The Year Of Us

While many people do their reflecting and goal-setting at the end of each calendar year, I typically wait until my birthday at the end of January to look back at the year that has passed and to make my plans for the year that is beginning for me.

The year that followed my turning thirty-six broke the mold of all years that came before. It broke me.

And now that my birthday is, once again, here, I find that I don’t want to do things as I have previously done them.

I don’t want to look back and reflect on the year I became an only child. I don’t want to examine all of the ways this year has changed me. I don’t want to make silly lists of all of the things I plan to do on this next trip around the sun (Get back in shape! Visit new countries! Find life’s purpose!!)

My windows of time now are shorter, more fragile. Long term reflecting and planning have both been abandoned out of necessity rather than any rational choice.

Instead of ruminating about all that has occurred since my last birthday, I can only reminisce about my most recent experience. Instead of formulating plans for the upcoming year, I can only arrange for today.

*

When I booked my trip to Guatemala, life looked a lot different. It was a new country to visit, and an opportunity to connect with friends, but it really didn’t extend past that for me. Once it came time to leave, however, the circumstances of my world had so drastically changed that I was now assigning a new weight to everything, counting on each trip to save me. I worried that Guatemala, or I, might crumble under this pressure.

I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals) with three suitcases full of clothing and random belongings to distribute to the children and women at Education and Hope, an organization founded by my friend Julie Coyne that brings access to education to impoverished children in nearby areas of the Western Highlands. Specifically, they provide scholarships, bus tickets, school supplies, clothing, day care, food, and love to the Educación y Esperanza family.

What they actually do can only be encompassed in one word: miraculous.

I was intimidated by the closeness I witnessed, each person who walked through the doors of the Proyecto offering a hug and kiss to Julie, her husband Gordon, me. I was intimidated by my elementary grasp of Spanish, and what to say to people who spoke no English. I was intimidated by the enormity of what happens there. As the week went on, I tried to memorize all of the faces and names. I didn’t succeed but I managed with a few.

*

On my last night in Xela, Lorena walks with me to set up my ride out of town the next morning. I am taken care of here, never left to fend for myself, and Lorena takes over this duty happily tonight.

I ask her how long she has worked at Education and Hope, and she tells me she has been there for twelve years, first as a student and now working there. She loves it, and loves the people. They are my second family, she says. I ask her if she has children. She tells me she has nine siblings and that as the second oldest, that is enough work for her.

She asks me if I have brothers or sisters.

It’s the first time someone has asked me since my sister died. It’s the question I have been most dreading each time I meet someone new. I anticipated it coming up on a first date, or maybe even a job interview at home. Instead, it hits me in Spanish, with the force of a sledgehammer. Tienes hermanos?

I say no, only me. But that doesn’t feel right, so I think of how I can say this in Spanish. Mi hermana está muerta. Mi hermana murió. Mi hermana no está vivo.

Sometimes even when you don’t want to know the words, your body, your mind, your heart still knows them.

Lo siento, she says. I can feel how deeply she means it. She pauses for a moment while I blink back tears, before touching my arm and telling me, Now you have a second family here, too.

On my final morning in Xela, I spend thirty minutes with the smallest of the children, letting them climb all over me, playing peek-a-boo, pretending to sleep while they shriek with laughter above me. I don’t worry about the language barrier anymore. There is no language for their smiles, and no miscommunication in their fierce hugs. The love they offer me is simple and crosses all cultural divides. As it is happening, I think I have maybe never been this happy.

It’s nearly time for me to leave.

I make my way to the kitchen to begin saying goodbye to the ladies working there, who have fed me so lovingly all week. The little kids are napping, and the bigger kids are across the street in class. The kitchen is almost empty; I discover it is because all of the women are waiting in the main room, in a receiving line of sorts, to send me off.

They each hug me, and somehow I have no trouble understanding the things they say to me, my Spanish coming through in a way it hasn’t all week. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Please come back again to see us. We love you.

