the sunset or wandering through a museum, but – as a food lover to the core – she’s always in search of the next great thing to eat.  Her blog, Goodness, Grace and Grub, is her celebration of all the pleasures in life.  And as an optimist at heart, she believes that magic and grace are just a thought away. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Keep hopping! xx

Katie

Running To Stand Still

Last weekend I wondered if I might be slowly losing my mind.

I had flown home to New Jersey to attend my godson’s third birthday party. I had carefully planned my outfit so that I would be able to join in a tree pose (his favorite) at his yoga party. I was so excited to give him the mini-monster trucks that I knew would cause his big blue eyes to light up and his smile to widen. I even scheduled a blowout so that my hair would look nice (because I was sure the three-year-olds would notice).

As I sat in the salon chair with dripping wet hair on Saturday afternoon, my best friend texted to ask if I was ok, and was I still coming to her son’s party? Because his party, the one I had so eagerly anticipated, was actually nearly over, and was not on Sunday as I had written down in my calendar.

I missed the whole thing, from an hour away, under a hairdryer in what now felt like the most ridiculous blowout ever.

I started crying while the blow dryer hummed and whirred around my head. Even with the facts right in front of me, I couldn’t believe I had screwed this up. I re-checked the invite, hoping it would tell me something different. I even asked my mom to help make sense of it for me. I texted a friend to explain what happened, and she wrote back, “that’s not like you.”

I wanted to insist, “you’re right! It’s not like me!” And I wanted to just let it go, to chalk it up as one scheduling mishap, maybe laugh about it in the story I would later tell (can you believe I did that? Haha!), and go on with my day. But instead I flashed to all of the ways in which this was exactly like me, the me who now does things like this frequently.

Going to the wrong location for yoga

Forgetting a friend’s birthday

Receiving a call from the dentist confirming my appointment the next day, an appointment I had not written down and could not remember making

Booking a vacation rental for the wrong dates

Buying two plane tickets to the same destination—both for myself, both for the same dates

Getting off at the wrong freeway exit—twice—on my way to the office I have worked at for four years

Tallied up, it was staggering to me. I could not recognize this person masquerading around as me. Where was the Type A Katie who lived by her perfectly organized calendar? I felt like putting a picture of myself, the me who didn’t didn’t do things like book the same plane ticket twice or get off at the wrong exit, on a milk carton with the slogan, “Have you seen this woman lately?”

This wasn’t one instance of calendar mishandling.

How do you know when it’s just a side effect of stress, or overscheduling, and not something more?

 

****

I wanted to write something perfect.

I hadn’t published anything new in four months, because I hadn’t really written anything in four months. Frankly, I hadn’t wanted to. The writing is hard; sitting in your feelings so that you can write about them is even harder. And things felt hard enough without examining them, so I just stopped.

I went to brunch with a friend who told me that running is her savior lately, the endorphins essential to her wellbeing during a chaotic time. I understood the chaos: a brain whose whirling thoughts I was unable to control, circumstances constantly changing around me that I could not control, people around me whose actions and reactions I could not control.

I wondered if she was really running for the endorphins, or if she was running in an attempt to outsmart her own brain. Breathe, breathe, left, right, left, right, stay on pace, control. All focus on the body, the thunder of feet pounding to drown out the internal chatter. I got that. I didn’t want to hear the noise echoing around in my head either.

I gave up on writing, and reading, and yoga, exchanged them for episodes of Teen Mom and Snickerdoodle cookies the size of my open hand. I have very big hands. I sat on my couch, eating cookies and observing my jeans growing tighter, while teenagers on the television argued and screamed at each other and cried. Chew, chew, chew, fast forward through commercials.

The last thing I wanted to do was think. So I didn’t. A murkiness settled over me like a haze, and even the tv grew foggy, like I suddenly needed glasses to make everything appear clear again.

