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.

photo (7)

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 

Speak Your Truth

 “No, it’s fine.” 

I could hear the words coming out of my mouth, a common refrain, contradictory in grammar as well as what I really meant by it. Yet, there it was, over and over again, in what sounded uncannily like my voice. To the boyfriend who broke his promises. No, it’s fine. To the family member who wanted everything to just be okay, when it clearly wasn’t. No, it’s fine. To the friend who simply stopped showing up, until she needed something. No, it’s fine.

It was like the chorus of a song that kept repeating, on a radio station whose channel I didn’t know how to change. No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fiiiiiiiiiine.

It was actually kind of easy to utter this phrase. To put what I imagined other people needed before what I needed. To be someone I thought people wanted instead of what was true to me. It was so important that I was seen as “good”. Good girlfriend, good student, good daughter, good sister, good friend, good employee, good everything to everyone.

I’m not sure when it started, this burying of myself to accommodate others. When I was a kid, I was often the outspoken—okay, bossy—one. When I was in high school, I was so singularly focused on becoming an opera singer that I did what was right for me and to further that goal, even if it meant not being cool, or not having boyfriends. I knew, and expressed, what I wanted. 

But somewhere along the way, there was a shift. Perhaps it was subtle at first, so that I didn’t even notice it. Maybe it became more prominent as people began responding. What I do know is that once I felt the acceptance that came along with pleasing people, it was difficult to stop. It became a snowball rolling down a mountain, gathering size and speed until it was bigger than I was, until it completely enveloped me, until it–and I–was was unable to stop.

When you say “No, it’s fine” often enough, you almost start to believe it.

It became second nature. I wasn’t even aware of doing it until someone I didn’t know, someone I only met via phone, pointed it out to me. Her point, in doing so, was that I could never be truly happy unless I was putting myself first. And to put myself first, I needed to start speaking the truth.

We’re never really told that we’re supposed to put ourselves before others. Quite the opposite actually. Selflessness is preached, and giving more is expected. Kindness above all, of course. Why did it take thirty-five years for someone to tell me that it’s okay—no, it’s crucial—to put myself and my well-being first? That is doesn’t mean I’m selfish, or unkind. And why did the idea of doing it create such an intense panic in me?

What if I started expressing my truth, and people didn’t like it? What if they didn’t like me? 

The doubt plagued me, and paralyzed me initially. I almost let myself off the hook: the boyfriend is long gone, along with the friend who wasn’t there for me and easily faded out of my life, so I didn’t need to confront them with my feelings. But my family wasn’t going anywhere. They would need to be the test cases for my honesty, even if it still scared me.  

And then I got into my car one morning, after struggling through yet another night with my fears about speaking up, and the Sara Bareilles song “Brave” was queued up on my iPod. This time, it was a song worth repeating:

And since your history of silence 

Won’t do you any good.

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty.

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say,

And let the words fall out, honestly.

I wanna see you be brave.

And I knew: it was time.

So I tried it. The first conversation was most difficult. There were tears, and bewilderment, and anger, and defensiveness. And a few times, I almost fell back on my previous refrain, that old familiar chorus: No, it’s fine. But really, it wasn’t fine, and being able to finally say it out loud felt like lifting a giant rock from my shoulders. Speaking my truth didn’t change the facts of the situation. It didn’t change the outcome of events. But it changed me. And ultimately, that’s all I can really change anyway. Ultimately, that will be enough.

Change takes time. Speaking up requires determination. Being honest takes courage. But, at the end of the day, our truth is all we have.

Use your voice. Speak your truth. And in Sara’s words, “I wanna see you be brave.”

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Miss My Security Blanket

I had a security blanket until I was about ten years old.

I might still have it today had it not disintegrated into small pieces. I don’t even remember it being an actual blanket. Supposedly it had Winnie the Pooh on it and was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. I only know this because every year when her Christmas card arrives, my mom says, “that’s who gave you your blanket.” It wasn’t a blanket in my memory, but a nubby grey piece of cotton with a tail that smelled equal parts fabric softener, love and safety. Its pieces broke off one by one over the years, until there was no security left to speak of.

The largest piece was lost during a week at the Jersey shore, in a house we called the Amityville Horror because it was falling down, looked like a place where bad things might happen, and made noises that sounded like it was sighing at night. It was during the summer I was too sick to go to the beach for almost a week but it didn’t matter because the beaches were closed from the hypodermic needles that had washed ashore. This was New Jersey in the 80s. I spent long, hot days in my parent’s bed with my blanket, listening to Whitney Houston and lamenting all that I was missing until one day the blanket was just gone, just another sacrifice made to the Amityville Horror house.