Rosenda is there, one of the younger women, hugging me intensely, before drawing back and putting her hand firmly on my heart while she looks straight into my eyes. Tu tienes un gran corazón.

I cry, because I can’t fathom how she can see this, especially with the big fault line running through its center. Until I realize that she sees the fissure too, and maybe loves me just a little more because of it. I cry harder. For Kelly, for my parents, for the women here, for all of our collective losses, for myself.

And a tiny piece of the crack fuses back together again. Not healed, not like before, but held together somehow from the purest form of love I have been shown in this special place. When I walk outside and find all of the students standing in the street yelling, Adios Katie, before running to hug and kiss me goodbye, I understand that this is the kind of day worthy of reflection. This is the kind of day worthy of planning. This is the kind of day you learn how to change someone’s life.

*

This is the year I turn 37.

This is the year that will remain largely unplanned.

This is the year that I turn the front facing camera in my mind around, and point it outwards.

This is the year of ordinary and extraordinary miracles.

This is the year of doing more, for others; of giving back that love I have received.

This is the year of sharing, nurturing, assisting, comforting, trusting, hugging, believing, smiling.

This is the year of love.

 

This is the Year of Us.

 

***To learn more about Education and Hope, or to make a donation (I can make this request, it’s my birthday), please visit http://educationandhope.org/. It is so easy to make a difference in the lives of these wonderful people. Thank you!

Mis nuevos amigos

Mis nuevos amigos

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

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.

Of False Bravery and Half-Truths

I waited for the elevator to make its way to the ground floor of the parking garage. It was one of those places in downtown Santa Monica that always smells a little like urine, even when it’s not hot outside. The kind of garage that always has a few lights blinking and crackling, threatening to burn out. The kind that makes you wish the sun were still out and that you weren’t by yourself.

The elevator arrived and I stepped on, followed by five men speaking very loud and animated Korean. They smelled like stale beer and cigarettes, and together we more than filled the small space. One of their arms kept brushing against my REI shopping bag, and another gave me a full body scan with his eyes. We had no air left for anyone else to breathe in that elevator, but I wished that someone else would join us. Someone who might make me feel safe.

We began our ascent, only to jerk to a stop and lurch down a few feet before we reached the third floor. The men exclaimed, “Oh My God” in English, while gazing at each other with panicked looks. When they then looked over at me, I smiled calmly, as if we weren’t trapped together in an elevator between floors of a Santa Monica parking garage, instead of driving our cars safely home.“Don’t let them see your fear,” the voice in my head whispered. “They need to think that you’re brave.”

I wasn’t. I was scared even before the elevator doors closed around us. I was scared even after we all got out safely. But I couldn’t let them see that. Maintaining that illusion of bravery felt crucial. If felt like it was all that I had.

It’s what I’ve always done.

When I was a kid, I needed everyone to see that I could do everything considered scary, and do it by myself. That meant not hesitating before diving off the high dive, running to the front of the line to ride the tallest roller coaster, or watching horror movies that secretly terrified me. Often it meant impulsive decisions with little regard for consequences. I was no adrenaline junkie; it was all about trying to manipulate people into seeing me as “brave”. To me, scared equated with weak, and that was unacceptable. Fast forward thirty years later and I’m still that five-year-old kid, yelling, “Look at me! Look at what I can do” from the high dive.

Last weekend, a stranger marveled at the fact that I could attend a friend’s wedding without a date. She could never do that, she told me, unsolicited. She would rather just stay home than ever go to a wedding alone. I was rendered momentarily speechless, as I so often am when someone else voices feelings I don’t want to admit to also having experienced. I quickly moved away from the conversation, eager to get away from her and her (our) fears.

Instead, I went home and rallied against that fear. I posted a status update to my Facebook page that I hoped would reinforce me as that brave, independent person I needed everyone to see.

“If I only went places where someone accompanied me, I would never go anywhere. Don’t be afraid to do the things you want to do because you don’t have a ‘date’. You are your own best company.”