There were moments of reprieve, from both the numbness of not thinking and the constantly scampering thoughts, just enough for me to think that maybe I was still normal. A rarely attended yoga class where I felt connected to my body. A book I could concentrate on, whose words penetrated through the haze surrounding me. A party where I could actually hear what people were saying, instead of their voices being muffled by the frequently whispered loop of don’t eat that cheese, you are too fat. A morning where I woke up feeling rested.

But I wonder: why are these only choices I see? Sitting on the couch, not writing, stuffing my face and watching teenagers fight, or being tortured by my own mind. Why aren’t there more moments of calm, of grace, of beauty? What caused me to arrive to this place where I don’t do the things I love and I know I’m not doing them, but it’s not enough to compel me into doing them again? Why did I feel like a stranger in my own life, as if watching from above and thinking, who is that girl in the tight jeans on the grey couch, sitting in front of the tv again, and why doesn’t she just do something different?

My home. My living room. My grey wraparound couch; at once familiar and foreign.

How could I know exactly where I was, and still feel lost?

 

*****

It’s stress, I think. I don’t want to allow for the possibility that it’s something more, some genetic mistake that was passed down and is waiting to take hold of me. I tell my mother, when she voices the same concerns, that it’s just a symptom of doing too many things at once. I tell myself this now.

I’m not a runner. It always feels like torture to me. I’m not going to outrun anything.  I can’t stare blindly at a screen anymore either. I turn the tv off, and I listen. I wait for what will come.

I still don’t really want to write. I know it’s not going to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. I don’t know if I can live with that.

The racing in my head continues on, unencumbered by fog for the moment. I have a headache, but maybe it’s just that the muscles are sore from all of the running they are doing. My brain is on a treadmill, logging mile after mile, loop after loop, slowing down when trudging up inclines, losing control and flailing on the downward slopes, but never really going anywhere. Just like a body running on a treadmill. But my body is still. Mind racing. Body still.

It will never be perfect. I will never be perfect.

And this is where the writing begins.

 

danishapiro

 

“How Old Is Too Old To Be Single?”

To change the conversation, we had to start the conversation. 

 

The wonderful HuffPost Live asked me to join their discussion earlier today titled “How Old Is Too Old To Be Single?”

I’ve written about turning 35, and not being where I had always planned to be. And I’ve written also about how complicated it can feel, being happy with the life you’ve created, but still yearning for something else.

What has resonated for me the most in publishing these pieces is the feedback from the people who have read them. Those in similar circumstances who saw their own yearnings reflected back, and those with completely opposite circumstances who saw those same reflections. There was no “perfect life”, married or single, it seemed.

It struck me how many people also shared that they hadn’t previously felt comfortable admitting to all of the feelings encompassed by not being who or where or what they thought they should be. The fear, the shame, the sadness, the freedom, the independence, the resignation…all of these feelings a reaction to expectations that age was a marker for something other than years spent on this planet.

One of the ways to start dissolving these stigmas about having to be anything at any specific age is to start talking about them. To start acknowledging that there are other paths, and that straying from the traditional one is not bad, not good, just different and equally acceptable. To start seeking to understand each other, rather than judge what we don’t know. To stop putting pressure on ourselves and on others to conform to a mold that is not one size fits all.

Today’s conversation is hopefully the first of many that will start to lift the veil on how to find happiness in life, regardless of being “a certain age”…or of any particular age at all.

HuffPost Live: How Old Is Too Old To Be Single

"How Old Is Too Old To Be Single"

“How Old Is Too Old To Be Single”

 

xx,

Katie

My Christmas In Exile

harrodsgreen2

Harrods During Christmas. Photo courtesy of anee.baba via Flickr.

The undoing occurred at the gourmet cheese counter at Harrods.

It was Christmas Eve afternoon, not quite dark enough yet to see the elaborate lights display all around the exterior of the store, though that didn’t stop the throngs of tourists outside from taking picture after picture of the barely visible illuminations. Inside, in the cavernous Food Hall where the sound echoed at a deafening volume, I shuffled through the nearly solid mass of people, past the bakery, the charcuterie, the Middle Eastern prepared foods. I had also come to see the holiday decorations, and was wasting time until sundown, when I came upon the cheese counter.