The tail piece was lost after finally being surrendered to the washing machine, at this point both grey and dirty. My mom tried in vain to recover it, even calling in a professional to help with the job. The repairmen could not distinguish my old blanket from the grey lint that had already accumulated in the dryer. It too was gone, another piece of my beloved blanket and another piece of my security lost, strewn throughout my childhood until nothing remained but memories.

I would still wish longingly for my blanket when I needed comfort over the years. When a friend’s son died. When I didn’t get into the college I really wanted to go to. When my heart was first broken. When my parents divorced. When I fell into a deep financial hole. When I thought I had failed at work. When I moved across the country.

When I stopped feeling safe.

All I would have needed to do was pick up that grey blanket, nothing more than a rag really, and smell it to be comforted. To know that things would be ok.

Lately I have found myself wishing for that blanket again, while not wanting to acknowledge to myself what that really meant: that I had stopped feeling safe. That what had started to feel like a safe space now confused me. I have been on uneven footing, unable to find balance with a broken toe and a fractured sense of self. Grasping for something to hang onto, to right myself, to regain stability. But where I had found reassurance before, there was none. Where I had once found support, I came up empty. Where I had previously been understood, I now felt misconstrued.

I see how others react to feeling unsafe, with anger, or sarcasm, or tears. I almost wish for those emotional outlets. But I mostly just felt confused, unsure of what would bring that feeling of safety back. I sought comfort in brownies and wine and cross-country flights. That didn’t work. I was left with jeans that were too tight, headaches from the hangovers, and some extra frequent flier miles. The security eluded me though.

So instead I slowly retreated, back into myself and into my thoughts, and waited. I waited for someone else to see. I waited for the inevitable conversation, the “what’s wrong?” and the “are you ok?” that I was sure would come at any minute. I dreaded that conversation, dreaded admitting how off balance I felt. And then it didn’t come, and it turned out that was even worse than what I had been anticipating.

I left the room and no one noticed. I stopped speaking and no one missed my voice. I walked away and no one stopped me.

I made myself irrelevant and unimportant and then I was.

Until someone did see, and pulled me back into the room. And reminded me that when you can’t find safety in the usual suspects, you just need to look harder. When you think no one is listening, someone is. When you think you are invisible, someone sees you. When you think no one understands, someone does. When you stop feeling safe, someone is there to tell you that you are. And that person can become your ratty grey security blanket, smelling like fabric softener and love and safety.

Although you also recognize now that much as you love that blanket, and that person, you don’t need to hold it tightly, willing it not to get lost this time, willing it to just stay with you. You don’t need this grimy old piece of cotton to feel safe. At ten years old it may have been your savior, but at 35, you can save yourself. You understand that you may sometimes lose your footing, or your sense of self, but that you can always right yourself. And that there will always be someone there to hold you up until you feel stable enough to manage on your own.

Lost & Found in Vietnam

Somewhere between Nha Trang and Phu Quoc, more than halfway into my trip to Vietnam, I lost my toothbrush. It was always packed snugly in my toiletries bag so I have no idea where it could have gone. It was no big deal, easily replaced by my hotel in Phu Quoc. But it amazed me how one second it was there, and the next it was gone, seemingly disappearing into thin air.

This could very well have been the theme of the trip: things that were lost and things that were found. Some of the lost items were done so deliberately. Most of the found were not. I tallied up everything I could remember leaving along the way, along with what was gained, in my solo journey to Vietnam.

LOST:

Various articles of clothing/accessories: left behind for housekeeping, or the next guest, or just the garbage, including but not limited to:

  • A striped bikini that I used to love but that was discolored from too many sunscreen applications
  • My favorite grey Miami Hurricanes long sleeve t-shirt with so many holes I stopped counting them
  • Sheer-bottomed cropped Lululemon pants, for the delight of whomever next stands behind them in yoga
  • Silver Havaianas with holes where their now-missing skull decals used to be
  • One gold earring, noticed around 5:30am in a tiny airplane bathroom, my remaining single earring looking like an ill-advised fashion statement
  • The “toos”: pajama pants that were too short, yoga pants that were too baggy, socks that were too dirty, a Panama Hat that was too misshapen
  • A white t-shirt,no longer white, that I just could not wash in the hotel sink one more time

Books: offered up with love to fellow travelers, not unlike the offerings my friends in Bali give to their Gods three times daily. I offered up Jeanette Winterson, Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn to the various lending libraries at my hotels, lightening my load and perhaps enlightening someone else’s with their lovely prose. Offering, at the very least, a literary alternative to the only other book I saw in English—50 Shades of Grey.