I’ve written before about the importance of loving your life even if it’s not exactly what you pictured. How you can appreciate what you do have, and take advantage of all that comes with it. How traveling alone, for example, can be wonderful and even more fulfilling than traveling with a companion. I even quoted the song “Brave” recently, as a reminder of how important it is to speak use your voice. I know these things are all true.

But.

But. The truth is always in the buts. The howevers. The excepts.

But they’re half-truths, at best. Words that are, indeed, true but that don’t begin to tell the whole story. It’s like stitching together patches of a quilt when you don’t actually know how to sew, and ignoring the holes you’ve left all over. I’ve stitched together this tale about being happy, self-sufficient and brave, while neglecting to mention all the holes throughout: loneliness; sadness; fear. There’s a quilt, sure, but it isn’t the truth.

So here’s the whole truth. The whole truth is that I don’t want to go to weddings alone; I go alone because that’s the best option I have. The whole truth is that I travel alone because I don’t have a partner to travel with me, and the alternative of not going anywhere is so much worse. The whole truth is that I still struggle with speaking up because I am so worried about what others will think. The whole truth is that being single can be liberating and empowering, but simultaneously isolating and terrifying. The whole truth is that I am scared all of the time.

The whole truth is that you can love your life, and still yearn for what is missing.

Sometimes, I take the easy way out, and I pick just half of the truth—the half that doesn’t make me look weak, or feel vulnerable. The half that feels good to post on Facebook. I’m still that little a kid putting on a show. Look at me! Look at what I can do!

It’s difficult to reconcile: being proud of what you can do alone, and desperately wanting to not have to do it.

I wrote earlier this year about how turning 35 meant letting go of a life I had imagined for myself and replacing it with something else, something I was already living. But the real truth there? (Again, the but). I stopped short of the part where I admit that even in my happiness, there is still sadness. That I do still want a husband, and I do still want children. I have accepted that I don’t have them now, and I have made my life work without them because that’s what I had to do. It wasn’t brave, or strong, it just was.

Because you adapt, and you let go, and you accept, or you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

If I could go back and re-write that “Confession: I am 35” essay, if I could post it as a Facebook status with the whole truth, it would read differently.

I am 35, and it’s wonderful, lonely, exciting, full, liberating, strange, multi-faceted, sad, challenging, adventure-filled, eye-opening, ever-changing and completely scary every single day. It’s real life, in all its complexities. 

And it’s mine.

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Confession: I Went To Canyon Ranch, And All I Brought Back Was The T-Shirt…And A Few Life Lessons

I just left the magical enclave known as Canyon Ranch, nestled in the middle of the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was my first visit; it will surely not be my last. One of my closest friends was invited to teach her famous Manifestation workshops there, having introduced them to the resort earlier this year. She was able to bring a guest with her, and I was the unbelievably lucky recipient of her generosity. It was a dream I’d never allowed myself to even have that actually came true. It was five days of relaxing, pampering, healthy-eating, centering bliss.

As I was sitting on the plane on Thursday night, delayed going back home to Los Angeles, a friend asked me what I learned in my time at Canyon Ranch. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to answer her, by how much I had learned in such a short time, by how profoundly I was touched by this place.

Life Lessons from Canyon Ranch:

I cannot resist cookies. Even gluten-free ones, which I was cajoled into trying, and which were surprisingly tasty. I simply could not say no to this dessert after dinner. And after lunch. And after breakfast. Healthy, gourmet food never tasted so good.

I am not as open to new experiences as I would like to be. I really don’t enjoy exercising, if I know that I’m exercising. Disguise the workout in a yoga class, or a picturesque walk and I’m game. Anything with kettleballs, squats, or that dreaded word, cardio? No, thank you, I’ll pass. I’ve come to terms with it. What I did realize, however, while I was avoiding every non-yoga class that Canyon Ranch offered, was that sometimes I do need to push myself more, and to try more new things, or I may really be missing out on discovering something I love. Sometimes, I need to put myself out there and be open to whatever happens.