A piece of Gouda with black truffle caught my eye, and then its scent filled my nose, so I took a number and made my way to the front to order a piece for the next evening’s dinner. Just enough for a single sandwich, I told the girl. “Is this for you, for Christmas?” she asked me.

It’s the simple question that stops you in your tracks, that causes your breath to hitch and your heart to clench. That undoes you.

Because if you have to admit to the British girl working at the cheese counter that this single piece of truffled Gouda is for the grilled cheese sandwich you will eat alone, for Christmas dinner, you have to admit it to yourself.

You completely screwed up.

******

I used to love Christmas.

The rituals, mostly.

Digging into the heap of presents beneath a huge, fragrant tree we had decorated as a family, my mom directing the placement of the lights (only white ones!) and the ornaments, the ones we had made over the years in school, and the glass ones my dad received annually from work. My grandparents, always sipping their coffee, smiling indulgently as I exclaimed, “Just what I always wanted” into the video camera in my dad’s hand. My mom, making waffles from scratch that we could smell from the living room, and heating the plates in the oven so the waffles stayed warm.

Later, in a new house, where I insisted earnestly that New Kids on the Block had the best Christmas album, and our new kitten ran crazily from the dining room to the living room any time the doorbell rang, sliding through the foyer and climbing up the decorated tree. My grandfather there to hear my big solo in O Holy Night in the winter choral concert, and my grandmother closing her eyes when we sang her favorite carol, A Welsh Lullaby. My mother, making the special chocolate Christmas cookies, that I could sometimes convince her to undercook just the way I liked them, and my father trying to put together a Barbie Dream house for my sister.

My family, together. My family, in love.  My family, happy.

Every year I’ve recalled these memories, these ghosts of Christmases past, these portraits of a family that I think once existed. The family in those home videos, forever immortalized on tapes too small for our VCR, that we could play back and watch through the camera’s viewfinder. I could make believe that all of our Christmases were perfect, that our family was perfect, as long as I could call up those images.

Until this year, when I finally couldn’t recognize those people any longer.

The splintering happened gradually, with little pieces of wood breaking off from the whole every year, until what remained was cracked and sharp-edged and just a fraction of what once was. Yelling. Hospitals. Criticism. Age. Dismissal. Death. Divorce. Lies. Addictions. Letdowns. Estrangement. The things that happen to families, I guess, over time. The things that, eventually, break them.

This year, I couldn’t bear it. The going through of motions, the pretending.

So I fled.

To London, and a friend I had met exactly once. To one I hadn’t seen in 20 years. To one I had worked with, sort of, at some point in time. To one I had loved once, who didn’t ask me to come. To one who was friends with my boss, a yoga teacher, who chastised me for “holding back”.

I fled to ones with whom I shared no past: no hurt, no pain, no guilt, no regret.

The trip began encouragingly, with cozy dinners in pubs and happy trips to the theatre. Kindness was the saving grace of those days, and I was met with it everywhere I turned, in everyone who tried to save me from myself. The friend who planned things she knew I would like, who listened and provided thoughtful guidance, and whose daughter climbed in my lap to brush my hair and asked me every morning to play with her. The friend who met me despite my scheduling changes, and the yoga classes that welcomed me into their fold, giving me comfort in something familiar. Even the taxi drivers, with their chirpy commentary and pointing out of sights, tried to keep me smiling.

It wasn’t enough to stave off the loneliness though, which crept in slowly. It tiptoed into the yoga class and rested in child’s pose next to my mat. It sat behind me at the theatre, kicking my seat and begging to be acknowledged. It hopped onto the train at Oxford Circus with me, covering my hand as I held onto a pole, although I lost it when switching to the Northern line at Stockwell. I thought I could outrun it, or outsmart it, or just outmaneuver it.