Vanity: with the lack of conditioner, 100 degree heat and 1000% humidity, and my three travel outfits, worrying about how I looked was wasted energy. Brushing my hair before swimming seemed pointless, makeup would have immediately melted off. Even my shiny manicure and pedicure that had seemed so important to squeeze in the day before I left seemed frivolous and unnecessarily vain amidst my wrinkled cotton Target dresses and sweaty ponytails.

My American accent: For the first four days of the trip, I was the only American in sight. It was something I have never experienced (or noticed) in my other travels. All around me I could hear Vietnamese and German being spoken loudly; occasionally I would catch some Australian- or South African-accented English. But no Americans. There was a Brit in a University of Kentucky shirt who almost fooled me until I saw him holding his telltale red passport. I found myself speaking slowly and softly, unintentionally mimicking the accented English I overheard. Phrases like “quite lovely” and “mucking around” passed effortlessly through my lips. When I arrived back in San Francisco, American English almost sounded foreign to me.

My reluctance to ask for help: released when I landed in the middle of night at a closed Ho Chi Minh City airport and realized I had nowhere to go and no idea how to stay safe for my five hour outdoor layover. Suddenly, “I’ll just do it myself” wasn’t an option. Suddenly, I couldn’t figure it out on my own. Suddenly, I needed to ask for help. And gradually, through countless conversations that consisted of me asking “where is this?” and “what do I do?”, it started to feel okay.

My Yoga Practice: I struggled to get through two (ok one and a half) classes this week, completely unmotivated and uninspired to do asanas that I typically rejoice in fives times a week. I wanted to want to practice…and still I didn’t. I lost my practice. It left me feeling a little off balance, a bit less grounded, surely less disciplined, and possibly a little more…well, imperfectly human.

My mind: clearly absent when I returned to the US to discover that my final flight, the one that would actually take me home, was not scheduled to depart until the following weekend. My first thought– “How could I have done that? It is so unlike me to make this kind of mistake?!?” My second thought, immediately following—“but I am just too tired to beat myself up about this right now. Find a new flight (ask for help!), get to the new gate, and let it go.” So in hindsight, this might have been one thing that was long overdue to be lost, replaced by a more forgiving and kinder mind.

My preconceived notions about traveling solo: Loneliness. Fear. Doubt. Regret. They weren’t there. If experienced at all, they were fleeting. Lost emotions that went the way of my toothbrush-without any thought, or fanfare, and not much missed.

FOUND:

Bug bites and a sunburn: Inexplicable with the amount of Deet and SPF 50 slathered on and time spent beneath an umbrella but they exist nonetheless.

Books: Oh, I had forgotten the true, unparalleled pleasure that comes from turning the pages of a treasured novel, being drawn in more with each passing chapter. Hours passed like minutes as engrossed as I was in these stories, with the soundtrack of waves the only other noise permeating my thoughts. Heaven, for me, is a beach and a book.

My sense of humor: for what else can you do but nervously giggle, and then actually laugh, on a four hour road trip with a cab driver who speaks absolutely no English and seems to have no idea where you are headed? Who offers to share his water with you, wanting to pass it to the backseat after he takes a swig? Who stops for bathroom breaks along the way…directly outside your window? Who nods yes to everything you ask, including questions abut the length of the drive, the weather, and the state of American healthcare (he nods twice when you mention Obama)? Who helps you develop your own language of gestures that finally gets you both to the right place? Laugh.

The $25 Vietnamese massage: I thought I had felt it all when it comes to massages. I learned that it’s a good idea to wear clothes to a Shiatsu massage, that a deep tissue Swedish massage can leave me bruised, and that a Balinese massage includes a full (ahem) chest massage. I will still unprepared for the Vietnamese massage. Between the punching and the slapping, the chopping and the cupping, and the tiny woman sitting on my back, I had no idea what was going on. But I was extremely relaxed afterwards, so something clearly worked.

New international friends: Tom and Barbara from Germany, currently living in Shanghai, and Susan and Mark from Australia, currently living in Kabul. I now know about the European ex-pat community in China, and the very real dangers of being a Westerner living in Afghanistan. I now know about the beauty of Laos and appeal of the Sunshine Coast, courtesy of my well-traveled friends. I now know that talking to strangers can add so much to your travel experience.

A quieted mind: Without yoga. Without meditation. Without even trying. Just…quieter.