I am too cautious. I signed up for “Arial Adventures” on Wednesday (aka trying new things), which consisted of a short zip-line and the “giant swing” (essentially a harnessed leap and free-fall off a raised platform). I stood atop the platform, hesitating. I didn’t look over the edge, down to the ground, in fear. The hesitation was not rooted in fear of crashing to the ground. Instead, I stared off in the distance, eager to know what I was facing, struggling to see through to the end of the road before I embarked upon the journey. Watching others before I took my turn. The fear was in not knowing what to expect, in not being able to prepare before leaping. I do this everywhere, it turns out. I prefer to tiptoe into the unknown, so as not to be caught off guard. I prefer to have a map, and clear directions for every route I take. But life’s not like that, is it? There isn’t a map for every situation, there is no way to always be perfectly prepared, and sometimes you just have to take whatever knowledge you do have, and just jump without knowing precisely where you are going to land.

I am not as great at relaxing as I had previously thought. I watched women scuttling around all day, clad in their Lululemon Luon gear, schedules packed with classes, lectures, meals, activities. I thought that I was so much more relaxed, with all of my time spent in front of the fireplace, with a book in hand. But I noticed how much less reading I actually got done on this trip. I saw how distracted I’ve become. I acknowledged how reliant I am on my mobile devices. I understand how imperative it is for me to work on changing this, in getting back to a place where I can put down the phone, put down the tablet, put down the computer and just be.

Restorative yoga is a wonderful aide in being present. Allowing someone to guide you into relaxation is quite effective. Slow, sweet, gentle…you can actually measure your body opening, and relaxing. You can feel the space between the beats of your heart lengthening, and the depth of your breath expanding as it flows all the way down to your toes. You have nowhere else to be, no agenda other than listening to your body, and your breath, and allowing yourself to be present in the moment.

It’s astonishingly easy to be there for the people you love. My friend Jen, the one who brought me to Canyon Ranch, was suffering through the hell of an ectopic pregnancy while we were there. Beyond all of the emotional turmoil that this brought, she started experiencing severe physical pain as soon as she arrived in Massachusetts. Ultimately, she ended up in the emergency room at 5am on Tuesday, facing an insensitive nurse and the fear that her fallopian tube had burst.

I worried that I would not be able to help her. That I wouldn’t know what to do, or how to do it, or if it would be enough. But when it really counted, it was the easiest thing in the world to pick up the phone, to pull the car around, to show up. It meant not always knowing what to say, or what to do, or even if you’re helping at all. But showing up anyway. Because that’s the best of what we can offer each other: showing up.

Most people are searching for something. During one of my visits to the cozy library, I met Cindy. The same age as my mom, she was knitting furiously while whispering the steps to herself. Somehow we began talking. In under an hour, she confided that she wasn’t truly fulfilled or happy, that she didn’t know how to put herself first, and that she just felt there should be “something more” in her life. I could have echoed every sentiment, at half her age and with completely different life circumstances. We are all searching. We are all looking for something. Acknowledging and sharing our search makes us feel less alone, and more likely to make changes that lead to happiness.

There are some truly wonderful people in this world. Like the woman working at the café, who remembered how I like my tea, and snuck me extra cookies when I left. Or those who asked, every time they saw me, how Jen was feeling, or offered to bring her food or read to her. Or the ER Doctor who we called awesome, who told us he was just there to get the job done—but he’d take the awesome, too. Or my fellow Arial Adventurers, who encouraged each other to take that leap off the platform, who cheered as we all flew down the zip-line, strangers who had become a team. Fantastic people come to this special place.

From the fog rolling in over the distant lake, to the trees changing colors all around us, to the rain that blew sideways in the wind, it was an almost unreal time. There was a dreamlike quality to it all.

Thank you, Jen, for making this week possible. For pushing me to dream bigger. Thank you, Canyon Ranch, for far exceeding any expectation I could have imagined, and for bringing together everything and everyone to make this dream a reality. I am truly blessed and grateful.

CanyonRanch

PS-see the pictures and videos on my Facebook page for more insight into this incredible place!

https://www.facebook.com/katiedevinewriter

xx,

Katie 

Confession: I Thought It Mattered

I thought it mattered.