But it finally found me, forcing its way through the crowd at Harrods to catch me at the cheese counter, and it would not let me go. There was no more running, no more outsmarting, no more outmaneuvering.

It was the loneliest I’ve ever been, it seems. Sitting alone on a couch in my self-imposed exile, with a grilled cheese sandwich for Christmas dinner, 3,500 miles away from my family, the loneliness finally settled upon my shoulders and around my neck, like a cloak that threatened to choke me. So this is what it feels like to break your own heart, I thought. This was my punishment, I assumed, for leaving my family and ruining Christmas. I was meant to accept it gravely and stoically, while telling everyone I was having a jolly old time in England.

Except I found that I couldn’t. This time I couldn’t pretend that things were fine. I couldn’t continue to post pretty Instagram pictures and wrap up this trip with a bow and say, “Just what I always wanted”. I couldn’t act as though I was having the trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t get on yet another flight, to go to yet another city, alone. I couldn’t even leave the flat. I didn’t know how to rescue myself from this situation I had created.

I didn’t know how to undo what I had done.

Kindness, it turns out, saved me again. Kindness from the friends who said it was okay to simply give up on this trip, cut my losses and go home. Kindness from the father who answered his phone at 6am, and picked me up at the airport later that night without question. Kindness from the mother who changed the sheets to the ones I like, and tucked me in to sleep like I hadn’t abandoned her. Kindness from the grandfather who never mentioned my Christmas absence, and just hugged me a little longer instead.

Kindness taught me that you can go home again. Maybe not to that perfect family, or that perfect Christmas, frozen for all time in those old videotapes. But to the family that remains, who loved you through New Kids on the Block albums, and long holiday concerts in an overheated auditorium, and lies, and judgments and all of your other screw-ups. The family who plucks you from your loneliness and reminds you that you are never really alone.

They are your real Christmas.

Angels, Turtles and Magic: A Week in the Galápagos

My roommate sleeps with a smile on her face.

We are here, in the Galápagos Islands, for a weeklong retreat. The word “retreat” has never felt more fitting than it does here, where the main attractions are nature and animals and are so far removed from the constant traffic and smog and noise of Los Angeles. This is no City of Angels, but it seems to hold so many of them in the form of sea lions and blue-footed boobies and massive pre-historic looking turtles called tortugas.

My roommate, too. She is an angel. She sleeps in stillness while smiling, on her side, with her hands pressed together underneath her head as if in a silent prayer. She wakes languidly, smile still on her face, the physical embodiment of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

“Good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I wake in happiness, in kindness.”

I wake with the remnants of own night. Jaw sore from permanent clenching, teeth aching from grinding through a plastic mouth guard, muscles oddly tired from some unknown fight while I slept. I asked the dentist how I could stop grinding my teeth so badly, how I could sleep more peacefully. “Have less stress,” she tells me, as if stress were an object I could collect or discard at will, like souvenir t-shirts or expensive shoes. Just have less of them, and I will sleep better and my teeth won’t bite through plastic and my jaw will no longer lock. What if it were that easy? What if I could smile in my sleep too?

Or what if I was a tortuga?

We went to visit them, where they gather in ponds and roam across open land covered in landscaping scraps that looked like perfect little grass and twig houses. It was a surreal place, like we had stumbled upon the Galápagos-themed section of Epcot rather than real life. An amusement park attraction that couldn’t possibly exist in nature. Except that it somehow does.

I crouched down before one of the turtles who was submerged halfway in the mud, his shell making suction-y noises when he tried to lift himself to a new vantage point, detaching himself from the sludge momentarily before sinking back down again. I stared at him silently for what seemed an eternity, the wariness in his eyes never lessening. He opened his mouth as if to talk to me, but remained mute. Instead he kept his eyes trained on me as he slowly retracted his head back into his shell, connection to me lost for good.

I know this turtle. I am this turtle.