Greater appreciation for the people in my life: the perspective that only comes from being away from them, my wonderful family and friends.

Greater appreciation for myself, and for what I am capable of: I did this. I traveled to Vietnam, by myself, with scarily little knowledge of the country or of what I would face there. I survived a closed airport and the scary bugs and the language barrier. I came, I saw, I conquered. And I loved it.

If this was a scorecard, the win is most definitely in the FOUND column.

No Bad Days. Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

No Bad Days.
Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

xx,

Katie

Confession: I’m Fighting the Funk

I subscribe to a daily email blast called “Notes from the Universe”. They arrive before I wake up in the morning, so they’re often the first words I read after I hit snooze that final time. Yesterday was no exception. I picked up my iPhone, opening only one eye, and read the day’s message:

Do you know what it sometimes means, Katie, when you feel a bit bummed out and aren’t sure why? When you catch yourself looking back over your shoulder and wondering? When you feel doubt, sense uncertainty, and experience fear? When you sometimes wonder what’s taking so long?

It means you’re normal. 

I opened the other eye and read it again. And again. Somehow the universe, via whomever it is who writes these messages, knew exactly what I needed to hear on that dark, post-Daylight Savings morning.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the last two weeks. And by “bit of” I mean “a lot of”. It started with a loss, or with bad news, or exhaustion, or with nothing at all. It doesn’t take long for this funk to grow arms and legs and start to take hold of me. I climb out a little, thinking I’m free, only to have it pull me back down again.

Doubt? Uncertainty? FEAR? Yup, that’s the trifecta. Gang’s all here. That’s been my week.

Am I really good enough to do my job? Doubt.

Why am I doing this writing thing? Uncertainty.

Will you still love me after you really know me? FEAR.

Fear’s the big one for me, the root of it all.

When I was in New York for work earlier this year, my bosses pulled together little snapshots of our sales and marketing team, with pictures and words to describe us. A cute way to celebrate a group who had a really good year working together. My pictures, unsurprisingly, were comprised of yoga and traveling, NY and LA, blowouts and beauty products. The description of me included the phrase “a mix of competitive and zen”.

That was unexpected. Not the competitive part, I’ve certainly heard that before. But the zen part. That was new.

I remembered this as I was struggling through this week. How could I be allowing myself to feel so down? How could I not be counting my blessings, grateful for all of the wonderful people and things in my life? How could that not be enough to make me happy right now?

I felt like a fraud.

I’m supposed to be a yogi (whatever that really means). I’m supposed to be positive. I’m supposed to be zen. I’m supposed to be at peace with myself. I’m supposed to be able to breathe or meditate or just exist above it somehow.

If only I could be all of the things I am supposed to be.

And then this note arrived, this note from the universe. Giving me permission to be bummed. Allowing me to spend a few days with doubt, with uncertainty, with fear. And telling me that I’m normal because of it.

The funk will lift. It always does. One morning I will wake up and it will be gone, burned off with the fog, with only the vague memory that it ever existed.

Until then, after then, I will do all of the things that make me happy.

Yoga, brunch, traveling, dinners with friends, concerts, reading, singing. I will create as many moment of happiness for myself as is possible. I will stitch these moments of happiness together until they are all that is left, with no room for anything funky in between them.

My note from the universe continued:

…you’re normal. 

Well, Katie, as normal as anyone can be who possesses superpowers, commands legions, and rearranges physical circumstances simply with thought.

Yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
The Universe

The universe doesn’t always say just the right thing, but sometimes it does.

I will do what I love, often. Because this is my life.  And I know that it’s a great one.

(from Google images)

(from Google images)

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Am (Still, A Little, Sometimes) Afraid

It happened nearly every night.  

 
Five years, eight years, who can remember.  I know it was there when I lived in the historically landmarked brownstone (or whitestone, because it wasn’t really brown) on the Upper West Side, downstairs from the family who owned it, underneath the girl who was a music prodigy with her daily piano lessons.  It followed me downtown to my apartment just outside the Meatpacking District, where it still sort of smelled like meat to me, or maybe just the memory of meat, in those cobblestoned streets.  Where the tranny prostitutes would compliment my hair, or sometimes my shoes, as I left for work in the mornings.  It trekked further east when I lived in the West Village building where that famous director died, the one who was hung from her shower rod by the illegal construction worker, back when it was still real, before it became a Law & Order episode.  Somehow it even knew when I moved to LA; it migrated west like a bird that mistakenly didn’t fly south with the others.  Into my beautiful, newly built Mediterranean condo, that reeked of marble and granite and space, it penetrated through the door that was almost too heavy for me to open.  But it got in.  How did it do that?  How could it slip in without a whisper, cutting through the still air without so much as a ripple, and find me, time after time.