 

I thought it mattered if I was thin.
If I was beautiful.
If I was tall.
If I was unblemished.
If I was manicured.
If I was highlighted.
If I was perfect.

One day I learned that it didn’t matter. And I was happy.

But, I forgot, as we sometimes do.

 

Once more, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if I was right.
If I was the fastest.
If I was the strongest.
If I was the smartest.
If I was the first.
If I was the best.
If I was perfect.

Another day arrived, and I remembered that it didn’t matter. And I was happy again.

But, still, I forgot.

 

Yet again, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if people thought I was thin.
If they thought I was beautiful.
If they thought I was smart.
If they thought I was strong.
If they thought I was worthwhile.
If they thought I was lovable.

If they thought I was perfect.

This time, this time I didn’t believe it though. This time I knew, the way I knew the sun rises in the East, and June follows May, and one plus one equals two. I knew that it didn’t matter.

The only thing that mattered was that I lived in truth. My truth. Spoken, felt, shared, lived. Truth.

I will continue to forget, but I will also always remember. And in those moments of recollection, those moments of clarity, those moments of truth…there will be happiness.

 

 

xx,
Katie

Confession: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

“Write a letter to your 16-year-old self.”

That was the directive given in a Monday morning class during a recent Manifestation Yoga Retreat with Jennifer Pastiloff in Italy. Her retreats are a special blend of yoga, journaling, soul-searching and connecting. This particular exercise came early in the week and left me nostalgic as I remembered who I was at 16, and what I wish I had known then.

I immediately began writing, eager to share what I have learned with this younger version of myself.

Dear 16-year-old Katie,

1.  Don’t cut bangs. Or try to add your own highlights with Sun-In. Or dye it an unnatural shade of reddish-orange in the upstairs bathroom. Actually, just leave it alone and stop trying to change it so you look like someone else. Look like you.

2.  Laugh more. Stop taking everything (mostly yourself) so seriously. You will never have less responsibility in your life; play, be silly, and laugh until your cheeks ache and your stomach hurts. 

3.  Try new things. Sushi, field hockey, guitar, French. Making decisions about what you won’t like before trying them may keep you from finding what you really love.

4.  DO WHAT YOU LOVE. It doesn’t need to be your major, or your eventual career, or even something that anyone else knows you can do. But find something you are passionate about and embrace it. 

5.  Take more risks. Don’t just do the things you think you will be good at. Do the things you think you won’t be good at. And then amaze yourself when you are.

6.  Cherish the people who love you. All of them. They will carry you through your life.

7.  Take that Honors American Studies class. It may be a little more work, it may be a lot harder than regular history, but it will force you to think, encourage you to open your mind, and teach you how to study, which will be invaluable for your future. Allow yourself to rise to the challenge.

8.  Start wearing sunscreen now, all of the time. Appreciate your skin. It will never again be as young as it is at this moment. Oh, and no more “laying out”.  Be outside for the joy of being there, not for the tanlines.

9.  Let your little sister teach you things, like patience, and generosity, and how to tweeze your eyebrows. Let her do that before you take your next yearbook photo. And then thank her.

10. You are allowed to change your mind. About what sport you play, about where you think you want to go to college, about what you want to eat for lunch tomorrow. You can change your mind about it all.

11. Try your best. Work hard. Push yourself. And then be okay with the results. You can never do more than your best.

12. Respect your parents. Turns out, they actually do know more than you do. The easier you go on them now, the less you will cringe when you remember all of the exaggerated eye rolls and dramatic sighs. Stop being embarrassed by their behavior and focus on your own.

13. BE KIND. Twenty years from now no one will remember (or care!) if you got straight A’s, or were the best soccer player, or won “best dressed”. They will remember how you made them feel. Let them remember that you made them feel good.

14. Stay open. Even when your heart is broken, even when you feel too exposed, even when it just hurts so much….don’t let the walls go up. It’s really difficult to break them down.