I know how to pull my head back into my shell. I know how to disengage. I know how to retreat.

But this retreat is actually not about retreating. It’s not about escaping at all here. It’s about finding yourself in a place, in nature, in animals.

Besides, as Chris Cleave put it his novel Little Bee, “life is not inclined to let us escape.” There is no retreating from the iguana who crosses my path, causing me to pause and admire his vivid yellow coloring. Or from the sea lion cub who stops to sniff my clothing before he flops down on the sand to dry himself, and to rest from the exertion of climbing up the rocks to dry land. Or yet another enormous tortuga, who walks boldly and deliberately towards me, eyes never leaving mine, an unspoken challenge to let him really see me.

The beauty here is both undeniable and inescapable.

At Semilla Verde, the picturesque retreat center where we are staying, the sunrise shines through the trees at 5am, illuminating them the way the brighten button on my camera means to enhance my pictures, but that I can now see fails miserably. Nothing could re-create this filter, this real light that dances across the treetops and peeks through the green.

The yoga studio, with its perfectly smooth wood floors, and dramatic wall of windows, looks out onto the tortoise pond. One night as we are practicing, in the dusk with just a few candles lit, a tortuga crosses the yard, moving slowly towards the setting sun in the distance. We pause in our practice to admire this completely natural, and completely surreal moment.

At that instant, we all believe in magic.

I am trying, desperately, to remember it all, now that it’s over. I’m writing it down and cataloguing pictures and studying our itinerary, because how tragic would it be to experience magic and not remember it?

I hope I never forget the color of the water here, and the multitude of shades of aqua and cerulean and cobalt that I’ve never before seen together. I hope I never forget the vibrant red grass that covers the desert land during the dry season, or the exact shade of the blue-footed boobies’ startlingly blue feet. I hope I never forget the intensity of the gaze of the tortugas, who seemed to see right into my soul.

I hope I never forget the smell of sea lion poop and iguana poop sealed together in the salty air, a smell so vile and distinct that it seems forever burned in my nostrils. I hope I never forget the smell of burning paper in the huge stone fireplace, where we tossed in pages of our journals, newspapers and candy wrappers; everything we hoped to leave behind in the Galápagos: our fears, our flaws and our trash. I hope I never forget the smell of the afternoon rain that fell on Semilla Verde almost daily—cool and earthy and cleansing.

I hope I never forget the sound of the frigate birds flying overhead during mating season, or the sea lion “bull” calling out from the water to his harem of females. I hope I never forget the sound of a little boy giggling as he ran through the house, or the raspy voice of our tour guide Cheche, as he shared his love of Galápagos with us. I hope I never forget our laughter as we recounted tales to each other with catch phrases like “clamp-down”, “wine-in-a-box” and “chef-on-a-boat”.

I hope I never forget the tartness of tamarind sorbet, or the chalkiness of Ecuadorian dark chocolate. I hope I never forget the amazing combination of rice and cheese and corn, fried together to make the perfect breakfast delicacy.

I hope I never forget the softness of the white sand on the beaches beneath our feet, the fine crystals feeling like something else entirely, almost like liquid even. I hope I never forget the rocky terrain we traversed, and the way it felt solid yet sometimes shifted under our slow steps.

I hope to never forget standing in the rain, barefoot in the wet grass, eyes and hearts lifted to the sky in a circle gratitude, feeling so perfectly in the right place at the right time.

I hope I never forget any of it.

Because if I can allow myself to dream of this beauty, to dream of this magic, I, too, may wake up with my hands pressed together under my head, saying a prayer of gratitude. I, too, may stop retreating into my shell. I, too, may awaken as a smiling angel. I may remember it all.

Gracias por los recuerdos Galápagos. Gracias por todo.

Tortuga

Tortuga

Sea Lion

Sea Lion Baby

Iguana

Iguana

Sea Turtle!

Sea Turtle!

View on South Plazas Island

View on South Plazas Island (sea lion and bird perched high above the water)

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Katie