 
I would wake with a start, bolting straight up in bed, eyes wildly and blindly and frantically searching every corner.  Sometimes I would see it in the dark shadows, sometimes it was almost next to me, just beyond my reach.  Other nights I would wake up more gradually, heart speeding up as I regained consciousness, aware that it was there again.  Those nights I would lie still, so still I was barely inhaling breath.  Exhaling silently under the covers, thinking that if I could just pretend I wasn’t here, it wouldn’t know.  I would be safe.
 
It always knew.  It always found me.  Fear doesn’t need directions, or a maps app, or even Siri.  It just…knows. 


There was never anyone there of course.  When I turned on the light, fully awake and ready to face my intruder, he was never there.  When I crept quietly into the living room, and then the kitchen, maybe the bathroom even.  No one was ever there.  JUST THE FEAR.
 
Last week I booked a solo trip to Vietnam for this spring.  I have grown accustomed to people asking me, incredulously, “Aren’t you afraid to travel alone?!?”, so when my friend threw out that question after I told her about this trip, I was prepared.  I started to answer her with my practiced bravado about how anything that could happen to me when traveling alone could just as easily happen if I was traveling with someone.  How I typically fly by myself across the country, or across the world and it’s really no big deal.  But she tacked on an addendum to the question, seemingly without having heard my initial reply.  “Aren’t you afraid you will be lonely?”.
 
Oh.  I hadn’t prepared an answer to that question.
 
Sure, the thought had fleetingly crossed my mind as I was hitting “purchase” on the plane ticket, but I immediately pushed it out of my head.  Stamped it out and buried it quickly, like I did when a rogue chocolate Sixlet flew out of my hand and landed by my feet in the sand at the beach.  I piled sand over it quickly, making it disappear before a seagull could come and snatch it up in its bill.  Piled up the sand and packed it tightly over that thought until I could no longer see it, until it didn’t exist anymore.  Until someone else gave voice to it and it was unearthed again, this time with no seagull even to take it away from me.  So I was left alone with the fear again.
 
Yes, I am afraid of being lonely.  Yes, it may be an awful trip and I may wake up every night with that same pounding heart that I have felt for years at 2am, seeing my enemy in the shadows of a dark room.  Yes, it does make me question whether I should be going.  
 
Yes, I Am Afraid.
 
I took a special Jennifer Pastiloff Manifestation Workshop over the weekend while in Atlanta.  I’ve done a lot in the past year, and considered maybe skipping this one, but when I heard the theme for the day, it spoke to me, and demanded my attendance.
 
“If I Wasn’t Afraid, I Would…”
 
If I wasn’t afraid, I would…well, finish that sentence, to start.  Isn’t it a little scary, owning up to what we’re afraid of?  Seeing it in black ink between the lines of a blue Moleskine notebook, no longer covered up by sand?
 
If I wasn’t afraid, I would…talk about my feelings instead of just writing them.
If I wasn’t afraid, I would…be able to share my writing with everyone without having heart palpitations.
If I wasn’t afraid, I would…try more things without worrying about being judged.
 
If I wasn’t afraid, I would risk being lonely and go on this trip that I really, really want to go on.  I wouldn’t save this place for some imagined future boyfriend or husband; I would go now, travel now, experience now.
fear
 
I’m ready to take that step at least.  The other things may take a little more time, a little more practice, a little more writing down.  For now, I can go on my trip, and be the beauty hunter I so want to be.  Chasing sunsets and sunrises, exploring unspoiled beaches and reading all day in solitude and doing exactly every single thing that I want to do, just for me, just with me.
 
As I was writing this tonight, I half-watched one of my favorite shows, glancing up here and there when something caught my ear.  But it was how the episode ended that grabbed my attention, when one of the characters softly consoled another with a simple phrase in Hebrew (phonetically): “Aht Lo Leh-VAHD”
 
את לא לבד.  You Are Not Alone.
 
Doesn’t it sound beautiful in Hebrew?  Doesn’t it resonate even more?  Isn’t it one of the most absolutely perfect things that you can ever hear, regardless even of who says it?  You Are Not Alone.  
 
If I feel the loneliness threaten to creep in when I am halfway around the world in Vietnam, halfway around the world from everyone I know but me, I can whisper that softly, and console myself.
 
 
Aht Lo Leh-VAHD.  You Are Not Alone.
 
 
xx,
Katie