15. Ignore everything you’ve just read, because we both know that you need to learn these lessons for yourself, through your own experiences, before you will actually believe them. But seriously, trust me about the bangs.

Love,

35-year-old Katie

 

As I write this list, I realize that what I’m really doing is reminding my 35-year-old-self to do every one of these things. Because some lessons, like hard work, and kindness, and not taking yourself too seriously, are timeless. Because, so often, I still forget. Because it’s never too late to start. And because I still don’t look good with bangs. 

What would you tell your 16-year-old self? Please post below…and then ask if your 16-year old self (or you, sitting there, right now) would listen.

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Confession: I Am Beginning To Let Go

Two years ago, when I bought my condo, my bosses sent me a beautiful white orchid to commemorate the occasion. It felt like a celebration of my arrival at adulthood, becoming this person with a mortgage and a car and something I needed to keep alive. I would stare at that orchid and feel the heavy weight of obligation on my shoulders. Keeping that orchid alive seemed symbolic: if I didn’t kill the orchid, I was maybe ready for other “adult” responsibilities (Next Stop: Marriage! Pets! Babies!)

But a few months later, unsurprisingly, the orchid began to wilt, its soft white petals first hanging down, limply, then falling to the ground, one by one. I moved it around, first to sunnier spots in the apartment, and then to darker ones. I watered it more, I watered it less. I pleaded with it to return to its former beauty. I yelled at it to grow (because THAT works). All to no avail. The orchid lost all of its petals, and no amount of coaxing or begging or forcing could bring them back. It was time to let go.

I’m good at letting go of things.

The sweater I once loved that now has moth holes, the pillows on my couch that flattened over time and faded from sunlight, the shoes that aren’t worth one more trip to the repair shop; they all get thrown in a bag and dropped off without a second glance at Goodwill, soon to become someone else’s letting go decision. I leave clothing and accessories scattered across the globe on every trip, in order to lighten my suitcase for the flight home. “Things” are easily released.

It’s the ideas that are tough for me to let go. Like the idea that I killed my orchid. It died in a manner similar to many of my relationships, and I was filled with the same confusion and regret. I loved it too much, or I didn’t love it enough. I suffocated it, or I abandoned it. I couldn’t decipher what it really needed. I didn’t know what I did wrong but that orchid died and it was my fault. And that was something I could not let go. I moved the orchid to my balcony, because I could not face throwing it away.

I have been holding onto these ideas and pressures about how my writing should be progressing as well. It has seemed like it needed to be specifically defined. How many times I needed to write a week (3 seemed ideal), how many sites I should be writing for other than my own (again, 3 felt right), how many new places I should be pitching to publish my work (3 has always been my lucky number!). The idea was that I needed goals, and timelines to reach them, and outlets to help me get there , or somehow my writing (and I) wouldn’t be worth as much.

Unfortunately these ideas are doing nothing to motivate me; they simply give me additional reasons to call myself lazy, or untalented, or a failure.

It’s almost like I’m setting myself up for this failure. It’s almost like I’m looking for a reason to beat myself up. It’s almost like I enjoy it.

I don’t, of course. Who would? But it’s comfortable. It’s easier for me to criticize than to praise. It comes naturally to look for faults.

Except it’s exhausting, and it’s bringing no good into my life. There is no reason to keep hanging onto this pattern. It serves no one, especially not me.

As my beloved writer friend, Jen Pastiloff, has eloquently said, “And then it was time to let go.”

It IS time to let go. Of the criticisms, of the self-imposed writing schedules, of the guilt when I do something else, of the impatience to get there, get somewhere, faster, of all of the ideas that my writing needs to be anything other than what it is: an outlet through which I can connect and understand.

My balcony floor is being refinished this week, so I had clear away everything that has been thrown out there over the past two years in fits of “I can’t look at this anymore!” The extra paint cans, the grill utensils, the toolkit I’ve never opened, the dead orchid.

Except the orchid wasn’t dead. This orchid had, somehow, on its own, come back to life, with three beautiful blooming flowers and several more buds almost ready to open. It didn’t need to be watered, or moved to the sunny side of the room, or implored, or belittled.

It just needed to be let go. Let go to grow on its own, in its own time, in its own beautiful way.

Perhaps if I am able to let go, my own flowers will begin to bloom once again.

The Second Coming of My Orchid

The Second Coming of My Orchid

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Am A Control Freak

thatblackgirlsite.com

thatblackgirlsite.com

(as seen on MindBodyGreen)

I’ve been anticipating my upcoming summer trip to Italy forever it seems. I began buying sundresses six months in advance, started an official countdown at the three-month mark, and made my to-do lists blanketing the entire month leading up to my departure. Each day was accounted for. I had sunscreen and hats to buy for the hot Italian sun, walks and hikes to get me ready for strolling around the Tuscan countryside, and extra yoga classes to take before I put my body through twice-a-day classes there. Everything was going smoothly and according to plan.

And then, three weeks before I left, I broke my toe. A “hairline fracture,” the doctor explained to me with her optimistic smile, but broken nonetheless. Broken, just like it had been a flimsy string holding together my carefully laid out plans. Fractured, just enough to throw everything out of alignment. Cracked, just enough to cause everything leading up to the trip to change.

I do not do well with change.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived my life ruled by the appointments entered in my calendar. Schedules and structure make me feel safe and in control. Routines calm me, timelines comfort me, planning soothes me. Crossing an item off my to-do list triggers an almost sheepish feeling of satisfaction that I relish, and now, because of a silly injury, I would have an entire to-do list that was undone. It almost caused me to become undone. It feels ridiculous even to me that this little interruption in the regimen threatened to unhinge me. But so it was.

I went through various stages of grief as my carefully constructed plans slipped away in front of my eyes. I threw a bit of a tantrum, first with anger at myself (how could I do something so stupid?!), second with tears. Then a slightly longer pity party (I was the only attendee; everyone else sent their regrets). Bargaining followed (I will do anything to make this foot better!). Next came the questions, asked to myself out loud, and answered in a voice that sounded irritatingly like one of my friends.

Why me? (Well, why not you? Why should you be exempt from accidents?)

What if this ruins my trip? (It will only ruin your trip if you let it.)

What am I going to do now? (I guess you’re either going to sulk and be miserable about it, or you’re going to get over it.)

And with that, the final stage, acceptance.

When even your own voice, the one that sounds like your friend who wants you to stop complaining and gain a little perspective, tells you to get over it? You listen.

You start to let go.

It was like releasing helium-filled balloons into the air.

First to go was yoga and those hikes — impossible with a foot injury; I let go of that string and the balloon floated swiftly away from me. Next released was the carefully constructed schedule — with a bum toe, standing at happy hours or combing the aisles of Target for travel-sized toothpaste were not a priority; that balloon practically jumped out of my hand.

Hardest to part with was the control I felt I had when my calendar was full and my life was planned. Liberating that balloon took, ironically, the most strength; my fingertips were painstakingly pried open one by one, before I could finally let go, exhale and wave goodbye.

My balloons gone, I was left without a plan.

And for the first time, it started to feel okay. I adjusted. I took care of myself. I even looked forward to a day stretched out by lack of obligations. I let myself just… be.

When I returned to yoga to test out my foot, I was amazed. Bewildered even, at how this little injury had impacted me. My mind and my body were more in tune than I can ever remember them being. My movements were slower, more deliberate and more intentional. There were limitations, of course, things I simply could not do with a still healing toe. But for once, my mind heard the cues my body gave, and actually listened to them, resting when necessary and easing up at just the right moments. I felt at once stronger and lighter. For one hour, all I did was pay attention (which, coincidentally, was the theme of the class). It was a truly wonderful moment.

Breaking my toe was physically not much more than an annoyance and some minor pain. Breaking the cycle of trying to control and plan everything in my life was the unexpected and clearly much needed side effect of this little accident.

It’s amazing how even the smallest break can cause the biggest breakthrough.

Confession: I Have a Dream

Last night I had an incredibly depressing sex dream about Bradley Cooper.

Yes, apparently that IS possible. I’ll let that sink in for a second.

We were on the set of a movie in Vancouver, though it remains a mystery why I was there. Bradley Cooper and Keri Russell played star-crossed lovers in a politically charged 1960’s drama. They couldn’t be together in the movie because they worked for opposing campaigns. They couldn’t be together in real life because she is married. He was in love with her. It was written all over his face and in his puppy dog eyes. The crew members looked pityingly at him, at BRADLEY COOPER (!), in love with a girl who would never return his love, on screen or off.

So instead he settled for me. He invited me into his trailer, made halfhearted efforts with wine that was too spicy and candles that made me sneeze. He went feebly through the motions, almost maintaining eye contact, almost convincing me that it was really me he wanted. I accepted this. I didn’t ask more of him. I didn’t show him who I really was.

I was the stand-in for the woman he really loved, and I knew it. Who knows why I stayed, in this dream of mine. Sometimes it’s just easier that way. Sometimes it’s easier to settle for what we’re offered than to fight for what we deserve. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore that little voice that whispers, “You are more than this”, to pretend we don’t really hear it, to imagine that it must have been speaking to someone else.

I can’t go back and ask my dream-self why I stayed. What I know is that I shouldn’t have. What I know is that it’s terrible to not stay true to yourself and what you know you really want.

What I know is that it’s pretty awful to be a stand-in in your own sex dream.

I went to dinner earlier this week with some of my favorite clients, including a few I have known for over ten years, since the very beginning of my career. One of my faves was celebrating her 55th birthday that day, and we were lucky enough to share it with her. She radiates light, and glows with energy. You just feel better when she’s near. We spent much of the evening catching up and telling stories about the “good old days”, when she turned the conversation more serious with one question for the rest of us: “Who and what do you want to be when you are 55?”

I sat there silently, watching everyone else’s faces as they thought about who they wanted to be at 55. I could see it was not easy to articulate. For some maybe this future was too far beyond what they had yet considered. For others maybe they found themselves confronted with a present that was not what they wanted it to be. I tried to listen to their answers, but my mind was racing, wondering how I would be able to share just what I wanted for myself, the way I hadn’t been able to do in my Bradley Cooper dream.

What if all of my dreams are ridiculous? What if they thought so too? What if what I want is just too much? What if they thought I was crazy for even thinking they were possible? What if they really weren’t possible?!?

What would happen if I just…put them out there?

We never made it all the way around the table for me to share that night, and a part of me was rather relieved. But the other part actually wanted to see what would happen if I admitted, to myself and to my friends, who I wanted to be at 55. Who I want to be now.

It’s safer to keep your dreams inside, hidden from the world, secrets stashed away in your heart. If no one knows about them, they won’t know if you fail at them. They won’t see rejections and steps backwards and knockdowns and heartbreaks. Of course, they also won’t be able to offer condolences, support and love along the way either. They won’t realize how much it means when you start to pursue and then achieve them.

And I’m now realizing that the likelihood of any of them actually coming to fruition while they’re squirreled away somewhere, unseen to the world, is probably pretty slim. This is where you have to take the chance to make the magic happen. This is where you have faith that your friends and your family and the Universe will listen without judgment. This is where you trust.

So here goes. Who I want to be at 55:

I want to be in love.

I want to be a world traveler.

I want to be an accomplished novelist.

I want to be a mother.

I want to be comfortable in my body.

I want to be singing.

I want to be someone’s first choice.

I want to be happy.

And there it is. It’s out there.

What happens when you admit what you really want? What happens when you refuse to be someone’s backup plan? What happens when you say, “this, what I am now, is not enough for me?” What happens when you open yourself up, take the leap, and accept what comes?

I guess I will find out.

Oh and just one more to add: in my next sex dream, I want to be in the leading role. Preferably with Bradley Cooper as my enamored co-star.

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” ― Anaïs Nin

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

xx,

Katie